Cultural evolution produces hot garbage

Evolution is not a ladder. Even the tree metaphor is flawed because it gives the faulty impression of ‘progress’ upward. Evolution is only change in whatever direction leads to the most reproduction.

Cultural evolution is the idea that our ideas and way of life evolves generation to generation much the way an organism does, based on how easy the ideas/traditions/etc are to imprint on the next generation.

In much the way that you could sit down and design a self replicating organism that is way better at existing than a lot of life on earth, you can also come up with ideas and art that are way better than whatever music/art/entertainment gets passed on and on and on.

If evolution produces junk so often, maybe it’s time we start trying to influence it. Biologically, we can do this by editing our own genes. We are well on the way to doing this already.

But culturally, how do we do it? How can we change what is popular so that it’s something beautiful and meaningful that is gets created, instead of Transformers 8, season 10 of Jersey Shore, or a billion copies of 50 Shades of Gray?

The answer is probably education, as it seems to be with almost every problem in society. Someone who’s read history’s greats, and seen the most elegant art and been taught enough about the world to appreciate its most amazing creations, is going to have a lot less interest in the basic, surface level schlock that floods the market every day.

 

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Conspiracies… :o

I’ve started reading Foucault’s Pendulum, which appears to be about a group of editors who create a conspiracy for fun, but then end up believing in it themselves.

I’m just at the beginning of it, but already the type of mind to create and believe in complicated conspiracies is captured very well in the narrator. He sees so many connections and patterns between such a variety of things, that it is easy to imagine the kinds of things he might dream up.

The kinds of people who believe in such things are very interesting to me. Any thing can be believed, no matter how few real life witnesses or evidence there is. The creative mind can shift reality to interpret input in whatever way is needed to propagate the chosen idea. But how does the original idea get chosen, when any one could be believed?

It must be some internal deep appeal of certain subjects…

Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

 

Very few books I’ve read can hold so much power in so few words. The ending of this book, in the final paragraphs, performs a tying up of the whole novel that changes the light cast on all the previous pages. The Affirmation had a similar effect in its final page, but this one was, I think, much more powerful.

This novel doesn’t really have a plot, but in the end, you can see the story it is telling.

The title, Rings of Saturn, takes on a new meaning too, once you reach the end. Never in the book does he describe or mention Saturn’s rings, but if you think about what the rings are, you might get an idea of what this book is about.

Very highly recommended for anyone interested in history, interesting facts, and anyone not put off by plot-less storytelling.

Thought is a luxury we should not take for granted.

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Sometimes we all feel like we have no time to relax and think. But imagine for a moment a field worker or a miner or any other manual laborer, living just a couple centuries ago. Such a person probably didn’t know how to read, or not how to read for enjoyment. They worked day all day with barely a time for a thought, and if they did have time to think–what they thought about was probably how to get food, and how not to die of illness, and other stressful worries.

Today, even a poor laborer working for minimum wage knows how to read, and can read any number of books on any subject they wish. And though they  might not have much time to think, when they do have time they have the fuel for that thought right at their fingertips in a library, or on the internet.

Us thinkers are lucky to be alive today. Most other time periods would have either drowned our minds in work and worry, or starved them for lack of access to information.

 

Horrors of the world

Rings of Saturn’s seemingly random topic hoping is all coming together, related in the big picture by every thought, every piece of history he talks about seeming to show how humans are terrible, or maybe that the world is terrible.

Aside from the overt bleakness of the historical stuff he talks about, there is a subtle kind of darkness overlaying everything, just in the way he describes things. Below is a section for example, when he sees some people below him at a beach:

I crouched down and, overcome by a sudden panic, looked over the edge. A couple lay down there, in the bottom of the pit, as I thought: a man stretched full length over another body of which nothing was visible but the legs, spread and angled. In the startled moment when that image went through me, which lasted an eternity, it seemed as if the man’s feet twitched like those of one just hanged. Now, though, he lay still, and the woman too was still and motionless. Misshapen, like some great mollusc washed ashore, they lay there, to all appearances a single being, a many-limbed, two-headed monster that had drifted in from far out at sea, the last of a prodigious species, its life ebbing from it with each breath expired through its nostrils.

There are many ways one could describe a couple having sex on the beach… this way of doing it is certain to create a strange, creepy feeling for the reader…

Seasons

I wonder what it would have been like for an ancient people migrating from an equatorial region and seeing seasons for the first time. Winter would seem like the end of the world…

The trees are dying all around, it’s getting colder and even the sun hides beyond the horizon most of the time. The birds are fleeing, animals are disappearing into hibernation… for someone unprepared, it might have seemed like a worldwide catastrophe, or supernatural evil…

I wonder what myths or religions could have originated in that way…

Love in the Time of Cholera

This was the story of love between many people over a lifetime.

There were so many little nuggets of goodness in this novel that it’s hard to give a general idea of why I liked it. I loved the description of Florintino, and found a lot of myself in him. He was also laughable at times, though, with his ridiculous ideas of love and his determination that bordered on obsession.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of youth and age, and how their views on love differed, but the views that others took of them remained the same–they were kept apart in their youth because they were too young, but in their old age, their families try to keep them apart because they are too old for love!

Fermina has a hard/hot headedness that Florintino refuses to give in to, and it is fun and emotional to read. He is a tireless, endless lover and you can’t help but cheer for him to keep trying.

The kind of love that lets you fall for someone in your youth, and then be unable to forget about them for fifty years, even when they never talk to you or even acknowledge your existence, is difficult to imagine. But Marquez does a great job of giving me an insight, and a hint at what that might feel like.