From The Bellwether's Carlson Woolies

From The Eternal Night Science Fiction,
Fantasy and Horror Web Site

From Monkey Prints

Connie Willis, Bellwether:
Suppose fads were a form of self-organized criticality arising out of the chaotic system of the popular culture. And suppose that, like other chaotic systems, they were influenced by a bellwether....variables in the systems...would require a catalyst, a butterfly to set them in motion...indistinguishable from t he rest of the flock, only a little greedier, a little faster, a little hungrier. A little ahead of the flock (234)....Scientific breakthroughs involve combining ideas no one thought to connect before, seeing connections nobody saw before. Chaotic systems create feedback loops that tend to randomize the elements of the system, displace them, shake them around so they're next to elements they've never come in contact with before. Chaotic systems...sometimes...restabilize into a new level of order. (242)

3/20/05 New York Times Book Review of Ian McEwan's Saturday, in which the main character

is a pragmatist, a "professional reductionist," a man whose preference for verifiable fact leaves him the pleasure of fiction. Perowne is bothered--irritated--by stories. They are at once too artificially precise, he feels, and not precise enough. They are always proposing faked-up watershed moments, yet they are incapable of delivering answers....his complaint against fiction: its brazen inexactitude, its failure to ever fully resolve the complexities that it adumbrates....[As cynthia Ozick said,] "if any reader can utter this as a thesis...then the book fails....If the concept is going to be visible, you have written an essay. you have written a tract of some kind"....concept...disallows the reader the distinctive novelist pleasure of feeling, rather than cooly registering, the author's intention.

As Elizabeth Catanese said in this course, last year,
I've recently come to think of answers simply as waiting places for new questions or...bridges to new questions.
And in that sense i think that answers are absolutely crucial...

From Sharon Burgmayer's "Transformations"

SO: let's get a few answers out here....
and perhaps build some bridges off of them....?


Las Meninas, Velasquez, 1656, (Prado Museum, Madrid) from Website Esthetica Koninklijk Atheneum Aalst From "What Is the Better Story?" A Humanist Reflects on the Relation Between Numbers and Narrative (9/15/03 Brown Bag): Lisa Belkin's "Coincidence in an Age of Conspiracy," or "The Odds of That" (New York Times Magazine, August 11, 2002)...explores the unexpected connections, with no apparent causal relations, which "rattle and rivet" us, the surprising concurrences which we construct as meaningfully related. That we do so is no surprise, given the recent work of linguists. George Lakoff... argued in Philosophy in the Flesh that we are programmed to see patterns: we are pattern-seeking/pattern-making creatures who make smaller sets from large amounts of information and, conversely, infer larger structures from whatever limited information is available....Ray Jackendoff's Patterns in the Mind [is] a Chomskian argument that we have an inherent impulse to find the simplest way to make sense of missing information. In the absence of information, we will generate some by filling in a pattern; in the absence of a story, we will make one up.

But when we make a pattern out of random events, when we turn a coincidence into a conspiracy, does our rational pattern-seeking become irrational? Belkin argues that, especially in age when paranoia runs rampant, we are discomforted by idea of random universe. Finding a reason or pattern where there is none makes it less frightening, because it makes it logical. In a "big enough" world, she suggests, one with a "large enough" denominator, patterns will emerge. Belkin makes the point that the Web has changed the scale of things, has given us the technical ability to gather bits and pieces of information. The Internet makes it easier to collect random noise--and then to find chance patterns in it; it has fed a generation of conspiracy theorists who see highly improbable patterns in large data sets.

The "better story" may very well be the one that accounts for most data (for example: evolution accounts for more of the details in world as we know it than does creationism; in psychoanalysis, one may well learn that the "better story" is one that takes into account one's family of origin, as well as current relationships). But in the era of the Internet, with enormous amounts of data available, how do we decide what is relevant, what random? How do we decide when the outlier is a key to a new story or pattern not yet seen?