7QT: Time, Taylor Swift, and other deeply philosophical matters

7QT: Time, Taylor Swift, and other deeply philosophical matters November 21, 2014

— 1 —

Ok, move fast readers!  The NYT is doing a wacky contest to supply the opening paragraph that you feel should go with this pulpy book cover.


Full details are here, and the deadline is midnight tonight.  Before any of you think of writing me into it — I’ll have you know that I happen to be a tough kid from Nassau.

(If you do enter, feel free to cross-post in the comments here)

— 2 —

This is the second time I’ve read about this particular experiment to check whether, when you feel like time is slowing down in a crisis, you actually speed up your reaction time.  I assume I must have posted about it when I first read about it, but I don’t want to take the chance that any of you have missed one of my favorite experimental designs ever.  This time, the description is from Nautilus:

David Eagleman of the Baylor College of Medicine set out to answer this question with a test. Together with his colleagues, he developed a wristwatch-like “perceptual chronometer” that alternately displays red digits and their negative images (a red background with unlit pixels in the shape of the digits) at rates faster than a threshold at which the toggling images fuse into what appears to be a uniform patch. This threshold is called a critical fusion frequency, or CFF. Eagleman hypothesized that if he could terrify people while they were looking at the chronometer, then their CFF would spike, they would switch into slow-motion perception mode, and they would suddenly be able to discern the digits on the chronometer.

To carry out the tests, Eagleman took 20 people to the Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park in Dallas. There he strapped them into the Suspended Catch Air Device of the 16-story-high “Nothin’ but Net” ride, in which the chronometer-wearing participants would free fall 31 meters before landing in a net. The participants were tasked to keep an eye on their chronometer during their jaw-clenching, 2.5 second drop. One participant squeezed her eyes shut the entire time and so she yielded no data.

You can learn the outcome of the experiment at Nautilus.  And I also highly recommend the more widely ranging feature from The New Yorker where I first read about this test.

— 3 —

Speaking of returning to beloved texts, I found this via Hello Tailor:

In the Annotated Pratchett, the entry for Night Watch outlines parallels with Les Miserables, and a point is brought up which states:

“Javert, the policeman in LM, is concerned only with justice, which he defines as the punishment of the guilty. Vimes, the policeman in NW, is equally obsessed by justice, but he defines it as the protection of the innocent.”

I have shifted a little more toward wanting to be Vimes when I grow up. (Though I still want to be Granny Weatherwax most of all)

— 4 —

And, in another case of an author I like commenting on musics I like, Leslie Jamison (author of The Empathy Exams, which I really highly recommend) had this to say about Taylor Swift’s new album in an interview with the Rumpus:

Have you seen the video for Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off? It’s this whole playas gonna play, people gonna hate, people call me a bimbo, people say I break up with men. All that. But in the video she’s doing all these kinds of dance—like at one point she’s in a ballet costume, but the point is she’s doing ballet badly. She’s dancing awkwardly and falling down … so the whole message is, “Don’t feel crippled by other people’s expectations, just do what you wanna do.”

It’s like, having the right or the liberty to fuck things up is how some women imagine empowerment. It’s one strain in popular culture of what empowerment might look like: not giving a shit, doing things badly. And I think some of the fatigue around the figure of the wounded woman shares something with the fatigue of thinking about empowerment in terms of dysfunction.

I pretty much agree with Jamison, but I agree even more intensely with Barbara McClay who wrote this on fb [quoted with permission]:

What I think I find interesting about 1989 (qua phenomenon) is that it’s an artificial version of things that Taylor Swift actually was (for a given value of “actually”), but that seems in some ways to resonate better with people.

So there’s a move from a real vulnerability/foolishness to a staged vulnerability/foolishness. If there ever was a real “wounded woman” part of Swift, she’s erased it in favor of something slightly less potent and perhaps less threatening. It’s not fun to play the who-is-this-guy game with 1989 because nothing’s really being communicated there. No ex-boyfriend had to sweat when that album dropped. It wasn’t going to make anybody cry.

Harumph. We’ll always have “All Too Well”

— 5 —

While I’m feeling wistful, I loved learning this fact about typesetting in the obit for Carl Schlesinger:

“Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu” takes its name from the unusual key alignment on the Linotype. Striking the first 12 keys, which were in two columns at the left of the keyboard, “spelled” etaoin shrdlu. If a line of type contained mistakes, a composing room worker would strike those first 12 keys to indicate that the line should be discarded. Sometimes, “etaoin shrdlu” was overlooked and made its way into the paper. Times archives online show dozens of appearances, some more awkward than others.

In 1974, “etaoin shrdlu” appeared in the first paragraph of a story, ostensibly as a quotation from a letter by Irving Anker, then the chancellor of New York City schools, about discrepancies in the results of standardized reading tests. After computers took over typesetting, “etaoin shrdlu” appeared in print only as a reference to the technological imperfections of the past — and to the film.

I recommend reading the whole thing.

— 6 —

Next week is Stoic Week, during which you can take an online course in Stoicism— not just learning about the philosophy, but learning how to practice it.

There’s plenty that’s useful in Stoicism, but indulge responsibly — I went on a bit of a philosophical binge when I was younger, and it wasn’t good for me (“Stoicism is a Helluva Drug”).

But I think we can all agree that this is excellent:

— 7 —

And, in one other hilarious riff on Greek philosophy, I recommend this Existential Comics comic.  I’ve excerpted a few panels of the larger joke below:

zeno poker

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