Fiction

Scientists have been speculating for a while now what function dreams may serve. I’ve recently started wondering if it isn’t dreams per se that matter, but dreaming.

Imagine a new species on the planet with a newly developed form of cognition, and the beginnings of language. If such a creature could continue to have experiences even while it sleeps, it would need a way to process these experiences upon awakening. Dreams are personal and private. To communicate the contents of a dream, a sophisticated narrative needs to be built.

Thus, it may be that dreaming is the origin of fiction.

Simple communication is about immediacy. It requires little more than such signals as “Here I am,” “I see food,” “I see threat,” and so on. Language, on the other hand, is largely concerned with abstraction. In addition to matters real and concrete, language must address memory, imagination, speculation, past, future, alternate presents — all manner of the hypothetical and subjunctive.

This examination of alternate reality is crucial for planning, organizing, and dealing with contingencies. Rehearsal of this skill would be a favorable adaptation, so storytelling might have arisen as a reinforcement of early language capacity. That storytelling can also contain important moral and practical information, that it can create and sustain group identity is without doubt, but these need not be essential for the activity to serve a purpose.

Sleep is supposed to be a period of rest, recovery, and recuperation, yet dreaming is costly in terms of energy. Unless there were a benefit to this expense, the dream experiment would have likely been maladaptive. I think the value of dreams is not necessarily in their content, but in the rehearsal of the language skill necessary to think about and communicate the abstract, the remote, the personal, and the private.

In some sense, all fiction is a lie. At the same time, our capacity to live in and experience many different fictional universes gives us an advantage in confronting reality. Moreover, fiction not only helps us face reality, but is the beginning of our ability to create it. Some dreams may seem momentous, while others seem random and meaningless. These mysterious fireworks of the mind can enlighten and inform and inspire, yet be incidental to their true function.

It would be a strange species indeed that gained advantage from a capacity to see what isn’t there. Yet by seeing all that could be, it becomes possible to choose those that which should be. With the right communication, motivation, and organization, what should be, will be.

In this way, not only are dreams the origin of fiction, but fiction is the origin of new reality.

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Homeland (in)Security

The need for screening is legitimate. The question is, what is the exact appropriate proportion? All organisms need something like an immune system, and the health of the system depends largely on correct identification of pathogens from innocents.

This can’t happen unless all elements are scrutinized. So on principle, I don’t mind being scrutinized. Since I don’t mind nudity, the new scanner technology doesn’t bother me so much, but I understand not everyone feels this way, and in any case, there is the issue of authentic consent. We should all be free to be nude whenever we like, but freedom means we shouldn’t be coerced into it.

While I suspect the fears of terrorist attacks are often exaggerated in the minds of the public and the security agencies, I also suspect that there are things we the public never hear of that would make our blood run cold.

So it’s a design problem. I take it as a given that everyone needs to be screened. If we only screened the bad guys, we wouldn’t need to screen them — we’d just arrest them. But how to screen respectfully? What if there is no way?

What is the appropriate immune response on the part of the individual, who feels invaded in order to help prevent invasions?

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House Anniversary #7

September 26, 2003…
Purchase of AlazaRA.

Seven years in our very own house.

We celebrated tonight with an exquisite salmon dinner, and a bottle of ’03 Cab Sauvignon.

Nice.

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Srin Comes to Town

So K was working from home today, and we’re sitting around in the living room. She gets a funny look on her face and manages to blurt out, “Srin… is here. He’s walking up the driveway right now!”

As you can maybe tell, this was not expected. In fact, Srin had gone walkabout and wasn’t thought to be anywhere near this state. Anyway, we were glad to see him, and he sat down with us and caught us up on his adventures.

After a while he decides we should go climbing. As in, “right now.” That sort of thing isn’t unusual with Srin, and at one point in my life wouldn’t have been for me either. Trouble is, it was raining today. Well, the rain broke while we were sitting around talking, so that was all it took.

I grabbed my gear, and off we went, he and I (K had other obligations). We drove down to the Greenbelt, forded the creek, got our kit on, and set to. We got on some easy to moderate stuff. I hadn’t climbed in way too long and could hardly pull myself up on anything, but we were having fun.

We moved under the roof section, and not long after, Srin notices the sky looking pretty dark off to the east. Three bolts up, he on lead, and sure enough the sky lets loose. I lower him off, he tucks his rope in the bag and stuffs it deep in a crack. The wind is blowing the rain sideways at us under the roof, and we’re getting soaked even worse than when we crossed the creek. Not much to do but wait it out and keep an eye out for flash floods.

Eventually the rain does stop, and Srin heads back up the rock to the crux move, but by now is having some difficulty with a tweaked finger. After a wisely aborted attempt, I head up to retrieve the gear, which I manage with only minimal difficulty.

We pack up, head back across the creek and back to the car. Not long after, we were sitting in a pizza joint drinking local beer and hooking up with friends.

By the end of the evening, I’d been in soaked shorts for over five hours. My gear was wet and muddy, and all for fewer than three routes and Srin’s tweaked finger.

Anyway, that’s how it is when Srin comes to town. Unexpected, disruptive, messy, mis-adventurous, and fun.

And I think I managed to leave my sunglasses in his car…

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Bereishith…

Hajime

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