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 Utopias. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Utopias. Show all posts

Thursday, June 6, 2019

What's Left Over? The Rationalist-Materialists


A quotation from the 2014 collection The Blooming of Madness 51, by Florida poet Christopher Poindexter. Image Source: pinterest.

A simple way to understand the philosophical crisis raised by technology is to ask yourself the question: 'What's left over?' This is a shorthand I devised, and partly borrowed from the sci-fi writer, Philip K. Dick (1928-1982).

Dick predicted the impact of simulated realities on our consciousness. Aware that simulations would soon be indistinguishable from organic beings and authentic objects, he kept trying to hit bedrock and finally concluded in his 1980 short story, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." This can be a maxim for testing your own views and those of others regarding the mind and its relationship to reality, especially when it comes to the meaning of creation (whether one sees God as Creator or humans as creators) and created objects like technology.

My previous post introduced the hypothesis that how people view technology may be grounded in rationalist-materialism, materialism, or in anti-materialism. Today, I will start with the rationalist-materialists; two subsequent posts will discuss the materialists and the anti-materialists.

To define what I mean by those systems of thought, I asked 'What's left over?' after one removes complex narratives and beliefs about reality in each case. That is, what core attitudes are we talking about when everything else is stripped away? My answers vastly oversimplify different philosophies about the mind and matter, and avoid formal academic definitions; nevertheless, I hope they will clarify our current conundrum as technological simulacra become harder to control.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Boomer Legacies: Mysteries of Things to Come


Jugend (1916) by Julius Diez (1870-1957). Reblogged from The Pictorial Arts (Hat tip: T. Buchanan).

In yesterday's post, I described the ideas behind Roberto Saviano's accounts of crime and the drug trade. According to Saviano in ZeroZeroZero, cocaine use has overrun western societies:
"The guy sitting next to you on the train uses cocaine, he took it to get himself going this morning; or the driver of the bus you’re taking home, he wants to put in some overtime without feeling the cramps in his neck. The people closest to you use coke. If it’s not your mother or father, if it’s not your brother, then it’s your son. And if your son doesn’t use it, your boss does. Or your boss’s secretary, but only on Saturdays, just for fun. And if your boss doesn’t, his wife does, to let herself go. And if not his wife, then his lover—he gives her cocaine instead of earrings, in place of diamonds. And if they don’t, the truck driver delivering tons of coffee to cafés around town does; he wouldn’t be able to hack those long hours on the road without it. And if he doesn’t, the nurse who’s changing your grandfather’s catheter does. Coke makes everything seem so much easier, even the night shift. And if she doesn’t, the painter redoing your girlfriend’s room does; he was just curious at first but wound up deep in debt. The people who use cocaine are right here, right next to you. The police officer who’s about to pull you over has been snorting for years, and everyone knows it, and they write anonymous letters to his chief hoping he’ll be suspended before he screws up big time. Or the surgeon who’s just waking up and will soon operate on your aunt. Cocaine helps him cut open six people a day. Or your divorce lawyer. Or the judge presiding over your lawsuit; he doesn’t consider it a vice, though, just a little boost, a way to get more out of life. The cashier who hands you the lottery ticket you hope is going to change your life. The carpenter who’s installing the cabinets that cost you a month’s salary. Or the workman who came to put together the IKEA closet you couldn’t figure out how to assemble on your own. If not him, then the manager of your condo building who is just about to buzz you. Or your electrician, the one who’s in your bedroom right now, moving the outlets. The singer you are listening to to unwind, the parish priest you’re going to talk to about finally getting confirmed because your grandson’s getting baptized, and he’s amazed you’ve put it off for so long. The waiters who will work the wedding you’re going to next Saturday; they wouldn’t be able to last on their feet all that time if they didn’t. If not them, then the town councillor who just approved the new pedestrian zones, and who gets his coke free in exchange for favors. The parking lot attendant who’s happy now only when he’s high. The architect who renovated your vacation home, the mailman who just delivered your new ATM card. If not them, then the woman at the call center who asks “How may I help you?” in that shrill, happy voice, the same for every caller, thanks to the white powder. If not her, your professor’s research assistant—coke makes him nervous. Or the physiotherapist who’s trying to get your knee working right. Coke makes him more sociable. The forward who just scored, spoiling the bet you were winning right up until the final minutes of the game. The prostitute you go to on your way home, when you just can’t take it anymore and need to vent. She does it so she won’t have to see whoever is on top or under or behind her anymore. The gigolo you treated yourself to for your fiftieth birthday. You did it together. Coke makes him feel really macho. The sparring partner you train with in the ring, to lose weight. And if he doesn’t, your daughter’s riding instructor does, and so does your wife’s psychologist. Your husband’s best friend uses it, the one who’s been hitting on you for years but whom you’ve never liked. And if he doesn’t, then your school principal does. Along with the janitor. And the real estate agent, who’s late, just when you finally managed to find time to see the apartment. The security guard uses it, the one who still combs his hair over his bald spot, even though guys all shave their heads these days. And if he doesn’t, the notary you hope you never have to go back to, he does it to avoid thinking about the alimony he has to pay his ex-wives. And if he doesn’t, the taxi driver does; he curses the traffic but then goes all happy again. If not him, the engineer you have to invite over for dinner because he might help you get a leg up in your career. The policeman who’s giving you a ticket, sweating profusely even though it’s winter. The squeegee man with hollow eyes, who borrows money to buy it, or that kid stuffing flyers under windshield wipers, five at a time. The politician who promised you a commercial license, the one you and your family voted into office, and who is always nervous. The professor who failed you on your exam. Or the oncologist you’re going to see; everybody says he’s the best, so you’re hoping he can save you. He feels omnipotent when he sniffs cocaine. Or the gynecologist who nearly forgets to throw away his cigarette before going in to examine your wife, who has just gone into labor. Your brother-in-law, who’s never in a good mood, or your daughter’s boyfriend, who always is. If not them, then the fishmonger, who proudly displays a swordfish, or the gas station attendant who spills gas on your car. He sniffs to feel young again but can’t even put the pump away correctly anymore. Or the family doctor you’ve known for years and who lets you cut the line because you always know just the right thing to give him at Christmas. The doorman of your building uses it, and if he doesn’t, then your kids’ tutor does, your nephew’s piano teacher, the costume designer for the play you’re going to see tonight, the vet who takes care of your cat. The mayor who invited you over for dinner recently. The contractor who built your house, the author whose book you’ve been reading before falling asleep, the anchorwoman on the evening news. But if, after you think about it, you’re still convinced none of these people could possibly snort cocaine, you’re either blind or you’re lying. Or the one who uses it is you."
Cocaine is a vice and vanity but it fills other gaps in western culture. Self-medication enables addicts to cope with deeper problems. Drugs are signposts pointing to the subliminal world. Cocaine is popular in western countries because it papers over the cracks for people driven to the breaking point. It enables people to force themselves forward in environments which are already locked in overdrive, no matter what the cost, no matter what their spiritual heartbreak or moral dislocation. Some parts of daily life are identical to what they were thirty years ago, but in the areas touched by connected technology, the cultural and social impact is almost unimaginable. As I suggested, there is a reason for this desperate need to keep up. If you do not change in a hyper-changing society, you die.

In this post, I commented that ever since the 1960s, death is not an option. The Baby Boomer revolutionary creed was anti-militaristic and pro-youth-forever. The Boomers adored eastern faiths, but a Buddhist might find they diverged from any eastern path. With their marketing, lifestyles and values, the Boomers taught us to abhor death, because death entails the destruction of the ego and the continued survival of the soul. This is unimaginable in a materialist society ruled by egotists. In their true hearts, the last thing the members of the Me Generation wanted was to preside over a mechanistic order of crushing egotism, but that is the outcome of their collective efforts.

One may ask why. Why did the Baby Boomers develop such a confused message of holistic social healing, in societies now dominated by hostile materialist egotism? Initially, the Boomers promoted youth, pacifism and liberalism. This is a mantra against death. Their avoidance of death ended up promoting the ego, thereby sponsoring the social ills and totalitarian self-promotion which plague western societies now in mass media, politics, entertainment, workplaces and the economy. Western cultures are on the run from death; which is why westerners (and many non-westerners) now worship fast-paced change. We must change more and more; we must go faster and faster; we must work ourselves to death, but we must not die. A rest or pause would entail contemplation of that which pursues us - and that is very difficult to do.

It is difficult because most people alive today arrived during or after the worst blood-letting of the 20th century occurred. Imagine the last century's hemoclysm as a grotesque journey into humanity's dark night of the soul, in which some 180 million people died in armed conflicts. Historian Eric Hobsbawm put the number at 187 million people who were "killed or allowed to die by human decision" in the "short century" between 1914 and 1991. And scholar Milton Leitenberg, citing Hobsbawm, places the number higher, at 231 million people who died in wars and conflicts in the entire century. That makes the 20th century the bloodiest in history. It would be accurate to see the ideological solutions of the Boomers and succeeding generations not as solutions, but as masks to hide the collective shock after the bloodbath, and a desperate, reflexive need to contain further bloodshed at all costs - even, ironically, through the propagation of small wars to let off steam, but not have the whole system blow. Liberal democracy hides the west's survivors' mentality. In that aftermath, add a layer of glittering technology to spread blind hope in peace and connectivity, and you have the current state of affairs.

Since the turn of the new Millennium, no shiny technology, and certainly no drug, can conceal or suppress the enduring darkness in the human soul. To shake off utopian denial and face death in western cultures squarely and honestly, as author Roberto Saviano struggles to do, takes courage and a different set of values than those promoted forty-five years ago. And contrary to what conservative pundits would say, we do not know what those new values are. For Saviano, it starts with the courage to recognize the ugliness in human nature, not with ideological formulas, but with honesty about 'real' reality.

It calls for a frank acknowledgement of the survivors' mentality, because we will exist between apocalypses, and not just after them, if we do not. In the movie, Silent Fall (1994), Liv Tyler's character remarks that in their grief, survivors no longer want to know or show themselves as they truly are. They inhabit a purgatorial state of quasi morto, or near death:
"I figured out something about death. It's contagious. I know that sounds crazy, but it's like when people you love die, you feel like you should have died too. And you don't want anybody to know that you survived. No one."
Survivors deny the reality of their own existences because they feel guilty that they are still alive, when others have died in their stead. To live on a mountain of skulls is to want to disappear. It is easier to dream of peace than it is to be fully conscious after one's whole civilization has undergone near-total obliteration. Virtual reality well suits the sleepwalker's state of denial and the authoritarian mechanisms do and will quietly follow. If we are all survivors who have denied our true natures, who are we really? As the old year dies, the question of how to find the time to become fully conscious of 'real' reality has never been more important.

The Sleepwalker (1907) by Julius Diez. Reblogged from The Pictorial Arts.

ADDENDUM (29 May 2016): On 28 May 2016, BBC interviewed author Roberto Saviano on his work which confirms that the City of London is a centre for money laundering of Mexican drug money and the Italian mafia. Thus, the wealth and lifestyles of the City rest on violence and crime discussed in the following posts:

BBC interview with Roberto Saviano (28 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Nuclear Culture 17: Geminoid F Returns


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

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

Video Source: Daily Mail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See all my posts on Nuclear topics.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Google's New HQ



YesterdayWired posted first glimpses of the new city-state that will be Google's future HQ:
In a new video released this morning, Google showed off an ambitious proposal for a future North Bayshore campus in Mountain View. The concept was produced by the firms of Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels, two of architecture’s fastest rising stars. Heatherwick Studio, based in the UK, was responsible for the torch at the London Olympics. The Bjarke Ingels Group, based in Denmark, is working on a trash-to-power plant in Copenhagen that will double as a ski slope.




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).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Time and Politics 11: Lessons in Crypto-Anarchy



Does the predominance of the Internet mean that we can, and will, live in a great, stateless society? On 12 March 2014, BBC's show HARDtalk interviewed Cody Wilson, Gen Y enfant terrible of 3-D printed gun on the Web fame, about the rise of crypto-anarchy.

Wilson expresses a perspective coming from a generation that has grown up without reference points outside of technological immersion. HARDtalk interviewer Stephen Sackur's uneasiness was evident. Wilson displayed cheerful enthusiasm and faint condescension as he dished out life's tough new truths for HARDtalk's viewers, whom he obviously presumed were out of the loop. Wilson was eloquent, voluble, intelligent, and not nice at all. Or perhaps he only meant to appear that way. He has had a media makeover over the past year; for all his disdain for the MSM, he loves publicity.

Wilson dismissed 20th century liberal values as a catechism of control, murder and inefficiency, a grand moralistic delusion which enables state, social and economic oppression. He off-handedly referred to Obama as a "grocery clerk" (in a sly nod to Kurtz's dialogue in Apocalypse Now, Coppola's 1979 version of Heart of Darkness). Wilson's aside spoke volumes: how far will he take us up the river? As far as he - and we - can go. He was giggly and laid back, but make no mistake: he was deadly serious.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wonders of the Millennial World 7: New Millennial Humanism


Image Source: The Pictorial Arts.

Some of you may remember this interview at HOTTC about Thom Buchanan's new magazine, The Pictorial Arts Journal. The interview coincided with the release of a sampler or preview issue of the magazine, which grew out of Buchanan's blog, The Pictorial Arts. The magazine allows longer articles and deeper explorations than the blog. In this larger project, Buchanan, and other artists, designers, illustrators and writers seek to define new humanist values.

It's so easy to concentrate on dystopias, but this is a positive and nuanced understanding of our times, a search for the wonders of the Millennial world. Thom's project is a reminder of what the Web was supposed to be about. From its inception, the Web was supposed to be the home of unfettered grassroots creativity. The Pictorial Arts blog and magazine remind me of one of the most innovative sites I ever saw on the Web in its earliest days (until Mac Tonnies came along with Posthuman Blues). That early site was called The Strip. I will never forget The Strip or Posthuman Blues - or more recent projects like Kate Sherrod's Suppertime Sonnets, Paul Laroquod's Extratemporal Perception, and Dia Sobin's Trans-D Digital art blog. These people express what the Web is supposed to be about. It is not supposed to be about Facebook, Anonymous and the NSA.

Today, Thom announced a new Kickstarter campaign to support the launch of the magazine's first issue:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1126292849/first-flight-for-premiere-issue-of-pictorial-arts
I have 28 days to raise the needed funds to publish the premiere issue of PAJ. I will be posting pictorial updates with developing details along the way.
See the promotional video below the jump. The promo widget will be up in the sidebar here while the Kickstarter campaign runs. The smallest donation is USD $1 for this amazing new project. If you contribute at the higher levels, check out the Kickstarter page for some of the bonus prints you can get along with the magazine.

Image Source: Kickstarter.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bitcoin's Origins: Generational Circumstances and Mentalities


Image Source and © Scenes from a Multiverse (27 December 2013).

Today's post explains the origins of cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin's alarming headlines. Under what circumstances was Bitcoin conceived? What do its proponents believe? And why do they think they are ahead of the curve?

This post does not deal with Satoshi Nakamoto's founding Bitcoin white paper, so much as its context. To understand the rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is to understand the perspective of younger generations - X and Y - coming out of the Great Recession. They reacted to this crisis in a most unexpected and radical way, by developing a whole new digitized financial system. This post reveals Bitcoin in terms of how its users see it, and is part of a continuing series on this blog on the pros and cons of cryptocurrencies.

What follows is an observation of a series of trends which contributed to the way younger cryptocurrency enthusiasts look at Bitcoin. While this post looks at positive aspects of this technology - as seen by its supporters - a future post will deal with its problems, other perspectives, and Bitcoin's theoretical challenges to the system of western economics.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Interplanetary and Interstellar Cultural Modeling


Painting the Future © by keppu. Image Source: deviantART via The Mars Society.

The Mars Society, which is dedicated to human colonization of the Red Planet, held its 16th annual symposium from 15-18 August 2013. NASA public outreach spokesperson Kent Nebergall discussed cultural models which he believes will be required for Mars colonization and interstellar space exploration. Nebergall imagines limited resources, a subsistence life combined with medieval guilds, and a strong focus on the humanities and arts so that space colonists will be able to absorb and survive extreme cultural shocks: "We have to unthink the whole globalism that we have been indoctrinated with ... since 1945 and start thinking about it in different terms that are a bit more ... hunter gatherer and less industrial. ... We've learned how to do technology, but we haven't learned how to think. And we haven't learned how to create ... [which is why] a lot of things have become more derivative of previous things." You can see his talk, Interplanetary and Interstellar Cultural Modeling on Youtube here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Interview: Thomas Haller Buchanan on the Millennial Humanist Renaissance


Acta non Verba by Robert McCall (1919-2010).

Today, I'm delighted to interview Thomas Haller Buchanan, blogger at The Pictorial Arts, which is an oasis of light and beauty on the Web. Thom is also a professional illustrator. Buchanan's focus on art and visual culture is now finding expression through a new online journal: The Pictorial Arts Journal. The journal makes its grand debut online today, here, and this interview supports its launch. 

An additional publication is found at the same site, Delineated Life, which is an online magazine celebrating one special artist and their work per issue. The first issue of Delineated Life celebrates the 100th birthday of Pogo creator Walt Kelly (1913–1973).

In this interview, I ask Thom some questions about his new publications and what they mean in terms of Millennial optimism. The debut issue of the The Pictorial Arts Journal describes a continuity of visual culture from the Renaissance through to the modern period, especially the Renaissance-era value of humanism. Thom's journals are dedicated to reviving a new form of humanism suitable to our times.

To read a definition of humanism to which Thom refers in the interview, see Professor Paul Kurtz's Humanist Manifesto 2000 (here).

Pictorial Arts Journal cover © Thomas Haller Buchanan.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Positive Thinking and Negative Capability


Image Source: Thee Online.

Yesterday's post notwithstanding, this post highlights a Millennial search for positives. In his 2009 book, Pronoia, Californian astrologer and Baby Boomer New Age thinker Rob Brezsny asserts that negative reporting (like this story) and toxic entertainment are rampant in the new Millennium's global society. Brezsny suggests an antidote in the opposing coined term, "pronoia ... [which] John Perry Barlow defined as 'the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf':
[P]ronoia is ... utterly at odds with conventional wisdom. The 19th-century poet John Keats [1795-1821] said that if something is not beautiful, it is probably not true. But the vast majority of modern storytellers - journalists, filmmakers, novelists, talk-show hosts, and poets - assert the opposite: If something is not ugly, it is probably not true.

In a world that equates pessimism with acumen and regards stories about things falling apart as having the highest entertainment value, pronoia is deviant. It is a taboo so taboo that it's not even recognized as a taboo.

The average American child sees 20,000 simulated murders before reaching age 18. This is considered normal. There are thousands of films, television shows, and electronic games that depict people doing terrible things to each other. If you read newspapers and news sites on the Internet, you have every right to believe that Bad Nasty Things compose 90 percent of the human experience. The authors of thousands of books published this year will hope to lure you in through the glamour of killing, addiction, self-hatred, sexual pathology, shame, betrayal, extortion, robbery, cancer, arson, and torture.

But you will be hard-pressed to find more than a few novels, films, news stories, and TV shows that dare to depict life as a gift whose purpose is to enrich the human soul.

If you cultivate an affinity for pronoia, people you respect may wonder if you have not lost your way. You might appear to them as naive, eccentric, unrealistic, misguided, or even stupid. Your reputation could suffer and your social status could decline.

But that may be relatively easy to deal with compared to your struggle to create a new relationship with yourself. For starters, you will have to acknowledge that what you previously considered a strong-willed faculty - the ability to discern the weakness in everything - might actually be a mark of cowardice and laziness. Far from being evidence of your power and uniqueness, your drive to produce hard-edged opinions stoked by hostility is likely a sign that you've been brainwashed by the pedestrian influences of pop nihilism.
Does Keats's assertion that 'if something is not beautiful, it is probably not true' imply that widespread Millennial nihilism and negativity are lies? - Or do they initiate searches for a new baseline, for new values and new truths? Is negativity symptomatic of larger, positive growth? In some ways, we can view the push and pull between negativity and positivity in our time as a conflict between surviving strains of Enlightenment and Romanticism; in the Millennium, these strains trend between externally-imposed, alienating, hyper-rationalized mechanization and inward-looking, self-involved hyper-naturalism.


When Brezsny positively invokes Keats, he also points to Keats's famous idea of negative capability, a primal Romantic reaction against Enlightenment rationality (see comments here and here). Negative capability involves a Romantic immersion in imagination, the anti-rational, the legendary. It concerns an intuitive jump in the apprehension of the natural world at its most mysterious, which treats nature as something transcendent, not as series of secrets unlocked by science. Keats's 1819 poem Ode to a Nightingale (hear it here) expressed a Romantic search for natural beauty transformed by imagination into a healing, immortal myth; this imaginative process eases the daily sufferings and ultimately mortal troubles upon which reason fixates. But negative capability also embraces uncertainty and strife; it refers to the self-doubt one experiences when one is pushed past one's limits and beyond one's expectations by extreme experiences or emotions. In the negative realm, one must exist beyond the conventional, the labeled, beyond the boundaries of settled norms. Negative capability enables survival through a period of unknowing.

Out of the same Romantic movement to which Keats adhered came the Byronic hero. The Byronic hero is a predecessor of the Postmodern, broken anti-hero. Whether he is a criminal acting as hero, or a flawed, fallen hero, the anti-hero is the standard protagonist in Millennial fiction and entertainment. In today's stories, the drama hinges on whether the broken hero can become heroic. In other words, our epics explore how we may transform our negative world into a positive one. Our favoured tropes imply that only alienated people have moved past moribund limitations to attain the broader view necessary to achieve that transformation.

Often, broken norms or normlessness are taken today as signs of cultural collapse, political failure and societal doom. But Keats suggested that the ability to cope in a realm of social and cultural uncertainty is a negative art, which ultimately rewards with positive beauty and regeneration.

Source: Citation is © Brezsny, Rob (2009). Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia, Revised and Expanded: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings. North Atlantic Books and Televisionary Publishing. ISBN 1-55643-818-4, pp. 61-62.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Artificial Photosynthesis: A New Energy Source?

Daniel Nocera ponders the artificial leaf: "Nocera’s leaf is simply a silicon wafer coated with catalysts that use sunlight to split water to into hydrogen and oxygen components." Image Source: PF Pictures via ABC News.

BBC reports on how a Harvard / former MIT chemist has created an artificial leaf which uses solar power to create hydrogen fuel to generate electricity:
Imagine if you could draw energy from almost unlimited sources found in nature – water and light. That’s one possibility if Harvard professor Daniel Nocera’s idea for a device that can harness and store energy from the Sun comes to fruition.
Adam Shaw travels to Boston to meet Nocera who has developed an artificial leaf that replicates photosynthesis. Silicon wafers are coated on each side with a different catalyst – one side produces hydrogen, the other produces oxygen. A barrier between them allows the gases to be collected separately, and stored in a fuel cell that generates electricity.
The catalysts are cheap, earth-abundant materials and form by self-assembly, which should make manufacture cheaper. The challenge is overcoming the high engineering costs needed for the light-harvesting infrastructure to make it commercially scalable. If this can be overcome, this small piece of technology could have enormous potential.
Professor Nocera's invention dates from 2011 and will soon be ready for the market.

Nocera asks Harvard students to start a "new epoch of humankind," which he calls the Sustainocene. He tells them that the world is out of balance: "You can't ... have environmental integrity or ecological sustainability if you have a big divide between the poor, the have nots, and the rich, the haves." He claims our culture - due to the energy crisis - is exhibiting
"gross societal imbalances and poverty, that's also a world out of balance, the haves and the have nots. And I'm here to tell you tonight, the haves - I don't care about anymore ... because you guys aren't going to make a difference. It's all these silent voices that we don't hear anymore. And you're going to have to get them in balance with us. And that's what the Sustainocene seeks to do. And it's to do that by looking at the energy, food and water problem."
Nocera insists that if the energy problem can be solved first, then water and food concerns can also be solved; moreover, allowing individuals to take control of their own energy sources offers a revolutionary political potential for how human affairs can be organized.

See Nocera explaining his new energy system below the jump.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Photo of the Day: Between Sea and Sky


Illuminated Sand Castle, Noosa Beach, Australia via bluepueblo.tumblr.com and pinterest. Image Source: Facebook. For more photos which depict humans and their environment, go here. For more sandcastles, go here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wonders of the Millennial World 6: Canadian Astronauts are Cool


Image Source: Healing Ana.

And now for a space first. Someone had to do it: half the world has probably seen Commander Chris Hadfield doing a cover of the 1969 hit Space Oddity by David Bowie on 12 May on the International Space Station. For those of you who haven't seen him, the video is below the jump. My earlier post on Peter Schilling's related 1983 hit, Major Tom is here.

Unlike David Bowie's famous fictional astronaut, Hadfield landed safely in his Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan on 14 May 2013; from the LA Times: "During his sojourn on the station, Hadfield effectively reset the bar for social media with his tweets from space, including the video he posted Sunday. He is the first Canadian to command the station, heading the six-man Expedition 35 crew."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Visions of the Future


"Koji Yamamura's vision of the future is based on a painting by Pieter Bruegel." Image Source: BBC.

The BBC is currently running a contest, What If? Visions of the Future, asking people to submit - in a variety of visual media, from animation to tapestries - what they think the future will look like:
This year the BBC is looking into the future, finding out what it holds for health, education, transport and even love. The season is called What If? - and we want you to be a part of it. What does the future look like to you? We want to know and we want you to share your vision of the world as part of our competition - you could even win a laptop worth £2,500.
The BBC invited six artists to provide visions to kick off the contest; most of them came up with apocalyptic pictures. Further information on how to participate is here.

There's a touch of Mordor to animator Glenn Hatton's futuristic city. Animation Still. Image Source: BBC.

"Children's author and illustrator Levi Pinfold's illustration is fueled by concern." Image Source: BBC.
 
"Spain's 'photographer-poet' Chema Madoz's vision is based on natural resources." Image Source: BBC.
 
Abdoulaye Konaté's tapestry is a mediation on humans and their environment in the future. Image Source: BBC.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mars Colonists Sought for 2023 Settlement


Image Source: Tech Cocktail.

The future is here. As in, now. The start-up Netherlands space colony group Mars One is hopping to the head of the line, past other Mars colonization projects. Their recruiting call is going out now, in the first half of this year, for Mars colonists to depart in 2023. This is a non-returning mission. You will live out the remainder of your life on the Red Planet. Training will begin immediately. The mode of transportation is the Mars One Dragon, carried by the Falcon Heavy Launch Vehicle, made by SpaceX, founded by Gen Xer Elon Musk.

The Mars One executive, co-founded by Gen X Dutch enterpreneurs Bas Lansdorp (an engineer) and Arno Wielders (a physicist), claims the whole project will be paid for by the fact that the entire process, from selection of the colonists to the launch and execution of the mission, will be carried out on Reality TV (Hat tip: Spaceports). Have a look at their names. They could go down in history.

The required attributes for colonists are pretty straightforward. You must be 18 years or older; in good physical and mental health; be resilient, adaptable and curious; have the ability to trust; and be creative and resourceful. It is projected to be the biggest media event in the history of the world. A purely private enterprise, it will bypass governments and all the 'political mumbo jumbo.' For more, go to Spaceports.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Beginning is a Very Delicate Time

Benches. Image Source: Linda is Write.

"When the storm breaks, each man acts in accordance with his own nature. Some are dumb with terror, some flee, some hide. And some spread their wings like eagles and soar on the wind." ~Dr. Dee /Elizabeth the Golden Age

Image Source: Aurum Astrology.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Enforced Memory, Enhanced Humanity?



Would losing our ability to forget be a recipe for a future utopia? Surely, forgetting is part of the healing process after painful experiences? BBC reports that some argue for caution against enhancements of humanity, including enforced memory, so trumpeted by pro-Singularity commentators:
A race of humans who can work without tiring and recall every conversation they've ever had may sound like science fiction, but experts say the research field of human enhancement is moving so fast that such concepts are a tangible reality that we must prepare for. 
People already have access to potent drugs, originally made for dementia patients and hyperactive children, that boost mental performance and wakefulness. 
Within 15 years, experts predict that we will have small devices capable of recording our entire life experience as a continuous video feed - a life log that we can reference when our own memory fails. 
There are a range of technologies in development and in some cases already in use that have the potential to transform our workplaces - for better or for worse” Advances in bionics and engineering will mean we could all boast enhanced night vision allowing us to see clearly in the dark. 
While it may be easy to count the potential gains, experts are warning that these advances will come at a significant cost - and one which is not just financial. 
Four professional bodies - the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society - say that while human enhancement technologies might improve our performance and aid society, their use raise serious ethical, philosophical, regulatory and economic issues. 
In a joint report, they warn that there is an "immediate need" for debate around the potential harms. 
Chairwoman of the report's steering committee Prof Genevra Richardson said: "There are a range of technologies in development and in some cases already in use that have the potential to transform our workplaces - for better or for worse." 
There may be an argument for lorry drivers, surgeons and airline pilots to use enhancing drugs to avoid tiredness, for example. 
But, in the future, is there a danger that employers and insurers will make this use mandatory, the committee asks. 
... Several surveys reveal that many students now use brain-enhancing "smart" pills to help boost their exam grades, which raises the question about whether colleges and universities should insist candidates are "clean" in the same way that Olympic athletes have to prove they are drug-free to compete.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wonders of the Millennial World 3: Singapore's Gardens by the Bay


These are the Supertrees in Singapore's new Gardens by the Bay complex. From Twisted Sifter:
As part of Singapore’s redevelopment and new downtown area at Marina Bay, the sprawling 250-acre Gardens by the Bay is an incredible public space with gardens, bridges, skywalks, parks and plants. The green development has been proclaimed a ‘horticultural heaven’. The attractions garnering the most buzz are the two massive climate-controlled biomes called Cloud Forest and Flower Dome and of course the massive man-made supertrees which are showcased below.

The biomes are equivalent in size to about four football fields and will become the new home for approximately 220,000 plants from ever continent on our planet. An interesting feature of the Flower Dome is that the horticultural waste will feed a massive steam turbine that in turn generates electricity that is needed to keep the biome climate-controlled. The two biomes are the only areas of the Gardens by the Bay where an admission fee will be charged. ... Gardens of the Bay is set to open to the public on June 29th [2012].
 Image Source: Twisted Sifter.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Workplaces in the 2020s

Brian David Johnson. Image Source: WSJ via Intel.

The Wall Street Journal has interviewed Intel's Chief Futurist, Brian David Johnson, on how robots will take over certain professions by the 2020s, and which human jobs and skills will become prominent in the future as a result:
“As we approach the year 2020, the size of meaningful computational intelligence begins to approach zero. In other words, computers are shrinking. Soon they will get so small that they will be nearly invisible. This means that in 10 years we will be able to turn almost anything into a computer. We will be living and working in an intelligent environment and in many cases we will essentially be working inside a computer.

“Every day we create a massive amount of data. Google’s Eric Schmidt has famously said that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. As computing gets more powerful, it will seem like data has a life of its own. And it will. You’ll have machines talking to machines, computers talking to computers, all processing this data. But what will it feel like to work in this coming age of big data?

“Data will be our colleagues and our employees. And, like all employees, they will need a good manager – an algorithm. An algorithm is really just a sequential series of steps that processes data. We will need to “train” our algorithms to have a better understanding of humans and how to make human lives better. After all, we are their bosses.

“As we look to 2020 it might appear that computers and data will overrun the workplace. But remember, a computer will never clean a bathroom sink. At least in the near future, computers and data won’t replace the paper towels in the bathroom. But a computer will write up your local little League scores and a computer will operate on your spine. (Hint, this is already happening.)

“This has broad implications for what we think of as valuable skills and employees in the workplace. Today we value journalists and surgeons much more than janitors, but in 2022 we may think very differently. We will need to understand what humans are really good at and foster those skills, outsourcing the rest to the brilliant intelligence and efficiency of the future.”
WSJ held a live chat with Johnson here. In the chat, he remarks that brain surgeons will be replaced by robots. But we will still need human beings to scrub bathroom sinks? I am not sure how this spells progress. WSJ: "You actually suggested in your guest column that janitors might be more valued than neurosurgeons in the workplaces of the future."

Johnson emphasizes the need for human skills and analysis in the future: "Emotional intelligence will be important in a world where we are bombarded by data. Understanding how to talk to and interact will people will be an important skill [presumably the sink scrubbing comes into play here]. Having a deep understanding of programming and computers will be a great base but critical thinking will be even more impor[t]ant...understanding how to process all the BIG Data will be key." I suppose it will, until computers evolve to the point where they are better at analyzing Big Data than we are.