Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Power of Aesthetics

This week I was watching a BBC documentary series called The Incredible Human Journey, it details the advance of Homo Sapiens out of Africa and all about the world, tracking what routes were taken and the corresponding dates through archeological and biological evidence. It's quite fascinating.

One thing that I found quite compelling from a Role-Player and Game Design perspective was the competition for dominance between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal Man in Europe. The first thing I noticed from the depictions of Neanderthals were how much they were like Ogres from fantasy literature. This is likely no accident as the first fantasy writers were quite learned and likely modeled Ogres off of Neanderthals.

We know that Neanderthal was bigger, stronger, and better adapted to the environment of Europe than Humans were, so in that sense they definitely have the advantage. So common wisdom lead to the belief that we had better tools and weapons that allowed us to overcome the larger size and strength... however the archeological evidence shows that when comparing Neanderthal tools with Human tools the Neanderthal ones were superior in nearly every measurable way.

Neanderthal Man had a larger head and created superior tools so therefore it should be reasonable to assume that by several criteria Neanderthal should have been on equal footing intellectually as Homo Sapiens, they were stronger, and tougher and DNA evidence leads us to believe that there was no racial mixing between the two species so it's not like they were simply assimilated into the dominant race either.

So why are there no more Neanderthals around anymore?

One of the noticeable differences the archeology uncovered was that Homo Sapiens had artifacts with artistic designs that remained consistent across various different archeological sites. Art even back in the stone ages was following trends and there was obvious communication of these trends unlike Neanderthal sites where little art was produced and none of these trends in artistic culture were seen at all.

So from this we can derive that shared art denotes a shared culture which denotes friendly communication over distance. Art was allowing people to find common ground with each other even though they shared no family or immediate ties. This seemingly insignificant fact allowed us to ultimately triumph over a greater competing race.

The thing I find most interesting about all this is that the evidence points to the conclusion that as a race, our appreciation of aesthetic contributed directly to our SURVIVAL. This isn't exactly common wisdom and art is something that in the great scheme of things is often taken for granted. What's more, it is a very human thing to appreciate art and though the appreciation of aesthetic is universal throughout our species, it isn't something many animals carry.

Our common appreciation of aesthetics allows us to relate to others even though we might have nothing immediately in-common. This cannot be overestimated, we are immediately more trusting of attractive people, but we also see god's hand in beauty. All sites of religious significance have artwork... why is this so?

In primitive societies as well as Role-Playing it is easy to get preoccupied in the more tangiable pursuits, war, survival, obtaining wealth... Yet we as a race still appreciate and desire to be surrounded by beauty, but this desire seems so trivial in comparison to the time we should be spending obtaining food, shelter and safety. I believe the solution to this in primitive society was to tie this desire to something that in an ethereal way does contribute to those things. God can provide food, shelter and safety if He (she, it...) so chooses, but we can't see God so it helps if there's something to focus on and that might as well be art.

Honestly this could be a Chicken/Egg argument, did God instill in us an appreciation of Art so that through it we could be closer to him, or did we correlate God to these depictions out of our desire to appreciate art? I've just pointed out that our appreciation of art played a factor in primitive man's survival, was that God's way of giving us the ability to overcome?

Aesthetics is a deciding factor in so much, yet we discount it's importance so often. Beauty is the cornerstone of our interactions and a major aspect of what drives us, yet typically in Role Playing games it is considered to have no mechanical significance. I think this is a mistake and perhaps game designers should look at the application of beauty and maybe it's significance in religion and spirituality.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Trendy Homelessness

Those who know me well have heard me ramble on about freedom and such'n'such from time to time. It's probably sounding like a broken record, but at one point - before I'd been totally mind-vamped into a constructive member of modern society by the woman I live with - I was far more extreme about it.

I was actually fascinated by the idea of having no ties to one place. The idea of being homeless and just drifting where ever I wanted had a great deal of appeal to me. I'm not talking about being a stinky bum wearing urine soaked rags and being in a perpetual state of pickled to stay warm... More of a techno drifter, having everything I needed in my truck and on my person where ever I was.

The idea was that I was my own mobile office. I would write from where ever I was at the time and that would sustain me and pay for gas. Sleep in hotels, or my truck or where ever I was invited to crash... carry all my tools for making money and interacting with the world on my person, laptop, bank cards, smartphone, pocket knife...

All this is obviously rooted in the RPG "adventurer" concept, the wandering person exploring the land while sustaining himself through his adventures. I'd have my truck steed, my iphone "bag of holding" a trusty pocket knife sword... then some gear to survive the wilderness or the cities as the case arises in the back of my truck.

The TV show Supernatural obviously carries a lot of these concepts in it's format, and I've contemplated the appeal of driving a muscle car all around the US, the fighting monsters would be just a bonus.

The idea though is hard to sustain. Traveling is expensive, traveling with all the amenities is even more expensive, I'd imagine it would ballpark around 3 to 4 times as much as living a normal life in a fixed location would cost. Adventuring in games sustains the characters by-way of monsters dropping "loot" or what-have-you, but in modern days cash isn't tangible. Supernatural's ubiquitous "credit-card scams" are a nice modern take on the looting one's fallen foes concept though there are differences. I know that for my part I would need an extensive readership to be able to sustain myself going where ever I want all the time... I do think it's possible, but I'm not there yet.

I still have hope for the trendy homelessness concept, though it's getting more challenging with rising gas prices and international security. A lot of those difficulties are a result of society and government working to hem the people into a set way of life that makes us easier to monitor and control, I used to hate that stuff, now I've come to accept it with an eye for ways to get around it... ultimately the answer is money, but I do lament that without regulations and the endless rules governing us (no loitering etc...) it makes it a lot harder to just go somewhere...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On Vibrations

Most writers have thoughts kind-of assemble in their heads which they write down and this is some rambling along those lines, so bear with me.

A couple guys I know are big conspiracy theory nuts, and they talk a lot of nonsense, but occasionally they say the occasional rational thing so I listen with one ear if only because there might be some good fiction out of it. One thing they often preach is that emotions vibrate at a certain frequency. They say there are two opposing emotions in the vibrational spectrum, Love and Fear and that all emotions are somewhere between those two on that spectrum... then they go on about how transcendence and enlightenment are simply shifting to a different vibrational frequency... like I said, nonsense.

But I do think there is more to vibrations than meets the eye (or the ear as the case may be). A small vibration at the right resonance can create massive catastrophes in civil structures. This is such a concern that engineers are required to account for this in their designs.

All humans are extremely sensitive to vibrations and intuitively recognize dissonant tones in music. If I play a scale on a piano for anyone they'll instantly know if I'm using the correct flats and sharps for that key scale based on the sound, even on a minor scale the dissonant notes are offset so they sound right to our ears. This is intuitive, not a learned ability. Another point I will make is that ALL people gather some enjoyment from music. No one I know has ever said "I don't like music." They might not like a particular TYPE of music, but the very idea of disdaining all music would probably prompt many of us to evaluate the mental stability of the person making the claim. Why is this? Humans are nothing if not varied, so why do all people derive pleasure from music of some sort?

This leads me to wonder if my crazy friends might be on-to something...