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.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Away from Blog

"Day for Night is a cinematographic technique used by movie makers to shoot a scene in day light and make it appear to be night time." Dog Walkers © (2013) by H. David Stein was taken in bright sunlight. Image Source: H. David Stein.

I will be away from the blog completing other projects until October 1. The blog's Best Posts have been updated, here. See my Late Summer Interlude music selections from 2011, here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Blue Moon Past: To Reincarnate, To Forgive?

The Omnipresence or Transcendent Reincarnation (2014) by George Grie. Image Source: neosurrealismart.

You cannot move into the future without first dealing with the past. And sometimes, you can only do that once in a blue moon. The glittering technology of the twenty-first century makes the past a persona non grata. It is a full time job to keep track of data in the present while dreaming of the future. There is no time to digest or assimilate past information and sort out how it relates to real life. Keep moving forward! Move into the eternal Now and discard the past as useless commodity, a broken toy. Even if that past was last week's past, get rid of it, dump it in the unsorted junkyard.

A blue moon refers to an extra full moon in the year. Twelve months normally have twelve full moons, but a blue moon (like tonight's) is a thirteenth moon in the calendar. In folklore, these moons are considered rare events which invite reflection, release and wishes. The 'blue' designation comes not from the colour, but from the Old English term 'belewe,' which meant 'blue' or 'to betray,' promising an intercalary or additional month, where there is none. Nevertheless, the appeal of the blue moon's pocket of hidden, extra time persists. Image Source: wallpapersinhq.

In the name of progress, the past is demonized and feared as a repository of unsolved or buried problems, atavism, regressive beliefs and reactionary politics which damage the Self and others. In the 1990s, it was popular for psychiatric patients to undergo therapies in which they suddenly remembered suppressed memories, manifested in the form of taboos such as incest. That anti-historical fashion 'proved' that the past is full of demons which bar our way forward; it is best to deny, erase and purge them so that we may constantly reinvent our identities en route to becoming shinier versions of ourselves.

No matter what future sirens call, you cannot reach them without facing the past. If you don't do the stock-taking and change course where necessary, human psychology has its little ways of transporting you back to the junkyard. The past will come alive again and pull you back on an eternal loop until you learn its lessons. The Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists call that loop Saṃsāra. The Christians call it Hell. The journey on the wheel rises or falls but always returns to square one: time becomes nihlistic, a flat circle. In the eastern tradition, iniquities repeat across many lifetimes. In the Christian view, iniquities repeat through the course of one life. In these belief systems, there are only two ways out of the loop: to reincarnate, or to forgive, in enlightened ways.

Summer's Nameless Emotions

Picture of man at night on Wall Street Wall Street at night time. Photograph by Ashley Gilbertson. Image Source: National Geographic.

A heat wave here inspired today's collection of my best previous summer posts, along with Ashley Gilbertson's photo of Wall Street, above. All of these earlier posts explored summer's sultry, nostalgic or noir atmosphere and together illustrate one of the relationships between the environment and brain function, a cornerstone of cognitive science.
Psychoanalysts have particularly focused on nameless emotions as points at which experience moves past the capacity of language to describe it. See popsci's 2013 list by Pei-Ying Lin of twenty-one emotions for which there are no English words; and below, twenty-three emotions people feel, but can't explain.

Image Source: Art of Manliness.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Upgrade to Your New Personal Assistant

Image Source: imgur.

Microsoft is offering a free upgrade today to Windows 10 for all owners of Windows 7 and 8.1. Part of the free deal is Cortana, a virtual female personal assistant that collects all your data and sends it back to Microsoft. These are the paw prints of technocratic progress which may see states replaced by corporations, as described in this post

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Quote of the Day: Earthworm Tribute

Man is but a Worm from Punch's Almanack (1882). Image Source: Tulane University via Wired.

From this week's Free Will Astrology, for anyone who still inches forward:
Charles Darwin is best known for his book The Origin of Species, which contains his seminal ideas about evolutionary biology. But while he was still alive, his best-seller was The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms. The painstaking result of over forty years' worth of research, it is a tribute to the noble earthworm and that creature's crucial role in the health of soil and plants. It provides a different angle on one of Darwin's central concerns: how small, incremental transformations that take place over extended periods of time can have monumental effects.
You can read The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits (1881) for free online here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Unhacking the Reality of Russia's Troll Farms

Image Source: ritabrezkolin.

Recent posts on this blog have pointed to debates about how to verify memory, truth and reality. These are pressing questions. Mistaken arguments based on online information lead to outrageous conspiracy theories. These theories masquerade as products of verified data-gathering. Many people online are travelling further and further from truth, rationality and reality, while thinking they are doing exactly the opposite.  Can we map the philosophical distinctions and debates made between subjective perception and objective reality onto the distinctions between virtual reality and meatspace? How do we determine reality, based on evidence and experience from online communication and relationships? How do we write news and real-time history, and confirm events in reality, when all information, sources and historical authorities are suspect?

Image Source: Buzzfeed.

Later posts will seek to answer these questions. Today's post explores how dangerous continued confusion on these questions can be, starting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin's quest to rewrite post-Cold War history. One of the primary tools used in this regard is the establishment of so-called 'troll farms,' groups of social media actors employed by the Russian state to spread anti-American real- and faux-news that appears to come from domestic American man-on-the-street sources. This is an example of Stalinist disinformation techniques and the Russian state-media apparatus, targeting a rival national audience rather than its own.

Of course, in the Communications Revolution, everyone in governments, corporations, hackerspace and social media circles is gathering and playing with information. Today's focus on the Russian case does not deny the existence of trolls and hackers working for other powers and businesses. The point is to understand the dangers of Millennial propaganda - which is always cloaked in the pretense of its targets' commonly-held virtues - with this example. Trolls and troll farms can alter public opinion; worse: they can change their targets' perceptions of reality. They can change memory. They can change history. A great informational power struggle is taking place. The winners will define reality. On those foundations, anything can be built.

Vigilance in this regard means not just finding the evidence online which confirms the message with which you agree politically, or hearing the message you want to hear. It means hearing the message you do not want to hear, and considering it to be plausible. Unfortunately, healthy skepticism is now a breeding ground for anti-reality trolls, so caution is required on that front too. Algorithms on search engines now tailor our results based on earlier search histories, narrowing our worlds into smaller and smaller solipsistic bubbles, exposing us only to those with whom we easily agree. Rationalists believe that logically-aligned data provide solid conclusions to support their arguments. They do not, because all data are malleable. Hackers and whistleblowers supposedly topple evil authoritarian power structures by blowing them away with the cold, hard truth. Well, even if they do, does that mean that these actors are automatically 'good'? To what service do they put their revelations? And as with the links listed below about Russia troll farm whistleblowers, how can we be sure they are telling the truth?

The recent Pluto flyby revealed how instantaneous media have confused people about the real accomplishments of Big Science and space exploration. Some thought the flyby was faked, echoing the moon landing conspiracy theory and indicating a lack of confidence in information authorities and in photographs and videos as evidence. Some complained that there was no live feed from Pluto, showing zero understanding the immense distances involved and the related scientific challenges. The vast supply of online information on these subjects has provided no online education. Instead, it has provided a false sense of confidence about being 'right' in quasi-rationalized, self-righteous and communal ways.

Image Source: CStar.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The End of History Illusion

Video Source: TED Talk (March 2014).

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert explains: "human beings are a work in progress that mistakenly think they're finished." We think we will always be as we are now, a phenomenon he calls, "the end of history illusion." The one thing you can rely on is that in ten years you will be a completely different person, and far more so than you can ever imagine now. The transcript is here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Photo of the Day: Bathroom Subjectivity

Photo "found inside a stall at a gas station in Virginia." Image Source: Facebook.

You can read Bertrand Russell, Problems of Philosophy (1912), chapter two, for free online here. According to Russell, the original problem from Decartes' "I think, therefore I am" confronts the distinction between subjective and objective, rather fitting for a bathroom wall in Virginia, or anywhere else for that matter:
"'I think, therefore I am,' he said (Cogito, ergo sum); and on the basis of this certainty he set to work to build up again the world of knowledge which his doubt had laid in ruins. By inventing the method of doubt, and by showing that subjective things are the most certain, Descartes performed a great service to philosophy, and one which makes him still useful to all students of the subject.

But some care is needed in using Descartes' argument. 'I think, therefore I am' says rather more than is strictly certain. It might seem as though we were quite sure of being the same person to-day as we were yesterday, and this is no doubt true in some sense. But the real Self is as hard to arrive at as the real table, and does not seem to have that absolute, convincing certainty that belongs to particular experiences. When I look at my table and see a certain brown colour, what is quite certain at once is not 'I am seeing a brown colour', but rather, 'a brown colour is being seen'. This of course involves something (or somebody) which (or who) sees the brown colour; but it does not of itself involve that more or less permanent person whom we call 'I'. So far as immediate certainty goes, it might be that the something which sees the brown colour is quite momentary, and not the same as the something which has some different experience the next moment.

Thus it is our particular thoughts and feelings that have primitive certainty. And this applies to dreams and hallucinations as well as to normal perceptions: when we dream or see a ghost, we certainly do have the sensations we think we have, but for various reasons it is held that no physical object corresponds to these sensations. Thus the certainty of our knowledge of our own experiences does not have to be limited in any way to allow for exceptional cases. Here, therefore, we have, for what it is worth, a solid basis from which to begin our pursuit of knowledge. The problem we have to consider is this: Granted that we are certain of our own sense-data, have we any reason for regarding them as signs of the existence of something else, which we can call the physical object?"
Philosophical discussions on how to verify truth and reality have never been more relevant than they are now, with malleable truth dominating the Internet and a growing confusion about the distinction between virtual reality and everyday 'real' reality.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bloom County is Back

Image Source: Facebook.

Bloom County, the beloved 1980s' American alt-politics comic strip that out-alted them all has returned after 25 years. Cartoonist Berkeley Breathed announced the return, which may or may not have had something to do with Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, on Facebook on 13 July 2015. Bloom County grew out of a late 1970s' comic, The Academia Waltz, from Breathed's student days and inspired sequels Outland (1989-1995) and Opus (2003-2008).

Laugh of the Day: Minute by Minute

The cartoon above is from Gary Clement at Canada's National Post (27 December 2014). Clement pokes fun at the six-volume autobiography of Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgård, My Struggle (Min kamp), known for its minute-by-minute examination of all minutiae of the author's life. It was a publishing sensation. Unlike Clement's cartoon, there was nothing funny about the personal outcome. Knausgård admitted that in exposing so many intimate details about himself and those close to him, he committed an "unmoral" act and gave away his soul. But he said: "The point was not to please. It was to speak the truth. To write reality." The first volume was published in 2009, the last in 2011; the whole series is 3,600 pages long.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Arriving at Pluto's Underworld Gates

Ralph Fiennes as Hades, God of the Underworld, in Clash of the Titans (2010). Image Source: invisionfree.

Pluto, the planet whose value was downgraded, is fittingly named after the god of the Underworld, because this planetoid guards the point where the solar system ends and the outer system around our sun, the Kuiper Belt, begins. Pluto was discovered in 1930, but only in the new Millennium has our technology become advanced enough for us to begin to understand the vast Netherworld over which Pluto presides along with another minor body, Eris, once designated as the tenth planet. Our new awareness of the Kuiper Belt is the reason why Pluto was downgraded, and why Eris, discovered only in 2005, was downgraded too. Pluto at this time dominates the wild area beyond the planet Neptune, where we reach the limits of knowledge of our solar system.

Pluto has five moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos.

Naming Pluto's moons: Nyx, primordial goddess of the night. Image Source: pinterest.

Styx, one of several rivers in Hell, with ferryman Charon. Image Source: The Seven Worlds.

Depictions of the hellhound, Cerberus, and the Hydra in the film, Hercules (2014). Images Source: fxguide.

Always a pecking order: the top four planetoids or 'dwarf planets' are accepted by the International Astronomical Union as minor planets of the solar system. The bottom four are candidates for dwarf planet status. Image Source: Wiki.

Extending the outer limits of knowledge: the outer bodies of the solar system are a huge source of carbon-bearing molecules, which are found in the DNA of every creature on Earth. The Belt also abounds with frozen volatile ices, which means that water and life on Earth may have originated in the Kuiper Belt and been borne by comet strikes to our planet. That is why the close fly-by by NASA craft New Horizons on 14 July 2015 is so stunning.  Astronomers have already photographed something glittering at Pluto's north pole. You can follow the live NASA news briefing on 14 July 2015 at 7:30 a.m. EDT here. There will be another live Pluto flyby media briefing on 14 July 2015 at 8:15 a.m. EDT here. After New Horizons passes Pluto, it will continue taking photos in the Kuiper Belt if NASA receives a sufficient budget to continue the project.

Other links:

Mariner. Pioneer. Voyager. Dawn. New Horizons. National Space Society's video on the place of the New Horizons mission in space exploration history. Video Source: Youtube. (Hat tip: Slate).

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Putin's Paradox

Image Source: Nine Inch News.

When there is a crisis of values, when consensus around a dominant narrative begins to dissolve, the world seeks an anti-hero. Vladimir Putin would like to be that anti-hero. This is a leader whose survival and success depend on ruthlessness, combined with a counter-factual gloss that obfuscates his darker acts (see the sobering details here, trumping the alleged Clinton body count (listed here, discredited here)). Where else could opposition leader Boris Nemtsov be shot this past February in Moscow's midnight, while business goes on as usual? That is the tip of the iceberg of the story of this man who is willing to do what others will not to steer Russia toward sole superpower status, combining with a friendly China in the race to the top, and supplanting the USA.

Putin is overtly a pragmatist and a strongman, and covertly a strategist and visionary. He uses whatever is useful from the western lexicon. For the rest of it, he speaks as the leader of the anti-western world. Putin's paradox depends on two psychological factors. First, western powers are blind to how and why opposition to the liberal democratic project works. Second, western powers depend on values of rationalized contracts, law and order, word of honour, rule of law. They have serious problems dealing with Putin's appetite for the counter-intuitive and anti-logical. In that realm, he can become a kind of Erlking, speaking the language of sane men in a primal context where such words have lost their meaning. Many of Putin's anti-logical acts make perfect emotional sense to his admirers. By any means, Putin intends to restore the international power of Russia and the dignity of the Russian people. Or so this counter-narrative alternate reality would have the people believe.

Erlking/After the Shower (2011) © Dominque Rey via SAAG. Image Source: Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

The Second World War and end of the Cold War established a now-contested consensus. These were western victories, only partly Russian. They created democratic liberal window dressing for global capitalism, combined with multicultural social welfare. Former Allies - including Russia - fought genocidal and tyrannical forces. Because the Nazi and Japanese acts to support imperial expansion were so horrific, it is inconceivable in the western mind that anyone would want to follow that path ever again. And because any alternative to this single-story consensus raises the Nazi spectre, the consensus created a bright, hard blindness about other ways of doing things. There is one way for civilized countries: the consensus. Anything else is beyond the limits. As Chimamanda Adichie explains in her TED talk linked above, a single story is dangerous and becomes oppressive, even when the story is benevolent (or thinks it is) and anti-oppressive. A single story demands other stories for balance. When a single story becomes dominant, like the western consensus narrative, then its dominance invites rebellion. And the rebellious story, even if it is tyrannical and murderous, will sound like a anti-oppression narrative.

Monday, July 6, 2015

ISIS and Post-Diluvian Amnesia

A sphinx on the seafloor off the shores of Alexandria, Egypt. Image Source: All That is Interesting.

The Middle East is the source of all civilization on this planet. Any conflict there stirs the shared memory of all human beings. On 3 July 2015, days after ISIS or ISIL called for a jihad in the Balkans and declared caliphates in the Caucasus and GazaBreitbart reported that the radical Islamic movement has announced it will destroy the Egyptian sphinx and pyramids as a sacred duty:
ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi told followers of his terror group that destroying Egypt’s national monuments, such as the pyramids and the sphinx, is a “religious duty” that must be carried out by those who worship Islam, as idolatry is strictly banned in the religion, according to reports. UK radical Islamist Anjem Choudary echoed Baghdadi’s sentiments, telling The Telegraph: “When Egypt comes under the auspices of the Khalifa [Caliphate], there will be no more pyramids, no more Sphinx, no more idolatry,” saying that the ancient statues’s destruction “will be just.” Another Islamist preacher, Ibrahim Al Kandari, agrees that the cultural monuments need to be destroyed to comply with the Shariah. “The fact that early Muslims who were among prophet Mohammed’s followers did not destroy the pharaohs’ monuments upon entering Egypt does not mean that we shouldn’t do it now,” he told Al-Watan.
ISIS has already made its name destroying the older ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Why is ISIS so threatened by these ruins? As the video lecture below the jump makes clear, the 5,000-year-old Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh is sexually intense, even by today's standards (read it here). Gilgamesh is also the foundation myth to end all foundation myths - it is the core story of our common civilization. It is the source material for our very understanding of organized social life. The opening lines to the 15,000 word work read:

"He who saw all, who was the foundation of the land,
"Who knew (everything), was wise in all matters.
"Gilgamesh, who saw all, who was the foundation of the land,
"Who knew (everything), was wise in all matters."

While there undoubtedly were many other epics sung in humanity's 100,000 to 50,000 years of prehistory, Gilgamesh is the earliest example we have. Its language marks the start of written history and that history begins with a cataclysm, a 'time before' and 'time after.' The story of all peoples is one of this terrible disaster, where great societies had arisen and then been destroyed by an archaic Flood. Most famous among these legendary antediluvian societies is Atlantis. J. R. R. Tolkien constructed part of his Middle Earth stories around an Atlantis idea, in which his hero, Aragorn, is descended from antediluvian superpeopleGilgamesh describes that watershed, that moment at which people still remembered what was before, and what came after. It is likely that Gilgamesh's antediluvian and post-diluvian claim to primacy constitutes the indelible and eternal cultural threat which so unsettles the ISIS zealots.

It unsettles - but also inspires them! The Millennial mind fixates on the turn of ages, and no such time is more fundamental than the Flood, which was likely (if you believe quasi-historical theorists like Graham Hancock) an account of the ending of the Ice Age. If you wanted to understand ISIS's motives in a nutshell, look at their obsession with the Flood. They constantly borrow from the Flood myth, meaning that they intend to create a new watershed moment with a flood of blood to wash the world and erase its memory of what came before. They want to construct a new turning point and create a new reality. Directly below and after the jump, hear the opening of the Epic of Gilgamesh sung in its original language and hear it recited in English.

Peter Pringle performs. "By 2000 B.C., the language of Sumer had almost completely died out and was used only by scholars (like Latin is today). No one knows how it was pronounced because it has not been heard in 4000 years. What you hear in this video are a few of the opening lines of part of the epic poem, accompanied only by a long-neck, three-string, Sumerian lute known as a "gish-gu-di". The instrument is tuned to G - G - D, and although it is similar to other long neck lutes still in use today (the tar, the setar, the saz, etc.) the modern instruments are low tension and strung with fine steel wire. The ancient long neck lutes (such as the Egyptian "nefer") were strung with gut and behaved slightly differently. ... The location for this performance is the courtyard of Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon. The piece is four minutes long and is intended only as a taste of what the music of ancient Sumer might have sounded like." Video Source: Youtube.