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Ong's Hat - The Beginning By Joseph Matheny Characters: 12644

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


It is often said that life is stranger than fiction. Indeed, I can attest to that. Life can truly become phantastic when the lines between "truth" and "fiction" blur into a fractal basin boundary. This may have happened to you at some point in your life, if you're lucky. High-level synchronicities too high level to be written off as mere "coincidences", breadcrumb trails that lead to pots of gold and ecstatic breakthroughs—is reality elastic? Are the present and the future co-creative? What about the past? Can the endless possibility waves and bifurcation points along the seemingly linear flow of day-to-day life be codified and transmogrified? My observations, experiments, and results over the last 20 years seem to point to the answer: maybe. You may be disappointed to hear that after 20 years all I concluded was maybe? Sometimes research moves in baby steps. I wasn't even sure that universe was possibly plastic when I began. Now I have some experiences under my belt that seem to point to "maybe". "Maybe" is a reason to pursue further experiments, so maybe is in essence a positive result. So you see, sometimes we must inch forward in order to give ourselves time as both individuals and as a species, time to absorb the incredible paradigm changes that seem to lie just ahead on our road to… We have become so entrained with the concept of instant everything; I sometimes envision many babies being thrown out with oceans of bathwater in our mad attempt to get it all now, right now, no waiting, chop-chop!

This of course leads us to the question: What are the Incunabula/Ong's Hat documents and where did they come from?

Here are the facts as I know them.

Where is Ong's Hat?

It will be interesting to backtrack and let everyone know what historical facts have been gathered about the remote and enigmatic location in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey known as Ong's Hat.

Ong's Hat appears on some state maps, but not on others. The designation appears just under thirty miles east of Philadelphia, and just north of New Jersey State Highway 70. There, you will find Ong's Hat Road and a bar in a little triangle. If you're lucky (and buy a round), some of the people in the bar might tell you some strange stories about the area. The legends in this area proliferate like flies on honey, so be prepared for some puzzlers and probably a few whoppers.

The Pine Barrens themselves have always been a mysterious and enigmatic location. It was settled in the pre-revolutionary days and eventually included Hessians, the German soldiers paid by the British, who did not desire to return to their Germanic homeland. You may recall the headless horseman was a Hessian, but I digress.

What little there is to learn of the history of Ong's Hat comes from Henry Beck, who penned a book in 1936 entitled Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey. At that time, Ong's Hat had appeared on maps and been around for over a century, but no one had ever taken it too seriously. Mr. Beck took a photographer, a "State Editor", and traveled to the region to interview what remaining natives were left in the area that had been designated as Ong's Hat. According to them, the name originated from a young man whose last name was "Ong." Mr. Ong was quite a dancer, who captivated the ladies with his smooth moves and his fashionable and shiny high silk hat. At that particular time, the little village consisted only of small houses and a dance hall. There was also a clearing where semi-pro prizefights were held. It seemed that, one Saturday night, Mr. Ong snubbed one of his female partners, at which point she took the hat from his head and deliberately stamped upon it in the middle of the dance floor. Another account picks up the story at this point, but offers a little more information. It was said that Mr. Ong, who was quite inebriated at the time, tossed his distinguished hat into a tree in the center of the village. There, it stood in the tree, unreachable and battered. It hung there amidst the rain and wind for many months. At some point, the little town acquired the name of Ong's Hat.

The Ong's Hat Ashram story, as told in the following chapters, seems to trace its roots back to the beginning of the Second World War. During the early days, post Pearl Harbor, America suddenly found itself in the position of having its eastern seaboard invaded by German U-Boats and its western seaboard invaded by Japanese submarines. Feeling behind in the race, so to speak, the military-industrial complex was born and given carte blanche to proceed with any means necessary to get on top of the ball. From this initiative came many "secret projects". The military got its brainpower for a lot of these programs from Princeton University, which is located very near Ong's Hat. Read the bestselling book, A Beautiful Mind, for a deep look into the group of unique minds that gathered in Princeton at this time. Also, see the opening chapters to Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon for more wonderfully written metafiction which will supply further insight into the milieu that emerged at Princeton during this time.

John Tukey was one of the many Renaissance minds that wandered in and out of the many groups—both official and unofficial—at Princeton during these formative years. Tukey attracted international attention for his studies in mathematical and theoretical statistics and their applications to a wide variety of scientific and engineering disciplines. He led the way in the now-burgeoning fields of exploratory data analysis and robust estimation, and his contributions to the Spectrum Analysis of Time Series and other aspects of digital signal processing have been widely used in engineering and science. He has been credited with coining the word "bit", a contraction of "binary digit", which refers to a unit of information, often as processed by a computer.

In addition to strong continuing interests in a wide variety of areas of statistical philosophy, techniques and application, Tukey was active in improving the access of the scientist to scientific literature, particularly through the development of citation and permutation indices to the literature of statistics and probability.

Looking at an 11 April 1984 interview with the enigmatic Mr. T

ukey, we see this strange admission:

Tucker: Wallman ended up as a professor of electric techniques at the Chalmers Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he is now retired. He wrote a book with Witold Hurewicz on dimension theory.

Tukey: It was intellectually about as strong a group as you are likely to find.

Tucker: Wasn't Stone in this group?

Tukey: Arthur, yes. When did Arthur come? He must have been here by '39. Arthur, Dick Feynman, Bryant Tuckerman—who went to IBM—and I were the people who invented hexaflexagons…

Tucker: Was it that group that used the pseudonym "Pondiczery"?

Tukey: Yes, but with a somewhat broader reference.

Aspray: For what purpose?

Tukey: Well, the hope was that at some point Ersatz Stanislaus Pondiczery at the Royal Institute of Poldavia was going to be able to sign something ESP RIP. Then there's the wedding invitation done by the Bourbakis. It was for the marriage of Betty Bourbaki and Pondiczery. It was a formal wedding invitation with a long Latin sentence, most of which was mathematical jokes, three quarters of which you could probably decipher. Pondiczery even wrote a paper under a pseudonym, namely "The Mathematical Theory of Big Game Hunting" by H. Petard which appeared in the Monthly. There were also a few other papers by Pondiczery.

Tucker: Moulton, the editor of the Monthly at that time, wrote to me saying that he had this paper and the envelope was postmarked Princeton and he assumed that it was done by some people in math at Princeton. He said he would very much like to publish the paper, but there was a firm policy against publishing anything anonymous. He asked if I, or somebody else that he knew and could depend on, would tell him that the authorship would be revealed if for any reason it became legally necessary. I did not know precisely who they were, but I knew that John [Tukey] was one of them. He seemed to be in the thick of such things. John agreed that I could accept Moulton's terms. I sent a letter with this assurance to Moulton and he went ahead and published it. Which I thought was very flexible on...

Tukey: Somebody with a high principle. Pondiczery's official residence was in Ong's Hat, New Jersey, (emphasis mine) which is a wide place in the road going southeast from Pemberton, but it does appear on some road maps. There is a gas station that has a sign out about Ong's Hat.

Aspray: But no sign for Pondiczery?

Tukey: No sign for Pondiczery. Spelled c-z-e-r-y, by the way. Not like the area of India, Pondicherry, which is spelled c-h. Anyway, this was a good group, and I enjoyed its existence. I learned a lot from dinner table conversations. What was the name of our algebraist friend, a quiet soul who was around at that time?

This admission is very suspicious when contemplating the origin of the Ong's Hat ashram legend. One might even say, it approaches a "mea culpa" on the part of the Princeton group in the origin of the legend.

To continue, further research into this area shows that the area of Ong's Hat was a popular weekend spot for the various Princeton math and science groups and has been used in a histiographic metafictional sense in this very context by Neal Stephenson, in his seminal work, Cryptonomicon, as I already mentioned. Keep the concept of the Ong's Hat Rod and Gun Club in your mind as you read this material (cited in the following chapters) and then think back to this sequence of clues when you encounter it. I think you will be able to make the intuitive connection between a "Rod and Gun" club in Ong's Hat with the Princeton "weekender" phenomena and Tukey's "dinner club" reference above for yourself.

So what does this mean? Well, it would seem to indicate that a group of scientists who were working on secret projects wrote papers under pseudonyms and used the now deserted New Jersey Pine Barren Town of Ong's Hat as a "residence" address for this endeavor. Why would they do such a thing? In an interview I did with a gentleman who claims to have been a young technical writer for one of these teams (name withheld by request), some of the projects that the budding U.S. military-industrial complex was sponsoring may have, in the mind of some scientists, ventured into ethical "gray areas". Torn between duty to country and responsibility to the future of humankind, they leaked certain information to the general public using the "fictional" character method. Also, a big part of many members of the Princeton teams focus was on cryptography and the cracking of the Enigma codes. During World War II, one of these people, Alan Turing, served with the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Bletchley Park, where he played a significant role in breaking the German Enigma codes. There, he used a machine called Colossus to successfully decipher the Enigma codes, which played a huge part in the allied victory. These machines were the predecessors to the first digital computers.

The scholastic sources that this amorphous and shadowy group drew upon, and the method of sending messages into the noosphere, within a coded document, will become even clearer later in this chapter. The method employed the technology known as memes as its primary force. Memes are patterns of information that behave like viruses. The science of memetics studies the replication, mutation, and carriers of memes. Many scientists consider memes to be actual living things that "ride" in the nervous systems of human beings and hibernate in books, computer disks, etc. Examples of memes include catchy commercial jingles, the concept of money, political beliefs, and art styles. Certain memes, such as teenage cultural fads, are very susceptible to mutation, while others, such as the major religions, have hit evolutionary dead-ends and hardly change from decade to decade. Some memes, like fire building techniques, are beneficial to their host, while others are toxic to their host, such as the kamikaze and Jim Jones memes. Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. For now, hold those concepts as floating-point integers in your mind, because they will be handy filters to use when parsing the Incunabula documents and may give you some insight into their origin and purpose.

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