3, 2, 1, impact…

I found that I’d grown fond of asking the question, “Are there any films that take place entirely within one room?” It wasn’t entirely clear why. In preparing for this  post I found a list of over 100 movies the compiler claims satisfy this query. Of these, I’ve seen barely 10% but none of them precisely tell me the answer is “Yes.”

Most of the movies on the list fall into the jump-scare horror and/or torture-porn buckets. However, the best example of almost one-room stories among those films I have scene would be Rear Window (Paramount Pictures, 1954). Even in this some of the action does take place elsewhere.

Why ask the question?

The central reason is one of motion – as it turns out. Movement is essential to drama. If nothing moves, we have a painting. They can, in a sense, tell a story. They can certain move us – emotionally. But that’s not really the same thing.

Movies can be art in and of themselves. A few spring to mind pointing that out. Segment 5 – Crows – in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Warner Bros., 1990) and Episode 10 of Season 5 – Vincent and the Doctor – in new NuWho (BBC, 2010). Oddly enough both of these examples involve van Gogh.

The quintessential presentation of it, in my opinion, is Cameron at the Art Institute of Chicago.

moved


“This I thought was very relevant to Cameron—the tenderness of a mother and a child which he didn’t have.”

“I used it in this context to see – he’s looking at that little girl – which again is, a mother and a child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees, of course, with this style of painting. But the more he looks at it, there’s nothing there. He fears that the more you look at him (Cameron), the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.”

John Hughes


Seurat’s work was begun in 1884 but took two years to complete – placing it a century before the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Migration-Tree-plan

The chart here is part of various “visual outlines” for Astral. This doesn’t only show each of the 62 interstellar colonies of Earth but the factions

As an outline, to me it shows the despair and paranoia of one of the villains. The chart demonstrates some of the incredible obstacles faced by a large portion of the society Astral examines. In making this image more than one scene coalesced for me that I hope will illustrate – in the writing – the suffering of one particular faction stemming from the policies of the powers that be.

Every journey will have obstacles; sometimes it starts with misplaced keys. Any trip might begin in a mix of fear and hope.

Toward the end of May I wrote about woe and joy in travel and quoted Dr. Henri Poincaré with regard to hope having somewhat more weight. He also once said, “The mind uses its faculty for creativity only when experience forces it to do so.”

This is true both of writers and their characters.


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fellow travelers…

On or about Sept. 28, 1991, Dr. Carl Sagan and Tenzin Gyatso (བསྟན་འཛིན་རྒྱ་མཚོ།) met. I am neither a scientist nor a theologian but both of these men have my respect. The former is most broadly known for Cosmos: A Personal Voyage and the latter as the 14ᵗʰ Dalai Lama. The approaches to the subject of understanding the universe they each took are different but the mission are one and the same. The meeting was recorded, at least in part, and while the video quality is poor but the message is strong and can be found here.

Whether we have any formal training in the fields of science, religion, or philosophy or not, all of us share the goal of comprehension. What is the cosmos and why do we find ourselves in it? There are pragmatic, non-philosophical answers to pursuit of this knowledge.

In one of the final interviews of Dr. Sagan, he was asked to comment on the consequences of science and technology on human civilization. In part, this was his answer:

“And if we don’t understand it, and by ‘we’ I mean the general public, if it’s something that – ‘Oh. I’m not good at that. I don’t know anything about it.’ – then who’s making all of the decisions about science and technology that are going to determine what kind of future our children live in?”

Two years before his death, Dr. Sagan gave a lecture at Cornell University and included a philosophical reflection on an already well-known photograph taken of Earth by the Voyager 1 space probe. This is often called The Pale Blue Dot speech. It is truly worth a listen. Essential.

Just a phrase or two might offend some but, if so, it might be among those who have decided they can learn nothing from science or scientists. Nevertheless, the message and emotional tone of Dr. Sagan’s plea should be universally held – regardless of any other ideology at least in the opinion of this author. In very few words, relatively speaking, this stands as a summary of what being human means and could mean. From the moment I first heard them they also stood as something of a miracle.

To paraphrase a definition of miracles I once read, they’d be inexplicable events that inspire us to do more/better. Put this way – science, religion, and the individual quest for meaning with which we’re all involved might all include a miraculous experience along the way. With this two-part formula for a miracle each of us is able to define and find our own.

Earth and Song

As far as is known, the Dalai Lama hasn’t commented directly on this almost poetic prompt for humanity to acquire an improved perspective. However, the following opinion from him seems ample cause to presume the two scholars would be in agreement.

“Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.”

As a miracle results – by this definition – from an inexplicable source, it is the effect on our motivation that matters more and whether and how we allow ourselves to be moved and motivated. I don’t see any conflict between religion (“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”) and science (“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”). I don’t see any reason why they can’t both have their share in the miraculous. It’s a big universe.


What would Master Zhūang say?

In the opinion of this author, there is not as much value in dream dictionaries as I’d like. One can provide assistance to someone in the interpretation of their dream experience but it seems inadvisable to dictate a specific meaning for each symbol. At least four factors govern the meaning of a dream symbol to an individual dreamer, not the least of which being the dreamer’s knowledge and opinions formed during waking life. The other factors depend on circumstance and culture. An anchor may mean something entirely different from one dream to the next ὄναρ or in another 梦想. And certainly all of these would represent divergent things to someone who makes or uses anchors as opposed to someone who doesn’t.

Similarly, there are certain assumptions put forward in psychology about the meaning of doodles. Circles, for example, are said by some to indicate a desire for a more peaceful or organized state. How each person thinks of them – what they may represent during and after drawing a few – is the same as dreaming. Probably during my elementary school years the circle began to serve as the symbol of introspection. This has gradually evolved closer to the idea of an orbit – such as an electron around the nucleus of an atom held in place by electromagnetic force. A moon in the gravity well of a planet, if you will.

The moon, planet, and gravity well as a set represent my understanding of myself and the world around me. The orbital path illustrates that maintaining comprehension is an on-going process. Additional satellites each indicate a separate interest. If I lose interest in something, it has reached “escape velocity”. Those ideas that come back seemingly seasonally to distract me are comparable to long-term comets. Anything not “in orbit” is outside the range of interest. It hasn’t caught my attention – or, in this metaphor – I haven’t caught interest in it yet.

Since I became aware of the word affinity I’ve had an affinity for it. From the 1600s to the present day, it has been used to describe an attraction to something. During the three centuries prior to that, affinity was used to refer to a relation by marriage. Ultimately, the term derives from the Latin affinis or ad + finis, meaning “to the limit or boundary of” – in essence, the state of being adjacent. Affinity is a handy explanation for why people do what they do: they’ve an affinity for it, whatever it is.

Just as the definition of affinity has evolved – symbols change their meanings over time. The anchor in future dreams may have little in common with interpretations today. Literally today, in the field of psychology, there is debate on the veracity of the theory of ego depletion. (For those who are more curious, consult next month’s Perspectives on Psychological Science.) Mention is made of it here because this could signal an evolution in certain theories of human behavior.

And while I likely won’t abandon the “orbital” mechanism for introspection, I do think I’ve a new metaphor for affinities — they’re a quite specific form of pocket or niche. There’s engineering behind why a honeycomb looks the way it does. Comparable principles dictate that any three bubbles that connect will form 120° angles between them. If oneself is a pocket of interest, one’s range of interest would include adjacent pockets.

In a honeycomb, this would result in just six interests – all of equal proportion even to the central or “self” pocket. A globe in a volume of identical globes will touch twelve others at a maximum.

The visual metaphor for one’s range of interest is probably pockets of air in a volume of bubbles. Foam. Not all of our interests have equal attention paid to them. They don’t all last for the same duration. The adjacency still applies; anything non-adjacent to the “self” bubble is out of range. In a volume of foam, whichever bubble represents the self (and self-interest) is surrounded not only on one plane but above and/or below as well.

Bubble theory

Funny story… Guess what the universe looks like at the grandest scale presently possible.

foam

It’s a bit of a foam. I’m not saying anything. I’m thinking a lot, though.

The other handy think “bubble affinity theory” provides is the idea that if bubbles could overlap instead of mutually building walls they would form lenses. Almost a year ago I was struck by the notion that we see each other through a lens defined by our respective sense of self.

We should expect this to evolve as well.


Except it isn’t like that…

 

A month ago I wrote about a selection of Seven Wonders of Fictional Worlds and concluded with the fantasy of time travel to visit the traditional Wonders of classical antiquity. One of them, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, is seen in the background of this imagined hall of the Great Library in that same city.

Library

In 1980 Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage reinforced a story I’d learned in school. About 20% of both the first and last episodes of that documentary miniseries recount the importance and grandeur and then the tragic loss of the Great Library of Alexandria. The account makes it seem like a seven-century run that came to an end on one disastrous day. The last librarian, Hypatia, was murdered by a mob of zealots and the scrolls were burned.

Historians and scholars, along with both fans and authors of science fiction, hold onto the fantasy of time travel to before that terrible day. What books would you save if you had the chance? Dr. Sagan is not immune here:

“If I could travel back into time, this is the place I would visit. The Library of Alexandria, at its height, two thousand years ago.”

The story of the apparently sudden disaster portrays the mob as ignorant acting in defense of its ignorance. The loss to knowledge remains incalculable and is, probably rightfully, regarded as a one or two thousand-year setback to nearly all fields of study. Dr. Sagan provided a sense of perspective on this loss:

“We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter’s Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.”

There are nine missing books of the poetry of Sappho and none of the works of Pythagoras survive. A full inventory of what was lost is also lost!

In the 2009 film, Agora, Hypatia is the hero and acts out our fantasy of salvage.

Hypatia

Hypatia was not merely the last librarian. In an age when women were still widely regarded as little more than property she was among the world’s leading mathematicians and astronomers. Further, she was a philosopher and teacher.

The mob that killed her and destroyed the Library is painted as acting out of fear but it seems more likely they were motivated by anger. In addition to the roles mentioned above, Hypatia was also not afraid to express political views. She is believed to have been a supported of Orestes, the governor of Alexandria; this made her an opponent of Cyril, that city’s bishop and successor to Theophilus.

But it didn’t happen quite that way.

As presented, the tale of the final moments of Hypatia and the Library is often a summary of at least four events and a compression of almost 400 years. The impression that there was just one very bad day at the Library is a false one. Julius Caesar did damage in 48 ʙᴄ and more may have happened toward the end of the reign of Aurelian (c. 275 ᴀᴅ).

There were at least two other libraries in Alexandria and – in summary – they may all have been conflated into one. One of these other libraries was part of the Serapeum Temple, which was ordered destroyed by the Bishop of Alexandria – Theophilus – in 391 ᴀᴅ.

This means Hypatia was more likely the victim of an assassination rather than a martyr of scholarship and/or science. The manner of death was particularly brutal to be sure but it cannot have been part of the attacks by Caesar or Aurelian; she wouldn’t have been born yet. She doesn’t seem to have come to prominence in Alexandria until nine years after the destruction of the Serapeum and its own library. The murder took place fifteen years later still.

“The books were distributed to the public baths of Alexandria, where they were used to feed the stoves which kept the baths so comfortably warm. Ibn al-Kifti writes that ‘the number of baths was well known, but I have forgotten it’ (we have Eutychius‘ word that there were in fact four thousand). ‘They say,’ continues Ibn al-Kifti, ‘that it took six months to burn all that mass of material.’”

Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library (University of California Press; 1st edition (Aug. 29, 1990))

The Library of Alexandria is said to have held between Eutychius’ estimate and one million scrolls. Many of these were the result of the “books of the ships” policy. All ships entering the harbor of Alexandria were inspected. Any books found aboard were seized and a copy was made. The originals are said to have been kept for the library, the original owner of the books got the copies.

In addition to the time travel fantasy: What answers and inspirations would you save of you could? – we should also ask: Were the scrolls and books in the library during its destructions the last copies in existence? What’s easier – inventing time travel or holding out hope while in diligent search for missing copies?

Note: The title of this post is a quote from Nova: Season 8, Episode 12. “It’s About Time” (Dec. 30, 1980).

You are invited to rampantly speculate and muse in answer to these questions via comment on this post. Given that this blog is [Thankfully] visited by people from 78 nations and counting, the perspectives are sure to be fascinating.


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