Friday, January 27, 2006

Predicting the future

Have been listening to Douglas Adams at the BBC, some of which is just brilliant.

Some of the sketches are not quite so brilliant, though I’m glad to have heard them all the same. But what really stands out is his insight into and clarity explaining some really very complicated stuff.

All kinds of very complicated stuff at that.

Yeah, it's the non-fiction that impresses the most (I think). It’s made me want to re-listen to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Future and track down the Radio 4 version of Last Chance To See…? For years the book has been an ideal present for anyone I’m stuck buying a present for.

I was going to talk more generally about Douglas and his influence on me – or rather, his influences (plural) – but kept getting a weird déjà vu. So checked some email archives, and sure enough:

From 8 May 2002:
“I'm 160 pages into Salmon of Doubt, and am really enjoying it. Agree with what you say about a CD-Rom being a more suitable record - especially in mind of what Adams says about printed matter and dead wood. Also, I've read an awful lot of this stuff before - great swathes is available on the Internet [such as here and here].

Which seems rather to be missing the point. And there's loads of things from various publications - magazines, books etc. that as an Adams fanboy I've tracked down already.

This isn't then ‘the best of Douglas's hard drive’. It's ‘the best of Douglas’. Though that's not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the things I find fascinating is how much the myriad works fit together. Sometimes he repeats himself - you certainly hear the same jokes reused (reminding me of Oscar Wilde in From Hell).

More importantly, his ideas fit into a consistent worldview - so his musing on Bali fits like sticklebricks to his ideas about language and identity. His reckoning about God fits his ideas about left-handed guitars.

At the same time, you get a sense of his thinking as work-in-progress. That's especially true of the stuff he was writing for MacUser in the late 80s. Much of what he said then is outdated now, and many of the issues have become irrelevant.

But, as he says in his Artificial God lecture, the whole point of science is that you put up a theory and see if other people can knock it down. He's quite prepared to go out on a limb and talk about irrational beliefs and evolutionary theory, and to have that attacked and questioned and jeered, but as part of a process.

What he's interested in is gedankenexperiment. And as his ideas get tested and questioned and pulled apart, he's emerging into something reasonably comprehensive.

Though this may be the result of the editing process on the book - consistency brought about on the material because of the way it was selected.

What this means is I really want more: to pick over the not-so-brilliant stuff, to see the bits of writing he didn't put much thought into, the whims he didn't finish.

And more than that, I want to talk to him. For ages. And have an argument.

And I’d always kidded myself that someday I would. Shit.”

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