Monday, June 1, 2009

Difference between novelists (writing is object d'art) and scientists (information uptake is key)

Married to a former Eng prof who is now a novelist/playwright, I often get exposed to the contrast with two ways of thinking, which I end up trying to assimilate to some characterization as in my headline.

Here's a recent example.

The end-of-evening entertainment is whatever H has ordered from Netflix. This is a good thing for me as I lack H's encyclopedia knowledge of film running from popular to obscure. After a lot of Goddard movies (or "I am curious yellow" only dimly remembered because I fell asleep) last spring, we are into something more accessible: In Treatment.

I can have fun with this engaging shrink show just for Gabriel Byrne, but as one of my psychotherapist friends said, this is the best show about psychotherapy, so less energy wasted squirming and sighing over unrealistic popularizations a la Lie to me.

Whatever we're watching, whether it's the Goddard, Swedish foreign films, and even In Treatment, I often can't watch the whole thing because my sleep debt accumulated early in my professional career hasn't been paid off yet. So my plea is: let's stop watching now and watch the rest tomorrow. But this is uncomfortable for H.

H: "Let's not watch at all tonight, if you're going to fall asleep half way thru."

For a 2 hour movie, I say ahead of time, "Let's watch one hour tonite and one hour tomorrow."

H: "No, I prefer to watch the whole thing, so let's just do it when we have enough time."

I infer: for him, what's important is to get the whole experience, because that's the intention of the author/artist. For me, I'm okay with obtaining the information and the enjoyment while I'm watching.

Second example: reading printed matter.

H insists on "no skipping around" in a book and reading ahead is something decent people don't even joke about.

But most of my reading is journal articles. When I read a journal article, I'm in information-uptake mode, and often go straight to figures and tables after the abstract because I want to make up my own mind about the message. The author is providing information, not crafting an experience for me. I could skip around in the article; read one page now and take it up again next week.

So I propose:
The artistic/creative personality values the creation of an object d'art, with the aesthetic experience being diminished if it deviates from the intended form

For the scientist, information uptake is key, and the need to approximate the holistic experience designed by the author is less important.

What I do, as a scientist, is what I will call "transfer of a reading/watching habit" (borrowing from cognitive studies on transfer of information processing habits, such as the "script transfer hypothesis" which I'm working on with a grad student). I take my information-uptake habit from science reading, and transfer it to TV/films (and sometimes even novels).

Anyone else transfer their information uptake habits?


Dan said...

I think novels and the movies are about leaving the scientific world and entering the artist's world. The form of the medium usually dictates one entry point (the beginning) and one optimal exit (the end). For movies, breaks in the suspension of disbelief, either for a bathroom break or for a full day, severely diminish the impact. Just like watching on a plane completely ruins the movie with the intrusion of too much "life" and the lower oxygen ratio in the air.

There are of course exceptions, but these involve the long form of the medium (the Shackleton series, or the Earth DVDs).

If you could get a measure of disengagement from the story, it would be interesting to see how much of a break causes a rupture in the suspension of disbelief. A bit like sleep research, where a 2 minute bathroom break doesn't interfere significantly with sleep patterns. Would this be similar? Is it indicative of some kind of decay timing for an established neuronal activation pattern to fall back into chaos?

May I offer a compromise with H? Watch a 1-hour TV show instead. iTunes does a good job of stocking interesting diversions, although none Swedish. As far as skipping around in books, you're focusing on two components: you on information about the world that's woven into the story (in which case just read the Cliff Notes), and he on the artistry of the language and how that weaves the information into the final product.

HumanProject said...

f you could get a measure of disengagement from the story, it would be interesting to see how much of a break causes a rupture in the suspension of disbelief. A bit like sleep research, where a 2 minute bathroom break doesn't interfere significantly with sleep patterns.

This is an interesting idea. There should be a lot of individual variation. I think I suspend disbelief so easily that I need breaks because otherwise the show is too real to me and I get overly emotionally involved, I can't treat it as just entertainment, or just a story. I relate to the characters in the story, not the actors; I want to know what else happened in that imaginary world, not how the actor prepared for his part.

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