Chuck Klosterman

What if We’re Wrong: by Chuck Klosterman

Beliefs today, both objective and subjective, won’t necessarily be true in the future.

Discoveries upend scientific truths. Culture shifts in surprising ways. Art is used to interpret today and it’s repurposed later to interpret history of that future time, and these don’t need the same things. That’s why artists popular in one era aren’t necessarily remembered in the future, and so we might predict that the artists remembered from this era won’t be the ones celebrated in the future.

That’s among the big themes from But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past, a quirky and charming 2016 book by media critic Chuck Klosterman.

Below I share my notes for future reference.

My notes:

  • “Gravity is the least stable of our ideas” Brian Greene tells author
  • 1980 book of predictions
  • Occam’s Razor works for the past not the future
  • “It often seems like our collective ability to recognize electrifying genius as it occurs paradoxically limits the likelihood of future populations certifying that genius as timeless.” Author referencing George Saunders
  • The future dictates great literature by quality second and by what the future needs first (and that is unknowable)
  • Jean Baudrillard’s Sinmulcra and simulation 1981
  • Naive realism
  • Kafka and Van Gogh were somewhat unusual: those remembered as great typically had some network in life but why they are remembered changed
  • Kurt Vonnegut wrote in A Man Without a Country “I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex. “ The point being that leaving out proper nouns doesn’t make your fiction timeless it makes it improbable.
  • “The most amazing writer of this generation is someone you’ve never heard of, representing a subculture we don’t even recognize, expressing ideas that don’t signify what they appear to mean”
  • But he means it
  • Bonaparte: history is a set of lies agreed upon
  • The Beatles invented bands breaking up and writing their own songs: will they define rock 300 years from now?
  • Author argues rock and roll, rock n roll and rock are different waves
  • Campbell: All religions are true but none literal
  • Carl Jung: collective unconscious
  • Critics don’t impact record sales but they do influence what artists are remembered and reintroduced
  • “To matter forever you need to matter to those who don’t care” because widespread belief of something and someone being canonical is a shorthand (Sousa, Frank Lloyd Wright, Shakespeare etc)
  • He notes that once someone is good enough, the historical distinction of lasting is pretty random (it’s about future needs).
  • ((((My note: it’s difference: art is used to interpret today and it’s repurposed later to interpret history or that future time, and these don’t need the same things )))
  • P 112: notes that Greene and Neil degrass Tyson slightly disagree on how much we could still change about our understanding of gravity, but are both confident we won’t change the age of the universe, which is 13.79b years. (But didn’t we update it?)
  • Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 concept of the paradigm shift: everyone believes the same thing (working on small puzzles inside the dominant system) for long times before a massive shift; but Degrass Tyson argues it’s a dated book focused mostly on Copernicus but modern science only came in at 1600. Modern science doesn’t answer why something is, that’s for philosophy
  • Nick Bostrum simulation hypothesis, built off Hans Moravec: either we destroy ourselves before we make simulations, we ethically conclude we shouldn’t or we did and we are living in one
  • Brian Greene 20 or so numbers define universe like mass of electron , strength of gravity
  • Higgs god particle discovery : but why was everyone so nervous about finding it. Is it unstable? We found Neptune and Higgs based on predictive math but we know we can be wrong
  • Phantom time hypothesis (conspiracy theory?)
  • Multiverse and super symmetry may be accepted but we still say dreams are meaningless?
  • Blue black dress and homer’ s wine-dark sea
  • Seymour Hersh Osama bin Laden story
  • “Television’s ability to make the present tense exist forever, in a way no other medium ever has”
  • Roseanne is the most unintentionally real TV show we had: that’s America (inverse of the Cosby Show)
  • Author thinks two paths: Football could follow similar path to boxing (county’s most popular sport in the 1920s) but boxing lost ground due to corruption not just brutality. College football first started by civil war veterans who wanted to ensure their sons wouldn’t go soft and could defend the republic. That either sticks around like the confederate flag, or will robots or CGI power indoor simulated games generations from now?
  • Historians: Reagan remains popular despite growing literature that he hurt country
  • “Design utility”
  • John Horgan End of Science book: no big breakthroughs are coming that matter to most people
  • Author argues the internet as an archive lets us all revise our opinions and culture (When 80s era wrestlers died, all the obits acted like they mattered but those pubs didn’t think they did at the time)
  • Thomas Nagel: What is it like to be a bat?
  • Octopus are smarter then we realized; stop using human metrics

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