TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Arctic Oil's Distant Early Warning


Image Source: Arctic Institute.

Recently, there was an upswing in French linguistic nationalism in Quebec. Commentators have drawn parallels between Quebec separatism and Scottish calls for independence. The vote on whether Scotland will stay in the UK draws near: 18 September 2014. The calls for separation, the conflict in the Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East all have something in common: Arctic energy.

Sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian conflict happen to block Russia's progress in Arctic oil exploitation. In the Arctic, a 2008 United States Geological Survey estimated that there are likely 90 billion barrels of oil and 44 billion barrels of natural gas. From the Russian Geographical Society:
While most offshore areas have not been surveyed for resources, the extensive continental shelves in the region are believed to hold huge reserves of oil and gas. In 2008 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) completed the most comprehensive assessment of potential hydrocarbon reserves to date, using computer modeling to evaluate 25 Arctic geological provinces. From this, the USGS estimates that the “undiscovered, technically recoverable” stores of petroleum include 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural-gas liquids. These figures suggest the Arctic may hold about 22 percent of the undiscovered conventional hydrocarbon reserves untapped worldwide.
Roughly 85 percent of these potential reserves are thought to occur offshore at depths of 450 meters or less. The majority of untapped natural gas probably lies within Russian territory, while most of the oil is located offshore of Alaska. The assessment indicates that more than 70 percent of the petroleum stores are concentrated in only five geological provinces: Alaska; the Amerasian Basin (underlying the Arctic Ocean); and the East Greenland Rift, East Barents, and West Greenland–East Canada basins.
That amount of energy resources is sufficient to redraw the whole picture of geopolitical power and global conflict, and gives a glimpse of the future. From Ernst and Young: A "USGS study estimated that the Arctic could hold about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and as much as 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves." Russia claims around 50 per cent of potential Arctic oil and gas resources. The USA claims approximately 20 per cent; Norway 12 per cent; Greenland 11 per cent; and Canada claims roughly 5 per cent of these resources. Other estimates place Canada's share at a much higher 20 per cent. There are disputed Arctic areas which determine these countries' relative wealth and power in the region. Metro:
“It’s the opening chapter of what’s going to amount to be a very long story, and people are playing nice and working together — for now,” says Robert Huebert, a University of Calgary professor and expert in circumpolar relations and defence policy.
Non-Arctic powers also stake claims in polar regions: "As the Arctic ice melts, the area is predicted to become a center of strategic competition and economic activity. Last year [in 2013], China signed a free trade agreement with Iceland and sent an icebreaker to the region despite having no viable claims in the Arctic."

To put this into the Middle Eastern perspective: OPEC states that the Middle East, Africa and South America have an estimated 1.2 trillion barrels of proven oil reserves. The Economist predicts that demand for oil in some developed countries will fall, due to technological and sustainable energy innovations.

But in developing countries, consumption of oil is rapidly increasing, as is the population. A 2013 BP study projected energy needs up to 2030:
  • Population and income growth are the key drivers behind growing demand for energy. By 2030 world population is projected to reach 8.3 billion, which means an additional 1.3 billion people will need energy; and world income in 2030 is expected to be roughly double the 2011 level in real terms.
  • World primary energy consumption is projected to grow by 1.6% p.a. from 2011 to 2030, adding 36% to global consumption by 2030. The growth rate declines, from 2.5% p.a. for 2000-10, to 2.1% p.a. for 2010-20, and 1.3% p.a. from 2020 to 2030.
  • Low and medium income economies outside the OECD account for over 90% of population growth to 2030. Due to their rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and motorisation, they also contribute 70% of the global GDP growth and over 90% of the global energy demand growth.
By 2035, global demand is expected to reach 101 million barrels of oil per day.

In 2011, The Economist estimated the world's total proven oil reserves (reserves that can be extracted with current technology) of around 1.38 trillion barrels would run out over the next 100 years. Most analysts foresee a decline of output and corresponding importance of the Middle East, with a turning point around 2030. Real Clear World: "There may be as many as 7.9 trillion barrels of potentially recoverable oil [i.e. unproven reserves] left in the world from all sources, according to the IEA, with more than 90 percent of it outside the Middle East."

Click to enlarge map. Image Source: Global Research.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

History in the Echo Chamber


Erasures from history are hallmarks of dictatorships. Image Source: Business Insider.

History is up for grabs. In the malleable global media, parts of history are being denied, erased or changed beyond recognition to suit new agendas. What is being changed, by whom, and where it is happening, all foreshadow coming trends in politics and daily life.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Trap of Prometheus


Section from Nocturnal Figure Composition (2004) by George Condo.

In the American television show, Rectify (2013), one character describes the basic instincts of human nature which endure across thousands of years, "Just don't let all this technology lull you, son. If you think we're in modern times, watch yourself." Those of you clutching your glowing iPhones, beware the undertow, because some things don't change. From the Russian film Nightwatch (Ночной дозор 2004): "It is easier for a man to destroy the light inside himself than to defeat the darkness around him."

That film depicts a comforting mythical battle between light and dark; but the more common Millennial experience is shades of grey. Even when progress is progressive, it comes at a terrible cost. The price is paid at unexpected moments, because everywhere there is a gap between action and consequences.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bitcoin: Economy of the Eternal Now


De Oude Beurs, Antwerp, Belgium (Urbex photo of the ruins of the world's first modern stock exchange, Antwerp).

In May, I chatted with Chris Ellis, aka ChrisJ of Feathercoin, about how cryptocurrencies could change global economics and society (see my earlier related post here). What follows today is not exactly an interview, but reflections on some of the things we discussed. We talked mainly about Bitcoin. But one senses that it is Ellis's work on Feathercoin - an altcoin established on 16 April 2013 and originally developed by Peter Bushnell at Brasenose College, Oxford - that brings Ellis to some of Bitcoin's biggest questions, and indeed, to some of the biggest questions surrounding all cryptos.

For Ellis, an economy is a system of how we define ourselves in relation to time. In a June 2014 interview, he noted Mike Maloney's remark that the ultimate form of money is time, the ultimate irreversible transaction.

Bitcoin is above all a technology of its blockchain, a time-stamped ledger either of economic transactions, or of interactions in Bitcoin's non-currency applications. According to Ellis, Bitcoin is really "a great big unstoppable clock." And that means that Bitcoin represents a watershed moment, the start of a change in how we understand time technologically, economically, socially and culturally.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Photo of the Day: Persistent Saturnian Auroras


Image Source: J. Clarke (Boston U.) & Z. Levay (STScI), ESA, NASA.

From NASA:
"Persistent Saturnian Auroras - Are Saturn's auroras like Earth's? To help answer this question, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft monitored Saturn's South Pole simultaneously as Cassini closed in on the gas giant in January 2004. Hubble snapped images in ultraviolet light, while Cassini recorded radio emissions and monitored the solar wind. Like on Earth, Saturn's auroras make total or partial rings around magnetic poles. Unlike on Earth, however, Saturn's auroras persist for days, as opposed to only minutes on Earth. Although surely created by charged particles entering the atmosphere, Saturn's auroras also appear to be more closely modulated by the solar wind than either Earth's or Jupiter's auroras. The above sequence shows three Hubble images of Saturn each taken two days apart."

Historic Present Superimposition


Image Source: Sungseok Ahn/Sony World Photography Awards via Yahoo.

Yahoo reports on a Gen Y South Korean artist, Sungseok Ahn, who superimposes past photographs over present views and then photographs the resulting scenes:
Sungseok Ahn's Historic Present questions the memory of past from the fast changing scenery of today. By overlapping a historical location with an old image of that exact place, he questions the way we treat our history and explores the dynamics.
Historic Present was short-listed for the 2014 Sony World Photography Award. The concept and technique are nearly identical to that of the pinterest group, Dear Photograph (see my blog post on that project, here). The inclusion of more people in Dear Photograph photos enhances the message of the superimposition.

For more photos from Historic Present, all reproduced from Sungseok Ahn's Website (here), see below the jump; copyright remains with the artist and photos are reproduced here for non-commercial discussion only.

New Blog Page


Mars Desert Research Station, Southern Utah (2013). Image Source: Mars Society.

Today, I am changing the blog's format and adding a new page to the blog. In the past, regular posts at Histories of Things to Come have featured longer pieces - commentaries, interviews and reviews - and short excerpts from interesting news items. Due to other work demands, I am mainly posting longer think pieces only on Sundays or Mondays. I have a separate page to cite exceptional pieces which reflect the themes of this blog:


However, there are also many links I find that are relevant, but don't need extended citation or reblogging in a post. I have set up a new page, which I will occasionally update:


This is a compendium similar to Graham Hancock's Daily Alternative News Desk.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Anniversaries: Sarajevo


Image Source: Smithsonian.

One hundred years ago today (28 June 1914), Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1863-1914) and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg (1868-1914) in Sarajevo, which marked the start of the First World War. It started as a bad day with poor security in a dangerous capital; Franz Ferdinand had already survived one assassination attempt earlier that day; and the car the heir to the throne and his wife were riding was reported to be cursed. Rumours and superstitions aside, the entire event was surrounded by weird, unfortunate and all-too-real coincidences. Smithsonian:
The appalling combination of implausible circumstance that resulted in assassination is one; Franz Ferdinand had survived an earlier attempt to kill him on the fateful day, emerging unscathed from the explosion of a bomb that bounced off the folded roof of his convertible and exploded under a car following behind him in his motorcade. That bomb injured several members of the imperial entourage, and those men were taken to the hospital. It was Franz Ferdinand’s impulsive decision, later in the day, to visit them there—a decision none of his assassins could have predicted—that took him directly past the spot where his assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was standing. It was chauffeur Leopold Lojka’s unfamiliarity with the new route that led him to take a wrong turn and, confused, pull to a halt just six feet from the gunman.
For the archduke to be presented, as a stationary target, to the one man in a crowd of thousands still determined to kill him was a remarkable stroke of bad luck, but even then, the odds still favored Franz Ferdinand’s survival. Princip was so hemmed in by the crowd that he was unable to pull out and prime the bomb he was carrying. Instead, he was forced to resort to his pistol, but failed to actually aim it. According to his own testimony, Princip confessed: “Where I aimed I do not know,” adding that he had raised his gun “against the automobile without aiming. I even turned my head as I shot.” Even allowing for the point-blank range, it is pretty striking, given these circumstances, that the killer fired just two bullets, and yet one struck Franz Ferdinand’s wife, Sophie—who was sitting alongside him—while the other hit the heir to the throne. It is astonishing that both rounds proved almost immediately fatal. Sophie was hit in the stomach, and her husband in the neck, the bullet severing his jugular vein. There was nothing any doctor could have done to save either of them.
Among all the stories and hoaxes that emerged around that day, including one rumour that the Archduke had killed a rare white stag in 1913 which brought death upon his head, the most eerie is the true detail that the car's licence plate contained the date of the end of the war:
[T]he Gräf & Stift’s license plate ... reads AIII 118. That number ... is capable of a quite astonishing interpretation. It can be taken to read A (for Armistice) 11-11-18— which means that the death car has always carried with it a prediction not of the dreadful day of Sarajevo that in a real sense marked the beginning of the First World War, but of November 11, 1918: Armistice Day, the day that the war ended.

This coincidence is so incredible that I initially suspected that it might be a hoax—that perhaps the Gräf & Stift had been fitted with the plate retrospectively. A couple of things suggest that this is not the case, however. First, the pregnant meaning of the intitial ‘A’ applies only in English—the German for ‘armistice’ is Waffenstillstand ... that literally translates as “arms standstill.” And Austria-Hungary did not surrender on the same day as its German allies—it had been knocked out of the war a week earlier, on November 4, 1918. So the number plate is a little bit less spooky in its native country. ...
More important, however, a contemporary photo of the fateful limousine, taken just as it turned into the road where Gavrilo Princip was waiting for it, some 30 seconds before Franz Ferdinand’s death, shows the car bearing what looks very much like the same number plate as it does today. You’re going to have to take my word for this—the plate is visible, just, in the best-quality copy of the image that I have access to, and I have been able to read it with a magnifying glass. But my attempts to scan this tiny detail in high definition have been unsuccessful. I’m satisfied, though, and while I don’t pretend that this is anything but a quite incredible coincidence, it certainly is incredible, one of the most jaw-dropping I’ve ever come across.
See my earlier post on the assassination, here and a related post, here.

The Archduke and his wife. Image Source: Funfront.

Princip's arrest. Image Source: HistoryLearningSite.

Image Source: Telegraph.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Love and the Underworld



Years ago, I attended a high school of the arts and studied Visual Arts for four years. One day, our teacher presented the unruly, noisy class with Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait (1434). "Shut up and look at it!" he yelled, "What do you see?" The portrait depicts a couple getting married. But the more you look at the painting of this happy day in Bruges, the more it appears that something is very, very wrong. What, for example, is that little horned and hoofed gremlin thing sitting right over the wife's right wrist? Or the animal - a cat? - below her wrist?

The man, Giovanni Arnolfini, was thought to be holding the hand of his second Flemish wife, Giovanna (Jeanne) Cenami. Arnolfini is holding his wife's hand with his left hand, suggesting that this was a morganatic marriage and she was of lower social rank. Image Source: Wiki. The painting is in the National Gallery, London.

"She's pregnant." someone said. "Yeah." our teacher said, "What else?" I remember that we spent some time discussing it and could not find an ultimate answer. The portrait is full of messages, all pointing at something cryptic. The wedding to a pregnant bride makes no sense, since at that time, for people of this class, a woman would fall visibly pregnant well after marriage. Why would a respectable, wealthy businessman pay the artist to depict him and his wife in a shotgun wedding? And who gets married in their bedroom? Even more oddly, Arnolfini died without an heir.

Image Source: Art Chronicler.

Indeed, the portrait is screaming something at the viewer; but van Eyck (1390-1441) hid its message in plain sight. This is because when we see a couple in love, we project all kinds of expectations and stories onto their united image. We expect the symbols - a mix of secular and religious ideas - to add up to a message about love. But here, they do. And they don't.
  • The shoes are symbols of the soul.
  • The man's shoes are outdoor shoes. The woman's shoes are indoor shoes.
  • The toes of the man's shoes point outdoors and out of the picture. The heels of the woman's shoes point into the picture, at the couple.
  • The woman's presumably bare feet are symbols of fertility
  • The composition divides the picture down the middle between the couple.
  • The dog further divides the couple and is thought by some to represent fidelity or sexual tension.
  • The writing on the wall, a signature of the artist, states, "Jan Van Eyck was here, 1434."
  • The mirror shows the painting inside the painting, creating a nested view. There are several views: the viewer looking at the painting (crossing the 4th wall of the onlooker, i.e. our world); the original real world view of van Eyck as he painted the picture (4th wall of the artist, outside the world created by the painting); the conventional portrait (the basic happy picture as presented looking forward, the apparent reality of the wedding depicted inside the painting); the view of the portrait from inside the mirror (a darker view, looking backward through the scene, observed from inside the painting), which is also a self-portrait of the artist. The symbols add additional layers of reality to the picture.
  • The mirror shows two figures you can't otherwise see, who are facing the couple. One is the artist - and one is someone or something else dressed in red, peeking over the artist's shoulder.
  • The couple are taking their oath before the artist and another figure, not a minister.
Close-up of the mirror. Image Source: Kenney Mencher.

Portraiture is a genre of painting that creates expectations from viewers. Even from van Eyck's time, the late Middle Ages on the cusp of the Renaissance, the painting already has conveyed a modern message of realism. For example, the fact that the lady is shown as pregnant in a wedding composition is considered very modern, a step away from the idealized medieval images. Some art historians have argued that she is not pregnant and it is merely the style of her dress, but that seems counter-intuitive.

Many websites on the Internet attempt to decode this masterpiece. My friend, C., brought up this portrait again recently because he saw a BBC video about it (below the jump). I remembered that class where we walked away without an answer. And now, thanks to an art historian, this painting may be solved. Because the wife in this portrait is not only pregnant - she is also dead.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Not-So-Discreet Charm of Lateral Thinking


Meanwhile, in Vienna: David LaChapelle's dual poster, Once in the Garden 1 & 2, features American transgender model Carmen Carrera playing Eve in one poster and Adam in the other (May 2014). I can't show the whole poster due to Blogger's policies. Image Source: Out.com.

There are a lot of wannabe artistes out there in the online world. But you cannot mistake the genuine type. Only Ms. Dia Sobin at Trans-D Digital Art could find the link between bird song, medieval-derived 3-D geometric art, and lucid dreams about the mathematics of nature. Somehow, she recognizes the buried associations that "decode the living matrix." And I have to thank her for marrying bird song to the underlying art of the universe, because she identified a bird that warbles beautifully outside my window.

I've tried for ages to find its identity. It is not quite the wood thrush Sobin describes: "the song of the male is often cited as being the most beautiful in North America." She cites a 20th century naturalist who wrote: "As we listen we lose the sense of time—it links us with eternity…Its tones…seem like the vocal expression of the mystery of the universe, clothed in a melody so pure and ethereal that the soul still bound to its earthly tenement can neither imitate nor describe it. 

The bird outside my window is a hermit thrush, sampled for the Mockingjay's song in the 2012 film, The Hunger Games. The Globe and Mail writes of the hermit thrush:
A Fluttering of Wings to Lift the Heart: The hermit thrush ... spends its summers in the cool woods of the north. You rarely see it then, because its brown-grey back and speckled white breast are perfect camouflage in the dappled light of the forest.

You know it is there only by its haunting song, perhaps the most beautiful of any North American bird. One ornithology site calls it a “clear, flute-like note followed by a series of ethereal, bell-like ascending and descending tones,” but words can’t really do it justice.
You can hear the hermit thrush's song here, here and here. These are only partial samples of what it can do. Juvenile birds learn songs from their parents, and the one in my yard is a virtuoso, pealing waterfalls of cascading bell notes. It really is unbelievable. The bird sings in stereo.

This point brought me to another surprising fact: American robins are thrushes, whereas European robins look completely different and belong to the flycatcher family. This means the need to preserve robins in the culture was strong enough - it was seen as a bird that sang to Christ on the cross and fetched water for souls in purgatory - that colonists pressed the symbolic role on another bird when they arrived in North America.


Getting to the point, somehow, some day: proponents claim that lateral thinking is synonymous with creative thinking. Critics disagree and call lateral thinking 'divergent.' Image Source: Lateral Action.

Some argue that to think artistically is to think laterally, not linearly. Lateral thinking is defined on Wiki:
Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. The term was coined in 1967 by Edward de Bono.
In this theory, lateral thinkers differ from linear thinkers. Chuck's Lamp gives a simple contrast:
[M]uch of our world is indeed structured upon the concept of logic (very basic logic at least). We learn math, deductive reasoning, and tend to apply these logical processes to our everyday life. Our drive to do so comes from our inherent need, as cognitive humans, to categorize our experiences in our minds and make projections about what the outcome of an action will be. We compare our expectations with our experience, weigh the similarity, and adjust our thought processes as needed. Linear thinkers are very much the same. They start at step one and usually do a good and efficient job of completing the task before moving on to step two. They are driven, focused, and don’t easily get off topic. ...
[By constrast, in lateral thinking h]uman thought [is] characterized by expansion in multiple directions, rather than in one direction, and based on the concept that there are multiple starting points from which one can apply logic to a problem. Non-linear thought increases possible outcomes by not being so certain about the starting point for any logic process. Non-linear thinkers tend to jump forward, and from side to side through the steps of a project, in an effort to see the big picture and tackle those areas where they have the most interest. Where non-linear thinking falters is in finally carrying out the required action, because as a thought process it often encourages a user to agonize incessantly over where to start (that agreed upon truth, from which logic can be applied and action can be taken).
Systemic problems diminish the performance value of the status quo. And this theory suggests that lateral thinkers are better at breaking current thinking patterns or overturning the status quo to solve problems. They ask why accepted values or systems exist. Or to solve a given problem, they engage in
provocation techniques—wishful thinking, exaggeration, reversal, escape, distortion, or arising. The thinker creates a list of provocations and then uses the most outlandish ones to move their thinking forward to new ideas.
It seems that lateral thinkers and linear thinkers are arrayed, facing each other across a great divide of Millennial change. The lateral side is immersed in infinite chaos and displays occasional redemptive epiphanies. For the most part, lateral thinkers gain their insights because they are alienated from the forward march of technological progress qua 'progress.' And the other, linear, side stolidly clings to what remains of stable ideas and pushes relentlessly forward, logically, sometimes with brute force, through tabulation and data management to control, authority and power.

In the push and pull between these mentalities, the future technocracy is up for grabs. Will it, or will it not, become a police state? To put it in a less dire way, consider the words of Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of the United States Congress, who was quoted in a recent documentary: "Stories unite people. Theories divide them." What arcane mix of these two manners of thought will take us down the better path?

LaChapelle's artwork defaced at a Viennese bus stop. Image Source: BBC.

I was reminded of all this on 9 June 2014, when BBC's Hard Talk broadcast an interview between Stephen Sackur and world famous photographer David LaChapelle. Sackur was the voice of inquiring reason. He asked about the uproar caused this spring in Vienna by LaChapelle's transgendered poster for the HIV/AIDS benefit event, Life Ball (31 May 2014) and associated exhibition at Ostlicht Photography Gallery (2 June - 14 September 2014).

LaChapelle is known for his kitsch pop surrealism (see his website portfolio here); his splashy portraits of celebrities are dreams on the verge of nightmares. Think: Bubblegum Salvador Dalí meets Vogue in the subdivision - or the rain forest.

Stephen Sackur wanted to know whether LaChapelle thought it was appropriate to have Carmen Carrera's transgendered nudity simultaneously playing Adam and Eve this spring in Vienna's streets. He asked about small children who could see the poster and ask questions, which they reportedly did, about Carrera, who has male genitalia and female breasts.

LaChapelle dismissed this in the interview, but he did in fact worry about backlash. Both he and his model increased their security during their visit to the city. From Page Six:
“David and Carmen both had four bodyguards each from the minute they landed in Vienna until the minute they left,” said a rep for the photographer, who had an exhibition at a Vienna gallery this week following the Life Ball, which included nude images of Carrera.
The FPO had filed suit against the Life Ball, and its spokesperson claimed that LaChapelle’s work “[doesn’t] just cross the boundaries of good taste…but…also the limits of criminal law.” But the posters, LaChapelle pointed out, had been ­approved as art by the city before they were hung in train stations and other public places.
Some who objected to the images began defacing them by covering up Carrera’s exposed parts with spray paint. One 70-year-old woman, who graffitied the posters after dark, in a local report said of the images of busty Carrera with a penis: “My 4-year-old grandson asked me while walking if I actually also have a spatzi.” (We’ll let you figure out the translation on that one.)
In the end, all the controversy only amped up interest in the LaChapelle work. An original ­image titled Once in the Garden, on which the posters were based, was expected to sell for $41,000 at the Life Ball’s auction, but went for a record-breaking $245,500. An Audi car designed by LaChapelle sold to members of the Missoni family for $136,400.
“Art was victorious…it was all love,” LaChapelle told Page Six of the event, where Ricky Martin and Kesha performed, and guests included Bill Clinton and Courtney Love.
LaChapelle passionately pleaded that his work is not pornographic, that Once in the Garden is a Botticelli-esque expression of unfettered beauty. Once marginalized sexual imagery is no longer marginal but mainstream. In response, Sackur asked about LaChapelle's furry-oriented photo of a half-nude Angelina Jolie having her breast nuzzled by a horse. Is that mainstream too?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Interview: Heidi Hecht, Mars One Candidate


Panorama under a pink sky at the NASA Mars Pathfinder landing site, 12 October 1998. Image Source: Dr. Timothy Parker / JPL / NASA.

At some point between the moon landing and Survivor, space colonization became a media event about amateur astronauts. In the rush to have humans land on Mars, the first trip will likely be one way only (see here and here) - and fully televised.

A manned Mars mission is vastly expensive and technologically demanding. The list of manned missions which never materialized is long. Telepresence proposals involved astronauts reaching Mars and studying the planet only from orbit.  NASA has a manned Mars mission scheduled for around 2030. But Mars One, a Dutch non-profit co-founded by Gen Xers Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders, aims to beat them to the punch, sending its first four-person team by 2025, with five more four-colonist teams to follow by 2035.

Terraforming Mars is expected to take one thousand years. Image Source: ScienceBlogs.

Mars One sent out a global recruitment call from 22 April 2013 until 31 August 2013. Out of 200,000 applicants, 705 candidates remain in the Mars One selection pool. Final selection is expected by July 2015. By now, older applicants have already withdrawn. Most applicants are members of Generation Y: they are largely under the age of 36 and well educated. Of the 705 pre-interview candidates, 313 are from the Americas; 187 are from Europe; 136 hail from Asia; 41 come from Africa; and 28 are from Oceania.

Mars One organizers plan to fund the project by covering the candidates' Round 3 selection, training, preparation and departure in the biggest reality TV and Internet spectacle in the history of modern media. The show will have to raise USD $6 billion. Mars One takes its media model from the Olympics, which raised USD $8 billion between 2009 and 2011. Lionsgate was initially slated to produce the show. Those production rights have now passed to Darlow Smithson Productions, whose strengths lie in "factual storytelling to an international audience." Darlow Smithson is owned by the unfortunately homophonously-named company, Endemol (end 'em all). Wiki: "Endemol created and runs reality and talent game show franchises worldwide, including Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Wipeout, The Money Drop, and Your Face Sounds Familiar."

Today, Histories of Things to Come is pleased to interview Mars One candidate, Heidi Hecht, about her application to travel to Mars. Heidi told me:
"My main attraction to Mars One is that it’s giving ordinary people a chance to prove they have what it takes to handle space work and especially the colonization of other worlds. If it works out, it’ll show that space travel doesn’t have to be just for rich people paying for rides or an elite few who do it professionally. Sure, it’s hazardous, but have you ever tried to cross the street in New York City? It’s about being willing to choose what I’m risking my life for."
Heidi studied computer networking and she is also a blogger. Her blog, Nothing in Particular, covers her Mars One experience here. She has a great post on time-keeping on Mars, which mentions the Mars watch crafted by master watchmaker, Garo Anserlian; she also discusses the Martian year, marked by the signs of the Zodiac, which was the basis of the Martian Darian calendar.

Mars One habitat. Image Source: NBC.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Statues of the Internet's Archivists

Image Source: Business Insider.

The virtual world is built around a central paradox: it is both transient and permanent. Since 1996, the Internet Archive has preserved the Web's transient virtual reality. If you want to find screen captures of a defunct site, or earlier versions of an existing one, you go to the Internet Archive. Now, the Archive is commemorating its longest-serving archivists by hiring an artist to create statue portraits of them. From Business Insider:
The Internet Archive, which is based in the Richmond District in San Francisco, is a nonprofit organization that provides permanent storage and free access to music, websites, moving images and millions of public-domain books. 

For example, the Wayback Machine, which is its Web archive, contains more than 480 billion images of websites at the time of this writing. It has archived more than 10 petabytes of data. ... And it's also found a way to commemorate its researchers and archivists.

The Archive commissioned a fine arts sculptor named Nuala Creed to make statues representing people who have dedicated at least three years of service to the Internet Archive.

To date, Creed has made 100 statues, and they reside in the Great Room at the Archive and are scattered among the old church pews.

The Internet Archive's founder, computer engineer Brewster Kahle, was inspired to start the project after he went on a trip to China and saw the terracotta warriors, which depict the armies of the first emperor of China.

Creed says that she works from photographs of the people, and a brief statement about their interests. The statues are also holding items, such as coffee cups, books and cellphones.
Almost nowhere else in this day and age could you work at a job for three years or more, and have your boss commission a statue portrait of you as a way of saying thank you. This commemoration speaks to the extraordinary mentality of those who consciously develop the Web as a medium, and who grasp its indelible impact on global culture and history.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Buddhist Time: Being and Non-Being


Image Source: Jewcy.

The renowned Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh has gained fame lately on the Internet. Now in his late eighties, he has been a well-known figure since the 1960s. He met Martin Luther King, Jr. on a trip to the United States in 1966; in a recent interview, he told Oprah Winfrey that when he heard of King's assassination, he lamented: "When I first heard of his assassination, I could not believe it. I thought that the American people have produced King, but are not capable of preserving him." On the basis of that collective lapse, the great African-American leader passed from our world. And we may well ask why this was so. How do societies become obsessed with death and power? What values might undo that obsession?

In the video below the jump, see a teaching from Thích Nhất Hạnh in which he questions the western emphasis on duality, on being and non-being. He questions our understanding of time based on birth and death and rather stresses life in the present moment, flowing on a long line of endless continuity. It is a completely different vision of time from tech-driven Millennial urgency. The latter gobbles up time, keeps people in a constant state of near-hysterical desperation and stress, with endless demands from mechanized standards of productivity and a corresponding devaluation of life and accomplishment.

The conviction that we have little time before we permanently expire creates ambition, economic growth and expansion, as well as the extreme stresses in western thought and culture. As a book on the same subject, Towards Non-Being (2005) suggests, this highly-strung attitude toward time pre-dates the Technological and Communications Revolutions:
Towards Non-Being presents an account of the semantics of intentional verbs such as ‘believes’, ‘fears’, ‘seeks’, and ‘imagines’. It tackles problems concerning intentional states which are often brushed under the carpet, such as their failure to be closed under deducibility. Drawing on the noneist work of the late Richard Routley (Sylvan), the book proceeds in terms of objects that may be existent or non-existent, at worlds that may either be possible or impossible. Since Russell, non-existent objects have had a bad press in Western philosophy. Th[is] book mounts a full-scale defence, and in the process, offers an account of both fictional and mathematical objects as non-existent.
The western dualistic mindset creates never-ending battles between opposing world views, between religiosity and atheism, between belief in non-existent objects and existent objects. The line between life and death is a line drawn in the sand; and that line is the origin of western politics and worldly power. The message is: You have no time; carpe diem. Casual searches on google reveal the correlation between this view of time and extreme profit, competition and aggressive expansion.


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For example, the works of the English bard, William Shakespeare, focus on the problem of fleeting time before inevitable death and obliteration from this existence (see my post on this here, and a great reading from The Tempest, here). Take the speech from Macbeth, which indicates a pit of western nihilism and despair beneath this central problem:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

Important modern texts in this tradition include Martin Heidegger's Sein und Zeit (1927; Being and Time) and Jean-Paul Sartre's L'Être et le néant : Essai d'ontologie phénoménologique (1943; Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology). There have been other attitudes toward time, being and consciousness in the west which were more forgiving and humane. But even the central value of western creativity, expressed directly below, still rests on an inflexible idea that time is carved into two worlds of being and non-being.

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For the famous Vietnamese monk, existence and non-existence are false categories. Birth and death are a game of hide and seek. And to consider a non-being object as non-existent is "unjust." Thích speaks of a flame of non-being which manifests, then no longer manifests, according to worldly conditions, but never actually ceases to be; he gently dismisses Shakespeare's obsession with life and death:
When conditions are sufficient, I manifest. You cannot qualify me as a non-being before the manifestation and you cannot qualify me as a being after the manifestation. ... [Of a dead loved one:] Darling, I have gone nowhere. Because conditions are not sufficient, I have simply stopped my manifestation. ... There is no coming, no going. It means the notion of being and non-being cannot be applied to reality. ... To be or not to be - that is not the question. ... [There is] no birth no death. [And when the flame reappears:] I am not the same flame as the one you saw last time, but I am not a totally different flame, either.
Thích Nhất Hạnh's main remarks on this idea appear in the first half of the video below the jump. The latter half of the video is religious and ceremonial.