Culture | Worshipping the iTunes visualizer

Escapism pixilated

Science fiction is often derided as the land of the nerds, as the province of those who feel so isolated from society that they have to create a land of their own where they reign supreme. Look at the universe of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels, with its colony of mentally enhanced humans preparing to one day descend on a lesser colony of brawny politickers as the ruling class, once the latter realizes they need the genius of the former, of course. It is not uncommon to suggest that much of what pushes people towards escapist genres like science-fiction and fantasy is a frustration with the mechanics of the world in front of them, with the seemingly unfair way that power and recognition are distributed, with the way that their system of meaning seems out of sync with everyone else’s.  So some choose to engulf themselves in fantastical and futuristic systems of meaning, parallel universes with brave new scientific civilizations where the geeks and nerds of the world get their due. Fantasy literature is regarded (at least by its greatest defenders) as the heir to the world’s mythological traditions, to the legends, quests, and heroes that through their phenomenological antiquity can masquerade as Truth.  Conversely, this argument goes, science fiction is a pure fabrication, an evaluative reaction to modern society, built on the very non-mystical foundations of mathematics, physics, and technology.

It is nothing new to be inspired by that which is man-made – great works of art, literature, and music have long been lauded as expressions of truth, divinity, and life. But can we only be inspired by that which is born out of artistic or religious inspiration?  Can only the ineffable humanities be a potent source of capital-T Truth? Is the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) necessarily excluded? Does the fact that something is physically deconstructable, that we can see its nuts and bolts and break it down to a series of ones and zeroes, does that make anything we find to be an emergent property of it a false imposition?

The iTunes visualizer turns the music you listen to into a quasi-galactic landscape of moving and morphing balls of light. It is the cyber-equivalent of a lava lamp.  A science-oriented friend of mine asserts that because it resembles both the movement of molecules and planets, encapsulates a truth about the universe – that random action is really not so random after all, and that different microscopic and macroscopic phenomena differ only in scale and not in inherent essence.  This friend finds it to be a potent source of meaning, and something worth contemplating and reflecting upon. It is, of course, a computer program, randomly responding to musical frequencies.  But is it impossible to make these synthetic creations into reflections of or channels for the experience of living beings like ourselves? Are the worlds we create for ourselves devoid of meaning, just by virtue of the fact that we are conscious of their craftsmanship?


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