09 February 2006

Her voice is full of money

"She's got an indiscreet voice," I remarked. "It's full of---"

I hesitated.

"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.

That was it. I had never understood it before. It was full of money---that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it... High up in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl...

From The Great Gatsby.

This same idea (substitutability of desire) can also be illustrated using more scientific language. The link is via Tyler Cowen, who also argues that in general, fiction and science have more in common than one would think.

Update: After reading that last paper, I can say that you get everything you need out of it from the abstract, or even just spending awhile thinking about the title and its implications. To me the overlap can be seen by looking at the questions: how do you argue that your claims are true, that they are interesting and/or that they generalize? In both cases a blend of precision and ambiguity is necessary, a specific insight together with a claim to reflect a larger truth, etc... The differences between a novel and a scientific paper then come from different definitions of truth, interestingness, and so on. We can see this by looking at how these concepts have changed over time: for example, many early English novels were meant to scare girls away from sex, so they were much more didactic and specific than, say, a Salman Rushdie novel. The "interest" of these novels is clearly related to their educational/social value; in some ways not so far from a modern social science paper, but with a more condescending relation between author and reader. Similarly the concepts of truth and universality change over time and across fields. But these are just the sort of things I was hoping were explored in Cowen's paper! I'm not actually going to go through them myself...

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