Baltimore, education, science

from the backhanded department

Last week, there were people standing outside the Hopkins bookstore handing out free copies of The Origin Of Species to everyone who passed by. The edition was published, and I have to assume the effort was funded, by these people – “publishing the changeless word for a changing world.” It’s a Florida-based Christian publisher – and the back cover tells us, “A wealth of scientific discoveries since 1971 give a resounding answer to whether Darwin’s theory has been proved,” and otherwise refers to evolution as “an unproved theory.”

An interesting way to make your point, handing out copies of the foundation text of the theory you’re arguing against. I would think that the arguments of the Darwin would outweigh the commentary they’re trying to package it with.

Also fun, from the cover: “This [edition] is for use in schools, colleges, and prestigious learning institutions.” Not for the un-prestigious. I wonder how many colleges in the South they’ve been handing these out in? And if one more person tells me that Baltimore isn’t in the South, I’m going to have to refer the matter to the enormous statue of Stonewall outside the door. It may not be the deep South, but it sure isn’t the North.

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science, writing

continually conditioning society

So, some scientists have found, based on a questionnaire about whether or not Darcy and Elizabeth and Heathcliff are nice or nasty, that novels are “not just by-products of evolutionary adaptation,” but actually “continually condition society so that we fight against base impulses and work in a cooperative way,” especially Victorian novels, which “have a function that continues to contribute to the quality and structure of group life.”

This makes me sick. If I believed that, I would stop writing immediately.

It’s amazing how this particular Platonic error of interpretation about literature persists, century after century – how we keep trying to find justifications for literature which somehow make it contribute to the social good. Literature is good for religion, good for politics, good for philosophy, good for science – now it has to be good for evolution?

Literature is not “good” for anything except being itself. Poetry makes nothing happen. The Victorian novelists were writing against the social order as much as within it, and the fact that their characters reflect facets of that social order does not mean that the novels helped bolster it.

No one can predict who will be inspired to do what by a work of art. The same books and the same music have been inspiring to both pacifists and murderers. The other side of this argument about Victorian novels leading to a better society is that old familiar one about Marilyn Manson being responsible for Columbine. We have to take responsibility for our own actions and stop blaming (or crediting) the books, the music, the art.

This is the first time in my life that I have found myself arguing on the opposite side of the fence as an evolutionary scientist.

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books, family, science

physics and other diversions

We are on stage early this weekend – the carpenters finished the towering behemoth of a set quickly, and we’re spacing. Tech begins Wednesday.

I’m reading a book by Alan Lightman that a physicist friend recommended, GREAT IDEAS IN PHYSICS. It’s a survey non-majors kind of thing, but not dumbed down. I’m skimming through the conservation laws now. Lightman’s writing is refreshingly clear. I haven’t had physics since 9th grade, so this is all new to me, or seems so.

My father is a social scientist, and my mother is a scientific humanist – a librarian, but with a pragmatic approach to the world of the humanities. They both have feet in both worlds. I think their two children, in response, went to the opposite ends of the spectrum: theater and computers. We find ourselves pretty far apart in terms of our fields of work, but Z and I both take a lot of pleasure in bridging the gap between the two cultures whenever possible.

It feels like when I read science books, I’m doing something in connection to my family, and to our most firmly held belief – which has to do with education, and how you can never have enough of it, and how there is no excuse for not knowing everything there is to know, or trying. I think, although I don’t know for certain, that Z may feel the same way about his explorations of the arts. It’s in honor of our upbringing that we both religiously explore the other fields.

My desire to be well-rounded in this aspect used to be a drawback – I would go to the extent of not taking the classes I most wanted to take, usually in the English department, because “that was what everyone does” and I needed to also know about everything else. This is how I got through school without ever taking a Shakespeare class. I showed up on the first day of several, and decided that this was something I was already familiar with, and it would be “better for me” to suffer through something less exactly what I loved. Big mistake. I both know much less about Shakespeare than I should and also have a lingering resentment of certain other subjects.

I no longer feel that way, having given myself the luxury of specialization, and surfeited on theater to the extent that I sneeze and produce a ground plan. These days, reading physics is pure joy. Taking a break.

During spacing today, one of the actors referred to the “Z axis,” and I had to take way too long to remember what that was – a string of memories that took me back to ninth grade, to graph paper, to math that I enjoyed, math involving things like “line segments.”

I actually had to remember the cover of my old graph-paper pad, a green and burgundy thing, before I could remember the “Z axis.” I miss geometry. (Lightman says geometry was da Vinci’s favorite.) I was never patient enough to be good at it – but I did like it, and I think it more than any other discipline of science or math stayed in my brain.

Geometry was also where I developed the one joke which I actually made up myself – a joke about a protractor which achieved legendary status in that particular math class, in my junior high. (You had to be there.) I have never since been able to create a math joke, or any kind of joke, but geometry seems unmathematically playful, and works with my mind.

That made me think about staging a scene for SIAW a couple years back, when I was still struggling to get out of my tendency to over-block everything. I let the actors do what I considered to be a very free process, with lots of improv, and (for me) relatively little shape-based intervention.

When one of my friends saw the scene, he said, with total honesty, “I never would have thought of staging it that way – with all the triangles.” I guess it wasn’t as free a process as I’d thought.

I do hope that this is all somehow leading back to FLATLAND. I blogged a few months back about the incumbent destruction of Meyer Library, and how I feel like before they destroy it, they should let me and J.W. stage that book in and around its hallowed halls. I’ve done exactly nothing about this, but now I’m mentioning it again, and maybe it’ll happen.

(Created a “science” category with this post.)

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