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This is a list of articles cited at Arts and Letters Daily that interested me most. My comments are in square brackets.
- 10-Feb-2002: Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives Surrounding ourselves with amusements, says Todd Gitlin, “tranquilizes us, wrecking not only democracy and spirit but even deep pleasure itself”... "The montage is the message," he argues, "and the message is that the torrent feels good." Gitlin dwells especially on early 20th-century German philosopher Georg Simmel, and his notion that modern man "will be overwhelmed and feel disorientated" and develop "the hunger for feeling and the taste for the transitory." [I fit this into my framework where I posit that as we build a larger organism (Specialization And Cooperation) and become less significant as individuals, we lose the big picture (because the picture is necessarily larger than we can accomodate) and (here's where I fit this) fritter away with small-scale entertainments. I guess it's time to read Small Pieces Loosely Joined too... me too, me too. And I see from the link in David Weinberger's blog that James Fallows mentions SPLJ in his exchange with Gitlin.]
- 21-Feb-2002: Paradoxes of Painting [I don't know much about writing, but I know what I like, and I like this article.]
- 20-Feb-2002: Not an article, but a whole site I just discovered from a link on today's A&L Daily: The Mighty Organ
- The Risk Taker [Nice profile of Susan Sontag. I especially noted the quote from which A&L Daily excerpted: "There is something about facing a mortal illness that means you never completely come back. Once you've had the death sentence, you have taken on board in a deeper way the knowledge of your own mortality. You don't stare at the sun and you don't stare at your own death either. You do gain something from these dramatic and painful experiences but you also are diminished. There's something in you that becomes permanently sad and a little bit posthumous. And there's something in you that's permanently strengthened or deepened. It's called having a life." ]
- What is Genius? by Denis Dutton (editor of A&L Daily). [A thought-provoking extensive review of Dean Keith Simonton's book Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity. Dutton gets a little side-tracked in discussing the differences between scientific and artistic genius by focusing on the differences in their results. He quotes "if Einstein had died as a child, someone else would have discovered General Relativity; if Beethoven had died as a child, the Opus 111 Sonata would never have been written", and springboards from there. While these differences in the products of genius are interesting, they don't detract a bit from Simonton's examinations of the quality of genius itself, and Dutton is off the mark in calling Simonton to task in this regard. Leading the argument down this path is the point that genius is recognized by the fame that obtains from its results. Following this path, he apparently veers from Simonton's main revelations. Further, he misses on some of his points. For example, he states "But creative scientific thought produces something purely abstract; if it is elegant or beautiful, it is because nature itself is both elegant and beautiful." I disagree. Scientific works are descriptions of nature and can have their own innate beauty. Valid ones fit within a framework of existing knowledge and rigorous proof by consistency and fit with observation. Beautiful ones satisfy this and go further to create a leap in perception. In this quality they are like great works of art. Later note: someone else agrees at The Guardian: "Equations are the cornerstone on which the edifice of science rests. Yet, argues Graham Farmelo, they can be as exquisite as the finest poetry.": http://www.guardian.co.uk/saturday_review/story/0,3605,639232,00.html
Dutton concludes "However right or wrong Dean Keith Simonton may be about creative genius in science and art, I'm grateful to him for having engaged me in so much fruitful thinking on issues fundamental to our understanding of human potential." I apply the same sentiment to Denis Dutton, multiplied each day I read A&L Daily. Simonton's book also sounds fascinating.]
- The Future of Life by E.O. Wilson. [Wilson argues effectively that we're entering a "bottleneck" of population vs. resources in the next 50 years, and that the reduction in population growth we're starting to see in some countries is a global imperative to avert disaster. Maybe in the book he elaborates a bit on how the disaster is likely to play out (poor countries getting the worst of it, terrorism and totalitarianism rising in response), but that's best left to the political writers.] "Environmentalism is still widely viewed, especially in the U.S., as a special-interest lobby. Its proponents, in this blinkered view, flutter their hands over pollution and threatened species, exaggerate their case, and press for industrial restraint and the protection of wild places, even at the cost of economic development and jobs. Environmentalism is something more central and vastly more important." [I want this book.]
- Huntington vs. Fukuyama [The conflict construed here -- between globalization and culture, essentially -- is what Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree was all about. How can the article not mention that book? Oh yeah, it's a Washington Post article. Friedman is a NYT journalist. Sheesh. Anyway, I've got to read some Fukayama. Recommendations?]
- Architecture: Boring Buildings [A call for raising our architectural consciousness.]"But in this country, we too often forget that high-quality architecture is also a social good, one that more than repays the investment." ... "But the single biggest factor in the diminution of architecture in this country is the indifference of the citizenry. For who among even the culturati, let alone the general public, knows very much about architecture?"
- Courtship Today: The View from Academia [Not for short attention spans, but the "It's All in the Genes" section is like Wright's The Moral Animal in a nutshell. Favorite summarizing line: "Yet children do happen, and their arrival does, therefore, present a theoretical quandary." But for its thorough review of prevailing theories, their influences, and the implied problems that result, the article doesn't do much to concretely outline the alternative beyond "bring back old-fashioned courtship" and some nice language in the final paragraph.]
- Profile of Amartya Sen Known in his native India as the Mother Teresa of economics, his ideas have had a global impact. He has spent a lifetime fighting poverty with analysis rather than activism.
- Plutarch & the issue of character [What a nice coincidence: I was just thinking on the subway today that I should check out the Lives of Plutarch, after having read about them in Emersons Essays; I arrived at work and found this at the top of today's A&L daily.]
- Meet Britain's most intelligent man. [Steve Grand, a self-taught computer programmer, creates the best artificial life around (says Richard Dawkins). But a New Scientist reviewer thinks Grand over-reaches in his book Life and How To Make It, saying: Grand uses this artificial reality to reflect on and explain what for him are the defining features of real life. This makes for good reading, but entices Grand, and, more seriously, the reader, into a regrettable deception. He blurs the line between the real and the artificial. And this puts the scientific validity of the entire book into serious jeopardy.]
- Art & Sexual Selection, Denis Dutton's review of The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, by Geoffrey Miller. [Synopsis: Art is really just a mate-attracting display. But science? Naw.]
- War Of The Worlds: Do you believe in God? Or in multiple universes? [Posits that a "designer universe" need not imply the existence of a Designer; multiple universes suffices. (Whether God actually exists is not part of the question.)]
- Prime Time: Fame and fortune await the person who cracks the greatest problem in mathematics. And that could be any day now, says Erica Klarreich. [Not deep enough technically to do the subject justice (hey, it's a layperson's magazine article), but it got me interested enough to want more, and there are good links.]
- Art for politics' sake A critic of the NEA and Harvard talks about the narrow-minded, shock-obsessed contemporary art scene. [I haven't thought hard about the question of NEA funding, but this presents an interesting view.]
- Will Globalization Make You Happy? by Robert Wright. [Wright argues that the rising tide does indeed lift all boats monetarily, but the poorest actually benefit most in happiness by rising to a tolerable level, while the richest become less happy chasing material goods.]