WBH Weekly Digest 2023-12-15: Memed into Reality

WBH Weekly Digest 2023-12-15: Memed into Reality

We'll begin this week with the book chapter I wrote on Isaac Asimov's Foundation, and some of the very interesting commentary that developed in it's wake.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Foundation is a book that I haven’t read until now. Given what I do at With Both Hands, it is good that I have read it, as I can now see that many other books I’ve read were responses to Foundation in the Great Conversation. If you want to play

One of my main complaints in my review was that Foundation isn't a very good story. I was fascinated to discover that a subset of people who like it agree:

Foundation is hard science fiction at its least aesthetic and humanistic « Isegoria

Support for using Foundation as shorthand for useful ideas.

Another interesting discussion was to what degree Foundation is critiquing the idea of psychohistory rather than promoting it. Which is a very interesting question, as the editorial line at WBH is opposed to merely identifying an author's opinions as being identical to their character's statements.

The most interesting counterpoint is the impressions the first readers of Foundation had. Take for example Paul Krugman, who desired to be Hari Seldon:

I had thought Jerry Pournelle had once said something similar, when explaining why he got degrees in both psychology and political science, but I can't find it on his website.

One of my arguments was that Foundation was intended to meme psychohistory into existence, rather than be a story per se. I take Krugman and Pournelle's statements as collaboration.

Neovictorian: Speaking Reality into Being

“The novella Gulf was quite unusual, for Heinlein or any writer, in its conception and execution. In the November 1948 issue of Astounding Science Fiction a letter had been published critiquing the…November 1949 issue. As editor John Campbell wrote:
“Generally, a desirable, practically attainable idea, suggested in prophecy, has a chance of forcing itself into reality by its very existence. Like, for example, this particular issue of Astounding Science Fiction.”
“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the stars by the breath of His mouth.” Psalms 33:6
“There is nothing mystical about the fact that ideas and words are energies which powerfully affect the physico-chemical base of our time-binding activities.” Alfred Korzybski, The Manhood of Humanity (1921)

Or this statement from James Gunn's award-winning biography of Asimov, which offers up much the same assessment as me, with a more positive connotation:

And now for something completely different.

Blackgate: Science is Sorcery

Science and magic were twins; one was sickly and died, but the other thrived.

West Hunter: The Hyborian Age

I was contemplating Conan the Barbarian, and remembered the essay that Robert E. Howard wrote about the  background of those stories – The Hyborian Age.  I think that the flavor of Howard’s pseudo-history is a lot more realistic than the picture of the human past academics preferred over the past few decades.
In Conan’s world, it’s never surprising to find a people that once mixed with some ancient prehuman race.  Happens all the time.  Until very recently, the vast majority of workers in human genetics and paleontology were sure that this never occurred – and only changed their minds when presented with evidence that was both strong (ancient DNA)  and too mathematically sophisticated for them to understand or challenge (D-statistics).

St. Augustine and Saxons — With Both Hands
Ross Douthat posted a trio of links to articles about St. Augustine , in the service of criticizing Stephen Greenblatt’s anti-Christian animus.

Robert E. Howard was just a writer, yet he understood the world very well.

The Critic: Burning effigies for the Man

A movie review that gets into the realities of modern pagan revivals.

Another Gen Y staple on Nickelodeon. I would have loved to be on this show as a kid.

“Blown Away” By Folk Art painter William Hawkins

Sometimes American landscape paintings seem unreal, until you've been out in the wide open spaces and actually seen the things captured in paintings in real life.