Above us, Only Sky

Politics, Philosophy, Science, and Everything Else.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


A morbid mood is upon me, so the topic is death. I'm not facing it so I can't actually comment on what my visceral reaction to the prospect would be, but I have been thinking about it for reasons both morbid and unimportant.

My thoughts about the nature of life are such that death doesn't pose much of a threat. This is because I think that our existence as beings through time is basically an illusion. Lets take a step back. Imagine a boat (this is a stolen thought-experiment, and the boat is from the original, which I can't credit because I can't remember the source). This boat is made of lumber. Now, due to wear and tear, parts of the boat are occasionally replaced. If you take up one plank of the boat and replace it with a new plank, is it still the same boat? If, after a period of years, original material is present, is it still the same boat? The answer is that it is if people thionk it is- the idea 'boat' is merely a way of understanding the world, it doesn't impose anything on to the stuff from which the vessel is made. If some mysterious evil power were to come along one night and replace every fibre of the boat with totally new- but effectively identicle- material, it would still be the same boat (to the ignorant sailors) because thats how they would percieve it. identity is a matter of perception.
Take this idea and place it on people: the stuff of my body is being constantly replaced, and the (possibly urban-myth) whole thing is replaced evry seven years or so, so my identity doesn't come from my STUFF, and also, the pattern changes, my body changes appearance, size, and behavior. My personality changes, sometimes slowly, sometime drastically. I feel that I am the person who created all the memories in my head, because they are framed that way for me, but how do I know I wasn't created 3 seconds ago with all the memories already pre-made? The fact is, in a sense, I was. I don't pretend to understand the muniutia of neurobiology, but I know it's a constantly changing thing of connections and chemicals and energy. What I am right now just came into existence and will go out of existence by... now. Over a period of hours, or in the space of a decent sleep, all the particular bits that were 'me' have been replaced by similar bits. So in effect we all die all the time, only to be replaced by very similar beings who look and act a lot like we did, who will disappear and be replaced in turn.
So, according to this, actual death shouldn't be that scary, because it's not like we were going to last that long anyway.

I'll still run if I see a tiger chasing me, though.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Warcraft Orphan

This blog has been orphaned by World of Warcraft. Yes, I am an addict. Only time will tell if I can shake this addiction and return to a semi-normal life.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Value of Fiction

I’ve written before about some books I’ve read which I thought had too much ideological bias, now I want to talk about what I consider to be the real value of fictional stories/novels. It is possible to tell a story of value in another medium, but I’m going to focus on the novel because this is something I know about, at the very least because I’ve read so very many of them and I’ve tried to write a few as well.

Generally, when one thinks of ‘important books’, you’re either talking about non-fiction of very carefully placed fiction. While some classical works of Science Fiction and Fantasy have achieved this status, for the most part any book in the fantasy or Sci-Fi section of your bookstore is going to be considered, by most people, to be pulp and geek-fodder. For many of those books, the placement isn’t wrong. But to paint the whole genre with that brush is to do a great disservice to yourself, because you’re denying the value that this type of book can provide.

From where dose the value of stories come? We can start with true stories- news and non-fiction, stories that are for the most part, true. For some kinds of news, they can tell us about things going on in our world, but for most of them, and for anything about the past, there isn’t going to be any specific information about what we can expect in our day to day lives. Yet there is value to them- the value of their being human stories. There are always morality tales, and very often there is an attempt to structure real world stories in this way- showing acts and consequences, but on a simpler and less deliberate level, stories simply convey human action and feeling. When we hear about a disaster, we imagine ourselves there, we imagine other people there- we think in human terms. Every successful story ever told conveys some kind of human element. Why is lord of the rings so popular? Because we all imagine ourselves as the brave hobbit bearing a terrible burden and receiving a heroic reward. We are affected by 1984 because we imagine ourselves trapped in the same nightmare. These archetypes also show us wherein the value of those fictional worlds lies. What the fictional world does is it allows the author to create exactly the situation he wants in order to show some aspect or quality of the human condition. It does so without getting entangled in any real world historical situations that might complicate the issue.

If you want a character to be faced with the ultimate evil, supernatural, unbounded, then simply invent it. Fantasy fiction allows the author the scope to examine the human condition from any angle, under any conditions, without restriction. The only thing that must remain constant is the honest portrayal of human actions. This is not because it is impossible to tell a story absent any real human behaviour- but without it, the story will lack any great appeal. The only factor in the survival of a book or story (once it has achieved a certain minimal amount of dissemination) is appeal- whether people enjoy them and want to pass them on or not. This appeal has virtually nothing to do with the real world setting, though many of the best stories have been told in the real world, because the complexity and depth necessary to create a really compelling human portrait is easier to create when much of the context for the story is already in place.