A Cultural Explanation for Sci-fi and Fantasy Preference

According to this Atlantic piece, there is a strong cultural explanation for the west’s (in this case, Hollywood) obsession with science fiction and fantasy movies:

Cultural differences are fascinating because even as we learn about others, we learn about ourselves. As an anthropologist, I want to flip this conversation: Why are we so into science fiction and fantasy? Nineteenth-century German sociologist Max Weber had a useful theory about this: The answer may be that we in the West are “disenchanted.” The world in which we live feels explainable, predictable, and boring. Weber posited that because of modern science, a rise in secularism, an impersonal market economy, and government administered through bureaucracies rather than bonds of loyalty, Western societies perceived the world as knowably rational and systematic, leading to a widespread loss of a sense of wonder and magic. Because reality is composed of processes that can be identified with a powerful-enough microscope or calculated with a fast-enough computer, so Weber’s notion of disenchantment goes, there is no place for mystery. But this state of disenchantment is a difficult one because people seem to like wonder.

And in much of the piece she compares Hollywood with Bollywood, concluding that in India there simply is no market for sci-fi and fantasy because historically and culturally the region has a different intellectual history. Can we really stretch the correlation that far? Some useful points to note from this article may be of use for your essay writing:

  • Consider how writers may deliberately choose ‘examples’ that seem to all-too-conveniently support their argument. This is a fallacy known as cherry picking. This doesn’t mean the claim is untrue, but just that its reasoning is flawed.
  • Still, it is interesting to note how the writer draws the links to intellectual tradition. Can you think of how disenchantment might account for other cultural tastes of modern societies today? How it operates in Singapore maybe?
  • Also, when trying to support your points in the essay, consider a comparative approach (like comparing Hollywood and Bollywood for instance) when thinking up the evidence to use.

Some infographics from TIME

Been looking at some infographics from TIME lately.

Here are two that quite noteworthy.

1. Catch up on 200 years of transformation with this visual timeline that charts key moments that had a big hand in steering the course of global human development. Take a look at follow key developments in politics, economics, science and tech, culture and sports (easily followed with the color codes) to broaden your understanding of how we got to where we are today – and perhaps make informed guesses on where we’ll be going in future. This knowledge will surely be useful for you to set the context for any GP essay pertaining to issues surrounding those topics.

2. TIME’s 100 most influential people of 2012 are not visually arranged on an infographic that represents their influences on a timeline as well. Such lists remind us of how the individual – as opposed to the group – continues to exert such influence over development and world events. While we try to perfect our systems and processes, Man ultimately looks to specific men and women to inspire and move us along.

Who would you name in your own list of moments that changed the world or most influential people? 

Why Are We Less Violent Today?

FIRST the good news—people are much nicer than they used to be and they are becoming steadily less violent. This is the thesis of Steven Pinker’s absorbing and detailed survey of human behaviour that goes right back to early Christendom. His work is based on two arguments. The first is that the past was far more unpleasant than it was thought to be, whereas the present is altogether more peaceable, contrary to what many believe.

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Adjustment Bureau and Free Will

If you’ve watched the movie ‘The Adjustment Bureau’, I’m sure you’ll recall a scene where Thompson lectures protagonist David Norris on his naive belief in free will of humans.

The quote from Thompson is reproduced below, with added Wikipedia links.

We actually tried Free Will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman Empire we stepped back to see how you’d do on your own. You gave us the Dark Ages for five centuries… until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought maybe we just needed to do a better job of teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution. For six hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason, then in 1910 we stepped back. Within fifty years, you’d brought us World War I, the Depression, Fascism, the Holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that point a decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn’t fix. You don’t have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will. 

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History of Medicine

Plague Doctor, 14th Century during the Black Death

Here’s an interactive timeline from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) that helps you examine how attitudes, beliefs and practices regarding medicine developed through time. Always nice to know how the tablet you take for a headache today could have meant a hole driven into your skull in prehistoric remedy.

Study the timeline and ask yourself:
How did social context and changes inform the way medicine was practiced during the different time periods? What implications does this have for your beliefs about ‘science’ in general today?