Thursday, February 16, 2012

Doing Big Things

While watching this video of Neal Stephenson talking about our society's seeming lack of ambition for doing big things...

Stephenson lists some of the great scientific accomplishments of the last century - antibiotics, airplanes, landing on the moon. But science says nothing about why these are great. Nor, would FLG argue, are they self-evidently awesome as Stephenson seems to argue.

So, what great new big idea does he proffer? We look back to Babylon and decide to build a big tower. Great. To what end? What does it mean? For whose glory? Who will stand as witness? What's the point? In fairness, Stephenson says, hey, maybe you think it's a dumb idea, the point is just to get people thinking big. But then FLG began to wonder about the moonshot. What meaning or relevance does that have for most people's lived lives?

FLG couldn't help but think of the greatest multi-generational projects - cathedrals - and wonder if maybe, perhaps, science is incapable of inspiring by itself.

And then FLG thought of this clip...


The Ancient said...

I quit at nine minutes.

Why is it that people *ever* expect fiction writers to have anything of value to say about the real world?

(Or as Andrew might have put it back in his younger and rowdier days, "'unacknowledged legislators of mankind,' my ass.")

((Just kidding, Andrew.))

Andrew Stevens said...

That's something I still might say now, The Ancient. That particular line of Shelley's is an especially pompous bit of nonsense. Fiction writers are usually just bad philosophers. I read a lot of fiction when I was young, but have very little use for any of it now.

The Ancient said...

Le Comtesse de Crepitude has objected -- over this evening's excellent pot-au-feu -- to my phrase "anything of value to say about the real world." And she gives Dickens as her example.

Perhaps I should have stuck to poets, or put the matter more in terms of practical utility, or just stuck with the words I put in Andrew's mouth.


FLG said...

Agreed about them being bad philosophers.

The ancient
The man who brought us Sydney Carton has much of value to say about the real world?


Actually, I think fiction writers are useful for illuminating some aspects of the human condition.

Andrew Stevens said...

Primarily through its power to emotionally manipulate, though. And it usually illuminates them by exaggerating and/or lying about them.

FLG said...

Exactly Plato's complaint.

FLG said...

Well, not exactly his complaint, but close enough.

Andrew Stevens said...

Just to clarify, I'm not in favor of expelling poets from the Republic.

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