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Don't Get Stuck on the Idea

mindyhuskins's picture

I know I've been gone for a while, and I do sorely miss the conversations in class, but I have been keeping up with the postings and I have noticed a trend I wanted to comment on. It seems that no one likes Dennet, at all, at least not the idea of the Library of Babel. If I had been in class and seen more conversation and more ideas, my idea may be different, but this is what I think now. This Library idea is not new to me, it is something that I have read about for years. My classmates seem to be either confused, unhappy, or unaccepting of the idea altogether. While I do not believe this idea is completely valid, I enjoy what it brings to the table. Everyone seems to be hung up on the idea rather than interested in exploring what the idea means. They feel that it threatens their autonomy, their creativity, and even the prospect of randomness in the universe. I do not think it necessarily means any of these things. It is just a way to try to understand things that we cannot really understand. This idea allows us to move on to higher or more difficult ideas.

This idea does not mean that we do not create, we have to create to discover something in this Library. The act of creation is the important part. And evolution and randomness can be present in this situation. Do you write the same way as someone else? Do you draw or think or cook or move the same way as other people? The creative process is different for everyone. It is the reason Picasso and Pollack are not the same person. Every final product may exist in this "Library", but that does not matter one bit. What matters is the act of envisioning it, of creating it, of discovering it. The many wayward ways of creating an idea or object is where randomness and evolution and autonomy all come together.


rachelr's picture

appreciation, but doubt-filled

 While I do not agree with Dennett's idea of a library filled with every single possibility that will ever exist, I feel that his perspective on it did enhance my own view and thoughts on the subject. Without his idea of the Library of Babel I wouldn't have realized that I am uncomfortable with my limits and the limits of the universe being bounded. Yes Dennett allows for randomness and perhaps even self-determination by not advocating paths through the library already paved (oscillations and asymptotes in the graphs of our lives, perhaps, where the mysterious and unplottable takes place), but it is those bounds that trouble me, that the axis of our lives has been drawn for us and we simply have to plot our own function there. I surely wouldn't want to dismiss Dennett or his theories, but I do find myself pushing him and parts of his story away in favor of hope that there really is something out there, be it great or small, that is unfathomable as of yet to even the universe. 

skindeep's picture

adding on to this

in the footnote, on page 109, it says that the while the library contains all the grammatical sentences of english within its walls (which is infinite), the library itself is finite. this idea, of something infinite existing within something finite is currently amazing me. if we choose to believe in a soul, is that something 'infinite' that could be existing within our finite bodies? more so, is energy in itself something 'infinite' (it exploded itself into existence and space was born) that is contained in everything finite that we know? how do you contain something infinite?

and if there can be infinity contained, then is our power to choose and create finite while all the possibilities of choice and creation infinite? are we always bringing these seemingly opposing forces together?

mindyhuskins's picture

infinity in a box, sure.

While I didn't say this in so many words, yes, I think this idea is all about making us question how finite and infinite things fit together. There may be a finite number of things in this library, but there are an infinite number of ways to get to them via randomness and our creativity. There are a finite number of notes on a musical scale, but infinite ways to combine them into song. There are a finite number of colors the human eye can see, but infinite ways of putting them together and interpreting them. I think it is quite possible then for a finite space to hold an infinite amount of whatever.

mindyhuskins's picture

To add on to this, this idea

To add on to this, this idea may even help explain certain things in evolution and the world in general. When two animals or two cultures in completely different parts of the world evolve in such a way that they are similar to each other, it can be confusing. Why do these two birds have similar beaks? Why do these two cultures share such a similar religion or similar clothing styles? They have never come in contact with each other before. This is called parallel evolution. If we use this Library idea and apply it, it makes parallel evolution make a whole lot of sense. If everything is inside this "Library of Babel" than both of these two animals or cultures etc. just happened to find it at the same time probably using different methods. It helps explain why people can use completely different processes and come to the same or similar conclusions. So not only can this method explain oddities in biological and other evolutionary processes, it also ties in creativity, autonomy, and randomness.

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