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Author Topic: We like lists because we don't want to die. (...My abstract interpretation)  (Read 2283 times)

Paul Keith

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On Completing Lists

SPIEGEL: Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can't be realistically completed?

Eco: We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That's why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It's a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die.

Source: http://www.spiegel.d...,1518,659577,00.html

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: The list is the origin of culture. It's part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order -- not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart's librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists -- the shopping list, the will, the menu -- that are also cultural achievements in their own right.

The Creation of a Flawed Yearning Mindset

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The list doesn't destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists.

SPIEGEL: But why does Homer list all of those warriors and their ships if he knows that he can never name them all?

Eco: Homer's work hits again and again on the topos of the inexpressible. People will always do that. We have always been fascinated by infinite space, by the endless stars and by galaxies upon galaxies. How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn't have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky, simply listing what they see. Lovers are in the same position. They experience a deficiency of language, a lack of words to express their feelings. But do lovers ever stop trying to do so? They create lists: Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone … One could go into great detail.

"I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia. People have their preferences."

The different perspectives of your To-Do Lists

SPIEGEL: Still, you are famous for being able to explain your passions …

Eco: … but not by talking about myself. Look, ever since the days of Aristotle, we have been trying to define things based on their essence. The definition of man? An animal that acts in a deliberate way. Now, it took naturalists 80 years to come up with a definition of a platypus. They found it endlessly difficult to describe the essence of this animal. It lives underwater and on land; it lays eggs, and yet it's a mammal. So what did that definition look like? It was a list, a list of characteristics.

SPIEGEL: A definition would certainly be possible with a more conventional animal.

Eco: Perhaps, but would that make the animal interesting? Think of a tiger, which science describes as a predator. How would a mother describe a tiger to her child? Probably by using a list of characteristics: The tiger is big, a cat, yellow, striped and strong. Only a chemist would refer to water as H2O. But I say that it's liquid and transparent, that we drink it and that we can wash ourselves with it. Now you can finally see what I'm talking about. The list is the mark of a highly advanced, cultivated society because a list allows us to question the essential definitions. The essential definition is primitive compared with the list.

Trickery: Lists Can Feel Liberating

SPIEGEL: It would seem that you are saying that we should stop defining things and that progress would, instead, mean only counting and listing things.

Eco: It can be liberating. The Baroque era was an age of lists. Suddenly, all the scholastic definitions that had been made in the previous era were no longer valid. People tried to see the world from a different perspective. Galileo described new details about the moon. And, in art, established definitions were literally destroyed, and the range of subjects was tremendously expanded. For instance, I see the paintings of the Dutch Baroque as lists: the still lifes with all those fruits and the images of opulent cabinets of curiosities. Lists can be anarchistic.

The Need to Educate Our Lists

SPIEGEL: Are you saying that teachers should instruct students on the difference between good and bad? If so, how should they do that?

Eco: Education should return to the way it was in the workshops of the Renaissance. There, the masters may not necessarily have been able to explain to their students why a painting was good in theoretical terms, but they did so in more practical ways. Look, this is what your finger can look like, and this is what it has to look like. Look, this is a good mixing of colors. The same approach should be used in school when dealing with the Internet. The teacher should say: "Choose any old subject, whether it be German history or the life of ants. Search 25 different Web pages and, by comparing them, try to figure out which one has good information." If 10 pages describe the same thing, it can be a sign that the information printed there is correct. But it can also be a sign that some sites merely copied the others' mistakes.

Related but may be too off-topic to connect to app's "To-Do List of Doom" thread.

nudone

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(app's "to-do list of doom thread" http://www.donationc...ex.php?topic=18354.0 )

tomos

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interesting read
Tom