synthetic zero
email me


April 29, 2000

Via Texting: most people are grossly overconfident. Furthermore, overconfidence seems to correlate with both gross incompetence and high competence; it seems that the more incompetent you are, the more unable you are to realize it, but also the more highly competent you are, the more prone you are to overestimating your abilities. Only the clinically depressed, apparently, have a reasonably accurate assessment of their capabilities...

Texting has also started an online journal about cyberculture, and she is looking for submissions. Until she has original content for the site, you can check out her links page.

The overconfidence article reminded me of "nothing fails like success". The idea is that a strategy which worked in one context may fail if it becomes a habit, overly formalized, ossified, particuarly when the original context has changed. This further reminds me of the curious phenomenon of the adult failure of child prodigies. I recall reading that many child prodigies, as adults, end up living fairly pedestrian lives, rather than becoming famous scientists or writers or artists. Perhaps the problem is that too much early success doesn't prepare them to adapt sufficiently as the circumstances of their life evolve.

Which reminds me of another true story I heard once, about two brothers: the elder had had troubles in his life, and he finally had to be hired as a store manager by his younger brother, who owned the whole chain. When they were children, the situation had been reversed: the elder brother had been the valedictorian of his class, popular and well-liked, the star of the family, but the younger one had been a black sheep and had struggled in school. One day the elder brother asked the younger why he thought it had gone this way. He replied, "because I had a chance to build up my failure pects." Too much success can be dangerous if you're not careful.

Tangentially relevant: The Way of Systems.

April 22, 2000

A favorite teacher of mine once said "enlightenment is not an event, it is a responsibility." I think we often try to look for some sort of ultimate answer, because we're attracted to that sense of finality: the end of the road, the perfect state, the place where nothing ever happens. We're always trying to reach the finish line. The odd thing about this is that stasis, the place where nothing happens, could also be seen as a form of death, or lifelessness.

Shunryu Suzuki was once asked if he could summarize his teaching in one sentence, what would it be? Without hesitation he answered: "Everything changes." There is something fundamentally dynamic about life. We don't necessarily know what is going to happen next, or the way things "ought to be."

I was talking with Jen and Susan the other night about this; we spoke about the fact that in the rush for certainty, we are often attracted to life choices which are predictable and safe, even if we know or suspect that we will be bored, unfulfilled, or unhappy with those choices. It is almost as though we prefer predictability over happiness. The fact that things change, they pass away, they are conditional and transient; this is something we seem to always want to deny, we want to pretend it doesn't exist. But is the real problem the fact that things change, or the fact that we cannot fully accept that everything changes?

April 19, 2000

Isn't it strange that, particularly here in America, if you decide that what you want is slightly out of the mainstream, you sometimes feel as though you are obliged to declare yourself as a member of some sort of overt fringe subculture, wearing your personal beliefs on your sleeve? As though we cannot simply accept a variety of different ways to be human, we must take refuge in groups and -isms and so forth in order to feel secure in our diversity.

I was thinking about this recently when I read Heather Anne's remark about the hypocrisy that people engage in on the subject of adultery: everybody does it yet people feel obliged to emphatically denounce it. I myself have always felt no loyalty to the concept of traditional monogamy; but this is just a personal view, something that I feel strongly about but I don't really want to join some sort of movement of people who think the same way, nor do I think everyone must live and believe as I do. I find the concept somewhat eerie. I just want to be a human being who doesn't buy into a particular rigid view of what "should" happen in relationships. On the other hand I simply want to hold this view as an ordinary human being, not "one of those people." Not that I begrudge those folks their groups and so forth; it's just not for me, particularly. Okay, I've read Susie Bright but I'm not a fanatic. This is just one of many things I think about, and really, I greatly respect the complexity and depth and difficulty of relationships; so quite frankly I'm not looking to constantly jump suddenly into them just because I have this theoretical belief. I'm not going to any meetings or anything.

April 17, 2000

Heather Anne posts again! It's gotten to the point where her updates are news events. I literally gasped when I saw it, like seeing a beautiful geyser erupt unexpectedly.

April 15, 2000

Federal officials admit that the data that Wen Ho Lee downloaded to his laptop were given a higher security clearance only after he was fired from the Los Alamos laboratory (New York Times requires free registration). Despite the complete lack of evidence that Lee's sloppiness resulted in the Chinese getting any nuclear secrets whatsoever, the Feds continue to call the relatively low-security ("PARD" classification) data that Lee was handling "the crown jewels" of the nuclear arsenal, and they are holding Lee in a maximum security prison under heavy guard in solitary confinement. A more blatant case of raw Yellow Peril racism is very hard to imagine, let alone see played out in reality. Even the scientist who first raised the possibility in 1995 of Chinese espionage at Los Alamos, Dr. Robert M. Henson, said Dr. Lee had "probably stretched the rules" in downloading PARD but no more. "'Shame on him if he did,' Dr. Henson said. Dr. Henson also told of his own missteps with PARD, including once when a flurry of paper blew out an open laboratory window."

What's worse, the Feds had withheld the information that the data had been reclassified.

Even more damning, the FBI originally claimed that Lee's data had something to do with the leakage of nuclear secrets to the Chinese -- until it was discovered that the data the Chinese have had nothing to do with the information that Lee downloaded onto his encrypted laptop, and had to have come from a different laboratory.

Another site by the performance/web/installation artist Kristin Lucas (see below): Simulcast.

April 12, 2000

Went to Olympia to visit Khaela Maricich and Amber Bell (I wrote about Amber's work last year when I found and purchased one of her posters). They share some wonderful studio spaces with some other artists above the offices of K (which everyone, including Khaela and Amber, calls "K Records", though Miranda told me that K would rather be called just K, because they do more than records...) Khaela has been very interested to read this and other weblogs and she told me that she was inspired to see that there could be a way on the Internet where interesting thoughts and ideas and conversations could occur --- I had a very similar reaction when I first came across Lemonyellow. She asked me for some help in setting up a web site for her and her friends to put their thoughts, writings, and observations.

Next to their studio space is a huge room with hardwood floors which houses K's sound lab and lots and lots of empty space. An impressively large area of emptiness. The space was used once in 1947 for a high school prom, and the walls are still covered with graffiti from that era; cartoons with horses in them, "Kilroy is Dead," etc.

We talked about Portland and Olympia, weblogs, fame and marketing yourself and artistic integrity, the lure of commercial projects, and Sesame Street. I also had a conversation with Khaela about a passage from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera in which he speaks about his father, who has mostly lost the ability to speak in a progressive aphasia, but whose intellect remains intact, examining a sheaf of music, some variations on a theme written by Beethoven late in his career. His father turns to Kundera, points at the music, and only utters the words "I understand." However, Kundera said he knew exactly what his father meant. Earlier in his life his father had often wondered why it was that Beethoven had turned to writing variations on a theme late in his life, a form often thought to be something of a technical exercise more for students or beginning composers. Kundera realizes that his father had understood that there are two kinds of infinities; one involves going further and further out into the universe, like a symphony or a sonata. The other, however, is the infinity of going in, the infinite possibilities and variations implicit in the finite patterns around us. This passage had always reminded me of what it is like to build interactive work, in which the viewer or user or participant can affect how she experiences the piece; there are vast possibilities, each valid and real, yet all different. The many full possibilities inherent in the present moment at all times.

This morning I woke up thinking: I need to relax into my actual total existence right here. Relax, relax, relax. What I mean is: normally we tend to focus things into a sort of series of narrow corridors of thought, ideas and intentions and concepts about who we are, what we are doing, where we are going, what we are trying to accomplish. It's a terrible and unneccessary restriction on our total multidimensional freedom of movement (beyond our conscious mind: into every aspect of our being). It kind of cuts us off from the true source of our creativity, the fundamental basis of everything: we have this resource which is not contrived and which is open to the whole large space of mind and body and being. I was feeling that we need to live our lives with our entire body, not just in our heads. There is so much possibility inherent in that basic, fundamental, relaxed condition of our mind and body. So I found myself thinking about relaxing (without going limp), being vibrant without forcing anything, and being in the world fully without trying to manipulate things, events, people: just being fundamentally sincere and open: then strangely, oddly, and without really trying, everything happens.

Take it easy and stay alert.

Miranda points me to the fascinating work of the video, web, installation, and performance artist Kristin Lucas. Check out her new web piece, Involuntary Reception, as well as another web work she made, Between A Rock And A Hard Drive.

April 6, 2000

My friend Kim, who is an artist, emailed me the following response to the link I posted last time (to the Walker Art Center's online exhibit):

I loved the walker center art site - arts entertainment thing. And then I got to thinking...

I was struck by the fact that I feel as if I have nothing relevant or meaningful to say right now. That is the wrong way to say it. I guess I have nothing to add to this dialogue that is taking place in the art world - art about the web actually on the web, art about cyber-culture and cyber-space, the state of hyper-capitalism we are experiencing, the blurring of every genre, etc.

After a day of being inundated with content of the consumer, technical, and entertainment variety, the last thing, the very last thing, I want to do at night is come home and make art about that predicament. What's more, after a cursory glance, it isn't all that interesting.

There are times when I just want to reject any content. That is what I want. No content. Art that isn't hammering me over the head with what it is about. Maybe a feeling or a texture or a vague experience. Let me fill in some blanks myself for heaven's sake.

Am I a dinosaur? Maybe I should pack up my brushes and say goodbye to the effort for good. I struggle with what to say.

(quoted with permission)

I think I totally understand and to a large extent agree with a major thrust of the sentiment Kim expresses here. The early postmodern movement showered us all with "ironic" art about art, or art about how art is art because it is being exhibited in an art museum, etc. A basketball suspended in midair in a transparent box. Paintings consisting of one big word: PAINTING. All very important to have happened at the time, and so clever and funny, like frozen stand-up comic lines. On the other hand, there is a bit of a sense of a one joke movie script: it gets tiresome.

Of course it is true that meaning is not set in stone, there is no master narrative, etc. In fact, I think this is one of the most profound and important changes in our thinking that happened in the 20th Century. But we need to move on now, I think, because there remain things that cannot be expressed easily in a conceptual way.

I was thinking about this a few days ago when I happened to pick up an abstract doodle I had made almost two decades ago. I looked at it, and like Clement Greenberg I just knew it was good. I couldn't explain it, but I knew. I showed it to a friend and she agreed. So there's some agreement, but still no explanation.

But why should everything be explainable? Okay, we want out of the tyranny of Greenbergian formalism but we don't necessarily want everything to be transparent or merely ironic. There are feelings and other mysterious somethings or nothings that cannot be prosaically described or depicted, at least not fully. We need to get beyond reactive postmodernism (I say reactive in the sense of reacting against the modernist mythology) and move on to something that acknowledges the relative while accepting that the mysterious may force us to do things that rely upon nothing other than our sense of beauty or evoke a feeling without making it clear (as though we always need this to be shouted at us) that this reaction may be culturally relative. I'm not suggesting a total return to everything having to be content-free pure abstraction, but rather just allowing the intuitive and the non-conceptual to come back into the picture so to speak.

I posted a story I wrote on a typewriter many years ago in my archives section.