> 'I have heard of the moon, yes. But none of these other things.'
> 'You must remember,' Hanmer says, 'that your period occupies an
> extremely narrow segment of the band of time. Information crammed
> into a narrow bandwidth becomes blurred and distorted. Is it
> surprising that your heroes are forgotten? What seems like a
> powerful signal to you is merely a momentary squirt of noise to us.
> We perceive a much broader band.'
> 'You speak to me of bandwidths?' Clay asks, astounded. 'You lose
> Shakespeare and keep technical jargon?'
> -- _Son of Man_ (1971)
> Robert Silverberg
"J. R. Molloy" wrote:
> Better to catch a single glimpse of the boundless universe beyond ideation
> than to live forever with Homer and Michelangelo and Sophocles in the museum
> of dead ideas.
Well, I have to admit that while I found the Silverberg quote exceedingly memorable
(it's stuck in my mind for 30 years -- not word for word, but the gist of
it) I find the viewpoint expressed by Robert Wright in _Nonzero: The Logic of
Human Destiny_ more sensible (Philistine that I am).
Chapter 11, "Dark Ages", section "The World Makes Backup Copies":
"In _How the Irish Saved Civilization_, [Thomas] Cahill gasps at what might
have been lost in the barbarian invasions. 'Had the destruction been complete --
had every library been disassembled and every book burned -- we might have
lost Homer and Virgil and all of classical poetry, Herodotus and Tacitus and
all of classical history, Demosthenes and Cicero and all of classical
oratory, Plato and Aristotle and all of Greek philosophy, and Plotinus and
Porphyry and all the subsequent commentary.'
Well, them's the breaks. But what the people of the early Middle Ages most
needed wasn't a good stiff dose of Demosthenes. They needed mundane things,
such as a harness that wouldn't press on a horse's windpipe...
These sorts of memes -- nuts and bolts, practical technologies -- are more
durable than those generated by, say, Sophocles, most of whose plays were
lost forever... [L]iterature is nice, but putting food on the table is
Given this indomitability of technological evolution, it follows that cultural
evolution more broadly -- growth in the degree and scope of social
complexity, and of non-zero-sumness -- is similarly hard to stop. **If**,
that is, this social evolution depends fundamentally on technological
evolution, and not on the chance preservation of particular works of
literature or poetry or philosophy..."
> 'You lose Shakespeare and keep technical jargon?'
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:45 MDT