Archive for June 16, 2005

Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson’s books always frustrate me. Their dreams. He outrightly states his vision at the beginning of each book and then proceeds to stitch facts together to further re-instate his view points. Johnson’s arguements are close to what we all intuit wether it’s complexity theory or here video games and media. He chooses a safe route of obviousness and good amounts of research, but at what point does thinking begin? Johnson merely gives us theories and little practical research into his fields. How hard would it have been to get a few simple IQ tests off the net and get his neighborhood kids together for some LAN action? How hard would it be to practically prove that someone watching the Sopranos is actually intuiting more information than someone not? Johnson does provide some interesting graphs of the plot structures to The Simpsons verus Laverne and Shirley, but his writing style is lacking. While Authors like Steven Strogatz, Kevin Kelly, and well any of the armada of cultural critics and professor/authors out there can juggle literature, fact, and speculation with an amplob that makes them infinitely read-able while simulatenously engaging, the problem with Johnson is his work does seem to intuitive. It’s not hard to get his point: video games are more complex than the simple dice based games he played as a child, television is becoming more complex, like the cab drivers of london, are brains are literally churning with each new technology. Who knows, maybe part of my cerrebellum is bursting these days into new worlds of intricately connected patterns, this book is admittidly a step forward for Johnsons though. With it he is beginning to put together his own ideas into sets and rows that seem far apart from his fewllows in the field (particularly Kelly). Johnsons’ Emergence hit in 2001 – 2002 about 6 years after Kelly’s Out of Control. Additionally Johnson’s book seems badly researched compared to Strogatz’s Sync but that’s kinda to be expected I mean Strogatz did after all pioneer and co-author most of the papers that contributed to emergence. But Everything Bad Is Good For might be the first time Johnson is truly investigating a subject passionate to him with the tools of his trade. While he can’t compete with folks like Kelly or Strogatz in the science arena, I don’t think Kevin Kelly is as fascinated with Survivor as Johnson is. Hence Johnson has found a niche, a unique little world between pop culture’s vapid subject matter and the complexity of the neural and linguistic models that are driving it. He’s the man finding pay dirt in what we live to despise: mainstream media. I think it’s the perfect place for him, branching his interest in the sciences with his interest in pop culture. At times Johnson’s naivety about academic arguements can be quite shocking. He advocates that post-modern theories attack on the sciences cease something which seems naive in the extreme. As Strogatz himself admits in Sync, sometimes intuition is better than fact in science and as the old adage goes, never trust a fact that’s not backed by a theoreom. Having cultural critics from other fields questioning the objectivity of science can only serve to improve it, it gives the scientests a new critical set to work with a new set of anayltical tools in which to see their work and it provides science with a much needed refletivity in it’s culture, to just be able to dismiss a theoreom as an interpretation can only serve to increase the ways sciences can calculate and see their results. Take for instance quantum mathematics in which classical phyiscs break down into strange new worlds. Can something exist in many places at once? Sure, but remember we’re looking at this through the gaze of mathematics and while these numbers might have refered to time or some other factor in our senusal world it might be a simple case of inversion of principle and not effect we’re witnessing. Remember than in our own grammar and language principles are not always continous. You can put things away today or yesterday simulatenously. You can quit your job in the past and in the present. The fact that such states exist in the language of mathematics and pop up in the special cases of quantum states fails to surprise me, it’s simply what happens as your language gets older and picks up a historical context that contradicts the reality of today. That our math tells us that strange seemingly contradictor states are existing isn’t an issue with nature, it’s an issue with our language of interpreting them. Similarly, as any environmental activist knows, scientests frequently come to contradicting conclusions about the same thing. The sheer complexity of factors and where you place the starting point or your actions can have remarkably different results. As any programming manual shows you, the order of operation is important in calculation for instance 4 * 3 – 5 solved right to left is 7 solved left to right it’s -8. While simple algebra tells us to solve the questions right to left such rules are harder to formulate for something like ecology, pyschology, or other fields. And of course you also just have to wonder why? Why right to left? As as Derrida theorized in Reading Condillac, a lot of these decessions in language come down to frivolity and perhaps in mathematics utility is the rule most often the basic order of operation still seems arbitrary. Well anyway, I’ve gone off on a long rant about science and objectivity and all that, but getting back to Johnson he also states that post-structualism believes that meaning is derived and contained with in language which is just plain false structuralism beleived that grammar and form dictated meaning. So let’s get back to what Johnsons does right. Johnsons does put down in words a thesis that’s worth researching, that’s worth testing, that’s worth the though given to it today, and for this he needs to be rewarded. But his book lacks life becuase he hasn’t actually done the experiments into his thesis. This abstract might lead researchers new places, provide a nice new subset of sociology or something, and hopefully improve studies of video games, but with out actual research it lacks the paradoxes and surprised inherint in any study, in short it doesn’t feel real. And also, how exactly does playing Madden 2005 sharpen my congnitive skills better than the real thing in my backyard? here

June 16, 2005 at 10:27 pm Leave a comment


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