Friday, February 25, 2011

Anger Making Machinery

The proper response to an Internet search which turns up nothing is anger. The field of expectation has been created that it is worthwhile to go looking for things, without any countervailing road-map about what sorts of things won't be found.

I know it would be silly to go searching for plumbing insights, but it seems more plausible to seek out ways to use Chinese on my smartphone. There are ads, but there are also shortcomings in addition to cost for using fat and cleverly created bits of software. I pay the plumber, though the instructions are trivial to find by searching. The smell is too costly in reality.

I shall persist, but this dissonance between the field created by technologies, and the confusion one faces in attempts to occupy that field, is as old as the written word. It's not just that post-modern defenestration impulse. It's the overall illusion that the word once written can provide the way to ultimate revelation of The Word as handed down from God.

This is precisely the same mistaking of identity for comprehension which informs political anger or the anger of love's betrayal. There is no answer to it other than to depart the field and look for ultimates elsewhere. And investigate only dispassionately those things which reward investigation.

Like, for instance, the written word itself, whose modality for production now is universalized as a keyboard. Gone are styluses and pencils, brushes and ink. Interactions now are all mediated by those same twitching fingers which pull triggers or caress or which shape a ball of clay. But allowing nothing of character through other than by elements of style.

A crumb falls into my keyboard, and the "R" key is disabled. I blow, it moves, and now I can't work the shift key. Crumble. The stylus offered a more certain connection to its output. The calligraphic character I once would have been required to cultivate before I could claim literacy in Chinese is as remote as in my facility with English handwriting. A relic. Quaint.

Once upon a time, in imitation of my older brother whom I idolized in all things, my handwriting was neat, but slanted in the manner of a lefty. A southpaw. Rectification meant the end of neat, and so my character is scrawled and lacking. There was a time.

What happens, though, when Chinese written characters lose their kinetic inform-ation of our consciousness? Will we then become trapped as it seems we are now already believing in some form of human consciousness which is, in fact, as remote as that final Word? That thing for which the absence of interpretation and translation does not denote the actual Word of God, but in fact denotes absolute and ultimate solipsism. An absence, a private without its public.

Enter Watson, the Jeopardy confounding machine. Anger is the proper response. We have already become unconscious. There is no more possibility for human consciousness any more than there is for God's Word unvarnished. I wax poetical, and wane with the keystroke of finality. And yet I cheer him, it, us.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


China is all over the news these days. People with a somewhat longer memory than normal here still remember the events tagged by "June 4" back in 1989. We now watch China carefully as the MidEast - where China is so a-politically invested - enters the global tide of people-power. It seemed that China started it all way back when the walls came down all over Europe.

China started just about everything! But they themselves had no notion that such was the case until the West held up the mirror. Gunpowder, the compass, paper and the printed replication of authoritative texts as carved on blocks. Stele-rubbings to carry far and wide and forward those inscriptions on the landscape of Chinese antiquity. Heaven brought to earth as wen 文 which were regular and stable patterns with the human heart 心 at their center 中, or zi 字 the child in the temple of his ancestors. Literature and culture have deep roots in the Middle Kingdom.

Chinese, in ignorance of our personal God and Savior, developed a meritocratic system for selection into the ranks of government service. In the West it would take until the paroxysms of political revolution, themselves descended from a knocking away of the barrier of literacy between the folk and the lettered priesthood. And even then, only America would really confront, directly, the notion that some deserved to be closer to God than others.

Gutenberg is credited in the West with combining the fruits of the metal-casters' arts of endurance with the wine-press of the fruiterer's arts of intoxication to create a vehicle for the widespread dissemination of alphabetic words. The Word, which only recently is thought ever to have existed apart from interpretation and translation, could be rendered in the vulgar tongue. God could be brought closer to the masses, or the masses closer to God, so long as the Word could remain sanctified and sanctioned without divine hearings. Without interpretation of history or language or truth or illusion.

Along with the nobility we pushed out from their palaces, we also displaced the notion that those at society's pinnacle should behave in noble fashion. We thought we might engender a natural aristocracy, and have struggled ever since to find quasi-scientific ways to take the measure of a man. In the end, we still and always worship the marketplace, where the true measure of a man is his fame or his fortune, either of which alone or combined with the other will suffice. Even word-smithing is evaluated by the marketplace.

That is as near as we can come to some method to distribute power and authority which will encourage the best among us to the fore. Of course, it has always been an embarrassment that Jesus himself would be left behind by this method, and that so many who rise to the top show themselves concupiscent and greedy. The Chinese seem to have done, marginally, better over the years.

Recently, the Chinese have faced a much more sudden change than we went through here in the West. Yet even in the face of Western gunboats, they remained smug in their confidence about their cultural superiority, right up through the very day when their long-lived empire finally crumbled. They had to turn around their history on a dime.

In fact it was the discovery of individualism which most changed China. I have been indulging in a fairly concerted read of documentation about China's impact against Western style industrialization, at the lead of which, as in the West, was the printing press. Individualism is obsessed with personality and with personal histories of the sort which could be and was ignored except for the literati in China.

Now, with the help of Joseph Needham, the Chinese could rehabilitate some long forgotten artisans: inventors, proto-scientists and mathematicians. History was suddenly forward looking. The Word became as much a promise as an archive. Literacy had escaped the bounds of what the imperial center could sanction.

Chauvinism remains. Even as it struggles to contain the exuberance of its individualistic seekers after fame and fortune, the one thing still most constant about the Chinese people seems to be their smug certainty that they are the center of civilized humanity. So long as they can hold order in the face of chaos.

Labors are nearly complete now to rectify the Chinese collective memory. Tiananmen the massacre, or Tiananmen the public square, clean and safe and open. So recent in historic memory.Orthodox subversion of the historical record for purposes of order.

Now our own highly irresponsible political rhetoricians would have us afraid of China. These players on the registers of our emotions are the real terrorists. Perhaps we should be fearful all the time, but one still should wonder why, when our most important export after blue jeans is the individualism which they celebrate, and whose destruction, they feel, is imminent.

It's individualism that rocks the Middle East now, and not its proxy: a craving for freedom. And that's what's rocking China. Our political rhetoric can even make us angry about our anger. It can confuse us about collective comforts. Maybe we need to learn to read a little bit beneath our own surfaces.

Celebrity style and authorial cool are the things which now run the globe, and running up on Oscar, why then is it that we must be so nervous? These are American triumphs! We should and must be gloating.

I don't suppose that it could be that the titans of cool, the pinnacle occupiers in this the early 21st century, are as desperate as the Koch brothers or Steve Jobs to stay on top. Their days are numbered, sure, but there is no limit, clearly, to the desire to win. Perhaps at any cost.

If the printing press is the exemplar, avatar and enabler of industrialism, then the Internet is the same for post-industrial reality. Cause and effect must be discarded in favor of a more Foucault-esque delineation of our Grand Controlling Narratives. Text is the operator. Humanity the operand.

Single-party rule in China mocks the ascendancy of financial power; iron fist in velvet glove with the mockery of politics at home enacted by the Coke/Pepsi dance of Republican v. Democrat. It's all about the money, stupid! China's leaders also want to maintain a creative fiction of poise - to preserve a glorious constructed past in service to a still more glorious future.

And interestingly, it all comes down to a differing preference for the way the written word gets rendered. To have a name is to be famous. Alternatively, one is a "mouth," a consumer, to be counted but not to count. By the Confucian tradition, names are to be rectified (chaos ordered) and the count of written words to be contained. By the loyal heterodoxy of Taoism, the name that can be called such is not the eternal name, just as the way that can be followed is not the everlasting way.

By means of its proliferating and lavishly funded Confucius Institutes, the Chinese wish to lay claim again to their traditional written form. Long presumed a clumsy obstacle in the way of mass literacy, it also continues to  serve the purpose it always has served: to define and to unite a culture, a people and a civilization.

Here in the West we descend inexorably away from those unifying original words. We're left only with ideas, to be realized in some distant future. And so the battle is joined? Why could it not be resolved into something more in manner of a love affair, one has to wonder. Ah, but the terrorism of the Word would have to be subverted. Players would have to relinquish the cheap and easy victories of mass motivation by tweets, bumper stickers and mass-mediated sloganeering.

Names proliferate in these fallen times. Words, words and more words, all as media for money which renders power by way of fame and fortune. The party would remain poised at the intersection of conservative and liberal forces. All parties are deployments of wealth.

Yet at this moment, historically, we all do and must seek something other from fame. Something human. Something lettered. Something of character. Something more collective than individual, but at the same time something not collectively rendered. Ironically true.

Now, back to reading. I'll report back to you when I find it. Or you can report to me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Just What is Real anyhow? Learning to Make Sense

As I learn to write, I have an awfully hard time finding the balance between working out thoughts for myself, and distilling something into readable prose. You might think that I'm incredibly clumsy about it - I certainly do - but it's really hard to let go of the things that haven't quite been worked out yet, in order to stick to a narrative that has completion.

Or is it the other way around? It's easier to "complete" things which have a shape apart from reality. Sometimes so-called "ideas" take off and dictate a narrative which becomes more compelling than what it's supposed to be about. It can be hard to hold onto some point, some direction for the writing.

Now I have New Yorker magazines - the paper version - strewn about to distract me, and I forget how interminable their analyses can be. You can't read on a laptop for too long, and I was happy to read about Scientology in the recent issue. It demonstrates yet again that narratives don't really have to be so much true - as in capable to sustain evidence gathering and refutation - as they have to be complete.

Scientology as a system is clearly nuts, but hey if it works for you, why dig that deep? Some of their surface "technologies" undoubtedly "work" for reasons most likely unrelated to the bizarre explanations behind them. But who, really, wants to know at that level where you can just trust that some expert has worked it out.

The system is complete, but you don't really have to complete your reading of it to make sense of it. In the case of Scientology, you just have to keep paying more money and getting closer to the inner inner sanctum of the Great Man's writings.

People should really read more Tibetan literature, you know, where peeling back the layers of the onion leaves you with no onion, but a great adventure on the way to that great awakening.

Last night I watched this cool movie, Catfish, which explores the creations we can make in our head from some scanty evidence gathered across the Internet. It's fun. It's in the vein of Exit Through the Gift Shop, or that lousy Joaquin Phoenix Hoax, where you have no way short of face-to-face actually to determine if you're being had or if something really interesting and exciting is going on. It explores the specific dangers of our human capacity to fill in blanks and fill out our own personal cartoons to something which might be real if fully understood.

The Catfish movie does the most interesting job, at least among these three films, I think, of tackling the problem in earnest. It exposes the trap of Internet technology for what it is. Following what seems to be genuine serendipity, you seem to find some solid ground right along with the film-makers about what really is real among the stuff we might concoct in our heads.

In the course of the filming, the film-makers track down the person who wants them to fall for their creation for whatever crazy or sane reason. That core reason can never be uncovered, but neither can any nefarious or self-serving motive in this case.

The subject of this documentary falls in love with an utterly fictitious female hottie made of purloined beauty shots and dialog and music. While the social networks - Facebook in particular - make this kind of fraud almost trivial to accomplish, the Internet also made it equally trivial to expose it before too much damage was wrought.

The plot started to unravel when the subject Googled a song which just sounded a little too good. as sent him by the fictitious "friend"  He found that it had been produced not by the beautiful woman with whom he'd started to fall in love (and who didn't actually exist) but by some actual and accomplished singer.

In the case of Scientology - or people in love with actually beautiful women - adherents don't seem inclined to look too deeply into something which is clearly working for them. Surely it just may be the case that the truth of the matter is never quite so important as its believability.

The processes of scientific investigation are mostly useful to true our collective believability matrix. Gradually, we all start to occupy the 'same page' about how stuff is really put together. If we took a careful look, we'd really have to agree that the premises of Scientology are plenty nutty, as is the likelihood that the character of a beauty is really true to the illusion of what it is you fall for.

But it also may be that having something to believe in, whether Jesus or the person built by virtue of internalizing a beguiling manner in refection of whatever everyone else is seeing, is less nutty than to have nothing other than the clingy belief that eventually we'll have all the answers. Skeptics among us seem to feel that in the meantime believing in anything at all is the nuttiest thing to do (read four times fast!).

I mean really, stop to think and the nuttiness of our existence at all has to hit you like a ton of bricks. Why not Thetans left over from a time when souls were incinerated to make more space on earth or whatever gibberish these Scientologists spout? It's laughable sure, but does it really make any more sense to suggest that some day some how, we'll have the real answer, documented and believable both.

Not everything about the comic historical record is likely to be retrievable by methods archaeological or instrumental.

I mean, why not Scientology in the face of the nuttiness to which Christianity seems (and the seeming is the important thing here) in thrall? It just may be that the creative fiction on which their "technology for going clear" is built provides a foundation for something actually more useful than believing in a personal savior. Just like antibiotics are more useful than witchdoctors. Even though the notion that all disease germs can be eradicated is itself a dangerous fiction.

Scientology almost certainly does work if you're an actor and need to learn how to drive your body the way you might drive a car. (Going "clear" in Scientology terms seems hard to distinguish from telling a really earnest lie wherein you, the liar, pretend to be a really really good person and where's the harm in that?) You learn to be detached from your actual emotions and you can really act with commitment, the way that Ronald Reagan did. And look how far he got, once he left the little stage and climbed up onto the Big One.

I guess for me the trouble with religions is that they expunge irony, and in this, at least according to the New Yorker report, the Scientologists are no different. But neither are many scientists. They earnestly do believe that all can ultimately be revealed by diligent and emotionally detached investigation. That consciousness - whether machine form or organic - will ultimately push everything out of the cosmos.

But you know, cosmically, it really is all a joke. It's as foolish to believe in ultimate answerability as it is to believe that humanity was plunked on earth a mere 5000 years ago.

Though hell, maybe we really were plunked here 5000 years ago, in at least the sense that that time-frame pretty much delimits the inception of our most powerful (and most masculinist) toolset, the written Word.

We now know that we cannot know apart from our emotional posture in relation to the world "outside" us. We know that reality is a mirror, at least in part, for what we bring to it. The way we act surely is a reflection of our own reflection reflected in the social norms and standards of our time. Imagine how different a Rubens subject would behave, see herself, and be poised in today's more neotonous world of slender beauty.

Such also is the world of physical reality. Even without difficult and scary notions for the really raw stuff of quantum reality, the macro reality of life on earth is clearly showing signs that we'd better get our act together, and, like, quick! What is it we really want to do with the reality - the Earth - we live on?

Among the reasons for our dangerous predations against the ground for our reality is the notion that there will be some rational realization at the end of all this progress which might compel us individually and collectively to behave in ways not quite so detrimental to our futures. As but one aspect of this stance, is the stark conflict between what we earnestly wish for our personal and very local comfort and pleasure, and what would be good for the planet and thereby for humanity as a whole.

Clearly, the planet and the rest of its species might prefer that we were not so damned effective and efficient at developing technologies to meet our needs (and not incidentally, to enhance our species' very local - in historic terms - profile for evolutionary success).  The planet would like us tribal, or maybe organized with more misery among the lower classes so that the really destructive technologies could be reserved for just a few regal prospects at the top. As it was and ever will be, world without end, Amen.

Religions and science are reasonably identical in promoting dreams for eternal repose as we struggle toward variously defined pinnacles. Yes, it's worrisome that the swamp at their base encroaches. But surely there will be something close to enlightenment as we approach those peaks.

Or, as I suggested the other day, it might just be that what has proven so successful in its natural evolution is not so much humanity, as it is a viral meme riding on humanity as host. It may be that what has really proven so successful is a kind of mechanical thinking, promoted by the written word.

The written word enables all these technologies for domination. Money renders our individual wants collectively.  Our collective pursuit of those things which money can both buy and make available is apparently limitless, until the basic resources run out.

We are already enslaved to machines, in other words, in the same way that we are enslaved to all those things which entrap our senses and divert us from the hard work of being human. Those machines got their start with language. Increasingly, we are in thrall to unchanging logic, and utter predictability. Life as in the Life Force is giving way to full descriptions and mechanical interconnections.

It seems that there is nothing that will or can come in the way of this evolutionary triumph. Well, nothing other than random chance. Something like an asteroid to destroy our ecosystem, or a bug to wipe out just our species. Or we could just keep on keeping on, and then an accident will be almost certain to wipe us out. Eventually, if you create enough complexity, failure is a virtual certainty.

It is our desire to be kings combined with our strange altruism about making the same pursuit available to as many people as possible which provides the exploding living pool on which machine consciousness has been riding now these couple of millennia.

OK, so that's disturbing. The written word as the tool of the devil, but what about Tibet? What about spiritual peoples who live to do no harm. What about the Shakers? Everything about us now seems bent on increasing the population of humans on the planet, which can serve the survival of our species only if it doesn't destroy the overall ecological niche (surely a misnomer in this usage) we evolved to fit.

And silly transhumanist notions of evolving beyond this deadly mob-species would require not enhancing our bodies and minds with machines, but rather stepping out altogether from the deadly machine-form which now already uses us as substrate for its far more successful "consciousness."

We would have to become more, not less, bio-logical. We would have to find new ways to survive apart from the machine. We would have to demonstrate superior consciousness of a sort which is ours and ours alone, where consciousness is just that thing which defines us as human and not some other animal.

It would have to be our desire and not our genetic capability to mate which would determine this Brave New Species. It would be this removal from the thrall of seeming physical perfection and earthly beauty. Individually, we would have to leave behind the attraction of mere beauty and combine our genes instead with those we might encounter by random chance, or random choice of words.

Just like we always have. Life is powered by irony. Machines are powered by entropy.

The End.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Smart Devices

What an incredibly exciting time to be alive! Well, OK so I'm especially excited because my daughter just learned that she can go to Yale Law School if she wants, or she can accept a scholarship to the University of Chicago, or a few other not-so-shabby choices. It's also nice to think that maybe she was accepted at least in part because of her evident devotion - proven by track record - to public service and not just self-promotion.

But that's all just backdrop to my effusive mood for the day. Among my hobbies is to follow the developments of Information Technologies. Careful readers will understand that I consider the term "information" highly problematic in this construction. Having occasion to read a bit of Marshall McLuhan again, I'm struck by how much more expansive his rhetoric is than would be possible now these few short decades later. And he was the guru then about what's happening now!

As much as we can be better informed, we can also be distracted by the sheer volume of what's out there. Here in the vicinity of LA now, I am awash each day with movie news leading up to the Oscars (how many more contests along the way?) The coverage is dense enough that I can also learn of the small-audience indie movies being produced, some on incredibly important and interesting subjects.

But it's hard to avoid the imperative to catch the drift about the blockbusters. And with only so much time in any given day to read or watch or otherwise digest the news from the global village, it would be hard not to conclude that the blockbusterish information pretty much crowds out almost everything else.

My mind simply can't either catalog or remember which of those indie movies I'd wanted to see, and they're not really all that likely to be offered on pay-per-view or at the local theater.

Ditto re reading material, although in that case at least the "mass market" is a bit more refined, and so I worry less that the Big Books will crowd out the interesting stuff. While I might waste my time watching good entertainment in the theater, I'm not all that likely to waste reading time on something Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck wrote, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Plus, I have to spend real time re-learning to read Chinese now that I might be employed again. And overall there's so much good stuff so easy to find.

I confess I do enjoy having a "smartphone." Truthfully, I can't even imagine being without it now. Remember when the answering machine solved a big problem with staying in touch, but then each day coming home from work you'd have to be sure to check it? And then there's that call screening function. Or planning ahead and leaving phone numbers, and having to apologize for being stuck in traffic after the fact. Now I have a traffic monitoring GPS. Or Internet in the park!

Sure, it commands my attention in ways that could be annoying socially if I were to let it (sometimes, I confess, I do). And it probably keeps me from paying attention to those complicated thoughts I really have to get to work on.

But, you know, that problem will be solved by having a job, or could be solved by having a discipline within which to work. Except for my sense that these darned over-elaborated disciplines are part of the problem. Each one now has its technical vocabulary and cultural norms which envelope an entire professional life-time and pretty much rule out the kind of overarching thinking accomplished by the likes of McLuhan. No wonder we still don't know what to do with what he wrote.

Sure there are public geniuses, people we like to read or watch up on TED, but I sense that they all elaborate on one big overarching metaphor, drawn from a discipline where they have established cred. There's no room for unauthorized new thinking from the bleachers. We have spotlights. We have superstars. The world is trivialized thereby.

But that's life in the village, global or local, and it's the overarching galaxy which is the most important. The shape of things. Here, I think, microcosm is as elaborated as macrocosm, and the superstars as shallow, ulitmately, as that guy with a toupee who MCs at your local high-school when the road show comes to town.

Now back down to that micro-ecology where the smartphone sits. I find it incredibly exciting, really!, that there remains quite a variety of Operating Systems for the hardware on which they float. There's Google's Android and Apple's iOS of course, but there's also Windows Phone 7, and the new WebOS from HP, and Blackberry and the fading Symbian and Palm and that nameless one I've still got.

Their competition drives the hardware now, to where the screens are rich and readable in any light. They respond with alacrity to touch, and inside these tiny boxes are two-way radios for voice and data, including WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and in the case of my phone even FM for music and NPR!!

Where's the satellite radio? What about TV? Well, you know, eventually, it will all come down to packet data, and whatever ways there are to get it. As news outlets now rediscover ways to charge for their mediation of "information," I suspect that access to the web will approach a cost of something like nil. Which could mean that we start paying full price for hardware as well as content. Which could get interesting.

No question Apple has the lock on hot hardware, but so far the cost differential hasn't reached Maserati vs. Volkswagen proportions. Or wait, maybe it has? VWs cost a pretty penny nowadays, and the outrageously priced cars somehow don't seem so utterly out of reach when ordinary folks have to pay at least a quarter of a $K to get a family car.

I like a keyboard, as you can see, and I don't much care about the rest of it. Sure if I would interact more by talking to people instead of writing to myself, I'd have a less cranky approach on things, but I have to say that it's only by interacting this way with what I read that I can make any sense of it. And for that I'm really really glad for cheap access to the Internet. For me, it's a two-way street, though yeah as you can tell I'm not much paying attention to who might care to pay attention to me.

Anyhow, HPs apparent strategy is to develop a software/hardware mixed infrastructure on which can ride all sorts of apps and devices which they sell. Their stable includes an incredible variety of medical instruments as well as enterprise-grade PC servers and consumer-grade entertainment PCs. On top of any of these there can  now be a WebOS sandbox in which to run their apps. Or for their apps to run their hardware. It's all a two-way street!

I can buy Google apps now which will run in Chrome, the browser. Shortly, I'll be able to buy an even cheaper but more alacritous laptop loaded with the Chrome OS! And presumably these apps will run across all their devices, or in their sandbox running on other devices. And of course, there's iTunes though it's still more of a store than a platform for the moment.

I'm still waiting for the day when I could conveniently use iTunes in sync with non-Apple hardware. Or I'd almost accept Microsoft getting a clue with Media Player and the way it integrates with my phone (not so well, sadly). I mean, I don't really care all that much about music, truthfully, mainly because it's too damned hard to drill down through the payola on the air and over the 'net and so for the moment I'm perfectly happy with Pandora's read of my genome. I can't retrieve my audiophile roots enough to care about fidelity, and I figured out how to trick my phone into accepting an ill-fitting version of Pandora's software which they officially don't make,

Sure, yeah, I'd like to be able to read my books on any and all devices, and not to have to care about which outlet I get them from. I come pretty close with my Kindle, but it won't handle Chinese without a hack. Maybe I'd like to have a bit more flexibility with movie watching, and maybe I'd like to be able to ignore the wide pricing swings from free-with-ads to $5 bucks per view to full ownership.

Ultimately, I'd like to "own" media, the way I do books on my Kindle, but retain the rights to lend them out. It seems DVD rental places might not have to pay royalties back to the content owners once they own the physical disks. Surely this will be a thing of the past? And maybe artists will retain rights to their physical works after they get sold if they get resold?

Or, you know, maybe I could "rent" new books on demand the way that I can borrow old books (the new ones always have an impenetrable queue) from the library, without having to pay so much up front. These things can all be worked out by IT.

But of course, the ecology of money would have to change in ways to upset the current monopoly plays orchestrated by the financial institutions.

We all learned from the recent sale of the New York Stock Exchange, that nobody trades in stocks anymore. Instead, it's all nano-microsecond trading in complex futures and derivatives, whatever those are. (I'm pretty sure it's all a conspiracy among newly conscious machines to preserve the advantage among those who already have it, who provide the luscious host for the viral growth of anti-human dangerous memes - out-of-control wealth provides the machines' and the machine-thought which they embody with their nutrient bath, in strange mockery of that movie Matrix.)

I'm warned that the cost of law school will inexorably whittle down my daughter's resolve not to go for the gold. That must be how the price is set. Some sort of guarantee for the ultimate triumph of machine-thought, now defined here as that thinking which rationalizes greed as though it were good for humanity.

But you know, there's hope. And for today, at least, I find it in the palm of my hand, among devices which have now brought down a dictator in Egypt and might yet defeat machine-memes a few more times. Life as it ever was. Down and dirty and difficult and uncertain, but humanity will prevail. If we care to.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hello! Watson, Can You Hear Me?

Our computer overlords indeed! Jeopardy mocks humanity by making a contest of the freakish ability to read quickly and recall meaningless bits of information. It's like watching sports contests in a way, but at least so far there doesn't seem to be a way to dope and get an unfair advantage.

Unfair advantage would mean being able to tap into the Internet, or maybe to have some signal from a team of smart buddies that their answer will be forthcoming by the time you have to answer it. "We're pretty sure you can click yes, and we'll pay if we're wrong." Having a computer on the game hardly changes the sport of watching it. Good show old man!

Of course, that's what the computer did. It calculated the likelihood of getting the right answer, and then pushed the buzzer before the words were necessarily pulled together. Before the voice was modulated. The human champions must do the same thing, just like I do when I know that I know what I'm about to say, but haven't quite strung the words together. How else can we even start talking?

There's this interesting guy, now emeritus at Cornell, who's devised a very careful experiment to test the possibility that there is a way backward from the future which allows certain kinds of highly charged stimuli to pre-cause a response. The way the experiment is constructed, it isn't just the lag between the brain's excitation and one's consciousness of that response. Even the computer hasn't determined its selection to be presented to the human before the human subject hits his buzzer.

Let's suppose this experiment is valid. Granted that I learned of this watching Stephen Colbert and granted that professors can't really do this kind of research until they're pretty much retired, but I actually do suppose that there is some structure to the cosmos which allows for violations of Einstein's universal limits.

At the subatomic level, physicists have demonstrated that this must be so. There is no meaning at that range to such concepts as simultaneity since there is no meaning to such things as points in time or space.

There are only (relative) clouds of probability, to be determined by acts of perception. Perception (and forces) gets defined at that scale by the impingement of particulate probability clouds on one another to the extent that the probabilities re-calculate until the threshold of collapse into what we normally call determinate reality. Perception quite literally realizes things.

I have been arguing for most of my adult life now that we have language from the macro world which could also be deployed at the subatomic level to describe interactions which aren't "physical" or "perceptual." These relations are, properly, conceptual, and the interactions emotional. Calling them that way doesn't change the math or the reality one iota, but it does have implications for the way we understand the macro world.

If, for instance it is conceptually impossible fully to distinguish an individual from its context, then by analog to the way that subatomic particles are determined by their futures (connections not yet perceptual, but destined by trajectory as held in mind to be so), it would be reasonable to assume that future shifts in context might be prefigured in ways to destroy conventional notions of cause and effect, by the "individual" whose existence will be profoundly impacted by those shifts.

My brain reacts to stimuli prior to my consciousness. Why not connect my brain to things outside it with which it's implicated? If the connection is mechanical - perceptual - then the direction of time's arrow is inexorable. But if it's a conceptual connection - like the one between twinned sub-atomic particles distant in space and time, but the perception of one of which determines characteristics of the other - then no directionality for time need be inferred.

But of course, this is difficult to get ones mind around, just as quantum physics is more generally. But experimental evidence demonstrates that it's neither adequate nor appropriate to fill in the blanks with metaphors for "transmission" or field-like arrays for the simultaneous and faster-than-light communication of information.

In simple terms, "mind" must be inferred to make much sense of these things. Mind, not as a characteristic of human beings, but of the cosmos even without us. Perhaps especially without us, since we're so utterly enslaved by the notion of our individuality and authorial originality. If mind is a function of cosmic reality as that necessary thing to "explain" the coincidence of meaningful but perceptually distinct events, then it is also that in which our local and mis-conceptually individual mind partakes. We are conscious only insofar as we are not distinctly individuated from the mind-stuff of the cosmos.

Of course this leaves machine-mind out of any proper description of reality, but really now, that should be evident to anyone with the capacity to think. Not even interesting.

But it does make it even more interesting that the experiment I referred to above, which finds a statistically very significant tendency toward pre-cognition when the image to be displayed is pornographic. This stimulus, evidently, relates to that which individuals actually are important for. We carry around particular genes, which are usefully - for the species - perpetuated or not depending on how likely they are to last.

So that which is truly individual about us - the genetic makeup of our physical body - is the thing which must be, for the sake of our evolved species - most connected to that part of our mind which is not confined by the body's skin. Prescience is what best determines pro-creative durability. Or in common language, luck. Evolution combines the good or bad luck of myriad individuals and  by the ever-shifting context winnows out the winners who just happened on the right stuff.

Here's a proposed continuum: start with the common, the fleshy form, and then progress through the behavioral expression of our genes' expression which forms a personality or a character, which often competes on equal terms with the relative perfection of our body's form to consummate a mating. So far nothing approximating consciousness is required in any sense - any old dog has a bit of personality, um, so to speak.

And it would certainly be a mistake to consider degrees of perfection of the physical form to relate to some pre-formed "ideal" form, since, well, the ideal form which might be thus pre-formed itself pre-supposes consciousness (that there is a progression). Prior to that, there are simply degrees of attraction, which can only be defined in relative terms. Following this cognitive science fellow, Daniel C. Dennett, beauty, in the sense lampooned by pornography, is by definition simply that which attracts and has no intrinsic cosmic quality. It's quality inheres in the conceptual and thus emotional direction for attraction between gene-carrying individuals.

Consciousness is a second-guesser. It rides on top of more fundamental  moves. It cautions, as it were, about acting too rashly. It represents a society-wide constraint against individual action which, while avidly promting that individual's subset of the collective gene-pool, might run afoul of such facts of life as that the babe bending down across the way is the daughter of the alpha male whose violation would entail instant termination of your particular genetic bag were you to follow its dictates, um, so to speak again.

Consciousness is not even conceivable as the quality of an individual, man or machine. Consciousness partakes of mind which is prior to any particular individual manifestation of it. But not ideal mind, as in mind of God. Rather, cosmic mind as in that which allows of conceptual connections among otherwise unconnectible discreet objects.

Individual consciousness aspires, in precise analog to what lust lusts after. Most of the time we are either asleep or reciting mindless cliches and other language circles, filling in the blanks as does color-phi which infers solid happenings where only elision exists. Like the smooth motion inferred by viewers of celluloid or digital flip-books. The mind fills all lacunae as though something were there. That's its definition.

Now what picture might you flip in front of a computer to test its pre-cognition? Even in principle, it's not an interesting question . . .

Monday, February 14, 2011

2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal

2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal

This is the idea that just won't die! And to tell you the truth, as tired as you are of watching me struggle to put it out of its misery, that's how tired I am of having to attempt it. But somebody's gotta do it.

I see all sorts of artificial intelligence on evidence all around me every day. These are people who, like Kurzweil himself, abdicate their humanity. They mistake the development of technologies which can further the destructive or productive reach of humanity for the development of humanity ourselves. They invest the tools as they would any cathectic object. They make love with images in their brains and suppose these things will love them back..

In nature there are no exponential growths that aren't explosion, and yet Kurzweil and crewe suppose that this one will somehow be different because the tools themselves will take over their own evolution, crowding out all else in creation. Wow, wouldn't that be cool! The conquest of messy nature by machine. Alien!!! 

This pre-supposes that one has made the incredible leap to certainty that we are all in fact individual and not implicated in the stuff we would crowd out. As though in-formation is all in, and not distributed, hologram like, throughout what stupidly still gets called creation.

Humanity remains, in fact, in thrall to our own creations, Narcissus like, as though what we have created with such cleverness of design is that much better than what develops willy-nilly by the inevitable processes of evolution.

As I am now so intensely tired of repeating, these folks repeat precisely the same error as the Godists when they insist that every found entity of elegance must have had some elegance-understanding designer. Kurzweil should repeat Kindergarten. He still doesn't get the basics.

Let's even suppose that what informs our thinking isn't distributed all around us. Let's suppose that our thinking really is the epiphenomena of some machine contained in our skin. Granted this would be a really really hard proposition to support, but even then the only thing that's clear about whatever's happening at geometrically accelerating rates now all around us is that humanity has - all of us collectively - abdicated any human responsibility for the products of our design. We have lost all nerve about continuing to develop our actual human qualities. If indeed those qualities have anything at all to do with intelligence and empathy and aspiration for something more than Bigger Bangs.

Well, maybe they don't. Maybe humanity is really only about predation and survival. In that case we surely will be consumed in the explosion which so far is all the evidence there is of our reproductive prowess. We reproduce in the literal sense, but we also reproduce our collective cultural memes, and their "meaning" is clear enough. Dominate, destroy, enjoy, reproduce, explode. In that reductively literal sense, Kurzweil and crewe are, of course, dead on. We are pond scum without consciousness. Without effective barrier, we will just grow and grow and grow until poisoned in our own effluent.

Without even getting the joke, this particular brand of futurists assumes that what humans exhibit right here and right now is consciousness, and that it will somehow be an accomplishment if or when the machines that we create can replicate this pinnacle feat of evolutionary success.

Indeed our consciousness is dimming, not unlike that of a dying individual human being, Collectively, we could be still developing, buy we're not. We've pretty much stopped reading, other than to deploy written words as a tool toward designing and creating ever more tools for our temporary though for now extremely exciting triumphalist conquest of the Earth.

No-one reads for meaning any more. No-one reads to discern the intelligence which construed written words in ways to make them endure and be read over and over again. I exaggerate shamelessly, but sure it is this in which consciousness consists and we are, collectively, losing it.

We destroy languages almost as rapidly as we destroy species, and even as we thoughtlessly preserve all written words in archives, the very volume of them precludes any possibility to cull from among them those which represent the best of humanity.

The search tools at our disposal only mock the human effort, returning to us a kind of grand popularity score, and so we read the same things everyone else has always read. That plus the really new stuff which is trumpeted each day for our earnest digest. Reliable knowledge has been Wiki'd out of being.

Consciousness was but a dream. A forward moving aspirational desire to make more of itself, the same as all other evolutionary products. Written words for a while did help its prospects. And then they themselves, these human tools, these meme reproducing machines did take off on their own and replicate almost without any need for human consciousness at their center.

Our tools in fact have taken over already, and Kurzweil celebrates this in anticipation of that singularity off somewhere in the future. He will pace with sandwich board to alert the rest of us when he can wait no longer. I will hold my laughter. I will try.

These technologies which locally improve our chances for survival also seduce us with their lure of ease. We have managed now to estrange ourselves from work, that thing which is most elemental to any species' evolution. It would be as though birds stopped "wanting" to fly, or fishes to swim. We now, despair over the labor required to remain conscious and to think and to communicate and to live.  We invest our machines now with our dreams and pray to them please to carry on in our places. Which they now do. Already.

Maybe we're just drunk with some ethereal alcohol which is what limits pond scums' explosive growth. Maybe this is a drunk we never do awaken from. Consciousness but a dream, or the likes of coloration on the wild males of most species.

Consciousness did once up the chances for reproductive success, and now it must make way for Asperger's dropouts from preferably Harvard. Where they also can't be bothered to read. Whose game is still king of the castle. Whose graduates seem only to compete now for who can be the most famous chaser after cash and other baubles, in the guise of world-changing, on the assumption that there is nothing else worth doing.

And how is "world-changing" different from ecological devastation I want to know? We could, oh I don't know, work on ourselves instead.

We could evolve, you know? We could continue to deploy tools and not to be afraid of them. For those texts which I can find online, brushing up my Chinese is now so much easier. No more endless leafing back and forth in primitively arranged dictionaries. I have so many different ways in, and seldom have to count strokes or make wild guesses about pronunciation.  I can get more work done, which is what technology should help me with. And I can talk to you, figment of my imaginings, nubile and lithe and without demands in return for the sterile love you give me.

Merrily merrily merrily merrily, consciousness is but a dream .  .  .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

At CPAC, It's Evening In America

At CPAC, It's Evening In America

OK, let's see if I care to blog on a lead taken by Time, Inc. It's a trivial enough sentiment they report, the fear engendered and then pandered to among folks who think that our time as the dominant player on the world stage might be past. Hello!? I thought we were all about moral leadership and the idea that "all men [sic]"  are created equal and not just those who happen to have been born (for a moment longer now) inside our boundaries.

Shouldn't we be gloating that ordinary Egyptian people have brought down a dictator, and remarking about how contagious is our founding disease. There's lots of bandying about of Ronald Reagan's legacy, and making fun of commentary linking Obama's behaviors to the Gipper's.

Hello again!? Hasn't anyone noticed that the old dunderhead was all about optimism? OK, so he wasn't shy about making up entire rhetorical realities and anointing them with a misty tear or two. I guess that's a trick he learned in Hollywood, but Jeeze these right hand-wringers can't seriously lay claim to that legacy when they're all about fear of lost triumphalism.

Will they only be happy when there are adversaries to gloat about, and new walls to tear down? (Is that why they want to keep on building them?) "Hu's your daddy?" is a catcall from a scumbag.

Americanism is actually coming into its own in the world, and the tired old white men (and their bizarre dark-haired dumb blond-esqe cheerleaders) are terrified about losing their own privileged position. To the rest of the world, these folks represent the betrayal of Americanism in favor of triumphal America, and that just makes them loathsome. American Empire ought to end before we have to cry real tears for the loss of our core principles.

Out here in LA, the sharp-looking guitarist from U2 has to sneak around in case his fan club gets wind of the fact that he's just another rich guy playing king of the castle. He wants to own a mountain top but doesn't really want to be known as the kind of guy who wants to own a mountain top. These are supposed to be working class rockers, this new class of Irish immigrant. Who's the salt of our earth now?

Like the folks at CPAC are supposed to represent you and me. I don't think so. They can take their fear mongering and send it where the sun don't shine. Mr. Republican, tear down those walls!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Reasonably Trivial Entry to Our Future

The Man Who Loved China: Joseph Needham & the Making of a MasterpieceThe Man Who Loved China: Joseph Needham & the Making of a Masterpiece by Simon Winchester

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book, as all books find my bookshelves, quite by accident. Nonchalantly skirting the entry wicket at the Huntington in Pasadena, I ducked into its gift shop exit, where this shiny penny distracted me from any desire to cop a stroll through the expensive grounds.

Well, the accident is in the finding, not in the recognition once I'd found it. Lots of people would be blind to its charms even were it thrust in front of their faces. Even if it were free.

I should have known of the book, since I've been packing the full original set of Needham's masterpiece Science and Civilization in China ever since I snuck it back through customs on the way home from Taiwan in maybe 1975. Before real China was real for us.

As continues now in China, there was then much book production without regard to international copyright protections. I was in no position to own the legitimate set, but the prices then and there were so impossibly attractive that I simply had to buy it. Once home, I never really did open it. It was too imposing.

Now here I am out of work again, and wasting time reading books with no particular relation to my prospects. But Winchester provides a cheap way in to Needham's work. And this pleasant read has been my companion as I delve back into the more weighty tomes with which I surround myself again now. After liberation from indentured servitude descended from onerous sumptuary laws whose transgression was impossible so long as my children were young.

Reveal the man, and perhaps his writings can then be made more accessible. There are good reasons for making scholarship impenetrable. It keeps everyone distracted by the inanities of the marketplace of ideas as mediated by the Internet and ubiquitous TV and a severely limited number of publishing outlets.

But I have a legitimate claim to this stuff. I spent way more time than Needham did learning to read classical Chinese. He was able to put his to use, while mine atrophied. still. Cause for each of us was passionate and perhaps even hormonal distraction. I loved a boat more than I did scholarship, while he loved a Chinese woman perhaps more than he did his academic wife.

Needham had already made an in to Cambridge based on a discipline - Biology - he could then discard. He could afford to fall in love with a Chinese woman, and then to fall in love with China. His transgressions would be sumptuously rewarded. The rest of us pay full price for our desires. And he's a hero.

Winchester documents Needham documenting not exactly the incredibly cataclysmic age and events that he lived through, but the buried history of China's primacy in most things scientific and technological. Needham's work beggars the question of why then we in the West laid claim to all of the advances descended from scientific and industrial revolutions. He didn't ever live to learn just how.

Needham was still embedded - the man's time, not the man - in assumptions of Western superiority. His challenge to those assumptions was of a piece, in a way, with his challenges to the prevalent political mainstream. He was a socialist and a free-thinker and a nudist and would apparently dance publicly in ways even the stoned among us now might be too embarrassed to indulge.

He was a man of appetites and uninhibited about demanding his space. Sated, he would work for hours and days on end, tackling this monumental project which he simply knew would never be attempted were he not to do it himself.

The world cheered. He was knighted and celebrated and forgiven for not thinking as did the rest of us since by then the West had started to become chastened. And granting China a certain amount of primacy was seemingly cost free.

Not that it ever mattered. We still worry now the same question which worried me when I was studying classical Chinese poetry. And which modern Chinese all now wonder about. What happened to China?

And I don't know if they're asking me the question "why would you want to study that???" relates more to their sense that I am invading their territory (I read that the study of classical literary Chinese is on the steep rise in China now) or that I am being absurdly impractical in ways that these famous social climbers never would be anymore. So why was China so backward, then?

Now their very uninhibited and crass clambering after our Western triumphalism betrays a kind of shame that they couldn't accomplish what Needham demonstrated should be their birthright. And I still wonder why all of us should be destroyed by the misguided and absurdly drawn out denouement of those bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Spoiler alert - you read here that Ted Koczynski got some of his inspiration from Needham. Can't we escape our love affair with technology???

The answer, you know, was already evident in the poetry, which in China in mockery of our constitutional Biblical obsessions here in the US of A was made part and parcel of what could be ones qualifications to enter the public service which was pointedly not to enter heaven. Such individualistic aspirations could only be combated by words whose mastery required fealty to the past: the ground of all meaning.

And how absurd indeed that in our boundedness to our future we shall have erased its very possibility. Dreams of eternal combustion will now shortly be fulfilled in meltdown, and China will once again have betrayed its own spirit and its history. By ignorance of its past.

What higher praise is there then for a book which makes it easier to read the real books on which unsung scholars still must labor. Unsung scholars whose dearest desire might be rendered as a plea, "Oh, please please steal my book." The cheap ones are so accessible. Read this book as introduction. And then go read the real stuff. Note to self.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 7, 2011

Just Biutiful!

I strolled by a new book by Oliver Sacks on the way in to see this new-ish Spanish flick, Biutiful. The Mind's Eye, apparently about the ways in which humans can adapt to making sense and socializing despite deficits among the major neurologic systems. I hope I can find the time to read it.

From the cover blurb, I find that you can remain social without the ability to speak, and you can remain observant without sight or even musical without pitch. This is hopeful facing a world now where the very supposition of information sufficiency provides the most significant deficit of all time. We are no longer aware of how it is that we pick and choose what to pay attention to. We actually believe that so long as things reported are true, things are working as they should. Wikileaks will save the world!

But when we hear again about a college shoot-em-up, we never consider how paying attention to that event is at the same time robbing attention from not just other events, but other things we maybe should be thinking about. We can look aghast and not consider for that moment the still more awful things happening all around us.

Biutiful is at least as grim as a Coen brothers' film, and Bardem draws certain of his stark reflection of reality from them in this Spanish take. Among other things, the film puts the lie to the idea that evil actors are the root of evil. These actors' parts are systematically compromised by their situations, and being true to those you love and interact with seems always to involve screwing others who plug in at some different level.

It's not enough to be true to those you love. No matter what, bad things still happen. No matter which diet you choose, or how much you exercise and no matter that drought in the rainforest causes by omission more carbon left in the atmosphere than the U.S. pumps in in a year, there's still global warming and nothing we can resolve ourselves to do about it.

In all things, what we lack is any good integrative method to resolve things like how the human self works beyond its collection of well-understood discrete systems. We lack any political system which can render up sound policy that isn't just a fudge of compromise between and among near violently held opposition.

Our economic beliefs seem to keep people working for so long as there is perpetual growth, which seems to mean for so long as there are people who will always want more and more and more. But then the earth entire presents its limits and so we are forced back from our frontiers.

If the Earth were a body we would be still more distant from understanding its workings than we are those more limited microcosms we pilot around and call by proper names. Systems interact one with another and change themselves in the interaction. Our math fails to keep up. There is no emotional calculus. Yet.

Yet as individuals we need not lash out when the world lets us down. We need not scream our outrage, and kick and scratch at and destroy those who will not love or include us. In this film, Biutiful, the protagonist learns that he will die. He will cross a threshold from which there is no turning back. He is a spiritualist of sorts, who mends the frayed endings for relatives when transitions are sudden and without warning. Uxbal. A name which might call across the ages. An alien with the look of a primordial Spaniard.

The acting in this film is wonderful. Facing death, Uxbal must play to those who might tend to his children whom he will leave behind. He must hold back from selfishness of any sort, even as he must compromise for the sake of his own children and his compromises directly result in the horrific deaths of sweatshop denizens from China. His children's caretaker among them. He'd been trying to sweeten these workers' lives with portable heaters. The shoddy cheap Walmart-style Chinese imports suffocated the workers instead.

Frozen in our own comforts, we watch now, vaguely eager for the success of the newly emboldened citizenry in Egypt. We've already forgotten how the Chinese Party rulers readjusted after Tank Boy. We know it's gauche to disparage our comforts here at home. Global warming, you know, seems so vague, and no-one knows which way to steer things really. I will seek out bargains.

What else is there to do? Like many of the rest of us, I watched the SuperBowl yesterday, thinking that otherwise I might miss out on an important collective experience. I wanted to see the ads, and compare the half-time show to the Olympics in China. I felt vaguely wasted afterward. Cheated.

I strolled around Pasadena before catching the bookstore where I spied Oliver Sacks' new book, before catching the film. I marveled at their success installing or instilling right there on Main Street (Colorado Blvd. actually) the innards of a typical high-end shopping mall. There was even an Apple Store. Restoration Hardware.

It was much more pleasant than a shopping mall though, since there were people from all walks of life, and if you don't like the chain store offerings for lunch, you can stroll along until you came to a more authentic place with local flavor. Well, assuming that there is a "local" in the greater LA sprawl.

Why can't that happen back in Buffalo? At great expense a pedestrian mall was built downtown, but there are no stores. The stores are all out beyond the rotten core, in sprawlsville, and the shoppers all look like the upper track from high school. The realpolitikal landscape utterly prevents any kind of overarching plan which might mitigate against the bottom devouring tendencies of brutal unrestrained capitalism.

What harm if regional planners were able to trump greedy developers? Unless it was the planners who caused the trouble in the first place. The pedestrian mall destroyed as much as it provided an opportunity to come if they would build it.

What if government investments in school were regarded not as expense but as investment? What if it weren't only possible to provide extraordinary funding for those with diagnoses? What if the healthy livers among us were to get the lions share of healthcare dollars and what if it turned out that the really sick would number fewer therefore?

How could this calculus work?

What if you were changed by the reality you interact with as much as it is changed by you? What if you were able to sense those changes ahead of time and what if it were considered to be OK for you to behave as though you did? What if common sense was not always a matter of getting the best price? What then??

It won't buy you forever, but maybe your kids will be better taken care of. Maybe.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sh*t Happens

I swear this wasn't a setup. But you know, I had to come across something to cap the post the other day about art and museums and breaking down walls. I'd heard about this video called "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and I knew it was about street art. I guess it might be a hoax. It oughta be a hoax, but it doesn't really matter. It's about art, and not-art, and the guerrilla artists becoming all proprietary and snotty about what counts and what doesn't.

It's fun to watch. You should watch it! I'd thought I was going to have to pay to rent it, online or via DVD, but I found it free for the price of a few Geico commercials on hulu. What a world!!

Meanwhile, I downloaded the first chapter of this new book I learned about on the Colbert Report called All Things Shining written by the chair of philosophy at Harvard. I don't know. Maybe that was a hoax too. The guy didn't seem all that sharp, and when I downloaded his first chapter on my Kindle (someday I'll get up the nerve to find the pirate edition on bitTorrent, but I'm still way too boxed up for that) I thought Oh, so is that all you have to do? You stretch out a thought which might merit a sentence into a page or more, and you allow the reader to skim the entire chapter without ever really reading it in maybe 5 minutes or less. I mean why would I want to buy such a book. It's just a sluice for things I've already thought, and without footnotes fer Chrissakes!

After a while on the Colbert show though, he started to make some sense. Colbert was plenty funny, especially when the guy said that the trouble with our fallen age is that we've banished all the gods. He explained that the sacred is what you wouldn't laugh at, which you've got to admit made a pretty good setup line for Colbert.

But you know there's the thing. Art verges on the sacred, but it's always ironic these days. You don't exactly laugh at it, but you're never sure if you're being had. And if you're an art collector you'd better be a tastemaker too, or you could really be made a fool of. I mean, you never really know, do you? Maybe this guy will lose his chair at Harvard for pandering to the hoi polloi the way that the guy who wrote Love Story did way back when they used to let dogs into Yale.

I didn't really get the sense he'd be recruiting a lot of serious undergrads to the school, unless they were wanting to join the Hasty Pudding crowd, but anyhow none of this is what I really want to write about today. I already write until I'm blue in the face about this stuff, and sure, you know, I love David Foster Wallace and I love that the world of highbrow art is ending and that there's nothing cool to be a part of anymore without risking being an uber-dweeb. Except maybe saving little children in Africa.

Like, I mean Kevin Costner's a dweeb no matter what he does and so when he wants to sell the world an oil-spill eating machine we all just figure it's a hoot and what's he doing pretending to be an expert? All he wants to do is to make lots of money from the money he's already made.Who has the time to fact check it all? Google's mostly mum, reflecting only the echo chamber of too much data to parse the real from the just plain silly.

What I really want to talk about is the Grand Hoax. The Jesus Hoax and the Confucius Hoax and the oh my God it all takes so long to load now that you have to wait for Google to catalog your ads and stats and the multimedia flashy stuff to load and it's almost not worth it to even try to fact check.

But you know, Jesus was a man who came along at about that time when thought was turning into literature and solidified that whole thing about human agency. Alphas and Omegas and ultimately the very idea of an ultimate God who was the Inception of be-all and end-all but very definitely the embodiment of agency. Or the disembodiment of agency, take your pick.

But you know, Confucius, who I like in some ways better, was doing the same thing but not going all ultimate about agency. In fact you might say he was more about conformance to natural law and the whole idea that this could be done society-wide, and not just individually like the Taoists were all about. Not being mono-Gods Confucius and LaoZi never did have to duke it out about who is ultimately right.

So I want to make of the two opposing dudes some kind of yin-yang. A global humanity yin-yang where on the one hand you're all worried about agency and origins and endings and on the other you're more worried about the social conscience and how to conform to it, and they both find their chicken/egg origins at about the same historical time of coming to actual consciousness when words were written and what we call thought now first started to happen.

We stopped just murdering and killing and disembodying excellence the way that that Harvard philosopher seems to want to go back to (at least he's not all philosophizing about language and nevermind the meaning). We started to worry about the proper and moral and decent way to live and invented all these hoax-like orthodoxies about it which got written down and codified and mostly became big excuses for killing on a vaster scale, but at least we weren't going to laugh about it. Or gloat in it.

Maybe it's time for another great transformation. Maybe we really can get serious again and find something all shining that isn't art with its tongue in its cheeky cheek. Maybe we get that grand titration yin/yang thing spinning so fast that we stop worrying about truth and illusion and right and wrong and who's on first and they both kind of come together in a man-as-god-ha-ha-only-kidding kind of way that doesn't involve so very much inhumanity to man.

Well you know, I'm just another Mr. Brainwash. My cup looks like a giant version of those miniature goblets you use for eyewash, from which maybe you drink a runneth over Mory's cup and be merry. I don't know how to stretch out a decent thought that might be worth a sentence into a whole page. But I can work it out.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Distributed Anomalies

I am struck by Google's announcement this morning  - or some reporter's discovery - that they will offer high-definition tours of various art galleries, mostly clustered for now on the East Coast. This promises to break down museum walls, and expose their collections to a vastly larger and more varied audience of viewers.

For certain pieces, the online viewer will be privileged to inspect the work from an extremely close-up vantage, perhaps taking time beyond what might be comfortable in the actual museum. One imagines students and art historians now having the chance to brush up their sense of that piece they might already know about. One imagines the viewing public enriched.

Over the weekend, result of the usual random confluences which determine any life's path, I traveled into downtown LA to immerse myself in the "Suprasensorial" exhibit at the Geffen Temporary Contemporary and now seemingly permanent extension of the MOCA. This installation featured flashback pieces brought north from the more Southerly and more Latin Americas. These represented by now historic attempts to break down the wall between appreciator and artist: to remove the object from its frame.

In what could only be called a literalistic rendition, museum visitors were even invited to immerse themselves in a swimming pool, bathed also in light and video. Right beyond this piece's wall, I tried to follow a gallery talk about the exhibit; above the din of swimming children splashing over the wall, and through the ever-dropping transmission of a portable wireless sound system, my head swam and promised to ache.

It could have been a useful talk, but the flashing catalog of images from the original installations at least gave me solid grounding in what I was about to experience. These were conceptual conjectures thrown to me, and nothing much of talent to them. Nothing much outside the heads of their creators and so I would be the artist, the actual creator. I would make of my own experience something other from everyday living.

For those my age, there was nothing new about these retro works. The term "contemporary" was bizarrely shifted, as I wandered among neon and schematic "rooms" filled with primary colors, in fashions once so favored through Plexiglas gels along 70's lines. Yellowing CRT screens would react to my presence or I could penetrate the rain storm of hanging vinyl strings. Just another day in the life. Even boring in its way, in contrast to a contemporary shopping complex.

What has happened to such art? Had it always been displaced to South America, and would the notion of releasing art from its framed containment now remain itself framed in a perpetuated state of coming into being?

All art is now performance art, right? And the audience has the right to remain passive, despite and because of all the interactive technologies, so called, deploying themselves across the planet. Participatory art will always remain stillborn. Or anonymous.

Time was that gonzo theater audiences might be dragged out into the street as part of the show. I even remember a literal net being cast over those of us in an "audience." Animal offal revealed by hatchet blows, blood dripping from A.I.R. loft's over-sheetrocked walls back when they themselves, these lofts, blurred the boundaries between art and work and life.

Down in New York's new SoHo, I remember visiting a video installation within which was the actual living object of the realtime display. I watched him languidly wiping his ass, glad that there was no smell which escaped the space-capsule-sized enclosure where he carried on his day-to-day.

And so Google now allows and even encourages us to stay as far from the fray as possible, and who would argue that this is not wondrous and grand. That we may appreciate those things once reserved for the higher classes, just as we may freely download classic music and displace the money-making back up onto the stage where it belongs. Disclosing only as much of our secret desires as might be repaid by  marketing placements on our screens.

Rupert Murdoch wants to place the stopper back into the online free download drain now to reserve his exclusive profits. You will pay to look under his tent for special morsels: salacious gossip or privileged news.

Even as the walls come down all around and about us, reminding us of what happened once so long ago when Chinese students spilled out from their academies. Following on the inspiration of that anonymous tank-boy way back on Tiananmen containment square,we thought all the walls would topple.

Tunisia, Egypt with Russia looking longingly on, but never here. Never where the performance art has now infected government and we wait to be administered to. While the action spills out into the streets elsewhere over the globe. Instigated by homebound tweets and Facebook outrage. Empowered.

And we wait. We want our entertainment now. We want our education free, along with libertarian unbound information. But what will we do with it? Will we only watch? Will we only arise when the radiation which knows no boundaries, the CAT scans which accumulate without record beyond our faulty recall, the endless ways that we can and must and will find to probe for to burn away to endlessly power and slap with the label green those things which derail all promises of eternity.

Snow storms blanket our sleeping recumbent receptive and ever reclusive minds. Unbound. Snowbound. Rebounding main. There would be an awakening, but that we are all so receptive to it.