Reading 16-22 December 2012 (ZIR)

Reading 16-22 December 2012

A Week of Reading in the Life of Rachael Benavidez

[N.B.: This is not part of the Fall issue of Zeteo, but one in an ongoing series of posts. For the full series see Zeteo is Reading.]

16 December 2012

Reading a page from the New York Times: “It’s the End of the World,” which contains six poems on endings.

When the wind died, there was a moment of silence
for the wind. When the maple tree died, there was always a place
to find winter in its branches. When the roses died, I respected the privacy
of the vase. When the shoe factory died, I stopped listening
at the back door to the glossolalia of machines.
When the child died, the mother put a spoon in the blender.
When the child died, the father dug a hole in his thigh
and got in. When my dog died, I broke up with the woods.
When the fog lived, I went into the valley to be held
by water. The dead have no ears, no answering machines
that we know of, still we call.
— BOB HICOK, the author of the forthcoming “Elegy Owed,” which includes this poem

 17 December 2012

Have you ever wondered if you are living in a computer simulation? Most anyone who has seen the film “The Matrix” has. A 2003 Philosophical Quarterly article entitled “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” by Oxford Professor Nick Bostrom asserts that indeed we are. From the abstract:

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

University of Washington scientists believe that they may be able prove Bostrom’s theory correct. UW Today states that “The UW team has suggested tests that can be performed now, or in the near future, that are sensitive to constraints imposed on future simulations by limited resources.” Which will you choose—the blue pill or the red pill?

18 December 2012

Reading an interview in The Paris Review “Wallace Shawn, The Art of Theater No. 17,” in which playwright and actor Mr. Shawn discusses how we see, or don’t see, the world and ourselves, and the privilege of staring offered by theater.

I have an enormous appetite to see life as I know it presented in front of my eyes.

That seems strange—after all, why don’t I just walk out into the street? But the thing is that you can’t really look at things out in the street, much less in your own apartment or in your friends’ apartments. You can look in the theater in a completely different way from the way you can look in life. You’re allowed to really look at a play—even stare.

In life, you are a character in the scene. When you’re a character in the scene, you can’t really look at the scene. If someone’s talking to you, you must respond appropriately. You can’t just stare at the person. You can’t look at life with the degree of attention and focus that you can employ when you look at a play, because you have to participate. And the people you’re staring at would find it rude. But if you’re sitting in an audience watching a scene, you can focus your entire being on looking at that scene. It’s a very special privilege.

20 December 2012

Reading an article on the ability of fiction to create empathy: “The Function of Fiction is the Abstraction and Simulation of Social Experience” by Raymond A. Mar and Keith Oatley. From the abstract:

Fiction literature has largely been ignored by psychology researchers because its only function seems to be entertainment, with no connection to empirical validity. We argue that literary narratives have a more important purpose. They offer models or simulations of the social world via abstraction, simplification, and compression. Narrative fiction also creates a deep and immersive sim- ulative experience of social interactions for readers. This simulation facilitates the communication and under- standing of social information and makes it more com- pelling, achieving a form of learning through experience. Engaging in the simulative experiences of fiction literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are differ- ent from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.

21 December 2012

Today, I’m reading various articles about the Mayan Apocalypse and wondering why everyone is so disappointed that the world didn’t end today. Is it just me, or shouldn’t everyone be glad that this was just one more prophecy about the end of the world that turned out to be wrong?


Wallace Shawn acting in a Public Theater (New York) revival of his 1996 play The Designated Mourner.



  1. Pingback: Reading 23-29 December 2012 (ZIR) | Z e t e o

  2. Pingback: Reading 23-29 December 2012 (ZIR) | Z e t e o

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