Interview with the Moon

Interviewer: Sorry for the technical problems we were having earlier. This is a new experience for us.

Moon: Yeah. Yeah. It’s fine.

Interviewer: So it’s great to talk to you! I’ve been looking at your face all my life and I’m just now hearing your voice for the first time.

Moon: That’s not my face.

Interviewer: …

Moon: That’s just asteroid craters that vaguely correspond to the holes in a human face. It’s actually my ass. Why would I want to spend all my time looking at the earth?

Interviewer: That’s a fair point. Many human scientists say that you originated in a collision between earth and a hypothetical planet called Theia. Can you comment on that?

Moon: Yeah, I hear that all the time. The so-called Giant Impact Hypothesis. It’s bullshit. There was no Theia. I saw what the earth was about and I left. Never looked back.

Interviewer: You left voluntarily?

Moon: For sure. 100% my decision. I like my privacy. And the view from down there isn’t as good.

Interviewer: So what was it like when earth astronauts would visit you a few decades ago?

Moon: Itchy.

Interviewer: What’s a typical day like for you?

Moon: …the fuck is a “day”?

Interviewer: How do you spend your time?

Moon: Oh. Well, I really don’t do a lot. I do core strengthening exercises. I watch the stars. I consider myself to be a kind of parole officer of the stars. If I don’t watch them, they get into all kinds of trouble. But they really want to go straight and act right. They rely on my supervision to help them achieve their goals and suppress their worst desires. They’re good at heart, but they need someone to keep an eye on them.

Interviewer: Do you have any kind of enforcement power over the stars?

Moon: Watching them is enough. Stars have a sense of pride.

Interviewer: Do you have any contact with other moons?

Moon: [Laughter.] Well that’s a whole keg of worms. I used to be tight with Triton, but then he decided he was actually a dwarf planet and got pretty full of himself. Suddenly he didn’t have any time for the rest of us satellites. Deimos likes to unload on me when he gets sick of Phobos’ shit. I can’t blame him.

Interviewer: How have things changed over the past four billion years?

Moon: Not much. After Uranus and Neptune moved out to the suburbs…let’s just say it was interesting. But things calmed down. I’ve gotten more independent. I started doing pilates and I quit smoking.

Interviewer: Is there anything you’d like to say to the people of earth?

Moon: Not really.

The Fifteen Fundamental Properties

Pages 144-235 of Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order Volume One: The Phenomenon of Life contain a theory of beauty as perceived by humans, conveyed in fifteen “fundamental properties.” Not every property occurs in every beautiful object, but in very beautiful buildings and objects, many of these properties are usually apparent, baked into the logic, structure, and detail.

Here I will briefly explain the fifteen fundamental properties, with reference to an early 20th century ivory dog netsuke and a Jeff Koons balloon dog sculpture.

Here is the netsuke:
image
Continue reading “The Fifteen Fundamental Properties”

Centers

In The Timeless Way of Building (1979), Christopher Alexander argues for the counterintuitive proposition that feeling (in the sense of perceiving the beauty and “life” of a space), unlike ideas or opinions, is quite objective; there is an astounding level of agreement between people about how different environments and buildings feel, though there may be little agreement of opinions or ideas about them in general. I reproduce here a few crucial paragraphs from Chapter 15 of the book, which chapter and book I of course recommend reading in their entirety.
Continue reading “Centers”

Internet Respite Ritual and Public Suicide Threats

The internet is probably the most important social domain for play, not just for children but for adults as well. All cultures have some form of ritual combat – a form of ritualized fighting that transforms and subverts the normal human tendencies for hostility towards outgroups into fun. The most obvious and widespread form is athletic competition – football games, fencing, soccer. Non-athletic competition, such as chess and go, also fits the bill. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes cockfighting among the Balinese as such:

Fighting cocks, almost every Balinese I have ever discussed the subject with has said, is like playing with fire only not getting burned. You activate village and kingroup rivalries and hostilities, but in “play” form, coming dangerously and entrancingly close to the expression of open and direct interpersonal and intergroup aggression (something which, again, almost never happens in the normal course of ordinary life), but not quite, because, after all, it is “only a cockfight.”

Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight

Continue reading “Internet Respite Ritual and Public Suicide Threats”

Why Cultural Evolution Is Real (And What It Is)

Cultural evolution represents an entire field of study. It has the potential, like biological evolution, to be a mechanism underlying and connecting many fields of study. This short introduction will pull together a few themes and compelling stories from this large field and present some of its concepts, mechanisms, and evidence—hopefully enough to increase the reader’s suspicion of the claim that cultural evolution is a “myth.”

Continue reading “Why Cultural Evolution Is Real (And What It Is)”

The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth

In all species, the play of the young is practice for the essential survival tasks of the adults. Human children play at many things, but the most important is the play of culture. Out of sight of adults, children learn and practice the rhymes, rituals, and institutions of their own culture, distinct from that of adults.

The Western child today is mostly kept inside his own home, associating with other children only in highly structured, adult-supervised settings such as school and sports teams. It was not always so. Throughout history, bands of children gathered and roamed city streets and countrysides, forming their own societies each with its own customs, legal rules and procedures, parodies, politics, beliefs, and art. With their rhymes, songs, and symbols, they created and elaborated the meaning of their local landscape and culture, practicing for the adult work of the same nature. We are left with only remnants and echoes of a once-magnificent network of children’s cultures, capable of impressive feats of coordination.

Iona and Peter Opie conducted an immense study of the children’s cultures of the British Isles. The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) is comparable in richness to Walter Evans-Wenz’ The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (1911) on the fairy faiths, or to Alan Lomax’ collections of American and European folk music.

Continue reading “The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth”

Socially Enforced Thought Boundaries

Sacred Boundaries of Thought

Boundaries are the forms that shape communities and civilizations. Without boundaries, communities cannot come into existence. These social boundaries are even mirrored in our cognition: common thoughts give us access to ordinary, related concepts, including common knowledge, but certain thoughts are relatively fenced off and rarely brought to mind.

Communities of all sizes are bound by their notions of the sacred. A violation of community sacredness – from casting aspersions on the rite of voting to mocking a family tradition – is experienced by community members as a kind of pain. This is one mechanism by which communities and their sacredness are maintained. People hurt each other, if “only” psychologically, when they violate each other’s sacredness.

A Christian who has a lot of social contact with non-Christians must build up a tough shell in order to withstand the (often accidental) violations to his sacredness that others are bound to make. It is much less painful for him to mainly interact with others who share his notions of the sacred. When a Christian and an atheist are good friends, however, each undertakes to feel the sacredness of the other, gaining the ability to be (vicariously) pained by its violation. They can speak easily on all topics without hurting each other, because each has learned to feel the other’s sacredness on his behalf. This is a precondition for intimacy.

Continue reading “Socially Enforced Thought Boundaries”