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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence

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“Light Bulbs And Enlightenment”: Thomas Edison’s Ironic And Misguided War On Sleep

  edisons-prophecy-a-duplex-sleepless-dinnerless-world-literary-digest-nov-14-1914

 

      Thomas Edison, perhaps referencing Plato in “Laws” (“By nature, prolonged sleep does not suit either the body or soul, nor does it help us to be active in all this kind of work.“),  ushered in the Age of Electricity and the electric light bulb in 1879. But with the brilliance of the “inventor” came the dogma of the “businessman”:

Everything which decreases the sum total of man’s sleep increases the sum total of man’s capabilities.

The historical irony of Edison’s exhortations are manifest: the man who resisted sleep and promoted sleeplessness, ultimately died of complications of Type 2 Diabetes. Obesity and diabetes are consequences of the electric light’s disruption of sleep/wake cycles and circadian rhythms:

electric-light-particularly-at-night-disrupts-human-circadian-rhythmicity-is-that-a-problem-royal-society

The poets and playwrights of the Age of Enlightenment and Romantic Era knew the value of sleep for health and well-being:

to-sleep-by-william-wordsworth-1770-1850

Sleep allows the brain to process, retain and discard the day’s images and information, a process of “forgetting” stress and strain as Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” bemoans:

henry-iv-part-ii-o-sleep-o-gentle-sleep

Levinus Lemnius (1505-1568) wrote that one should sleep eight hours as it “…repairs and raiseth up the tired mind and spirits that are exhausted with constant studies and lucubrations”. Time will show “….wise men at their end know dark is right.”

“Poetry Must Be Difficult”: Artificial Intelligence And The Coming Renaissance In Literary Culture

     In awarding the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature to T.S. Eliot, the Swedish Academy cited the “horror vacui (Latin for “fear of empty space”) of modern man in a secularized world, without order, meaning, or beauty” that Eliot wrote about and confronted. This demise of Literary Culture, bemoaned for over 100 years, commenced with World War I and its aftermath.

Popular Culture has evolved from war and debasement of authority in the 20th Century. The Information Age provides on-demand entertainment and, as Eliot and many others would describe, pseudo-culture to billions of people. A supermarket of easy to understand programming.

But Cultural Literacy is challenging and comprehensive:

T. S. Eliot, review of Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century Donne to Butler Times Literary Supplement, October 1921 and Selected Essays 1929

Artificial Intelligence (AI) could usher in a new Renaissance, a “reinvented version of Humanism“. AI algorithms will access great works of classical antiquity and Western Literary Canon, and, aided by 190,000 word vocabularies (Shakespeare’s plays use 33,000), will write original, comprehensive and allusive literature. Curated AI is now publishing poetry and prose written only by machines.

The School of Athens Fresco by Italian Renaissance Artist Raphael 1511

Eliot wrote thatpoetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion”. Machine learning, unemotional, evolving with experience, offers a “predictive” quality. Will history and Literary Culture predictably repeat themselves with Plato and Aristotle at the center?

Wasted Time: “I Had Not Thought Social Media Had Undone So Many”

“Augmented Times,
Under the bright skies of a summer day,
A crowd streamed through Heisler Park, so many,
I had not thought social media had undone so many.
Comments, brief and isolated, were blurted,
And each person locked their eyes upon a smartphone.”

(Adapted from “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot)

The enduring fascination and importance, for me, of T.S. Eliot’s modernist, compressed epic poem “The Waste Land” (1922) is that it is at first obscure and intimidating, but opens up and rewards readers with the power of poetic “allusion“. Eliot seeks “to express an age through expression of self“.

How have billions of people come to express themselves in our “New Media Age”?

By uploading and posting photos, selfies and videos from their smartphones to social media sites. Pictures (“worth a thousand words”) are the ultimate form of compression, with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest allowing members to create epic moments.

The people in Laguna Beach reminds one of Eliot’s crowd that “flowed over London Bridge”. The beauty of the ocean, rocky coastline and beaches obscured as they stared at the small screens of their iPhones. Turning a picturesque reality into a virtual one. Self-expression to a thousand friends.

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