On a lighter note, it also told her to devote nine months to knitting an anatomically correct replica of the human brain.
(Twelve, if you count three months of research before casting on.)
How did her brain convince her to embark on this madcap assignment?
Easy. It arranged for her to be in the middle of a more prosaic knitting project, then goosed her into noticing how the ruffles of that project resembled the wrinkles of the cerebral cortex.
Not likely. Especially when one of the cerebral cortex’s most important duties is decision making.
As she explained in an interview with The Telegraph, brain development is not unlike the growth of a knitted piece:
You can see very naturally how the ‘rippling’ effect of the cerebral cortex emerges from properties that probably have to do with nerve cell growth. In the case of knitting, the effect is created by increasing the number of stitches in each row.
Dr. Norberg—who, yes, has on occasion referred to her project as a labor of love—told Scientific American that such a massive crafty undertaking appealed to her sense of humor because “it seemed so ridiculous and would be an enormously complicated, absurdly ambitious thing to do.”
That’s the point at which many people’s brains would give them permission to stop, but Dr. Norberg and her brain persisted, pushing past the hypothetical, creating colorful individual structures that were eventually sewn into two cuddly hemispheres that can be joined with a zipper.
(She also let slip that her brain—by which she means the knitted one, though the observation certainly holds true for the one in her head—is female, due to its robust corpus callosum, the “tough body” whose millions of fibers promote communication and connection.)
In the past few years, when far-right nationalists are banned from social media, violent extremists face boycotts, or institutions refuse to give a platform to racists, a faux-outraged moan has gone up: “So much for the tolerant left!” “So much for liberal tolerance!” The complaint became so hackneyed it turned into an already-hackneyed meme. It’s a wonder anyone thinks this line has any rhetorical force. The equation of tolerance with acquiescence, passivity, or a total lack of boundaries is a reductio ad absurdum that denudes the word of meaning. One can only laugh at unserious characterizations that do such violence to reason.
The concept of toleration has a long and complicated history in moral and political philosophy precisely because of the many problems that arise when the word is used without critical context. In some absurd, 21st century usages, tolerance is even conflated with acceptance, approval, and love. But it has historically meant the opposite—noninterference with something one dislikes or despises. Such noninterference must have limits. As Goethe wrote in 1829, “tolerance should be a temporary attitude only; it must lead to recognition. To tolerate means to insult.” Tolerance by nature exists in a state of social tension.
According to virtually every conception of liberal democracy, a free and open society requires tense debate and verbal conflict. Society, the argument goes, is only strengthened by the oft-contentious interplay of differing, even intolerant, points of view. So, when do such views approach the limits of toleration? One of the most well-known paradoxes of tolerance was outlined by Austrian philosopher Karl Popper in his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies.
Popper was a non-religious Jew who witnessed the rise of Nazism in the 20s in his hometown of Vienna and fled to England, then in 1937, to Christchurch, New Zealand, where he was appointed lecturer at Canterbury College (now the University of Canterbury). There, he wrote The Open Society, where the famous passage appears in a footnote:
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.
This last sentence has “been printed on thousands of bumper stickers and fridge magnets,” writes Will Harvie at Stuff. The quote might become almost as ubiquitous as Voltaire’s line about “defending to the death” the right of free speech (words actually penned by English writer Beatrice Evelyn Hall). Popper saw how fascism cynically exploited liberal toleration to gain a foothold and incite persecution, violent attacks, and eventually genocide. As he writes in his autobiography, he had seen how “competing parties of the Right were outbidding each other in their hostility towards the Jews.”
Popper’s formulation has been been used across the political spectrum, and sometimes applied in arguments against civil protections for some religious sects who hold intolerant views—a category that includes practitioners of nearly every major faith. But this is misleading. The line for Popper is not the mere existence of exclusionary or intolerant beliefs or philosophies, however reactionary or contemptible, but the open incitement to persecution and violence against others, which should be treated as criminal, he argued, and suppressed, “if necessary,” he continues in the footnote, “even by force” if public disapproval is not enough.
By this line of reasoning, vigorous resistance to those who call for and enact racial violence and ethnic cleansing is a necessary defense of a tolerant society. Ignoring or allowing such acts to continue in the name of tolerance leads to the nightmare events Popper escaped in Europe, or to the horrific mass killings at two mosques in Christchurch this month that deliberately echoed Nazi atrocities. There are too many such echoes, from mass murders at synagogues to concentration camps for kidnapped children, all surrounded by an echo chamber of wildly unchecked incitement by state and non-state actors alike.
Popper recognized the inevitability and healthy necessity of social conflict, but he also affirmed the values of cooperation and mutual recognition, without which a liberal democracy cannot survive. Since the publication of The Open Society and its Enemies, his paradox of tolerance has weathered decades of criticism and revision. As John Horgan wrote in an introduction to a 1992 interview with the thinker, two years before his death, “an old joke about Popper” retitles the book “The Open Society by One of its Enemies.”
With less than good humor, critics have derided Popper’s liberalism as dogmatic and itself a fascist ideology that inevitably tends to intolerance against minorities. Question about who gets to decide which views should be suppressed and how are not easy to answer. Popper liked to say he welcomed the criticism, but he refused to tolerate views that reject reason, fact, and argument in order to incite and perpetrate violence and persecution. It’s difficult to imagine any democratic society surviving for long if it decides that, while maybe objectionable, such tolerance is tolerable. The question, “these days,” writes Harvie, is “can a tolerant society survive the internet?”
In all the kingdom of nature, does any creature threaten us less than the gentle rabbit? Though the question may sound entirely rhetorical today, our medieval ancestors took it more seriously — especially if they could read illuminated manuscripts, and even more so if they drew in the margins of those manuscripts themselves. “Often, in medieval manuscripts’ marginalia we find odd images with all sorts of monsters, half man-beasts, monkeys, and more,” writes Sexy Codicology’s Marjolein de Vos. “Even in religious books the margins sometimes have drawings that simply are making fun of monks, nuns and bishops.” And then there are the killer bunnies.
Hunting scenes, de Vos adds, also commonly appear in medieval marginalia, and “this usually means that the bunny is the hunted; however, as we discovered, often the illuminators decided to change the roles around.”
Jon Kaneko-James explains further: “The usual imagery of the rabbit in Medieval art is that of purity and helplessness – that’s why some Medieval portrayals of Christ have marginal art portraying a veritable petting zoo of innocent, nonviolent, little white and brown bunnies going about their business in a field.” But the creators of this particular type of humorous marginalia, known as drollery, saw things differently.
“Drolleries sometimes also depicted comedic scenes, like a barber with a wooden leg (which, for reasons that escape me, was the height of medieval comedy) or a man sawing a branch out from under himself,” writes Kaneko-James.
This enjoyment of the “world turned upside down” produced the drollery genre of “the rabbit’s revenge,” one “often used to show the cowardice or stupidity of the person illustrated. We see this in the Middle English nickname Stickhare, a name for cowards” — and in all the drawings of “tough hunters cowering in the face of rabbits with big sticks.”
Then, of course, we have the bunnies making their attacks while mounted on snails, snail combats being “another popular staple of Drolleries, with groups of peasants seen fighting snails with sticks, or saddling them and attempting to ride them.”
Given how often we denizens of the 21st century have trouble getting humor from less than a century ago, it feels satisfying indeed to laugh just as hard at these drolleries as our medieval forebears must have — though many more of us surely get to see them today, circulating as rapidly on social media as they didn’t when confined to the pages of illuminated manuscripts owned only by wealthy individuals and institutions.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stanford Continuing Studies, where we’ve developed a rich lineup of online courses for lifelong learners, many of which will get started next week. The courses aren’t free. But they’re first rate, giving adult students–no matter where they live–the chance to work with dedicated teachers and students.
Everyone should read the Bible, and—I’d argue—should read it with a sharply critical eye and the guidance of reputable critics and historians, though this may be too much to ask for those steeped in literal belief. Yet fewer and fewer people do read it, including those who profess faith in a sect of Christianity. Even famous atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Melvyn Bragg have argued for teaching the Bible in schools—not in a faith-based context, obviously, but as an essential historical document, much of whose language, in the King James, at least, has made major contributions to literary culture. (Curiously—or not—atheists and agnostics tend to score far higher than believers on surveys of religious knowledge.)
There is a practical problem of separating teaching from preaching in secular schools, but the fact remains that so-called “biblical illiteracy” is a serious problem educators have sought to remedy for decades. Prominent Shakespeare scholar G.B. Harrison lamented it in the introduction to his 1964 edited edition, The Bible for Students of Literature and Art. “Today most students of literature lack this kind of education,” he wrote, “and have only the haziest knowledge of the book or of its contents, with the result that they inevitably miss much of the meaning and significance of many works of past generations. Similarly, students of art will miss some of the meaning of the pictures and sculptures of the past.”
Though a devout Catholic himself, Harrison’s aim was not to proselytize but to do right by his students. His edited Bible is an excellent resource, but it’s not the only book of its kind out there. In fact, no less a luminary, and no less a critic of religion, than scientist and sci-fi giant Isaac Asimov published his own guide to the Bible, writing in his introduction:
The most influential, the most published, the most widely read book in the history of the world is the Bible. No other book has been so studied and so analyzed and it is a tribute to the complexity of the Bible and eagerness of its students that after thousands of years of study there are still endless books that can be written about it.
Of those books, the vast majority are devotional or theological in nature. “Most people who read the Bible,” Asimov writes, “do so in order to get the benefit of its ethical and spiritual teachings.” But the ancient collection of texts “has a secular side, too,” he says. It is a “history book,” though not in the sense that we think of the term, since history as an evidence-based academic discipline did not exist until relatively modern times. Ancient history included all sorts of myths, wonders, and marvels, side-by-side with legendary and apocryphal events as well as the mundane and verifiable.
Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, originally published in two volumes in 1968-69, then reprinted as one in 1981, seeks to demystify the text. It also assumes a level of familiarity that Harrison did not expect from his readers (and did not find among his students). The Bible may not be as widely-read as Asimov thought, even if sales suggest otherwise. Yet he does not expect that his readers will know “ancient history outside the Bible,” the sort of critical context necessary for understanding what its writings meant to contemporary readers, for whom the “places and people” mentioned “were well known.”
“I am trying,” Asimov writes in his introduction, “to bring in the outside world, illuminate it in terms of the Biblical story and, in return, illuminate the events of the Bible by adding to it the non-Biblical aspects of history, biography, and geography.” This describes the general methodology of critical Biblical scholars. Yet Asimov’s book has a distinct advantage over most of those written by, and for, academics. Its tone, as one reader comments, is “quick and fun, chatty, non-academic.” It’s approachable and highly readable, that is, yet still serious and erudite.
Asimov’s approach in his guide is not hostile or “anti-religious,” as another reader observes, but he was not himself friendly to religious beliefs, or superstitions, or irrational what-have-yous. In the interview above from 1988, he explains that while humans are inherently irrational creatures, he nonetheless felt a duty “to be a skeptic, to insist on evidence, to want things to make sense.” It is, he says, akin to the calling believers feel to “spread God’s word.” Part of that duty, for Asimov, included making the Bible make sense for those who appreciate how deeply embedded it is in world culture and history, but who may not be interested in just taking it on faith. Find an old copy of Asimov’s Guide to the Bible at Amazon.
Bauhaus architecture sandblasted away the ornate flourishes common with early 20th century buildings, favoring instead the clean, sleek lines of industrial factories. Designer Marcel Breuer reimagined the common chair by stripping it down to its most elemental form.
13. Albert Gleizes, Kubismus, Munich: Albert Langen, 1928.
14. László Moholy-Nagy, Von Material zur Architektur, Munich: Albert Langen, 1929, 241 pp; facsimile repr., Mainz and Berlin: Florian Kupferberg, 1968.
The New Vision: From Material to Architecture, trans. Daphne M. Hoffman, New York: Breuer Warren and Putnam, 1930; exp.rev.ed. as The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, New York: George Wittenborn, 1947, 92 pp. (in English)
And here are some key Bauhaus journals:
bauhaus 1 (1926). 5 pages, 42 cm. Download (23 MB).
bauhaus: zeitschrift für bau und gestaltung 2:1 (Feb 1928). Download (17 MB).
bauhaus: zeitschrift für gestaltung 3:1 (Jan 1929). Download (17 MB).
bauhaus: zeitschrift für gestaltung 3:2 (Apr-Jun 1929). Download (15 MB).
bauhaus: zeitschrift für gestaltung 3:3 (Jul-Sep 1929). Download (16 MB).
bauhaus: zeitschrift für gestaltung 2 (Jul 1931). Download (15 MB).
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads. The Veeptopus store is here.
“Look Back in Anger” is an underrated Bowie song on an underrated Bowie album (Lodger) but it’s always been a favorite because of the fury and thunder of the backing band. And the MVP of that six person group is drummer Dennis Davis. A member of Roy Ayers’ jazz-funk group at first, he joined Bowie’s session/touring band during the Young Americans sessions and stayed through Scary Monsters. He’s that most perfect of drummers too: endlessly inventive, yet never gets in the way of the funk.
But this track might be one of his crowning achievements. A nervous, propulsive rhythm on the drums carries the song, doubled on congas/percussion, but producer Tony Visconti buries it in the mix a bit so it doesn’t overwhelm the operatic arc of the song.
Recently, Davis’ young son Hikaru has been making a video exploring his father’s legacy, after Dennis passed away in 2016. Which means that this adorable elementary school student has been sitting down with the likes of Bowie sidemen Sterling Campbell, Carlos Alomar, Jan Michael Alejandro, Emir Ksasan, and George Murray, along with Roy Ayers and the members of his band.
In the above video, Hikaru interviews Tony Visconti about the aforementioned track (the producer’s favorite) and we get to hear for the first time ever Davis’ isolated drum and conga tracks.
“He’s playing so many things at once…and yet it never sounds busy,” Visconti says.
Davis incorporated a lot of Latin influences and loved triplets wherever he could drop them in.
Visconti doesn’t really add much more. They, like most of you will probably do, just sit there and listen, jaws hanging open.
Because Davis is on pretty much every post-Spiders Bowie album of the ‘70s he really should be mentioned in the same breath as the Bonhams and Keith Moons of the world, but in the meantime here’s a few more classic Davis moments:
Although slathered with Brian Eno’s noise-gate treatments, Davis’ beat is solid and prominent on “Sound and Vision”
This live version of “Station to Station” from 1978 showcases what an unstoppable force Davis was live. Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads) provides searing guitar work. Transcendent.
A classic track from Roy Ayers Ubiquity, heavy in the Afro-Cuban groove, and Davis is front and center.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.
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