Are Human Beings Unique or Not? Part 2

Human beings are storytelling creatures.

How many times have I said this over the course of my life? Far too many to count. It’s my very most favorite fact about us. It’s a source of absolute delight to me. We’re the only animal that has been observed to tell stories. It begs a question in response to my last post re: what, if anything, makes humans unique from other animals:

Why didn’t I list storytelling as the characteristic that makes us unique?

Why did I end up with something as depressing as “we’re the only animals who sometimes hate ourselves?”

Storytelling is built into the most basic functioning of our brains. It’s how memory works. It’s how we make sense of the world. For something so deeply embedded in us, it can’t be something entirely unique to us—it must be based on antecedent mental abilities in the animal world. So, as with so many things, storytelling is a unique expression but not unique in its essential nature.

Continue reading “Are Human Beings Unique or Not? Part 2”

Are Human Beings Unique or Not?

I recently took a leadership class that talked about ethics. The instructor said something interesting:

Humans are the only animals that rationalize behavior we know is wrong.

I think that’s correct—but I would add the caveat: “The only animals that we know of…”

When I was a kid, people still preached the idea of Man the Rational Animal. The persistent Enlightenment belief that what distinguishes us from other animals is our ability to reason.

Even as a kid, I knew this was a load of crap.

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Book Review: Reentry by Peter Cawdron

Cover of the book Reentry by Peter Cawdron
Reentry
by Peter Cawdron
HMH/John Joseph Adams, 2019

This review was first published by Booklist on May 17, 2019.

After defeating the artificial intelligence on Mars, Liz Anderson and two other survivors arrive back on Earth, but not to the welcome they expect. Earth is in turmoil after the devastation of nuclear war, and paranoia and hatred of AIs run rampant. The astronauts return with the remnants of the Martian AI, which contains the uploaded consciousness of Liz’s dead lover. Or does it? It turns out the AIs aren’t done with her yet, and all is not as it seems. Targeted by the U.S. government and aided by AI sympathizers, Liz must figure out whom to trust. In Cawdron’s follow-up to Retrograde (2016), he develops his ideas about artificial intelligence and the nature of life in complex and interesting ways. The political ramifications that drive the action are entirely believable. Reentry is a worthy sequel. Though it lacks the novelty of its predecessor, this series entry develops this world more broadly and leaves open the possibility of future stories. Fans will be satisfied.

Book Review: Octavia Gone by Jack McDevitt

Cover of the book Octavia Gone by Jack McDevitt
Octavia Gone
by Jack McDevitt
Saga, 2019

This review was first published by Booklist on May 17, 2019.

Octavia Gone, the eighth entry in McDevitt’s Alex Benedict series (after Coming Home, 2014), brings back long-missing character Gabe, while Alex and crew tackle the tandem mysteries of a disappeared research station and a possibly alien artifact. What the crew discovers entails a moral conundrum that forces them to make difficult choices to find a resolution. As always, McDevitt’s story is well-structured and paced. His characters are relatable and it’s interesting to see how they react to Gabe’s reappearance. One of McDevitt’s hallmarks is his focus on external conflicts—solving the mystery and navigating its implications—but there’s little conflict between the characters; people in McDevitt’s worlds are reasonable and resolve their interpersonal issues without much ado. While the two mysteries tie together in the end, for much of the book they seem oddly unrelated. This book offers what McDevitt’s fans are looking for, but new readers will want to start with earlier books in the series.

Libraries: Everything to Everyone?

Or Jack of All Trades but Master of None?

Justin Hoenke recently voiced the argument that public librarians need to be “everything to every community member.” This argument unleashed a lot of push back from librarians. Stephanie Chase posted a tweet thread in response to the push back and it’s worth reading.

Her essential argument responds to librarians who, as she perceives, don’t want libraries to be different than what they were in our romanticized youths.

She states:

HARD FACTS TIME: THE LIBRARY OF YOUR YOUTH DOESN’T EXIST ANYMORE.

I agree with this 100%. There are librarians who resist change because they don’t want the library to evolve. That’s a real problem. She also links to a recent LitHub article, “Stop. The library isn’t your private, childhood memory palace.” I love this article and I agree with it 100%. I tweeted it out myself when it was first posted online.

I came to libraries because they’re so adaptable. Because I’m excited to serve my community in a time of tremendous change. Because I relish the challenge of figuring out how to respond to changing needs and demographics. In his book, Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library, Wayne Wiegand points out public libraries have always adapted to changing needs and circumstances. There’s always been resistance to change, both internal and external. This is all to be expected.

Libraries should never be static entities—we need to be adaptable. The core of what we do is timeless—access, information, self-directed learning, self-directed entertainment—but of course our communities’ needs will change, and even the timeless needs will manifest differently, and technology will continue to alter how we access and consume information, sometimes in radical ways. This is good and healthy and exciting.

But I can’t completely agree that librarians need to be all things for all people. It’s not for the reasons Ms. Chase thinks. It starts with the following statement from her tweet thread:

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Book Review: Heroes of the Space Age: Incredible Stories of the Famous and Forgotten Men and Women Who Took Humanity to the Stars by Rod Pyle

Cover of the book Heroes of the Space Age: Incredible Stories of the Famous and Forgotten Men and Women Who Took Humanity to the Stars by Rod Pyle
Heroes of the Space Age: Incredible Stories of the Famous and Forgotten Men and Women Who Took Humanity to the Stars
by Rod Pyle
Prometheus, 2019

This review was first published by Booklist on May 3, 2019.

Heroes of the Space Age offers profiles of eight individuals who played significant roles in the early days of the Space Age, from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, including the first men and women in space (Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn, and Valentina Tereshkova), the first men on the moon (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin), and the first man to occupy a space station (Pete Conrad). Significantly, Pyle (Interplanetary Robots, 2019) includes people in pivotal roles on the ground: Gene Krantz, NASA flight controller during the first moon landing, and Margaret Hamilton, who designed the computer software for the Apollo missions. The author notes he sought to include diversity in these profiles, though the space race at that time was largely homogeneous. Each biography is brief but complete, though of greatest interest are the accounts of the work these individuals did as part of the space program. This is not a comprehensive collection of the hundreds of individuals involved but it’s a solid history of the earliest days of our exploration of space.

NaPoWriMo 2019: Reflections

I did it. 30 poems in 30 days. * It’s the most I’ve ever written in one stretch in my life. I didn’t write one poem per day—there were some days I wrote nothing and some days I wrote more than one—and I posted a couple out of order. But I wrote 30 poems in the month of April and each one was in response to the suggested prompts from NaPoWriMo.net.

I think some of what I wrote was pretty good. Some are clearly dead in the water. Most are somewhere in the middle—the seed of an idea, good to just have something written. The only one I think is really finished is the minimalist poem I wrote for the last day.

At this point, I should turn to revision. Work on the ones I think have potential, scuplt and polish them. But I won’t. I just don’t have the desire to do that work. I take satisfaction in the act of creating a poem but the work of finishing it isn’t something I find rewarding.

So I leave behind a scattered trail of creative but unfinished pieces. I’d say that’s lazy of me but it’s never been my intention to publish, so that’s OK.

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