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, July 2, 2011

Fireflies: Everything is Never As It Seems

Image Source: Firefly.

This evening I watched the stars in a yard full of fireflies. The sky winked down at Earth and the darkened countryside winked back at the sky. I started thinking what it must have been like before Christianity, when people believed old religions and animism. Although it's pretty evident that a lightning bug is a lightning bug, I could imagine how pre-Christians could have invented fairies in these hushed, night landscapes, as the heat of the day dispersed into evening mists.  There's an interesting blog post on fireflies' bioluminescence as a metaphor for the brevity of existence here.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day

Image Source: National Post.

Well, cynicism dissolved when a whole squad of galloping Mounties accompanied Kate and William's royal Landau up to Parliament Hill (live Web cam here) for Canada Day.  Kate wore Lock and Co.'s red maple leaf fascinator, designed by Sylvia Fletcher (at last Google count, the hat had inspired over 4,000 articles, and it's only been in circulation on the Web for a few hours).  I wonder how long it will take before copies of the hat, or knock-offs, become available online.  Photographer Richard McGuire has a set of Canadian icon photos here, all clichés (except the Rockies) covered, but they're still nice photos.

Image Source: National Post.

Image Source: Daily Mail.

Image Source: Daily Mail.
Mounties on Parliament Hill, last year. Image Source: In Search of a Life Less Ordinary.

Urban Legend for July 2011

Today's post is a little gem that shows how superstitious we are about calendars, courtesy of my friend T. who sent me the following chain e-mail:


Calendar for July 2011


     This year, July has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This happens
once every 823 years. This is called money bags. So, forward this to
your friends and money will arrive within 4 days. Based on Chinese
Feng Shui. The one who does not forward.....will be without money.

Annnnd in addition:
This year we're going to experience four unusual dates.

1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11 and that's not all...

Take the last two digits of the year in which you were born - now add the age you will be this year, the results will be 111 for everyone in whole world.

This e-mail is an urban legend debunked at About.com:
Analysis: It's true that the month of July 2011 will have five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays, but as I've pointed out before this is not at all a rare circumstance, let alone one that only happens once every 823 years. Any 31-day month that begins on a Friday will have five Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The last time this occurred was October 2010; the next time it will occur (after July 2011) is March 2013.

Nor is it worth anyone's while to copy and forward chain letters promising money, good luck, or other nebulous rewards. Nothing in the above text has anything to do with feng shui or any other form of Chinese mysticism. Passing along woo-woo messages does not confer magical powers on the sender.

2011 will feature the unique (in this century) dates 1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, and 11/11/11, but this has no mystical significance except in the imagination of the beholder.

Lastly, it's true that for anyone born in the last century (1900-1999), adding the two-digit year they were born (for example, '82) to the age they'll attain on their 2011 birthday (in this case, 29) will always yield the sum 111 (82 + 29 = 111). But again, there's nothing magical or mystical about this. It's always the case that when you add the year you were born to the age you turn in the current year, the sum will equal the current year: 1982 + 29 = 2011. That's simple math. When you render the birth year of someone born between 1900 and 1999 in two digits you're basically just subtracting 1900 from each side of the equation, so it becomes: 82 + 29 = 111.

Not as remarkable as it may seem at first glance.

For my earlier post on Chain Letters, go here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Origins of Life

Image Source: The Outfit.

In another sign that the concepts normally explained by religion and mystical metaphors are set to be explained by science, a report circulated recently that biologists have been invited to CERN to investigate whether colliding particles provided the origins of life (Hat tip: Physics and Physicists).  The mysteries of the Large Hadron Collider deepen. From the report at Wired:
When you think of Cern, the enormous particle accelerator under Geneva, you probably think of particle physics. But the institution is also helping out biologists too.

On 20 May, a small group of biologists and chemists arrived at Cern for a workshop from the institution's experts on how to organise a disparate community of research groups all over the world into a single scientific force. While much of the research at Cern is focused on the beginnings of the Universe, the delegates also held a discussion on the beginnings of life.

Much of the research in the field is currently focused on so-called "autocatalytic sets". These are groups of molecules that undergo reactions where all molecules mutually catalyse each other -- speed up the rate at which the reaction takes place. In this way, the sets are self-sustaining. It's believed that protocells emerged from such a system, but there's a significant question mark over how likely it is for these sets to occur randomly.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Earthquakes and California: Predicting the Big One

Aerial view of the San Andreas fault slicing through the Carrizo Plain in the Temblor Range east of the city of San Luis Obispo. (Photograph by Robert E. Wallace, USGS.) Image Source: USGS.

With all the recent earthquakes and erupting volcanoes, worries over the San Andreas fault have increased. Alarmist talk on message boards predicts a big quake in California in July.  Today, The Weather Channel reported on a study published in Nature Geoscience (here), which states that a California Megaquake is imminent:
Like a steaming kettle with the top on, pressure is building beneath the surface of California that could unleash a monster earthquake at any time. That's according to a new study from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Geologists say Southern California is long overdue for a huge earthquake that could unleash widespread damage.

It all comes down to the Salton Sea, which lies to the east of San Diego. The Salton Sea lies directly on the San Andreas Fault and covers more than 350 square miles.

A big earthquake has hit the lake bed about every 180 years. But when officials started damming the Colorado River to reduce floods downstream (including in the Salton Sea), the moderate earthquakes stopped for the Salton.

Sounds like a good thing, right? Not necessarily. Seismologists think the damming stopped moderate stress-relieving earthquakes on the Salton. Now, they fear the pressure is building and the area could be as many as 100 years overdue for a mega-quake quake, measuring 7.5 or larger.

This sobering news comes just as a new poll is released that details Californians fears about earthquakes and other natural disasters.
One of the main private sites devoted to the fault is here; the 24-Hour Aftershock Forecast for California, which gives the expectations (not clear predictions) for possible earthquakes over the next 24 hours, is here

The San Onofre nuclear site in southern California. Image Source: Chad Ress/Newsweek.

Recent speculation on a 2011 California quake is here; there is commentary on nuclear plants' positions on California seismic faults here.  A site predicting earthquakes over the long term worldwide is here (it actually predicts middling earthquakes in July 2011 in Chile, China, Colombia, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Central Asia - including Afghanistan and Pakistan).  But the fact remains that accurate quake prediction is impossible.  The only solutions: (A) leave the area beforehand, or (B) prepare. A comment dismissing the California Megaquake prediction is here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dreams and Visions

 One of Giger's depictions of Debbie Harry © H. R. Giger. Image Source: Lyrics Search.

Many thanks to Leo Plaw, for commenting on this post regarding the H. R. Giger retrospective exhibition, which ends today in Vienna.  This site has images of Giger's artworks in that show.

There are also video interviews in German with Giger on that site, concerning his inspirations.   In the first video, the Swiss artist comments that he was inspired by reading Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung).  The artist then translated some of Freud's concepts using his own symbols.  The curator, Dr. Andreas Hirsch, remarks that the exhibition reflects the primal visual motifs in Giger's major works; the compiler of the exhibition catalogue points particularly to Giger's intertwined themes of Thanatos and Eros.  In the second video, Giger briefly answers some questions about the Alien movies and Hollywood.  A better understanding of the themes Giger employs in his work may add some new dimensions to how we see the blockbuster film franchise.

It doesn't surprise me that Freud's text, first published in 1899, inspired Giger to bring us his dark futuristic visions.  The opening of that text states:
In the following pages, I shall demonstrate that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique, every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state. Further, I shall endeavour to elucidate the processes which underlie the strangeness and obscurity of dreams, and to deduce from these processes the nature of the psychic forces whose conflict or co-operation is responsible for our dreams.
You can read The Interpretation of Dreams, which outlined Freud's belief that all dreams were a form of wish fulfillment, here.

Another image of Harry, envisioned by Giger © H. R. Giger. Image Source: Wurzeltod.

Beyond Freud, the German literature from the late 1800s up into the interwar period abounded with romantic images of death that were connected to the regeneration of life and beauty.  Ultimately, this preoccupation involved a deeper investigation of emotions, sleep and dreams.  Before the First World War, German writers were conjured up grisly images; this trend intensified when post-war writers began to write of their wartime experiences and the terrible juxtaposition of death and beauty, or death and love.  They used shocking imagery, such as mountains of bodies, or delicate flowers growing from the skulls of dead maidens. 

These necrotic symbols merged with Expressionism, which helped entrench the chief vice of the 20th century, an excess of subjectivity. The notion that we are trapped in our own heads and cannot escape is a common trope, something I've blogged about in relation to Millennial anomie here and here.  This merged artistic style boiled everything down to the most basic of human sensations and feelings, and lined those impulses up with the drama of the environment (the continuing popularity of this subtext could help explain why 'the environment' has become a prime political cause around the turn of the Millennium: it's our seemingly inescapable subjectivity, projected large upon the world).  In the tempests and dire circumstances of the Natural World, we perceive the fog of our own internal perspectives and mini existential crises.  That only adds to the subjective frustration, however, because the outside world ought to be autonomous.  If we see only our personal upsets in it, it means we do not see it at all.

As a result, there are three branches to this as Modern and Postmodern artists seek to understand the human condition: first, you have human life reduced to its most primal experiences, including death, love and rebirth; second, you have the inability to gain any clarity on how our instincts play roles in sparking that cyclical, biological process.  Again, this is a question of what kind of imprint we leave, if any, on objective outside reality.  There is a sense that death somehow involves our transition out into that outside objectivity, but we do not comprehend that pathway.  Third, this is where dreams come in.  The notion that our subconscious or unconscious minds can give us symbolic clues to what the hell is going on in the relationship between our brains, spirits, souls on the one hand, and our environment on the other, is the driving principle to Germanic and related artistic efforts over the past century.  Artists and writers in these movements slowly developed a desire not just to project our psychological quandaries upon the broader world (known as natural sympathy in literature) but to depict the missing link between subjective and objective realities through the interpretation of dreams.

Some examples.  Gottfried Benn's Morgue (1912), a collection of morbid poems about physical decay.  This is literally a mediation on 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust,' as human bodies return to the earth, whence they came.  The collection represents Benn's struggle to understand what that transition means.

Jakob van Hoddis's Weltende (1918: World End).  The poem depicts huge floods crashing into the coastlines of a great empire.  Meanwhile, in the heart of the capital city, the only indication of the coming disaster is a light breeze that blows a citizen's hat off as he walks in the park.  This poem, while describing the arrival of the apocalypse with a laid-back, tongue-in-cheek, here-we-go irony, is nonetheless grimly preoccupied with the elements roiling in natural sympathy with an unseen, but impending, catastrophe. That's a mood many of us can likely appreciate these days.  A rough translation of the poem is at Wiki.

Johannes R. Becher's Mensch steh auf! (1920: Human, Stand Up!) actually opens with an address to the chaotic, cursed century, in which people are suspended in anguish, illuminated by flashes of hazy illusions (for background on Becher's life, go here).