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Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion



Poppy_Adams wrote:


Everyman wrote:
Fascinating question, free will!

Given that as far as we know the actions of the brain, and therefore of our thinking and deciding processes, are purely a matter of electrical and chemical reactions within and between our brain cells, every input must have a deterministic output. That is, whatever inputs enter our brain through our senses or in any other way, it will necessarily produce one and only one series of brain interactions. If we had sufficient knowledge of the paths, patterns, and chemical and electrical impulses of the brain, we could accurately predict exactly how any given person would react to any given stimulus. Of course we lack that knowledge, and I hope will never get it, but the principle is fixed. There can be no free will; everything is deterministic.

I certainly don't like this conclusion; I want to believe in free will. And I'm not persuaded by it. But equally I'm not sure that I'm willing to accept the principles of randomness of input and output which are necessary to create an environment in which free will can exist.


Dear Everyman
This is the point. Thank-you. This is the level on which I am trying to get people to think about free will. How can there be free will when our every thought and action can be reduced to electrical impulses and chemical reactions? There is nothing 'free' about it. Were we slightly different people, (or in a biological sense, had a slightly different chemical or celluar make-up, we would necessarily react differently to every situation.) Had Maude been made of a different set of genetically-coded cells, proteins, chemicals, then, no, she would not have turned to alcohol, but would have responded in a different way. On this 'cellular' level she is not determining her response, it's not her decision to turn to drink.
RIGHT, NOW I NEED TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THIS IS NOT HOW I FEEL PERSONALLY, so I don't want to be quoted out of context. This is the conclusion that Ginny comes to, and the hypothesis I'm putting forward in the book for people to think about. For the record, I also know many biological scientists who really do feel this way, and I felt it was a fascinating idea to try to get across in a work of fiction. I would find it most depressing to believe we had no free will, but I understand the way the argument is laid out. You do too, obviously, Everyman. I wish you'd enjoyed my book, even a little.
Poppy









There were certainly some parts of the book that I enjoyed, but overall my reading brain is more wired to traditional fiction, and I prefer leaving ambiguities to areas where they are necessary -- history, philosophy, theology, areas like that.

But of course, if Ginny is right, and I have no free will, then I had no choice there: I was genetically unable to enjoy her story, right? :smileyhappy:
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion



Poppy_Adams wrote:


Everyman wrote:
I think that this is carrying Newton's first law of motion too far. This was meant to describe the world of physics, and I think that carrying this into matters of the brain is taking the principle beyond its intended use. I don't think he intended application to biochemistry or psychology.

He probably didn't intend it, but that doesn't make it inaccurate. The brain is just a physical device which has physical attributes and physical processes. Newton might not have understood this, but we do.

When the same length of light wave hits our retina, does it or does it not send the same signal to the brain?

Between two people, it can not send exactly the same signal to the brain. It's not physically possible. By our - very small - differences in nature (slight differences in the mechanics of the rods and cones in our eyes for example) a slightly different signal is sent to each of us. Therefore we have (very slightly) different perceptions of what we are seeing. We might interpret the sight in exactly the same way in a discussion, but, for example, is the colour RED that you see, the same colour RED that I see. We both know that the colour we are looking at is red, but what RED is for us is bound to be slightly different, don't you think, Everyman?
Poppy





I think it's much more likely than not that we see Red differently. The question is, how differently? Is what I call rd the same color that you call blue? Doesn't seem likely, but also not impossible.

there is still an enormous amount about the brain that we don't know. Are you thinking of doing a documentary sometime on the emerging findings of brain research on these issues? That's a show I would be delighted to watch!
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
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vivico1
Posts: 3,456
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion


Everyman wrote:


Poppy_Adams wrote:


Everyman wrote:
Fascinating question, free will!

Given that as far as we know the actions of the brain, and therefore of our thinking and deciding processes, are purely a matter of electrical and chemical reactions within and between our brain cells, every input must have a deterministic output. That is, whatever inputs enter our brain through our senses or in any other way, it will necessarily produce one and only one series of brain interactions. If we had sufficient knowledge of the paths, patterns, and chemical and electrical impulses of the brain, we could accurately predict exactly how any given person would react to any given stimulus. Of course we lack that knowledge, and I hope will never get it, but the principle is fixed. There can be no free will; everything is deterministic.

I certainly don't like this conclusion; I want to believe in free will. And I'm not persuaded by it. But equally I'm not sure that I'm willing to accept the principles of randomness of input and output which are necessary to create an environment in which free will can exist.


Dear Everyman
This is the point. Thank-you. This is the level on which I am trying to get people to think about free will. How can there be free will when our every thought and action can be reduced to electrical impulses and chemical reactions? There is nothing 'free' about it. Were we slightly different people, (or in a biological sense, had a slightly different chemical or celluar make-up, we would necessarily react differently to every situation.) Had Maude been made of a different set of genetically-coded cells, proteins, chemicals, then, no, she would not have turned to alcohol, but would have responded in a different way. On this 'cellular' level she is not determining her response, it's not her decision to turn to drink.
RIGHT, NOW I NEED TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THIS IS NOT HOW I FEEL PERSONALLY, so I don't want to be quoted out of context. This is the conclusion that Ginny comes to, and the hypothesis I'm putting forward in the book for people to think about. For the record, I also know many biological scientists who really do feel this way, and I felt it was a fascinating idea to try to get across in a work of fiction. I would find it most depressing to believe we had no free will, but I understand the way the argument is laid out. You do too, obviously, Everyman. I wish you'd enjoyed my book, even a little.
Poppy









There were certainly some parts of the book that I enjoyed, but overall my reading brain is more wired to traditional fiction, and I prefer leaving ambiguities to areas where they are necessary -- history, philosophy, theology, areas like that.

But of course, if Ginny is right, and I have no free will, then I had no choice there: I was genetically unable to enjoy her story, right? :smileyhappy:


I don't think every thought and action can be reduced to electrical impulses and chemical reactions. I know some scientist would like to believe this, prove this but they never will be able to. Oh they can document what happens when this or that happens and what your response is to it but documenting reactions and proving cause and effect are two different things. Yeah, I do think Ginny was working off of this conclusion and then believing it to be true, chose to use it for an explanation for what she or others did. The fact is tho, she had no idea why people acted or felt the way they did, or herself, so her conclusion was faulty, as was her thinking. She needed order in her life, we see that, but she desperately needed order in her understanding of life and what they were studying and hypothesizing with the moths made the most sense to her, so she ordered all of life on this idea.

Reducing all thoughts and actions to electrical impulses and chemical reactions will only let you quantify actions, but not explain them completely. You can for example, say, ok if i hit this part of your knee, your leg will jerk, its a reflex and a good reliable test. But that does not apply to thought. We know damaged brains can send faulty information to the body too, but again, that can't explain away all thoughts with emotional feelings attached. It can't even tell us why we sleep! We know the body needs sleep, we can measure what happens when it does go into sleep. We can take all kinds of measurements and explain what is happening at every stage of sleep except what sleep really is! How does the body know to shut down and what triggers it, what is sleep. You can describe it, measure it, quantify it but you can not explain how or why it works.

Now thats the body reactions, some can be explained in biochemical terms but what about the things we do that take decision? Can you ever break it down to the same terms, even with much more knowledge of the brain? I think it will never happen, because scientist will not take into account the idea of a soul. Well more and more are.(Tho now they want to find a way to measure it too lol.) That something beyond the mere particles that make up the body, that thinks about things because there is just a desire to, that decides on things that for all practical purposes shouldn't even be a choice at times. And you don't really have to believe in a theory of randomness creating an environmnent for free will will happen. The mere fact that we can act on our environment and create situations of our choosing to test people reactions gives us a living lab to watch free will in action. One can say, well but you can't predict every time what everyone will do because all it takes is one slight difference in a synapses, one slight variance in biological make up and it can account for the differences in human behavior at the cellular level. But, if that is the scientific "basis" for the belief, then how can it be more valid than someone else saying, well but you can take everything into account to make every subject completely equal and if there is a variance in their behavior, thats proof of choice i.e. free will, i.e. a soul? No one can measure a soul and no one can prove all reactions are based in our very cellular makeup. But i prefer the first, then you at least have the right to "free will" to chose which idea you will believe in. :smileywink:

But yeah Eman, lighten up and just enjoy a book for the story's sake sometime in here ok? LOL, or lets start a science book club, or philosophy one somewhere for ya and then you can really enjoy the things proposed in a book. Now, this next thing I am about to say, since we can't gage moods in here, please understand that I do not ask this sarcastically Eman, but out of curiosity, because you spend so much time I have seen, tearing down how books are written, what is plausible, what is not, where an author goes wrong, why a story cant work and on and on, so tell me, what books have you read that you just liked? And just liked without playing professor and grading each piece of it? I am sincere in this, I am curious and hey if thats your thing, thats cool, but I can not get a feel for what kind of book you really like, but more that you just like to play devil's advocate about any books. And if you name classics, thats not fair, anyone can do that, I mean, since we are talking fiction and I dont know why you would say, fiction should not be ambiguous like you can with history because, anything goes in fiction and I really dont want to read ambiguous accounts of history! Thats not history then, thats fictional accounts of real events. So what say ye Eman? What are some books that you read for the first time and just flat enjoyed without thinking about, is everything properly written, plausible, believable and "correct" for what it is saying? I am interested.
Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
Author
Poppy_Adams
Posts: 114
Registered: ‎02-25-2008
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion



Everyman wrote:


Poppy_Adams wrote:


Everyman wrote:
Fascinating question, free will!

Given that as far as we know the actions of the brain, and therefore of our thinking and deciding processes, are purely a matter of electrical and chemical reactions within and between our brain cells, every input must have a deterministic output. That is, whatever inputs enter our brain through our senses or in any other way, it will necessarily produce one and only one series of brain interactions. If we had sufficient knowledge of the paths, patterns, and chemical and electrical impulses of the brain, we could accurately predict exactly how any given person would react to any given stimulus. Of course we lack that knowledge, and I hope will never get it, but the principle is fixed. There can be no free will; everything is deterministic.

I certainly don't like this conclusion; I want to believe in free will. And I'm not persuaded by it. But equally I'm not sure that I'm willing to accept the principles of randomness of input and output which are necessary to create an environment in which free will can exist.


Dear Everyman
This is the point. Thank-you. This is the level on which I am trying to get people to think about free will. How can there be free will when our every thought and action can be reduced to electrical impulses and chemical reactions? There is nothing 'free' about it. Were we slightly different people, (or in a biological sense, had a slightly different chemical or celluar make-up, we would necessarily react differently to every situation.) Had Maude been made of a different set of genetically-coded cells, proteins, chemicals, then, no, she would not have turned to alcohol, but would have responded in a different way. On this 'cellular' level she is not determining her response, it's not her decision to turn to drink.
RIGHT, NOW I NEED TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THIS IS NOT HOW I FEEL PERSONALLY, so I don't want to be quoted out of context. This is the conclusion that Ginny comes to, and the hypothesis I'm putting forward in the book for people to think about. For the record, I also know many biological scientists who really do feel this way, and I felt it was a fascinating idea to try to get across in a work of fiction. I would find it most depressing to believe we had no free will, but I understand the way the argument is laid out. You do too, obviously, Everyman. I wish you'd enjoyed my book, even a little.
Poppy









There were certainly some parts of the book that I enjoyed, but overall my reading brain is more wired to traditional fiction, and I prefer leaving ambiguities to areas where they are necessary -- history, philosophy, theology, areas like that.

But of course, if Ginny is right, and I have no free will, then I had no choice there: I was genetically unable to enjoy her story, right? :smileyhappy:

Exactly right!  It wasn't a decision you had any control over!!!
Poppy


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Poppy_Adams
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion



Everyman wrote:


Poppy_Adams wrote:


Everyman wrote:
I think that this is carrying Newton's first law of motion too far. This was meant to describe the world of physics, and I think that carrying this into matters of the brain is taking the principle beyond its intended use. I don't think he intended application to biochemistry or psychology.

He probably didn't intend it, but that doesn't make it inaccurate. The brain is just a physical device which has physical attributes and physical processes. Newton might not have understood this, but we do.

When the same length of light wave hits our retina, does it or does it not send the same signal to the brain?

Between two people, it can not send exactly the same signal to the brain. It's not physically possible. By our - very small - differences in nature (slight differences in the mechanics of the rods and cones in our eyes for example) a slightly different signal is sent to each of us. Therefore we have (very slightly) different perceptions of what we are seeing. We might interpret the sight in exactly the same way in a discussion, but, for example, is the colour RED that you see, the same colour RED that I see. We both know that the colour we are looking at is red, but what RED is for us is bound to be slightly different, don't you think, Everyman?
Poppy





I think it's much more likely than not that we see Red differently. The question is, how differently? Is what I call rd the same color that you call blue? Doesn't seem likely, but also not impossible.

there is still an enormous amount about the brain that we don't know. Are you thinking of doing a documentary sometime on the emerging findings of brain research on these issues? That's a show I would be delighted to watch!

No, not considering that.  I don't think there's enough to film yet, just a lot of theory.  But I also love thinking about these issues.  I don't suppose either of us will be around by the time they've discovered the answers though.
All the best, Everyman
Poppy


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Poppy_Adams
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion



vivico1 wrote:

Everyman wrote:


Poppy_Adams wrote:


Everyman wrote:
Fascinating question, free will!

Given that as far as we know the actions of the brain, and therefore of our thinking and deciding processes, are purely a matter of electrical and chemical reactions within and between our brain cells, every input must have a deterministic output. That is, whatever inputs enter our brain through our senses or in any other way, it will necessarily produce one and only one series of brain interactions. If we had sufficient knowledge of the paths, patterns, and chemical and electrical impulses of the brain, we could accurately predict exactly how any given person would react to any given stimulus. Of course we lack that knowledge, and I hope will never get it, but the principle is fixed. There can be no free will; everything is deterministic.

I certainly don't like this conclusion; I want to believe in free will. And I'm not persuaded by it. But equally I'm not sure that I'm willing to accept the principles of randomness of input and output which are necessary to create an environment in which free will can exist.


Dear Everyman
This is the point. Thank-you. This is the level on which I am trying to get people to think about free will. How can there be free will when our every thought and action can be reduced to electrical impulses and chemical reactions? There is nothing 'free' about it. Were we slightly different people, (or in a biological sense, had a slightly different chemical or celluar make-up, we would necessarily react differently to every situation.) Had Maude been made of a different set of genetically-coded cells, proteins, chemicals, then, no, she would not have turned to alcohol, but would have responded in a different way. On this 'cellular' level she is not determining her response, it's not her decision to turn to drink.
RIGHT, NOW I NEED TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THIS IS NOT HOW I FEEL PERSONALLY, so I don't want to be quoted out of context. This is the conclusion that Ginny comes to, and the hypothesis I'm putting forward in the book for people to think about. For the record, I also know many biological scientists who really do feel this way, and I felt it was a fascinating idea to try to get across in a work of fiction. I would find it most depressing to believe we had no free will, but I understand the way the argument is laid out. You do too, obviously, Everyman. I wish you'd enjoyed my book, even a little.
Poppy









There were certainly some parts of the book that I enjoyed, but overall my reading brain is more wired to traditional fiction, and I prefer leaving ambiguities to areas where they are necessary -- history, philosophy, theology, areas like that.

But of course, if Ginny is right, and I have no free will, then I had no choice there: I was genetically unable to enjoy her story, right? :smileyhappy:


I don't think every thought and action can be reduced to electrical impulses and chemical reactions. I know some scientist would like to believe this, prove this but they never will be able to. Oh they can document what happens when this or that happens and what your response is to it but documenting reactions and proving cause and effect are two different things. Yeah, I do think Ginny was working off of this conclusion and then believing it to be true, chose to use it for an explanation for what she or others did. The fact is tho, she had no idea why people acted or felt the way they did, or herself, so her conclusion was faulty, as was her thinking. She needed order in her life, we see that, but she desperately needed order in her understanding of life and what they were studying and hypothesizing with the moths made the most sense to her, so she ordered all of life on this idea.

Reducing all thoughts and actions to electrical impulses and chemical reactions will only let you quantify actions, but not explain them completely. You can for example, say, ok if i hit this part of your knee, your leg will jerk, its a reflex and a good reliable test. But that does not apply to thought. We know damaged brains can send faulty information to the body too, but again, that can't explain away all thoughts with emotional feelings attached. It can't even tell us why we sleep! We know the body needs sleep, we can measure what happens when it does go into sleep. We can take all kinds of measurements and explain what is happening at every stage of sleep except what sleep really is! How does the body know to shut down and what triggers it, what is sleep. You can describe it, measure it, quantify it but you can not explain how or why it works.

Now thats the body reactions, some can be explained in biochemical terms but what about the things we do that take decision? Can you ever break it down to the same terms, even with much more knowledge of the brain? I think it will never happen, because scientist will not take into account the idea of a soul. Well more and more are.(Tho now they want to find a way to measure it too lol.) That something beyond the mere particles that make up the body, that thinks about things because there is just a desire to, that decides on things that for all practical purposes shouldn't even be a choice at times. And you don't really have to believe in a theory of randomness creating an environmnent for free will will happen. The mere fact that we can act on our environment and create situations of our choosing to test people reactions gives us a living lab to watch free will in action. One can say, well but you can't predict every time what everyone will do because all it takes is one slight difference in a synapses, one slight variance in biological make up and it can account for the differences in human behavior at the cellular level. But, if that is the scientific "basis" for the belief, then how can it be more valid than someone else saying, well but you can take everything into account to make every subject completely equal and if there is a variance in their behavior, thats proof of choice i.e. free will, i.e. a soul? No one can measure a soul and no one can prove all reactions are based in our very cellular makeup. But i prefer the first, then you at least have the right to "free will" to chose which idea you will believe in. :smileywink:

But yeah Eman, lighten up and just enjoy a book for the story's sake sometime in here ok? LOL, or lets start a science book club, or philosophy one somewhere for ya and then you can really enjoy the things proposed in a book. Now, this next thing I am about to say, since we can't gage moods in here, please understand that I do not ask this sarcastically Eman, but out of curiosity, because you spend so much time I have seen, tearing down how books are written, what is plausible, what is not, where an author goes wrong, why a story cant work and on and on, so tell me, what books have you read that you just liked? And just liked without playing professor and grading each piece of it? I am sincere in this, I am curious and hey if thats your thing, thats cool, but I can not get a feel for what kind of book you really like, but more that you just like to play devil's advocate about any books. And if you name classics, thats not fair, anyone can do that, I mean, since we are talking fiction and I dont know why you would say, fiction should not be ambiguous like you can with history because, anything goes in fiction and I really dont want to read ambiguous accounts of history! Thats not history then, thats fictional accounts of real events. So what say ye Eman? What are some books that you read for the first time and just flat enjoyed without thinking about, is everything properly written, plausible, believable and "correct" for what it is saying? I am interested.

I am interested too!!  Beautifully asked, Vivian.
Poppy


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Everyman
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion


vivico1 wrote:
... Now, this next thing I am about to say, since we can't gage moods in here, please understand that I do not ask this sarcastically Eman, but out of curiosity, because you spend so much time I have seen, tearing down how books are written, what is plausible, what is not, where an author goes wrong, why a story cant work and on and on, so tell me, what books have you read that you just liked? And just liked without playing professor and grading each piece of it? ... What are some books that you read for the first time and just flat enjoyed without thinking about, is everything properly written, plausible, believable and "correct" for what it is saying? I am interested.



That's a fair question, and deserves a fair answer. [Was it a Freudian slip that you threw down a gage at me? :smileyhappy:]

What underlies your question are the more significant questions, why do we read? And what is the purpose of literature?

There are many times I read purely for enjoyment and relaxation. At those times, I read things like light fiction (for example, P.G. Wodehouse, John Mortimer, H.H. Munro (Saki), that sort of author), mysteries (with preferences for authors such as Sayers, Tey, Stout, Doyle, McDonald, Marsh), adventure (John Buchan, H. Rider Haggard, for examples) and a bit of classic science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, that crowd). I read those just to take myself out of the daily world and relax. I don't analyze them, I just read without much thought. Nobody of any sense analyzes why Bertie Wooster does what he does or whether King Solomon’s Mines were realistically described or whether Holmes could really have told that a person was a typist by the calluses on their fingers. They are just fun reading, and I read them on that level.

But I will add that they have to be at least reasonably well written. Bad writing grates on me the way fingers on a blackboard grate on some people, or the way certain dissonances in music can set your teeth on edge. Incorrect grammar, poor sentence structure, those things hit me on a visceral level the same way that finding a baby slug in your salad might.

But serious writing, Literature with a capital L if you will, is a quite different thing. The distinction between casual reading and serious reading was well put by Clifton Fadiman when he wrote that in selecting the books for his Lifetime Reading Plan he selected “books of more than transient interest and value.” The books I have mentioned above are for the most part of transient interest and value. They are read quickly and passed beyond equally quickly.

Serious writing, that writing which is of more than transient interest and value, has, I think, at least two principal purposes.

The lesser, but still important, is to exemplify and promote the glory of the English language. Serious writing should teach by example what good, even great, writing is. Now, I hasten to say that there is not one form of good writing. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Faulkner all write great English, and are as different as they could possibly be. Those serious writers who follow in their footsteps have, I believe, an obligation to maintain the highest standards of writing. Not that language cannot change; it does, and it must. But it must change in ways that enhance, not diminish, understanding and clarity of writing and thought. Authors who, for example, interchange imply and infer, or use lay and lie incorrectly, or use mixed metaphors out of carelessness rather than carefully considered intent, or use incorrect parallelism, or who otherwise are sloppy or inaccurate in their writing, are termites eating away at the foundation of the precision of language which is essential to the precision of thought. They do damage which must be repaired before the structure crumbles. Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” is as prescient here as his 1984 was about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Second, and more important, Literature, at least in my opinion, should be intended to teach with wisdom and truth about life, about how and why people do and should or should not live. It should have the power to make us more insightful, better people. It should make us think with intelligence and insight. As Mortimer Adler wrote,

“The goods of the body are food and drink, sleep, clothing, and shelter. These are goods we need because they are indispensable for sustaining life....To possess them is not only necessary, but also a source of pleasure and enjoyment.

“The goods of the mind are information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. We seek these goods not just in order to live, but in order to live well. Possessing them lifts us above the plane of animal existence, for these goods enhance our existence as human beings as well as providing enjoyment and pleasure.”

Or, as Shakespeare puts it in King Lear,
“O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous;
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as a beast’s.”

Writing that is to inform and educate must be read with more than transitory attention. Its benefits can only be realized by thinking and, ideally (as we do here on BN), discussing it with other serious readers. I agree that at times we can (and in BN sometimes tend to) dig too deeply into minutia, and risk overlooking the more significant values present in the work. But excellent writing can not only survive but be enhanced by this scrutiny.

Just as the unexamined life is not worth living, so the unexamined work of literature is not worth reading. It is not the mere reading of literature but the thinking about it which makes it of value.

In order for literature to inform and educate, it must, I believe, among other things, accurately represent the core attributes of the human condition, which includes how people act and why. This directly addresses your point about my concern with “what is plausible, what is not.” Plausible, I hasten to say, does not necessarily mean predictable. It may not be predictable that a 67 year old woman who has had no contact with her sister for thirty or forty years should suddenly, apparently on her own impulse and without any preliminary discussion, decide to move in with her sister intending to live the rest of her life with her. But it must be plausible. We must be provided with something sufficient in the character of the woman which makes us say “oh, yes, I see why she is doing this, and on the scale of human behavior, I can see that it makes sense, at least to her.” If characters in books act in ways both unpredictable and implausible, what lessons of life can we take from the book?

Sane humans do not do things for no reason. The reasons may be hidden, they may be initially inscrutable, but the job of the serious author is to make them scrutable, and in the process to illuminate for us something about human behavior. (My spell checker doesn’t like scrutable, but the OED does.)

We do not need to be spoon fed these answers; indeed, if we are, they will be of little value to us. Shakespeare does not tell us specifically why Lear was so outraged by Cordelia’s refusal, but he gives us enough insight into the characters that we can discuss why intelligently and fruitfully. Ditto for why Achilles withdrew for so long into his tent– the discussion here some time back of the Iliad was rich and enjoyable on that question, and while there was no final agreement, partly perhaps because we are not steeped in the values of ancient Greece as Homer’s audience was, Homer had provided us enough insights to discuss the question intelligently and emerge with a better understanding of why humans behave as they do and what is right and wrong action. We do not always need a specific answer. But we need enough to make the discussion of the answers rich, intelligent, and plausible.

I could go on for hours more about the purposes of literature, but I would just duplicate for the most part what writers much wiser than I have said for generations. (And I take credit for not dragging Bacon’s stale aphorism into this post.)

You asked what books I simply liked, other than the classics, which are “too easy,” I don’t understand why you say that, but I did answer the question above. But I can’t leave without saying that there are many works of serious literature that I find compelling, highly rewarding, insightful, and of very great value to read and reread. Homer, but less so Virgil. Plato, but less so much of Aristotle. Ovid. Almost all Chaucer. Most of Shakespeare. Much, but not all, of Dickens. Austen. Some but not all Scott. Ditto Wordsworth and many other poets. And on and on. It’s not that I like books because they are classics; there are classics that I find meaningless to me (Moby Dick, for instance.) It’s more, I think, that they are classics because they are not only great writing but rich and compelling books which merit and reward serious re-reading and thinking about. (I do agree with the precept that any book which is worth reading is worth rereading.)

Now to the final point. I assume that the books selected for the First Look Book Clubs are intended to be serious, not casual, writing. If I am wrong, then I agree that my whole approach to these clubs is wrong. If these books are intended to be largely frivolous, simple entertainment of only transient interest and value, bringing to them the tools of serious literary analysis would indeed be out of order, and I should just read them and either enjoy or not enjoy them, but not go beyond that. But I assume that they are intended to be books of significance and value. As such, they compel careful and thorough analysis. Which is what I try, in my limited way, to bring to the table here.
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HannibalCat
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion

[ Edited ]

Everyman wrote:

vivico1 wrote:
... Now, this next thing I am about to say, since we can't gage moods in here, please understand that I do not ask this sarcastically Eman, but out of curiosity, because you spend so much time I have seen, tearing down how books are written, what is plausible, what is not, where an author goes wrong, why a story cant work and on and on, so tell me, what books have you read that you just liked? And just liked without playing professor and grading each piece of it? ... What are some books that you read for the first time and just flat enjoyed without thinking about, is everything properly written, plausible, believable and "correct" for what it is saying? I am interested.



That's a fair question, and deserves a fair answer. [Was it a Freudian slip that you threw down a gage at me? :smileyhappy:]

What underlies your question are the more significant questions, why do we read? And what is the purpose of literature?

There are many times I read purely for enjoyment and relaxation. At those times, I read things like light fiction (for example, P.G. Wodehouse, John Mortimer, H.H. Munro (Saki), that sort of author), mysteries (with preferences for authors such as Sayers, Tey, Stout, Doyle, McDonald, Marsh), adventure (John Buchan, H. Rider Haggard, for examples) and a bit of classic science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, that crowd). I read those just to take myself out of the daily world and relax. I don't analyze them, I just read without much thought. Nobody of any sense analyzes why Bertie Wooster does what he does or whether King Solomon’s Mines were realistically described or whether Holmes could really have told that a person was a typist by the calluses on their fingers. They are just fun reading, and I read them on that level.

But I will add that they have to be at least reasonably well written. Bad writing grates on me the way fingers on a blackboard grate on some people, or the way certain dissonances in music can set your teeth on edge. Incorrect grammar, poor sentence structure, those things hit me on a visceral level the same way that finding a baby slug in your salad might.

But serious writing, Literature with a capital L if you will, is a quite different thing. The distinction between casual reading and serious reading was well put by Clifton Fadiman when he wrote that in selecting the books for his Lifetime Reading Plan he selected “books of more than transient interest and value.” The books I have mentioned above are for the most part of transient interest and value. They are read quickly and passed beyond equally quickly.

Serious writing, that writing which is of more than transient interest and value, has, I think, at least two principal purposes.

The lesser, but still important, is to exemplify and promote the glory of the English language. Serious writing should teach by example what good, even great, writing is. Now, I hasten to say that there is not one form of good writing. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Faulkner all write great English, and are as different as they could possibly be. Those serious writers who follow in their footsteps have, I believe, an obligation to maintain the highest standards of writing. Not that language cannot change; it does, and it must. But it must change in ways that enhance, not diminish, understanding and clarity of writing and thought. Authors who, for example, interchange imply and infer, or use lay and lie incorrectly, or use mixed metaphors out of carelessness rather than carefully considered intent, or use incorrect parallelism, or who otherwise are sloppy or inaccurate in their writing, are termites eating away at the foundation of the precision of language which is essential to the precision of thought. They do damage which must be repaired before the structure crumbles. Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” is as prescient here as his 1984 was about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Second, and more important, Literature, at least in my opinion, should be intended to teach with wisdom and truth about life, about how and why people do and should or should not live. It should have the power to make us more insightful, better people. It should make us think with intelligence and insight. As Mortimer Adler wrote,

“The goods of the body are food and drink, sleep, clothing, and shelter. These are goods we need because they are indispensable for sustaining life....To possess them is not only necessary, but also a source of pleasure and enjoyment.

“The goods of the mind are information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. We seek these goods not just in order to live, but in order to live well. Possessing them lifts us above the plane of animal existence, for these goods enhance our existence as human beings as well as providing enjoyment and pleasure.”

Or, as Shakespeare puts it in King Lear,
“O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous;
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as a beast’s.”

Writing that is to inform and educate must be read with more than transitory attention. Its benefits can only be realized by thinking and, ideally (as we do here on BN), discussing it with other serious readers. I agree that at times we can (and in BN sometimes tend to) dig too deeply into minutia, and risk overlooking the more significant values present in the work. But excellent writing can not only survive but be enhanced by this scrutiny.

Just as the unexamined life is not worth living, so the unexamined work of literature is not worth reading. It is not the mere reading of literature but the thinking about it which makes it of value.

In order for literature to inform and educate, it must, I believe, among other things, accurately represent the core attributes of the human condition, which includes how people act and why. This directly addresses your point about my concern with “what is plausible, what is not.” Plausible, I hasten to say, does not necessarily mean predictable. It may not be predictable that a 67 year old woman who has had no contact with her sister for thirty or forty years should suddenly, apparently on her own impulse and without any preliminary discussion, decide to move in with her sister intending to live the rest of her life with her. But it must be plausible. We must be provided with something sufficient in the character of the woman which makes us say “oh, yes, I see why she is doing this, and on the scale of human behavior, I can see that it makes sense, at least to her.” If characters in books act in ways both unpredictable and implausible, what lessons of life can we take from the book?

Sane humans do not do things for no reason. The reasons may be hidden, they may be initially inscrutable, but the job of the serious author is to make them scrutable, and in the process to illuminate for us something about human behavior. (My spell checker doesn’t like scrutable, but the OED does.)

We do not need to be spoon fed these answers; indeed, if we are, they will be of little value to us. Shakespeare does not tell us specifically why Lear was so outraged by Cordelia’s refusal, but he gives us enough insight into the characters that we can discuss why intelligently and fruitfully. Ditto for why Achilles withdrew for so long into his tent– the discussion here some time back of the Iliad was rich and enjoyable on that question, and while there was no final agreement, partly perhaps because we are not steeped in the values of ancient Greece as Homer’s audience was, Homer had provided us enough insights to discuss the question intelligently and emerge with a better understanding of why humans behave as they do and what is right and wrong action. We do not always need a specific answer. But we need enough to make the discussion of the answers rich, intelligent, and plausible.

I could go on for hours more about the purposes of literature, but I would just duplicate for the most part what writers much wiser than I have said for generations. (And I take credit for not dragging Bacon’s stale aphorism into this post.)

You asked what books I simply liked, other than the classics, which are “too easy,” I don’t understand why you say that, but I did answer the question above. But I can’t leave without saying that there are many works of serious literature that I find compelling, highly rewarding, insightful, and of very great value to read and reread. Homer, but less so Virgil. Plato, but less so much of Aristotle. Ovid. Almost all Chaucer. Most of Shakespeare. Much, but not all, of Dickens. Austen. Some but not all Scott. Ditto Wordsworth and many other poets. And on and on. It’s not that I like books because they are classics; there are classics that I find meaningless to me (Moby Dick, for instance.) It’s more, I think, that they are classics because they are not only great writing but rich and compelling books which merit and reward serious re-reading and thinking about. (I do agree with the precept that any book which is worth reading is worth rereading.)

Now to the final point. I assume that the books selected for the First Look Book Clubs are intended to be serious, not casual, writing. If I am wrong, then I agree that my whole approach to these clubs is wrong. If these books are intended to be largely frivolous, simple entertainment of only transient interest and value, bringing to them the tools of serious literary analysis would indeed be out of order, and I should just read them and either enjoy or not enjoy them, but not go beyond that. But I assume that they are intended to be books of significance and value. As such, they compel careful and thorough analysis. Which is what I try, in my limited way, to bring to the table here.




Eman and Vivico1
I have been reading your posts with great interest. I have, at times, become quite agitated with both of your postings, but for the most part I remain interested and anticipate your responses.

I am delighted that you have each expressed your opinion so succinctly and interestingly. Thank you for adding to this discussion. I have learned a lot from both of you.

Message Edited by HannibalCat on 03-28-2008 04:28 PM
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Everyman
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion

I should add two things to my post on plausibility.

1. Plausible does not necessarily mean probable, or even likely. Almost every novel relies in part on unlikely, sometimes very unlikely, coincidences. For example, is it likely that Darcy would show up at his estate unexpectedly at the very time that Elizabeth Bennet is visiting it? No. But it’s not impossible. We must be willing to “suspend disbelief” on the issue of probability. The question then becomes, under this improbable situation, do the characters as they have been presented to us act plausibly? In the case of Lizzie and Darcy, I think they do. If, on the other hand, Austen had had Lizzie run up to Darcy, hugged him, and said “it must be fate that brought us together here, it’s in the stars that we get married,” that would IMO be highly implausible and a serious flaw in the novel. So I differentiate between the probability of events and plausibility of character motivations and actions in the light of such events.

2. Sometimes, for the sake of the point which the author is making, plausibility of events is replaced by extreme improbability or even impossibility. For example, did even More’s audience actually believe that such an island nation as Utopia could physically exist? Does anybody believe that a little girl could actually fall down a rabbit hole and meet up with flamingos used as croquet mallets? No. These are not merely unlikely, but I think most of us will say impossible. But the authors of these books use these circumstances to present \serious issues (albeit, in Alice, in a quite playful way). But again, the issue, I think, is whether, once we accept the impossible events, the characters respond to them in a plausible way consistent with human nature and the natures of the characters as created by the authors.

I hope this clarifies a bit what I do and do not mean by plausibility.
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vivico1
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion

Eman, lol, ya took a question that could have been one paragraph, of oh ok viv, here is a sample of what I like to read for pleasure, and here are some more serious ones I like, and listed them, Thats all I wanted to know and you did the one thing I said, can you answer without being a professor? I started to zzzzz when you said, well your question goes to why do "we read" and "what is the purpose of literature". zzzzzzzzz, NO that wasnt my question, I didn't need a 101 course on the question of why people read. I just wanted to know some of the books you like to read. That was quite a lengthy class there and since I wont get a "grade" for reading it, forgive me for skimming to the parts that I actually asked. Eman, you know that certain person that we both know so well, who is "an expert on everything" and loves to post mega websites about it? uh huh, that one. Pleasseeeee, don't turn into another one LOL! I am not in the mood in these bookclubs to take notes for a test at the end, just a good discussion is all.

And hey, I am sure these First Look clubs are serious business to those who write the books and sell the books, but that does not mean they will fall into what you consider a "serious" or "literary" category. Besides, saying what is real literature and what is not is like comparing what is art and what is not. Anyway, I don't think we are here to analyze sentance structure and the mechanics of writing. This really isn't a club about the art of writing and comparative styles of writers. Its about A book! All I have ever wondered in our three clubs together is what do YOU like Eman, not why do PEOPLE read or why. It really was more simple than I guess you took it as. Sorry but you lost my interest for most of the post, but I did try to look for titles, to give me an idea of your taste when not analyzing, which is what I asked. Eman, you and I go back and forth all the time and probably both get a kick out of it. I feel no animosity towards you and never feel any from you, or dont let it bother me, one or the other LOL!!! But buddy, please dont become our friend of above and hey, once in awhile, just converse with me, dont hold court! :smileywink: Cause I will not stay. lol. But, I will skim it again later, to see about the books again. I did see Asimov on there and growing up, he was one of my very favorite short story writers. I always wanted to take one of his college courses! But not Eman 101 hehe, ok?

I won't tag your post onto this, so this one wont be too long, but we can look back at both and know what its all about right?
Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion


HannibalCat wrote:


Eman and Vivico1
I have been reading your posts with great interest. I have, at times, become quite agitated with both of your postings, but for the most part I remain interested and anticipate your responses.

I am delighted that you have each expressed your opinion so succinctly and interestingly. Thank you for adding to this discussion. I have learned a lot from both of you.

Message Edited by HannibalCat on 03-28-2008 04:28 PM


HannibalCat,
Thank you for your words and hey, don't think I don't read your responses too,cause I always recognize your name. :smileywink: As for me and Eman, well, lol, I think we are just stubborn sparing partners and sometimes we not only agitate you or others, but each other! Wouldn't you say so Eman? Just cause I want to ring his neck sometimes and he wants to push my head underwater lol, doesn't mean we would do it with any real hatred or anger. Sometimes we even actually agree on things :smileysurprised: ! As long as he and I both know we are throttling each other with feather whips, I think we will be ok. But yes, I know, he and I are both very opinionated and don't tend to back down from a good debate! Sometimes we are just boring tho huh. And yes, Eman can come back and say, hey viv, speak for yourself there! ROFL! There have been a few people in the clubs who could get me so angry I could get the permanent boot for if I really engaged them like I wanted to. Eman is not one of them. I tend to stay away from clubs they are in when I can. Thankfully, we dont like too much of the same stuff.
Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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Everyman
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion

Eman, lol, ya took a question that could have been one paragraph,

We're more alike than we're different, Vivi. You took what could have been about five words "that's not what I asked" or "you didn't answer the question" and turned it into your own manifesto complaining that I answered your question with a manifesto.

Like Eman, like vivi.

But since your post was addressed specifically to me, I didn't skim it, I read it. So maybe we're not totally alike.

Oh, by the way: that was intended to be funny. Okay?
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Everyman
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion

Just cause I want to ring his [Eman's] neck sometimes

You may ring my neck any time, as long as you do it with a 24 karat gold chain.
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vivico1
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion


Everyman wrote:
Just cause I want to ring his [Eman's] neck sometimes

You may ring my neck any time, as long as you do it with a 24 karat gold chain.


24 karat gold is too soft to ring someone's neck with lol. could kill ya with 10 karats tho,thats pretty stiff stuff,(and a lot cheaper) how about that? :smileyvery-happy:
Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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vivico1
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion


Everyman wrote:
Eman, lol, ya took a question that could have been one paragraph,

We're more alike than we're different, Vivi. You took what could have been about five words "that's not what I asked" or "you didn't answer the question" and turned it into your own manifesto complaining that I answered your question with a manifesto.

Like Eman, like vivi.

But since your post was addressed specifically to me, I didn't skim it, I read it. So maybe we're not totally alike.

Oh, by the way: that was intended to be funny. Okay?


ahh but, mine was not a manifesto, only two paragraphs so of course you read it all LOL. Besides, in the "last analysis" I am the better more intriguing writer, so you had to! :smileyvery-happy:

And yes, I took it in all jest, of course. :smileywink:
Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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Everyman
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion



vivico1 wrote:

Everyman wrote:
Just cause I want to ring his [Eman's] neck sometimes

You may ring my neck any time, as long as you do it with a 24 karat gold chain.


24 karat gold is too soft to ring someone's neck with lol. could kill ya with 10 karats tho,thats pretty stiff stuff,(and a lot cheaper) how about that? :smileyvery-happy:


If I'm not worth 24 karat to you, forget it. I ain't goin' cheap.
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vivico1
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion


Everyman wrote:


vivico1 wrote:

Everyman wrote:
Just cause I want to ring his [Eman's] neck sometimes

You may ring my neck any time, as long as you do it with a 24 karat gold chain.


24 karat gold is too soft to ring someone's neck with lol. could kill ya with 10 karats tho,thats pretty stiff stuff,(and a lot cheaper) how about that? :smileyvery-happy:


If I'm not worth 24 karat to you, forget it. I ain't goin' cheap.


LOL, can i kill ya with a check then? maybe a paper cut? lol, I will make it out for 1 million dollars and darlin, if they will cash it on the other side, you can have it ROFL!
Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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niknak13
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Re: Additional Topics for Discussion



bentley wrote:
I think we have to ask ourselves what exactly was wrong with Ginny, when did it manifest itself and how serious was it. Poppy Adams indicated that there was not much wrong with Ginny when she was younger, that she became more of an eccentric later on and then whatever issues there were they seemed to take hold in her later life. From reading the novel, I obviously mistakenly felt as did others that Ginny was autistic or had some other issue like that or worse. I also suspected that the Doctor, Clive and Maud were protecting her because of their specific knowledge of her malady. I was shocked when Poppy explained that Ginny's issues were not serious when she was younger. If one is saying that what happened to her as a child is what contributed to her other psychiatric symptoms, I never saw that. I honestly believed she was what she was at birth and the manifestations of that condition worsened with time and age; thus contributing and exacerbating her already delicate psychiatric state. I have to admit that this is the novel that I read and how I interpreted it. I am sure that since Ginny was an unreliable narrator that there are probably as many different interpretations as there are readers. Ginny was a very interesting puzzle.

I agree that Ginny was a puzzle.  I'd like to go back and read from the beginning, this time assuming that nothing was wrong with Ginny as a child.  I guess it just didn't really occur to me to think that Ginny would have a completely skewed perception of everything in her life.  I suspected that some things were really not as she believed.  One example of that being the fact that she was famous in the scientific "moth world." 
I do believe that a child can be a product of his/her environment.  I thought that Ginny's parents just failed her in the treatment of her "illness" or "condition."  It seems that they failed her in a much larger way,
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