Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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This is the second part of thoughts about memory vs. creativity. See previous post for how this started out.

These are the things that got me thinking about this topic, and examples of it. In no particular order, then:

  • Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History is a book by the recently-deceased Stephen Jay Gould, an evolutionary biologist and the author of many popular science books. The Burgess Shale is a rock outcropping in British Columbia that contains fossils of organisms from just before the 'Cambrian explosion', when life on earth 'exploded' in numbers. This book is fascinating in many respects, but what concerns me here is the way the creatures in the Burgess Shale were interpreted by paleontologists when they were discovered. Many of them fit no known modern-day groups, no know phyla, or may combine the features of two different phyla (part worm, part arthropod, for example), or may be completely bizarre, bearing no apparent relationship to any modern creature. When the Burgess Shale and its fossils was first discovered, in the early years of the century, its discoverers utterly missed this. They tried to assign its creatures to known taxonomic groups, and the fact that many of those creatures had features that made this impossible, they didn't see, or ignored. If it was an arthropod, it had to be a member of one of the four known classes of arthopod. If it looked like nothing on earth, they still found a place for it in the known taxa. It wasn't until the 1970's and 1980's that paleontologists were able to accept that the creatures in the Burgess Shale may simply be unclassifiable in modern terms. The original paleontologists who classified the Burgess Shale denizens were the prisoners of their expectations, prisoners of their world view.
  • Shoujo Kakumei Utena. One of the primary themes of this show is how much we all are prisoners of memory, prisoners of our pre-existing conception of the world. This is not always bad. Utena herself is clearly sustained throughout the show by her memory of her prince, and yet she is the one person who manages to break free of those memories, to transcend them, to accept a new idea, and to convince Anthy to do so as well. Memory is both the wellspring of her conception of herself, and her world, and the prison that keeps her in it.
  • The cardinal who keeps attacking my kitchen window. Remember him? Well, he's now attacking the other kitchen window, and the glass sliding door to the patio as well. The entire rear of my house is under attack daily by this cardinal! He just can't give up, any more than Akio can give up trying to break through the Rose Gate. Nor does he have any more chance of Akio of accomplishing his aims. Birds aren't very smart. They're mostly driven by instinct. This cardinal was born with the preconception that he must drive away all other male cardinals from his territory, and he can't see beyond that.
  • I once tried to teach myself to draw, to sketch. I didn't get very far, but it was an interesting exercise, that taught me a little about the problems an artist has to address in representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional plane. One of the most difficult things I found was to draw things as they really appeared to the eye, not as I knew they were. Take a doughnut, say. It's round. Place it on a table, and draw it. A child will draw a circle, even though that's not what the eye sees; because of perspective and parallax, the eye sees an oval. Even an adult will have trouble drawing an oval that is flat enough: there is an innate tendency to stretch it towards what we know its shape 'really' is. I once read of an experiment to try to teach schoolchildren to draw better. They were allowed to glimpse an object through a peephole for only a fraction of a second, and then asked to draw it. The time was short enough for them to get a gestalt impression of form, but too short for them to recognize the object in all its dimensions. I think the upshot was that they drew the object more accurately than if they had lots of time to study it, because they were just reproducing what their eyes recorded. This is one more example of our preconceptions of what an object 'should' look like interfering with our ability to depict it as it really is.
  • Camp Concentration is a novel by Thomas Disch I think I've mentioned before. It involves an experiment to try to make people smarter by breaking down their brains with a mutated syphilis germ. The concept here is to restore the ability to learn that we all had in early childhood, before our brains solidified, so to speak, before our ideas about the world became hardened and sclerotic.

So, this is what has been on my mind lately. We all need to have a conception of the world, we need to know that doughnuts are round, that there are four classes in phylum Arthropoda, and even cardinals need to know to create a territory for themselves and their mate and their fledglings by driving off intruders. We need rules, we need recipes, we need theorems, we need laws, we need a structure of belief about how the world works, and how it is structured. But because the world seems always to be more complex than the rules we devise to explain it, and because eventually it will break through our rules and confound us, we need to be able to discard those rules and preconceptions when something that contradicts them slaps us in the face. We need rules. And we need to be able to break the rules. We need memory. And we need to be able to discard memory. These things are at war with one another. Setting our preconceptions aside, setting aside what we know to be true, to face something new, may the hardest thing in the world to do.

meaning: rejoice, happy
大喜び == ooyorokobi == great joy
悲喜 == hiki == joys and sorrows
Bottom radical is 'mouth' (口), top radicals were once 'plant' and 'food vessel' (豆). Henshall suggests taking the top radical as 'samurai' (士), and as a mnemonic:  'Food pot at mouth makes samurai happy'.


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