Friday, August 24, 2007

In the Multiverse

If there are really many universes,
As many physicists now claim, if there
Are infinite universes out there –
Then I exist an infinite number
Of times and places, and so do my wife
And baby daughter. In some, sadly, I
Do not exist; in some, my wife and I,
We never met. And that’s the tragedy.
But out there too my mother also lives
And, living, knows and loves my daughter who,
In my own universe, she’s never seen
And, knowing that, I think on it with joy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Police Party Hearty

The following article:,2933,294076,00.html states that the town was not compromised by the police all being off duty. I would be curious to see what the crime rate was that night. If it was a small enough town, it probably didn't have much if any effect. And while we know that more police on the streets does result in a decrease in crime, has anyone done a study of what happens in the absence of police?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Harriet Hawkin's "Strange Attractors"

Where to even begin with my admiration of Hawkins’ book? I managed to take nineteen pages of notes from this small book. Is it possible for an author to be completely right about literature? Perhaps not – but for my money, Hawkins comes closest to anyone I have read, particularly in the way she applies chaos theory to analyzing literature. She points out that chaos theory is an excellent way to analyze literature, since “deterministic chaos is the context, the medium we inhabit in everyday life, ubiquitously allowing for, and indeed mandating individuality as well as unpredictability within a physically determined order” (2). Considering this, we can immediately see how chaos theory
helps to explain why, after centuries, certain works maintain their operational fangs and claws and terrible beauty. They are the artistic equivalents of deterministic chaos, and as such evoke chaotic responses, contradictory interpretations, altogether different generic adaptations. Therefore, as in the artistic tradition itself, their complex metaphorical signifiers keep on floating around in the minds of individual readers (and generations) long after the text was first read. (8)
Chaos theory helps explain why certain works have long-term value both within and among cultures. More complex works create more and more ways of seeing the text, breed different interpretations, have people arguing about the text for centuries (sometimes even millennia). Any work that creates a large number of interpretations is, according to this theory, a great work that has lasting value.
Hawkins further shows how complex works create those who attempt to emulate that work – usually in the creation of less complex works. An example she gives is Milton’s Paradise Lost, of which Crichton’s Jurassic Park was a less complex emulation – which itself had a less complex emulation in the movie version. She points out that another one of the ways of knowing a work is a great work of art is to see how many times people try to replicate it. Most of the replicants will be less complex than the original, and will, therefore, just as likely be forgotten. But occasionally, there will come along works of art which go beyond mere emulation to create another highly complex work of art that will itself inspire future emulation.
The above work for older works, but how can we determine if a new work is sufficiently complex enough to fit her definition of a lasting work of value? She does not come right out and way, but she does give several hints. “When a fractal is viewed on any scale, comparably complex details emerge. And comparably complex details likewise emerge in individual lines, books, actions, and characterizations, as well as on the mythic, narrative and temporal scales of a complex nonlinear work” (18). One way of seeing if a work meets this level of complexity is to ask yourself what it would take to write up a set of instructions to have a writer write any given work. A work is complex if the “instructions” on how to write it (as romance publishers give their writers) would be longer than the work produced (13). This brings us back to theory, because one could, in a sense, see literary analysis as an attempt (actually, various attempts by various people) to write parts of the instructions on how to write any given work of literature. Using psychological analysis, for example, one could learn various elements of the psychologies of the characters in the work (let us say, a novel). Marxist analysis could point out the various class concerns the author had in mind. Things like formalism and structuralism could show on a formal and structural level how the novel was constructed. Poststructuralism could point out what the author left out and suggest why. And one could even go back to older theories and see what they have to say about works of literature, since “even as chaos theory calls into question comparatively exclusive [italics hers] critical paradigms, it also allows for a retroactive, retrospective understanding of earlier artistic and critical insights commonly brushed aside as outmoded or as too obvious to need further thought” (19). One could go on and on.
Chaos theory shows both how these all work together to create a set of instructions for the reader to both enter the text, to understand better various elements of it, and for potential writers to understand how and why an author did what they did in a given work. And it also provides its own elements to the instructions. For example, Hawkins points out that the butterfly effect helps explain how “an inadvertent dropping of a handkerchief, or someone else’s otherwise insignificant incapacity to tolerate alcohol ( as in Othello) – can exponentially compound with other effects and give rise to disproportionate impacts” (16). She proposes this in opposition to “linear-minded moralists [who] have sought to charge tragic heroes and heroines with correspondingly [italics hers] great (quid pro quo) crimes, vices, sins and fatal flaws,” pointing out that “as chaos theory demonstrates, and as had long been obvious in ordinary life (as in comic as well as tragic art) very small, morally neutral, individual effects” (16) can, as noted above, result in huge, tragic effects.
Further, the themes and conflicts of a potentially great work of literature must themselves be complex, while “it simultaneously establishes what chaos theorists term nonlinear replications, iterations, self-similarities – that is, regular irregularities, structural correspondences (symmetries) and (asymmetrical) contrasts – between characters and actions” (61). Such a work would also seem to never have satisfactory interpretations, because “In complex works of art, as in the fractal formations of nature, there are interactive effects within interactive effects, and the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. The holistic interaction between components cannot be analytically dissected precisely because analysis requires segregation” (77). One cannot consider a single chapter of the lengthy instructions of a work to be the complete instructions. This in particular puts deconstruction in a delicate position, since it does not acknowledge emergent properties in its analysis of a work’s smallest parts.
In the end, a great work of art is great because it replicates the complexities found in nature. That is the very reason why it satisfies: the various arts “are not literal representations, but [are] metaphorically satisfying because they ‘work like nature’” (83). All the elements found in a work of great art, “iterations, recursions, self-similarities, symmetries and asymmetries [are] operative in the nonlinear systems of nature, in contrast to the regularities and predictabilities of comparatively linear (generically determined) systems and fictions such as formulaic romance novels” (88). The instructions for such formulaic novels can be written up in an area smaller than the novels that are created. The instructions for the creation of even a relatively small work, like Milton’s Paradise Lost, would take up volumes. This is perhaps why it takes so many people longer to enjoy and appreciate great works of literature – but when they do, that is also why “in the long run, the survival of a complex literary “fractal” . . . continuously resonates, on multiple scales – imaginative, aesthetic, intellectual, orderly and disorderly – in the minds and memories of individual readers of successive generations, in very much the same way it continues to resonate in the artistic tradition” (103).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gleick and Prigogine

I read Gleick and Prigogine both with eyes that searched for metaphors that could describe the novel, and found many, especially in Gleick. Mandelbrot's observations regarding noise in a system, creating fractal time, made me realize that narrative, too, was an example of fractal time, the words acting as the "noise" in the "system" of the novel, similar to Cantor dust. This is best seen in a rewording of Gleick's own words:

Mandelbrot saw the Cantor set as a model for the occurrence of errors in an electric transmission line. Engineers saw periods of error-free transmission, mixed with periods when errors would come in bursts. Looked at more closely, the bursts, too, contained error-free periods within them. And so on – it was an example of fractal time (93c).

which I have reworded thus:

I see the Cantor set as a model for the occurrence of words (particular words) in a novel. There are periods where a given word does not appear, mixed with periods when the word does appear, mixed with periods when the word comes in bursts. Looked at more closely, the bursts, too contain periods without that word within them. And so on – it is an example of fractal time within the novel.

These dusts occur on smaller scales, each cluster giving clusters of spaces and clusters. Naturally, in a novel one can only go down so far – to the sentence-level – but one can see the general principle holds. This is what made me think to graph several words to see if any patterns would make themselves apparent – as indeed happened with the word "friend" in my novel manuscript "Hear the Screams of the Butterfly" on the page-level. This graph is what is called a "PoincarĂ© map," which "removes a dimension from an attractor and turns a continuous line into a collection of points" (142). "Such pictures ... [begin] to reveal the fine fractal structure" (144) of the system – in this case, the novel. Thus, we see word distribution in a novel "as a Cantor set arranged in time" (Gleick, 92), where "the degree of irregularity remains constant over different scales. ... the world displays a regular regularity" (Gleick, 98). This suggested to me that meaning in a novel is both emergent and fractaline – as one goes down, one sees ever-smaller elements of meaning – elements that finally stop at the level of words – perhaps. There is also perhaps the level of multiple interpretations of words – especially in context of the emergent properties of the phrase, sentence, paragraph, etc. Going down helps us see the fractal repetitions while going up (looking at the patterns the words make, looking at how they are functioning in a particular sentence, paragraph, scene, etc.) helps us see the emergent levels of meaning. The mere repetition of a word is not enough – it has to repeat in a chaotic pattern to create the strongest levels of meaning. Each word "repeat[s] itself, displaying familiar patterns over time. ... But the repetitions [are] never quite exact. There [is] pattern, with disturbances. An orderly disorder" (15). Thus, although the word "love" is repeated more in my text, the fact that it lacks this kind of periodic behavior 9orderly disorder) while the word "friend" does tells you the word "friend" is a stronger theme-word, having been created through the tensions in the novel. How does this happen? "Information is transmitted back from the small scales to the large... And the channel transmitting the information upward is the strange attractor, magnifying the initial randomness just as the Butterfly Effect magnifies small uncertainties into large-scale weather patterns" (261). This is why the peaks of the word "friend" correspond to major plot points in the text. So we see a novel is a particular type of fractal – it is, indeed, self-similar at lower intervals, but as one goes up, new forms are made, self-similar to what came before, but having emergent properties (meanings). What we therefore see in deconstruction is a concern only with the "infinite coastline" of the novel, to the expense of the emergent meaning of that coastline in delineating the complete form of the novel.

Since the novel is now seen to be both regular and irregular, to be, in essence, fractaline, one could perhaps see Gleick's observation on 100 as a literary judgement: "The degree of irregularity corresponded to the efficiency of the object in taking up space." Is there perhaps a correlation between a novel's degree of irregularity as a fractaline object and our finding that novel aesthetically pleasing (or, at least, long-term survival)? This would be an interesting line of research for someone to pursue. This complexity that a fractal view of the novel illuminates is also another way of judging a novel (or understanding how novels have perhaps been judged in the past) since, as Gleick says, "Simple shapes are inhuman. They fail to resonate with the way nature organizes itself or with the way human perception sees the world" (116-7). Though we have to be careful when we say the word "simple," since "simple systems can do complicated things" (167), as anyone who has read Hemingway knows. Further, "as [a] system becomes chaotic ..., strictly by virtue of its unpredictability, it generates a steady stream of information" (260). This is undoubtedly why we say that both predictable stories and stories that are not retrodictable are bad stories. A chaotic story would be one that is neither predictable, but is certainly retrodictable.

Gleick also states that irregular patterns and infinitely complex shapes have "a quality of self-similarity. Above all, fractal meant self-similar" (103). Further, "self-similarity is symmetry across scale. It implies recursion, pattern inside of pattern," (103) meaning fractals are not determined by scale (107-8). The presence of meaning in a novel is also not determined by its scale. Phonemes have meaning, and so do plots, as well as every level in between. But, like eddies of air are the same as a hurricane, only at different scales, the effect of the higher levels of meaning is as different from phoneme to plot as the effects of an eddy of air are to a hurricane. All the same, an eddy of air can, building on other eddies of air, build into a hurricane over space and time in the same way as phonemes, building on other phonemes, build into a novel over space and time. This is because "each change of scale [brings] new phenomena and new kinds of behavior" (115). Therefore, the existence of meaning applies "without regard to scale" (108) in a novel. It is also natural to say that greater meaning emerges as we go up in scale, since these scales are hierarchical (116). As Gleick points out, "fractal scaling [is] not just common but universal in morphogenesis" (110). And since fractal geometry is "nature's own" (114), and a novel is a part of nature inasmuch as it is a creation by a living organism, we should not be surprised to find that novels have fractal geometry. Further, "A geometrical shape has a scale, a characteristic size. To Mandelbrot, art that satisfies lacks scale, in the sense that it contains important elements at all sizes" (117), meaning a good novel (that satisfies the reader) lacks scale, in the sense that it contains important elements at all sizes, from phonemes to plot.

On the other hand, I did not get nearly as much from Prigogine in regards to opening up new ways of understanding the novel, except in some general ways. I strengthened my belief that to really understand any text, one has to know something about its creation when Prigogine says, "these far-from-equilibrium phenomena illustrate an essential and unexpected property of matter: physics may henceforth describe structures as adapted to outside conditions" (14), with far-from-equilibrium states being those that have strong tension in them (the very definition of a story). He also makes a statement that can easily be used to describe a novel: "One of the most interesting aspects of dissipative structures is their coherence. The system behaves as a whole, as if it were the site of long-range sources. ...the system is structured as though each molecule were "informed" about the overall state of the system" (171), a dissipative system being one that has both structure and disorder in it (143), that is, chaotic. On can see a sentence as having this very structure (Turner, The Culture of Hope). One can, in a sense, see how each "molecule" of the word "friend" is "informed" about the "overall state of the system" of the novel, helping it to cohere and have meaning. Also, Prigogine does away with the postmodern view that nothing new can be created when he says, "living societies continually introduce new ways of exploiting existing resources or of discovering new ones" (193-4). This is further supported by Gleick's statement that "nonlinearity means that the act of playing the game has a way of changing the rules" (24), meaning that in the very act of writing a new story or poem, a writer changes the rules of story- or poem-writing. We therefore not only can, but always do create new forms (if you play the game of literature, you necessarily change the rules), which means that postmodernism is fundamentally wrong when it says there are not new voices or styles and therefore all literature (or any art) can do now is collage and montage. We find postmodernism in this position because it falsely believed literary change to be linear, when it is really nonlinear (it feeds back on itself, etc.).

Monday, August 13, 2007

On "Time, Order, Chaos"

I found particularly interesting J.T. Fraser's essay wherein he observed that the "Triad Cantor Set; it has a dimension of 0.6309" (7n), which is uncannily close to the Fibonacci ratio of 0.618, the ratio of the simplest kind of fractal. Considering my previous comparison of the distribution of words as being similar to a Cantor Set, it would be interesting to see if one could get the dimensionality of word distribution to see if it would be somewhere near these two numbers. I personally have no idea how one could possibly go about doing this, considering my poor background knowledge of mathematics, but it should be possible. Also, I found his observation that "the hierarchical theory of time recognizes five stable, hierarchically nested integrative levels of nature. By hierarchically nested is meant that each integrative level subsumes the functions and structures of the one or ones beneath it, and each adds to the potentialities of its predecessors certain new degrees of freedom" (10). I found this interesting both from the point of view of understanding how new instincts can arise through the combination of old ones, and from the point of view of understanding how meaning can arise through the various hierarchical levels of the novel, from the phoneme, through the sentence-level, to the plot.

Paul A. Harris' essay on Perec I have found particularly useful in thinking of new ways of teaching my rhetoric class. I recently applied the idea of constraints used in the essay, particularly Perec's refusal to use "e" in one of his novels, in my rhetoric class, making my students write just a paragraph without using an "e", and the results were remarkable. Naturally, the paragraph they wrote without "e" were, for the most part, stilted (there was one exception, where the writer actually wrote a very beautiful passage), but in the essays I had them write afterward, to tell me what they thought of the exercise, all the students said it was a great exercise, that helped them really think about their writing, and they recommended I use that pedagogical technique in my next class I teach. In the case of the novel, the essay shows just how important rules are to creation. And if the arbitrary rules can be important to creating new, interesting styles, just imagine how important the natural rules of language must be.

Argyros says in his essay that evolution is "a process of complexification that incorporates its past as the fine grain of the present" (139). Is this, perhaps, one way of defining one of the parameters of a great novel? Also of interest was the comments on the nature of metaphor as the comparison of higher umwelts with lower umwelts (141). This idea is particularly interesting for writers to think about in their writing, helping them to create more and better (and more interesting) metaphors.

Finally, I found Thomas Weissert's essay on narrative quite interesting, especially in light of the work I am doing on poetics as an instinct (and my tying it to the narrative instinct). Narrative helps us separate what is important out from the noise, and helps us turn noise into meaning. Especially when we engage in ritual. One could even look at the ritual of a story as: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, tragedy ensues; while it is the noise surrounding this ritual that makes this ritual into Romeo and Juliet verses The Sorrows of Young Werther. This is because "we use filtering and preconceived structures to obtain the narrative identity. We use the identity to recognize subsequent changes in the identity and, depending on the level of nature we describe, the changes define the meaning we can attribute to the narrative. The changes come from the background noise that to some degree obscures our view of the repetition of the pattern. So it is from the noise that we ultimately get meaning" (171). Furthermore, this noise "drowns out the possibility of divining meaning precisely, if at all. But without noise there can be no meaning. This noise represents a level of fuzziness beyond which we cannot see" (172). The ritual of boy meets girl, etc. gives information, but it does not give meaning, while each of the specific examples given do carry meaning (though the meaning of each is indeed ambiguous). One could apply this too to such chaotic patterns (noise) in word distribution as I discovered in my own novel, which would show how such word patterns both make my novel more, not less, ambiguous, and simultaneously more meaningful.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Zero Sum Games

In a free economy everyone has the opportunity to get better because the economy is a non-zero-sum game. Most people in developing nations would rather be poor in the U.S. than middle classed in their own countries. And it's because the working poor have it better off here than do most people (except the ruling elite, of course) in developing nations. Certainly the U.S. isn't perfect, and it doesn't have as free an economy as it could and should, but its relative freedom allows for a non-zero-sum ecnomy that makes it possible for all boats to rise. I don't particularly care if other boats rise faster, either, as that sort of "fiarness," or egalitarianism, only pushes the economy toward increasing zero-sumness. The point is, in a free economy, I am not hurt in any way, shape, or form if there are others who have more than I do, becaue they are not taking anything from me in a positive sum game. Their wealth does not impoverish me. To complain about someone else's wealth is like complaining about someone else being ethical, as though their being good somehow prevented me from being good. The first attitude resulte din the gulag, and the second attitude resulted in the attacks by the Islamic terrorists. The bottom line is that the belief in a zero-sum world has resulted in a lot of deaths, and will continue to do so until we recognize that the world isn't a zero-sum game, and never has been, and never will be.

Shared Prosperity

Hillary Clinton hs been speaking of "shared propserity" -- not a bad code word for socialism (dare I say what it really is: communism?), wouldn't you say? Well, here's a few rough numbers, to put this into perspective.

Take the money from the Gates Foundation, approximately $100 billion dollars. Divide it by the U.S. population, about 300 million people. Each person would get a whopping . . . $333! I think Bill Gates can do far better things with his money at his foundation than just give it away "fairly".

Or how about if we really go big. If we take all the money from the top one tenth of one percent (0.01%), or the richest 300,000 people, we get $16,800 trillion (these are 2005 numbers) which, when divided by the U.S. population, gives each person $56,00. Not bad, don't you think? Sounds like a wonderful idea, I hear some of you saying. But suppose we did do just this one day -- seized all this money and distributed it evenly? Do you suppose that any of those 300,000 people would be interested in trying to make that kind of money again? Unlikely. And I would guess that most of us are employed by one of those 300,000 people, who would now not be so keen to keep doing what they are doing (that is, providing everyone jobs, places to shop, cheap goods, etc.). How quickly would this kind of idea drive the country into abject poverty?

Now, I know that this is not the kind of idea Hillary Clinton is really in favor of. What I have given you here is a radical kind of thought experiment. But it does make the point that, while it may make people better off in the short term, in the long term, redistributionist policies impoverish us all. Beware of anyone using this kind of rhetoric. "Shared prosperity" will do nothing more than lead to shared impoverishment. But don't worry, the Leftists will at least rule us absolutely by then. (One only hopes my rhetoric here is elevated and not prophetic)