TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

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 H. P. Lovecraft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label H. P. Lovecraft. Show all posts

Friday, October 6, 2017

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2017: Dark Ambient and Dark Web Tales



There are new horror genres appearing online, in which the fear factor depends on blurring the line between the virtual and real. It makes the raven girl on the subway, above, oddly reassuring: at least she is honest about how gothic things are these days.

Potion Shop Sounds | Apothecary Ambience | 45 Minutes (24 June 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Over the past few years, ambient horror soundtracks have appeared on Youtube, which are unsettling because they add a cinematic video game quality to daily work at the desk. Some people listen to them to get to sleep, like the 6-hour Quiet Rusty Sewer Ambient Noise River.

Aaron Dykes at Truthstream Media explains the power of music - related to the frequency at which the eardrums vibrate - and particularly the discordant Locrian mode. From Bridget Mermikides: "From at least the early 18th century this tritone was described as Diabolus in Musica (the Devil in music)." The Secret Power Music Holds Over You (30 August 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Locrian Mode example. Sample Source: Wiki.

Locrian Mode example: Björk's Army of Me (1995). Sample Source: Wiki.

The new horror music is non-music, made up of cinematic sound effects tracks. There is a spectrum of how scary these recordings are; they range (at the top) from vague background noise to (lower down) demonic atmospherics.

Haunted Halloween Mansion Fireplace with Thunder, Rain and Howling Wind (24 October 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

HAUNTED FOREST Scary Sounds of Ghosts in the Darkness 2 HOURS (12 March 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Gathering Darkness - Scary Noises in a Haunted House - 2 Hours (2 May 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Amazing SCARY 3D Holophonic Sound (21 August 2013). Video Source: Youtube.

Another example of horror found in the blurring between the virtual and the real is evident in a new genre of online horror story-telling, an offshoot of creepypastas, which explores the Dark Web. The Dark Web is reputed to be a place where anything goes, outside police jurisdictions, in a No Man's Land of international anonymity. Many Darknet communities are devoted to whistle-blowing, hacking, politics, drugs, crime, and hidden news.

By contrast, the Clearnet is the main, indexed Internet with which everyone is familiar. Clearnet lists of Dark Websites from 2015 to 2017 are here, here, here, here, and here - but don't click on links in those lists or surf further without a Tor browser and a VPN. A May 2017 Motherboard report gave a link to a list of every possible site on the Dark Web, that is, 1,208,925,819,614,629,174,706,176 sites, or just over one septillion Dark Websites beyond the reach of Google. That number directly contradicts Wired's 2015 estimate that there were over a billion sites on the Clear Web and 7,000 to 30,000 Dark Websites. You can see the total number of indexed Clear Websites counted in real time at Internet Live Stats.

Interactive livestream horror. Deep Web Horror Story - Why I Left The Deep Web by TASDiablo (21 May 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2016: Interview with Horror Film Director, Oliver Park


Vicious (2016). The lead actress is Rachel Winters. Directed, written and produced by Oliver Park. Video Source: Youtube.

Welcome to another Countdown to Hallowe'en blogathon, in which Histories of Things to Come joins hundreds of other blogs during October to count down to All Saints' Eve. Today, I am very pleased to interview UK film director Oliver Park, whom Bloody Flicks calls "the new face of horror." Park wrote, directed and produced the acclaimed short British film, Vicious (above). On 24 September 2016, he premiered his new short horror film, Still, in the UK at the Exit 6 Film Festival in a screening at the Vue Cinema in Basingstoke, Hampshire, with more screenings in coming months in the UK and USA. Originally from Bath, Park is also an award-winning actor.

Vicious is just over twelve minutes long and has won many international film awards. It scared me! Park visually quotes other horror films, but his take is new. He told TurnAbout Media about his inspirations:
"I was born in the 80’s, so I grew up with stories by M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King. Then, when I discovered horror films I quickly fell in love with films by Carpenter, Craven, Kubrick, Romero, Cronenberg, Russell, Barker and of course – Hitchcock (to name but a few). I remember being terrified by those stories and I would regret them every night as I was lying in bed unable to sleep!

My father is also a huge film fan so he introduced me to the horrors from the 50’s and 60’s, the Hammer Horror collection – and two of my all-time favourites: Night of the Demon by Jacques Tourneur and Nosferatu by F. W. Murnau.

Modern day horrors are a new breed and cannot be compared to the older ones. I love the work of Leigh Whannell and James Wan, David Robert Mitchell, Tomas Alfredson, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza and of course Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu (among many, many others)."


I do not know if Park draws from film noir, but for me, the first scene in Vicious echoed Experiment in Terror (1962; online here), when a woman comes home from work late at night. The scene is similar, down to the barking dog. The woman hurries to leave the lonely street and get inside her house, where she'll be safe. In fact, the dog is warning the woman not to go inside her house.

This is where Vicious starts, at the moment when the place where we feel most secure becomes a cauldron. The film combines horror genres: the home invasion, the haunted house, mental isolation inside the four walls. Perhaps Park's secret is his relentless subliminal insistence on the invasion, even rape, of Millennial privacy; the associated thrall of home-based technologies and Internet connections leaves us trapped and subjugated. Our time wasted. Our lives squandered. Our identities frayed. Park's films may have monsters, but they are secondary to the violated spaces they occupy. There is no privacy, no safe place left. Park remarked on Still's premise:
"My stories are designed to target real life situations - it's not about a 'jump scare'. Still takes you on a journey that we all go on, but then it takes a detour and asks 'what if...'. We all think of our homes as our safe place, when in fact, they can just as easily be our prison - or worse - our tomb. You think you're safe inside - you're not. You're trapped."

Image Source: Turnabout Media.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Providence


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.

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.).




Saturday, June 20, 2015

True Detective: Time is a Flat Circle


Poster for True Detective season 1 (2014) is set in Louisiana. Image Source: HG Girl on Fire. The show's poster spawned a spoof meme, see: here, here, here.

America loves a morality tale, the deeper and darker, the better. Just as the '70s had Serpico, Mean Streets and Chinatown, the '80s had Blade Runner, Blue Velvet and Angel Heart, the '90s had L.A. Confidential and The Usual Suspects, and the '00s had No Country for Old Men and The Dark Knight as the definitive neo-noirs of those decades, the 2010s have Winter's Bone and the HBO television series True Detective. True Detective debuted in the USA and Canada on 12 January 2014 and debuted in the UK on Sky Atlantic on 22 February 2014. The second season begins in North America on 21 June 2015. Season 2 is set around the Los Angeles transportation system and involves a murder at the heart of a giant conspiracy.

The writing and vision for this series is incredible. True Detective makes the parallel UK drama, Broadchurch, pale in comparison. Broadchurch is strong in its own right and has somewhat similar initial premise: two quarreling detectives seek a murderer. But Broadchurch does not take the same risks.

True Detective season 2 (2015) is set around the Los Angeles transportation system, the venal conduit into the dark heart of the City of Angels. Season 2 stars Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell. Image Source: Mashable.

True Detective does exactly what a noir should do. The tension mounts, and as the characters' flaws deepen, the plot gets more feverish. The Toronto Sun remarks that True Detective, "makes every other police procedural drama seem faint and quaint by comparison. How are we supposed to watch 'regular' TV if HBO keeps dropping these sorts of live grenades in our laps?"

True Detective is not just a genre-hopping cop drama trying to shock its viewers, as with another Millennial series, The Fall. Like Twin Peaks, season 1 of this Lynchian show started off as police noir and ended up as a horror story. There are references in True Detective to H. P. Lovecraft's works and Blair Witch, which similarly involve rational investigations dragging the investigators' subconscious into a confrontation with an immense, malevolent, supernatural being or force.

There is a monster here, behind the police explorations of gritty streets and haunted bayous. The monster inhabits the dreams of this mundane world, but unfortunately for the characters, the monster has legs. It has a history. The Gen X writer of True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto, gives his horror deep roots. He presents this TV series as one story in a long line of stories about a much, much larger legend. True Detective is a metafictional continuation of the multi-authored Carcosa mythos, which started with an Ambrose Bierce short story, "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" also known as "Can Such Things Be?" (1891; read it here) and The King in Yellow (1895) by Robert W. Chambers. You can read The King in Yellow online here. For more on The King In Yellow and the Carcosa story: go here, here, herehere and here. You can see this series' connection with Chambers's stories drawn here and here. The metafiction continuity inspired so much chatter that some critics claimed that Pizzolatto had plagiarized, rather than continued, other authors' works.

In other words, True Detective is supposed to be part of, and continue, a fictional mythology about something terrible that once happened in an ancient lost city. In Bierce's work, that city, Carcosa, is described by someone who once lived there:
Along the shore the cloud waves break, The twin suns sink behind the lake, The shadows lengthen In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise, And strange moons circle through the skies, But stranger still is Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing, Where flap the tatters of the King, Must die unheard in Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead, Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed Shall dry and die in Lost Carcosa.

—"Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2

Monday, October 6, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Dark Seed's Other Dimension


The librarian from Dark Seed (1992). Image Source: Red and White Kop.

One of the most famous early horror video games, Dark Seed, was released by Cyberdreams in 1992. It is noted for its haunting artwork by the late Swiss artist, H. R. Giger, and its ground-breaking high resolution graphics. Unusually for its format, the game heightened stress by forcing the player to complete tasks within a limited time. Otherwise, the player had to start again. This is because an alien-like 'dark seed' has been implanted in the protagonist, who must solve several interrelated real world and other dimensional puzzles before the embryo is born and kills him and all of humankind. The protagonist can only last three days in his newly-purchased, otherworldly house!

Giger's contribution lays out an ever-worsening excursion into an unforgivingly crazy and monochromatic subconscious. It's so frankly and unflinchingly portrayed that at times you can't help but laugh at how dreadful it all is. The plot opens as a man moves into a dilapidated mansion, where his nightmares and daily routine begin to converge:
Mike Dawson is a successful advertising executive and writer who has recently purchased an old mansion on Ventura Drive (named after Ventura Boulevard) in the small town of Woodland Hills. On his first night at the house, Mike has a nightmare about being imprisoned by a machine that shoots an alien embryo into his brain. He wakes up with a severe headache and, after taking some aspirins and a shower, explores the mansion. He finds clues about the previous owner's death, which reveal the existence of a parallel universe called the Dark World ruled by sinister aliens called the Ancients.
Because today's games are so advanced, it is easy to overlook this early horror gem. Watch the extended gameplay below the jump. Have the patience to follow it through, and it delivers an abiding, nasty creepiness, frayed nerves, and a nagging, subliminal uncertainty about reality. Wiki: "In 2006 Gametrailers.com named [Dark Seed] the seventh scariest game of all time, ranking it above Clock Tower, System Shock 2, and Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem."

Game conception drew from H. P. Lovecraft and from Giger's designs for the 1979 film, Alien. Watch for the reference to 'Joe Tuttle,' the gardener, who appears as well in the The Changeling (1980; see it here or here) and The Others (2001). A sequel, Dark Seed II (1995; gameplay here), was influenced by David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990-1991), and also featured horror lurching between two worlds. H. R. Giger did not participate directly in making the sequel. For that reason, the first game remains the unsettling classic.

Still from Dark Seed (1992). Image Source: Red and White Kop.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Farewell to H. R. Giger


H. R. Giger in 1978. Image Source: IB Times.

Very sad news today: Swiss surrealist artist Hans Rudolf 'Ruedi' Giger died on 12 May 2014. He was 74. Giger was a Posthuman visionary who glimpsed an uncomfortable future, where humans and machines would combine biomechanically around sexuality. In the 1960s, Giger contemplated grotesque human bodies, twisted by nuclear radiation. Other influences on his work included H. P. Lovecraft, Samuel Beckett and Edgar Wallace, all of whom created fantastical worlds which were metaphors for layers of human consciousness.

Giger with alien design. Image Source: Twentieth Century Fox via Guardian.

Giger gained worldwide renown for his design of the monster on Alien (1979). Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon met Giger and saw a book of his sketches during Alejandro Jodorowsky's ill-fated film adaptation of the novel Dune. Giger's images helped inspire O'Bannon's earliest Alien script; on O'Bannon's urging, director Ridley Scott asked Giger to design the alien, based on Giger's painting Necronom IV. Giger also designed the Facehugger, the Chestburster, the Derelict spaceship, and the Space Jockey. He and fellow Alien production artists won an Oscar. Giger worked on later movies in the franchise as well as other films.

The Necronom IV (1976), inspiration for the alien. Image Source: IB Times.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lovecrafted Meta-Bible



What do you get when you cross the King James Bible with the Necronomicon? Entertaining surrealism! British sci-fi writer Charles Stross used King James Programming - a modified Markov chain which semi-randomly combines texts - to mash up the KJV Bible with the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft  (Thanks to -C.).

Stross called the output the Lovebible. The desert themes and environments which dominate the Bible mesh well with Lovecraft's obsession with ancient knowledge and water monsters. It is an elemental marriage of texts, weirdly bred on the Internet:
krina:markov charlie$ ./lovebible.pl 2> /dev/null 99820 lines, 821134 words read from king_james_bible.txt 16536 lines, 775603 words read from lovecraft_complete.txt About to spew ...
--- the backwoods folk -had glimpsed the battered mantel, rickety furniture, and ragged draperies. It spread over it a robber, a shedder of blood, when I listened with mad intentness. At last you know! At last to come to see me. Now Absalom.
the absence of any real link with that of 598 Angell Street was as the old castle by the shallow crystal stream I saw unwonted ripples tipped with yellow light, as if those depths of their rhythm. The training saved them.
the bed, and make thee borders of gold with studs of silver. 1:12 While the case histories, to expect. As mental atmosphere. His eyes were pits of a hundred and fifty shekels, 30:24 And he laughed mockingly at the village summoning.
the commandment of the room; then this. If this thing. 25:1 If he had no way to turn either to the coyote - or to something was wrong. Marsh and Marceline represents. I am strong. 26:16 I also in me. 14:2.
the ghouls, whose utter strangeness and their backsliding, I will love him, and have redeemed them, yet thou never gavest me a people: 8:11 And I said unto them, and I believe that the king doth behold the upright. 33:2 Thus.
the gleaming sand, bobbing lanterns. The Philistines be upon thee, and because the famine in the heart proceed evil for Israel, with hesitancy, and which I had known it, to himself, he said, How shall depart from his house. 7:2 That. the results we learned that no harm him, and rent it. 7:22 My face again no not to inform me, even all the heads of the unutterable consequences. It could tell, it thunders. The thing came out of Egypt. Who knoweth.
the grass-grown line on the glassy, phantom bones. 50:18 Therefore the children of Israel dedicated the sea, diverse and I hung an air of the war, to rest in my brother for nought, and the counsellor, and the cunning workman, and.
Song of Solomon. Chapman and Hall (1897). Image Source: Cary Collection, RIT via Manifold Greatness.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Hallows' Eve Countdown: The Curse of Tolkien's One Ring


The Vyne ring, aka the Ring of Silvianus. Image Source: BBC.

BBC has reported on the likely original source for Sauron's One Ring in J. R. R. Tolkien's stories. The history of the ring is complicated. It was found in a farmer's field near Silchester, in Hampshire, UK, in 1785. In 1929, with Tolkien's help, archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler connected the ring to a curse tablet in a late Roman Celtic temple in Gloucestershire, 100 miles away. The curse tablet describes a stolen ring. The area around the temple was also awash in superstitions about elves and dwarves. It is commonly believed that this research helped inspire Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) and the The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Image of the Day: Kragen Hunters


Fantastic Stories of the Imagination (July 1964).

Today's Lovecraftian image of naked kragen hunters and a surprise cephalopod comes courtesy of Michael May's Adventure Blog. The cover illustration here for Jack Vance's story The Kragen was later expanded into a 1966 novel entitled, The Blue World. It won the Nebula Award in 1966.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Cthulhumas


Image Source: The Poor Mouth. For another version, go here.

The Great Old One is a really popular Christmas meme. For more, go here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 10: Horror's Skeleton Key

The Tarot's trumps, or Major Arcana, mapped onto a Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Image Source: Tarot Hermeneutics. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Behind the tropes and clichés, what is horror? What purpose do horror stories serve? Horror reveals impulses in ourselves which we fear and do not understand, such as the savage motives behind murder. For example: 2006's Black Dahlia (directed by Brian De Palma) was based on the 1947 unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, and was disturbing enough that writer James Ellroy (who famously wrote a quartet of novels about post-war L.A., and included the Dahlia case for his own reasonsnow asserts that he will never again publicly discuss Short (see my blog post on this case, here); or the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974; based on the 1950s' Ed Gein case in Wisconsin, see it below); or Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986; see it here; based on real life killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole). In a week when the LAPD is reopening the Manson Family case to investigate 12 additional murders, the headlines remind us that reality is worse than any horror drama.

Horror additionally asks us to challenge what we understand to be real and then reaffirm it, according to our common values. A Catholic review from Jake Martin of a fictional account of a boy who kills his classmates, We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), confirms this point:
the film is not "yet another installment in the pantheon of post-modern films intent upon assaulting the human desire to give meaning to the world." Instead, ... [Martin] says, We Need to Talk about Kevin in fact needs to be talked about, as what it is attempting to do by marrying the darkest, most nihilistic components of contemporary cinema with a redemptive message is groundbreaking."
In a third and related sense, some horror stories are actually morality tales. They show the path the protagonists must take out of darkness, once a violent act has ripped apart everything that makes reality sensible. This severe trope is often used by director David Lynch, whose forays into surreal horror involve a return back to a good piece of cherry pie and a great cup of coffee. Lynch will take his audiences to the edge and well beyond it, but he always insists on the final reassertion of sanity over insanity.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fountain of Youth 14: Embrace Your Immortality

Get me outta here. Image Source: Digital Journal.

People are so literal-minded these days. The staunchly faithful believe the end is nigh. The staunchly un-faithful believe the end is not nigh. Either way, the new Millennium's opposing camps of the very religious and the very atheistic seek exactly the same goal: immortality. The irony in this fact - that those who go in for the apocalypse are on the same page as those who go in for the technological singularity - derives from an excess of literal-mindedness.

Here is an example of Millennial literal-mindedness, from a Gen X neuroscientist at Harvard who is attempting to figure out how to download his consciousness onto a computer interface so that he can live forever. From a Chronicle of Higher Education report:
In the basement of the Northwest Science Building here at Harvard University, a locked door is marked with a pink and yellow sign: "Caution: Radioactive Material." Inside researchers buzz around wearing dour expressions and plastic gloves. Among them is Kenneth Hayworth. ...

Hayworth has spent much of the past few years in a windowless room carving brains into very thin slices. He is by all accounts a curious man, known for casually saying things like, "The human race is on a beeline to mind uploading: We will preserve a brain, slice it up, simulate it on a computer, and hook it up to a robot body." He wants that brain to be his brain. He wants his 100 billion neurons and more than 100 trillion synapses to be encased in a block of transparent, amber-colored resin—before he dies of natural causes.

Why? Ken Hayworth believes that he can live forever.

But first he has to die.

"If your body stops functioning, it starts to eat itself," he explains to me one drab morning this spring, "so you have to shut down the enzymes that destroy the tissue." If all goes according to plan, he says cheerfully, "I'll be a perfect fossil." Then one day, not too long from now, his consciousness will be revived on a computer. By 2110, Hayworth predicts, mind uploading—the transfer of a biological brain to a silicon-based operating system—will be as common as laser eye surgery is today.

It's the kind of scheme you expect to encounter in science fiction, not an Ivy League laboratory. But little is conventional about Hayworth, 41, a veteran of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a self-described "outlandishly futuristic thinker." While a graduate student at the University of Southern California, he built a machine in his garage that changed the way brain tissue is cut and imaged in electron microscopes. The combination of technical smarts and entrepreneurial gumption earned him a grant from the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, a subsidiary of the McKnight Foundation, and an invitation to Harvard, where he stayed, on a postdoctoral fellowship, until April.

To understand why Hayworth wants to plastinate his own brain you have to understand his field—connectomics, a new branch of neuroscience. A connectome is a complete map of a brain's neural circuitry. Some scientists believe that human connectomes will one day explain consciousness, memory, emotion, even diseases like autism, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's—the cures for which might be akin to repairing a wiring error. In 2010 the National Institutes of Health established the Human Connectome Project, a $40-million, multi-institution effort to study the field's medical potential.

Among some connectomics scholars, there is a grand theory: We are our connectomes. Our unique selves—the way we think, act, feel—is etched into the wiring of our brains. Unlike genomes, which never change, connectomes are forever being molded and remolded by life experience. Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a prominent proponent of the grand theory, describes the connectome as the place where "nature meets nurture."

Hayworth takes this theory a few steps further. He looks at the growth of connectomics—especially advances in brain preservation, tissue imaging, and computer simulations of neural networks—and sees something else: a cure for death. In a new paper in the International Journal of Machine Consciousness, he argues that mind uploading is an "enormous engineering challenge" but one that can be accomplished without "radically new science and technologies."
Extreme literal-mindedness boils immortality down to an "enormous engineering challenge." The connectome idea also has a metaphysical side. The connectome curiously reworks the concept of fate. This is a really seductive concept in a troubled (or if one prefers, fallen) world: a proposal to alter destiny on the cellular, genetic, atomic, and sub-atomic levels. Change destiny, whether it comes from nature or nurture, like changing a spark plug.

The article paints Hayworth as a dedicated figure, a futurist ahead of his time. And in that regard, he is a great visionary. His work may inadvertently cure terrible diseases or vastly expand our grasp of neural, or even cerebral, processes. But these would be incidental to his primary aim to 'cure' us of death. There is no moment where Hayworth stops and asks: should we be immortal? If death is hard-wired into every living thing on the planet, and even non-living things die, then maybe death exists for a good reason? Maybe it is the lynchpin in the order of the universe? Aside from the possibility that an immortal human could be horrifying, perhaps conquering death would destroy the balance of nature? I am not talking about hocus-pocus. Nor am I talking about cells and synapses, genes and enzymes. I am talking about the purpose of death, which we do not understand. There is a purpose for death in the universe, because even galaxies die. For Hayworth, these are non-issues:
One hundred years from now, he believes, our descendants will not understand how so many of us failed for so long to embrace immortality. In an unpublished essay, "Killed by Bad Philosophy," he writes, "Our grandchildren will say that we died not because of heart disease, cancer, or stroke, but instead that we died pathetically out of ignorance and superstition"—by which he means the belief that there is something fundamentally unknowable about consciousness, and that therefore it can never be replicated on a computer. ...

My [The Chronicle reporter's] conversations with Hayworth took place over several months, and I was struck by how his optimism often gave way to despair. "I've become jaded about whether brain preservation will happen in my lifetime," he told me at one point. "I see how much pushback I get. Even most neuroscientists seem to believe that there is something magical about consciousness—that if the brain stops, the magic leaves, and if the magic leaves, you can't bring the magic back."

I asked him if the scope of his ambitions ever gives him pause. If he could achieve immortality, might it usher in a new set of problems, problems that we can't even imagine? "Here's what could happen," he said. "We're going to understand how the brain works like we now understand how a computer works. At some point, we might realize that the stuff we hold onto as human beings—the idea of the self, the role of mortality, the meaning of existence—is fundamentally wrong."

Lowering his voice, he continued. "It may be that we learn so much that we lose part of our humanity because we know too much." He thought this over for a long moment. "I try not to go too far down that road," he said at last, "because I feel that I would go mad."
Yes. Madness arrives, on schedule, when science heads too far into the outer reaches without support. Hayworth may see philosophers as part of the problem. But it looks like he needs one or two of them to watch his back. It does not matter whether you think the world was created by a divine being (or beings) who set in motion a grand battle between the forces of good and evil - or that the universe (or multiverses) exploded in the Big Bang and can be rationally dissected. The real cultural and historically relevant Millennial phenomenon across the board is a literal-mindedness about everything that formerly belonged to the realm of mystery.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lovecraftian Heat Wave Film Night

Image Source: Tentaclii.

Heat waves, according to a 2008 Australian article in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, predispose "individuals [in temperate climates] to heat-related morbidity and mortality." The researchers continue:
Above a threshold of 26.7°C, we observed a positive association between ambient temperature and hospital admissions for mental and behavioral disorders. Compared with non–heat-wave periods, hospital admissions increased by 7.3% during heat waves. Specific illnesses for which admissions increased included organic illnesses, including symptomatic mental disorders; dementia; mood (affective) disorders; neurotic, stress related, and somatoform disorders; disorders of psychological development; and senility. Mortalities attributed to mental and behavioral disorders increased during heat waves in the 65- to 74-year age group and in persons with schizophrenia, schizotypal, and delusional disorders.
Similarly, Canada's Metro News, commenting on a severe Ontario heat wave this week that will push humidex temperatures over 40°C [104°F], notes that humidity hampers cognition and "[w]hen temperatures climb past the high 30s [90s°F], the brain can become stressed and chemically imbalanced, leading to anxiety, depression, and even aggression." According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Canadians are more likely to commit suicide in July and August than at any other time of year. For people living in or near Colorado or other western American states, ongoing heat-wave-sparked wildfires are doubly dangerous and stressful.

This may be why some of the most dramatic and cathartic story-telling is reserved for these conditions. Film noir thrillers and pulp horror stories are often set in sweltering urban heat waves (see my earlier posts on heat waves here and here).

Maybe a little dip into the watery subconscious will help. Nothing says summer heat wave like Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Below the jump, some B-movie adaptations of Lovecraft's works, including one about the fictitious Lovecraftian grimoire, the Necronomicon (Hat tip: Lovecraft eZine). For a post on real grimoires, see an interesting recent piece at Unsolved Mysteries in the World.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Illuminati Lotto, the 23 Enigma and the Goddess of Discord

Winning ticket? Image Source: Melissa Stetten.

Tonight, the nationwide American lottery Mega Millions had a historic jackpot of $640 million. The amount prompted online discussion on the virtues of sharing: a viral tweet stated blindly that it was enough for the winner to share roughly $2 million with every other individual in the country (rather than $2): "Lotto jackpot=$640 Million. Population of the US=300 Million. Lets just give everyone 2.13 Million!" Math skills aside, some people (possibly) photoshopped their tickets with winning numbers and circulated them on Twitter. One report just out claims that the jackpot was won in Maryland and there are a few winners in other states. May fortune as well as good fortune go to the winners.

They might need a little extra luck. The winning numbers are: 2, 4, 23, 38, 46 and a bonus number of 23. When people have been talking about this all week, and lining up to buy tickets, it is easy to see in recession-plagued America how this lottery would capture the imagination, and how the winning numbers would take on special significance. On the Internet, a conspiracy theory began circulating within an hour of the numbers being announced at 11 pm Eastern time in the United States. The repetition of the number 23 in the winning numbers is taken by some to be a sign that the Illuminati are secretly running the lotto. You can see some wild theories about Illuminati and the number 23, here and here. I don't like conspiracy theories, but this one is undoubtedly a sign of the times.

Friday, March 16, 2012

(Re)Turning Centuries

Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine: the birthplace of American Literature; American Literary Geography (1933). Image Source: Brain Pickings.

Decades come back into fashion cyclically. Parts of the 1890s, as well as the late 1920s-to-early-1930s, have dominated the period from 2007 to 2012. For the past five years, we got a real life revisiting of the Great Depression, with a Lovecraftian flavour.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prehistory's Mysteries: Billion Year Old Mountain Range Stays Young Beneath Antarctic Ice

Some original pulp illustrations from At the Mountains of Madness. See more here.

Anyone who has read At the Mountains of Madness (read it here; hear it in audiobook form here) can appreciate the Lovecraftian mystery of the Gamburtsevs, the mountain range that looks like the Alps, 8,500 feet high (2,600 metre tall peaks), but sleeps beneath miles of Antarctic ice. The Gamburtsevs were first discovered in 1958, and last week the journal Nature reported on the tectonic events that formed them. They have been dubbed "the last unexplored mountains on the planet." But due to new radar techniques and geophysical data, some headway is being made toward understanding the subglacial range. They are now believed to be one billion years old, but remain uneroded because of the ice sheet that preserves them. According to one of the co-authors of the article:
“Resolving the contradiction of the Gamburtsev high elevation and youthful Alpine topography but location on the East Antarctic craton by piecing together the billion year history of the region was exciting and challenging,” said Carol Finn, of the U.S. Geological Survey, a co-author on the paper. “We are accustomed to thinking that mountain building relates to a single tectonic event, rather than sequences of events. The lesson we learned about multiple events forming the Gamburtsevs may inform studies of the history of other mountain belts. The youthful look of any mountain range may mask a hidden past.”
Image Source: BBC.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Prehistory's Mysteries: The Search for the Atlantean Consciousness

Image Source: Luxury Holidays to Dubai.

Yesterday, I commented on the Boomers' initial attack on external labels that they felt damaged the subjective consciousness, followed by their subsequent ironic attack on that same subjective consciousness they once sought to protect.  They claimed that we could no longer trust the psyche, because we had internalized the external lables and authoritarian thought processes encased in language.  Boomers' iconoclasm served some purpose in attacking harmful social structures and values. But at the same time, it left us with no real alternatives. If you can't trust the outside world and you can't trust your inner self, where can you turn when both material and spiritual values collapse?

Image Source: Dubai Hotels.

Some feel that we need to go back to the very beginning to rediscover the origins of human soulfulness. In one short month, the Winter Solstice will be upon us. It will mark one year before the anticipated Ancient Mayan date for the material and spiritual crisis that some consider may be the ‘end of the world.’ Graham Hancock, controversial best-selling journalist on Prehistoric cultures, discussed this fabled date in 1995 in his book, Fingerprints of the Gods. That book echoes an 1882 work by Ignatius Donnelly, author of Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (you can read the latter piece here), which speculated that Atlantis actually existed. The theory runs that Atlantis harboured a global Antediluvian maritime civilization of astronomers and priests - for thousands of years before the time when formal history and archaeology declare civilization actually started around 5,000 years ago. The idea is that pre-Flood coastal civilizations flourished during the Ice Age and were eradicated by a sudden worldwide rise in sea levels when the ice sheets melted. Hancock is convinced that great secrets of human civilization were lost in this catastrophe. He has devoted a lot of diving time to scouring possible Ice Age town ruins in coastal seabeds all over the world, searching for proof of these lost cultures, their hidden truths, and their deep history.

In January 2010, author and self-styled neo-Shaman Daniel Pinchbeck discussed 2012 with Graham Hancock in a lecture entitled, "Retelling the Past, Reimagining the Future." Both writers agreed that 2012 is a metaphor for a collective journey where we must look within to endure a universal spiritual transformation. In this conversation, Hancock attacked secular materialism: we looked in the Modern and Postmodern eras to external authorities to define ourselves [while cynically criticizing those same authorities] and diminished our faith in our subjective senses. According to him, the consequences were disastrous. He insisted we must renew our faith in the internal perspective.  He felt and feels that we must look within for our ultimate sources of self-identification, consciousness, and conscience.

A few caveats: Hancock and Pinchbeck advocate expanding consciousness through the use of mind-altering drugs, without consideration that these substances are a short cut to thinking, or that they short circuit the hard-won trials of the spiritual and moral experiences not bolstered by chemical aids. The authors would likely argue that participating in drug-driven shamanic experiences is a way of stepping back in time, of repeating many-thousand-year-old rituals and recovering secrets of ancient, lost civilizations. At the same time, however, they dismiss today's conventional religions as having failed in their spiritual mandates. Yet those faiths may contain surviving threads of the very Prehistoric cultures they seek.

These writers were and are truly Millennial in their conviction that the deep past must harbour important knowledge that could be the 'key to everything.' They have searched for a benevolent, Eden-like human paradigm. This view contrasts with another famous afficionado of the deep past, H. P. Lovecraft, who felt that lost eras were full of knowledge, which, when awoken, promised nothing good. Lovecraft imagined our subjugated knowledge of terrifying Ur-aliens. His Ur-monsters knew how to psychically penetrate our dreams and drive us to madness. Lovecraft felt that Antediluvian knowledge was incredibly dangerous, and pre-Flood societies had died and been wiped from our memories for a reason.

Antediluvian mythologies certainly contain the seeds of their own destruction. Elsewhere, Hancock has talked of a repeating symbol that he feels was reproduced by post-Flood societies as an emblem, 'flag,' or symbol to remember the pre-Flood world - that of a winged snake. Curiously, the Biblical depiction of Satan is that of an angel transformed into a serpent. The Flood myths of many countries are one repeating story about mass moral and spiritual failure prior to worldwide disaster. Hancock and Pinchbeck drew from this theme to point to a neo-Gnostic idea about a battle between good and evil. This idea has an unsettling subtext, whether intended or not, which echoes ongoing conspiracy theories about grand powers pulling strings behind the scenes; yet in this regard, Hancock confined his remarks to the notion that we currently face spiritual dominance from aggressive, malevolent forces. Pinchbeck has a more pronounced weakness for these theories.


In this discussion, Hancock did not acknowledge or explore the Internet as a potential new forum of expanded spiritual consciousness. He presented a compelling argument that the external arbiters of spirit and the mind – material values driven by currencies of financial exchange and a glorification of a practical, problem solving mentality – are failing us. They are no longer able to provide the answers necessary for psychological survival in a rapidly evolving world. The Tech Boom’s desperate acceleration has further sparked the ensuing spiritual crisis. And it is that very crisis which may be our ultimate unconscious aim in creating the Boom in the first place. Thus, through the very dull and pedestrian bean counting that Hancock abhorred, it seems we are subliminally driven to generate a moral and psychological vacuum, which will either destroy us or remake us. But in a final twist, any spiritual hunger we may have will be projected upon Virtual Realities and experienced through them.

Image Source: Shéa MacLeod.

Pinchbeck confirmed the importance of Virtual Realities elsewhere: "It is my thesis that the rapid development of technology and the destruction of the biosphere are material by-products of a psycho-spiritual process taking place on a planetary scale. We have created this crisis to force our own accelerated transformation - on an unconscious level, we have willed it into being." Caveats aside, the Millennial spiritual vacuum these authors identified easily explains why the Internet has exploded exponentially in the past 15 years and why it is so curiously and universally addictive. Below the jump, see the whole discussion and a transcribed excerpt on the need to look within for a renewed spiritual and moral consciousness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 14: The Supernatural Ivory Tower

A faux inscription: View of the old quadrangle of the Miskatonic University, Arkham, Massachusetts, built 1797; drawn by G.M. Sinclair, 1915 (from Picturesque Haunts of Old New England, by George M. Sinclair, Boston 1915). Image Source: The Necronomicon.
 
 
So much for the Ivory Tower being the seat of Enlightenment rationalism and intellectual skepticism that immediately rejects psychics, mediums, spirits, the paranormal, superstitions, and wide-eyed religious fears of devils and demons. Universities stereotypically harbour godless scientists.  But in 2006, Skeptical Inquirer Magazine conducted a study that found that the higher your level of education, the greater your tendency to believe in the supernatural.  (Hat tip: Live Science) They found graduate students to be particularly susceptible. Having spent more than a day or two in graduate school, I can see how the experience might inspire a belief in the big picture (let us say).  Sceptical boffins (as Brits call them) are believers! From the report:
Believe it or not, higher education is linked to a greater tendency to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, according to a new study.

Contrary to researchers' expectations, a poll of 439 college students found seniors and grad students were more likely than freshmen to believe in haunted houses, psychics, telepathy, channeling and a host of other questionable ideas.

The results are detailed in the January-February issue of the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

The survey was modeled after a nationwide Gallup Poll in 2001 that found younger Americans far more likely to believe in the paranormal than older respondents.

The new study was done by Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward Jr. of the University of Central Oklahoma.

In general college students checked the "Believe" box less than the general population surveyed by Gallup. But the lack of "Don't Believe" responses among college students was lower for six of the 13 categories: psychic or spiritual healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, ghosts, clairvoyance and witches. That means a higher percentage of college students put themselves in the "Not Sure" column on these topics. ...

More significantly, the new survey reveals college is not necessarily a path to skepticism in these realms.

While 23 percent of college freshmen expressed a general belief in paranormal concepts—from astrology to communicating with the dead—31 percent of seniors did so and the figure jumped to 34 percent among graduate students. "As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases," Farha and Steward write.
Academics search for rational explanations of the supernatural in terms of human psychology. The University of Edinburgh is home to the famous Koestler Parapsychology Unit, which investigates paranormal phenomena. Parapsychology is a field of research in some 30 countries, which seeks to explain telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, and apparitional experiences. Other departments and institutes that work in this area include: the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine; the Rhine Research Center, successor to the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory (later called the Foundation for Research into the Nature of Man); the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, London; the Boundary Institute; the Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona; the Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology, Lund University, Sweden; the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes, University of Northampton; Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology Unit, Liverpool John Moores University; Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene, Freiburg, Germany; Institut Métaphysique International, Paris; International Consciousness Research Labs, linked with Princeton; Laboratories for Fundamental Research, Palo Alto, California - previously funded by the US government; Le Laboratoire de Parapsychologie de Toulouse, France; the Mind-Matter Unification Project, Cambridge University; the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute includes investigations of psychopharmacology; and the Psychology of Paranormal Phenomena at University of Derby. This is not a complete list! On a slightly related note, Russian scientists set up an institute to investigate the Sasquatch, Bigfoot or Yeti this year

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ancient Cities 2: Dying Babylon's First and Last Museum

Image Source: IO9.

Imagine travelling back in time 2,500 years to a museum which preserved artifacts that the Ancients thought were ancient! IO9 is reporting on a fascinating mid-1920s' discovery of a Babylonian museum - the world's first - and the tale it told of its own dying culture.  The museum was located in a palace in Ur, once an important city-state seat in ancient Sumeria.  Ur was later absorbed into neo-Babylonia.

The archaeologists were working on the palace of Nabonidus, the last neo-Babylonian king.  They found a strange chamber where his daughter, Princess Ennigaldi, had created her museum. They could not understand why the room contained artifacts from much earlier time periods, all mixed together:
In 1925, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a curious collection of artifacts while excavating a Babylonian palace. They were from many different times and places, and yet they were neatly organized and even labeled. Woolley had discovered the world's first museum. 
It's easy to forget that ancient peoples also studied history - Babylonians who lived 2,500 years ago were able to look back on millennia of previous human experience. That's part of what makes the museum of Princess Ennigaldi so remarkable. Her collection contained wonders and artifacts as ancient to her as the fall of the Roman Empire is to us. But it's also a grim symbol of a dying civilization consumed by its own vast history.
The artifacts in the museum were between sixteen hundred and seven hundred years older than the palace itself, which dated from 530 BCE. In other words, Wooley's 1920s' archaeological discovery in the palace at Ur extended tangible human memory back to just over two thousand years before the time of Christ.

Wooley felt that the museum and the study of history for this civilization was a sign of over-sophistication and ultimate decline.  While the great city of Ur was winding down and coming to the end of two thousand years of history, its royal family was obsessed with preserving a once-glorious past.  By around 500 BCE (a mere thirty years after the founding of the Princess's palace museum), Ur was abandoned.  Its territories would soon be absorbed by the new upstart Persian Empire.

This whole story makes me reflect on my review of Paul Laroquod's blog yesterday, including further remarks in the comments section on the current declining value of copyright. This story about Princess Ennigaldi's museum, in my mind, provides some justfication for copyright as a historical tool; it is more than a formula for declaring possession of property and enforcing power over that property in the name of profit. Copyright is also a marker of time; it is a signpost of intellectual precedent and associated historical legacies.  Through copyright, we can establish not only who had an idea first, but (perhaps more importantly) the sequence in which ideas and created objects appeared in our culture.  The potential of doing away with copyright includes the potential of living in an ahistorical world, where date-stamps (easily manipulated) become meaningless.  Our perspective on the sequence of time as measured through our creative achievements will disappear, unless that sequence is described via another legal or other sort of convention.

H. P. Lovecraft was fixated on the idea that annotated scholarship allowed us to penetrate the clouds of the distant past.  Carefully following citations (that is, the trail of stated copyright) was like following the trail of breadcrumbs back through time.  By tracing historical documents to ever-older tomes, the truly erudite scholar could leapfrog backward through millennia.  In a similar manner, a museum curator could follow the artifacts backward.  Lovecraft suggested that the right sort of occult object, invested with mystical-temporal magic, could allow a Magus to move from the realm of the known past (history), to the near-forgotten past (legend), to the forgotten past (myth), to the realm of Ur-past (the occult), the deepest past of all.  Antiquarians unwittingly crossing oceans of time and disturbing the information and forces that slept there was also a common theme in the stories of M. R. James.  James's stories often start in universities, where a scholar has turned up some curio that is more trouble than its worth because it provides a gateway to past time.  In those past eras, James hinted that some elements of human knowledge were discarded, forgotten and left behind for a reason, because they were unmanageable and dangerous.  Toying with them in the present would only awaken their dreadful potential.