Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hobbes the fool

~From Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Anotherby Philip Ball, page 17:

On meeting the great man [Galileo], Hobbes became convinced that [intertia] must be the axiom he was seeking [to form a fundemental hypothesis about human behavior]. Constant motion was the natural state of all things, including people. All human sensations and emotions, he concluded, were the result of motion. From this basic principle Hobbes would work upward to a theory of society.

I didn't know Hobbes was that foolish... to take the physical property of inertia and just decide it must apply to human thought?! Where in the world does that axiom come from?! I can understand how the human mind is like a computer, a very simple notion nowadays, and the notion that it "remains in motion" might have some merit, but it's Hobbes's logic that I find surprising... he learns something about physics and just decides to apply it humans in way that its meaning changes so much its basis in physics is almost meaningless. Give me a break, Hobbes, you fool!


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fairy Tales

~From The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Storiesby Christopher Booker, page 11:

Over the past 100 years innumerable attempts have been made to interpret myths, folk tales and other stories in this way, from Ernest Jones's essay analysing Hamlet as another example of the Oedipal triangle to Dr Bruno Bettelheim's The Use of Enchantment analysing the reasons for the appeal and value of the old fairy tales to the children of today.

Kind of in an unrelated point, I don't think "children of today" have any particular craving for one type of story or another; what types of stories they hear are largely decided by adults. A best-selling children's picture book does not imply that children love that book the most, it's sales are determined by parents who decide to buy the book! Similarly, Shakespeare's continued popularity is, I believe, in large part due its continued teaching in school. Hamlet sales would plummet if high school students suddenly no longer had to write essays on it. It would be wrong to conclude that there's something special about Shakespeare's work just because of book sales and the fact that every high schooler has heard of him.

In other words, popularity is an emergent property that does not necessarily correlate with the presence of specific recognizable attributes. (It might, it might not.)