Archive for November, 2006

chrono-synclastic infundibula

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

  Perhaps you’ve read Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. I did, and was struck by, among other things, the idea of the chrono-synclastic infundibula. The idea is that the universe is so large that any location can be observed from a variety of vantage points – and each vantage point will establish a different context for the location. Imagine looking at the earth from mars, or the moon, or another, distant perspective. Each perspective contextualizes the earth within a different data set, and, the chrono-synclastic infundibula accept each of these perspectives as equally valid. Vonnegut describes the infundibula as places where these “ways to be right” coexist.

  Perhaps you’ve read some earlier posts where I mention Dr. Manfred Clynes’ Sentics. Here is another quote, from pages 12-13:

Recognition plays a key role in genetic processes: the shapes of molecules are recognized with high specificity. The loose chemical bonds used in the processes of building instructions and of replication depend fundamentally on the recognition of specific molecular forms. More recently the importance of vibrational modes, introducing time, has been discovered. Indeed, recognition implies time as well as space: the frequency of a photon is recognized by an electron – forms in time may be programmed by genetic instructions as well as well as forms in space alone.

In human language we have been far too negligent in naming forms in time. The precise reality of forms in time has escaped the language-making processes and words denoting specific time forms are quite rare (e.g., sigh, caress, etc.)

Here is a constellation of personal, current associations:

           nyc Rachel Columbia 00’s eric change

                    mike eric time xenakis nikos 90’s Columbia

nikos noisy neighbors nyc xenakis

eric rachel Columbia time 90’s mike 00’s

I grew up in nyc and am familiar with noisy neighbors, street noise, bright street lights, etc. I don’t live in nyc at the moment and have enjoyed, for perhaps the first time, the experience of a quiet apartment, and real darkness to sleep in. I associate neighbor and neighborhood noise with nyc.

  A good friend of mine is named Nikos. We became friends in the late 90’s in nyc via some musicians I worked and socialized with. Nikos is a mathematician with whom I share common interests. He and his wife now live in England, and we rarely get to see each other. We exchange emails a couple times a year – seemingly at random. I associate Nikos with living in nyc and elsewhere and comparing the differences.

  I spent my early years as a composer and performer in the contemporary music world, based in nyc. Nikos is an aficionado of contemporary classical music, he and I became friends based, in part, on our mutual commitment to that artform. Nikos is was one of the few “civilians” (non-composer/performer) who seemed to genuinely like the music of Iannis Xenakis. I associate Nikos, nyc and Xenakis.

  About a month ago I was awoken at 6:45am by a blaring clock radio in the apartment below. I did nothing, as it was the first time since moving in that such an event took place – I accepted it as an aberration. Perhaps someone was visiting. It made me think back to nyc, and caused me to appreciate the silence I enjoy in my current apartment.

  Two weeks ago I again heard the clock radio, and I thought about saying something to the neighbor, but forgot. Things returned to “normal” – but I began to reflect more often on living in nyc.

  Last week I was browsing youtube and typed in Xenakis – just out of curiosity. I hadn’t really thought about, or listened to his work in quite a while (like years) – his name just seemed to pop into my head late one night. I found some stuff to listen to; really liked it, especially a solo violin work I hadn’t heard before.

  Last weekend I went up to nyc – first time in a long time. Participated in a discussion held at glowlab via red76, and then visited my friends who are expecting their first child. My friends went to Columbia U. at the same time Nikos did, but they never met. My friends are also deeply involved with contemporary art and music. They have much more in common than their relationship to me. I associate Columbia U., contemporary classical music, nyc, the late 90’s, early 00’s, and my career as a composer with them.

  While wondering around the city last weekend I thought about Nikos and how much he loved being there, and how much I love being there, and how many of my friends who are still there think often about leaving.

  Two days ago I spoke with my friend Eric about his new baby. Late last night I received a “random” email from Nikos. Hadn’t heard from him in about eight months. Just saying hello. I started to answer it but felt tired and went to bed.

  Yesterday 6:45am blaring clock radio woke me up. Couldn’t get back to sleep. Went online, wrote to Nikos.

  This morning, 6:45am blaring clock radio woke me up. Managed to fall back to sleep. When I woke up I wrote this post.

  I’m not sure how to represent the form(s) of this constellation in such a way that the interrelationship of the elements will permit others to experience them as I am beginning to consider them: as simultaneous. According to Clynes, we neglect “naming forms in time”. The events described, sequentially, above are perhaps one event that I’m experiencing from different perspectives, and those different perspectives may have more to do with interrelationships of things in space than events in time. In other words, I am in a space where the probability of the experience of the events described above is high. The order that I experience those specific events in speaks more to the level of probability of the event than some temporal displacement. Put another way, the present is where all of us always are. We understand things in terms of relationships, and it doesn’t make sense – and is perhaps even impossible, to compare something that is (present) with something that no longer is (past), or isn’t yet (future). That which we can touch touches us, and we only know that which we can touch (be in some physiological contact with). This is to say that my ability to relate one event to another indicates the presence of both – and, probabilistically, one of the events is revealing aspects of itself that cause me to consider it in the present, while other aspects of itself I experience as a memory of the past – or an anticipation of the future, but they are all, really, present. Does that make sense? I experienced a sequence of events but know that the others (and I include people as well as their memories and things [the Xenakis videos, etc.,] in the category of others) involved within this sequence where involved in different sequences of events – all of which were no doubt very real to each person, and all of which were happening simultaneous to mine.

I’d like to add that Eric and I have spoken frequently about the nature of Time. I will also add that another friend, Mike, is a conductor/composer in nyc that I am also rarely in touch with, but began thinking about last week. I have also had long talks with him about the nature of time (starting last spring), and was surprised a few days ago when my father, who doesn’t know Mike well and rarely asks questions about my friends, asked about what Mike was up to.

I wonder if our understanding of time isn’t based on our experience of the probability of change, and if our belief in the past-present-future paradigm, while seemingly, experientially, true, isn’t, perhaps unreal. I wonder whether the challenge (to reference Clynes) isn’t to name forms in time, but to name/model/metaphorize/ forms in change. To explore these forms we may have to consider the implications of concepts like Vonnegut’s chrono-synclastic infundibula and to minimize our reliance on our (ref. Newton’s) concept of time.


Saturday, November 18th, 2006

i went to visit my friends in their new apartment over the weekend. monica, who is a dancer/emergency room doctor, told me that recently someone arrived at the er with a condition described in writing as “WHAT IS IT?!” by the ems tech. at first she was annoyed with the lack of meaningful information, and then, as she approached the room where the patient was she noticed that he had been firmly tied down to a gurney and situated in a room apart from the other patients. suddenly the description of “WHAT IS IT?!” made her nervous. she took a deep breath and passed through the swinging doors. the patient was facing away from her. she said, “hi, I’m doctor-“ at which point he turned his head, looked directly into her eyes and screamed “WHAT IS IT?!” over and over for about six hours until whatever it was he’d taken wore off.

ps: monica is nine months pregnant and has no insurance or maternity leave, and, to repeat: she’s a doctor.

inanimate wrappers

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

Dr. Manfred Clynes, from Sentics (p10-11):


…our own genetic construction is such that it allows us to recognize natural forms in different ways from the inanimate.  The ear, for example, is more sensitive to animate sounds than inanimate. (The nervous system is built to recognize special types of frequency modulation characteristic of animate sounds.)  A mother will recognize the cries of an infant in sleep, and our visual system responds differently to living forms than inanimate ones.


…Recognition plays a key role in genetic processes: the shapes of molecules are recognized with high specificity.  The loose chemical bonds used in the processes of building instructions and of replication depend fundamentally on the recognition of specific molecular forms. More recently the importance of vibrational modes, introducing time, has been discovered.  Indeed, recognition implies time as well as space: the frequency of a photon is recognized by an electron – forms in time may be programmed by genetic instructions as well as forms in space alone.”

 I read this a few days ago, and while I have spent a good bit of time with Herbert Simon’s Sciences of the Artificial to be uncomfortable with some of the inanimate/animate rhetoric, I was nevertheless struck by the excerpt above.  After thinking about it a bit I went into the kitchen for something to eat.

 I took a bag of rice-cakes down from the cupboard and couldn’t tell, by sight, whether they were white or brown, so I consulted the wrapper.  It occurred to me that I could – and perhaps should, be able to tell what the stuff was made out of via my senses, without having to consult the symbols on the plastic bag – but the bag was between my senses and the food.  The bag required a body of acquired knowledge to decipher it, and is designed to emit only the faintest odor (this is significant as our nose is so important when selecting food), and survive conditions that the food inside wouldn’t.  The inanimate was wrapped around the animate.

 Packaged Food, in and from the grocery store, is packed to keep it from the elements.  As such we identify it, in the store, by decoding symbols usually on some impermeable membrane – like a plastic wrapper.  The recognition is one of symbols on the inanimate wrapping and not by direct contact with what is in the container.  We have to read, think, and consciously process in order to satisfy this primary need.

 In re: Clynes; once familiarizing ourselves with our parents, friends, children’s voices we maintain that experience of recognition for long, long periods of time, perhaps for life. This understanding is an aspect of an intuitive relationship we are born with – we don’t need to learn it, or to acquire it, it seems equally available to every human.  In our current system of object management, the contexts are often different enough (if we hear a recording of a familiar’s voice shifted by 1% we won’t apparently, recognize it.  Have you had the experience of trying to find something in an unfamiliar grocery store?) that we are required to continually maintain a database to satisfy an increasing number of our needs.  We are becoming, perhaps, overwhelmed by how many of our inborn abilities are being “enhanced” by living in environments that require ever increasing interaction with the inanimate, and by extension require a learned, acquired familiarity with the data necessary to know what the inanimate is as a first step towards the animate. The inanimate (a plastic bag, in my example above, but there are many, many examples seemingly entrenched in all aspects of our lives) is often used to coat the animate.

 It seems to me we’ve decided to prize the acquired and “other” the intuitive.  Our technological advancements have accelerated this process, yet our bodies are virtually the same as they were thousands of years ago.  Our technological development has outpaced our biological development and it is troublesome – no wonder we have begun to cyborg ourselves – we need to keep pace.  I remember a lyric to a song that went “only fools have needs.”  We seem to be becoming increasingly needy.

 Consider the Myspace phenomena: 1,000 friends (!) vs. the quite probable small, and perhaps even shrinking number of authentic, really close friends/family members that interact with deeply – meaning getting inside the wrapper, i.e., with the full complement of our being.


“…during the past few decades, modern technology, with radio, tv, air travel, and satellites, has woven a network of communication which puts each of the world in to almost instant contact with all the other parts.  Yet, in spite o this world-wide system of linkages, there is, at this very moment, a general feeling that communication is breaking down everywhere, on an unparalleled scale…”

                                     david bohm, on dialogue


 The inanimate wrapper phenomenon is simply making it harder, literally making it more work, to recognize someone.  Instead of a known voice it is an email, or sms – we have to go through some steps every time until we can say, “ok, that is xyz”.  We use caller id, custom ringtones, buddy lists, but the point is we have to consciously think, and check, and cross-reference, and factor data – and while it might take just second or two, this delay is significant because it suggests, to me, the colonization of the dynamic, animate, mammalian meta-consciousness (the integrated conscious/sub-conscious systems working together) by the explicit, by the conscious mind, the ego, in the form of the learned, the acquired, the index-able, repeatable: data.  If you had a look at the collective intellection entry you’ll know that I think there is a value – perhaps difficult to quantify – in the convergence of minds engaged in simply sharing associations together – in just talking, aimlessly, but listening, and cultivating empathy with each other.  This communal benefit and value is what gets left off when we privilege data.

 Bohm mentions that we are linked to each other on a world-wide level.  This linkage is not simply person-to-person, willful communication, I don’t think he’s referencing the potential to email millions of people (on dialogue was written prior to the internet boom), instead, I think his excerpt implies that more of us are linked within database tables somewhere in ways that are not always clear to us. While this is analogous to what I think is the related phenomenon of a sort of species connection we have, and need to explore, our current linkage is, at its root, a numerical representation of our performance and position within a severely limited index that takes into account only a few bits of our total experience – and inevitably seems to complicate our interactions via its limited, and inaccurate scope.

 I’m not making a “this way vs. that way” statement. I’m advocating for an integration of the “two” at the service of creating better working models to aid us in our collective development – a significant aspect of which is the social software elements of our cultural forms.  In other words, how effectively our stuff and our built environments enhance our ability to simply, and happily get together and continue to develop towards greater and more complex integration – analogous to the level of integration among the various elements of our bodies.

 Too often our tech seems to be at the service of creating a tiring, alienating, and limited daily experience. When we are so overtly and consciously managing our interactions so much of the time (our environments seem to demand increased, active, conscious processing) and when our exchange with our environments is based increasingly on symbols on inanimate wrappers, we are prone to ricochet from one surface to the next across the symbolic landscape, as our connection to what is external is often, literally, limited to information gleaned from our eye or ear to mind, as opposed to the complex arrangement of senses and systems including the “sub” conscious that seems natural to us – all this skating around the surface costs energy and is, frankly exhausting and unsatisfying – it leaves us always wanting, and needing more.

 In response to this common environment and experience, I wonder if our social interactions are becoming similar episodes of data categorization, exchange and management – facilitated by the tools many of us now use for socialization.  Are we genuinely close to fewer and perhaps fewer people because it is simply too much work for us to maintain multiple, and active deep interpersonal relationships?  Does the inanimate wrapper require us to be in constant analysis and upgrade mode, to be always learning, and always acquiring, and, when applied to what Clynes describes as our inborn, natural systems and patterns (our bodies haven’t changed much over the past several thousands of years) have we placed ourselves at odds with certain fundamental and utterly necessary aspects of our experience?

An irony of the www is that it provides opportunities for more and more people to be reachable by more and more people but the methods of connection are such that we spend significantly more energy fending off unwanted contact than happily integrating with an ever-expanding array of genuine friends.

 The development I’m interested in brings the various, currently disparate, elements of our experience into a relationship of mutual influence that produces greater and deeper environmental, personal, and collective integration.