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.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Laugh of the Day

Harvey Seldman, Inventor of Neurofuturism (19 May 2011) © Scenes From a Multiverse / Jonathan Rosenberg.

Today, I'm going back to a recent panel from the online comic, Scenes From a Multiverse, which I originally reviewed here.

See all my posts on comics.

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.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Extratemporal Experiment Between the Virtual and the Real

"Hypothesis 0.1," in The Laroquod Experiment's Hypothesis. Image Source: Extratemporal Perception.

With the exception of the site of the late Mac Tonnies, Posthuman Blues, I have not seen anything that nails the Zeitgeist so exactly as Paul Laroquod's strange and fascinating blog, Extratemporal Perception. I have described the basic premise for Laroquod's experiment, which explores Millennial virtual-real dualism, here.  One of his recent posts, "Swap Thing #2," reminded me of how great his blog is at encapsulating the many layers of our slow-brewing existential crisis. Laroquod combines several approaches, including comics and videos along with other Web media, to create and test a hypothetical scenario, namely, that he can shift between 'here' and 'there.'

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spirit Sleeps at Troy

Image Source: NASA / JPL / Cornell / Glen Nagle via Planetary Society.

Caption for the above photograph: Spirit is just a tiny insect on the shoulder of Home Plate in this artist's rendition showing the rover's position where she became bogged down at "Troy." The panorama was taken by the rover on sol 743 as she descended from Husband Hill toward Home Plate. Home Plate is the plateau occupying the center of the image; the rover is in the valley to its right.

According to the Planetary Society, today is the last day NASA will attempt to contact the rover Spirit, also known as Mars Exploration Rover - A (MER-A). The rover became stuck in soft soil on 1 May 2009. Wiki: "As of May 2011, the last communication with the rover was on sol 2210 (March 22, 2010)." From a New York Times report:
The golf cart-size rovers were an instant hit with the public who followed the rovers' every move as they rolled across the Martian plains and stopped to drill into rocks.

Their greatest achievement was uncovering geologic evidence that Mars, now dry and dusty, was far more tropical billions of years ago. The red planet was toastier and wetter, conditions that suggest the ancient environment could have been favorable for microbial life.

As far as sibling rivalry went, Opportunity was the overachiever while Spirit was every bit the drama queen underdog.

Soon after landing, Spirit went into critical condition and sent nonsense data back to Earth. Engineers had to nurse it back from the brink of death.

Unlike Opportunity, which landed in an ancient lakebed awash with water-forming minerals, Spirit plopped into a Connecticut-sized crater named Gusev that contained limited hints of past water.

Spirit had no choice but to trek toward the hills to make discoveries. It managed to shine despite having a rocky start on Mars.

In 2005, Spirit scaled a mountain the height of the Statute of Liberty. It also was the first to record Martian dust devils as they formed, which NASA later made into movie clips.
The poet Cuttlefish has penned an ode to the rover here. The poem reflects on how we perceived the robot as a live creature.  A good example of that anthropomorphization is xkcd's famous cartoon of Spirit working past its 90 allotted days, below:

See the dust devils and a map of Spirit's journey below the jump.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Problem with Memory 3: Erasing Memory

Poster from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

I09 is reporting on recently published research from California regarding scientists' ability to erase unpleasant memories:
Although the idea of erasing your memories may sound horrific, there may be nothing better for those dealing with severe trauma. Now we're one step closer to making it a reality, with a little help from the tiny marine snail.

UCLA researcher David Glanzman led the study, which discovered that it's possible to erase long-term memories in snails by inhibiting a specific protein kinase known as PKM. While researchers have previously made headway with memory-erasing drugs, this new work focuses on the actual neurons of the brain, potentially allowing far finer control over the memory erasure process. If the methods used here could be adapted to humans, Glanzman hopes it could be used to help treat severe post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction, and possible long-term memory disorders such as Alzheimer's.

Glanzman explains how it all works:

"Almost all the processes that are involved in memory in the snail also have been shown to be involved in memory in the brains of mammals. We found that if we inhibit PKM in the marine snail, we will erase the memory for long-term sensitization. In addition, we can erase the long-term change at a single synapse that underlies long-term memory in the snail."
Glanzman, a member of UCLA's Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, published his work in the Journal of Neuroscience in late April. Of course in 2004, the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind contemplated the potential impact of this technology and concluded that people would prefer to live with bad memories - even terrible ones.

Image Source: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) © Focus Features.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Phantom Time Hypothesis

Every feel like you lost 300 years somewhere? Image © by Michael Paukner. Image Source: Cargo Collective.

I09 recently reported on Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz's Phantom Time Hypothesis, defined on Brain Pickings as a "bizarre historical conspiracy theory positing that the Roman calendar was infiltrated with 297 years which never actually occurred and the Middle Ages never took place, so this isn’t the year 2010 but, rather, 1713."  According to Cargo Collective:
When Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz introduces his paper on the “phantom time hypothesis”, he kindly asks his readers to be patient, benevolent, and open to radically new ideas, because his claims are highly unconventional. This is because his paper is suggesting three difficult-to-believe propositions: 1) Hundreds of years ago, our calendar was polluted with 297 years which never occurred; 2) this is not the year 2010, but rather 1713; and 3) The purveyors of this hypothesis are not crackpots.

The Phantom Time Hypothesis suggests that the early Middle Ages (614-911 A.D.) never happened, but were added to the calendar long ago either by accident, by misinterpretation of documents, or by deliberate falsification by calendar conspirators. This would mean that all artifacts ascribed to those three centuries belong to other periods, and that all events thought to have occurred during that same period occurred at other times, or are outright fabrications.
Yes, calendar conspirators.  If this is really 1713, then the Millennium will not arrive until the year 2297. We can all relax!  In fact, Niemitz's theory is a result of miscounting the calendar around the resolutions of the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The More We Want, The More We Suffer

Buddha teaching Kisa Gotami how to bear the death of her child. Image Source: Inspirations & Lessons In Life.

The Tech Revolution, combined with the ageing of much of the world's population in the West, China and Japan, leads us to a uneasy and pressured relationship with time, a globalized trade in youthful beauty, a troubling obsession with anti-ageing, and a collective compulsion to avoid the realities of hardship, illness and death.  When I see Website after Website breathlessly anticipating the end of the world, I wonder if we have collectively lost the plot. The People of the Book and the Muslims are obsessed with end times. It's a death culture, jostling up against a seniors' youth culture.

Meanwhile, alarming events deepen our sense of unease. A dire news report of a meltdown in the Japanese Fukushima plant stated that the dreaded China Syndrome has occurred in Reactor #1. Last week, a worker died there; and the Japanese have widened the evacuation zone around the plant. If Armageddon does arrive, we will face it popping vitamins, buying the most expensive anti-wrinkle creams in the history of humankind, injecting Botox, dieting, going under the knife - and eating potassium iodide.

In this atmosphere, it's rare to see a meditation on death that is compassionate, brave and honest. Charles Wong's excellent Inspirations & Lessons In Life blog recently posted a poignant and personal comment that relates the vanities of advanced societies to the growing awareness of mortality, because the more we have, the more we have to lose - and we will always lose:
"Buddha said being human will sure have sufferings from birth, old age, sickness and dying. This is because we all have craving, therefore we exist in this cycle of rebirth. Death comes to everybody ... .  Once The Buddha asked this woman if she wants to have 10 children in her village and she said yes that would make me very happy. The Buddha then said if the 10 children died, you would suffer 10 times ... the more we want, the more we suffer."