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, January 5, 2013

On Living in the Present

This bit of New Year's advice from Luc Ferry comes via Thom Buchanan's excellent blog, My Delineated Life.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Singularity Fashion

Image Source: Urban News.

Back in this post, I talked about proposed fashion concepts such as digital skins and skin lace. These are invasive technologies which will potentially be used as forms of dress or bodily adornments. They fit in readily with the already burgeoning body modification movement and the communications revolution which saw amateur porn become a lifestyle choice and not-so-underground fashion trend.

Futurists assure us that the integration of advanced technology into our lives will continue exponentially and eventually become seamless, invisible, and quasi-natural in a way that will be disturbing to our current sensibilities, but perhaps not to those of tomorrow. Case in point: Urban News reported in 2011 on a California doctor who is developing the technology to turn brown eyes blue; the technology will likely be available outside the United States in 2013 and inside the USA in 2014 for the cost of USD $5,000:
A California doctor is developing the technology for a laser procedure that will turn brown eyes blue.

Dr. Gregg Homer of Stroma Medical says a 20-second procedure will remove the melanin pigment that gives brown eyes their color, making them permanently blue without affecting a patient’s eyesight.

Homer goes on to say that the majority of the world’s population has brown eyes, and the number of blue-eyed people is decreasing in America. But brown-eyed people have blue pigment in their irises, and a treatment session under a specially-tuned laser can destroy the melanin in the eye, gradually changing the iris color from brown to blue over a two-week period. “However,” says Dr. Homer, “the procedure cannot change blue eyes to brown.”
Although this cosmetic procedure will be controversial and offensive to some, according to a report in the Daily Mail, Dr. Homer denies that the procedure is "ethnically insensitive." As technology pushes foward and expands our capabilities, we will repeatedly confront the question: should we do something just because we now can?


Laugh of the Day

Some Scenes from a Multiverse from 22 August, 17 October, 9 November and 23 November 2012. All comics are © Jonathan Rosenberg.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Look Skyward: The Quadrantids

Quadrantids viewing guide (click to enlarge). Image Source: Spacedex.

On the night of 3-4 January, one of the year's most prolific meteor showers, the Quadrantids, reaches peak intensity, but a few more falling stars can still be seen up until 12 January. The shower is "currently thought ... [to] originate from the same asteroid as the Geminids do –2003 EH1. The Quadrantids owe their name to the constellation known as Quadrans Muralis, though the constellation is no longer used by astronomers its name persists in the Quadrantids." On the peak night, we may see 40-80 meteors per hour at around 2 a.m. Eastern Time (GMT less five hours). A world viewing guide is available no matter where you live, if you scroll down on this site:
"This is great for those living in North America, much of Europe, and the majority of Asia. Unfortunately, those of you living in Australia and lower portions of South America and Africa will have a difficult time observing the Quadrantids. This year, the First Quarter Moon (50% full) will coincide with the peak of the Quadrantids meteor shower. While the light of the moon may reduce the quantity of meteors you’ll be able to see, you should still be able to observe all but the faintest meteors."
Generally, look east/northeast: the area of the night sky from which the meteors appear to originate is the constellation Boötes, which is right near the Big Dipper.

Below the jump, the Hubble telescope Website's Youtube channel outlines prospects for amateur astronomers in January, including the Quadrantids.

The constellation Boötes. Image Source: Till Credner via AlltheSky.com via Wiki.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cosmic Reproduction

Pan Spermia In The Veil of Her Moon (2005) © Roger Ferragallo.

The new Millennium loves the cross-pollination of ideas, mainly because of the computing revolution in communications. An episode ("Is The Universe Alive?" 13 June 2012) of Through the Wormhole covers a Millennial theory in physics that the universe, or even the multiverse, may be alive. This theory, put forward by Lee Smolin, applies Darwin's idea of natural selection to the propagation of universes (see my earlier post on how physicists are appropriating Darwin's theory to their ends). Smolin argues that universes reproduce themselves through black holes and form attached daughter universes. Thus our universe may be "just one member in a giant family tree of cosmoses." Smolin finds many parallels and analogies between biological life processes and cosmic reproduction.

Theoretical physicists then ask whether this tree of cosmoses is alive, or possibly even sentient. They wonder whether we could find the brain of this living cosmic tree.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Scientists Grow Sperm from Skin Sample

Image Source: Telegraph.

Welcome the new year with a story about rejuvenation and regeneration for men - and possibly women - who have cancer and cannot have children due to the anti-cancer treatments. Scientists are on the verge of growing sperm - and possibly ova - out of adult skin samples or other stem cell sources: From the Telegraph:
Scientists have found that a man's fertility could be restored by the growing of early stage sperm from a skin sample. Research evidence suggests that adult cells, such as those of the skin, can be induced to return to a more primitive state and then turned into different cell types. To see if it was possible to produce sperm cells, a team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the US grew stem cells from skin samples and found they were able to generate key cells, including early stage sperm cells. It is hoped the technique could help men who had cancer during childhood become fathers, as infertility can be a side effect of some cancer treatments.
For some, the stem cell technique by which this could be accomplished is highly controversial and spiritually offensive. BBC reports on similar research and its procedures:
A Kyoto University team used mice stem cells to create eggs, which were fertilised to produce baby mice.

Dr Renee Pera, of Stanford University in California, aims to create human sperm to use for reproduction within two years, and eggs within five years.

Infertility affects up to 15% of reproductive-aged couples worldwide.

"I know people think it's Frankenstein medicine, but I think it's not an imagined or lessened health problem - infertility affects your whole life," Dr Pera says.

"To have sex and have a baby would be a super simple decision, but not everybody can do it."

But using embryonic stem cells for research - as Dr Pera's lab at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine does - is controversial because the embryos are destroyed in order to use them.

Dr Pera's lab uses embryos left over from IVF treatments.

Stem cells have the potential to grow into any cell in the body. Creating eggs in a lab could become mainstream, much like IVF is viewed today.

Dr Pera says there are about one million or 1.5 million embryos made each year in America using IVF - and about 500,000 of those embryos are discarded. About 500 of those embryos are used for research, she said.

"And people worry about those 500 instead of the 500,000 discarded," Dr Pera says.

The Japanese study marks the first time a mammal has been created from stem cells. It is being hailed as the Holy Grail of reproductive stem cell research.

The researchers at Kyoto University say they have demonstrated how to grow eggs and sperm in a lab and combine them to produce seemingly healthy offspring.

"We are reinvigorated again. It seems that something every two years comes out that gets everyone reinvigorated," Dr Pera said of the Japanese study.

"We've been mostly working on the human system to do the same things - to make mature eggs and mature sperm in a dish."

Monday, December 31, 2012

On With the Old, On With the New

Image Source: Mama's Empty Nest.

As the world prepares to say farewell to the Mayan 2012 Year of Doom and the Fukushima Year of the Water Dragon and to hope for brighter and better things in 2013, I wonder how to welcome the future while retaining aspects of the past.

That got me thinking about the consistency of old attachments and friendships. The conventional wisdom is that clinging to the past is self-destructive. However, those of us lucky enough to have a person or people walk beside us through all adventures find a thread of continuity in life. They share a past with us and keep that past alive in the ever-changing present. It is the foundation we lay together, constant yet itself also evolving, that provides a thread of stability in a world that speeds to become as unrecognizable as quickly as possible.

Image Source: Super Me via Channel 4.

Even that continuity can be lost. After fellow actor and close friend Peter Cushing died, Christopher Lee remarked:
"I don't want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Curios: Dinosaur Auction Update

This fossilized ankylosaurid skull is one of the items under investigation by authorities. Image Source: Live Science.

Curios is my series of blog posts on oddities that turn up at auction houses. Remember this post from May 2012, about a bunch of fossils that went on the block in New York City? It turns out that this collection was part of the black market trade in fossil smuggling, according to the Mongolian government, and now the courts. Live Science (28 December 2012; Hat tip: Graham Hancock's Alternative Newsdesk):
A fossil dealer's guilty plea has set the stage for what is most likely the largest dinosaur fossil repatriation in history, according to an attorney representing the President of Mongolia, the country that will receive most of the fossils that federal officials are seizing from fossil dealer and preparer Eric Prokopi. On Thursday (Dec. 27) Prokopi pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to smuggling fossils and agreed to forfeit a small menagerie of dinosaurs to federal officials. All but one of the dinosaurs in question came from Mongolia, where law makes fossils state property, and among them is a high-profile skeleton that received a $1.05 million bid at auction. "We have looked into this, and we can't find any instance anywhere when one country has returned to another a lot of dinosaurs this large and this significant that have been looted or smuggled," said Robert Painter, attorney for Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia. ...  
On June 18, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced a civil suit claiming the federal government had the right to seize the Tarbosaurus because those who imported it did so knowing it was stolen, and the customs forms accompanying it contained false information. Federal agents then got a warrant to pick up the bones and take them into protective custody until the case is resolved.
The auction house made the following comment:
Heritage Auctions has not identified the seller or the buyer, citing a need to protect confidentiality. "Somebody doesn't put something like this in a major auction that is broadcast and promoted worldwide if they have got something to hide. If there is a title problem, you go and sell it secretly to someone in a backroom for a suit case full of cash," Rohan said. "That is something we have nothing to do with."
Image Source: Eric Prokopi via Live Science.

The fossil seller, who later pleaded guilty, initially insisted that he was completely innocent:
Eric Prokopi, the Florida fossil dealer, who restored the Tarbosaurus and was attempting to sell it at the public auction, released a statement dated June 22 saying “I'm just a guy in Gainesville, Florida trying to support my family, not some international bone smuggler.” Prokopi denied paleontologists’ assertions that the skeleton must have come from Mongolia and the U.S. Attorney’s claim he made false statements on customs documents. The disruption of the sale as been financially devastating to him, Prokopi wrote. “All I can do now is hope and pray the American legal system will uphold American laws and not sacrifice my rights and freedoms to please a foreign government out for a political trophy.”  

Retrofuturism 22: Go Back to 1968 with the Situationists

Leading Situationists, London (1960) (from l. to r.): Attila Kotányi, Hans-Peter Zimmer, Heimrad Prem, Asger Jorn (covered), Jørgen Nash (front), Maurice Wyckaert, Guy Debord, Helmut Sturm, and Jacqueline de Jong. Image Source: Wiki.

There is always a big difference between the ideas of the moment as they were at seminal points in history and what they became. Dismal outcomes alter our understanding of concepts that once inspired. A good example is flowering of thought that graced the year 1968. As economic problems and other tensions drag on in the new Millennium, criticism of the Baby Boomers is reaching raw points and promises to become ever worse.

One of history's most valuable lessons is to take the past on its own terms, and not to bend it anachronistically with hindsight. Sometimes, looking at the past without thinking about what was to come recovers lost information and neglected perspectives. An arbirtary enforced reading from those looking back is disarmed. Accordingly, this blog will in coming weeks occasionally review some visions of the Millennium which developed during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, before the Boomers' future was set in stone.

First up: the Situationists. They were really a Silent Gen movement, a short-lived and limited European movement, which was a weird type of Marxism enacted by means of artistic creation. The Situationists tried to recover freedom as an imperiled source of creativity in modern capitalist societies. They drew conclusions that are now commonplace among Millennial conspiracy theorists, marketers, spin doctors, hackers, gurus and visionaries: "Their theoretical work peaked with the highly influential book The Society of the Spectacle in which Guy Debord argued that the spectacle is a fake reality which masks capitalist degradation of human life."