April 27, 2014

Think of cocaine. In its natural form, as coca leaves, it's appealing, but not to an extent that it usually becomes a problem. But refine it, purify it, and you get a compound that hits your pleasure receptors with an unnatural intensity. That's when it becomes addictive.

Beauty has undergone a similar process, thanks to advertisers. Evolution gave us a circuit that responds to good looks-- call it the pleasure receptor for our visual cortex-- and in our natural environment, it was useful to have. But take a person with one-in-a-million skin and bone structure, add professional makeup and retouching, and you're no longer looking at beauty in its natural form. You've got pharmaceutical-grade beauty, the cocaine of good looks.

Ted Chiang, "Like What You See: A Documentary" from his collection of short stories "Stories of Your Life and Others".
He's my new favorite scifi author-- actually, he's been my favorite since college, when I read his take on the Tower of Babel...
Stephen Hawking... found it tantalizing that we could not remember the future. But remembering the future is child's play for me now. I know what will become of my helpless, trusting babies because they are grown-ups now. I know how my closest friends will end up because so many of them are retired or dead now... To Stephen Hawking and all others younger than myself I say, 'Be patient. Your future will come to you and lie down at your feet like a dog who knows and loves you no matter what you are.
Actually, several of Chiang's works can be seen as explorations of spaces first laid out by Vonnegut (specifically, the Tralfamadorians, and "Harrison Bergeron", where everyone has to be "equalized" with artificial handicaps.)