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, 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.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Nuclear Leaks 30: Fukushima Leaks Chart

Image Source: Nuke Pro.

The news from Fukushima is getting more dire every day. Not only have mainstream media outlets increased their coverage, the tone of reports is sounding increasingly urgent, with international concern for the Pacific Ocean. Above, a chart which summarizes the information made public so far.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Will the Internet Become Conscious?

Image Source: BBC.

BBC has interviewed Jeff Stibel about how the Internet is showing the earliest signs of consciousness, because it involves a pooling of human intelligences, with the Internet the crucial tool for making that pool work as a larger brain:
The internet is a new lifeform that shows the first signs of intelligence. So says brain scientist and serial entrepreneur Jeff Stibel. He argues that the physical wiring of the internet is much like a rudimentary brain and some of the actions and interactions that take place on it are similar to the processes that we see in the brain. At the same time, he says, it is forcing us as humans to interact and think in new and different ways. But, he tells BBC Future, this is just the beginning. The internet is only going to become more and more intelligent, changing humans and society in ways which we are not yet able to understand.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

First Brain-to-Brain Interface

"University of Washington researcher Rajesh Rao, left, plays a computer game with his mind, while across campus, researcher Andrea Stocco wears a magnetic stimulation coil over the left motor cortex region of his brain. ... Rao sends a brain signal to Andrea Stocco via the Internet, causing Stocco's right hand to move on a keyboard." Image Source: University of Washington via cnet.

Cnet reported today on the first successful brain-to-brain interface, sent via the Internet on 12 August 2013, wherein a brain signal from one man's brain was able to control his colleague's body:
The telepathic cyborg lives, sort of. University of Washington scientists Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco claim that they are the first to demonstrate human brain-to-brain communication. Rao sent a signal into a Stocco's brain via the Internet that caused him to move his right hand. Brain-to-brain communication has previously been demonstrated between rats and from humans to rats.
"The experiment is a proof in concept. We have tech to reverse engineer the brain signal and transmit it from one brain to another via computer," said Chantel Prat, an assistant professor of psychology who worked on the project.

In a press release, the experiment was described as follows:
The team had a Skype connection set up so the two labs could coordinate, though neither Rao nor Stocco could see the Skype screens. Rao looked at a computer screen and played a simple video game with his mind. When he was supposed to fire a cannon at a target, he imagined moving his right hand (being careful not to actually move his hand), causing a cursor to hit the "fire" button. Almost instantaneously, Stocco, who wore noise-canceling earbuds and wasn't looking at a computer screen, involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the space bar on the keyboard in front of him, as if firing the cannon. Stocco compared the feeling of his hand moving involuntarily to that of a nervous tic.
... "Right now the only way to transfer information from one brain to another is with words," ... [Prat] said. With advances in computer science and neuroscience, people could eventually perform complicated tasks, such as flying an airplane, and dancing the tango, by transferring information in a noninvasive way from one brain to another. "You can imagine all complex motor skills, which are difficult to verbalize, are just chains of procedures," Prat said.
More complex cognitive skills, such as understanding algebra and physics could also benefit from the technology. "Ultimately, it's important education and training, especially when knowledge cannot be easily translatable into words." she said.
Prat noted that some people might be nervous about this technology being used to control minds against their will. "The signal is being transmitted remotely through the Internet, but the humans are connected to physical equipment and must be trained to create the right signals. There is no way to control minds without their willingness," Prat said.
One cnet commenter wrote: "Neo: I know kung fu." Another: "This going to take internet sex to a whole new level." See the experiment video below the jump.

"The schematic diagram shows how the brainwave signal was transferred from one brain to another."
Image Source: University of Washington via cnet.

16 Years of Uptime

Image Source: Ars Technica.

Ars Technica ran a piece on an Intel server that ran for sixteen years until it was shut down this past March; the server had in its uptime spanned most of the history of the public Internet:
It's September 23, 1996. It's a Monday. The Macarena is pumping out of the office radio, mid-way through its 14 week run at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, doing little to improve the usual Monday gloom.
Easing yourself into the week, you idly thumb through a magazine, and read about Windows NT 4.0, released just a couple of months previous. You wonder to yourself whether Microsoft's hot new operating system might finally be worth using.
Then it's down to work. Microsoft can keep its fancy GUIs and graphical server operating systems. NetWare 3.12 is where it's at: bulletproof file and print sharing. The server, named INTEL after its process, needs an update, so you install it and reboot. It comes up fine, so you get on with the rest of your day.
Sixteen and a half years later, INTEL's hard disks—a pair of full height 5.25 inch 800 MB Quantum SCSI devices—are making some disconcerting noises from their bearings, and you're tired of the complaints. It's time to turn off the old warhorse.
Connection Terminated. It seems almost criminal.
The server was decommissioned by ... Axatax, as documented in this thread.

Image Source: Ars Technica.

 Image Source: Ars Technica.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Humanities, Arts, Critical Thinking? There's an App for That

Image Source: S. Gross via Living Life Forward.

It has become popular to label the arts and humanities as useless subjects whose graduates will never find jobs and will become a burden on society. In an arrogant and wrong-headed article, The New Republic blamed non-science specialists for the decline of their own disciplines, asserting that they display a "philistine indifference to science," and a dated devotion to dead end Postmodernism:
The humanities are the domain in which the intrusion of science has produced the strongest recoil. Yet it is just that domain that would seem to be most in need of an infusion of new ideas. By most accounts, the humanities are in trouble. University programs are downsizing, the next generation of scholars is un- or underemployed, morale is sinking, students are staying away in droves. No thinking person should be indifferent to our society’s disinvestment from the humanities, which are indispensable to a civilized democracy.
Diagnoses of the malaise of the humanities rightly point to anti-intellectual trends in our culture and to the commercialization of our universities. But an honest appraisal would have to acknowledge that some of the damage is self-inflicted. The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism, and suffocating political correctness. And they have failed to define a progressive agenda. Several university presidents and provosts have lamented to me that when a scientist comes into their office, it’s to announce some exciting new research opportunity and demand the resources to pursue it. When a humanities scholar drops by, it’s to plead for respect for the way things have always been done.
The article also suggested that scientific principles should be applied to the humanities in order to help humanities specialists learn how to find 'real' and 'objective' truths in human affairs:
History nerds can adduce examples that support either answer, but that does not mean the questions are irresolvable. Political events are buffeted by many forces, so it’s possible that a given force is potent in general but submerged in a particular instance. With the advent of data science—the analysis of large, open-access data sets of numbers or text—signals can be extracted from the noise and debates in history and political science resolved more objectively
Right, that's just what we need: to equate algorithms with keys to objective truth and to associate Big Data crunching with solutions to human problems. One could just as easily suggest that Big Data crunching is a source of many human problems.

Calls to remove humanities include the arts and liberal arts, although the arts are deemed so insignificant as to be mentioned only rarely by pundits indulging this anti-cultural trend. One glance at the number of articles at the bottom of this post suggests that perhaps this is more than a trend - it is a new movement.

These calls are coming from both sides of the political fence, along with people working in two sectors: high tech and finance. These two sectors are presently climbing to a pinnacle of power. Yet they arguably were the source of much distress over the past few years. They, along with their political guardians, have failed in their core assumptions about economic productivity, while focusing overly on marketing and consumption. And that is only the start of what is wrong with them. As the failures of these sectors have become more obvious, their commentators have gone on the offensive against the only preserves in society which offer any genuine alternative voice. What they cannot commandeer, they attack.

The frightening message to young students is, "Join the technocracy, or starve." If you can't be an engineer, a technocrat, a financial drone, or a marketer, what good are you? An article from Forbes on the 10 "least valuable" degrees reads like a checklist for building an unhealthy, plugged in, spiritually impoverished and blindly unconscious police state, with no connection to the past, no understanding of cultural context, and no way of recognizing or combating political oppression. The 10 "worst" college majors listed are:  (1) Anthropology and Archaeology; (2) Film, Video and Photographic Arts; (3) Fine Arts; (4) Philosophy and Religious Studies; (5) Liberal Arts; (6) Music; (7) Physical Fitness and Parks Recreation; (8) Commercial Art and Graphic Design; (9) History; (10) English Language and Literature.

This is a serious attack on arts and humanities disciplines. This is not about the so-called realities of economics. It is not about common sense. It is not about what is wrong with teaching in the arts and humanities. It is not even about the fact that the arts and humanities supposedly cultivate navel-gazing, lazy hipsters.

This trend against the arts and humanities is a vanguard bid for control of the establishment, from two sectors which (given their records so far) do not deserve even to make a bid for control at all. It is a battle for the right to communicate, to broadcast dominant social messages and to shape cultural values. It is a battle over the immense profits to be won through technologically-driven social control. It stems (no pun intended) from a larger awareness that politics, government and the economy are on the verge of massive transformation via technological advancements. Normally, the humanities would dominate this transformation because the change is occurring in the area of communications. Instead, people who work in these areas are being devalued, ignored, criminalized. The move to channel undergraduates away from these subjects reveals a need to diminish the numbers of those who understand particular branches of knowledge. It would be foolish and dangerous to see this as simple philistinism.

In the wake of the Great Recession and with the slow birth of a surveillance state, suddenly there are calls for the erasure of subjects which foster critical thinking of human behaviour, and meaningful understanding of grey areas in human affairs? Because they don't pay in the current economy? Well, what does pay in the current economy? Superhighways through archaeological sites and virgin rain forests? Global contracts to build nuclear power plants, based on faulty engineering? Construction bubbles in China which have built gigantic, empty cities? Giant dams to control water resources for one country at the expense of security in an entire region? Facial recognition software which puts the 'face' into Facebook? Where is the common sense in any of these projects? The argument against the arts and humanities reflects the consolidation of power away from, and isolating attack upon, any part of global culture that has not already been safely packaged, industrialized, appropriated and monopolized in the service of the fledgeling technocracy.

Anti-humanities pundits argue that humanities specialists only have themselves to blame. The latter don't deliver value for money. They are mired in Postmodernism. They are politically skewed. They dispensed with standards. Nitty gritty problems in the humanities and arts fields are being used by critics to obscure much larger developments here: a failed economy and an incipient surveillance society. The Great Recession did not transpire because there are Philosophy majors in the world. If anything, we need more Philosophy majors: it would be nice if we still had people around who could distinguish fact from fiction in the Information Age.

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.