I had thought, on this third day of Chillaxmas, that to entertain and terrify you, I would post a true tale of alien invasion and species murder. I know you’re expecting the punchline to be that I would if I could, but I don’t have such a tale, so I can’t, ha, ha. Well, I do have just such a tale, and I could, I’m just not.
Not today, anyway. It’s all queued up for tomorrow, and it’s just as well. This will give me a chance to issue a little advance warning. I have pictures of the aliens! War is never for the faint of heart; it’s all the worse with an exoskeleton-wearing alien enemy!
Today, very much like Dug, I was distracted by some virtual philosophical squirrels.
It’s the last workday of the year for me and for many. And it’s a Friday (TGIF!), and it’s the third day of Chillaxmas (also the Fourth Day of Christmas). There’s a gentle snow falling, and everyone’s pretty mellow is my point. (So if you’re not mellow, then get mellow, ’cause it’s Chillaxmas, so chill my dudelings!)
I am far more inclined to look forward than backward, so my thoughts about this blog naturally involve future posts and directions. As I mentioned after the first (unannounced, unintended) hiatus, part of my “schtick” in the past has been explaining technical material. But that’s done so well in much larger venues that it seems a pointless venture here.
The more personal posts—which were not the original intent—have been well-received. In fact, they are generally better regarded than the more technical or philosophical posts. That makes sense; people connect with the human side of other people. The abstract stuff just isn’t that interesting to many (which I think is unfortunate, but it’s the reality).
I’ve also discovered recently that I’m not nearly as good at explaining the material as I had thought. I’ll go into that in more detail another time, but basically, I include too much detail and need to do better at breaking down and simplifying. (How I discovered this makes—I think—an interesting story.)
So in the future I’m going to focus—for my own exercise—on explaining things better. The point won’t be the explanation so much as writing it well. The goal will be sharing things I think are amazing in a way that brings the reader in on the amazement.
That’s the ultimate goal, the ultimate value I think I can add. Sharing with you just why I find this stuff is so mind-blowing and cool and fun.
Having some understanding of what’s really going on, of how the world really works, is as amazing as anything you could ever encounter. It adds new levels to everything, and it helps you make more sense of the world (same as knowing how your car works helps you drive better and communicate with your mechanic better).
And here’s the thing. You can get a basic understanding. One of the things I’m going to talk about next year is that—in a way—Science is easy. It’s Society and People that are hard—incredibly, intractably hard. Science is just measurements and theories that attempt to explain those measurements. Ancient Greeks in robes did Science. Medieval monks (also in robes) did Science.
You can understand Science. (And you should. It’s cool, and it’s important.)
Philosophy and Society and Morals and People… that’s hard! You might think Science is hard because it has a lot of math (which it does, but you can ignore most of it if you’re a tourist). But the math behind real world social situations (the stock market, for example) goes beyond mere, simple physics math.
And it’s not just the chaos mathematics that make the real world intractable. A really complicated physics experiment might have hundreds, even thousands of parameters (“variables”). The real world has an infinite number of parameters. How many ways can you think of to “parametrize” a person?
Height, weight, birth date (or age), birth place, gender, eye color, hair color, number of fingers, limb lengths, waistlines, shoe size, favorite TV shows, favorite books, whether they like dogs, foods they won’t touch, number of sex partners, education level, income, own or rent, Mary Ann or Ginger, number of broken bones, number of broken hearts, religious beliefs, number of children, number of living parents, carpet matches drapes, sane or crazy, been to Australia, lives in Australia, vegan (if so, which kind), favorite pizza topping, flight miles, number of times married, number of times jailed, dead or alive, paper or plastic,…
You can go on all day (and it’s kind of fun coming up with the odd ones). Each of these is a yardstick, a way to measure someone. Each yardstick is a “dimension” of humanity. We may live in mere three-dimensional space, but we humans are infinite-dimension beings (more technically: each of us is a point in an infinite-dimension “phase space” of possible humanity—I’ll be writing a lot more about phase space; it’s such an important and useful concept).
So we’re complicated, is the point.
Some things for you to ponder over your hot rum toddies (what do you mean you’re not drinking hot rum toddies? go! go! I’ll wait).
Let’s start by saying that there are always many exceptions to any discussion that begins, “There are two types of…” That said, I’ve long thought that music can be divided into two types, or perhaps more accurately that there are two major yardsticks (dimensions!) you can use to measure music.
Actually, it’s not a measure of the music, but of the intent of the music. Some music is about celebration. In fact, I suspect the very roots of music are in celebrations and rituals around ancient home fires. Music such as this usually reflects a moment in time (‘going down the highway with my gal’ or ‘we’re gonna party/dance/celebrate/fuck all night’).
Another thing music can do is tell a story or make a point. Some musical artists are musicians (Little Feat always springs to mind here; awesome band, awesome jam band; basically (great) party music). Other musical artist are storytellers and poets (David Gray, Alanis Morissette, Paul Simon, Lucinda Williams, Bruce Springsteen, Melissa Etheridge to name some faves of mine).
Our stories also come in those two flavors. There’s “ripping good yarns,” and there is “I’m making a point here!” In both cases, tunes and tales, a work can have elements of both. I’ve long believed that stories can have accurate science while still being ripping good yarns (science fiction is filled with such great works, and I’m amazed Hollywood doesn’t tap into it more). I’ve never believed good storytelling and factual accuracy were necessarily incompatible.
Recently I started down the path exploring storytelling, and I intend to return for more chapters. There’s a lot more to discuss, even just looking into the differences between the forms. In a comment today, I found myself writing about how plays are in some ways the most constrained form—they are more realized than oral or written stories, but their realization is much more abstract or sketch-like than TV or movies.
I hadn’t quite realized before they lack the absolute freedom of words alone (you have actors, a set, lighting, costumes, etc.—all specific realizations of the story), but they also lack the ability to realize realistically (a camera can go anywhere; extremely realistic sets or CGI are possible). This may be one reason why so many plays experiment with narrative forms: they’re looking for new ground in a much smaller potential space.
It raises the interesting question of whether some, or any, or all, art forms get played out. Certainly modern dance and ballet go to extreme lengths trying to find new modes. The alternative is to be “classical,” to do it the way it’s been done for eons. The more limited the art form, the harder it is to find new ground.
Do all art forms have limited space? Is Rock (as has often been claimed) dead? Is any art form doomed to eventual endless repeats of explored ground?
Topics to explore along the road ahead!
And we still have to talk about elephants. For now, consider the ancient parable about the blind men and the elephant.