The weather all over the Bay Area, as far out as us in Santa Cruz has been a most formidable opponent today. I am hoping this blows over before tomorrow and doesn’t affect my flight to Vegas for Ranier’s birthday. I’m taking shelter inside and it’s forced me to get all of my school work done on time. Every time I venture outside to take in the fresh air and feel the impetuous wind on my face, I immediately think of the first chapter of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie. Prior to him leaving on his trip, the small bay where his cottage sits, and his boat is anchored, meets with a small hurricane. His description fits today perfectly.
“The wind struck on the moment we were told it would, and ripped the water like a black sheet. It hammered like a fist. The whole top of an oak tree crashed down, grazing the cottage where we watched. The next gust stove one of the big windows in. I forced it back and drove wedges in top and bottom with a hand ax….We watched the wind rip at earth and sea like a surging pack of terriers. The trees plunged and bent like grasses, and the whipped water raised a cream of foam.”
excerpted from Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck, 1961, pg. 11
Anywho, I was thinking today about an article I read quite some time back in Wired Magazine called “The End of Science” which also correlates closely with John Horgan’s 1996 book by the same title. Both these writings discuss the the possibility that the era of scientific revolution may be drawing to a close; that most of life’s big mysteries are generally pretty well understood or theorized. The Wired article discusses more that the previous era of science was based largely around standout people, geniuses, scientists, and brilliant thinkers, of the Einstein and Hawking lot. The one we are either approaching or in the midst of must rely more on the seemingly infinite amounts of data and its organization which has been brought on by the internet and the age of information. Ehsan Masood writes in a June, 2009 blog for the Guardian that Horgan,
“claimed that the basic scaffolding of the natural world is now mostly understood – the big bang theory, the structure of DNA and evolution by natural selection and the periodic table of elements are not going to change. Yes, many refinements are needed in our understanding of how things work, but as we are closer to reality in so many fields, the chances of seeing revolutionary new thinking will be that much less.”
Masood and I are in agreement though. While many foundational aspects of the universe are understood, we are NOT out of big questions to answer. To obtain the new questions, all that needs to be done is that the aperture of questioning be widened. It’s widely known in the world of physics that over 90% of the universe is made up of dark matter and energy, though almost nothing is known about them. Things like Singularity, Unification Theory, String Theory and our universe’s origin are all mysteries that nearly define the model of what big, encompassing questions entail.
Now, I am not nearly smart enough to say anything remotely intelligent past that so I’m going to change the subject. Something I have been postulating in my head during anthropology classes that related to the end of scientific revolution is that (and I hate generalizing so much and know it is wrong to use broad terms such as “we”, “us”, and “society”) we, as a society are moving out of an era of discovery and into one of production. At Santa Cruz I notice mainly two types of students, liberal arts students and students in of the sciences. My generalization of this is that it seems like the science students are being taught to follow, interpret and use broad sets of instructions which can be applied to the production and synthesization of many different objects and materials that are completely necessary for the world to keep turning as it is and for us to continue with our current levels of comfort. These people will find jobs doing this, though with more and more automation, higher populations and more and more competition in school, this is becoming more and more difficult. On the other hand, all the students who share my anthropology major, or share a similar type of field of study are being more or less “trained(?)” to sit around and analyze the world, or if not sit, go out and fly somewhere exotic and then analyze the world from there. Now there are some benefits of this such as increased awareness of the peoples and places of a world that is inevitably moving on, but there are only so many people who can sit around contemplating existence. I am aware that I am doing just that by typing these thoughts, and that by merit of my major I am included in these vast pools of thinkers, but hey the main reason that I picked this major was so that I could go on adventures and not sit in an office.
An offshoot of this phenomena can be seen in fashion and style. It has been quite some time since I have noticed anything truly revolutionary in the world of fashion. Some attempts have been made in the spirit of small scale singularity and function, such as Nike’s foray into the shoes that sync with your iphone and tell you distances and speeds and such, but these products generally end up being novelties. It seems like in the last few years, styles for my age group and sex have drifted from the neon explosions and artificial fabrics of the overly exaggerated 80s, to the grungy flannels and and shipyard beanies of the Kobain narrated 90s. More recently though I have seen a sweeping movement to further back in time. What seems to be the current generation of style is the depression era, or at least some combination of clothing and materials that bounces around between the 30s, 40s and early 50s. The evidence of this can be seen in any number of style blogs such as Secret Forts, A Time To Get, A Continuous Lean, and The Pursuit Aesthetic. Raw Denim, rough, untreated natural fabrics and simple cuts paint a portrait of a vogue that is trying to get back to the time that men were supposedly “men” and guys younger than most of us had to fight an enemies that were clear cut on the sides of good and evil, and where the world held much mystery and there was much to invent and explore. This also harks back to a time when American production was huge and we didn’t just produce knowledge and cinematic adventures.
Maybe these style trends simply a longing for a time when the scientific revolution had infinite planes and endless expanses to navigate, but I argue that this is still the case. Now I ought to go, my leather shoes are getting uncomfortable, my iphone needs charging and I have to read about something indigenous to somewhere for some analytical anthropology class.