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Notes Towards Day 21 (Tues, Apr. 3): Becoming Unstuck in Time

Anne Dalke's picture

Slaughterhouse Five: Type and Form

I. coursekeeping
finish Slaughterhouse Five for Thursday;
come to class having selected a passage
(or question) for us to discuss

some old business:

anything to say re: Law & Order "Immortal"?

dglasser discovers Women Writers Online Lab!

reporting in from the Re-Humanities Symposium
Alex Juhasz
's Feminist Online Spaces:
Building & Linking Principled Sites in Collaboration
esp. One Feminist Online Media Mantrafesto re:
re-making internet space from the inside
(consider what makes a story "spreadable":
slick quick jokes are the current "nature of virality");
critical voices need to be part of this conversation

leamirella on becoming media literate = asking the
right questions/to produce work that communicates
more than what a paper-bound paper can: consider
Design (relation between content and medium),
Syntax (to reach a wider audience),
What is lost? (what's more accessible in photographs?),
Performance (integrating fellow writers in blog spaces....)

also: recommended citation practices, including
Creating an Archive of Digital Discourse on Social Media, &
Citing born out of discourse through various forms of media
(using initials for last names, to emphasize collaboration,
and highlighting the specific types of discourse being used...)

what about Katherine Harris on "Doing the Risky Thing"?

other Sunday night postings/after-
thoughts ran to the philosophical...

kobieta: our physical self doesn't belong to us....
99% of your DNA is similar to every other human being's...
our DNA, the building block of the self, is ....shared, collective
property that you really don’t have any rights to....your personality
... isn't yours either...."I am not original. I am the combined efforts
of everyone I've ever met"... the self can never be traced, can never
be claimed yours....I acknowledge that this is a very radical way of
thinking. But hey, even this isn’t my own. It’s a combined effort of ...
what we discuss everyday in class. This too, is collective property. (;

froggies315: I’m with you 100% on the DNA thing.  I’m even with you 100%
on the character and personality thing.  I guess where I start to lose your
train of thought is what comes next.... I am derived from an ancient biological
lineage, but I get to take responsibility for my existence because I have
what life is on this planet--I have an impact, we all have an impact...
we all must take ownership of how our existence touches other life...

Alicia kicked off quite a (related?) thread w/ her query, Are quotes ... facts?

dglasser: a quotation is a fact when two people agree on it
regardless of the reader....writers, reporters, etc have a mutual
trust between them that whatever is written or recorded is
done so with as much accuracy as possible....

I’ll agree with froggies that it’s a fact that it was said,
but there is so much more that we need to know about
intent in order to form the bigger picture of understanding
(and truth and fact). To merely know that it was said isn’t enough.

I am becoming exasperated...facts only really matter
in the context of the world.

it certainly would not be a fact that you could fly,
even if you were sure it was true .... if [historical] facts are wrong,
what “facts” that we believe in now might be erroneous?
Of what grand things could we live in utter ignorance?

Ayla's high school teacher said:
In the context of this course, to the best of your ability,
what has been presented as the latest knowledge? ...this was
a good way to reconcile what we consider to be knowledge now
and the knowledge we will have in the future.  Knowledge is
revisable ...fact revisable...

froggies315: Writing off facts as fiction is easy.  A harder
and more worthwhile task is working to listen for
the truth in all stories.  I think we might be surprised
by how compatible all these ... really are.  

cf. Jonah Lehrer's "The Truth Wears Off":
The test of replicability… is the foundation of modern research…
how the community enforces itself…a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity.
But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started
to look increasingly uncertain. It's as if our facts were losing their truth....

The most likely explanation for [a decline in data] is an obvious one:
regression to the mean. As the experiment is repeated, that is, an early
statistical fluke gets cancelled out….[or is] the decline effect largely a
product of publication bias, or the tendency of scientists and scientific
journals to prefer positive data over null results [?]…an equally significant
issue [may be] the selective reporting of results …subtle omissions and
unconscious misperceptions... the "shoehorning" process…

…[perhaps] too many researchers engage in ... "significance chasing," or
finding ways to interpret the data so that it passes the statistical test of significance…
The problem of selective reporting is rooted in a fundamental cognitive flaw, which is
that we like proving ourselves right and hate being wrong…The current "obsession"
with replicability distracts from the real problem, which is faulty design....

scientific research will always be shadowed by a force that can't be curbed,
only contained: sheer randomness….a lot of extraordinary scientific data are
nothing but noise….a meaningless outlier, a by-product of invisible variables
we don't understand.... the decline effect is actually a decline of illusion.

…Such anomalies demonstrate the slipperiness of empiricism. Although many
scientific ideas generate conflicting results and suffer from falling effect sizes,
they continue to get cited …Because these ideas seem true. Because they make
sense. Because we can't bear to let them go. And this is why the decline effect is
so troubling. … because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything. We like
to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that's often not the case.
Just because an idea is true doesn't mean it can be proved. And just because an
idea can be proved doesn't mean it's true. When the experiments are done, we
still have to choose what to believe.

III. pretty good warm-up/frame for today and Thursday's turn
Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five

I had asked you to reflect on what differentiates it from
Skloot's book
(to consider, for example, her relation
to Deborah, in comparison to his to Billy Pilgrim...
what do we know of Vonnegut's own experiences as a prisoner of war?)

thinking about science fiction, in cf. w/
the genre of popular science writing --
Brown Bag Discussion on Science's Audiences:
a "scientific fact" moves from the laboratory into the social world
through multiple levels of filtration, discussion, conversation,
translation, and adaptation to accessible language. Science
legitimized itself by becoming a public activity
--a process
of negotiation in which the acquisition of "virtual audiences"
was essential. In this process of virtual witnessing, "not in front
of the air pump," (for example) Boyle had to use descriptions to
convince his audiences of what he had done. But those
audiences were actors with their own agendas
, interpretations
and reactions; a feedback process was thereby initiated, and the
explanations changed in reaction to audience response.

how translatable are science's understandings?
in what forms?

IV. Science Fiction
from Jessy, Hierarchy Among Genres:
there has been a debate about whether scifi is an autonomous,
independent genre or a derivative subgenre of utopia writing,
with utopia writing as being high literature and scifi being 'just'
popular culture....

I'd like to introduce the term 'speculative fiction', that is, fiction
which asks 'what if' ... more specifically, 'what if there were a
society, perhaps of human beings, perhaps not, which had this
difference - what kind of society would that produce? If society
were like that, what kind of people would it produce?' Science
fiction provides a frame for speculative story-telling...

In her commentary on The Left Hand of Darkness, "Is Gender Necessary?"
Ursula LeGuin talks about science fiction as a heuristic device, a
thought-experiment: "The experiment is performed, the question is
asked, in the mind . . . . [Science fiction is] simply a way of thinking.
One of the essential functions of science fiction is question-asking:
a reversal of habitual ways of thinking, metaphors for what our
language has no words for as yet, experiments in imagination."

V. Some Science: The Block Universe -- with help from sterrab,
and notes from a symposium on "the philosophy of time"-->
"Physicists prefer to think of time as laid out in its entirety - a timescape,
analogous to a landscape - with all past and future events located there together ...
Completely absent from this description of nature is anything that singles out a
privileged special moment as the present or any process that would systematically
turn future events into the present, then past, events. In short, the time of the
physicist does not pass or flow." --Paul Davies, "That Mysterious Flow"

The debate between the conventional view and the block universe view
is actually the combination of two debates in the philosophy of time:

1) Presentism vs. Eternalism

Presentism: only things in the present exist.
Eternalism: things in the past (e.g., dinosaurs)
and future (e.g., human outposts on Mars) exist too.

2) The A-Theory vs. the B-Theory
A-properties: happening now, happened a week ago, happened in the past,
will happen two years from now, happening in the future
B-properties: being two years after the 2000 Presidential Election,
happening on July 4, 1776

The A-Theory: A-properties are genuine features of the world.
Time passes. The present moment has a special status.

The B-Theory: A-properties are reducible to B-properties.
Time doesn"t pass or flow. No moment in time has any special status.

How fast does time flow?
If it makes sense to say that time passes, then it must also
make sense to ask how fast time passes. Since that question
doesn"t make sense, time doesn"t pass.

Fearing Death
If the block universe view is correct, it is irrational to fear death.
We apparently fear death because we believe that we will no
longer exist after we die. But according to the block universe view,
it"s not true to say that we exist now, but won"t exist any longer
after death. Death is just one of our temporal borders, and should
be no more worrisome than birth!

--this is how-and-why Vonnegut uses the concept...?

VI. What else interests us about this novel?

the form? sterrab: According to Vonnegut himself,
the book is "jumbled and jangled...because there is
nothing intelligent to say about a massacre" (pg.24).
His intentions in the breaks therefore emphasize the
inevitable lack of structure in a novel about a war, against war.

vspaeth: the lines between "fact" and "fiction" are blurred in this tale...
our discussions in class have completely destroyed any solid ground
I have had on which is which...How can we say...?  Did the author
actually have a friend who he went back to Dresden with?  Did he
hear a story about a guy who inspired Billy?  If the character of Billy
was based on someone then how can we say whether or not his story
was true? I don't know.  I'm so confused by all of this.

might spending some time on the full title clarify?
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death,
by Kurt Vonnegut, a Fourth-Generation German-American Now Living in
Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod [and Smoking Too Much], Who, as an
American Infantry Scout Hors de Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed
the Fire Bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a Long
Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This Is a Novel Somewhat in the
Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore,
Where the Flying Saucers Come From. Peace.

what about the genre of satire?
[ridicule, that intends shaming into improvement-->
wit w/ the end of constructive social criticism]

and what about free will??