My new nonfiction read is Hitler’s American Model by James Q. Whitman; my continuing fiction read is The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel José Older; and I’ve recently finished Space and Place by Yi-Fu Tuan. So far this year, I’ve read twenty-eight books, with six ready to read next and thirty-three still to buy or borrow.
I’d like to thank the purveyor of Russian wives for breaking up the monotony of erectile dysfunction comments. Of note: Russian wife spammers are more verbose than little blue pill spammers.
Facile dig at Swatch notwithstanding the actual important thing in that “forked memes” piece is its link to this Julie Beck article for The Atlantic from three years ago which further cements the case for me.
Say that you are imagining your future wedding (if you’ve never gotten married before). You probably see it as a scene—at a church, or on the beach, or under a wooded canopy in a forest with the bridal party all wearing elf ears. There are flowers, or twinkling lights, or mason jars everywhere. You can envision the guests, how they might look, what your soon-to-be spouse is wearing, what look they have on their face. All of these details come from your memory—of weddings you’ve been to before, as well as weddings you’ve seen depicted in pop culture, or in photo albums. The scene also relies on your memory of your friends and family.
“When somebody’s preparing for a date with someone they’ve never been on a date with before, or a job interview—these situations where we don’t have past experience, that’s where we think this ability to imagine the future really matters,” says Karl Szpunar, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. People “can take bits and pieces, like who’s going to be there, where it’s going to be, and try to put all that together into a novel simulation of events.”
I’m still waiting for someone to tell me if there’s a link between aphantasia and autobiographical memory deficits, but it’s pretty damned clear to me at this point that said deficits indeed likely must be prospective in addition to retrospective. Most recently I specifically was talking about this idea of simulating futures being something I simply cannot do, any more than I can relive the past.
You have a mental map of the space; you can “hear” what’s being said and “smell” smells and “taste” flavors; you can feel your emotions from that moment anew. Similarly, when you imagine something you might experience in the future, you are essentially “pre-living” that scene.
That’s not how my brain works. That’s not how any of my brain works. What’s especially fascinating to me is that fMRI studies indicate that areas of the brain which handle “processing personal information, spatial navigation, and sensory information” are implicated in both retrospective and prospective memory. These things, especially spatial and sensory issues, clearly are relevant also to my undiagnosed dyspraxia and my diagnosed autism.
(I’m actually really very interested in someone studying how deficiencies in sense memory on the one hand and sensory sensitivities on the other hand might correlate or confound each other.)
There’s no doubt. Whether or not there’s a confirmed correlation between aphantasia and autobiographical memory deficiencies (which, there has to be), these conditions unquestionably impact my ability to “pre-live” possible futures, which in turn impacts what I can and cannot do in the present, and the degrees to which I can or cannot do them.
Whenever I wonder why I am still subscribed to Whitney Fishburn’s newsletter (started to create “herd immunity to anxiety and depression”), something like this comes along. (I’m not even going to get into the thrust of this edition, which sensationally conflates COVID-19 and mysterious elephant deaths.)
And yet, evidence continues to mount that whatever our differences from animals, our emotional lives do not fall within that differential. And if all sentient beings are capable of feeling, then aren’t they capable of processing what to do about what they feel? In other words, if they feel, then they must also think.
The leap here would do Evel Knievel, or at least Arthur Fonzarelli, proud. Mostly, though, I thought about my belief that when we try to elevate other animals it’s mostly only in service to elevating ourselves; I think we over-inflate our own “consciousness” because our storytelling compulsion can’t help but do.
Interesting: Movies Anywhere (the studio-backed platform that lets you “merge” the digital movie collections you might have scattered across various services) now has a thing called Screen Pass that lets people borrow your movies, up to three each month — although it looks like in order to lend out movies you have to “purchase a Movies Anywhere-eligible movie or redeem a digital code every 6 months”. If anyone wants to try it out, my eligible movies are Desk Set, Fury Road: Blood and Chrome, Inception, A Knight’s Tale, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
I would like to see an episode of Star Trek told entirely from the POV of a tribble.
Aside from the fact that Conor Friedersdorf thinks that someone being removed from a listserv is among the terrifying evidence of
cancel accountability culture gone shockingly wild, once he set the following words to paper he triggers an automatic dismissal of anything else he might have to say.
But in the stifling, anti-intellectual cultural climate of 2020, where solidarity is preferred to dissent, I hear echoes of a familiar Manichaean logic: Choose a side. You are either an anti-racist or an ally of white supremacy. Are you with us or against us?
Well… shit, man: yes. Yes that’s literally exactly the choice, and it’s not a difficult one. There’s no middle ground there. Whatever (mostly invalid) criticisms there might be about potential overreach in holding people accountable for word and deed, if you’re framing the debate this way in order to dismiss it, you’ve chosen your side.
Bonus read: Jillian C. York on what real censorship looks like in the world. (Hint: it isn’t “losing a job opportunity for having said something insipid, misunderstood, poorly timed, or hateful”.)
Remember how I wrote 400 words about that Harper’s letter only to suggest that these twelve words from someone else were better? Today I learned that the editor who led the Harper’s letter, according to his Wikipedia page, himself “appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher on October 18, 2019 to promote” a book he wrote. So, yeah.
Annie Lowrey for The Atlantic reports that cash payments as economic security during the pandemic have worked, with recipients being able to pay bills, get out from under debt, and have greater choice during job searches; in essence, says Lowrey, offering people not just some sense of financial stability but thereby psychological security as well. As noted for The New York Times by Jamelle Bouie (via Robin Rendle), keeping workers “on edge — and willing to accept whatever wage is on offer […] is a feature and not a bug of our economic system”. A feature, says Lowrey, that denies Americans the “ability not to worry” day after day, week after week, that they aren’t going to make it.
This time last year: ants.
Paolo Amoroso’s thoughts on a decade of reading ebooks (via Art Kavanagh, who doesn’t like ebooks) prompted me to do a Twitter search to find out when I’d bought my first Kindle, marking my own move from print reading. The answer: my first Kindle arrived on October 15, 2011. For me, then, I’m coming up on nine years a reader exclusively of ebooks. For me, it wasn’t about eyesight or lighting conditions but initially about convenience. Typically, I am reading one fiction and one nonfiction concurrently and while I’ve more or less come to standardize a habit of the latter at night and the former during the day, I’ve always liked having options depending on my reading mood. Having to carry two books wherever I went always seemed like wasted space and effort, especially if they both were hardcovers. (Not to mention, looking back through the lens of my later autism diagnosis, wasted energy on my part lugging them around.) Once I had that first Kindle, I discovered new reasons supporting the switch: e.g. suddenly I could read on the bus, because any movement of the device still kept the book on a fixed, flat plane; paper books had that curve from edge to spine, and moved move in waves that made me nauseated. Simply put: ebooks meant I could read more often, in more circumstances, and have on hand whatever I was in the mood to read at any given moment. My upgrade to a Paperwhite came on March 9, 2013; for sure, this was all about the illuminated display. Then I upgraded to a newer Paperwhite on August 17, 2015. Most recently, I switched from Kindle to Kobo as of December 20, 2019 — partly to start moving away from Amazon and partly because the Clara HD has both blue and orange lights, making reading in bed that much more comfortable on the eyes, and therefore once again increasing my reading opportunities. As I’ve said before, all I need now is for Apple to make a color E Ink ebooks reader and I’d almost certainly switch to that, making all of my devices part of the same, unified ecosystem.
I’m not sure that looking at 2020 from the standpoint of a future history textbook chapter makes me feel any better, except from a 1984-like reassurance that someone will be around later to write about us at all.