Sunday, January 04, 2009

The mother of invention

According to British behavioral biologist Simon Reader, innovative behaviour in a species is not the success story of exceptional individuals who tried to improve their world, but the revenge of fulltime losers, with a low social status, forced to find new ways to escape their misery.
Eating a new kind of fruit, perchance the last way to survive for the lowlife individual, maybe a dangerous way, but it might also be the first step towards a revolutionary diet. Similarly, looking for food on the other shore of the river is the behavior of critters who have noting to loose, taking the risk of encountering a predator but at the same time maybe offering a new dwelling place for the tribe.
And Reader quotes Plato: "Necessity is the mother of invention".

Vincent Van Gogh is nowadays considered one of the biggest artist who ever lived. During his lifetime as an artist he was an asocial drunk, depressed, often hungry, always extremely poor, with no friends and no one to consider more than a crazy bum - with the exception of other crazy bums like Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec.
« (...) qu'est-ce qu'un aliéné authentique ? C'est un homme qui a préféré devenir fou, dans le sens où socialement on l'entend, que de forfaire à une certaine idée supérieure de l'honneur humain. (...) Car un aliéné est aussi un homme que la société n'a pas voulu entendre et qu'elle a voulu empêcher d'émettre d'insupportables vérités. » Antonin Artaud: Van Gogh le suicidé de la société, Paris, 1947.

This resonates with the 'Principle of Least Effort' as theorized by George Kingsley Zipf (1902-1950) :" Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort" which was published in 1949. Robert Heinlein wrote in Time Enough for Love: "The Principle of Least Effort: 'Progress doesn't come from early risers — progress is made by lazy men looking for easier ways to do things.'" And Zipf is referred to in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.
His main achievement is Zipf's law, which basically states that the further an event is situated on a scale of repetition, the lower it ranks. In any given language a small group of words are used extensively, but the occurrence of lesser used words degrades logarithmically. This theory has been applied to the internet.

Derisanamcope, November the 16th

PS it seems the more far-fetched linguists have the most bizarre names. One could write an essay and title it 'from Zipf to Whorf'.

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