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 --- description: Aesthetically & economically, there is too much new art tags: philosophy, psychology ... > "The climate of our culture is changing. Under these new rains, new suns, small things grow great, and what was great grows small; whole species disappear and are replaced." --[Randall Jarrell](!Wikipedia)^["A Sad Heart at the Supermarket", _Daedalus_, vol. 89, no. 2 (Spring 1960)] The [Amazon Kindle](!Wikipedia) has ignited the [ebook](!Wikipedia) market by providing a [e-ink](!Wikipedia) interface which is visually competitive with paper, and easy access to a remarkable fraction of Amazon's inventory. It's very nice. The pricing of ebooks is controversial^[["E-books spark battle inside the publishing industry"](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/24/AR2009122403326.html), _Washington Post_, 27 December 200]; why should an ebook cost as much as the book? The Kindle's ebooks are small digital files, as opposed to multi-pound slabs of exactingly manufactured wood and cloth[^printing]. The former is delivered wirelessly, while the latter requires globe-spanning transport networks. Surely there is vast overhead for the paper, and ebook prices should reflect their marginal cost of production of 0 cents? Not many expect ebooks to be priced in cents, since the author expects to be paid a fair bit for her writing, and the publisher expects to be paid for editing & formatting it, and Amazon is there discreetly coughing for its share[^scratch]. So it won't be 0¢, but why not $3 or less? # The price is not right In a sense, this is a [very easy](!Wikipedia "Law of supply and demand") question. The right price for ebooks is whatever the market will bear. If$3 is not the right price, then consumers will not buy, and the price will continue to fall until they do. In another sense, it's a difficult question as some people seem to be thinking in medieval terms with the moral concept of the '[just price](!Wikipedia)', which is inapplicable to books[^just]. ## Subsidies But the presupposition of a discussion of how to ensure a profitable price level mutually acceptable to consumers & corporate publishers is that the publishers *should* survive. That is: if books are not economically sustainable at natural e-book prices (eg. $3), will society be worse off? Should publishers or novelists be subsidized[^subsidy]? Some areas of artistic endeavour seem to try to prove that art is worthless and a joke; it's a little hard to explain some areas of modern or post-modern art[^pomo] in any other way, and who are we to disagree with them? But that's a cheap way out. What about art that is quite serious and aspires to the age-old goals of art? [^pomo]: The examples are legion; from ["Buying the Concept of Art"](http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=2971) ('Talking Philosophy', _[The Philosophers' Magazine](!Wikipedia)_): > "Since I have taught Aesthetics since 1994, little that occurs in the strange world of art surprises me. One of the more recent trends is the selling of the ideas of artists, as opposed to the selling of an actual work of art. For example, [Lawrence Weiner put a$160,000 price tag on his idea of "2 Metal Balls + 2 Metal Rings (Set Down in the Groove)."](http://www.newsweek.com/2011/06/26/collectors-who-spend-thousands-on-artist-s-ideas.html) For the $160,000 you do not get any balls, rings or a groove. Rather, you would receive a certificate that permits you to write the phrase in a room or create/commission the sculpture that you think it happens to describe. > > Works, if that term can be used, were also sold by Sol LeWitt before his death. While he did create art objects, he also created "works" that were just vague instructions for creating a piece. For example, "Alternate Yellow Ink and Pencil Straight, Parallel Lines, of Random Length, Not Touching the Sides." > > Tino Sehgal tops both DeWitt and Weiner. Sehgal does not even offer a certificate or set of instructions, he apparently just makes odd things occur and permits no recording of the event. These "works" are sold for cash in front of witnesses, but no documentation is provided. One of his "works", which was purchased for around$100,000 is the concept of a museum security guard slowly undressing. Naturally, the money does not buy an actual security guard or an undressing, merely the concept as put forth by Sehgal." Or ["Woman Pays $10,000 For 'Non-Visible' Work Of Art"](http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/07/22/138513048/woman-pays-10-000-for-non-visible-work-of-art): > "Franco and Praxis also warn that, "When you contribute to this Kickstarter project, you are not buying a visible piece of art!" Yes, after contributing real money, buyers will not receive *any* tangible piece of art and will instead be presented with a written description of their purchase. With prices ranging from$1000 to $10,000, you might ask yourself, "who would actually willingly donate money for pretty much nothing?" Answer: Montreal web producer, social media marketer, model and actor Aimee Davison." Davison's [explanation](http://www.onehundredjobs.ca/2011/06/rise-of-social-media-art.html) is at least somewhat sensible: > "Also, I wanted to note that I bought Franco et al's art because I want to promote the benefits of bigger brands sponsoring new media artists and social media art (or Internet projects). My patronage is funding Franco's project but it is equally a sponsorship; it is a marketing tool to publicize my own projects. Sponsoring a social media art project allows a brand or individual to attach their name to a project wherever it appears online, co-create, gain agency and credibility in the social media sphere and share in the buzz, audience, and cultural impact of a work." The more I think about it, the harder I find justifying any subsidy. We value high author royalties because this allows authors to specialize in being authors; specialization is a good thing because it allows authors to produce more than they otherwise would; and higher production is good because we value the fruits thereof. But higher production isn't always good; production can be misguided or wasted ^[cf. [broken window fallacy](!Wikipedia)]. (And strengthened copyright law may not be an effective subsidy regardless.[^strength]) [^strength]: The academic literature is mixed; for example, some find little to no detrimental effect to Internet-borne copyright infringement: From ["File-Sharing and Copyright"](http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/09-132.pdf), Oberholzer-Gee & Strumpf 2010: > "Data on the supply of new works are consistent with our argument that file sharing did not discourage authors and publishers.^2^ The publication of new books rose by 66% over the 2002-2007 period. Since 2000, the annual release of new music albums has more than doubled, and worldwide feature film production is up by more than 30% since 2003. At the same time, empirical research in file sharing documents that consumer welfare increased substantially due to the new technology." # 100 apples in the barrel > "Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain,\ > For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain." --William Shakespeare^[[_King Richard II_](!Wikipedia "Richard II (play)")] Suppose we all have 100 apples. Our lives do not revolve around apples, though we like them well enough. But still, 100 is too many; even if we ate 5 a day, the rest would go bad before we ate them. And of course, it's unlikely that any of us will go to the greengrocers and buy *more*. Our [marginal utility](!Wikipedia) of apples has plunged to zero^[Or below; I dislike clutter.]. From our perspective, the farmer bringing a truck of apples to the greengrocers has wasted his labor. Let's hope he'll find *something* to do with those surplus apples so the resources that went into making them were not wasted - maybe bake some apple pies, or compost them all. Now suppose this wasn't a one-time gift. We live in a magic world where everyone gets 100 apples a week. Here the farmer's entire career is wasted. Isn't he wasting his life? He's a smart fellow; no reason he couldn't go do something more useful. We could invent ways to employ this farmer. Perhaps every week he breaks into everybody's kitchens and steals their apples so they have to buy apples from him. Perhaps he'll run a large marketing campaign to convince everyone that his apples are superior to the magical apples. Perhaps some people get [Granny Smith](!Wikipedia) but really wanted [Red Delicious](!Wikipedia), and he runs an apple-trading hub, filling in deficits with his apples. Perhaps he lives on government subsidy checks & farms apples as a hobby. Or something. But nevertheless, these apple-farmers represent a [dead-weight loss](!Wikipedia). That's bad. # 100 books on the shelf > "Do technology and economic growth create problems? Certainly. But as Maurice Chevalier said about the disadvantages of growing old, consider the alternative.\ > ...if you chose to live in Renaissance Florence you would not be able to enjoy [Cézanne](!Wikipedia) and [Picasso](!Wikipedia). In [Johnson](!Wikipedia "Samuel Johnson")'s London, you would not be able to listen to Beethoven or Brahms. In _La [Belle Époque](!Wikipedia)_, you would not be able to read [Joyce](!Wikipedia "James Joyce") or [Faulkner](!Wikipedia "William Faulkner"). To live in today's world is not only to have access to all the best that has come before, but also to have a breadth and ease of access that is comparably greater than that enjoyed even by our parents, let alone earlier generations." --[Charles Murray](!Wikipedia "Charles Murray (author)"), _[Human Accomplishment](!Wikipedia)_ Now, can we apply this analogy? I don't have 100 apples, but perhaps I have - 100 novels. Not any novels, but [science fiction](!Wikipedia) novels. Nor any 100 Sci-Fi novels, but the winners of the 2 most prestigious SF awards for the last 50 years: the [Hugo](!Wikipedia "Hugo Award") and [Nebula Award](!Wikipedia)s. ## Reading them > "Time destroys the groundless conceits of men; it confirms decisions founded on reality." --[Cicero](!Wikipedia)^[_De Natura Deorum_, Bk II.2] Suppose I read the 100 at the rate of 1 a week[^rate], or 52 a year. I will finish them in ~2 years.[^npr] [^npr]: Another writer (Linda Holmes, ["The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything"](http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/04/21/135508305/the-sad-beautiful-fact-that-were-all-going-to-miss-almost-everything), _NPR_) considers if you read *2* a week: > "If we assume you start now, and you're 15, and you are willing to continue at this pace until you're 80. That's 6,500 books, which really sounds like a lot. Let's do you another favor: Let's further assume you limit yourself to books from the last, say, 250 years. Nothing before 1761. This cuts out giant, enormous swaths of literature, of course, but we'll assume you're willing to write off thousands of years of writing in an effort to be reasonably well-read. > > Of course, by the time you're 80, there will be 65 more years of new books, so by then, you're dealing with 315 years of books, which allows you to read about 20 books from each year. You'll have to break down your 20 books each year between fiction and nonfiction - you have to cover history, philosophy, essays, diaries, science, religion, science fiction, westerns, political theory ... I hope you weren't planning to go out very much...We could do the same calculus with film or music or, increasingly, television - you simply have no chance of seeing even most of what exists. Statistically speaking, you will die having missed almost everything." [Edward Stourton](!Wikipedia "Edward Stourton (journalist)"), ["The Year of Reading Differently"](http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/09c6fee4-ee8a-11e0-a2ed-00144feab49a.html) 2011: > "All of this has restricted the reading time I have been able to devote to our existing collection of books - the only one of my vows I was really looking forward to. I began by revisiting Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, and honesty compels me to admit that I have got no further. Indeed, I find that I am in no great hurry to get further...Here is a cheerful conclusion: on the basis of the experiment to date I am persuaded that, if I have to, I can go on re-reading my existing library without ever getting bored - I estimate I have enough good literature in the house to last me for the rest of my life." It will take an appreciable fraction of my life to read a vanishingly small fraction of one small fiction genre, that itself has existed for less than 2 centuries and been written almost exclusively in 2 countries[^geo]. And what if I want to read the prequels and sequels? Not all winners are as prolific in sequels & prequels as _[Dune](!Wikipedia "Dune universe")_, but these winners include many duologies and trilogies (or more)[^sequels]. I can probably expect to lose another 2 or 6 years to them. Certainly, I can expect it to take another 4 years to read the 2 top runner-ups for each award. And did I mention that these awards have multiple categories? Many of SF's greatest works are short stories or novellas, which compete for different Nebula & Hugo awards. And of course, it's not like the Hugo & Nebula awards are the definitive list of SF 'books to read' - _[The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction](!Wikipedia)_ treats of hundreds of writers, and mentions thousands of works; _[The Encyclopedia of Fantasy](!Wikipedia)_ has more than 4000 entries. Like Mandelbrot's [fractal coast of England](!Wikipedia "How Long Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension"), the more thoroughly I search, the longer my reading list becomes. ## New = bad > "It is worth serious consideration how great an amount of time -- their own and other people's -- and of paper is wasted by this swarm of mediocre poets, and how injurious their influence is. For the public always seizes on what is new, and shows even more inclination to what is perverse and dull, as being akin to its own nature. These works of the mediocre, therefore, draw the public away and hold it back from genuine masterpieces, and from the education they afford. Thus they work directly against the benign influence of genius, ruin taste more and more, and so arrest the progress of the age." --[Arthur Schopenhauer](!Wikipedia)^[_[The World as Will and Representation](!Wikipedia)_, section 51, footnote 41] The list is now 8 years in length; if the SF industry had imploded the day I started, I would not have noticed. I would be better off, actually, if the industry *did* implode! The last SF or Fantasy I read was [Brandon Sanderson](!Wikipedia)'s _[Mistborn](!Wikipedia "Mistborn series")_ trilogy. It was good, but I know there are better. My reading time is finite, and reading _Mistborn_ pushed out reading [Gene Wolfe](!Wikipedia)'s _[Book of the Long Sun](!Wikipedia)_ tetralogy - which I ultimately enjoyed more. If the industry had imploded before _Mistborn_ was published, I would have read _Long Sun_ instead^[See the [later discussion](#the-experimental-results) of hyperbolic discounting and experimental results with songs.]. It wouldn't be difficult to spend the rest of my life reading only SF published before 2009, and it would be more efficient as time is the keenest critic. The connection to other aspects of modern life and _[akrasia](!Wikipedia)_ is apparent: there's a [Gresham's Law](!Wikipedia) whereby cheap yet unsatisfying works will push out more satisfying but more demanding entertainment. Humans suffer from [hyperbolic discounting](!Wikipedia); we may know that in the long run, _Mistborn_ will be forgotten when _Long Sun_ is remembered, and that once we get started, we will enjoy it more - yet when the moment comes to choose, we prefer the choice of immediate pleasure. Why is this? For that matter, why do so many discrete [subcultures](The Melancholy of Subculture Society) flourish around *fiction* and seem to outnumber subcultures based on nonfiction topics like guns? Why does fiction seem to sabotage effectiveness in real-life? Rather than enhance it as [seems plausible](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/03/fantasy-and-rea.html "'Fantasy and Reality: Substitutes or Complements?', Hanson 2008") and as it could very well do since interactive fiction is capable of slipping enormous amounts of information into one's mind (eg. _What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy_ Gee 2003). Right now, we can only speculate; I suspect the answer lies at the convergence of highly [abstract interpretations](http://www.idsia.ch/~juergen/creativity.html "'Formal Theory of Creativity & Fun & Intrinsic Motivation (1990-2010)', Jürgen Schmidhuber") of creative experience, modern video-game instantiations of [addictive](!Wikipedia "Intermittent reinforcement") [token economies](!Wikipedia), and the neurology of fiction[^neurology]. Robin Hanson [suggests](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/01/why-fiction-lies.html "Why Fiction Lies"), based in part on analysis of 201 major British novels[^British], fiction is closer to signaling and wish-fulfillment - serving to educate us about group membership or interaction, and sending messages about what groups one is in (it's hard to fake a real knowledge of _[The Silmarillion](!Wikipedia)_, eg.) It's an interesting area, but not strictly relevant to the topic of whether new fiction should be subsidized and its merits compared to old (existing) fiction. [^neurology]: ["Your Brain on Fiction"](http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-neuroscience-of-your-brain-on-fiction.html), Annie Murphy Paul 2012, _NYT_: > "Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas. [In a study](http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/36/31/28/PDF/Article_JOCN.pdf "Cross-talk between language processes and overt motor behavior in the first 200 ms of processing', Boulenger et al 2006"), led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg. > > The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings. > > ...Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, [performed an analysis of 86 fMRI studies](http://biad02.uthscsa.edu/pubs/MarARP11.pdf "'The Neural Bases of Social Cognition and Story Comprehension', Mar 2011"), published last year in the _Annual Review of Psychology_, and concluded that there was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals — in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions “theory of mind.” Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers. > > It is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills, another body of research suggests. Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published [in 2006](http://individual.utoronto.ca/jacobhirsh/publications/Mar_Oatley_Hirsh_delaPaz_Peterson.pdf "Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds") and [2009](http://www.yorku.ca/mar/Mar%20et%20al%202009_reading%20fiction%20and%20empathy.pdf "Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes") [see also their [2008 review](http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Mail/xmcamail.2009_12.dir/pdfJEO79Qqyg3.pdf "The function of fiction is the abstraction and simulation of social experience")], that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A [2010 study by Dr. Mar](http://www.yorku.ca/mar/mar%20et%20al%20in%20press_CogDev_media%20exposure%20and%20child%20ToM.pdf "Exposure to Media and Theory-of-Mind Development in Preschoolers") found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind — an effect that was also produced by watching movies but, curiously, not by watching television. (Dr. Mar has conjectured that because children often watch TV alone, but go to the movies with their parents, they may experience more “parent-children conversations about mental states” when it comes to films.) > > Fiction, Dr. Oatley notes, “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”" [^British]: The post ["Data On Fictional Lies"](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/01/new-data-on-fiction.html), discussing the paper ["Hierarchy in the Library: Egalitarian Dynamics in Victorian Novels"](http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/ep06715738.pdf "Johnson et al 2008"); abstract: > "The current research investigated the psychological differences between protagonists and antagonists in literature and the impact of these differences on readers. It was hypothesized that protagonists would embody cooperative motives and behaviors that are valued by egalitarian hunter-gatherers groups, whereas antagonists would demonstrate status-seeking and dominance behaviors that are stigmatized in such groups. This hypothesis was tested with an online questionnaire listing characters from 201 canonical British novels of the longer nineteenth century. 519 respondents generated 1470 protocols on 435 characters. Respondents identified the characters as protagonists, antagonists, or minor characters, judged the characters’ motives according to human life history theory, rated the characters’ traits according to the five-factor model of personality, and specified their own emotional responses to the characters on categories adapted from Ekman’s seven basic emotions. As expected, antagonists are motivated almost exclusively by the desire for social dominance, their personality traits correspond to this motive, and they elicit strongly negative emotional responses from readers. Protagonists are oriented to cooperative and affiliative behavior and elicit positive emotional responses from readers. Novels therefore apparently enable readers to participate vicariously in an egalitarian social dynamic like that found in hunter-gatherer societies. We infer that agonistic structure in novels simulates social behaviors that fulfill an adaptive social function and perhaps stimulates impulses toward these behaviors in real life." It's worth noting that things like [the Terman sample](http://www.iza.org/conference_files/CoNoCoSk2011/gensowski_m6556.pdf "'The Effects of Education, Personality, and IQ on Earnings of High-Ability Men', Gensowski et al 2011") find that in real life, being Extroverted and low on Agreeableness correlate with success; the latter, at least, is more characteristic of antagonists than protagonists: > "Follow-up tests showed a significant Valence * Salience interaction effect on Extraversion (F1,374 = 11.40, p = 0.001) and Agreeableness (F1,374 = 16.65, p < 0.001). On Extraversion, protagonists score significantly lower than antagonists (-0.26 vs. 0.44, F1,377 = 22.18, p < 0.001). Also, protagonists score lower than good minor characters (-0.26 vs. 0.01, F1,377 = 5.57, p = 0.019) and antagonists score higher than bad minor characters (0.44 vs. -0.26, F1,377 = 7.33, p = 0.007). On Agreeableness, protagonists score significantly higher than antagonists (0.37 vs. -1.15, F1,377 = 149.73, p < 0.001), and good minor characters score higher than bad minor characters (0.33 vs. -0.25, F1,377 = 8.34, p = 0.004). Also, antagonists scored significantly lower on Agreeableness than bad minor characters (-1.15 vs. -0.25, F1,377 = 5.57, p = 0.019). Follow-up tests also showed that valence had a significant main effect on Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness to Experience. Good characters score significantly higher than bad characters on Conscientiousness (0.17 vs. -0.29, F1,374 = 10.59, p = 0.001), Emotional Stability (0.17 vs. -0.51, F1,374 = 22.10, p < 0.001); and Openness to Experience (0.17 vs. -0.32, F1,374 = 11.88, p = 0.001). In real life, higher levels of Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Emotional Stability are generally considered to be desirable, so it is not surprising that good characters score higher than bad characters on these factors. However, Extraversion and Openness in real life are more desirable in some situations and less desirable in others. Why bad characters score higher on Extraversion and good characters, on Openness, is considered in the Discussion section." ### Generalizing this > "Reading anything less than 50 years old is like drinking new wine: permissible once or twice a year and usually followed by regret and a headache....I definitely have followed that dictum. Maybe a little too much so, in that I rarely read anything modern at all. When it comes to books. I don't follow that rule when it comes to music or movies or blogs. But on the level of books, there is so much good stuff out there that has stood the test of time, I don't run out of interesting things to read." --topologist [Robert Ghrist](http://www.math.uiuc.edu/~ghrist/)^[["Applied topology and Dante: an interview with Robert Ghrist"](http://www.johndcook.com/blog/2010/09/13/applied-topology-and-dante-an-interview-with-robert-ghrist/), John D. Cook 13 September 2010.] But reading only SF is impoverishing. I always wanted to get into mysteries and French literature. But those will take at least 2 decades. Now I'm in my 50s. I'd better hurry if I ever want to read English or Chinese literature, or any nonfiction! So, why do I care what happens to the SF market? How does it concern me that the short story magazines are collapsing and will train no new writers? I have no need of them. I already have 100 apples. ### Music Or how about the genre of classical music? I once saw a complete collection of [J.S. Bach](!Wikipedia) in 160 CDs. I've no idea how many hours of music that is, and am too frightened to calculate it. And how many listens would it take to reasonably appreciate it? A lifetime perhaps. Why should I care about some publisher trying to record another CD of the [Brandenburg Concertos](!Wikipedia)? I'm not a conductor, I will hear no improvement. To me, there is no difference between the world's greatest violinist and the 10^th^-greatest. ### Movies Or consider another medium: movies. Have you seen the [IMDB](!Wikipedia "Internet Movie Database")'s [Top 250](http://www.imdb.com/chart/top) movies? There are excellent movies in there. Some are profound, others moving, and not a few profoundly moving. Why are you going to watch _[Transformers 2](!Wikipedia "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen")_ or _[Ice Age 3](!Wikipedia "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs")_? For entertainment value? But there are movies in that list which are far more entertaining, I assure you. Even if you've seen the top 50, there's another 200 to choose from. If you think the IMDB is too faddish and Internet-centric, there's no shortage of other lists - the _New York Times_ would be happy to tell you all about ["The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made"](http://www.nytimes.com/ref/movies/1000best.html) (6 years at 3 movies a week). And what about television? If we ask IMDB about *all* the movies and TV episodes it knows about, it's [happy to tell us](http://www.imdb.com/stats): 1,111,244 episodes; 263,524 movies; and 1,920,757 works in total (as of 28 June 2011). We can also look at movie [production over time](http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/datasets/imdb-number-of-movies-by-genre-per-y/versions/1.txt), where we find that as early as 1917 there were 5,490 movies made. (A current estimate for the EU is ["1100 features and 1400 shorts per year"](http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2012/02/13/pandoras-digital-box-pix-and-pixels/ "Pandora's digital box: Pix and pixels").) So even if we got in at the beginning, we never had a chance at watching so much as a small fraction. Here's a thought problem: suppose an intensive study revealed, authoritatively, that removing all subsidies and 'intellectual property rights' would cause movie production to fall by 95%. Would you regard that as a disaster, something to be decried and abhorred and legislated against? I suspect so. Suppose the study found that, specifically, this 95% fall was composed partially of movies never getting made, but also partially of movies getting made and then lost or never distributed or never shown at all (perhaps because in the absence of copyright, pirates would undercut them and take all profits); would this change your opinion much? Probably not for the better - if anything, it's even more horrifying, in the same way almost winning the lottery but missing by 1 number is more saddening than missing it by 2 numbers. But the [interesting thing](http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/statusquo.pdf "The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics") is that this is *already happening*: less than 5% of movies are available to the public^["...But tragically, some of the world's strangest movies will never be available on DVD at all. The [TCM](!Wikipedia "Turner Classic Movies") database estimates that only 4.8% of all films ever made are currently available to the public. Though the Internet has been invaluable in finding strange and forgotten relics, some films, whether through accident, disaster or perceived disinterest, have been lost or temporarily displaced." --_io9_, ["Weird and Wonderful Movies That You'll Never Get to See"](http://io9.com/5877874/lost-films)], and only around 10% of silent films survive in any sense anywhere[^Pandora]. So that 95% fall has *already* happened; civilization seems to have survived^[Of course, one could argue that there is something uniquely optimal and special about the current existing level of movie production, such that this invisible 95% fall is acceptable but another 95% fall would be cataclysmic. I hope the reader understands that this is a deeply untrustworthy position to take (and they should read the Bostrom link on the '[status quo bias](!Wikipedia)') - I'd parody it as "oh, *that* 95% fall is OK because it still leaves us a number of movies which is bigger than some number I made up just now based on the information you've provided me; but another 95% fall, well, that'd just be madness!"]. (A reflection on the 'movie canon': if you believe the canon is aesthetically invalid and has not successfully picked out the best movies made, then that implies anywhere up to 90% of the best movies ever made are lost forever to you.) [^Pandora]: ["Pandora's digital box: Pix and pixels"](http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2012/02/13/pandoras-digital-box-pix-and-pixels/), quoting Jan-Christopher Horak, Director, UCLA Film and Television Archive. ### Genres in general > "When will we realize that the fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to?" --George Bernard Shaw^[_A Treatise on Parents and Children_, 1910] Any field over a century old has built up a stock of masterpieces that could fill a lifetime.[^moretti] [^moretti]: This seems to go unrecognized sometimes in literary fields, with its close attention to the rare landmarks of literary history; [Franco Moretti](!Wikipedia) remarks in pg 3-4 of _Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History_ (2005): > "...what a minimal fraction of the literary field we all work on: a canon of two hundred novels, for instance, sounds very large for nineteenth-century Britain (and is much larger than the current one), but is still less than 1% of the novels that were actually published: twenty thousand, thirty, more, no one really knows—and close reading won't help here, a novel a day every day of the year would take a century or so." Fields that are new, or still technically developing, may not have enough. For example, video games - even the greatest arcade games from 20 or 30 years ago such as _[Pac-Man](!Wikipedia)_ or _[Space Invaders](!Wikipedia) has a hard time competing against mediocre contemporary games. Something similar may be true of modern television programs[^tv] (although presumably the development and sophistication is finished in still other modern formats like movies, which draw the most capable and most money). [^tv]: See _[Everything Bad Is Good for You](!Wikipedia)_, and the author's essay-summary ["Watching TV Makes You Smarter"](https://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/24/magazine/24TV.html?pagewanted=print); see also the [Flynn effect](!Wikipedia). Granting that new/developing argument, one only delays the day of reckoning, and as time passes, new fields are necessarily an ever smaller fraction of the general surplus of art. After all, while we may not be able divide up all art into categories of 'painting' or 'Russian novel', there is something we *can* count and which is absolutely crucial to the argument: time. Our lives are only so long, and they are denominated quite precisely, second by second. We have 500,000 hours^[$\text{total hours} - \text{sleeping hours}$, or,$80 \text{years} \times 365 \text{days} \times 24 \text{hours} = 700800$;$700800 - (\frac{1}{3} \times 700800) = 467200$]. Does it matter whether it's a ballet or a novel if we devote 3 of those hours to it? Artworks may be as non-commodified or incomparable or subjective as we please, but we can't get around our own limits. For our finite lives, it's good enough if we call it art. And we don't necessarily need to assume substitution of works *across* genres; given enough time, any genre will outrun your lifespan. As genres multiply, it becomes ever more difficult to argue that some new and small genre is the only one that can satisfy one and that it merits subsidy. (And yet, despite the scarcity of our attention, we fritter it away and value our time at next to nothing: someone watching an hour of TV is so worthless that after nearly a century, the most an advertiser can afford to pay the TV station for that person's attention is [20 cents](http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2011/03/your_attention.php).) ## Media shock > "The soul has no assignments, neither cooks\ > Nor referees: it wastes its time. It wastes its time.\ > Here in this enclave there are centuries\ > For you to waste...\ > The books, just leafed through, whisper endlessly." --Randal Jarrell^["A Girl in a Library", lines 32-29; _The Seven-League Crutches_] I hope I've made my point: we live in an age of *utter* media abundance. Like none before us, we can partake of the greatest works in all mediums of all ages. We do not sip from a fountain laboriously supplied by hard-working artists & authors, nor even guzzle from a fire-hose hooked up to a printing press; we are being shot off Niagara Falls. The impact alone will kill us. This has been true for a very long time. Even mediums dismissed as dead produce astounding quantities; the American magazine [_Poetry_](!Wikipedia "Poetry (magazine)") receives [100,000 poem submissions](http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-ent-0621-focus-poetry-foundation-20110620,0,1984480,full.story) a year. The [Bodleian Library](!Wikipedia) has been running out of space since the 1970s; it ordered a 13-acre warehouse with 153 miles of high-density shelving - and expects this to suffice for just 20 years^[["Vast bookstore opens as famed library runs out of space"](http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11484494), _BBC News_, 6 October 2010]. This abundance may not have been obvious before the Internet. The largest collection a person would ever run into would be his local library, and that is reassuringly small. It has a few dozen thousand volumes, perhaps, of which someone will want to read only a small fraction. A good reader could get through 1 book a day on average, and so one *could* encompass the whole in a lifetime. Who visits the Library of Congress and is struck by the physical reality of dozens of millions of items? No one. Between 2002 and 2009, publishing analysts [R.R. Bowker](!Wikipedia) estimated 6,785,915 [ISBNs](!Wikipedia) were assigned[^bowker]. ([Google Books](!Wikipedia) estimates there are >[130 million](http://booksearch.blogspot.com/2010/08/books-of-world-stand-up-and-be-counted.html) books.) One couldn't hope to buy more than one could consume either, as books and media are expensive per hour. (Niche consumer can expect even worse prices; at one point, American anime fans were paying more than$40 for <30 minutes^[Nor was this the extreme for that period. ["Remember when you had to pay 50 bucks for a two-episode VHS tape from Japan, plus shipping? Or, shudder, a hundred dollars to import a LaserDisc for a two-episode OAV that turned out to be total garbage? Those were dark times, my friend."](http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/answerman/2011-02-25) (_Anime News Network_)].) [^bowker]: Their [2010 report](http://www.bowkerinfo.com/pubtrack/AnnualBookProduction2010/ISBN_Output_2002-2010.pdf) is provisional about the 2010 ISBNs, and so I exclude them. Over 2002-2009, the number of ISBNs per year increased dramatically: 247777, 266322, 295523, 282500, 296352, 407646, 561580, 1335475, and 3092740. Nearly half the total came just from 2009! In a remarkable testament to the growth of electronic and print-on-demand publishers, Bowker [estimates for 2010](http://web.archive.org/web/20110716073604/http://www.bowker.com/index.php/press-releases/633-print-isnt-dead-says-bowkers-annual-book-production-report) that [BiblioBazaar](!Wikipedia) accounted for 1,461,918 ISBNs. But the Internet puts the equivalent of multiple Libraries of Congresses at one's fingertips. One only has to visit a BitTorrent tracker website and see the entries scroll off the screen for hundreds of pages, each representing a massive collection soaking up endless weeks and years. All of it is there for the taking. It can't be ignored. Everyone who wants a particular webpage or album or movie is forced to see the results of their search queries and muse, 'if my narrow request turned up *this* much - how much must there be in all?' The numbers become numbing if one projects out just a little way into the future: > "So far humans have created 500,000 different movies and about one million TV episodes. At least 11 million different songs have been recorded...If the current rates of inventiveness continue, in 2060 there will be 1.1 billion[^albums] unique songs and 12 billion different kinds of products for sale."^[pg 281 of Kevin Kelly's _[What Technology Wants](!Wikipedia)_ (2011).] [^albums]: Not unreasonable a figure, given how many albums and other works are released every year; from Oberholzer-Gee & Strumpf 2010: > "While album sales have generally fallen since 2000, the number of albums being created has exploded. In 2000, 35,516 albums were released. Seven years later, 79,695 albums (including 25,159 digital albums) were published (Nielsen SoundScan, 2008). > > Similar trends can be seen in other creative industries. For example, the worldwide number of feature films produced each year has increased from 3,807 in 2003 to 4,989 in 2007 (Screen Digest, 2004 and 2008). Countries where film piracy is rampant have typically increased production. This is true in South Korea (80 to 124), India (877 to 1164), and China (140 to 402). During this period, U.S. feature film production has increased from 459 feature films in 2003 to 590 in 2007 (MPAA, 2007)." 1.1 billion unique songs beggars the imagination. When I was a child, I would sometimes see how high I could count before I lost track, mentally counting in a blur; over a periods of many months, occasionally writing down the current number before bedtime, I managed to count to 2 million. The numbers began to appall me - ever since I have never seen the word 'number' without seeing 'numb' in it. But 2 million is tiny. It is barely $\frac{1}{600}$ of the raw numerical count of songs that I will live to see produced. Even individual sites or writers now surpass the human. Who has the time to read and understand all of [Donald Knuth](!Wikipedia)?[^knuth] Who can view every article and document and photograph and edit that streams through Wikipedia every second? I have seen sober estimates that if one were to start at the first Wikipedia article and read alphabetically, the percentage of Wikipedia one has read will go down over time, the articles were created so fast. Who can watch the [35 hours](http://youtube-global.blogspot.com/2010/11/great-scott-over-35-hours-of-video.html) of video uploaded to YouTube every minute? [^knuth]: From his [2006 interview](https://github.com/kragen/knuth-interview-2006): > "As you can see from my comments that I'm addicted to writing, I love the idea of communicating ideas to other people. I think, in every case, the books that I've written were things where I had learned about some phenomenon that I thought was just too good to keep to myself and so I wanted other people to share in the joy of reading it. So it turns out then that I have more than 20 books in print now and that's, you know, so many that I doubt that there's anybody in the world who's read more than half of them. And I sometimes think what tragedy it would be if there were ten people in the world like me because we wouldn't have time to read each other's books, you know, it doesn't scale up." This is a situation that old nostrums do not address. We do not need more creativity for the sake of creation^[See also Robin Hanson's brief essay. ["The Myth Of Creativity: Innovation matters, but releasing your inner bohemian isn't the answer"](http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_27/b3991115.htm)]. # Let's ban new books > "Consequently, it is soon recognised that they write for the sake of filling up the paper, and this is the case sometimes with the best authors... As soon as this is perceived the book should be thrown away, for time is precious. As a matter of fact, the author is cheating the reader as soon as he writes for the sake of filling up paper; because his pretext for writing is that he has something to impart...It is only the man who writes absolutely for the sake of the subject that writes anything worth writing. What an inestimable advantage it would be, if, in every branch of literature, there existed only a few but excellent books!" --Arthur Schopenhauer, ["On Authorship and Style"](http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/schopenhauer/arthur/essays/chapter3.html) With our too too short lives, and so much to see, one does oneself a great disservice by consuming anything but the best. And thus, do not authors & artists do us a disservice by creating mediocrity we, being only human, will at least try? Maybe these authors & artists are only creating [attractive nuisance](!Wikipedia)s! Let's look back on the argument: 1. Society ought to discourage economically inefficient activities.\ At least, it ought not to encourage inefficiency. It may not do this perfectly, but this is still a desiderata; special pleading for some activity, saying that some other activity or market is far more economically inefficient, is not a good reason. 2. If some good _a_ can be created to fill a need, and there is an existing & available good _b_ that fills that need equally well, then it is economically inefficient to use _a_ and not _b_. 3. Consumers of new art would be equally satisfied by existing art. 4. By 2 & 3: it is economically inefficient to produce new art. ∴ By 1 & 4: Society ought to discourage new art In short: old stuff is as good as the new, and it's cheaper; so making new stuff is wasteful. ## Objections One of the basic tactics with any objectionable argument is to see whether any of the inference steps are faulty. In this case, we can see that there is nothing wrong with the logic. So we're left with rejecting premises, or accepting the conclusion. Here's what we can reject: 1. that societies ought to encourage efficiency 2. that creating something when there's an existing object is inefficient 3. that old books can replace new ones. ### Society doesn't care? Now, #1 seems unobjectionable. To reject that premise is to argue either that society ought to discourage economic efficiency, or be neutral about efficiency. The former is obviously false. There are governmental programs and policies acknowledged to be economically inefficient, but everyone agrees that their inefficiency is a flaw, and the programs are justifiable not because of, but despite the inefficiency - they supposedly deliver some other benefit which compensates for the cost. If there were some alternative which was efficient, it would be better. Neutrality is not so obviously wrong. But voters consistently elect candidates who promise to grow the economy & make things better; and governments have a long history of supporting projects - like bridges & highways - whose justifications are that government ought to help make the economy more efficient. So it seems wrong as well. ### What's efficiency anyway? Premise #2 is weaker. To me, this premise about substitutability seems so obvious that I'm not sure how to defend it. If you need a glove, and you have a perfectly good one already, isn't spending 20 on a new glove the same thing as throwing your money away? Isn't #2 a generalization of this obvious fact? If you reject #2, I'm not really sure what economics you're working under. But there are a few objections we could classify under this heading, generally postulating [externalities](!Wikipedia), such as Keynesian thinking about stimulus spending. #### They Snatched Society's Brain! > "By this, my sonne, be admonished: of making many bookes there is no end, and much studie is a wearinesse of the flesh." --_Ecclesiastes_ 12:12 An interlocutor might suggest that perhaps the creation & consumption of new fiction or novels serves some laudable purpose beyond swelling libraries. Now, what good deeds could only *new* works produce? Certainly it's not edifying & educating our youth; it is not as if the pedagogy of Euclidean geometry has changed much over the last millennia, nor is 20th century fiction known for teaching moral lessons. But new fiction could be an important societal mechanism for discussing new developments and for pondering the future. SF would be an excellent example of this; the name preferred by connoisseurs - '[speculative fiction](!Wikipedia)' - points straight to this benefit, and creators often cite this as the non-entertainment value of their works[^sleepdealer]. Who but knows that the constant undercurrent of computers & cloning & space travel in SF has not helped society prepare for the future? Hasn't SF directly inspired any number of young men & women to enter the hard sciences (as opposed to dedicating their talents to, say, finance), with benefits redounding to all humanity? What's a dead-weight loss of billions a year compared with landing on the Moon? I find this argument uncomfortable. It's arguing that fiction is justified inasmuch as it makes superior propaganda[^propaganda]. It may be propaganda in the service of a noble & good cause, and swaying someone to choose a career in science is not as evil as propagandizing children into clearing Iraqi minefields with their bodies - but the morality of it is difficult. And a utilitarian might cavil about the benefits. Fiction can be unfairly persuasive, bypassing our rational faculties[^hanson]. (SF is often good inversely proportional to how much scientific truth it contains.) The author's motive may be malign as easily as benign. The author's intent may not even matter; psychology has found that [unrelated or false](http://web.archive.org/web/20040325202602/http://cebiz.org/ejj/PDF%20Papers/Incorporating%20the%20Irrelevant.PDF) (fictional?) input still affect substantially our beliefs (these effects are known as [priming](!Wikipedia "Priming (psychology)"), [anchoring](!Wikipedia), [availability heuristic](!Wikipedia) etc). This effects are not trivial; they change what purchases you make, determine whether you [like or dislike someone](http://pss.sagepub.com/content/20/10/1214), and they can lead to the formation of [vicious stereotypes](!Wikipedia "Priming (psychology)#In daily life"). [Priming and contamination](http://lesswrong.com/lw/k3/priming_and_contamination/) is very bad news for anyone who wants to think that they are *not* affected by the fiction they read. People seem to [believe what they dream](http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp962249.pdf "'When Dreaming Is Believing: The (Motivated) Interpretation of Dreams', Morewedge & Norton 2009") - what makes you so sure that you don't believe what fictions you read? > "The human brain evidently operates on some variation of the famous principle enunciated in [Lewis Carroll's] '[The Hunting of the Snark](!Wikipedia)': *'What I tell you 3 times is true.'*"^[[Norbert Weiner](!Wikipedia), _Cybernetics: Or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine_ (1948)] As a society, is it *good* to have our discussions and views about incredibly important matters like space exploration hijacked by fiction? It's hard to see why fiction would yield discussion of equal or superior quality to discussions based on non-fiction. [Fictional evidence](http://lesswrong.com/lw/k9/the_logical_fallacy_of_generalization_from/) is particularly fallacious. Consider discussions of [Artificial Intelligence](!Wikipedia); if one sees any mention of fictional entities like [HAL 9000](!Wikipedia) or [Skynet](!Wikipedia "Skynet (Terminator)"), one can stop reading immediately, for the exchange is surely worthless. A discussion about the nonfictional entities [SHRDLU](!Wikipedia) or [Eurisko](!Wikipedia), though, might be worthwhile. So either fiction is effective as propaganda and setting societal agendas, or it isn't. If the latter, then the loss is nil; if the former, then fiction is dangerous! #### Two sides of the same organ > "It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books...Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united-united with each other and against earlier and later ages-by a great mass of common assumptions....None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books." --[C.S. Lewis](!Wikipedia)^[his [Introduction](http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/athanasius/incarnation/incarnation.p.htm) to _The Incarnation of the Word of God_] > "And there never was a time, I believe, when those who read at all, read so many more books by living authors than books by dead authors; there never was a time so completely parochial, so shut off from the past...Individualistic democracy has come to high tide: and it is more difficult today to be an an individual than it ever was before." --[T.S. Eliot](!Wikipedia)^["Religion and Literature" 1935, as quoted in _The Paideia of God: And Other Essays on Education_ by Douglas Wilson.] Maybe there's a different externality. Instead of powering decision-making, or funneling people into science, maybe fiction serves as kind of a global brain - enabling creative thinking and breakthroughs that a more sober society will not. This thesis reminds me of the [Orson Welles](!Wikipedia) quote from _[The Third Man](!Wikipedia)_ that goes: > "...in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."^[On the other hand, Switzerland is, adjusted for size, one of the [most scientifically prolific](http://mangans.blogspot.com/2009/07/scientific-impact-of-nations.html) countries in the world. [Albert Einstein](!Wikipedia) was a Swiss citizen, incidentally.] The evidence for this idea might be that every great scientific or technological power was also strong in the humanities, and exceptions like Soviet Russia only prove the rule by creating scientific enclaves mimicking the freer countries. But of course, this might be confusing correlation with causation. What characterizes those countries is a general freedom of action & thought. Some incline to the arts, some to the sciences. Successes in both domains spring from a common cause, not each other. After all, if the arts could fertilize the sciences, one would expect some reciprocity - and the humanities have made [notoriously little use](!Wikipedia "The Two Cultures")^[And while the situation has gotten better since C.P. Snow's day, can we really say there's so much cross-fertilization as to prove this externality, or prove it of sufficient magnitude?] of science's techniques, worldview, or results. Conceptually, I see no problem with a nation of sober hard-headed engineers and scientists doing quite as well without the novelists. If we think of specifics, the idea of cross-fertilization retreats. What Elizabethan plays helped Isaac Newton? When Einstein thought of riding a beam of light, did the novels of Thomas Mann play any role? What hath [Stephen King](!Wikipedia) to do with [Stephen Hawking](!Wikipedia)? #### Won't someone think of the chemists? One could worry that the failure of fiction markets to find a sustainable model might mean the end for nonfiction material, which includes texts & research on things precious to us all such as vaccines. After all, many of the same arguments seem to apply to the flood of nonfiction material. [ProQuest](!Wikipedia)'s database includes 1.023 million PhD theses published in the last 30 years from just 151 American institutions;^[See ["Which universities lead and lag? Toward university rankings based on scholarly output"](http://www.stanford.edu/~dramage/papers/universities-nips10.pdf), Ramage 2010.] and it says [says](http://www.proquest.com/en-US/products/dissertations/) that its full database of PhD and Masters' theses runs to over 2 million, and is increasing at more than 70,000 works a year. Much of this material would seem to be sterile and unproductive, as can be scientific papers in general.^[Various disciplines have many papers and essays arguing that researchers deliberately inflate their paper counts to meet publishing requirements, pursue unproductive but publishable avenues, and are so lacking in rigor that many (or even [most](http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124)) results are wrong - so it would be difficult to offer any citations for such a broad claim. Mencius Moldbug has written a meandering & funny essay/blog post about [what is wrong with the field of computer science](http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/08/whats-wrong-with-cs-research.html), however, that conveys this general vein of thought.][^citation][^smallnumbers] [^citation]: One way of trying to measure productivity per researcher is to examine what experts/researchers in that area consider worth mentioning. Charles Murray examines encyclopedias and biographical dictionaries up to 1950 in _[Human Accomplishment](!Wikipedia)_ and finds, once one corrects for the explosive growth of the human population in recent centuries and the even more explosive growth in urbanized educated people, a decline. Less historically, one can simply look at how many published peer-reviewed papers go uncited for 5 years. If a paper is not cited once in that period, even just as part of a review, then one begins to wonder whether it is a good paper; and if a field publishes a lot of such papers, one begins to wonder about that field's researchers. There are many interesting statistics in this vein. From ["The Rise and Fall of Uncitedness"](http://crl.acrl.org/content/58/1/19.full.pdf), by Charles A. Schwartz: > "...55% of scientific articles do not receive a single citation within five years of publication. A few weeks later, another report in _Science_ by the same research body, the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), noted still higher rates of uncitedness for the social sciences (75%) and humanities (92%)....Among the new findings eventually produced, but not published, was the rate of uncitedness in [library and information science](!Wikipedia) (LIS). This rate turned out to be 72%...The popular press treated this issue with cavalier remarks, such as one attributed to a professor: ["If the bottom 80% of the literature just vanished, I doubt if the scientific enterprise would suffer."](http://www.newsweek.com/1991/01/13/gridlock-in-the-labs.html)'...Against ISI's initial 55% uncitedness rate for the physical sciences, one study found a 5% rate for astronomy and an 8% rate for physics. And against ISI's initial 75% uncitedness rate for the social sciences, another study found a 9% rate for sociology." There are quite a range of uncited estimates; to give just some ranges that particularly struck me, even after making allowance for all the possible confounding factors: - physical sciences: 55-14% 1. 72-34% engineering 2. 55-26% math 3. chemistry: 28% (nuclear chemistry 17%; applied chemistries: 78%) - social: 75-48% 1. international relations 83-53% 2. political science 90-58% - humanities: 98-93% 1. theater, American literature, architecture 99-95% 2. religious studies 98-93% Mark Bauerlein's [2011 report](http://centerforcollegeaffordability.org/uploads/Literary_Research_Bauerlein.pdf) [found](http://centerforcollegeaffordability.org/research/studies/literary-research-analysis) [that](http://chronicle.com/article/The-Research-Bust/129930/): > "Once those books and essays are published, the vast majority of them attract scant attention from other scholars—for example, of 16 research articles published by University of Vermont professors in 2004, 11 of them received 0–2 citations, three received 3–6 citations, one received seven citations, and one 11....Of 13 research articles published by current SUNY-Buffalo professors in 2004, 11 of them received zero to two citations, one had five, one 12. Of 23 articles by Georgia professors in 2004, 16 received zero to two citations, four of them three to six, one eight, one 11, and one 16....A 2000 book on Gerard Manley Hopkins collected four citations in eight relevant books on the poet published from 2007 to 2010. A 2003 book on Thomas Hardy garnered one citation in 16 relevant books published from 2007 to 2010. Of eight books published by Vermont professors from 2002 to 2005, four of them received zero to 10 citations in subsequent essays, and four received 11 to 20 (four of the top five were studies in film). There are, of course, some breakout items. One book by an Illinois professor collected 82 citations in essays, another one 57." It doesn't seem likely to improve, as institutions continue to allocate tenure and funding based on metrics like [impact factor](http://www.int-res.com/articles/esep2008/8/e008p009.pdf). From ["We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low-Quality Research"](http://chronicle.com/article/We-Must-Stop-the-Avalanche-of/65890/), _[The Chronicle of Higher Education](!Wikipedia)_: > "Consider this tally from _Science_ two decades ago: Only 45 percent of the articles published in the 4,500 top scientific journals were cited within the first five years after publication. In recent years, the figure seems to have dropped further. In [a 2009 article](http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1796008&show=abstract) in _Online Information Review_, Péter Jacsó found that 40.6 percent of the articles published in the top science and social-science journals (the figures do not include the humanities) were cited in the period 2002 to 2006." [^smallnumbers]: Nor are papers/articles the only scholarly productions which have extremely small audiences; conferences and monographs do not draw very many participants. From ["University Presses: Balancing Academic and Market Values"](http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/up.pdf), Mary M. Case; _ARL: A Bimonthly Report_ no. 193 (August 1997): > "Since libraries are the main market for scholarly monographs, the decline in the number of books purchased triggered university presses to reduce print runs. While print-runs of 1,000 to 1,500 copies were standard ten years ago, presses are now confronting sales of 400-500 copies. While sales do vary across disciplines and sub-disciplines, these low numbers hold true for even award-winning books in the less 'popular' fields." ["Reflections on University Press Publishing"](http://www.academicmatters.ca/2009/04/reflections-on-university-press-publishing/), Bill Harnum: > "The numbers are hard to quantify, given the wide variety of subject areas involved, but a fair estimate would be that the average sale of a scholarly monograph has shrunk from 600-700 copies in the 1980s to 300-400 copies in 2007. This reduction in sales units has led some publishers to increase their number of titles published annually as a means of maintaining their revenues. The phrase, "Flat is the new up" seems to be in vogue, meaning that no sales increase from year to year is the equivalent of the increases we have seen in the past." Dr. [Alex Reid](http://www.alex-reid.net/vita-1.html), ["On the value of academic blogging"](http://www.alex-reid.net/2011/03/on-the-value-of-academic-blogging.html): > "In my experience, the average audience for a conference presentation is <20." But this worry is unnecessary. There are several possibilities. The nonfiction market *could* be subsidized. This is quite justifiable. Science, after all, is heavily subsidized already. Why? Because it has enormous value ^[How much economic growth since the Middle Ages has been due to science & technology, and not solely increased population & resource exploitation? Most of the growth...] and new research can't be replaced by old, almost by definition. There's intrinsic value to populating new chapters and books with new results, value that isn't there with fiction. The nonfiction market could survive as the fiction market withers away. Fields might lose the subsidy of students forced to buy the latest trivially-changed edition, but that's a predatory subsidy and more valuable to the publishers than the academic authors, so the loss would be minimal. ### Accept no substitutes, or, I can't believe it's not Octavia Butler The claim of #3 is that we can, without loss, switch everyone over from reading contemporary fiction to not-so-contemporary fiction. I daresay this is the premise everyone will question immediately. The classics are an essential part of an intellectually balanced breakfast, but can they be all of it? That is, would creating new works move us to a optimal selection of works, a move large enough that it pays for all the costs involved? This seems immediately obviously true, but *is it*? Why can't new works just rearrange rankings, and merely displace equally good works? ### Lost works In many respects, much of fiction is worthless. For example, the medieval Japanese believed that _[The Tale of Genji](!Wikipedia)_ was missing several chapters. Suppose this were true? How exactly has the world been harmed? People seem to enjoy _Genji monogatari_ quite well enough. Would the discovery of 3 or 4 concluding chapters *improve* the work? Clearly it would lead to a great deal of work being done, since textbooks and papers would have to be updated, but how likely is it that the extra chapters will make _Genji_ a greater work? _Genji_ isn't the most tightly plotted work. If an act were cut out of _[Macbeth](!Wikipedia)_, it would be a poorer play for it, and many poems would suffer for losing a stanza; but plays and poems are usually written with an eye to performance - there's a premium on length that isn't there with novels. Consider [Charles Dickens](!Wikipedia)'s _[The Pickwick Papers](!Wikipedia)_. If 100 pages dropped right out of the middle, do you think any new readers would notice? Or if a few heroic hexameters dropped out of the _[Iliad](!Wikipedia)_, would our enjoyment be any less? 'Even Homer nods'; it is the entire work that is valuable. People might *say* that they would derive much less enjoyment from an incomplete, edited, or abridged version, but I don't know how much we can trust such utterances. They might just be making a ritual genuflection to the eminent author, or upholding a social image as a person who cares about accuracy, completeness, and authenticity. If we can't, if there is some ceiling of _n_ utilons of enjoyment which is reached by many books, then premise #3 is saved. Further, there is a great deal of historical evidence that we have lost awe-inspiring works, yet no one but scholars particularly lament them. There is the [Library of Alexandria](!Wikipedia) and [Qin Shi Huang](!Wikipedia)'s [Burning of books and burying of scholars](!Wikipedia), to cite two famous mass losses, but in general the great classics survive in surprisingly few numbers; _[Beowulf](!Wikipedia)_ survived only in one (fire-damaged) copy, and the Eddas (almost the sole sources for [Norse mythology](!Wikipedia)) likewise. The Greek plays suffered similar losses (7 of [Sophocles](!Wikipedia)'s >123, 7 of [Aeschylus](!Wikipedia)'s 90, 19 of [Euripedes](!Wikipedia)'s 92), and what survived were not always the best works^[Charles Murray comments, "One of the greatest of Euripides's surviving works, _[The Trojan Women](!Wikipedia)_, won only second prize in a contemporary competition. We know nothing about the play that came in first." (pg 277, _Human Accomplishment_)]. And literature is favored as words can be reproduced; the Greek music Plato & Aristotle considered so important, or the Chinese music Confucius considered equally vital? Gone. Greek art is little better - who even knows that Greek statues were not austere marble but *painted*? But can we assume that there's a common valuation for how enjoyable all books are? _[Moby Dick](!Wikipedia)_ is quite different from _[The Importance of Being Earnest](!Wikipedia)_. Alice may value the former much less than the latter, while Bob wants a nautical drama & not a comedy of manners. In this case, because both works exist, both Alice & Bob can be satisfied and we reach an optimum. But what if the book Bob desires hasn't been published, but would be soon if there were a market? He will be saddened to have to read of butlers and harpooners instead of the shadow war of [Pirates versus Ninjas](!Wikipedia). In this binary case, Alice will still be fine, but Bob will be worse off. The full example is not so bad for us, though. It's plausible that Bob would enjoy _Pirates vs. Ninja: The Stabbening_ more than _Moby Dick_ if those were the only 2 choices. But there are over 32 million books in the [Library of Congress](!Wikipedia); is Bob so extraordinarily picky that not a single existing book would be as or more enjoyable than PvN? This is not so implausible; American culture stagnated in many ways during the 20th century. The economist [Tyler Cowen](!Wikipedia) [considers](http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/08/what-if-culture-froze.html) a reader's thought experiment: > "...what if the law said we couldn't make any new art (movies, novels, music etc). And perhaps said we ought to rerelease each year the art that first appeared 50 or 30 years ago. How would people's leisure activity and society's cultural evolution change?" And replies ^[Links as in original.]: > "After the adjustment process, I believe that matters would settle in an orderly fashion, although whether we pick the art from 30 or 50 years ago would make a big difference in terms of the required rejiggling of our aesthetic sensibilities. We would pick out [bestsellers from 30 or 50 years ago](http://greatpenformances.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/1959-bestselling-novels/) and some of them would be in demand, if only because people wish to share common cultural experiences. Overall it is the more obscure books from that era that would likely rise to be the bestsellers today.\ > 1979 is barely an aesthetic leap; could not _The Clash_ be a hit today? How about Madonna? Is it so ridiculous to think that people still might go hear _The Rolling Stones_ or Paul McCartney in concert?" In the same vein, [John Taylor](!Wikipedia "John Taylor (bass guitarist)") ([bassist](!Wikipedia) for _[Duran Duran](!Wikipedia)_), who is unhappy with the "slow down"^[He is not the only one diagnosing this slowdown; see composer [Glenn Branca](!Wikipedia)'s ["The Score: The End of Music"](http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/the-end-of-music/) for another lament.] of "innovative culture" (and music in particular), admits that: > "Most students I know have an extremely broad appreciation of music.... > My stepson is at New York University (NYU) and he was telling me how he's currently into Cole Porter, music from the 1920s and swing music from the 40s. So the availability and accessibility of music on the internet today is truly incredible, and I applaud anything that can inspire interest or curiosity in anyone.\ > But this also means that those of us who before would have been looking towards the current culture for inspiration are now often to be found, like my stepson, in various backwaters of older music.\ > This relative lack of need for current, innovative culture can cause, has caused, is causing - maybe - the innovative culture to slow down, much as an assembly line in Detroit slows down and lay-offs have to be made when the demand for a new model recedes."^[["Is the internet stifling new music?"](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8347178.stm), 9 November 2009, _BBC News_] Pejorative language aside ([Cole Porter](!Wikipedia) is a backwater?), does Taylor's grandson sound unhappy with old music? Would he be unhappy if his choices were universalized and less new music were created as a result? #### In-progress works But, you say, [Herbert](!Wikipedia "Frank Herbert") & Wolfe are fine, but dammit you have a hunger for some [Cory Doctorow](!Wikipedia), and can't help but be curious as to how the deuce _The Wheel of Time_ will end. OK, fine. There are ~300 million Americans who couldn't care less if a market dissolution balked you. And of course, the problem of works-in-progress is a problem that solves itself: Doctorow must one day die, and if he shuffles off the mortal coil tomorrow, then your situation was the same as mine - except with a slightly higher upper bound. And even if you were balked, or in-progress series permitted to finish, that's a fixed one-time cost^[One-time, of course. It's hard to imagine what an on-going cost for in-progress works might be. People dreaming up possible series and being unhappy that they won't be written? But we hardly are concerned by ['ten thousand freaks that died in thinking'](!Wikipedia "Absalom and Achitophel").]. It may cost quite a bit to liquidate all the companies and shift their assets into more productive occupations; some people will never shift. But that's [creative destruction](!Wikipedia) for you: the long-term benefits win in the long run. #### New book smell Maybe there's something intrinsically better about new books. Not that they deal with new subjects - we addressed that earlier - but perhaps it's about the style, or appearance, or apparent novelty. Maybe when one looks at _[Tom Jones](!Wikipedia "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling")_, the antique language instantly subtracts 10 utilons even if it's still comprehensible. But the language can't be the reason. Maybe Shakespeare and Chaucer aren't as enjoyable and this explains why they aren't as popular as they should be given their eminence, but for this to explain why books from the '50s or '60s are very unpopular or why books from the '00s sell better than books from the '90s - despite them all reading much the same[^language], we need to posit large penalties and attribute to readers remarkable powers of discrimination. (And we could argue that the existing relatively low level of support for new works compared to other forms of recreation like professional sports indicates that new book smell is even less valuable than one might expect just from sales.[^sports]) [^sports]: Professional sports and Olympic sports routinely break world records as they develop ever more effective training & teaching methods, and scour the populace for people capable of historic performance; chess has followed a similar trajectory with [Magnus Carlsen](!Wikipedia) becoming a grandmaster at age 13 & peaking - for now - just below his not-too-distant predecessor (and greatest chess player in history), Garry Kasparov. The Dominican Republic is vastly overrepresented in baseball, demonstrating that there is tremendous latent reserves of world-class baseball players in even tiny populations. Baseball statistician & writer [Bill James](!Wikipedia) says in [an excerpt](http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2011/03/shakespeare_and_verlander.html) from his book _Solid Fool's Gold: Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom_: > "I believe that there is a Shakespeare in Topeka today, that there is a Ben Jonson, that there is a Marlowe and a Bacon, most likely, but that we are unlikely ever to know who these people are because our society does not encourage excellence in literature. That's my opinion. This observation is nowhere near as gloomy as it might seem. Our society is very, very good at developing certain types of skills and certain types of genius. We are fantastically good at identifying and developing athletic skills—better than we are, really, at almost anything else. We are quite good at developing and rewarding inventiveness. We are pretty good at developing the skills necessary to run a small business—a fast food restaurant, for example. We're really, really good at teaching people how to drive automobiles and how to find a coffee shop. > > We are not so good at developing great writers, it is true, but why is this? It is simply because we don't need them. We still have Shakespeare. We still have Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson; their books are still around. We don't genuinely need more literary geniuses. One can only read so many books in a lifetime. We need new athletes all the time because we need new games every day—fudging just a little on the definition of the word need. We like to have new games every day, and, if we are to have a constant and endless flow of games, we need a constant flow of athletes. We have gotten to be very, very good at developing the same. > >...The average city the size of Topeka produces a major league player every 10 or 15 years. If we did the same things for young writers, every city would produce a Shakespeare or a Dickens or at least a Graham Greene every 10 or 15 years. Instead, we tell the young writers that they should work on their craft for 20 or 25 years, get to be really, really good—among the best in the world—and then we'll give them a little bit of recognition." Could it be due to '[spoilers](!Wikipedia "Spoiler (media)")'? Some spoilers, like King Kong dying or Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father, are so universal as to 'spoil' pretty much anyone who would watch those movies. A new work, however, has a long lag before the 'spoilers' escape into the general population, and so if spoilers destroyed the pleasure people take in works, one would naturally expect people to gravitate towards newer works. While commonly voiced, this suggestion can only be part of the picture. Only the very most prominent works can be spoiled inadvertently; '[Snape killed Dumbledore](http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Snape%20killed%20Dumbledore)' or '[Aeris dies](https://www.xkcd.com/299/)' were successful spoiler [memes](!Wikipedia) only because the book and video game (respectively) sold millions of copies and were major cultural events. By definition, there are only a small number of such works. Perhaps a handful of such books or movies or games would be involuntarily spoiled each year, leaving *thousands* of other new works being produced despite no anti-spoiler advantage. Further, if this were the sole reason for new works, we would have the odd situation that people apparently are willing to spend many billions to encourage production of as-yet-unspoiled works, but will do nothing else to stem the spread of spoilers - even though a [negative externality](!Wikipedia) in the billions calls out for prevention or regulation of some sort. Society quite successfully stems the spread of other categories of undesirable information like private information or information on weapons of mass destruction or child pornography, and spoilers would seem to be far easier to suppress than any existing category of information. Finally, and most damning, the minimal research on the topic of spoilers suggests that the net displeasure caused by spoilers is minimal, and if anything, spoilers actively cause one to enjoy a work more[^lehrer]. [^lehrer]: From [Jonah Lehrer](!Wikipedia)'s ["Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything"](http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/spoilers-dont-spoil-anything/), _Wired_, discussing the study ["Story Spoilers Don't Spoil Stories"](http://psy2.ucsd.edu/~nchristenfeld/Publications_files/Spoilers.pdf) (_Psychological Science_ 2011) > "I've always assumed that this reading style [reading the ending first] is a perverse personal habit, a symptom of a flawed literary intelligence. It turns out, though, that I was just ahead of the curve, because spoilers don't spoil anything. In fact, a new study [upcoming in _Psychological Science_] suggests that spoilers can actually *increase* our enjoyment of literature. Although we've long assumed that the suspense makes the story — we keep on reading because we don't know what happens next — this new research suggests that the tension actually detracts from our enjoyment. > > The experiment itself was simple: Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego gave several dozen undergraduates 12 different short stories. The stories came in three different flavors: ironic twist stories (such as Chekhov's ["The Bet"](!Wikipedia "The Bet (short story)")), straight up mysteries ("A Chess Problem" by Agatha Christie) and so-called "literary stories" by writers like Updike and Carver. Some subjects read the story as is, without a spoiler. Some read the story with a spoiler carefully embedded in the actual text, as if Chekhov himself had given away the end. And some read the story with a spoiler disclaimer in the preface. > > ...The first thing you probably noticed is that people don't like literary stories. (And that's a shame, because Updike's "Plumbing" is a masterpiece of prose: "All around us, we are outlasted….") But you might also have noticed that *almost every single story*, regardless of genre, was more pleasurable when prefaced with a spoiler. This suggests that I read fiction the right way, beginning with the end and working backwards. I like the story more because the suspense is contained." If there is a new book smell, and it can explain why books from the recent past are less popular than new book, then that means it is nothing intrinsic about the books themselves. Which suggests that it's a matter of consumer perception; marketing has a long history of altering consumer perceptions for fun & profit. There may be no new book smell at all: it may simply be that new materials 'crowd out' previous publications in catalogs or locations with limited space[^Simkin]. [^Simkin]: ["Why does attention to web articles fall with time?"](http://arxiv.org/pdf/1202.3492v1.pdf), Simkin & Roychowdhury 2012: > "We analyze access statistics for a few dozen blog entries for a period of several years. Access rate falls as an inverse power of time passed since publication. The power law holds for periods up to thousand days. The exponents are different for different blogs and are distributed between 1 and 3. Decay of attention to aging web articles has been reported before and two explanations were proposed. One explanation introduced some decaying with time novelty factor. Another used some intricate theory of human dynamics. We argue that the decay of attention to a web article is simply caused by the link to it first dropping down the list of links on the website’s front page, disappearing from the front page and subsequent movement further into background. > > ...The probability of following a link depends not only on its position in the list, but also on how attractive is its description. The attractiveness factor is constant and does not vary from day to day. Naturally, it influences only a prefactor and not the power law exponent. At different times, Reality Carnival linked to two webpages from reverent.org. One can see from Figure 2(a) that the prefactors differ 1.5 times, but exponents are the same within 2%. Similar pattern holds for three other blogs shown in Fig. 2." If new books ceased to be written, then the publishers of the existing books will have to compete on other grounds, such as price and marketing - which would include faking new book smell. If people are so frequently mistaken about what they would enjoy most now, surely they can be mistaken in the future about new book smell. The modern success of Jane Austen and of lightly edited versions such as _[Pride and Prejudice and Zombies](!Wikipedia)_ demonstrates that the centuries need be no bar. #### The experimental results Existing research on things like the [mere exposure effect](!Wikipedia) suggest that much of esthetics might be trained and essentially arbitrary: > "In a 2003 study, psychologist James Cutting (2003, 2006) briefly exposed undergraduate psychology students to canonical and lesser-known Impressionist paintings (the lesser-known works exposed four times as often), with the result that after exposure, subjects preferred the lesser-known works more often than did the control group. Cutting took this result to show that canon formation is a result of cultural exposure over time. He further took this to show that the subjects’ judgments were not merely a product of the quality of the works. “If observers were able to judge quality alone in the image pairs, their judgments should not have been contaminated by appearance differences in the classroom. To be sure, quality could still play a role, but such an account must then rely on two processes- mere exposure and quality assessment (however that might be done). My proposal is that these are one-process results and done on the basis of mere exposure inside and outside the classroom” (Cutting 2003, 335)."^[["Mere Exposure to Bad Art: Experiment Results"](http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/2011/10/mere-exposure-to-bad-art-experiment-results.html), Margaret Moore] A followup found that in some cases, exposure to art decreased liking[^moore] (a result seen in some of the [mere-exposure effect](!Wikipedia) studies); exposure to lower-quality formats can cause the development of active preference for the artifacts of the lower-quality, a phenomenon we may be seeing with the MP3 audio format^[I qualify it because the claim comes from a professor based on [informal testing of his students](http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/03/the-sizzling-sound-of-music.html "The Sizzling Sound of Music"), and the one published study I know of, by [Sean Olive](http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2010/06/some-new-evidence-that-generation-y.html "Some New Evidence That Generation Y May Prefer Accurate Sound Reproduction"), did not reproduce the finding, plausible as it seems.], and one wonders how much social pressures play a role in perception, given historical anecdotes like Edison's phonographs being hailed as indistinguishable by (his contemporary, not modern) audiences[^Edison]. Other studies demonstrate specific connections to such contingent properties as perceived prestige; we've all heard of the many hilarious [wine-tasting results](!Wikipedia "Wine tasting#Blind tasting") where even individual judges flatly contradict themselves, but there are more value-neutral examples like the [McGurk effect](!Wikipedia) where what you expect is what you get fMRI studies are revealing interesting things like the neural correlates of pleasantness [increasing with price](http://www.pnas.org/content/105/3/1050.abstract) or spikes in value-assessment regions and increased activation in regions which look like subjects trying to find something to criticize and justify their prejudice.[^Rembrandt] [^Edison]: ["Pandora’s digital box: From films to files"](http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2012/02/28/pandoras-digital-box-from-films-to-files/), [David Bordwell](!Wikipedia) > "...This raises the fascinating question of changing perceptual frames of reference. My friend knew the film [_[Night of the Living Dead](!Wikipedia)_] very well, and he’d watched it many times on VHS. Did he somehow see the 16 screening as just a bigger tape replay? Did none of its superiority register? Maybe not. From 1915 to 1925, [Thomas Edison](!Wikipedia) demonstrated his Diamond Disc Phonograph by inviting audiences to compare live performances with recordings. His publicists came up with the celebrated Tone Tests. A singer on stage would stand by while the disc began to play. Abruptly the disc would be turned down and the singer would continue without missing a note. Then the singer would stop and the disc, now turned up, would pick up the thread of melody. Greg Milner writes of the first demonstration: > >> 'The record continued playing, with [the contralto Christine] Miller onstage dipping in and out of it like a DJ. The audience cheered every time she stopped moving her lips and let the record sing for her.' > > At one point the lights went out, but the music continued. The audience could not tell when Miller stopped and the playback started. The Tone Tests toured the world. According the publicity machine run by the Wizard of Menlo Park, millions of people witnessed them and no one could unerringly distinguish the performers from their recording. Edison’s sound recording was acoustic, not electrical, and so it sounds hopelessly unrealistic to us today. (You can sample some tunes [here](http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/edhtml/edgenre.html#vocal "Overview of the Edison Diamond Discs Recordings by Genre (1912-1929)").) And there’s some evidence, as Milner points out, that singers learned to imitate the squeezed quality of the recordings. But if the audiences were fairly regularly fooled, it suggests that our sense of what sounds, or looks, right, is both untrustworthy and changeable over history." [^Rembrandt]: ["Human cortical activity evoked by the assignment of authenticity when viewing works of art"](http://www.frontiersin.org/human%20neuroscience/10.3389/fnhum.2011.00134/abstract); [Jonah Lehrer's](http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/12/how-does-the-brain-perceive-art/) summary: > "Many of these variables are capable of distorting our perceptions, so that we imagine differences that don’t actually exist; the verdict of art history warps what we see. The power of a Rembrandt, in other words, is inseparable from the fact that it’s a Rembrandt. The man is a potent brand. To test these competing hypotheses, a team of researchers at Oxford University, including Mengfei Huang, Holly Bridge, Martin Kemp and Andrew Parker, set up a simple experiment. They recruited 14 volunteers who were familiar with Rembrandt but had no formal training in art history. The subjects were then put into an fMRI machine and given the following instructions: > >> In this experiment you will see a sequence of 50 Rembrandt paintings. Before each image appears, an audio prompt will announce whether the upcoming painting is ‘authentic’ or a ‘copy’ (Please see background for further information on copies). A blank screen will appear for a few seconds after each image to allow you to relax your gaze. > > ...The mischievous scientists reversed the attribution of the paintings, so that half of the subjects were told that the real Rembrandts were actually copies...That said, it’s not exactly surprising that such similar paintings would elicit virtually identical sensory responses. It takes years of training before critics can reliably discern real Rembrandt from copies. And even then there is often extensive disagreement, as the 1995 Metropolitan show demonstrates. However, the scientists did locate a pattern of activity that appeared whenever a painting was deemed to be authentic, regardless of whether or not it was actually “real.” In such instances, subjects showed a spike in activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a chunk of brain just behind the eyes that is often associated with perceptions of reward, pleasure and monetary gain. (According to the scientists, this activation reflects “the increase in the perceived value of the artwork.”) Interestingly, there was no difference in orbitofrontal response when the stamp of authenticity was applied to a fake Rembrandt, as the brain area responded just as robustly. The quality of art seemed to be irrelevant. The last meaningful result from the fMRI experiment came when the subjects stared at the inauthentic portraits. It turns out that these fake Rembrandts generated the strongest activations, both in the frontopolar cortex and precuneus. The scientists explain this activation in terms of working memory, as the people were actively trying to “detect the flaws in the presented image.” Because the portraits looked like real Rembrandts — and in many instances were — the subjects were forced to search for visual blemishes to justify the negative verdict, analyzing the paintings for flaws and mistakes that Rembrandt would never make. All of this mental analysis requires frontal lobe activity; being a critic is hard work. Here is Parker, summarizing the results: > >> Our findings support the idea that when people make aesthetic judgements, they are subject to a variety of influences. Not all of these are immediately articulated. Indeed, some may be inaccessible to direct introspection but their presence might be revealed by brain imaging. It suggests that different regions of the brain interact together when a complex judgment is formed, rather than there being a single area of the brain that deals with aesthetic judgements." But we can to some extent get a handle on what degree popularity or rankings corresponds to any intrinsic esthetic quality by running experiments using very obscure works. If there is a very close connection between quality and popularity, then that undermines my case: new works are extremely popular and often ranked very high (as a percentage of *all* works), so any reduction in new works would come at a corresponding esthetic losses. But conversely, the more random and unconnected to quality our ratings are, the less we should care about producing new works. We don't know what quality is, or don't care, or have some sort of self-discipline problem and can't make ourselves prefer what we ought to, or something. [^moore]: The same post summarizes the experiment Moore et al ran: > "We replicated Cutting’s study exposing subjects to 12 little-known late landscapes of [John Everett Millais](!Wikipedia), alongside 48 paintings by the American artist [Thomas Kinkade](!Wikipedia), (again, half of each group of paintings were exposed four times as often). We asked control groups[1] and the experimental group to express the extent to which they liked each painting using a 10 point Likert scale. We found that with bad paintings by Kinkade, exposure decreased, rather than increased, liking in relation to our control groups. > > ...The experiment subjects had been exposed to all 60 paintings in the study at least once. In light of this, we distinguished between those paintings to which that group had been exposed once versus those to which they had been exposed multiple times. That is, we compiled results for four groups of paintings: Millais (single exposure); Millais (multiple exposure); Kinkade (single exposure); and Kinkade (multiple exposure). Comparing the ratings given by our experimental subjects to those given by the members of our philosophy control group, we observed almost uniformly lower ratings for the Kinkade paintings. 47 out of 48 Kinkades received lower mean liking scores from the experimental subjects than they received from those in the unexposed control group. This resulted in mean scores of 5.9 (control) versus 5.1 (experiment) for the single exposure Kinkade paintings, and mean scores of 5.74 (control) versus 4.75 (experiment) for the multiple exposure Kinkades." What do we find in the experiments? We find the results are not *completely* random, but they're pretty close. A 2006 study, ["Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market"](https://www.princeton.edu/~mjs3/salganik_dodds_watts06_full.pdf), took 14,300 online participants and presented them with a screen full of songs and asked them to rank them. Half were presented with information on how popular a song was (as measured by downloads after listening), and half were not. The rankings differed drastically between the two groups. Obviously, this is a major blow to any belief that the jewels will rise to the top, since *both* groups can't be right. But which? The researchers were clever, and further subdivided the 7,000 shown the popularity information into 7 subsections, which were shown the popularity information for their own particular subsection (each subsection starting with 0 downloads for each song); each subsection popularity ranking clashed with all the others. In other words, the social-influenced rankings were substantially random. They disagreed with the aggregated independent rankings of quality, and with all the other social-influenced rankings. (If 2 contradictory rankings cannot be correct, what about *9*?) The most assurance the authors can give us is that "The best songs rarely did poorly, and the worst rarely did well, but any other result was possible." This matches well with [randomized models](http://cultural-science.org/FeastPapers2008/AlexBentley1Bp.pdf) of cultural diffusion. A 2008 followup, ["Leading the Herd Astray: An Experimental Study of Self-fulfilling Prophecies in an Artificial Cultural Market"](http://research.yahoo.com/files/s_w_SPQ_08.pdf), found that with a subsequent 12,000 participants, songs could be *made* popular just by telling participants that they were popular, although again the best songs tended to recover somewhat. One might hope that cultural experts like literature professors and critics would give us true rankings of quality, and so we could at least trust the canonical rankings, but that seems quite desperate; such experts have more social pressures available than a mere download count, professional pressures, etc. If [ethicists are not more ethical](http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/16/ethics) (to cite just one of many examples), why would we expect critics to be more critical? There is a fundamental tension in these discussions, between the revealed preferences of people and a claimed enjoyment or esthetic factor; if the latter really are greater for older works, why do people choose the inferior goods? One general observation is that people in general may not benefit from additional choices, as they suffer [willpower depletion](!Wikipedia). This ties into the observation that many studies point to an paradigm in which people do not evaluate choices based on the total benefits each choice delivers (with a fixed time penalty, [exponential discounting](!Wikipedia)), but rather based on a constantly mutating time factor which short-changes the future for the present ([hyperbolic discounting](!Wikipedia)); with hyperbolic discounting, an otherwise rational agent can *know* he would receive many more utilons from reading his Dickens novel, but because Dickens would pay off slowly, he would choose the trashy magazine, again and again, winding up with a lower total utilon score - by his own reckoning! - than if he had just sat down to Dickens.^[This sort of paradox is why exponential discounting is almost universally considered a more rational discounting scheme, and indeed, places where outcomes really matter, like finance, use exponential discounting. But it doesn't come easy; it can take significant financial penalties and rewards ti force people to adopt more exponential schemes.] An [imaging study](http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Berns-Moore-A-Neural-Predictor-of-Cultural-Popularity.pdf)[^berns] found that they could predict sales data for songs by measuring activation in the [ventral striatum](!Wikipedia) (a very low-level part of the brain, strongly linked with emotions & weakly linked to instincts), and predict better than asking the participants what song they liked. All this suggests to me that esthetic works is one of the rare situations where taking *away* choices can make people *better off*. [^berns]: "A Neural Predictor of Cultural Popularity", abstract: > "How can we predict popularity? Although superficially a trivial question, the desire for popularity consumes a great portion of the lives of many youths and adults. Being popular is a marker for social status, and consequently, would seem to confer a reproductive advantage in the evolution of the human species, thus explaining the importance of popularity to humans. Such importance extends to economic success as well because goods and services that are popular command higher prices. Here, we are interested in predicting cultural popularity - something that is popular in the broadest sense and appeals to a large number of individuals. Neuroeconomic research suggests that activity in reward-related regions of the brain, notably the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum 1-4, is predictive of future purchasing decisions, but it is unknown whether the neural signals of a small group of individuals are predictive of the purchasing decisions of the population at large. For neuroimaging to be useful as a measure of widespread popularity, these neural responses would have to generalize to a much larger population that is not the direct subject of the brain imaging itself. Moreover, to be useful as a predictor, such a test would need to be done prospectively. Here, we test the possibility of using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to predict the relative popularity of a common good: music. We used fMRI to measure the brain responses of a focus group of adolescents while listening to songs of relatively unknown artists 5. As a measure of popularity, the sales of these songs were totaled for the three years follow ing scanning, and brain responses were then correlated with these "future" earnings. Although subjective likability of the songs was not predictive of sales, activity within the ventral striatum was significantly correlated with the number of units sold. These results suggest that the neural responses to goods are not only predictive of purchase decisions for those individuals actually scanned, but such responses generalize to the population at large and may be used to predict cultural popularity." # At the end of the day > "There is nothing so absurd but that some philosopher has said it." --[Cicero](!Wikipedia)^[_De Divinatione_, bk. 2, sct. 58] > "The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, & to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it." --[Bertrand Russell](!Wikipedia)^["The Philosophy of [Logical Atomism](!Wikipedia)"] > "But I had become aware, even so early as during my college life, that no opinion, however absurd and incredible, can be imagined, which has not been maintained by some on of the philosophers; and afterwards in the course of my travels I remarked that all those whose opinions are decidedly repugnant to ours are not in that account barbarians and savages, but on the contrary that many of these nations make an equally good, if not better, use of their reason than we do." --[René Descartes](!Wikisource "Discourse on the Method/Part 2") We've covered quite a bit of ground here. There are a number of different theses I've tried to argue for here: - There's more fiction then anyone could hope to consume - People would be happier reading only the best fiction - It's easier to figure out what the good old fiction is, than it is new fiction - there's also more good old fiction than good new fiction - people write too much new fiction - they also read too much - Society shouldn't subsidize economically inefficient things like new fiction - We might go so far as to suggest a [Pigovian tax](!Wikipedia) on new works because they encourage their own consumption - The uses of fiction are much less than one might think, and many of those uses are propagandistic, dangerous, or both - Subsidizing the nonfiction market may be justifiable I hope you've been convinced of at least 2 or 3 of these theses. I want to reject the idea that new works should not be encouraged, but the only class of objections that can hold any water is the non-substitutability one, and I don't see any solid arguments there. People *are* better off reading the best books, and the best ones *are* predominately the ones that already exist, there *is* more than can be read, and new books have no compelling advantage over the classics. The economics place me against new fiction. And when I remember how people are beguiled by new fiction into reading crap, I find myself placed against new fiction on esthetic grounds as well! I have started with common-sense grounds and wound up somewhere strange. [^scratch]: I suspect, as does author [Charles Stross](!Wikipedia) (["Why the commercial ebook market is broken"](http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/03/why_the_commercial_ebook_marke.html)), that book publishers and Amazon are taking a considerable percentage of the ebook revenue, since in this _[New Yorker](!Wikipedia)_ article, Amazon expected a newspaper publisher to agree to give Amazon 70% of the subscription fees; Amazon has monopoly control over the Kindle, and it is reasonable to think that they are similarly demanding of book publishers. From ["Priced to Sell: Is Free the Future?"](http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/07/06/090706crbo_books_gladwell), 6 July 2009, by [Malcolm Gladwell](!Wikipedia): > "At a hearing on Capitol Hill in May, James Moroney, the publisher of the [Dallas Morning News](!Wikipedia), told Congress about negotiations he'd just had with the online retailer Amazon. The idea was to license his newspaper's content to the Kindle, Amazon's new electronic reader. "They want seventy per cent of the subscription revenue," Moroney testified. "I get thirty per cent, they get seventy per cent. On top of that, they have said we get the right to republish your intellectual property to any portable device."\ > The idea was that if a Kindle subscription to the Dallas Morning News cost ten dollars a month, seven dollars of that belonged to Amazon, the provider of the gadget on which the news was read, and just three dollars belonged to the newspaper, the provider of an expensive and ever-changing variety of editorial content. The people at Amazon valued the newspaper's contribution so little, in fact, that they felt they ought then to be able to license it to anyone else they wanted." _[Slate Magazine](!Wikipedia)_ [article](http://www.slate.com/id/2230821/) takes the opposite view: that Amazon is *losing* a great deal of money on each ebook: > "...Amazon pays the same wholesale price for Kindle books as it does for real books—generally 50 percent of the list price. For a typical hardback that retails for26—say, E.L. Doctorow's _Homer & Langley_—Amazon pays $13 and then sells it for$9.99 on the Kindle, taking a $3 loss on each sale. (The longer-term strategy, publishers fear, is that once the Kindle gains significant market share, Amazon will negotiate lower wholesale prices for digital versions.)" [^subsidy]: I'm using 'subsidy' in a broad sense. Intellectual property laws are subsidies; stronger IP law or more vigorous enforcement is more government subsidy of the protected _[rentiers](!Wikipedia "rentier")_; universities hiring professors of creative writing or English and enabling them to write their books on sabbaticals or summer vacations, and publishing them at or below cost - those are subsidies as well. Tax breaks are subsidies, etc. [^rate]: A rate which, if surveys are to be believed, puts me in a quite rarefied percentile; eg ["One in Four Read No Books Last Year"](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/21/AR2007082101045.html) (_[The Washington Post](!Wikipedia)_), and mentions the average for Americans was 4 books a year, and the median among those who read at least one book was 7, roughly 1 every 7 weeks. [^wot]: And the reason I was reading _Mistborn_ at all was curiosity as to how his _The Wheel of Time_ novels might go - WoT being an excellent example of a mediocre work that sucked time that could've gone to something better. [^just]: Just prices are easy to set for necessities - eg. if anybody is starving to death, then the price of food is not at the just price - but this doesn't work for luxuries. And most of Amazon's merchandise must be classified as a luxury. One is not going to die without the latest _[Madden NFL](!Wikipedia)_ video game or [James Patterson](!Wikipedia) novel. [^propaganda]: A loaded word, I admit. But fiction is fundamentally lies - stories about things that never were and never will be - and 'convincing someone to do something they wouldn't've based on lies or rhetoric for some ulterior purpose' is as good a definition of 'propaganda' as I can think of. The nicer word is 'inspiration'. (Although one person's inspired man is another person's inflamed zealot. Lenin was pretty inspired.) That this is one of the roles of SF has long been acknowledged by authors; Asimov in his 1963 essay ["The Sword of Achilles"](/docs/1963-asimov-sword-of-achilles) isn't clear about whether interest in SF *causes* scientific achievement or just predicts/correlates with it, but [Neal Stephenson](!Wikipedia) [in 2011](http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal/fall2011/innovation-starvation) no longer even feels the need to justify the theory: > "In early 2011, I participated in a conference called Future Tense, where I lamented the decline of the manned space program, then pivoted to energy, indicating that the real issue isn't about rockets. It's our far broader inability as a society to execute on the big stuff. I had, through some kind of blind luck, struck a nerve. The audience at Future Tense was more confident than I that science fiction [SF] had relevance—even utility—in addressing the problem. I heard two theories as to why: > > 1. The Inspiration Theory. SF inspires people to choose science and engineering as careers. This much is undoubtedly true, and somewhat obvious...." NASA [seems to agree](http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2011/08/design-fiction-nasa-inspired-works-of-fiction/), sponsoring its own fiction collaborations, much as such an initiative [bothers some people](http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2011/08/nasa-inspired-works-of-fiction-the-masses-speak/). [^language]: From the distance of centuries, everything written in the 1600s sounds equally 1600-ish. But there is more intra-group variation in the books of the '50s and '90s then there is inter-group variation. A book from the 1950s can easily date itself, but it'll be usually through allusions and ideologies, and not the actual words. [^geo]: America, and Great Britain. France contributed a little to SF with [Jules Verne](!Wikipedia), and Japan's SF is copious (but uninfluential). Besides that, further sources of SF can be named on one hand. Poland offers us [Stanislaw Lem](!Wikipedia), Russia has... someone, no doubt. And that's about it. SF isn't prolific even in the Anglophone First World, much less the rest of the globe. [^hanson]: [Robin Hanson](!Wikipedia) has a number of good articles on how fiction can very easily mislead us, and that this may be a fundamental fact about the human brain (the 'Near/Far' psychology paradigm): - ["Biases of Science Fiction"](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2006/12/biases_of_scien.html) - ["What Insight Literature?"](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/11/what-insight-li.html) - ["Disagreement is Near-Far Bias"](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/01/disagreement-is-nearfar-bias.html) - ["Beware Detached Detail"](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/01/beware-detached-detail.html) - ["BSG is Detached Detail"](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/03/bsg-is-detached-detail.html) - ["Against Propaganda"](http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/02/against-propaganda-.html) It's worth noting that one of the standard 'jobs' for prominent science-fiction authors is consulting and helping 'visualize' particular scenarios and futures for think-tanks and corporations and government agencies; [David Brin](!Wikipedia) has mentioned doing this on more than one occasion, and [Karl Schroeder](!Wikipedia) has a degree in that. From his ["Science Fiction as Foresight"](http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/09/science-fiction-as-foresight.html) post: > "For about ten years now I've been periodically hired to write fictionalized versions of foresight findings. It works like this: mysterious government group A approaches me and tells me they've just spent six months researching the future of X (where X is something like "farm equipment" or "Alternatives To The Syringe"). What they've got is one or more scenarios, which are basically alternative plotlines for future events. They'd like me to turn these into actual stories, which I'm happy to do. (The most extreme example of this is the book Crisis in Zefra, which I wrote for the Canadian army back in 2005)...Curiously, when I write scenario fictions I'm not trying to generate new ideas of my own, but rather to represent the ideas that some set of futurists, subject experts, or public panels has already developed. This makes scenario fictions different than SF prototypes...Science fiction is more than just a genre of fiction. Hell, it's more than just fiction. It's a mode of thought; because our brains are hardwired and optimized to think in narratives, SF can be seen as a primary means by which we make sense of and plan for the future. By understanding how this process works, we have an opportunity to grow a new branch of SF parallel to but not replacing or displacing the traditional arm-a branch that's rigorous and methodical and deliberately used to help solve real-world problems. In fact, that's been happening for a while now (see Johnson's book); I’m delighted to have found myself in a position to be able to help make it formally recognized." [^Sequels]: By a rough count of [Nebula Award for Best Novel](!Wikipedia), 14 of the 43 winners were part of some franchise or series of works. To account for Hugos, we double that to 28 for the 2 awards; if each is part of a trilogy, we need to add 84 more works to our reading list, for another 2 years. [^sleepdealer]: To take an obscure recent example; ["_Sleep Dealer_ Injects Sci-Fi Into Immigration Debate"](http://www.wired.com/entertainment/hollywood/news/2008/01/sleep_dealer), [_Wired_](!Wikipedia "Wired (magazine)"), 24 January 2008: > "_Sleep Dealer_ is remarkably topical for a film set in the future (albeit one described by Rivera as taking place "five minutes from now"). Central themes include outsourcing, corporate ownership of water, remote warfare, confessional internet diaries and military contractors who are accountable to no one. It's the rare political film without any reference to contemporary politics; like _Blade Runner_ and other big-brained sci-fi flicks, it's about ideas, not selling merchandise. > "I love gnomes and goblins and elves," said Rivera, who's made a name for himself touring museums and festivals with his award-winning shorts. "But what I'm really interested in is speculative fiction. I wanted to use this film to ask the question, 'Where are we going?'" > ... > That ironic juxtaposition started Rivera thinking: What if technology could extract the life force from the Mexican population and send it north?" [^printing]: Surprisingly, the cost of printing a first edition of a book is only about [10](http://blog.laptopmag.com/ebook-price-war)[%](http://scottwesterfeld.com/blog/?p=2138) of the publisher's final wholesale price, and shipping isn't much more. The money is going into [other](http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2010/01/31/why-my-books-are-no-longer-for-sale-via-amazon/) [things](http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/563086.html). The [_New Yorker_](http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/26/100426fa_fact_auletta) breaks the costs down as follows (emphasis added): > "Traditionally, publishers have sold books to stores, with the wholesale price for hardcovers set at fifty per cent of the cover price. Authors are paid royalties at a rate of about fifteen per cent of the cover price. A simplified version of a publisher's costs might run as follows. On a new, twenty-six-dollar hardcover, the publisher typically receives thirteen dollars. Authors are paid royalties at a rate of about fifteen per cent of the cover price; this accounts for$3.90. Perhaps *$1.80 goes to the costs of paper, printing, and binding* [$1.80 of $26 is ~7%], a dollar to marketing, and$1.70 to distribution. The remaining \$4.60 must pay for rent, editors, a sales force, and any write-offs of unearned author advances. Bookstores return about thirty-five per cent of the hardcovers they buy, and publishers write off the cost of producing those books. Profit margins are slim."