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Finding Creativity in The Library of Babel

bhealy's picture

 In Thursday's discussion, our section focused on Dennett's definition of the meme, and what function is has in our culture. While this topic interested me and forced me to dive deeper into what exactly the role of the meme is and consequently what our role is in our culture, it was a shorter conversation that stayed with me the last few days. We tried to unpack Dennett's views on the library of babel, which he then called the library of Mendel to describe genetic variation. On Thursday I came to class unsure of my feelings towards this library of infinite ideas, hesitant to accept it because by accepting it I assumed that I would be denouncing the value or potential of creativity. I don't feel like that's necessarily true anymore. If everything is in this library, and there are infinite possibilities, we (as humans) are still necessary parts of this equation. Just because an idea exists, for example, that doesn't mean that it automatically exists to us from birth. It is merely waiting on a high shelf in this said library, waiting for us to discover it. We, with our own creativity, still have to come up with the idea ourselves and attach our name to it. Instead of being fixed and hopeless, devoid of human intelligence or creativity, I now see this library as full of hope and possibility- like any idea is just as likely to occur to us, like we can essentially come up with anything, and that it is just waiting for us to attach our name to it. In a way I feel that this fosters creativity, and gives me something to aspire to- Like there are an infinite number of ways for me to find my voice, or discover my passion, or show the world what I'm capable of coming up with. Just because all the possibilities are there waiting on dusty shelves, that doesn't mean that they will ever see the light of day. That, I am happy to say, is up to us. 


elly's picture


I really like this optimistic approach to the idea of a "library full of hope and possibility." The image of ideas waiting to be discovered and then assigned to one human being or another is very positive, as it suggests that we do still have a sense of agency in the picking of ideas. Or is it that we just stumble upon these ideas by chance, and then use them in our own way to advance our world? Because if they all already exist, we have done none of the original thinking...

However, I suppose I still find this image positive because even if we do happen upon the ideas within the library by chance, we are still given the power to possess these ideas. We as humans are still necessary pieces of this equation, as was said above, because without someone to act on an idea, or realize it and believe that it came from one's own mind (and therefore feel a sense of devotion to or pride in the idea) then what good is it?

This is a complexity of the mind that I struggle with: we may believe that these ideas were created from our own original thought and, I suppose imagination and innovation, when really they are all within this "library of infinite ideas" and were perhaps channeled through us by chance. I guess this could take away some of the value of the human sense of agency, because we all want to believe that we are clever and creative and will come up with the "next best thing" whether that is a cure for cancer or a Snuggie part II. This brings me back to the idea that many people have been exploring in the blog this week, that it is very difficult to become comfortable with this idea of chance being responsible, at some deeper level, for everything that is happening in our lives, in our evolution and perhaps even in our minds. This is why I like this positive approach, because it says that we are still important in the using the ideas and finding any one of the possibilities "waiting on dusty shelves" and making it our own, and therefore we can feel a sense of agency without delving too much into the idea that perhaps it was all due to chance.

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