How About Coffee?

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Quoting another source semi-verbatim isn’t my style, but with the proper citation and it being only a little bit of quoting, we should be able to swing this by the legal department.  If there’s a problem, please ask nicely and this post can be modified.

But there’s a reason it’s worth quoting, it’s great writing and speaking.  The text is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in aviation, space, movies, science fiction, science, anything technical, or anything having to do with behavior.  I fall into 5 of those categories.  You’ll want to buy it because it’s too good to share.

First, paraphrasing only slightly, we have Marvin Minsky, the expert from MIT advising Kubrick who had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Now, here’s the good part where I’m trying to be as faithful to Bizony as I can;  Kubrick’s wife, Christiane, speaking about her husband’s intentions.

“Stanley thought we are always falling behind our scientific and technical achievements.  We are very good at making more and more things – but to do what with?  We haven’t kept up, psychologically and philosophically.  We are not profound.  We are still getting away with the most boring entertainments.  We are shallow, and we know it.  We suffer from it.  The choices we make are not satisfying.  Our sins are all of omission – of not doing the more interesting things that we could do.  There is a lethargy, a lack of energy and concentration that prevents us from reaching the key point where we are as creative and perceptive as we would really wish to be.  We are in the terrible position of being smart enough to know that we are not smart enough.  For instance, we still can’t imagine, “What is God?”  So in 2001 we see fantastic tools of communication.  People can speak over zillions of miles, but nobody has anything to say.  So we pretend.  We live in a little world of nonsense and send each other funny photos and cute stories, with this enormous technology.  “Happy Birthday,” and so on, when nobody seems to care, or react.  It’s very melancholy – although two things we really can do.  War and pornography we’re good at.”

Bizony then distills much of Kubrick’s angst.

 “2001, so optimistic on the surface, is in fact a morally complex movie.  Either we will bore ourselves to death while our machines sneak in through the back door and take over; or else we will blow ourselves to hell, our modern minds still compromised by an instinctive taste for aggression.  It seems we have to keep fighting to survive.  And we have to stop fighting to survive.”

page 421, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015

PS – For goodness sake, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Distortions

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Does everyone know P&P isn’t real?

Maybe not.  People talk about the characters as if they had birth certificates.

That’s how good Jane Austen was at drawing her characters.  She never dwelt on unimportant details in P&P.  There a few physical statements, like Lydia’s being tall and stout, but generally she keeps to describing the character of her characters.  And that’s what truly brings them to life.

Except.

Every now and then I think I find a slip.

“Ah ha!” I say to Jane.  She looks back at me and smiles.  I think it’s a smile.  She could be annoyed and is too polite to tell me.  My wife does the same thing.

Anyway, I say “Ah ha!”

Then I read a bit more, and it suddenly makes sense.

For instance.

When Lizzy is visiting Hunsford, Maria bursts into her room asking her to come downstairs quickly.  Lizzy is reluctant and questions Maria, but Maria keeps her secret.

Wait a minute Jane!  Maria’s a kid, a child we’ve been told.  Kids are terrible secret keepers.  In fact, the normal kid is so darn proud to have a secret that the last thing they want to do is “keep” it to themselves.

It makes SO much more sense if Maria comes upstairs to TELL Lizzy what’s going on.

“Ah ha!” I say to Jane, yet again.  Caught you!  She smiles.  Maybe.  I read on.

Lizzy goes downstairs, hoping to find Mr. Collins chasing the pigs in the garden.  Instead she finds a carriage containing two women.

“WHAT?  You called me down here for this?” she exclaims, I paraphrase.

Jane needed Lizzy to be downstairs to see the sickly Miss de Burgh so that she could enjoy the thought of Darcy being married to her.  Ah ha!

If Liz had known it was only a carriage containing a de Burgh, she never would have bothered rushing.  She would have missed the big event.  So THAT’S why Maria had to keep the secret.  Besides, if Maria really wanted to keep it a secret, she would have relished Lizzy’s reaction upon seeing the great lady.

Wait a minute.  She does.  Maria is disappointed in Elizabeth’s reaction.  She says “La!” Like everything else Austen has done, the characters are drawn deftly, expertly, each line, each word, has a purpose.

And even when there’s a characterization that seems out of place, like Maria’s secret, there’s a reason for it.  Sometime the reason is evident in the next paragraph.  Some take a few chapters to unravel.

It takes an artist to craft realistic characters.

It takes a great artist to craft memorable characters that are true to themselves, and each other.

However, only the greatest of all artists can tweak their memorable realistic characters in ways that push the boundaries of that character and still remain realistic, all for improving the story.

Thanks Jane.

I think she’s smiling now.

 

 

 

 

Supply Our Own Light

I study behavior.  I want everyone to study behavior.  It’s necessary for us to succeed as a species.  Strangely enough, Stanley Kubrick said the same thing.

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this, and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death, then our existence can have genuine meaning.  However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

Studying the universe in all aspects is also part of behavior.  Our knowledge of the universe, how we go about acquiring and treating that knowledge, and our feelings about the universe are all human behaviors.

One of the most difficult things we must overcome in understanding behavior is detachment, removing ourselves from the equation.  We must have no feelings, no passion for our subject.  Whatever happens, happens.

We know that people mistreat animals, other adults, even children.  Yet as students we must take a deep breath and consider all the possibilities.

We watch as someone rises to power, corrupting government and the economy so that he amasses great wealth in a short period of time, without benefit to society.  We must stand by and learn, knowing that this has happened before.  Like stress in tectonic plates, these will also be relieved someday.

A despot secures his power, removing hard fought liberties from his nation.  We must take a deep breath, re-read our histories, and apply this new knowledge to our preparations for the future.

Kubrick was right, not only for technically conquering the vastness of space, but also for understanding behavior in all its forms.

We must confront the universe without passion, without preconception.  In order to explore the universe of behavior, we need only one thing.

We must supply our own light.

 

****  Boring Notes Follow ****

This quote is from the last few lines of page 508, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015.  The book doesn’t indicate where Mr. Kubrick’s quote was taken from.

Quoting another source semi-verbatim isn’t my style, but with the proper citation and it being only a little bit of quoting, we should be able to swing this by the legal department.  If there’s a problem, please ask nicely and this post can be modified.

But there’s a reason it’s worth quoting, it’s great writing and speaking.  The text is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in aviation, space, movies, science fiction, science, anything technical, or anything having to do with behavior.  I fall into 5 of those categories.  You’ll want to buy it because it’s too good to share.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.

 

Where Are They?

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Where are all the aliens?

Enrico Fermi asked this question many years ago only a few decades after we started blasting radio messages into space.

Bizony’s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey by Kubrick revisits the subject because that is something Kubrick wondered about.  So did many others of that time.  We don’t think about it much, any more.  Sure, there are the zealots at SETI and similar outfits.  But the question remains, where are the little green guys we’ve dreamed so much about?

Here’s where a good theory of behavior comes in handy.

Every single time a new technology is invented, us people think it’s the end all to beat all.  Egyptians had glass.  Romans had the arch.  Britain brought us the steam engine, and then in rapid succession we ended up with electricity, nuclear power, and antibiotics.

With respect to aliens, we’ve only begun to realize that there’s almost NO chance that we are the only life in the universe.  This isn’t the place to go over the details, but suffice it to say that, no matter how unlikely you may think the creation of life may be, the universe is SO LARGE that it’s virtually guaranteed someone out there is thinking the same thing about us.

Now, back to where the aliens are hiding.  If they are out there, why aren’t we finding them?

The first reason is simple.  They don’t want to be found.  They met a few neighbors, and decided the problems outweighed the benefits.  Thank you very much, but no one’s home.  Let’s face it.  They would have to be much smarter than us, and turning out the lights and pulling in the welcome mat shouldn’t be that hard.

Second reason is a bit more complex.  Intelligent life is likely to be much smarter than us.  Let’s face it, that’s not hard to imagine.  They know that looking for radio waves is not the best test for intelligence.  Very wasteful.  So they use something else, perhaps something that could even beat the speed limit of light.  Yes, this violates everything we know in physics and the structure of space, but did I forget to mention that these aliens are smarter than us?

Why shouldn’t we just look for radio waves?  Because there’s nothing that says this is the summit of our technological mountain.  We could have much farther to go, and to assume that we know everything there is to know, today, is fairly arrogant.

So, with all due respects to Dr. Fermi, yes, the aliens are out there.

The reason we can’t find them?  We aren’t smart enough.

And they have no interest in talking to us, because they know we aren’t worth talking to.

Yet.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Distractions

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Did I mention I’m writing something similar to P&P?  Did I mention that it’s one of the most wonderfully constructed novels of all time?

As I write these words, and as I work on Chapter 26 of my own version of P&P, I hear news of the latest gun-related tragedy in Florida.

It pierces my heart in so many ways.  Violence like this has become so common that our cries are no longer meaningful.

There was a time when I envied Jane’s quiet life.  I thought about the idyllic English countryside, the slow pace of life, the absence of phone and reliance on pony.

Then I realized that she was no stranger to strife.  Her own life and the world must have seemed out of control.  The militias and armies moving about her were going to war against Napoleon.  Kitty’s cough could certainly represent the harbinger of death for many she’d known.  A world without antibiotics and few options for women would be bad enough.  Combine that with a will and an intellect striving for something better, and you have something more than a prison.  You have a tortured soul.

I’m convinced that Jane Austen was tough, tougher than we give her credit.  The fact that she could produce a story such as P&P despite the fact that she was in pain, the fact that she saw so much more of the world and of humanity’s promise than her peers, and chose to NOT write them directly into her story makes her all that much greater. [1]

Which is why I don’t write about massacres, violence, hypocrisy, and all the other trials we suffer in my story’s modern world. [2]  If Jane could do it, I can try.  I all else fails, at least this post publicly testifies to how great she is, in yet another way.

 

 

[1] There are tiny little P&P details hinting that she saw, but didn’t say anything.  And if she can poke fun at something, she does.  What a gal.

[2]  Truth disclaimer: I write about the terrible things the main character finds in his past.  That past links him and the other main characters in more than romantic ways.  Think about Darcy, and Wickham actually being related.