A Philosophy of Curiosity: the Magic 8-Ball

When my son was eight I gave him a Magic Eight Ball for Christmas. I thought it was a cool intergenerational gift, the kind that I never got when I was a kid, but really wanted because all my buddies had them. I spent the next few years keeping him from smashing the damned thing. He so very wanted to see what was inside. Caught him once with a hammer, once after he had already thrown it against a tree, and another time with my vice. His only response to my remonstrations against this 8-ball violence was to say,
“That plastic is really tough.”

OK, I admit it. That was one of those ‘kid’ gifts that was really for me. (I, also, never got one of those neateola ‘pitchback nets’ that returned a ball when you threw it, but I think I’ll need a little more therapy before I tackle that story.) My son exhausted its charms fairly quickly, but it seems I never have.

One of the items that never gets crossed off  my Internet bucket list has always been to follow through vicariously on my son’s ‘disruptive curiosity’ in order to get to the bottom of what went on inside the 8-ball. Yes, some of my earliest Internet searches were to find someone
who had done an autopsy or, as one site from 1997 called it, “a craniectomy”, of the orb.

Of course, there were more grisly ways to satisfy one’s curiosity. Some folks actually did what my son wanted to do.

Or perhaps your cup of chaos runs toward the ‘microwavy’

If you want a thorough and deep take, perhaps this site from manufacturers (I think) will satisfy you.

There is even a Chinese manufacturer of the 8-Ball that will add your own answers on the little 20-sided die inside. The company, China Direct, adds to my knowledge lore with this interesting observation,
“Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary (or recommended) to shake or jostle the ball before turning it, as doing so can create air bubbles that may visually distort the answer.” I did not know that.

What I do know is that China Direct’s  customized marketing of the 8-Ball is a bridge across the analog-digital divide. It is still analog, but the company allows you to control the physical message inside if you have the bucks. Maybe what my son felt was a need to find and control the idea. Isn’t that the aim of curiosity–epistemology as control mechanism?

Any way you look at it, the leap from analog to digital is not a long one. And there are lots of digital attempts to manage the big clarivoyant idea inside of the 8-ball. Of course, the first digital attempts have mimicked the original analog one. I asked
three of them the same question.

I asked: is this post a good idea?
I ask again . And another answer:

Unnamed image (2)
Once more and the answer:

interactive gary
I even tweet a question:

But this begs the question: what if I want to create my own Magic 8-ball responses?

1. Go to Redkid and get yer prognosticatin’ on: http://www.redkid.net/generator/8ball/

2. Create your own 8-ball script using Linux and Python.

3. Make an 8-ball app.

But… it all comes back to the idea of Magic 8-Ball as a curiosity machine. Or so the scholars tell us:

Here is the entire journal article:

Whew! What just happened? What did I just discover about the destructive nature of my son’s curiosity? What should I have done to guide this destructive power? I guess that I am trying to model that in this post: follow the urge to know what is inside both the 8-Ball and yourself. To my credit we did learn to do this as part of figuring out how to unschool our now adult children lo these many posts ago. For example, we had kept our five year old daughter from knowing the ins and outs of chicken butchering. She asked to be allowed to watch as part of her birthday present. She wanted to see it. She did and responded by looking at the chicken guts and saying, “So many colors. So beautiful.”  You probably had to be there, but it was an epiphany.

The 8-Ball might be emblematic of the story of the internet as we move from consumption toward production, moving from something to buy and then exhaust to something to make, play and expand upon.

Yet…this is an old narrative arc. First, the idea of “fortune telling” moves into a machine, not as ‘carny’ as a real sibyl but a good
enough incarnation. The original 8-Ball machine was called the “Syco Slate”.  Second, the 8-Ball machine is limiting so the soothsaying idea is represented by that little icosahedral die inside, waiting to be hacked open and digitized. Which it has been.

This movement from the analog to the digital expressed though creative autopsy and re-mixing are at the heart of maker/hacker culture. This is what I learned here reflected in hindsight. Creativity and making are about letting the kid open the magic box even though it lets out the majick smoke. The key for me has been to realize that you can make your own magic smoke and capture it and share
it with everyone. Who cares how that ends up as long as no one gets his or her eye put out. I am going to absolutely ruin my grandkids if I ever get any.

Sometimes I think that the magic in the eight ball really is a cockeyed divination tool, one intended to get us deep into our selves. Of course, this means that all of this talk of destructive curiosity might just be an abstraction and what I am really after is the metaphor of the labyrinth, the inner hero’s journey.The penultimate question of what is inside is apt and one addressed by one of my favorite writers, the Serbian poet, Vasko Popa.  The ultimate question and answer I leave to you, [Hint: perhaps the little box is the …I have said too much.]

The Little Box

The little box gets her first teeth
And her little length
Little width little emptiness
And all the rest she has
The little box continues growing
The cupboard that she was inside
Is now inside her
And she grows bigger bigger bigger
Now the room is inside her
And the house and the city and the earth
And the world she was in before
The little box remembers her childhood
And by a great longing
She becomes a little box again
Now in the little box
You have the whole world in miniature
You can easily put in a pocket
Easily steal it lose itTake care of the little box

4 thoughts on “A Philosophy of Curiosity: the Magic 8-Ball

  1. This post is far too epic for me to take in right now. But this bit should get integrated into educational curriculum everywhere:

    “Creativity and making are about letting the kid open the magic box even though it lets out the majick smoke. The key for me has been to realize that you can make your own magic smoke and capture it and share it with everyone. Who cares how that ends up as long as no one gets his or her eye put out.”

    Who cares indeed?

    Thanks for sharing with The You Show. We are honoured to have it in the mix.

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