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.

Showing posts with label Biosemiotics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Biosemiotics. Show all posts

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Hallowe'en Countdown 2018: The Skeleton Key

Olga Neuwirth, Lost Highway opera stills (2003), based on the 1997 film by David Lynch.

In this year's Hallowe'en countdown, I have been describing a malaise that unnerves us. There is a collective sense that things have gone wrong and somewhere, there is an answer why. Somewhere, there is a skeleton key. If you had it, you could unlock all the problems, find their solutions, and blink yourself awake into a better world.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Awaken the Amnesiacs 9: A True Mirror of a Better World

The preface to this post is a new piece I have published at Vocal Media:

Part of my series, Awaken the Amnesiacs, involves coming to terms with life in a surveillance state, where privacy has been lost. My earlier post, Reflection Reversal, introduced the idea that computer screens and monitors act like mirrors which turn viewers into objects, rather than subjects.

The core of this idea is the fact that we think we are in control of technology. Tools are objects and we are subjects. Right? We think we are using computers to empower and express ourselves. But there is a warning sign in our addiction to technology.

Our technology is constantly subliminally objectifying us, enslaving us, and siphoning off our energy. This unconscious inversion of individual integrity is creating underlying cognitive dissonance, tension, anxiety, and stress. As a result, we are absolutely convinced that 'something is wrong' with the whole world. There is endless harping, conflict and confusion over 'who is to blame' for this grating distress. It never occurs to us that 'what is wrong' is the lens we are using to view reality, not reality itself, nor the people [insert annoying/threatening group here] who bother us.

Thus, part of resolving 'what is wrong' with the world is not to: ramp up our attacks on the annoying people who bother us; or to withdraw into depressive, individual introspection; or to get lost in wacky spiritual practices or cults; or to become engrossed in conspiracy theories as a comforting alt-reality; or to lose yourself in virtual reality environments like Facebook or video games; or to heal what is wrong by self-sacrificing to aid the world and help others; or to immerse yourself  completely in the real world, like work, job, bank account, and hard, cold facts no matter what ...

Part of resolving 'what is wrong' with the world involves reconsidering the art of perception and self-perception in the turbulent times of the nascent surveillance state.

So how should we define ourselves? As we see ourselves, as others see us, or as technology sees us? The conventional self-help wisdom these days is to define ourselves from the inside out, not the outside in. We are counseled to know ourselves, and to go forth in the world in an authentic and grounded way.

The Limits of Consciousness

Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality | Anil Seth (18 July 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Good luck with that! Before you can get past the social contract, the job, the expectations, the cv - before you can tame your ego and become a soulful human being through internal consciousness and then try to awaken beyond consciousness - and before you can even get to the fact that computers are constantly undermining that process - there is another problem.

Consciousness -- the final frontier | Dada Gunamuktananda | TEDxNoosa 2014 (16 April 2014). Video Source: Youtube.

The True Mirror

We almost never see ourselves accurately, at least physically. Because we primarily have used mirrors to see ourselves, we do not see ourselves correctly, nor do we know how others see us.

Robbie Burns Day just passed, and the great Scottish poet wrote in his 1786 poem, To a Louse:
"in the original Scottish, 'O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!' Or, in modern English, 'Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.'"

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Photo of the Day: Fresh Off the 3D Powder Press

"Sneak preview: Portrait of Chelsea Manning (one of a diptych) hot off the powder printing presses. Courtesy of Mariana Pestana." Image Source: Heather Dewey Hagbourg.

Thanks to artist Heather Dewey-Hagbourg, previously featured in this post, who just sent me a press release about her upcoming exhibition, featuring a genetically-sourced 3D printed portrait - also known as a forensic DNA phenotype - following the gender transformation of whistleblower Bradley Manning aka Chelsea Manning. Manning released information on the US military in 2010 to WikiLeaks. Manning, a former US Army soldier, was convicted in 2013 and then changed his gender to become a trans woman, joining a gnostic bandwagon previously discussed in this post and this post. Dewey-Hagbourg was interviewed about this project at Paper in September 2015, here.

The exhibition, Radical Love: Chelsea Manning,
"will premiere at the World Economic Forum in Davos [on 20-23 January 2016], as part of the Victoria and Albert exhibition This Time Tomorrow curated by Mariana Pestana. ... This is the first time the 3d prints of the DNA portraits generated from her hair and cheek swabs will be seen publicly." 
I think you've covered every last possible base from the Zeitgeist, Heather. The exhibition will explore the quest for self in the Millennial mish-mash: "Is it radical to seek justice? Is it radical to be rescued by love? Is it subversive to be sweet? Is it radical to be true to yourself?"

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Orthodox Christmas: Life in the Adjacent Possible

Image Source: The Culture Concept.

Any apiarist, keeping watch over a hive of bees sleeping through the winter, would tell you that civilization can only function under certain circumstances. Apiculture is one of the world's oldest professions. It is a founding pillar of agriculture. In colony collapse disorder - now threatening beehives across Europe and North America - workers stock up a hive but then abandon their helpless queen. The plague is blamed on pesticides, pathogens, and mobile phone towers, with bee-keepers reporting that roughly one third to one half of their hives have been dying over winters every year for the past decade, despite various high tech solutions. It is hard to say how new this disaster is. There were reports of 'mystery diseases' and 'disappearing diseases' in hives in 1918-1919 and in the mid 1960s. Whatever the causes, the insects' tiny world of flowers and pollination remain critical to human survival. In 2010, the United Nations estimated that the worth of global crops pollinated by bees was 153 billion euros, or "9.5 per cent of the total value of human food production worldwide."

Image Source: My Greek Spirit.

The remarkable way bees organize themselves remains symbolically powerful. Their honey production makes their system seem much friendlier than the terrifying laws that govern your average ant hill. Any agricultural society would see bees as the civilized agents of the natural world, a properly arranged mini-society with a sweet output.

Today, 7 January 2015, is Eastern Orthodox Christmas. Due to the traditional symbolism of the apiary, beeswax candles are held in special esteem in Orthodox rituals. At Mystagogy, John Sanidopoulos explains that for Orthodox Christians, beeswax candles symbolize purity, adaptability of the heart, forgiveness of sins, and divine grace garnered from the wax's floral sources. Candlelight and the sweet smell of burning beeswax recall summer days to illuminate and banish darkness caused by fear, corruption and misery.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Entropy and Immortality: An Interview with Miguel Coelho

Dr. Coelho at the Murray Lab, Harvard University. Image Source.

Today, Histories of Things to Come is very pleased to interview biochemist Dr. Miguel Costa Coelho, a Postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, who has done ground-breaking research in the field of ageing. He is based at the Lab of Professor Andrew W. Murray and the FAS Center for Systems Biology at Harvard; and he is also affiliated with the Human Frontier Science Program.

Coelho's doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute in Germany traced the way a type of yeast actually gets younger as it ages. He found that when a stressed mother cell divided, it passed on all cellular junk associated with accumulated damage (the process we know as ageing) to one daughter cell, which died shortly thereafter. This left the other daughter cell pristine. Normally, both daughter cells would inherit cellular junk, allowing damage to accumulate in both over time. Coelho likened the outcome in this study to "the eternally young and beautiful Dorian Gray, and his corrupt and damaged portrait in the attic" (public access here; the full article is here).

There we have it, published 17 June 2014: under certain conditions, these yeast cells can grow toward immortality via compartmentalization, segregation and consequent elimination of progressive cellular damage as they divide over time. This finding was widely reported in the international press.

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.

Image Source: Shutterstock.

Image Source: acentejokids.

Image Source: Deacon's Wife.

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.

Image Source: Status Mind.

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.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Coming Siege Against Cognitive Liberties

Image Source: Nature.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on how researchers are debating the legal implications of technological advances in neuroscanning:
Imagine that psychologists are scanning a patients' brain, for some basic research purpose. As they do so, they stumble across a fleeting thought that their equipment is able to decode: The patient has committed a murder, or is thinking of committing one soon. What would the researchers be obliged to do with that information?

That hypothetical was floated a few weeks ago at the first meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues devoted to exploring societal and ethical issues raised by the government's Brain initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), which will put some $100-million in 2014 alone into the goal of mapping the brain. ...

One commissioner ... has been exploring precisely those sorts of far-out scenarios. Will brain scans undermine traditional notions of privacy? Are existing constitutional protections sufficient to guard our freedom of thought, or are new laws required as fMRI scanners and EEG detectors grow evermore precise?

Asking those questions is the Duke University associate professor of law Nita A. Farahany ... . "We have this idea of privacy that includes the space around our thoughts, which we only share with people we want to ... . Neuroscience shows that what we thought of as this zone of privacy can be breached." In one recent law-review article, she warned against a "coming siege against cognitive liberties."

Her particular interest is in how brain scans reshape our understanding of, or are checked by, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. Respectively, they protect against "unreasonable searches and seizures" and self-incrimination, which forbids the state to turn any citizen into "a witness against himself." Will "taking the Fifth," a time-honored tactic in American courtrooms, mean anything in a world where the government can scan your brain? The answer may depend a lot on how the law comes down on another question: Is a brain scan more like an interview or a blood test? ...

Berkeley's [Jack] Gallant says that although it will take an unforeseen breakthrough, "assuming that science keeps marching on, there will eventually be a radar detector that you can point at somebody and it will read their brain cognitions remotely." ...

Moving roughly from less protected to more protected ... [Farahany's] categories [for reading the brain in legal terms] are: identifying information, automatic information (produced by the brain or body without effort or conscious thought), memorialized information (that is, memories), and uttered information. (Contrary to idiomatic usage, her "uttered" information can include information uttered only in the mind. At the least, she observes, we may need stronger Miranda warnings, specifying that what you say, even silently to yourself, can be used against you.) ...

In a book to be published next month, Mind, Brains, and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience (Oxford University Press), Michael S. Pardo and Dennis Patterson directly confront Farahany's work. They argue that her evidence categories do not necessarily track people's moral intuitions—that physical evidence can be even more personal than thought can. "We assume," they write, "that many people would expect a greater privacy interest in the content of information about their blood"—identifying or automatic information, like HIV status—"than in the content of their memories or evoked utterances on a variety of nonpersonal matters."

On the Fifth Amendment question, the two authors "resist" the notion that a memory could ever be considered analogous to a book or an MP3 file and be unprotected, the idea Farahany flirts with. And where the Fourth Amendment is concerned, Pardo, a professor of law at the University of Alabama, writes in an e-mail, "I do think that lie-detection brain scans would be treated like blood draws." ...

[Farahany] says ... her critics are overly concerned with the "bright line" of physical testimony: "All of them are just grappling with current doctrine. What I'm trying to do is reimagine and newly conceive of how we think of doctrine."

"The bright line has never worked," she continues. "Truthfully, there are things that fall in between, and a better thing to do is to describe the levels of in-betweenness than to inappropriately and with great difficulty assign them to one category or another."

Among those staking out the brightest line is Paul Root Wolpe, a professor of bioethics at Emory University. "The skull," he says, "should be an absolute zone of privacy." He maintains that position even for the scenario of the suspected terrorist and the ticking time bomb, which is invariably raised against his position.
"As Sartre said, the ultimate power or right of a person is to say, 'No,'" Wolpe observes. "What happens if that right is taken away—if I say 'No' and they strap me down and get the information anyway? I want to say the state never has a right to use those technologies." ... Farahany stakes out more of a middle ground, arguing that, as with most legal issues, the interests of the state need to be balanced against those of the individual. ...

The nonprotection of automatic information, she writes, amounts to "a disturbing secret lurking beneath the surface of existing doctrine." Telephone metadata, another kind of automatic information, can, after all, be as revealing as GPS tracking.

Farahany starts by showing how the secrets in our brains are threatened by technology. She winds up getting us to ponder all the secrets that a digitally savvy state can gain access to, with silky and ominous ease.
Much of the discussion among these legal researchers involves thinking about cognitive legal issues (motivations, actions, memories) in a way that is strongly influenced by computer-based metaphors. This is part of the new transhuman bias, evident in many branches of research. This confirms a surprising point: posthumanism is not some future hypothetical reality, where we all have chips in our brains and are cybernetically enhanced. It is an often-unconsidered way of life for people who are still 100 per cent human; it is a way that they are seeing the world.

This is the 'soft' impact of high technology, where there is an automatic assumption that we, our brains, or the living world around us, are like computers, with data which can be manipulated and downloaded.

In other words, it is not just the hard gadgetry of technological advances that initiates these insidious changes in law and society. If we really want to worry about the advent of a surveillance state, we must question the general mindset of tech industry designers, and people in general, who are unconsciously mimicking computers in the way they try to understand the world. From this unconscious mimicry comes changes to society for which computers are not technically responsible.

A false metaphorical correlation between human and machine - the expectation that organic lives must be artificially automated  - is corrosive to the assumptions upon which functioning societies currently still rest. These assumptions are what Farahany would call, "current doctrine." We take 'current doctrine' for granted. But at the same time, we now take for granted ideas that make 'current doctrine' increasingly impossible to maintain.

This is not to say that change is unnecessary or that technology has not brought vast improvements.

But is it really necessary for everything to go faster and faster? Do we need to be accessible to everyone and everything, day and night? Should our bosses, the police, the government, corporations, the media, let alone other citizens, know everything we do and think in private? Do we really need more powerful technology every six months? Why is it necessary that our gadgets increasingly become smaller, more intimate, and physically attached to us? Why is it not compulsory for all of us to learn (by this point) to a standard level how computers are built and how they are programmed?

We are accepting technology as a given, without second guessing the core assumptions driving that acceptance. Because we are not questioning what seems 'obvious,' researchers press on, in an equally unconsidered fashion, with their expectations that a total surveillance state is inevitable.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

4-D Smart Buildings

MIT's Skylar Tibbits at his recent TED talk. Image Source: Stratasys.

In February 2013, Millennial architect Skylar Tibbets announced that he is combining building design with our increasingly minute scale of understanding of the physical world through genetics and nanotechnology. Tibbits and his colleagues plan to replace traditional construction practices with "people, machines and materials that collaborate," through organic programming and 3-D printing. Structures will build and rebuild themselves over time, hence making the tech '4-D.' These designs are pre-programmed on the nano-scale to remodel themselves while drawing energy from the environment. BBC reports:
The way we build our structures has become more and more sophisticated. But the materials we build them from are static, waiting for us to fit them to the required shape.

What if they could assemble themselves – and even change form if they needed to? The emerging technology of 4D printing – where 3D-printed material changes shape over time – means we may be able to build things that can adapt to our use or the environment around them, says MIT’s Skylar Tibbits.

Tibbits believes this technology could lead to more resilient, lighter structures – ones which can respond to the world around them.
There is some talk about using 4-D printing in space exploration, although that will depend on how the building materials function in space. WebProNews reports that this future construction revolution depends on new materials and how they react to water:
Stratasys says that it’s heavily invested in the future of 4D printing. It’s currently researching a new type of material for 3D printers that can self assemble after being printed. Here are the details from the Stratasys blog:
What makes the transformation and self-assembly possible is the breakthrough development of a new material used in multi-material 3D printing by Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printers. The self-folding material is actually composed of two base materials – one that is water expandable and the second that is not water expandable. The water expandable material, which is still in the R&D phase, is able to absorb water and to be programmed to behave and transform in a specific way. It is a highly hydrophilic material that absorbs water molecules when immersed and can change its volume by more than 150% relative to its dry state. When this material is coupled with the static material it can drive predictable shape transformation of the multi-material 3D printed object. Both materials are printed simultaneously on a Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printer.
Research into 4D printing is only just getting started, but Tibbits already has some ideas on how 4D printing can benefit certain industries in the short term. The big one is space exploration as self-assembly could help NASA and other space agencies reduce costs by simply sending the parts into space, and then those parts self-assemble into an object at the desired location.
See a TED talk with Tibbits explaining his architectural 4-D tech below the jump.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Smallpox Afterlife

Shapona, the West African God of Smallpox (1969). Image Source: CDC (ID #15226).

Caption for the above photograph: "This is a statue of Shapona, the West African God of Smallpox. It is part of the CDC’s Global Health Odyssey (GHO) collection of artifacts. A uniquely carved wooden figure, it is adorned with layers of meaningful objects such as a monkey skull, cowrie shells, and nails. Donated in 1995 by Ilze and Rafe Henderson, it was created by a traditional healer who made approximately 50 Shaponas as commemorative objects for the CDC, WHO, and other public health experts attending a 1969 conference on smallpox eradication."

Officially, smallpox was eradicated in 1979. One of the most feared of illnesses, it still exists in disease research centres in the United States and Russia. The disease was eradicated through a global mass vaccination campaign in the 1960s and 1970s. To see photos of the disease symptoms, and of the gruesome occasional reactions to the vaccinations, go to the Centers for Disease Control site (here). The images are not for the faint-hearted.

The last people who naturally contracted two variations of smallpox both survived and are still alive. One was Rahima Banu Begum, who had the last known case of naturally occurring Variola major smallpox in 1975, on Bhola Island in the Bangladesh district of Barisal. In a 2009 interview, she stated that she is still treated poorly by villagers and family members because she once had the disease. The other is Ali Maow Maalin, a Somalian cook who contracted the last case of naturally occurring Variola minor smallpox in 1977. Interviewed most recently in 2006, he now works for the World Health Organization to promote vaccination campaigns.

Smallpox and humans have a long history. The virus emerged around 10,000 BCE. Wiki notes some of the virus's modern history: the disease devastated Native American populations with the arrival of European colonists in the 16th century; with no previous exposure, they died at the rate of 80 to 90 per cent. Sometimes, Europeans infamously spread smallpox to Native Americans on purpose, although historians debate the degree to which this occurred. Smallpox killed about 400,000 Europeans annually at the end of the 18th century. It killed between 300 million and 500 million people in the 20th century.

Vaccination against the disease also had a long history. Intentional exposure of healthy people to another's smallpox scabs was practiced as far back as 1,000 BCE in India; this exposure might cause death, but usually brought on a mild form of the disease, which one might survive, thereafter becoming immune. The smallpox vaccine was the world's very first vaccine to be developed, by Edward Jenner in 1796, through his use of the milder cowpox virus. Similar treatments had preceded Jenner's work as early as the 1770s. The term 'vaccine' comes from the Latin vacca for cow.

The development of a stable vaccine in the 1960s led to the World Health Organization's innoculation campaign between 1967 and 1977. After a fatal 1978 accident at a UK repository, only two repositories of the disease remained: the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) in Koltsovo, Russia.

Since then, smallpox lurks in hideous sleeping afterlife, always promising to reemerge as the ultimate bio-threat. When one considers that smallpox was humanity's constant companion for some twelve millennia and has only been at bay for a mere 33 years, it is easy to see why it is still a cause for worry. Most disturbing, perhaps, is the possibility that weaponized artificial smallpox could be created as bioengineering gathers pace. But another thread appears through all the fears of pandemics, the politics, the foreign policy and secrecy: the smallpox vaccine offers a potential cure for some cancers

Below the jump, see some points about smallpox which have come to light since 1990.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Turning Point

Where are we going again? One of Inge Morath's rediscovered 1955 Parisian ball photos. (Thanks to -T.) Image Source: Time via The Inge Morath Foundation / Magnum Photos.

Although I've criticized the Baby Boomers' iconoclastic destruction of social values and institutions (here and here), it's time to give them some due in that regard.  Their influence has been compounded by the parallel effect of the Tech Revolution, which has rendered past perspectives and morals obsolete.  However, the ensuing Millennial aporia - a confusion or lack of values - may not be entirely bad. One thing the Boomers initially successfully attacked, not without some justification, was the external labeling imposed by social behaviour and cultural expectations that stifled people and held them back. The only problem is they replaced the old labels with new ones and they also questioned people's capacity to devise alternatives.

We are at the turning point. People without external reference points or viable directions coming to them from society can have trouble orienting themselves.  What is expected from society when the outside prompts and social signposts are gone? What can one do, when everything, especially on the Internet, is a tabula rasa? What do the faithful do when organized religions seem to have lost capacity for building communities with motives grounded in genuine spirituality? What do the politically-minded do when political faiths furnish nothing but empty 18th and 19th century slogans unsuited to current conditions? Will they really take refuge in self-righteous blindnesses, vicious polarities, and internecine mutual accusations between Left and Right? The decline of externally imposed orders and cultural traditions is fracturing personal egos like so many billion eggshells.

On this blog, I've written posts (here, here and here) that indicate that economic troubles intensify aporia.  People experience heart-breaking levels of stress as they face the upheavals of the global economy. The middle classes are dying or evolving. Going bankrupt, losing everything, losing a house (or never having the chance to own one), losing faith in the system, losing faith in the American dream (if you're American) - or being absorbed into a grand global culture (no matter where you're from) - all of this is deeply unnerving.

In social, spiritual and material vacuums, conflicts grow. Yesterday, I posted pieces on the intenstification of weapons research and the implementation of psychological testing on military personnel, which is being conducted with a view toward civilian applications. Ignoring the signs on the horizons won't help. Those reports made me think of a passage in Daniel Deronda: "There comes a terrible moment to many souls when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind, which have lain aloof in newspapers and other neglected reading, enter like an earthquake into their own lives--where the slow urgency of growing generations turns into the tread of an invading army or the dire clash of civil war, and gray fathers know nothing to seek for but the corpses of their blooming sons, and girls forgot all vanity to make lint and bandages which may serve for the shattered limbs of their betrothed husbands." One day, the chaos that grew in the obscure distance is on your doorstep.

The obliteration of externally imposed values leaves one real option.  As we turn the bend toward the unimaginable and accelerating future, and the institutions that once defined authority and stability in our societies remain only as gin palace exteriors, there is a time lag that allows for individual and collective introspection.  There is a need to find new values internally.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Science Tarot

The Science Tarot. Image Source: ShariStudio.

The Millennial merging of science and mysticism continues.  With the intention of introducing scientific ideas in a way that makes them accessible, a Tarot deck has been developed with scientific imagery. (Hat tip: Lee Hamilton's blog)  Co-created by Logan Austeja Daniel, Martin Azevedo and Raven Hanna, the Science Tarot is a combination of science, art and mythology.  Each suit of cards (Major Arcana, Pentacles, Cups, Swords, Wands) tells a story that is epic, heroic and scientific: "In the Science Tarot, Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey is adapted to tell each suit's unique story from Ace to Ten." The Face cards of each suit depict important scientists and are also associated with hormones: "Each face card profiles a different scientist along their particular life path. ... Explorer (Page) - Dopamine: A seeker whose initial curiosity about the world opens a gateway to scientific inquiry. Innovator (Knight) - Serotonin: The devoted researcher whose persistence and invention reveal new insights. Storyteller (Queen) - Oxytocin: The negotiator whose intelligence and empathy welcome others into scientific discovery. Visionary (King) - Testosterone: The director who drives scientific study forward into new territory with vision and hope."

Friday, June 4, 2010

From Here to Eternity? Biosemiotic Cosmology Alert

Electron micrograph of bacteriophage virus.

Among weird academic announcements, this blurb came up at the H-Net, "From Here to Eternity: Can Mind Evolve to the Cosmos?" The author, Judy Kay King of North Central Michigan College, is interested in the field of Biosemiotics, the next level of information science. Biosemiotics combines social scientific methodology with Postmodern theory and applies them to biological science, especially reproductive technology. A semiotician searches beyond the mind-matter divide postulated by Cartesian dualism. This is an effort to 'think outside the box,' beyond causal associations between the mental and the physical, between inner and outer meaning.

Biosemioticians apply the intepretive rules of semiotics to biological processes. For example, they suggest that we are mortal because we procreate vertically through sexual intercourse. However, viruses replicate horizontally and that is a key to immortality. How do viruses reproduce and carry DNA messages? In biosemiotics, to turn a phrase, the DNA message is the medium. Do the symbolic configurations that viruses take to replicate horizontally cryptically reappear in ancient religions? Do ancient religions therefore show us the roadmap to immortality? That gets King to replication of life beyond death, to timelessness, gods, and the mind as map for the universe. No wonder her end results point to mythology, mysticism, occult, religion and alien speculation.
"Some scientists believe that viral DNA dispatched from an alien cosmic civilization has been transferred into the DNA of earth’s organisms. In relation to this idea of ancient viral DNA, but not in support of its alien dispatch, a published paper presented at the 34th Annual Meeting (October, 2009) of The Semiotic Society of America (SSA), an interdisciplinary professional organization grounded in the logic of American philosopher and scientist Charles Sanders Peirce, is now available online at no charge at www.isisthesis.com.

In line with the conference theme of the Semiotics of Time, the paper is entitled “Evolution Backward in Time: Crystals, Polyhedra and Observer-Participancy in the Cosmological Models of Peirce, Ancient Egypt and Early China” by SSA member Judy Kay King. The paper supports two major points. First, ancient Egyptian and early Chinese cosmological models lawfully sustain Charles Peirce’s idea on the continuity of mind. Second, the Peircean theme of crystallized mind, the Egyptian transformation of the dead King into a hybrid pyramidal form of millions, and the four-faced ancestral transformation of the early Chinese Yellow Emperor may point to the polyhedral form of an ancient lambdoid virus, suggesting the possibility of afterlife horizontal gene transfer and viral lytic replication (cloning) from here to eternity. The semiotic approach also explores the backward-in-time aspect of quantum observations, as well as the ascent/fall ontological structure of consciousness as framed by Swiss psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger in relation to Heidegger’s thought. Put simply, mind may act as a cosmic unifying force."
How many clones of ancient pre-Christian deities who are infected with alien DNA viruses can you fit on the head of a pin? See more at King's site, The Isis Thesis.

The perspective driving a line of inquiry predetermines its outcome. A biosemiotician preoccupation with the meaning of time sees it as a timeless association of related archetypes, governed by semiotic rules of association, with no apparent reference to the passage of time as part of the equation. No doubt semoiticians see vertical concepts of evolution and history as mechanistic, defined by perception limited by our mortality. If we want to think like gods, if we want to conquer time, we have to act like viruses and think of time horizontally.