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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Oh, it's way too late to think this hard. 

So the post isn't "new," in the sense that I can be slow to get to things, but I just now sat down and really read it. And it's fucking fascinating.

From Ezrael's fantabulous blog, Once I noticed I was on fire, I decided to relax and enjoy the fall:

Well, let us consider. First off, it's probably untrue that the artist is wholly without influence on what he or she creates... anyone who has read a few books by Samuel Clemens knows there is a similarity to them that indicates co-authorship. Likewise, an examination of works by Picasso or Brughel tells you who made them: the author is stamped onto his or her work, the painter or sculptor shows through in the art itself. This goes for almost any creative endeavour. However, consider the possibility that no one, be she artist or lab technician or politician, really resides wholly and separately within the self. Julian Jaynes theorized that humanity evolved the self fairly recently, no later than the Bronze Age, and that the presence of gods and so on in ancient Homeric epics was an example of the mind's evolution... that before a certain point, when a man wanted to make war he would go and consult the oracles and his own fragmented psyche would speak to him and he would consider it the promptings of a god. Imagine that Jaynes was wholly incorrect. What if it isn't that we had to create a single self out of many selves at all... what if our intellect, our vaunted creativity, our human individuality and inventiveness is the result of our brains learning to tune in to a higher existence? In essence, what makes us human does not reside in our brains at all... we draw from outside the 'divine spark', the inspiration (from the Latin for 'breathing in' as they believed that we drew in such with every breath we took) that allows us to create a work of art, a book of mysterious insight, or even a powerful new weapon that drives small spears into the breasts of charging enemies or fleeing prey.

An interesting idea, and one I entertain from time to time. I'm not sure I agree; or, at least, I don't agree exactly. It's kind of late, my brain's tired, so I'm going to try to do this point by point... and most likely it'll just come off like a random scattering of thoughts. Well: cope.

1) This sounds vaguely similar to Alan Moore's concept of "ideaspace" (or whatever it was he called it.) I've only read about this concept secondhand, so... apologies all around if I get the details wrong. The basic concept is that there's a sort of, well, an "ideaspace," a realm of human experience and knowledge and creativity that all humans, but especially artistic, mathematical, and scientific types, are in tune with. This is why you might see general ideas, catchphrases, pop culture trends, and similar stories ("memes," though I'm coming to loathe that term) pop up all over the place at relatively the same time, with no previous interconnection between the sources. The idea is that humans all over the globe are tapping into the same parts of "ideaspace" all at the same time.

Me, I think calling this phenomenon "ideaspace" and assigning it metaphysical baggage is a way of putting shiny rims on the really shitty Pontiac that is "social trend." It's unnecessary and gaudy. I am an absolute believer in the butterfly effect, that all occurences are a product of incalculable number of previous elements, from individual psychology to what the weather was like 100 years and 5 days ago; I get plenty a hairy eyeball when I suggest that humans are essentially robots, whose output is nothing more than what input is received by the world (nurture) processed through random genetic make-up (nature). We are, in short, fabulously sexy computers who wear socks.

In short (too late, ha ha), I believe free will is an illusion, a label slapped over unfathomable number of causes-and-effects that our minds simply aren't big enough to grasp. It's easier (and more romantic) to say we have souls and real, true, personal identities, than it is to actually figure out what drives us.

2) "Julian Jaynes theorized that humanity evolved the self fairly recently, no later than the Bronze Age, and that the presence of gods and so on in ancient Homeric epics was an example of the mind's evolution... that before a certain point, when a man wanted to make war he would go and consult the oracles and his own fragmented psyche would speak to him and he would consider it the promptings of a god."

Eh, all right, but I think this is fancifying a pretty pedestrian occurence, as with the "ideaspace" bit above. One of the most brilliant things I've ever heard was when an english teacher of mine said that a society's complexity could be measured by its popular fiction. And what were stories of Greek god debaucheries and demi-god heroes slaying monsters but their time and place's popular fiction? They might not have called it fiction, but it was certainly entertainment.

Relatively simple civilizations would produce something as morally straightforward as Beowulf, while a more complex society might produce, I don't know, Dude, Where's My Car?

(Har har, but you get my point.)

So I'm not seeing the evolution of self where Jaynes is, enamored as I am with the idea of a person going to the Oracles at Delphi or some such to consult their fractured psyche. I'm seeing the evolution of society.

Hmm. I'm sure I had more, but I've lost my thread.

Talk amongst yourselves.

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