Senseless Figures in Front of a Mirror

My observations of some individuals in the world of software modelling and, previously, in the misnamed “academic” sector, remind me of a story by Carlos Castaneda in his book, “The Active Side of Infinity”. Castanada’s friend recommends that he visits a prostitute called Madame Ludmilla. Castanada relates that Madame Ludmilla’s speciality is dancing in front of a mirror, where she twirls round and round to a “haunting melody”:

She dropped her red robe, kicked off her slippers, and opened the double doors of two armoires standing side by side against the wall. Attached to the inside of each door was a full-length mirror. “And now the music, my boy” Madame Ludmilla said, then cranked a Victrola that appeared to be in mint condition, shiny, like new. She put on a record. The music was a haunting melody that reminded me of a circus march.

“And now my show” she said, and began to twirl around to the accompaniment of the haunting melody…

“And now, figures in front of a mirror!” Madame Ludmilla announced while the music continued.

“Leg, leg, leg!” she said, kicking one leg up in the air, and then the other, in time with the music. She had her right hand on top of her head, like a little girl who is not sure that she can perform the movements.

“Turn, turn, turn!” she said, turning like a top.

“Butt, butt, butt!” she said then, showing me her bare behind like a cancan dancer.

She repeated the sequence over and over until the music began to fade when the Victrola’s spring wound down. I had the feeling that Madame Ludmilla was twirling away into the distance, becoming smaller and smaller as the music faded.

Castaneda relates this story to his teacher, the shaman and sorcerer, Don Juan, who remarks that this story must be included in Castanada’s collection of stories, because “it touches every one of us human beings.” Don Juan explains:

“You see, like Madame Ludmilla, every one of us, young and old alike, is making figures in front of a mirror in one way or another. Tally what you know about people. Think of any human being on this earth, and you will know, without the shadow of a doubt, that no matter who they are, or what they think of themselves, or what they do, the result of their actions is always the same: senseless figures in front of a mirror.”

And that’s exactly what I see in both the “academic” world and the world of software modelling – senseless figures in front of a mirror.