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 Linguistics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Linguistics. Show all posts

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Pilgrim Timekeepers


A pilgrim walking the Camino, or Way of St. James. Image Source: Tailored Spain.

If you want to know why tax season is in spring and its subsequent meaning for May, read on. As Catholic pilgrims prepare now for Pentecost on 15 May 2016, the blog returns to France's Chartres cathedral to note how places which attract pilgrims become centres of spirituality and memory. Pilgrimage routes have endured worldwide for thousands of years. One famous European route is the Spanish Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James. In 2014, 200,000 people undertook that journey, and the road is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 'Walking the Camino' is a huge event, even for atheists. For the faithful and secular alike, it is a modern walking holiday, attracting its share of business and crime.

In 2012, The Guardian asked why atheists participated in old Christian pilgrimages. Image Source: Guardian.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Blurred Line and the Hard Line


Under conditions of anomie, a fictional social network diagram shows competitive offshoots or spin-off groups, who redefine old norms to create new societies. Image Source: Wiki.

Technology, combined with the Great Recession and globalization, transformed societies, economies and politics through the turn of the Millennium. The mask of the materialist capitalist dream slipped with revelations from the Panama Papers, while also showing how that dream is connected to non-capitalist societies. The latter do not have better systems or superior ideologies. Hierarchy, exploitation and inequality are universal human problems. This post is not about who is correct, but who is seeking to control the claim to be correct.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Names of the Prehuman World


Hypothetical image of earth during its earliest Precambrian Hadean eon. Image Source: pinterest.

Palaeontologists describe the prehuman world, a desolate and unrecognizable planet. Our beloved and enslaved earth had a secret, prehuman life. Not only did we not exist, but neither did our countries, continents or oceans. The territorial bases of humans and their nations and identities, geopolitics and religions, which we take so seriously now, were either primordial or absent. Modern humans are so self-involved that they forget that the planet once belonged to itself, a place we would find frightening, an antecessor that pre-existed everything our exploits might control.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Summer's Nameless Emotions


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

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

Image Source: Art of Manliness.

Monday, July 6, 2015

ISIS and Post-Diluvian Amnesia


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

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

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

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








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

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

Monday, June 8, 2015

I Will Teach You Infinities


Burton reciting present indicative of the English verb, 'to be.' He skips 'it is.' Video Source: Youtube.

Simple observations can be gateways to profound knowledge. Actor Richard Burton (1925-1984) recited the present indicative tense of the verb 'to be' as the greatest poem in the English language. This clip is from In from the Cold: The World of Richard Burton (see it here while the link lasts). A Youtuber dismisses this video: "The man speaks well, of course, but this is pretentious nonsense." Another one says: "Richard Burton believes in aliens--look at his eyes when he says 'they are.' Weird, right?"

That is an interesting remark, because verbs begin by propelling their subjects through the world. With 'they are,' Burton was pondering 'others,' those furthest removed from one's existence. Burton showed here that the simple present tense conjugation of 'to be' indicates a journey from the immediacy of the individual self outward into the world, with decreasing levels of intimacy. Starting with the self as centre point ('I am'), one moves to the next closest person outside of one ('thou'). From there, 'she,' then 'he,' and so on. The progress of the verb through the present ends by taking the speaker to subjects placed at furthest degree of external existence away from the self. That is, 'they are' is a plural, outside, group and implies: 'they exist.' This is how the verb indicates how close the speaker is or is not to the subjects he or she (or it) is discussing.

After that, the verb explains how the speaker relates to time, then reality, and then the flow of time. In other words, the verb must switch temporal tenses (past, present, future) and modal relations to reality (signifying how closely the speaker does or does not connect to reality via the nature of an action taken - a fact, a desire, a command, a conditional, etc.).

Monday, March 30, 2015

Forty Days and Forty Nights in Jewish Tradition


In the Hebrew Book of Jonah, the prophet Jonah spent 3 days and 3 nights inside a whale. Image Source: CredoMag.

Numbers carry sacred, mystical and occult meanings in Jewish tradition, because they are symbolic religious tokens of the relationship between god and man. Also known as Gematria, the Jews derived this numerological bridge between the divine and the human from the Assyro-Babylonians. Letters of the Hebrew alphabet were ascribed numerical values, such that the mathematical sums embedded in written words conveyed transcendent symbolic messages. To continue HOTTC's series on Forty Days and Forty Nights, this post explores the powerful meanings associated with the number 40 in Jewish culture.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Memespace Hyperventilation


Palaces in the sky: Dark Roasted Blend recently celebrated the incredible visions of French science fiction comics from the 1970s, which American and British directors mimicked in comics and cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. Image Source: Jean-Claude Mézières via Dark Roasted Blend (Hat tip: Me and You and a Blog Named Boo).

On 27 February 2015, Richard Branson encouraged entrepreneurs to come forward to share and expand new ideas. That's great, although some of the big biz riffing around the future celebrates the new idea of the new idea. One never actually gets to a new idea. The out-of-control lingo-about-lingo about the newness-of-newness reminds me of the explosion of Postmodern Expert Speak in the 1990s, which constructed new foundations of intellectual cultural authority.

The Valérian and Laureline "series focuses on the adventures of the dark-haired Valérian, a spatio-temporal agent, and his redheaded female companion, Laureline, as they travel the universe through space and time." Above, "Baroque spaceships (complete with ghost-ridden halls and gargoyles sticking out into the void of space)." Image Source: Dark Roasted Blend.

Mr. Branson quoted commenter Jason Silva, a photogenic Gen Y guru, who is a one-man meme generator and Singularity freestyle philosophical poet. He is compelling and makes good points, but there is something weird about the way he takes the Tech Revolution so literally and with such breathless utopian fervour. His clever rants reach height after height against IMAX effects. His videos are fantastic, if you like the Singularity Themepark Channel. His Youtube commentaries are part of the TestTube Network, which shares an unreflective undergraduate confidence that its contributors can fix the world, or at least understand it, if they edit it and add a soundtrack to it.

Silva's enthusiasm reminds me of the glassy-eyed idealism around the founding of America, or the Revolution in France. He joyously accepts the demolition of temporal boundaries and celebrates breaches of physical and cognitive limitations. He lacks a sense of Techno-Irony about the separate virtual lives enjoyed by his Online Language and Online Ego. To illustrate how Silva can be pithy yet simultaneously hollow, compare his Existential Bummer (the last video below) about death and a life beyond with another writer on similar topics. See Kate Sherrod's Story Sonnets: Infected (24 February 2015) and Who's the Real Crook Here? (23 February 2015).

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, April 7, 2014

Anniversaries: Start of the Rwandan Genocide


The Rwandan machete pile. Image Source: Iconic Photos.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, when, in the course of 1994's bloody summer, nearly 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu people were killed. 80 per cent of the population massacred the remaining 20 per cent of the country with machetes. In most cases, the killers personally knew their victims and were their neighbours. The knives were sold by the Chinese to the Hutu government at ten cents apiece, for an estimated total cost of USD $750,000. The genocide ended on 15 July 1994. (Warning: explicit images below the jump.)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Timeline of the Far Future


Click on the image to enlarge. Image Source: BBC.

The BBC has posted a timeline of the distant future, which includes the assumption that almost all buildings now standing will have collapsed by the year 3000. By that time, the BBC hypothesizes, all words from present-day languages will also be extinct, given the current rate of linguistic evolution.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Breaking Newspeak's Faustian Bargains


Image Source: Escapist Magazine.

In the new Millennium, online surveillance comes hand-in-hand the media's external imposition upon, and transformation of, internal thought. It is not news that Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) has arrived as a horrendous reality, although the UK is not yet known merely as Airstrip One. In some ways, the arrival is so horrendous that a portion of the public lives day by day in denial or willful ignorance, because it is easier to believe that things are not as bad as that. On 3 March 2014, Toronto Star columnist reported on the GCHQ collection of Yahoo users' video feeds and insisted, yes, it is as bad as that; we are living in a science fiction novel, where our own word processors are subject to outside control:
Whenever British journalist Luke Harding, working on his new book about spying whistleblower Edward Snowden, wrote something disparaging about the NSA, a weird thing would happen.
“The paragraph I had just written began to self-delete. The cursor moved rapidly from the left, gobbling text. I watched my words vanish,” Harding wrote in the Guardian this week.
The deletes kept happening for weeks. “All authors expect criticism,” wrote Harding, author of the new and astounding The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man. “But criticism before publication by an anonymous, divine third party is something novel.”
Finally, Harding politely asked whoever was doing it to consider stopping. A month later, they finally did.
He has no idea who did this. Were they American or British, a hacker or an offended National Security Agency analyst? We know they were reading Harding’s words as they were written but were they also watching him via a Skype-like device?
The news that GCHQ— the British surveillance agency that teams with the NSA and spy agencies in other allied “Five Eyes” nations, including Canada — has been intercepting and storing Yahoo webcam chats globally is eerie. We knew they could read what you typed, we suspect they can do this in real time, but now the massive Snowden leaked papers reveal that they can watch you talking to your nearest and dearest. Worse, you may have been naked at the time.
A program codenamed Optic Nerve gathered millions of stills from webcam chats between 2008 and 2010 and sent them in for viewing. In one six-month period alone, Optic Nerve scooped up images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo accounts around the world, the Guardian has reported.
Yahoo says it knew nothing of this.
In effect, people’s computer screens have become devices from Nineteen Eighty-Four where humans watch a screen that watches them back. But at least Winston Smith knew he was being watched.
In case you would like to know, the word processor that Guardian journalist Luke Harding was using was OpenOffice, which plainly lives up to its name. The Guardian has been in the thick of the Snowden leaks from the beginning. Harding admits that the entire staff felt paranoid. This post asks whether Orwell's dystopia is really here; or whether his Nineteen Eighty-Four world can still become a 'near miss,' a terrible alternate history that can still be narrowly avoided.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cryptocurrencies: Doge-ing the Economic Bullet


Image Source: Geek Culture / Joy of Tech (2013) via Syes Wide Shut.

In February 2014, the Financial Times argued that the older generation is monopolizing positions of power and authority while enjoying dwindling fruits of the economy to the detriment younger people. In the summer of last year, Pope Francis warned against the impact of unemployment and reduced opportunities on the younger generation. Other reports similarly state that during the Great Recession, generations X and Y felt betrayed by their Boomer elders.

Under these conditions, members of the younger generations are making a lateral move, building different areas of economic activity and new financial institutions which by-pass the established spheres of economic authority. Can they really dodge the economic bullet?

Among these shifts, none is moving more quickly or explosively than the advent of cryptocurrency (which started in 2008). But does the very youthfulness of cryptocurrency, both in terms of how new it is, and in terms of the geeky culture around it, prevent it from being used and taken seriously? Also, there is a question of criminality, hacking and total ineptitude in this nascent financial area. This is one of several upcoming posts on the meaning and long term viability of cryptocurrency.

In the wake of the Mt. Gox exchange collapse, this joke isn't so cute anymore. Image Source: Vice.

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).

Friday, May 10, 2013

Home Invasions: The Millennial Crime


Image Source: Tactical Life.

Today's post concerns a very post-Postmodern crime: the home invasion. Like the new, terrifying criminal who is a baffling, brutal and unstoppable force of nature in the Coen Brothers' 2007 film, No Country for Old Men, home invasion crosses lines which criminals of the past would not cross. Home invasion is a new type of ferocious act, committed by a new breed of criminal. It terrifies because it comes rampaging right to the last stronghold of security in a frightening world: the private dwelling, the final sanctum. This is a crime which shatters an already atomized order.

Image Source: Winnipeg Police Services.

Responses to this crime, like other unimaginable violations such as 2012's school or cinema shootings or the 2012 gang rape case in India, are politicized. But are the answers to a widening gap between the rich and the poor, tech-driven brutality, and an increase in savage crime simply political? Questions about these issues, surely, come from problems that are beyond politics.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Saudade for the Pre-Tech World


Youtube has a lot of great twentieth century media, which let us know just how different things were only 15 years ago.  One Youtube channel called Retrontario plays snippets from television shows and advertisements played locally in the Canadian province of Ontario in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. For those familiar with the area and time, Retrontario particularly conjures up the way Toronto used to be, when it still deserved the nickname 'Toronto the Good' (see my related post here).

Retrontario also carries several examples of TVOntario's public television offerings. Founded in 1970, TVOntario was and is Ontario's answer to America's PBS. It flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, when public TV was at its height. For decades, TVO's Elwy Yost hosted popular highbrow chatter about cinema and movie-making on Magic Shadows (1974-mid-1980s; see the opening here) and Saturday Night at the Movies (Yost hosted SNAM from 1974-1999; the show will be cancelled at the end of the 2012-2013 season due to budget cuts).  The end of a show like this symbolizes the end of an era on public television, pioneered by the so-called Silent Generation.

The province of Ontario has sometimes epitomized a negative stereotype of the Canadian character: stodgy, stuffy, earnest, traditional. The mentality of Toronto's sober, cautious, polite and well-fed burghers prompted Jan Morris to call ending up in Toronto, "second prize in life" in her book, Among the Cities.

However, on the positive side, it was that same stolid propriety that saw TVOntario cultivate in Ontario's public TV audience a civic attitude and responsibility toward intellectual engagement with culture. In a way similar to some efforts in the United States at this time, on PBS, and notably by Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show, TVO saw television as a medium of education. The aim was to depict a desired, prosperous and cultivated society. Television programs which dealt with popular and mainstream culture were crafted toward this larger purpose of higher culture.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Crowdsourcing the World's Oldest Translation


Image Source: BBC.

BBC reports that the world's oldest known written language, Proto-Elamite, will soon be deciphered by Oxford University academics. University researchers are using a special machine to photograph the writing from all angles. In order to speed up the process, they are also opening up the project to public input, in the hope that crowdsourcing may shed more light on translations:
The clay tablets were put inside this machine, the Reflectance Transformation Imaging System, which uses a combination of 76 separate photographic lights and computer processing to capture every groove and notch on the surface of the clay tablets.

It allows a virtual image to be turned around, as though being held up to the light at every possible angle.

These images will be publicly available online, with the aim of using a kind of academic crowdsourcing.

... [Oxford professor Jacob Dahl] says it's misleading to think that codebreaking is about some lonely genius suddenly understanding the meaning of a word. What works more often is patient teamwork and the sharing of theories. Putting the images online should accelerate this process.
You can see the main project site here, which includes many images of the tablets with samples of this language. The site describes the language as follows:
Proto-Elamite is the last un-deciphered writing system from the Ancient Near East with a substantial number of sources (more than 1600 published texts). It was used for a relatively short period around 3000 BC across what is today Iran. Proto-Elamite is a derived writing system originating from the Uruk invention of writing in southern Mesopotamia during the middle of the 4th millennium BC. Scribes in Susa in southwestern Iran took over a majority of the numerical signs as well as many of the numerical systems from the older proto-cuneiform system.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nuclear Culture 13: Write to the Future with Platinum, on Disks of Sapphire

Nuclear waste, buried underground. Image Source: Telegraph via Law in Action.

One of the many nasty things which haunt the nuclear industry is the disposal of waste deep underground, in facilities which have to last tens of thousands of years. At the Agence nationale pour la gestion des déchets radioactifs (ANDRA), nuclear waste management officials have decided that they actually need to preserve information on these radioactive waste respositories in records which will last for one million years. One million years of toxic waste management: this is what today's green, eco-friendly, affordable nuclear power option offers. Officials do not know what language to write the records in to make them comprehensible across such enormous spans of time, but whatever language they use, it will be written in platinum on hard disks made of sapphire.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dim Prospects


How not to get a job: study English. Image Source: Forbes.

Forbes just did a piece on the 'Best and Worst Master's Degrees for Jobs.' The top 10 degrees for getting a job fell in the computer sciences, physics, mathematics, the medical professions, business and economics. And the absolute worst Master's degrees for getting a job, according to descending pay and projected prospects, are:
  1. Library and Information Sciences
  2. English
  3. Music
  4. Education
  5. Biology
  6. Chemistry
  7. Counselling
  8. History
  9. Architecture
  10. Human Resources Management
Yes, at the turn of a Millennium, we see history and architecture, down at the bottom. And at the very time when the technological revolution has caused global literacy and written communication to explode at a scale never before seen in human history, all the major disciplines which teach written expression and analysis are relegated to the bottom of the employment and pay scales? And in a global economy, the study of foreign languages, rhetoric and grammar also have no prospects? Really? Did politicians, economists, jobs analysts, bankers and financiers learn nothing in 2008? Why are they still allowed to control the balance of power in our societies?

Forbes did not mention other subjects in the traditional humanities - law, philosophy, classics, linguistics, fine arts, theatre, dance, theology or the applied arts - presumably because these fields did not even offer numbers high enough to enter their sample statistics. Nor did Forbes touch on social sciences beyond economics, except for psychology, which is listed via the underrated discipline of counselling.

No wonder there is a terrible recession on, when this unimaginative, blinkered, conventional view still predominates. This view places supreme value on activities which generate a communications revolution and the basic infrastructure of international trade. Forbes hands us a world of middlemen and technicians who apply knowledge rather than discovering it: administrators, marketers, managers, industrial designers, economists, engineers, medical personnel and computer scientists. Empiricism is king. Positivism and neo-positivism consume all mysteries.

If there are any twinges of uncertainty, there are mass marketing machines and media cultures which create the false impression that the human aspects of the Millennial tech revolution have indeed been addressed. But they haven't. In a recent interview, indie author Craig Stone attacked the cult of celebrity, a myth of paramount creativity drummed up by marketing and industrial business concerns, which are no longer the popular commercial model:
I think with social media and Kindle we finally have the fairest way to find the world’s best writers chosen from a pool of millions – rather than what we have had traditionally – the best writers presented to us by the publishing industry who choose for us from a limited pool.

Is Stephen King the best horror writer in the world? No – but he is the best horror writer from a small pool printed by the publishing industry who resist other writers to maintain the reputation of writers that are household names.

In this new dawn, those previously thought of as writing gods are going to be revealed as just writers. Good writers, perhaps, but not the best because for the one Stephen King published there are hundreds ignored to sustain his reputation as the best because it’s easier and more profitable to publish a terrible Stephen King book than a great new book by an unknown writer.
Ironically, wildly popular Millennial reality talent shows seek to combine the two creative realities Craig Stone identifies. But these efforts are slickly produced and do not really solve the problem. Faux creativity is draped gaudily over every new gadget and applied software suite. Social networks build the Big Lie of the Individual, made 'special' by 'friends,' 'connections' and personal preferences. At some point in the 1980s and onwards, the word 'club' was used constantly in marketing lingo to confer special membership and privilege, when in fact it denoted that one had been absorbed into another featureless herd.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Netspeak Tales

LOLcats were the first Internet trope to make Netspeak universally popular, starting in 2005-2006. Image Source: I Can Has Cheezburger via Macmillan Dictionary.

The personal pronoun is dying. On Twitter, texting and instant messaging, in newspapers and other written media, technology prompts writers to drop the personal pronoun so that sentences begin with verbs, and the pronoun is assumed. Where possible, even the verbs are chopped, as: Meet u l8r. So much on 2day.

Sometimes, language crumbles in the other direction. Around 2004, I read a great transgressive short story about disintegrating Millennial language. In the story, an increasingly alienated protagonist gradually loses his ability to speak to other people. He begins dropping words from his sentences; the linguistic break down signifies his helpless and unstoppable withdrawal. In the end, he can only say the word "I" repeatedly. The affliction is called aphasia. It is not the loss of actual physical ability to speak out loud, rather a psychological loss of will to utter words, a frightening mental block between one's inner life and the outer world.

The author and title of this story escape me; the publication might have been the New Yorker, The Observer or the TLS; maybe one of the blog's readers will recognize the plot. Incidentally, the story about aphasia was published alongside Chuck Palahniuk's story, "Guts," which is another fictional example of trauma of the protagonist breaking through social reality of the reader. You can read it here.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was in a terrible car accident, and in the aftermath became mute for a time. It was a descent into silence, an invisible wall with which no one could argue. I realized that while language is held by intellectuals to be the hallmark of civilization, the willful erasure of language is ironically a moment of power, a last defense against total collapse.

And yet, George Orwell pegged his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in the brutal rise of Newspeak, a gutted, simplified language that signified the soullessness of the society. Some blame top-down policies of schools before they condemn the grassroots spread of technology. This complaint kicks a hornet's nest about educational agendas popularized over the past fifty years, which no longer permit spelling and grammar to be taught. So which is it? Is language collapsing and heralding a brutish, dystopian future - or are we on the verge of a linguistic renaissance?