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The fly in the window

A few days ago, for the first time this summer, there was a fly inside our apartment. I opened the smaller window to let some fresh air in, and the fly came in immediately. However, it was not happy to be inside; just as soon as it was, it flew to the larger, closed window, and started trying to furiously buzz through it. This went on for several minutes, with the small window open next to it all the while, until I forced the fly out. Naturally, it resisted.

How often when we are trying to solve a problem, or unintentionally causing one, are we like a fly trying to go through a window? My informed guess is that often, or even most of the time. The fly may be trying hard, but it can’t succeed because it’s got the wrong idea of what it’s doing. At best, its random flailing might lead it to accidentally move from where it is and fly through an open window instead of the closest one, but that would be sheer luck, and it might take indefinitely long. We are in the same position when we try to reach our goals but follow false and unhelpful ideas of how to get there. Continue reading

On multiplexity and the Zarathustrans

In my last post talking about simplex–complex–multiplex, there was one angle missing from what Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart say about them. I’ll write about it in a post of its own but also add it there afterwards.

In both their book The Collapse of Chaos and the previously mentioned Figments of Reality, Cohen and Stewart sometimes illustrate their points with stories about the fictional aliens called the Zarathustrans. In Collapse, human space travellers encounter Zarathustrans on their own planet, whereas in Figments, Zarathustrans observe the Earth. They look vaguely like flightless birds, but this resemblance is superficial, and they’re both very alien and very human at the same time. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about them is that they have evolved not to be entirely independent individuals but to live in groups of eight Zarathustrans (plus one symbiote of a different kind). This means not only that they are obsessed with the number eight and see numerological significance based on it everywhere, but also that they naturally think in a multiplexual way and find simplex thinking hard. Continue reading

All the things you shouldn’t post on Facebook

So, these are the kinds of things that you apparently can’t post on Facebook:

  • About how you’re having fun or things are going great, because that’s just fake and bragging.
  • Complaining about how badly things are going for you, because that’s just annoying.
  • Ordinary things like what you had for dinner, or when you went to the gym, or what your child or pet did etc., because who cares?
  • Serious or political topics, because it’s supposed to be about socialising and telling your friends what you’ve been doing.
  • Dumb jokes and memes because those are too shallow.
  • Links to in-depth articles, because who has the patience to read that?
  • Any kind of photograph you took, because it will go under either “fake”, “bragging” or “uninteresting”, probably all three. Even if it was an interesting situation, you shouldn’t have been taking photographs because that officially means you weren’t really enjoying it.
  • Any given opinion, because someone will disagree, so they’ll find it annoying.
  • Your own blog posts because people won’t read them.
  • Complaints about the kinds of things people post on Facebook.

Richard Dawkins on “genetic determinism”

Misleading German cover of The Selfish Gene

Dawkins mentions (p. 17) how this German cover picture for The Selfish Gene is completely missing the point.

Some time ago, a year or so back, evolutionary psychology was established as a separate subject at the University of Turku. This immediately raised controversy, at least from a few people trying to shout loudly. Some were apparently religiously motivated, but never mind them. Others were afraid of a reductionist program enforcing existing power structures by explaining them as biologically determined. That, I know, can be a real thing.

After that hassle, it was sobering to now read what Richard Dawkins had written about the myth of genetic determinism as far back as 1982 in The Extended Phenotype. Because some people still haven’t got the memo — and I’m not sure to what extent these are found among evolutionary psychologists and to what extent their critics, although in this last controversy it seemed like critics were missing the point more — I want to quote some of this to make it easily available. I will add a little commentary of my own. Continue reading

Wanting to visit a fantasy world isn’t always “escapism”

Escapism: “mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an “escape” or dissociation from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life.” (Wikipedia.)

Fantasy fiction can certainly be a means of escape. Leave the stresses and unpleasantness of the real world to get immersed in a book (Harry Potter, say) about a world filled with fascinating things you can’t access in reality, and where characters face greater hardships but overcome them in a compact time frame. Or a video game where you can be powerful enough to slay dragons. Or even an animation about cute magical ponies that manages to be positive enough to cheer you up every time without being sugarcoated enough to be annoying.

There’s nothing wrong with this, by the way, unless you take it to some ridiculous extreme.

It doesn’t have to be an escape, though. Escapism in the sense of an escape from something implies there’s something you want to escape from. What if there’s just somewhere you want to go to? There doesn’t need to be anything wrong with this world for you to want to go somewhere else, if that somewhere else is awesome. Fantasy arouses my imagination in ways that have nothing to do with anything but itself. Just because I want to ride on the back of an armoured bear, travel in the TARDIS, or run away from things with Rincewind, doesn’t mean I don’t also want to be here, where I a really am. In fact, I’ve found in recent years I don’t have time to read as much fiction as I’d like because I’m freely choosing to read so much nonfiction. I still like the fiction and would definitely read more of it if that were possible.

Talking about “escapism” in fantasy may be missing the point. It can be more like “voyageism” — and even when it really is escapism, that side is also present.

(PS. If you look at the Wikipedia page, you’ll find it also details a theory where there are two kinds of escapism, and “escapism in the form of self-expression” does rather sound like what I’m describing. Thus, the “voyageism” might be classified as “escapism” too, I’m not sure — but either way, it’s still not the “escaping something” kind of escapism.)