Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Five articles in one newspaper

Today's International Herald Tribune contains not the usual one or two interesting articles but, count 'em, five!

There's an article about five neuroscientists taking a kayaking trip off the grid (and off-line), in which they reflect on the ways that the brain responds to the information society and to their temporary escape from it. (It's a little ironic that my response to this article is to want to provide a link to it for my friends.) My small version of the same is that I did not go on-line at all on Sunday (not even with my iPhone), and that it is always a bit of relief to "disconnect" myself.

Robert Pinsky's review of Andrew Pettegree's The Book in the Renaissance, a new study of the first century or so of movable type and the central problem printers faced: how can you make money from publishing? Pinsky praises Pettegree for refraining from comparisons between then and now, but it's certainly easy to do so, given that Pettegree argues that printers only made money when they focused on "news, sensation, and excitement." So there was no Golden Age of printing when people bought classic literature and philosophy and read them; sensationalism has always been the best way to make money with printing and publishing.

Timothy E. Williamson's opinion piece on the imagination has a dozen or so fascinating points in it, but for me the best point is his brief discussion of the contemporary philosophical contrast between "contexts of discovery" and "contexts of justification":

In the context of discovery, we get ideas, no matter how — dreams or drugs will do. Then, in the context of justification, we assemble objective evidence to determine whether the ideas are correct.

I've come across this idea quite a few times before, but I've never seen it explained so tightly and clearly. (Well, my student Michael Luscher explained the distinction in my verse-novels seminar in 2009, but we were discussing Christoph Ransmayr's Der fliegende Berg, so that discussion was in German, and I did not register that he was using the German equivalents of these terms. Now, in retrospect, I can see how appropriate and precise his use and explanation of the terminology was!)

Then there's Lawrence E. Joseph's article on the threat caused by solar storms, which can produce huge bursts of electricity that destroy transformers on Earth, and Paul Krugman's vigorous defense of the Social Security system in the U.S. against its detractors.

This post is an excercise in multi-tasking, in a way, with all the different points it has to make, and is thus subject to the analysis that appears in the first article I linked to, about the kayaking neuroscientists. But it's worth noting that I read all these articles in the newspaper, and not on-line, in the old-fashioned way—that is, in a desperate search for "news, sensation, and entertainment". :-)

1 comment:

Donald Brown said...

I never thought there was a "golden age" of publishing, or of anything else for that matter. That view was made abundantly clear by studying history -- back when I also believed that the purpose of study, as in a university (but not necessarily), was a way to seek out information not determined by "news, sensation, and entertainment." Granted, the blogosphere caters to almost nothing but the search for those three things, yet somehow it has made journalism more palatable to me. Could it be that I've all along believed that print and the book should be reserved only for writing that truly matters, and that all our expendable, disposable "news, sensation, and entertainment" should be relegated to the the likes of internet and kindle?