stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
It's Sunday morning; you've just brought in the paper. You notice - never mind how or why - that, though you brought in the Sunday paper last week as well, you did not read that one.

Do you: a) read last week's paper first, in pursuit of chronological order; b) read this week's paper first, on the grounds that the other is certainly not urgent any more; c) toss the old paper into the recycling without reading it; d) wonder how any fool could possibly bring in the paper but forget to read it?
stoutfellow: (Murphy)
Can you really call yourself an uebermensch without even being a mensch?
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
Today, without any provocation I can think of, a phrase flitted through my mind, with almost no content attached, and I'm hoping somebody on my FL can identify its origin. I suspect that it came from a movie, or perhaps a television show. A cartoon?

In my head, this is what I hear: a gruff voice - an older man, probably, with a pseudo-German accent - bellowing "Enough is too much!"

Does that ring a bell with anyone?
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
It begins with an advertisement. It's not on the air anymore; in fact, I'm not sure when it was aired, for how long, or even what was being advertised. (Really effective ad, no?) The ad opens with Cybill Shepherd saying, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

Now, that sentence bugs me on a number of levels, but I'm just going to focus on the presupposition.

I don't see Cybill Shepherd as beautiful. I know that there are those who do, and they are numerous, or influential, or both; but I don't see it. I've wasted spent some time trying to figure out why she's not appealing to me.

Faces are important. If a face doesn't strike me well, there's not much that can retrieve the situation. Now, I'll grant that CS has nice eyes. (Eyes can do a lot. Elizabeth Rohm's eyes almost make up for her shortcomings as an actress.) The problem seems to have to do with the lower half of her face. For a while I thought it was the strength of her jawline, but Phylicia Rashad has a comparably strong jaw, and she's gorgeous. I've decided it has to be the width of her mouth. I'm not sure why that turns me off, but - well, I'm not impressed with Julia Roberts either.

There are two kinds of faces that I like. An oval or heart-shaped face with delicate features, like Audrey Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman, is very attractive. Glenn Close fits here too. At the lower end, this shades into cuteness - Meg Ryan or Helen Hunt. (Helen Hunt fails, for me, because her chin is too weak. I'm not sure why Meg Ryan misses the cut.) On the other hand, a longish face with strong features merits a second look too. Katharine Hepburn is the exemplar in this group, but there are a lot of recent contenders too, including Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, and Claudia Black. The lower end here includes what my father calls "handsome" women; Claudia Christian is one, Allison Janney another.

Voices matter a lot, too. There's a particular sort of voice that really attracts me, but it seems rare; I've only noticed it three times. Kate Jackson has (had? haven't seen her in a while) it, and so does Claudia Black. So did (sigh) one of my students, quite a few years ago. (Ethics, boy, ethics!)

Not that anyone was asking...
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
Note: I raised this question once on the Bujold list, with interesting if mixed results. I know many of those who read this journal are Bujold listies; if my returning to the subject bothers or bores you, I regret that. Not enough to refrain, mind you...

"Things Man was not meant to know" is a recurring theme in horror and in some science fiction (more in film than on paper). As far as I can tell, much if not most of the sf community finds the idea repellent, generally on the grounds that knowledge is a good thing. I agree with (an appropriately nuanced version of) that sentiment, but I've come to the conclusion that the concept can be reformulated in a plausible way, and I can nominate at least one good candidate for the role.

First, the knowledge in question has to have value. ("How could I destroy all life on the planet?" does not strike me as a useful or interesting question...)

Second, it has to be obtainable by the methods of some recognized science. (I don't want to argue about what constitutes science; let's cast a broad net.)

Third, although I doubt that the possession of knowledge can be, of itself, evil, it is certainly possible for the means by which the knowledge is obtained to be evil. (Cf., e.g., the "experiments" conducted by the likes of Dr. Mengele.) It is at least conceivable for a particular piece of knowledge to be unobtainable except via unethical experiments; this is the third criterion.

So, what I'm proposing as "Things Humanity Should Not Try to Discover" (updating the moldy old phrase) are the answers to any questions which, though of interest and scientifically resolvable, cannot be resolved by ethical means.

Under the cut, I have a candidate ). I'm curious if anyone can suggest another reasonable candidate, knock down mine by showing how such information could have been obtained ethically, or challenge my proposed criteria. Any takers?
stoutfellow: (Ben)
In response to my post on Petula Clark, [ profile] sunlizzard raised a question:

"I'd be willing to bet that you have also trained your ear to intentionally not listen at that particular level as well, making it an option you consciously choose or not, as your listening needs (or wants) change...but.... what if you couldn't turn it OFF, or didn't know how to 'throw the switch'... or even that there was a switch?
I've had this discussion with Guidz, who discovered (and not pleasantly) that once she had learned aural analysis, she couldn't listen to anything without that 'running commentary' existing side by side with the music itself. I could relate to that; when I was first learning some of the basic mechanics of writing, I found the (largely unwanted) Inner Editor perching on my shoulder, distracting and interfering, when all I wanted to do was enjoy the dang story. However, I did eventually learn to throw the switch--bug off, IE!--or at least reduce it to a concurrent whisper, rarely all that annoying. I think Guido will learn the same thing. Just takes time and practice.
What say you?"

On one level, the answer is easy. My critical abilities as regards music are undoubtedly far inferior to Guidz'; the last time I took a music class, I was in 6th grade. What I know, I've learned from (a few) books and from (much) listening, and I'm nowhere near the point she's reached. The same applies to my appreciation of literature; I can - more or less - follow, say, Wayne Booth's theoretical discussions, but it wouldn't occur to me to apply his methods unprompted. To analyze a work of art requires me to make a conscious effort, and I can lapse into - in fact, I default to - uncritical enjoyment without any effort.

On another level, your own experience suggests that, to some extent, it's possible to gain control over one's critical faculties - to "throw the switch", as you say. Not completely - works that you once enjoyed can fall down the rathole, never to be appreciated again - but well enough to regain something like the old appreciation, transposed to a higher level. That particular crisis, in these areas, I don't know whether I've passed.

What I do know is mathematics. The analogy isn't going to be perfect, because, though mathematics has a strong aesthetic component, it has other elements as well; but I think it's close enough.

Consider the following mathematical puzzle:
Write down a number with two or more digits, but make sure the first and last digits are different. Now write it down backwards. Take the difference. Now, add up the digits of the difference. If the sum has more than one digit, add them up. Keep going until you get a single digit. Then that digit is under the cut ).

Now, the first time I saw that, I was impressed, and I spent a fair amount of time playing with it - constructing other, similar tricks, and playing with the underlying ideas. Now, though, it doesn't elicit more than a smile, if that much, from me. It's too simple, from my present vantage.

On the other hand, a few years back, another professor showed me this:
Let A and B be two positive whole numbers - for simplicity, let's say A=5 and B=7. Now double B, over and over. Sooner or later, you'll get a number that begins with the digits of A. In this example, you get 7, 14, 28, 56 - aha! That's the one. But it would work if you chose A=723 and B=1125, or any numbers you please. (It might take a lot of doublings; there's no way to predict how many.)

He challenged me to explain why this happens. When I confessed failure, he showed me why. The proof came out of left field, using techniques from topology, of all things, but it was so simple and so beautiful that all I could do was shake my head and say, "That is slick!" And I still think so; the years since haven't jaded me on it.

And so the question becomes: would I sacrifice the ability to appreciate that proof to regain the pleasure I took in that first trick, so many years ago? Not on your life! The benefit far outweighs the cost.

Is the analogy close enough?


stoutfellow: Joker (Default)

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