The Disease of the 21st Century?

November 25, 2009 at 11:36 pm (By Ennui)

I seem to recall coming across a quote from Martin [edit: actually Kingsley] Amis to the effect of “much of what was wrong about twentieth century literature can be summed up in the word workshop.” I find no reference to this quote online and it’s possible (verging on probable) that I’ve either mutilated it beyond recognition or invented it out of whole cloth in a fever dream. In any case … real or imagined, the quote put me to thinking about “climategate” and the significance of using computer models that cannot, in practice, be tested experimentally, to make predictions used to direct large scale social and economic change. This thought, in turn, put me in mind of the calamities wrought by the use of computer models to calculate risk in the stock and bond markets … I’m on the point of issuing my own dictum along the lines of “much of what was wrong at the beginning of the 21st century could be summed up in the word model.”

And, whether Amis actually uttered the phrase I alluded to above, or whether I only imagined it, the quote captures a parallel and essential truth – that there is all the difference in the world between a hothouse reconstruction of the world (whether in equations or the sentences of a novel) catalyzed by groupthink and untested (and untestable) by experience and the real thing (or, compare, real science that makes definite predictions).

Simulation is not science, anymore than it’s literature.

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3 Comments

  1. Jason (the commenter) said,

    I think a better word would be ego.

  2. Donna B. said,

    Jason, the ego could not accomplish what Ennui suggests without hubris.

  3. Theo Boehm said,

    42

    I know, I know. It’s a really hard question.

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