Archive for June, 2008

Axiomatized logic structures, instincts, the aesthetic, and you – notes from a lecture

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Below are my lecture notes from the beginning of my talk to MICA’s Summer MFA in Studio Art, and Graduate Art Education students.

The second half of the talk featured various artworks of mine that can be found by looking under the artworks category on this blog or clicking the projects tab in the upper right corner of this page:

Lecture Notes:

Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914):

Nature is a far vaster and less clearly arranged repertory of facts than a census report; and if men had not come to it with special aptitudes for guessing right, it may well be doubted whether in the ten or twenty thousand years that they may have existed their greatest mind would have attained the amount of knowledge which is actually possessed by the lowest idiot.

Both man and animal come to this world with two classes of ideas which adapt them to their environment.

In the first place, they all have from birth some notions, however crude and concrete, of force, matter, space, and time; and, in the next place, they have some notion of what sort of objects their fellow-beings are, and of how they will act on given occasions.

Our innate mechanical ideas are so nearly correct that they needed but slight correction. The other physical sciences are the results of inquiry based on guesses suggested by the ideas of mechanics.

The moral sciences are equally developed out of our instinctive ideas about human nature.

Man has thus far not attained to any knowledge that is not in a wide sense either mechanical or anthropological in its nature, and it may be reasonably presumed that he never will.” pp 214-215 Philosophical Writings of Peirce, edited by Justus Buchler.

We come into the world with instincts for mechanics, or natural law, and anthropologic interactions, so says C.S. Peirce.

An example of Mechanical instincts is at the top of the post.

An example of Anthropologic Instincts:
My four month old niece is suddenly able to focus her eyes. My sister says that one of the ways infants learn about things like eating solid food is by watching other people eat solid food – obviously infants don’t consult books about such things, their instincts provide the necessary knowledge via an impetus to interact and observe.

Intellectual Constructions, a third mode of interaction, increasingly significant since the industrial revolution.

An example: Einstein’s Simultaneity (1905):

YouTube Preview Image

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) from Genetic Epistemology:

…if this redefinition of the possibility of events to be simultaneous at great distances from each other went against the grain of our logic, there would have been a considerable crisis within physics. We would have had to accept one of two possibilities: either the physical world is not rational, or else human reason is impotent – incapable of grasping external reality. Well, in fact nothing of this sort happened. There was no such upheaval.

Why in fact was it not a crisis?

It was not a crisis because simultaneity is not a primitive notion: It is not a primitive concept, and it is not even a primitive perception.

…our experimental findings have shown that human beings do not perceive simultaneity with any precision.

If we look at two objects moving at different speeds, and they stop at the same time, we do not have an adequate perception that they stopped at the same time.

Similarly, when children do not have a very exact idea of what simultaneity is, they do not conceive of it independently of the speed at which objects are traveling.

Simultaneity, then, is not a primitive intuition; it is an intellectual construction.

Godel’s (Kurt Godel, 1906-1978) Incompleteness Theorem (1931): There are limits to formalisation:

Axioms are statements that can be taken as true without proof.

Theories can be taken as true if they don’t violate any of the axioms upon which they are built.

Some theories can be true without proof.

“This sentence is not provable.” is true but not provable in the theory.

An axiomatized logic structure is a structure based on axioms.

Intellectual constructions use specialized, axiomatized linguistic structures (like calculus, or other systems of calculation guided by the symbolic manipulation of expressions, like Boolean algebra, the axiomatized logic upon which modern computers are based) to formalize specific ideas. Their development is fundamentally different than knowledge developed from our mechanical and anthropologic instincts.

What does logic formalize?

Any axiomatic system contains the undemonstrable propositions or the axioms, at the outset, from which the other propositions can be demonstrated, and also the undefinable, fundamental notions on the basis of which the other notions can be defined.

What lies underneath the undemonstrable axioms and the undefinable notions?

A feeling may lead to a thought, which may connect to a belief, which may lead to judgment/decision. A belief is an organization of thoughts, a logical system, possibly an axiomatised logical system.

The root of thought is feeling.

If our thoughts develop from feelings and if our feelings are an index of interactions with our environment the resulting logic has a physical connection to the world as our feet have a relationship to the ground.

The necessity for considering feeling itself as well as considering axiomatised logical systems, since it is from human feeling and thought that logical systems develop and maintain an intuitive quality.

Summary:

We have primitive instincts for natural law and learning from each other by observation and interaction. Neither of these requires a formalized logic system nor a specialized linguistic structure. Both of these seem innate and similar to instincts observable in other animals.

We have an environment increasingly embedded with physical instantiations of axiomatized logical structures (the computer, [and, by extension, the internet] a Boolean algebra machine, is an example). To which we respond intuitively – as we do to any physical structure we encounter.

Feeling > thought > belief > judgment/decision (logical structure, possibly axiomatized logical structure).

Godel’s theorum demonstrates that our axiomatized logical systems are fundamentally different than our intuitive understandings of natural law and learning by observing and imitating each other.

Axiomatized logical systems require specialized linguistic structures and fundamental concepts based on knowledge derived from specialized linguistic structures, i.e, intellectual constructions for which we often seem to have no clear intuitive understanding.

two excerpts from this post:

I’ve been doing some work in a small room with a sliding glass door that opens to the rear of my father’s house. I’ve been leaving this door unlocked, and a moment ago I tried to slide it open and found that the movement of the door was impeded by a small piece of stone that had found its way into the track on the floor. As soon as I tried to open the door it stopped at that lower corner, and I immediately knew that something was blocking its’ way, and where the blockage was, I could feel it. A matter of seconds later the track was clear and here I am.

My instincts – based on observable natural law, and observing the behaviors of others, permit me to make relatively quick inferences in a variety of situations.

Our intellectual constructions do not, in my experience, and in general, respond successfully to quick inferences. They are more complex and require knowledge that is often not immediately available. Often the required knowledge under the surface isn’t itself stable.

When I was trying to open the door I could feel and observe where the obstruction was, and I could infer how to remove it, quickly.

When my friend tells me my blog suddenly doesn’t appear when he points his browser to it, and when I take an look and have the same experience, and that experience doesn’t provide enough information for me to even guess what’s wrong, I consult my host’s tech support, then read a few documents, then look at a few message boards, then try, then fail, then try again, etc.

What I observe in both cases (door/blog) is that I have an impulse to make a quick inference based on the available information, to act on that information, to observe the result, refine my actions, minimize error, achieve the result, etc. I have an impulse to engage in classic negative feedback.

With the blog (an intellectual construction within a network of intellectual constructions) the necessary information is far from anything resembling a surface.

With the door, all of the necessary information was right in front of me, literally, the entire time, and my instincts lead me to the right conclusion right away.

I think that a major challenge we face is how to function within an environment for which we have increasingly insufficient, and often difficult to locate information within a psychological domain in which our instincts are prompting us to use what is immediately available to make quick inferences to solve the problem.

Our mechanical and anthropologic instincts and interactions are all based on information that is an intuitive, common, aspect of our interactions with the elements of our environment. I characterize the nature of these intuitive interactions as real-time proof.

It is by triangulating our actions within the intuitive and intellectually constructed that we come to understand our experience.

I am interested in observing how axiomatized logical structures and intuitive understandings function together, and how different environments may affect the degrees to which one mode may be more prevalent than another at a given moment.

I wonder it is possible to manage, or exert influence over these interactions in such a way as to increase knowledge holistically within this general environment.

The aesthetic experience, to me, is a point of balance between the instinctual and the intellectually constructed.

cage cage

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

As a side note to what I just posted, and rooted in randomness and chance, and based on the facts that I’m about to head up to Bard College for a few weeks, and that last week I had dinner with a friend of my father’s who is a biologist whose focus is starfish and who is also a musician, and, during dinner, asked me, a former performing musician, if John Cage were a part of the cannon of Western Art Music >>

When I was in high school, and already involved in free improvisations, electronic music, and noise, my music teacher performed Cage’s 4’33” in class. I didn’t know who John Cage was, and when I was informed that he as a Concert Music composer I braced for boredom. The piece made a deep impression on me.

At the conclusion of the work my music teacher, a Mrs. Levy, said that Cage’s intention was to allow a listener to focus on ambient sounds, as opposed to the organized sounds usually created in the concert hall.

To me, my experience during her performance was not one of having my ears somehow opened to ambient sounds, it was, instead, a psychological experience of not knowing what was going on, and being made keenly aware of how artificial the concert hall, and performance experience really was, and how stuffy and controlling and emblematic it was of our culture at large – regardless of idiom. The experience of his work, his great gesture, was one of disorder within the temple of orderliness and it blew my 16 year old mind.

A few months later, during Spring Break, I found his and David Tudor’s Indeterminancy at Max Hall’s on e. 7th street (anybody?) and the next day I won two tickets from a local radio station, can’t remember which, to hear Cage’s Constructions in Metal performed at a college in New Jersey. I ended up spending all of my money just getting to the town, and I ended up meeting Cage – who spoke at intermission, and he invited me to ride back to Manhattan with him after the show when he found out I didn’t have bus fare back to the city.

Anyway, I recall this now as Cage often described his work as random, and his process as involving chance operations. His work isn’t random, literally, it is an intentional disordering of staid, and invariable elements.

I still find that disorder critical and valid, but I often think that as his work was ‘accepted’ by the classical music and art world the parameters of disorder (which, to me, is the central critical aspect of his work) seemed to stabilize and revolve around the practices and forms (the invariabilities, the laws) of the institutions of Western music and art.

I feel that the discourse surrounding his work, centered on randomness and chance, mitigated his development of further and greater acts of critical disorder. The institution he sought to critique embraced him, loosely, and in so doing quelled his revolt.

Just my two cents on a hazy Monday morning.

path of quickest inference, a clarification

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

I’d like to clarify something I wrote at the end of my last post.

Randomness, as defined by the dictionary, and applied broadly to the world at large i.e., the world is random, is an intellectual construct. A random world would be governed solely by variability, so nothing would be invariable – there wouldn’t be, for example, natural laws like gravity, or a particle with a set velocity always traveling in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force., etc.. In a real random world, no situation would ever reliably repeat as randomness, or invariability would be the sole governor.

A random world might look like a static arrangement of specific elements in various groupings, not interacting with each other – just near each other without touching, like items on a shelf – it would, in other words possibly appear very systematic and perhaps even well organized.

We live in a world of invariability, and invariability and randomness are opposites and don’t exist as aspects of each other – they can’t. when we don’t understand forces governing some event we often refer to that situation as random – but, in reality, it is a situation in which we have yet to understand the forces at play and cannot reliably predict what the precise outcome will be. When we invoke a (pseudo) random algorithm to generate an unpredictable number in a project, or even use a geiger tube to read, say, radioactive decay from cesium-137 (a technique I’ve used) as a ‘seed’ for a (pseudo) random algorithm we are again invoking the “unpredictable” as an invariable subroutine in some series of steps composed of various invariabilities.

Chaos, on the other hand, is a condition in which the outcomes of interactions are highly dependent on the initial conditions at the onset of the interaction and sometimes highly unpredictable. In a world as vast, complex, dynamic and governed by various natural laws, as ours is, events are chaotic. Chaos can contain invariabilities, as well as unpredictable outcomes involving interactions among invariable elements.

When I wrote at the end of my previous post on the path of quickest inference that the choices one might make are not necessarily proof of an individual’s control over environmental circumstances but, perhaps, a personal expression of specific interactions between the body and other, environmental excitations, and that, to me, the forms of these personal expressions may have longer durational aspects and could, in fact, be experienced as things like a career, or some other longer term relationship, I wasn’t trying to say that the world is entirely random.

We are, metaphorically, grazing and coming to consciousness on persistent peripheral excitations, (which are the indices of our interactions with our environment and moment)– at the points of various interactions with our environment. Those interactions that build to thought are developed by quick inferencing, or the experience of building a feeling into a thought into a belief or judgment that may resonate with other beliefs or judgments, and so on, quickly. The development from sensation to feeling to thought suggests to me that all of our intellectual constructions are directly connected to the over, physical array of peripheral excitations and interactions that engages every other element of our environment.

If one’s quick inferencing has a quality of persistence the resulting intellectually constructed forms may have prominent long term temporal aspects – hence a career, a body of work, etc. These longer term aspects are expressions of peripheral, environmental interactions as an intellectually constructed form that features time (an intellectual construction) prominently. It is the quickness of the movement from sensation to thought to belief, etc., and the root of the experience in sensation that suggests to me that the path of quickest inference isn’t something that is literally imposed on our environment from our own agency, but something that is a specific expression of an environmental interaction that we are deeply connected to, and a part of.

One is indeed involved in this development, our involvement often seems, in fact, an invariability in this environment, but, at the root, and to me, at least today, the intellectually constructed forms are literal aspects and expressions of environmental interactions, like the wind, a stone, or gravity, etc.

As we seem to lack primitive instincts specifically for the highly intellectually constructed (I went into this at length in the previous post), the intellectually constructed is often understood as an aspect of ‘virtual’ reality – or something somehow fundamentally apart from other, observable physical forms and interactions. This lack of instinct and the resulting otherness along with the impulse toward quick inferencing seems to limit our understandings of the relationships between our intellectual constructions and the larger environment – of which they are clearly a part. The massive environmental damage wrought by many of our physical embodiments of our intellectual constructions lately (the past few centuries) is, perhaps, an example of this. But I digress.

The peripheral interactions and excitations that don’t express as thought express as other aspects of us in the environment – conscious or otherwise. I wonder if these other interactions don’t follow a similar path of development involving along the lines of efficient resonance between specific aspects of our environment and specific aspects of our physical form – I wrote about this sort of thing some months ago, using Chladni plates as a metaphor. I wouldn’t term these unconscious interactions inferences because an inference is a form specific to consciousness, but the structure of the interaction may be similar, but the result is realized in another medium, if you will, that is also a part of what and who we are.

transmediale.09 Award Competition – Call

Friday, June 20th, 2008

—————————————-
transmediale.09 Award Competition – Call
—————————————-

(Deutsche Version: siehe unten)
*******************************

transmediale.09 – DEEP NORTH
festival for art and digital culture berlin
27 January – 1 February 2009

club transmediale.09 – STRUCTURES
festival for adventurous music and related visual arts
23 – 31 January 2009

_Call for Entries_

:: Deadline: 5 September 2008
:: Award Ceremony: 31 January 2009

Find the complete call and submission form for download at:

http://transmediale.de/09/pdf/tmctm09_call_for_entries

*transmediale.09 – DEEP NORTH & club transmediale.09 – STRUCTURES*

As leading international festivals for art and digital culture as well as
adventurous music and related visual arts, respectively, transmediale and club
transmediale are calling for submissions to the transmediale Award competition
and the Vilem Flusser Theory Award.

*transmediale* presents and pursues the advancement of artistic positions
reflecting on the socio-cultural, political and economic impact of new
technologies. It seeks out artistic practices that not only respond to
scientific or technical developments, but that try to shape the way in which we
think about and experience the technologies which impact virtually all aspects
of our daily lives. As such, transmediale understands media technologies as
cultural techniques that need to be embraced in order to comprehend, critique,
and shape global societies.

*club transmediale* (CTM) is a prominent international festival dedicated to
contemporary electronic, digital and experimental music, as well as the diverse
range of artistic activities in the context of sound and club culture. CTM
presents projects that experiment with new aesthetic parameters and new forms
of cooperation, develop possibilities for informational and economic
self-determination, and reflect on the role of contemporary music against the
backdrop of technological and social transformations.

For the 2009 edition, the festivals have each set a specific thematic focus.

transmediale.09 – *DEEP NORTH* peers beyond the evolving alarmist scenarios of
catastrophe prevalent in the often contradictory global warming debate.
transmediale.09 shifts this focus to the global artistic, cultural, societal
and philosophical consequences that the presumed imminent collapse of the polar
ice barrier may trigger. Are we about to reach another historically succinct
moment of unavoidable and cataclysmic change – a point of no return leaving in
its wake uncontrollable global transformations? Does climate change elicit
cultural change, a shifting of extremes or a collapse in established, systemic
and network norms? *DEEP NORTH* becomes not a fixed location, but a paradigm
transforming loss, scarcity, inertia and rivalry into urgent and revealing
states of being and expression.

With *STRUCTURES* – Backing-Up Independent Audio-Visual Cultures, club
transmediale.09 presents projects that spring from the critical,
interdisciplinary and experimental practice at the intersections of sound and
other art forms. In recent years, a new breed of hybrid projects and
initiatives that merges experimental audio and media cultures has developed in
the convergence-zone between pop culture, science, arts and media technologies.
This still remains primarily the domain of committed individuals and small,
self-organised groups or networks that, often in the most precarious of
circumstances, provide the supporting platform for these new artistic
articulations and experiments. In its 10th year, CTM looks into the current
state and potential development opportunities of these independent structures.

Together, transmediale and club transmediale invite the submission of works and
projects that respond to these challenges and embody contemporary notions of
art that embrace, question and enrich digital culture. Submissions of art works
for both festivals participate in the *transmediale Award* 2009 while
theoretical abstracts, papers and critical artistic positions are invited for
the *Vilem Flusser Theory Award* with prizes totaling ca. 10.000 EURO.

transmediale is a project of Kulturprojekte Berlin in cooperation with Haus der
Kulturen der Welt :: club transmediale (CTM) is a project of DISK – Sound &
Image Initiative e.V. :: transmediale is funded by the German Federal Cultural
Foundation :: CTM is funded by the Hauptstadtkulturfonds.

The path of the quickest inference

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

I’ve been doing some work in a small room with a sliding glass door that opens to the rear of my father’s house. I’ve been leaving this door unlocked, and a moment ago I tried to slide it open and found that the movement of the door was impeded by a small piece of stone that had found its way into the track on the floor. As soon as I tried to open the door it stopped at that lower corner, and I immediately knew that something was blocking its’ way, and where the blockage was, I could feel it. A matter of seconds later the track was clear and here I am.

My instincts – based on observable natural law, and observing the behaviors of others, permit me to make relatively quick inferences in a variety of situations.

Our intellectual constructions (yeah, I’m still chewing on that…) do not, in my experience, and in general, respond successfully to quick inferences. They are more complex and require knowledge that is often not immediately available. Often the required knowledge under the surface isn’t itself stable.

When I was trying to open the door I could feel and observe where the obstruction was, and I could infer how to remove it, quickly.

When my friend tells me my blog suddenly doesn’t appear when he points his browser to it, and when I take an look and have the same experience, and that experience doesn’t provide enough information for me to even guess what’s wrong, I consult my host’s tech support, then read a few documents, then look at a few message boards, then try, then fail, then try again, etc.

What I observe in both cases (door/blog) is that I have an impulse to make a quick inference based on the available information, to act on that information, to observe the result, refine my actions, minimize error, achieve the result, etc. I have an impulse to engage in classic negative feedback.

With the blog (an intellectual construction within a network of intellectual constructions) the necessary information is far from anything resembling a surface.

With the door, all of the necessary information was right in front of me, literally, the entire time, and my instincts lead me to the right conclusion right away.

I think that a major challenge we face is how to function within an environment for which we have increasingly insufficient, and often difficult to locate information within a psychological domain in which our instincts are prompting us to use what is immediately available to make quick inferences to solve the problem.

To me, this shows the newness of our intellectually constructed elements within our environment, and highlights how important it is that we explore the relationships between, and the natures of the intellectually constructed and the instinctual. We seem to have formed a braid out of these things through which we currently understand our experience.

As an instructor, I am aware of the high value institutions place on success, and the way they, and, in turn, we, stigmatize failure.

Given our situation, as I see it, in regard to our complicated, chaotic world of increasingly insufficient, and difficult to locate, yet essential information, and the related increase in the experience of failure when engaging with this aspect of our lives, I don’t see how our current system will lead to an increase in knowledge.

To me, both success and failure, in particular regard to interactions with the intellectually constructed, have such a highly random aspect that ascribing significant praise or blame to one’s self for either result seems counter-productive as it places value on the tiny fluctuation and makes the larger structure harder to comprehend – just like playing the lottery or any sort of game based on statistically random numbers where luck is misunderstood and fictionalized as skill, or pretending that you really chose to design websites for a living.

Your facility, though real, is probably random and is neither the goal nor truly under your control, and that’s ok.

Work to see and be able to express what you understand to be the bigger picture from your current position.

Think broadly about what it is you are doing so that we may begin to have a better understanding of how and where our instincts and our intellectual developments are intermingling, what forms those relationships take, and what those relationships mean.

improved interface design, not instinct

Friday, June 13th, 2008

I don’t work with freshman much, but because I’m in a new technology department I’m on committees that think about curricula development in regard to incoming undergrads.

Having taught an intro to electronic media and culture course a few times over the years I have often mentioned to colleagues that I observed what I understood to be a yearly increase in the general familiarity with new media among each new group of freshman.

I’ve been one of those people in meetings praising the potential for inspired digital works among younger people based on what I understood as their increasingly fearless assimilation of new gear across a broad spectrum of devices – from laptops to cell phones to digital games.

As someone who has believed that cross-media projects (like A.R.G.’s) contain enormous creative potential I extrapolated that these younger students with their bold, pan-media savvy would soon come up with all sorts of hybrid, cross-media projects revealing latent creative and critical potentials within the sea of networkable consumer electronics and socially networked cohorts that would blow my mind.

I’ve become wary of making predictions because I don’ think I’m any good at it, and trying to see things as they are right now seems more practical and, frankly, interesting.

I think that younger consumers are being introduced to new electronic media via increasingly better/friendlier interfaces (hardware and software) carefully designed for their demographic, enabling them to jump into things much faster than younger consumers, in general, would have been able to do in earlier years.

In speaking with a friend about this yesterday I’ve come to the opinion that for those of us who’ve been learning new gizmo skills since the 90’s the method of learning by oneself via the manual is passé – and quite probably an impediment to acquiring mad sk11z on new devices. Manuals today seem to be afterthoughts produced by other companies who may not actually have any more experience with the devices they’re writing about than the person who just bought the thing.

Today’s style involves powering up, and following ‘intuitive’ icons and gestures, and chatting with friends about how to do various things – very social. Gizmo assimilation has a pronounced social bonding aspect built right in, a very different style from the lonely hacker struggling through manuals, and peculiar keystroke combinations, etc.

Earlier devices seemed to be designed for geeks, current devices are designed for kids. That is not a bad thing.

In any case, and getting back to young minds and technological fluency: learning how to make a device do what it’s built to do is essential to make full use of the thing. Doing something conceptually interesting and/or aesthetically engaging or challenging is an essential next step for any artist/designer in digital media, and, to some people, an extremely important step culturally.

Some of you are thinking and doing along these lines. I wish more of you would.

I’m not sure whether the improved interface design is making it any easier at all to conceive of, and make interesting projects, and I don’t see improved interface design, market research, and advertising campaigns as any proof of a developing ‘instinct’ among young people for new technology that suggests anything more than increased sales of specific items.

A fragment of William Carlos William’s ‘Ivy Crown’:

Just as the nature of briars
is to tear flesh,
I have proceeded
through them.
Keep the briars out,
they say.
You cannot live
and keep free of
briars.

Children pick flowers
Let them.
Though having them
in hand
they have no further use of them
but leave them crumpled
at the curb’s edge.

At our age the imagination
across the sorry facts
lifts us
to make roses
stand before thorns.

ryan trecartin’s Tommy Chat Just E-mailed Me

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008
YouTube Preview Image

Trecartin describes Tommy-Chat Just E-mailed Me as a “narrative video short that takes place inside and outside of an e-mail.” Trecartin’s intense visualization of electronic communication is inhabited by a cast of stylized characters: Pam, a Jewish lesbian librarian with a screaming baby in an ultra-modern hotel room; Tammy and Beth, who live in an apartment filled with installation art; and Tommy, who is seen in a secluded lake house in the woods. Pam, Tommy and Tammy are all played by Trecartin, who, wearing his signature make-up, jumps back and forth between male and female roles.

Totally self-absorbed and equipped with vestigial attention spans, the characters are constantly communicating with one another on the phone or online. Their e-mail exchanges and Internet searches are channeled into bright animations that intersect with the “real world” locations. The story moves from person to person like a browser surfing through Web pages. Engrossed in manic electronic interactions, the characters become increasingly isolated and solipsistic.

-from: eai

…and so are we.

i’ve seen this work several times, and i find the description from eai very interesting, although i don’t think we, or even the character’s in tommy chat just emailed me, have a vestigial attention span. We have instincts to interact with our environment, including each other by:

  • observing and learning from other people
  • by interacting with objects in the physical world, and
  • by engaging with intellectual constructions – things like boolean algebra, relativistic simultaneity (general relativity), the economy, governments, the internet, etc. in short, the manipulations of symbols into logical and, increasingly, physical structures that ‘make sense’ as intellectual developments of logical systems of our own design, but seem to differ from our instinctual understandings of physics, and knowledge gleaned from observing each other’s behavior, in that intellectual constructions, while actual and real, seem somehow less instinctual than physics and anthropology.
  • we seem to enter this world with less of an innate ability to cultivate, discover, and develop intellectual constructions than we do to pick things up and use them or to learn by watching others. as such, the intellectually constructed seems more potentially complicated than our other understandings in that they seem always to have a quality of ‘otherness’.
    i’m again referencing piaget and peirce’s observations from a previous post.

    my point is that i find ryan’s work to be a mesmerizing and a compelling portrait of life lived within a dynamic matrix of instinct, impulse, and intellectual construction.

    it seems that one feature of an industrially revolutionized civilization is a separation of members of social groups – a spreading out of peoples: families, friends, etc. as mentioned by piaget, our instinct for what poincare and einstein described as simultaneity, and what piaget described as the coordination of distant events, is something for which we have little primitive instinct – this is relatively new terrain for us. Yet we do have a will to connect with each other (anthropologic impulse). a major challenge for separated social groupings is maintaining a sense of connection – enter the intellectual construction of digital communications.

    the combination of the availability of connecting with someone digitally – via phone, sms, email, chat, etc, together with our lack of instinct for coordinating events at a distance, and our tradition of close physical proximity to important people (work, family, etc.) from whom we continually learn from and adapt to – equals an often complicated and highly chaotic environment that we are instinctively coming to consciousness within.

    the more our world develops the more space we seem to be putting between ourselves, and the less information rich and meaningfully synchronized are our connections – but our desire to be connected at a distance remains. the resulting noisy, and chaotic, and often out of sync blasts of information from the digital afar seems to put many of us in a broadcast mode of expression and ‘interaction’, where what becomes primary is the sound and content of our own expression as understood by ourselves. we are often essentially shouting our needs and thoughts into what amounts to a somewhat familiar void, without being sure if our message will make it, and, if it does, what it may mean in the undoubtedly noisy and chaotic domain of the intended receiver. either that or minimizing our expressions to raise the chance of being understood.

    Tommy Chat Just Emailed Me makes me think about how it is that i know what i know, and that i know who i am at any given moment, and how i am coming to an understandings about my identity and my surroundings by triangulating these three different, but intersecting qualities.

    i don’t feel these qualities and interactions are happening simultaneously (but, based on piaget’s observations, i’m not sure if i could really tell if they were happening simultaneously anyway)– at least on a conscious level, but I do feel that they are happening persistently and in close, temporal proximity, and that they are being triggered by other elements beyond my actual influence so that my overall interaction with them is chaotic. i feel they are often competing for my attention and essentially, and often interfering with each other.

    as i sense that my response to these various stimuli is beyond my precise control i feel that my current environment is prone to levels of conscious complication and epistemological turbulence that can become perplexing and chaotic in a way that causes me to scale back my efforts to develop and follow through various plans, ideas, and levels of interaction.

    some examples (there are many): i’m meeting with you and both of our phones are telling us that we’ve got messages – and both of us take time to look and see who the messages are from, and perhaps even quickly respond. or,

    my impulse is to share my feelings about you while i’m checking my email from work and getting an sms from a casual friend, and you are im-ing with a sibling while keeping an eye on tweets from a colleague. and we can’t help it….

    this is what i think ryan’s work does an excellent job of portraying: the epistemology of our digital world.

    my instincts, an aspect of which is my attention span, are in no way vestigial, they are quite active and a part of who i am, but there is another, actual, significant layer of connection with my environment that is, in fact, rather different from my instincts, and recent, and a major component of i am and who we are now. embodied and amplified by the density of intellectual constructions embedded in our landscape. i find the interrelations of these elements compelling and current.

    at the conclusion of ryan’s film the characters are in a lake-house bathroom, chanting the same lines together. in peter galison’s talk about poincare and einstein he recounts:

    one day in the summer of 1997—I was in a train station in northern Europe, looking down the platforms at these beautifully arranged clocks. The minute hands were all the same. I thought, “God, they made these extraordinary clocks back then. What an extraordinarily wonderful piece of machinery!” But I then noticed that the second hands were also all clicking along in sync. That meant the clocks were too good. So I thought that maybe they’re not good clocks — maybe they’re synchronized clocks bound together by electrical signals that advanced them together, in lockstep.

    the clocks peter saw, if synchronized as he suspects, are not really clocks – they are actually one clock. the same effect could have been produced via mirrors. we seem to have a much better understanding of simple synchronization than we do for poincare and einstein’s ideas on relativistic simultaneity, which require a careful intellectual construction.

    in watching ryan’s characters chanting the same lines together i imagine a future where, having grown accustomed to the cacaphony and high chaos of broadcasting our own point of view within the thicket of digital communications, our face to face encounters are reduced to synchronized, homogeneous, chanting, a localized ‘solution’ to the sense of not really being fully connected or really heard via our digital communication protocols.

    a future where we really don’t listen, and don’t really expect to be heard, but need to express ourselves, and a future where our instincts are still functioning and a future where the relationship between these elements was not carefully explored.

    a future where the richness and complexity and otherness of our intellectual constructions wasn’t accepted as both actual and real and here and now. a future where we failed to take this opportunity to let our primitive instincts and recent developments coexist as they are, and to act as foils for each other to permit us a more detailed understanding of ourselves and our experience.

    ryan’s work, at least to me, is an inspiring, critical, timely, and poetic gesture.

    nyc bubble

    Sunday, June 8th, 2008

    nyc bubble

    from here

    from the local library

    Saturday, June 7th, 2008

    i’m in rural massachusetts writing on my laptop in a library and i’m thinking about all those books stacked around me and how they are tangible instantiations of other bodies of knowledge accumulated and developed by people i’ll never know.

    i’ll never read the majority of the books here, (the librarian says there are about 7,000 books on the shelves) or anywhere, for that matter – but i’m struck by the feeling of sitting and wandering around them – and how they’re organized, and how the combination of the card catalog and stacking system opens multiple doors to discovery and counters a desire for proof of some concept with the very real potential for finding that there is another idea that hadn’t crossed your mind, that alters your argument, but is utterly appropriate. you’ve had that experience, right? the happy accident of the mis-shelved book or the discovery of a title in the card catalog that takes you off in an unexpected but ultimately deeply meaningful direction?

    i realize, sitting here, that i’ll never know very much, AND that there’s a lot to know in this vast world. if i really want to develop a more nuanced understanding of things i’d better open myself up to the bodies of knowledge that are other people and accept that if i focus my own point of view too narrowly i’ll miss the broader twists and turns and become a bore.

    as i write and research on my laptop (i’m here, by the way, because of a free broadband connection…) i’m struck by how tightly focussed and individuated i feel. in my work, whatever i think i need to know is a matter of a succinct google query. i know that there is an impressive amount of knowledge on line. the web has been, and is, an agent of significant change in my life. i love it. the organizing element of my surfing in this vast digitized resource, however, is me and my needs and opinions and their justification. there are other people out there, but, fundamentally, it’s all about me and what’s mine.

    as i’ve always had a concern about being one of those humorless people who believe their own bullshit i’ve taken measures that i hope will curb my impulse to be right all the time. most significant among those measures is a practice of listening and accepting the opinions of other people as a means to understanding what they’re talking about before i argue with them. and much of the time i try to figure out how their opinion as stated relates to mine, and if the two together can work together to provide a more nuanced observation. two books stacked on the shelves. two people at different locations on the elephant.

    anyway, it strikes me that, in online research, regardless of the level of foolishness the theory, lack of adequately developed bodies of data, etc., i’m bound to find someone else whose idea supports mine. i can always end up feeling somehow fact checked and validated in my opinions. and i’m using a computer – a machine developed to compute all sorts of complicated equations and algorithms, an instrument of science! i wonder if i, and perhaps even you, have an expectation for the feeling that comes along with being proved right that causes me to skim over potentially contradictory ideas to make my ego happy.

    hmmm.

    somehow the nature of researching on the web seems to have a strong potential to promote a targeted, individuated quest for proof, which, given the chaotic nature of the web seems to be missing the point entirely, and, as i sit here among the stacks, feels eerily similar to shopping.

    parallel dream car

    Thursday, June 5th, 2008

    while cleaning out my apartment prior to my move a few days ago i found a set of keys and a pen-knife key-chain that belonged to a ‘ 77 blue chevy impala i once owned, and drove across the usa and parts of canada twice. while i owned the car i didn’t have a license, never changed the title, and had no insurance. i bought it for $250 from a postal worker in colorado on a whim. i was 21 and couldn’t be bothered with paper work of any kind. i finally abandoned the car but kept the keys as a souvenir. i hadn’t seen them in many years.

    tonight i’m in nyc visiting my father. when i walked into the apartment he said hello and within a few seconds told me he had just found a letter i’d written him years ago explaining why i bought and drove a car around without insurance or a license. according to him, he and i had some serious fights over that blue chevy impala and the car and my use of it symbolized more to me than a young man’s need to get from here to there. i haven’t looked at the letter yet, but he said it’s about twelve pages long. he found it as he was cleaning out his apartment before he moves. it was mixed up with some old greeting cards and other stuff he was about to throw away.

    odd coincidence, eh?