exerceat histrionem…

During the history of cinematography, at least since the end of the Victorian era, at least one film adaption of a play by Shakespeare has been made every year but nine*. The enduring allure of the playwright’s work is not the tales themselves nor particularly the quality with which they’re perceived. In his own day, critics viewed him as ambitious beyond his talent. Today, apart from the Greek dramatists – most particularly Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides – it’s difficult to name a rival if measured by the duration of popularity.

When number of portrayals by an actor is considered (again in motion pictures and television), the most famous creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker get more attention than Beatrice or Viola. In terms of time, Shakespeare’s work would have to fade completely then Dracula† and Holmes‡ would both still need almost three centuries to catch up.

In ancient Greece the focus on the stage was morality, usually through the exaggeration of undesirable traits. The Bard’s emphasis was less on the literal influence of mythological beasts and beings than on the metaphoric demons that drive our passions and lives.

The Great Detective and the Vampire Count are both power fantasies albeit in profoundly different ways. Taken as a whole, this very brief survey of noteworthy drama all concern the human road between some day and last day. That’s why they last as opposed to nostalgic efforts like Happy Days or That ’70s Show and dated entertainment not old enough for nostalgia to set in.

What we read and watch as a society is a little different from the same during an individual’s experience with fiction; it’s less about the human condition, more the condition of humanity. It’s impossible to predict whether Doctor Who will continue regenerating from actor to actor for the next 500 years. However, the scope of human history distills to the substance of just ten (or twenty) activities of people in groups.

We’ve been obsessed as a species with the following: ➀ Defense and Security, ➁ Information and Communication, ➂ Resources and Industry, ➃ Education and Labor, ➄ Culture and Weal (or Well-being), ➅ Transportation and Commerce, ➆ Planning and Governance, ➇ Law and Justice, ➈ Utilities and Services, ➉ Science and Technology.

Fortress

Any aspect of plot, notwithstanding a given hero’s specific journey, will fall into at least one category pair. The same is true of society in real life; these are all of the parts of civilization. What changes over time is the degree of sophistication in each. Without any prediction of whether Astral will survive for centuries, the story mainly involves 5, 8, and 10 (with the last being due to sci fi as the genre chosen).

It’s very easy to imagine that humans 500 years from now will still have forms of entertainment and that they’ll feature fictional humans. I’m having trouble picturing a future society that wouldn’t be described in terms of its approach to my [“DIRECT-PLUS”, © Thom Truelove] theory as stated.


* The missing years being: 1901-04, 1930-32, 1934, 1945

† Dracula has been portrayed in more than 270 films.

‡ Sherlock Holmes is short about 20 for close second.

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dear Brutus…

dna chain

In mid-May of 2014, at the 60th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was quoted as stating the equivalent of “There’s no gene for invasion in Chinese people’s blood.”

In late June of that year, Jürgen Klinsmann, the head coach of United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) said, “It’s not in the U.S. DNA to go out and play for a draw, nor is it in the German DNA, we’ll both be playing to win.”

The phrase “not in our DNA” has long been a bête noire for me. The connotation is, more often than not, used to state an aversion somehow built in to the behavior of a person or group. As such, it is a reversal of the late ‘90s business jargon of “corporate DNA”. In that context it was meant to express what was part of a company’s vision, mission, and culture. It has evolved into what could become a dangerous misconception based on casual misuse.

While technically correct, behavior is not dictated by DNA, the metaphor has become very common in American political discourse. In May of 2011, then presidential candidate Herman Cain voiced the opinion that being No. 2 economically and militarily is not in our DNA. This bad habit is not limited to the GOP either; their critics often charge that “unlike the conservatives, it’s just not in our DNA.”

Often this is used to hint at one position having moral superiority over the opposing side. Last year, President Obama opined that discrimination casts “a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on.”

Misuse of “DNA” and what result it may or may not produce is probably unrelated to doubt of or actual opposition to science. For the most part, we trust doctors to use true understanding of genetics to treat or prevent disease. Increasingly we expect forensicologists to employ the same discipline either to convict or exonerate in matters of jurisprudence.

But at the same time the suspicion that the moon landing was a hoax persists and the anti-vaxxer subculture has been gaining strength for more than a century; it’s nothing new.

If we’re not careful about science, whether from ignorance or Luddism, in fiction or reality we run the risk of making potentially tragic mistakes. The Inquisition tried Galileo for heresy in 1633. He was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. Pope Urban VIII had acted out of anger and fear of science and its implications. Considering other acts of the Inquisition, Galileo got off lucky. It took the Vatican almost 360 years to come full circle on their decision with Pope John Paul II finally admitting the errors of the Catholic Church in that regard.

Misapprehension of science including genetics did not spare Alan Turing unfortunate and severe persecution. The father of artificial intelligence and hero of breaking the German Enigma cipher machines during WWII was honored in 1945 with induction to the Order of the British Empire. Six years later he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

The following year he was convicted of gross indecency (homosexuality was considered criminal in the United Kingdom from 1885 to 1967) and given a choice between imprisonment and probation. He chose the latter but that forced him agree to hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. It is a widely held belief this judgment led to Turing committing suicide.

It may be hyperbolic to suggest that “It’s not in our DNA.” could lead to future attempts to cure racial or ideological diversity. There probably won’t be further recourse to medicine to enforce conformity with regard to gender binary. But misconceptions, like their cousin – superstition, die hard.

There are dangers in a political climate where one side seeks to make opposition illegal, or worse, misuse science to eradicate it. I can’t – and I don’t think we should – avoid the worry that any belief that fault lies in our stars (i.e., that our behavior is chained to our DNA) could end in catastrophe.


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.


📖

Astronomical proportion…

The work of other artists often fascinates me. I can appreciate a technique or admire a style but the sources of inspiration are what captures my attention ultimately. Since 1979 I would have to say my favorite contemporary artist has been Wayne Douglas Barlowe. Most of his inspiration seems to come from works of literature and science fiction/fantasy. There is, however, a deeper level of inspiration. It is this aspect that prompts the selection of specific details. In this Mr. Barlowe’s process is unmatched, in my opinion. His choices all lend to the realism of his creations. The allure of the work of William Roger Dean (my second favorite non-comic book artists during my high school years) comes mostly by selection of color but his work presents the fantastical without Barlowe’s diligence at the plausible.

Even before the release of Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials I was (as you might guess from prior posts here) obsessed with Star Trek. Anyone familiar with the franchise knows there is any number of details on which one’s thoughts may dwell. One in particular – for me – was the selection by the production team (presumably William Ware Theiss) of the now famous arrowhead as the emblem of the USS Enterprise (and later all of Starfleet). I’m not the only fan to wonder what symbolic meaning the design would have held for the characters. Some have speculated that it was meant as a reference to the red chevron in the NASA logo.

2008-09-16_IMG_2008-09-16_1221551891664_nasa

— which itself is said to represent the two lines from Alpheratz to Almach and to Adhil, respectively. All three of these stars are in the constellation Andromeda. Homage to one nation’s space program seems unlikely for an organization that represents more than one world (i.e., the United Federation of Planets).

The UFP is said to have been formed by people from Earth in association with:

RACE: STAR: EARTH TERM:
NATIVE:
α Centauri Toliman Human colony
Vulcan ο² Eridani Keid T’Khasi (Minshara)
Andorian α Canis Minoris Procyon Andor (Fesoan)
Tellarite 61 Cygni The Flying Star Tellar Prime

I can’t say when I began to wonder where one had to be within deep space to see the homeworlds of the non-human co-founders as the points of the Starfleet arrowhead. At a guess, I’d say this inspiration came in the mid-1980’s – before the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

About June of 2009, however, I got my first CAD (computer-aided design) software and began plotting stars to teach myself how to use it. After a while I had almost 3,000 stars mapped and could rotate the entire field to solve this puzzle. No, I won’t say where one has to be to achieve this view.

arrowhead for blog

In on-going work with The Nerdy Duo and with Leanna Renee Hieber, a new star field is in development to get the science right in our projects together (whether Star Trek or not). As obsessed with the details and choices of other artists as I may be, I’m not content with my own work unless I can provide a “tour” of some details I wish to highlight. They say “the devil is in the details” but perhaps it’s more accurate to say the bedevilment is contained therein.


Horatio…

ghostAre there ghosts? According to one statistic, 45% of Americans believe there are. If they are correct, what are ghosts?

Throughout history, the common belief is that ghosts are the trapped souls of the deceased. Most often the trap represents something unfinished. What if that’s not exactly the case?

I’ve recently heard a theory that equates ghosts with a fading body of memory. A friend has made a distinction between ghosts and haunts, the latter being more echo than spirit.

Ghosts appear in either evil or good roles. What if they, like the living, can alternate between these two (or any two other) states. In nature, fluids flow around objects – sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right.

CapeVerde.A2005005.1225.250mFlowing fluid sometimes creates what’s known as a Kármán vortex street†. In addition to some oddly organized cloud patterns when winds are disrupted by a particularly tall structure or mountain, the same aspect of fluid dynamics can cause singing cables (vortex-induced vibration).

Vortex-street-animationWhat if something comparable is part of the cause of what we call ghosts? Or, to be more precise, around and “downstream” from each ghost. The key question might then be – “What is the fluid?” The most common answer, I could predict, would be æther. A century± ago the answer might have been ectoplasm. Ghosts are traditionally associated with a specific location but appearances do not occur on a reliable schedule. This could mean that the ætheric flow rate is not a constant.

This is, of course, not to say that there hasn’t been some attempt at science vis-á-vis ghost phenomena. Beginning in the Victorian era, and lasting well through both World Wars, many celebrated minds and names were engaged in the study — perhaps most famously the Doyle camp vs that of Houdini — but that is another story.

doylehoudiniSome who report sensing ghosts claim to see them. Others hear them. These variances could suggest either different fluids or they might depend on the relative “shape” of the ghost involved. There are a fair few TV shows about detecting ghosts with indistinct recordings (both audio and video) offered as evidence. These shows are ultimately unsatisfying from the perspective of what hauntings may truly be, how they’ve been caused, and what to do about them. Perhaps ghost hunters and –busters is the wrong calling.

I’m fairly certain the term “ghosts” does apply to something real and observable – given the proper circumstance. I’m not as certain about why they exist or what causes them to do so. Is there something we should do? Is there an opportunity to learn something useful? The terms in use for millennia could be profoundly wrong. If there were real science being applied to this field of study, we might find reason to compare current belief and theory to the differences between astrology and astronomy, alchemy and chemistry.

Recall the Indian parable of the blind men and an elephant…


† named for Theodore von Kármán, engineer.

Note: The animation above is part of the wiki entry for Kármán vortex street and was designed by Cesareo de La Rosa Siqueira. The aerial photograph is from NASA. Use here implies neither ownership nor credit.
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Reinventing a few specific wheels…

In the early ‘90’s, I accidentally reinvented Robert Plutchik’s “Wheel of Emotions”.

715px-Plutchik-wheel.svgAt the time I was employed as a Human Resources manager. I had taken the position in what turned out to be the wholly wrong assumption that the existence of HR departments within corporations was an admission by companies that they are soulless entities and that some sort of concession had to be made. Presumably, employees have souls even in the soul-crushing environment of the cube farm.

Logic dictated that any visit not involving interviews of those seeking employment would be by someone already with the company who was some shade of mad or sad. Whether we should wish to be glad at all times we do have that wish. So, I knew where visitors to my office wanted to “go” but their exact “point of origin” was too broad and vague. I do not believe that I am unique in not liking to be surprised by people. Wanting to help others as quickly as possible may be somewhat more rare.

I needed to craft a tool that would help me help the employees who came to see me. It was, I suspected, akin to a navigational problem. Beyond that, there were two ingredients to my Emotion Map, the color wheel and a quote from Spider Robinson.

Mad, sad, glad; what else is there?”

Mad is traditionally matched to Red. Similarly, Sad is associated with Blue. That left the healthy hue of Green for Glad. Other emotions were set on the color wheel by making some estimations of triangulation.

What’s twice as far from Glad as it is from Sad? What’s the midpoint between Hope and Gratitude?

I don’t have a background in psychology and, as you might guess from any of my previous posts about Vulcans, approached emotion from an almost scientific stance. I was possibly detached. Emotion was not my field.

It shouldn’t be surprising that my map and Plutchik’s Wheel disagree in terms of placement of specific emotions. But there’s another significant difference. My map places extremes of feeling, such as rage and bliss, on the perimeter of the circle. This is the opposite of Plutchik’s illustration. In the center of his model the colors are bright, fading toward the outside. My map fades to pure white in the center.

I felt that the more confusing, mixed emotions should be in that white space. It’s difficult to tell frustration from apathy. The center of my map was part of the tool; it was the doldrums around which I hoped to help, in my HR capacity, each visitor avoid on their course back to Glad.

color wheelNote: I’ve left labels off a new map as I’m revising it gradually.

Although I don’t still have the original copy of the Emotion Map, and I’m no longer working in HR, I do still use this theory. More recently — within just the past year or so — I’ve begun to revisit it. I’m less detached. I’m feeling more. I am now cultivating the field of my own emotion rather than merely surveying that of others.

And I think that’s making me more effective creatively. Art and writing without emotion cannot hope make an impact, can it?

The Fault — Is Not in Our Stars…

A component of being a purist may be thinking that the science in science fiction should be reasonably valid and the result of some research. If so, then I am at least partially a purist. If a starship can go anywhere in the galaxy in a few seconds, the accomplishment of space travel becomes quite meaningless. How do we preserve a sense of awe? How can new science fiction inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers?

In a less lofty capacity, if a writer won’t do a bit of research to make the science feel correct is it fair to assume they might stint on other details? Yes, it’s true that the emotions and growth of the characters is the vital core of fiction. How the main character feels may be the best way to capture a reader’s desire to identify with her or him. Comparing that character at the start of the tale and its conclusion provides the essential meaning of the journey.

We’re hard on our potential fictional heroes for a reason. They are more than reflections of our selves. They can – and when done best, should – mirror who we hope to be. The worlds in which they live illustrate where we hope to live. In rare cases, sci fi heroes can help us get there.

Science fiction can serve to criticize the aspects of our society that warrant correction. When the emphasis is on good science, the genre includes a different rationale than some others: that the meaning of our journeys can be understood. There are truly cosmic answers that can be had.

If the rocketship can reach the Moon in less than ten seconds, the landing pad can be green cheese. In “All We Now Hold True” it matters How Far and How Fast. Part of the story is a race against time.

rom-halan-draftDescriptions in prose and by equation need not be in conflict. It has recently been pointed out to me that some of my explanations of formulæ can wax poetic. Balance is part of my preferred aesthetic, whether in composition or equation. Science and math – like hue and light – underlie representations of beauty.

sic itur ad astrathus one goes to the stars