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.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Nuclear Culture 17: Geminoid F Returns

Still from Sayonara (2015). Image Source: Telegraph.

Geminoid F, a fembot built by Hiroshi Ishiguro at the University of Osaka's Intelligent Robotics Laboratory in 2010, has made headlines again as she stars in the first film to feature an android in a main role. Sayonara premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival on 24 October 2015. To reinforce her marketed product placement in that film, Geminoid F also reappeared at the World Robot Exhibition in Beijing, China on 24 November 2015, and took the convention by storm. Her appearances in October and November convey a double message about technology, one dystopic, the other utopian.

Video Source: Daily Mail.

On 24 October 2015, chief international film critic for Variety, Peter Debruge, dumped scorn on the film and any threat the android might pose to human actors:
Relying too heavily on the hook that it co-stars an actual android, this dreary study of human-robot relations offers little to engage apart from its pretty scenery.

Don’t say “Sayonara” to human actors just yet. A provocative experiment in whether androids could share the stage with people — for which Japanese playwright Oriza Hirata partnered with Osaka U. robotics guru Hiroshi Ishiguro, inventing a two-hander to be performed between a flesh-and-blood thesp and a stunningly lifelike machine — loses much of its interest on the bigscreen, where actors have been co-starring opposite robots of one form or another for decades. Whereas the stageplay attracted those curious to witness firsthand what android acting entails, on film, the effect dissipates moments after audiences set eyes on Ishiguro’s uncannily realistic Geminoid F, revealing instead the myriad dramatic shortcomings that will limit “Sayonara’s” welcome abroad, following its local-pride premiere at the Tokyo Film Festival.

The trouble with translating Hirata’s Android Theater Project to the screen stems from the fact that the short-form play wasn’t an especially compelling piece of material to begin with. While not exactly post-apocalyptic, the glacially sensitive chamber drama takes place after a nuclear meltdown, centering on the bond between a terminally ill woman afflicted with radiation poisoning and the slightly outdated companion droid who shares her home. The action, such as it is, consists of this longtime duo reciting poetry back and forth between themselves, staring at one other from across a dimly lit living room and going for “strolls” through the nearby wheat and bamboo patches.

With its lovely golden-hued lensing and minimal score (impactful when the string-and-piano quintet does appear), the film encourages meditation, but doesn’t provide much basis from which to work. Long’s character, Tanya, passes long hours lounging on her couch. Other characters, including a boyfriend (Hirofumi Arai) with whom she robotically makes love and a woman mourning the loss of her child, occasionally venture out to visit. Each is assigned a lottery number and awaits his or her turn to leave the country, though Tanya expresses no real urgency, feeling more comfortable passing the days — then months, then however long it takes a human body to decompose — with her robot Leona. The process demands equal patience from the audience, who may also feel as if they’re spending the film slowly waiting for their own lives to expire, comforted (or not) by poems by the likes of Shuntaro Tanikawa, Arthur Rimbaud and Carl Busse, each presented in its native language. ...

Simultaneously retro and modern, organic and technical, abstract and tangible, “Sayonara” ultimately amounts to a intriguing series of contradictions that may actually prove of greater interest to androids of the futures than it does to contempo human audiences.
Debruge misunderstood the point behind the first movie with a starring android. He insisted that the machine's friendship with helpless mortals underwhelmed him; and he puzzled over why the beautiful, nostalgically-lit, poisoned environment around the characters overwhelmed him. Other critics of this film have similarly focused on how robotic technology is crossing the Uncanny Valley in cinema, more often through CGI, but made no comment on the film's anti-nuclear message.

Critics' fixation on the android's role in the film neglects the film's message about nuclear radiation's ruination of Japan and her society. The reason the environment dominates the film is because it is the true main actor. This secret, hidden in plain sight, portrays a potential reality so horrible and so destabilizing that the international community refuses to acknowledge it. That is, it is possible that since the Fukushima disaster of 2011, large parts of Japan should be considered uninhabitable. The country may have become a real wasteland, not a poetic one. Pro-nuclear commentators deny that Fukushima has anything to do with Pacific contaminationfish die-offs, Florida fruit with Fukushima cesium in it, or plutonium fallout research. Plutonium is portrayed by the nuclear industry and anti-carbon lobby as a green alternative, "a sort of thermodynamic elixir." Yet the possibility that Japan's wasteland is real is evident in this year's headlines, with examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. The information on Fukushima's impact on the local and global environment is complicated for citizens to understand, difficult to gauge, and inconsistently measured. The disaster betrays a real gap between what we think we can do, technologically speaking, and what we actually can do: in 2015, The Times reported that 200 years will pass before we have technology capable of cleaning up Fukushima's mess. In the meantime, one is left to trust one's preferred media sources on whether there is no risk, low risk, or high risk. But in placing that trust, it is worth remembering if the risk was and is indeed high, then - unlike the scenario in the post-apocalyptic film - large scale evacuation of Japan was never an option in international relations. The unsettling, wooden, listless passivity of Sayonara's characters portrays a real untruth about nuclear high technology, with another high tech messenger, an android, perched at its centre.

Still from Sayonara (2015). Image Source: Daily Mail.

Sayonara (2015) trailer. Video Source: Youtube.

See all my posts on Nuclear topics.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Providence #6 (released 25 November 2015), art by Jacen Burrows. The cover depicts Alumni Hall at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire, USA. Image Source: Avatar Press. (Hat tip: Facts in the Case.)

The sixth issue of Alan Moore's Providence, which revives the visceral horror of H. P. Lovecraft, hits shops today. I am still recovering after reading the first five issues. It is a harrowing series, in which a post-World War I journalist is lured into a meta-historical New England underworld that is terrifying, disturbing, taboo and disgusting.

Moore often addresses questions long before they enter common consideration. Ironically, this is because of his deeply historical perspective of human nature. In 2006, the Guy Fawkes mask worn by Moore's anarchist terrorist character in his 1980s' comic series V for Vendetta became the face of global hacktivism and later, of the Occupy movement. Moore hails from Northampton and his outlook is partly shaped by that city's fateful support of Parliament against King Charles I during the English Civil War. The Gunpowder Plot in which Fawkes figured in November 1605 prefaced the Civil War (1642-1651). Late last year, Moore finished his magnum opus about Northampton. It is entitled Jerusalemhis final manuscript was sent off to his publisher with a final word count of over one million words. The editors will want him to cut it, but as he put it, "that's not going to happen." He stated the novel is, "longer than the Bible ... and with a better afterlife scenario." Moore confirmed that Jerusalem is a giant meditation on how the arcane world combines a resistance to fate and government; he deals with mathematics, the English Civil War, predestination and Cromwell; and "I realized [it] would [also] be about the development of economic policy, since Isaac Newton was put in charge of the mint." This year, in Providence, Moore has turned from politics to themes relevant in today's struggle against terrorist violence: what we fear and how we deal with it.

Saint Anselm College, Alumni Hall. Image Source: flickr.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Awaken the Amnesiacs: The Gnostic-Hermetic Synthesis of 2015

Image Source: Spiritual Unite.

Western culture is undergoing a shift. New Age circles have been buzzing about it for the past few years, especially since the recession and 2012. Their chatter is now reaching a dull roar. For skeptics who want the TL;DR version, here is the

Executive Summary.
Several online movements are currently combining hermeticism and gnosticism to realign western values.

What this means.
Hermeticism combines monotheistic arcane traditions to inspire blind leaps in how we understand the world. Its early triad of alchemy, astrology and theugy were termed as the 'three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe.' These translate in our terms into three aspects: first, science and rationalism of the mind; second, politics and emotions in the physical, the choices made to change the "life of matter and material existence"; and third, spirituality, our grasp of the relationship between the soul and what we define as divine. Sometimes associated with old Arab mysticism and the Kabbalah, sometimes with the occult, the Tarot and astrology, sometimes with Freemasonry, hermeticism is prevalent in popular culture today. This syncretic practice is being applied to gnostic philosophical unions of masculine and feminine principles to enable a shift in western perspectives. Much of this combination is due to the aftermath and reappraisal of 1960s' social revolutions, playing out during the Technological and Communications revolutions of the 2000s and 2010s. The philosophical synthesis also shows the next level of western engagement with virtual reality. Surging in the latter half of 2015, the trend may constitute a Fifth Great Awakening in America, but it is also evident in other western countries.

From September 2015. Image Source: Power of Consciousness.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lovecraft's Crusaders and Saracens

Austrian illustrator and fantasy cartographer Robert Altbauer circulated these cartoons of Lovecraftian monsters tangling with Crusaders and Saracens on 20 November 2015 at ArtStation:
This is a series of illustrations that imitates the style of old medieval paintings and adds a macabre flavour by incorporating some of H.P. Lovecraft's famous monsters. The text is mostly medieval Middle High German.
See more illustrations here (Thanks to -J.).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Look Skyward: The Leonids

Image Source: Gizmodo.

The Leonid meteor shower peaks tonight and falling stars from comet Tempel-Tuttle will still be visible for the next few days. From midnight to dawn, look between the Big Dipper and the constellation Leo, which is the radiant source of the shower, which will be visible in the eastern sky and overhead, in both hemispheres. For a global viewing guide, go here. Be sure to make a wish.

Image Source: Gizmodo.

A sample view of the Leonids' radiant, Ottawa, Canada, 2:13 a.m., 18 November 2015. Image Source: Stellarium.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fountain of Youth 20: Alzheimer's Drug Reverses Ageing

Researchers Antonio Currais and David Schubert. Image Source: Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Gizmag is reporting that a scientific journal article published on 12 November 2015 demonstrates that a new Alzheimer's drug reverses ageing. The authors of the article hypothesized that since Alzheimer's was caused by ageing symptoms, then reversing those symptoms would prevent or treat Alzheimer's. Gizmag:
The Salk research is looking to tackle the disease from a new angle. It expands upon a previous study conducted back in 2013, working with a potent memory-enhancing and neurotrophic drug called J147. Unlike most medicines designed to combat the disease, J147 was synthesized after looking at age-associated brain toxicities, and looks to tackle the major risk factor for the disease – old age itself.

The older research looked at the effect of J147 on mice with an inherited form of Alzheimer's, finding that it was able to prevent and even reverse memory loss in subjects. While that was promising, inherited Alzheimer's is far less common than cases of the disease triggered by old age.

The new study looked to discover whether the experimental drug is as effective at fighting Alzheimer's caused by old age, which is responsible for 99 percent of cases. Once the results were in, things were looking very positive, with the researchers surprised by how effective it had proved.

"We did not predict we'd see this sort of anti-aging effect," says lead author Antonio Currais. "But J147 made old mice look like they were young, based upon a number of physiological parameters."
Salk Institute for Biological Studies: Press Release, 12 November 2015.

Research report: "A comprehensive multiomics approach toward understanding the relationship between aging and dementia" in Aging, vol. 7/11 (November 2015), pp. 1-19.

Abstract: Because age is the greatest risk factor for sporadic Alzheimer’s disease (AD), phenotypic screens based upon old age‐associated brain toxicities were used to develop the potent neurotrophic drug J147. Since certain aspects of aging may be primary cause of AD, we hypothesized that J147 would be effective against AD‐associated pathology in rapidly aging SAMP8 mice and could be used to identify some of the molecular contributions of aging to AD. An inclusive and integrative multiomics approach was used to investigate protein and gene expression, metabolite levels, and cognition in old and young SAMP8 mice. J147 reduced cognitive deficits in old SAMP8 mice, while restoring multiple molecular markers associated with human AD, vascular pathology, impaired synaptic function, and inflammation to those approaching the young phenotype. The extensive assays used in this study identified a subset of molecular changes associated with aging that may be necessary for the development of AD.  

See all my posts on the Fountain of Youth.
See posts related to Alzheimer's, Memory and Anti-Ageing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Photo of the Day: Technological Enslavement

Street photo taken by friend and reader, -C., in San Francisco, California, USA (October 2015).

- A note about the blog: as of today, lengthy posts are going up fortnightly, due to other work commitments.

This street poster promotes a book by Swiss writer James Heim. His site, VoluntaryEnslavement.com, warns that we are interacting with technology like drug addicts and enthralled cultists:
Our use of technology gives us a broad range of intriguing advantages, which in turn strengthen our belief in technology as a universal remedy. It seems increasingly self-evident, that we should focus ever more of our time, energy, and attention on technology’s efficiency and functionality to reach our goals and satisfy our needs.

Enjoying some ice-cream or a glass of beer or wine can great. Being agreeable has many advantages, as does exercising regularly. We know, however, that habitually enjoying too many sweets or too much alcohol, never being able to say “no,” and constantly overstraining one’s body are likely to have negative effects. These insights are common knowledge. We accentuate the important idea of balance through sayings such as “everything in moderation.”

Yet regarding technological development – the most crucial area of human endeavor in our times – there is an alarming absence of moderation. What are the consequences of this lack of restraint?

Aldous Huxley once remarked that “… in an age of advanced technology, inefficiency is the sin against the Holy Ghost.” Has our culture of technology become a religion? Are we – on a societal level – still able to question how quickly and thoroughly we are infusing technology into our human circumstances? Or has it become “sinful” to doubt our culture’s central paradigm, which simplistically equates technological development with being beneficial?

The book 'Voluntary Enslavement', by James Heim, fundamentally questions our technology culture. The questioning is rooted in the assumption that the variety of our human essence – for instance, that we are social and cultural beings – as well as human choice and freedom are valuable aspects of the human experience. It is explained why an uncritical submission to the inherent logic of technology's evolution inevitably dilutes human diversity and undermines choice and freedom. The book also examines the fueling of technological progression through the systematic over-empowerment of some of our primal motivations, such as curiosity. The basic pillars of an improved culture of technology (i.e., one that sustains a broad and free human experience) are discussed, as are the ways we can contribute to such a transition.

Changing our views on technology and our handling of technological development has become humanity’s biggest evolutionary challenge. Rising to the challenge would be humankind’s greatest accomplishment.
In 2010, I wrote that it would take time for anti-tech movements to get off the ground. When it comes to combating voluntary enslavement, the solution may be simpler than building a neo-Luddite counter-movement. Time recently reported that nanotechnology had lost its lustre; perhaps technological addiction will simply go out of fashion, like sun-tanning.

See other earlier posts on the Anti-Tech Backlash here, here, here, here, here and here.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Making Memories

How our brains make memories. By tracking mRNA in brain cells, scientists captured the brain making memories. Hye Yoon Park, Ph.D. Source: Vine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Crowdfund the Creative Life

Image Source: The Oatmeal (29 October 2015).

In 2014, Pierre-Michel Menger published a fantastic book, The Economics of Creativity: Art and Achievement under Uncertainty, which describes the strange social psychology that governs how we assign value to creative products. Artists and other creative thinkers have never been more desperately needed to understand the changes of the new Millennium; but they face industrialized work conditions, corporate business models, and commercialized distribution systems. Over-competition and over-supply create professional hierarchies in which obedience trumps innovation. Worst of all, creative disciplines - from the amateur arts to academia - depend on an idealized belief in genius achievement, which is supposed to ignore money to maintain purity of intention.

Menger argued that the problem of evaluating and supporting creativity should not be framed in terms of employment and work conditions. Rather, the focus should shift to understanding the nature of human invention and how to sustain it. We must rethink how creative people live and work and how they are compensated, because true creativity already depends on what Menger called "self-realization," a non-chaotic engagement with uncertainty. Move to the edges of any society, and you will find people analyzing and radically rethinking how our world works, and how we fit in the world. Thus, imaginative work is, by definition, not a fully programmable activity. It is unpredictable, both in terms of how long it takes and in terms of results. Yet that uncertainty must be managed, or creative people cannot survive, and their cutting-edge visions will be lost.