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August 31, 2000

S. was visiting these last couple of weeks, doing video editing and website work for Miranda as a way of taking a vacation from her life doing artwork and web design stuff in Boston. She had a few recommendations for me while she was here: the films of Craig Baldwin (although she thinks his most recent critique of computers, in which he somehow places Bill Gates as the center, betrayed a lack of understanding of the basic issues involved---still she likes his earlier work) and the films of Guy Maddin.

I have to say that this situation really upsets me.

Heather Anne turned me on to, home of the work of the illustrator J.otto Seibold.

August 30, 2000

Paul has been referring to Bateson recently, and I've been thinking about his work again recently as well (as those of you who read this weblog might notice). Bateson: liken the man to the mountain proposes that all human relationships are what Martin Buber might call I-it or perhaps it-it relations.

There are so many ways in which I would like to express and relate with other human beings. I have this deep feeling that there is something very profound and important about personal interactions with others --- I mean almost metaphysically significant. I am searching for avenues for the expression of this love for other human beings --- the many varieties of love, love for friends, family, parents, children, romantic, platonic... I am searching for ways to express this love in ways which break the bounds of ordinary regulated affection. Deeper, more varied, freer, joyous, unafraid love for the people I love and for the people they love.

When I read this by Jouke today I laughed out loud:

My kids will remember me at my computer. Like I remember my grandmother stirring up the stove in the early morning, and my father in his papers, my mother at the cooker, me at the screen will be a prime memory for R+r. Of all the things you remember your parents by and for, be it fondly or not, there is this one image that stands apart, from whatever the thrills and angers of one's relationship to one's parent were. (I remember my uncle Cees Jouwersma, whose visit from Strassbourg with his friend Brigitte I deeply enjoyed a few weeks ago, kicking an apparently rotten onion on the Texel ... beach, flinging the onion gunge all over our little company, hey, back in the old age when onions were still rotting away on the beaches). Early morning as a kid you always saw the grownups' backs first when they were doing some adult thing and you sneaked up to them. Do I want R+r to remember me at my computer? How to change that image. I'd always prefer it to them remembering me on a cellular phone. Gil they'll probably remember at the other end of a proper tool, in the (vegetable) garden.
Lopati sends me this today, which relates Ilya Prigogine's theory of complex systems and William Marshall's postmodern novel, Roadshow, and an article on the artwork of Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey creating images with grass impressions. I agree with Heather Anne's comment that it might have been better to just let the images fade (I'll say it: ephemeral.)

August 28, 2000


Jeremy Bushnell, with regard to my mention of feedback art, sends me a reference to Toshimaru Nakamura:

if you connect the output of the mixing board to the input, it's going to make a loop, it's going to feed back. If you don't control it, it's going to get bigger and bigger until it becomes a huge, harsh noise. So you use subtle movements to control the feedback. Every single knob on the mixing desk that you shift varies the sound.
-Toshimaru Nakamura

I think there's something fundamentally interesting and mysterious about feedback. I'd like to explore this much further in much more complex ways as well. Not just systems feeding back but somehow exploring how meaning and significance can arise out of feedback loops. But it is interesting how complex things can get from even simple systems feeding back: like the Mandelbrot set, for example, generated from an exceptionally simple equation feeding back on itself.

The virtues of the last minute, I was realizing, come from something like this: when Richard Feynman was looking at grad schools in particle physics, he first went to MIT which had all this beautiful gleaming equipment but very little in the way of research results. On the other hand Princeton had a ton of research results, and so he was really looking forward to seeing THEIR lab --- he figured it must be incredibly impressive. When he got there, he found that the lab was hidden away in a basement room, and all the equipment was sort of taped and glued together, a total mess. He realized that the reason the Princeton guys had such good results was because they worked intimately with the equipment, they didn't hide everything behind gleaming panels and controls, they knew the ins and outs of it. I realized recently that the reason things can get done at the last minute can be due to procrastination (which isn't what I mean by a good strategy), or it can be because one is attending to everything, leaving out nothing, and not adding unnecessary gold plating for show. You just get right into the dirt and grit of things. But by doing this, things can seem to be just being done "just enough," that is, you're doing just what is needed: no more, no less. So it can seem as though things are barely getting done --- but another way of looking at it is that nothing is getting overdone or done too early or too late. Just in time. This is something like the idea I was trying to get at.

August 25, 2000

In reference to my comments on love several posts ago, Sharyl Morris sends me a recommendation to read the poems of Yeats regarding his never-consummated love affair with Maud Gonne.

Via Sharyl's home page:, interesting writing and images.

I've been thinking a lot today about making artwork that would involve, in some very essential and hard-to-describe sense, feedback loops: entering into the loops, becoming part of them, feeding back into the system and so forth. Doing things with movement sensors and sound and video walls and screens and so forth. Something fascinating and mysterious about feedback: Batesonian feedback systems as living art. Paradox relies on causal loops, but so does life and consciousness, which is why thinking about the mind can feel so tricky. The mind is not static, it is round, and like the world, if you keep going you end up back at the place you started (only a little bit later...) Again, this has something to do with my desire to make art that people can live in, that I can live in... still underformed ideas.

I want to say something pithy (now I have pith on the brain) about the virtues of doing things at the last minute, and why this is a great way to live your whole life, but I don't have the time right now so I will do that later... :)

August 22, 2000

The real landscape of freedom cannot be the expected, the boring, because it's not merely the power to do as one chooses; it is more closely the always-new discovery of the actual situation we are in, which involves a sort of breakthrough or realization of a subtle way in which we are continually imprisoning ourselves: with stories, constructed pasts, situations, etc. The worst prisons are those we do not even see as prisons, but just as the "way things are." So freedom must be by definition always surprising and new. We don't realize we are systematically ignoring things that are right in front of our faces; when we realize that, what a relief!

Quote from jacqamor�/a> (see yesterday):

what we remember lacks the hard edge of fact.
to help us along we create little fictions, highly subtle and
individual scenarios which clarify and shape our experience.
the remembered event becomes a fiction, a structure
made to accomodate certain feelings.

Oh yes.

August 21, 2000

Ran across hypnode while mining my old referrer logs. Hypnode's art page and weblog.

Via hypnode: jacqamor�/a>, "writings of the absurd." Daily prose poetry.

Read this today in Gregory Bateson's Steps To An Ecology of Mind:

In fact, the phenomenon of context and the closely related phenomenon of "meaning" defined a division between the "hard" sciences and the sort of science which I was trying to build.

August 20, 2000

It was raining today but as often happens here, the sun broke out in the afternoon, revealing a quiet, shining, moist, blue-grey sky. It occurred to me (dangerously) to try to whip out my camera when I saw a bit of this, while driving, and I barely managed to get it out and flip it open and on to take this hurriedly through my windshield just as the light turned green and I was obligated to lurch onto the freeway onramp.

In the bathroom I have a copy of Three Ages of Zen and I happened to re-read the following koan which struck me somehow (excerpted):

The rite of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts was being performed at the Karataka mountain gate of the Kenchoji temple. When the sutra reading had been completed, however, priest Rankei suddenly pointed to the main gate and shouted: 'A samurai has come through the gate. It is Kajiwara Kagetoki, of many treacheries. Bring him to salvation quickly!'

The monks all stared hard at the gate, but could see no samurai there. Only the head monk shouted, 'Clear to see!' He left the line and went back to the Zen hall.

The teacher berated the others, saying: 'Look at the crowds of you, supposed to be saving myriad spirits in the three worlds, and yet you cannot save one samurai --- blind clods! The rite must be performed again at the main gate, and the Heart Sutra recited in its original Sanskrit.'...

Imai's commentary: Can chanting the sutra in Sanskrit bring salvation to Kajiwara, or can it not? He who says that it can will have to come under the teacher's hammer yet again.

August 19, 2000

For the first known time in 50 million years, there is open water at the North Pole. A hole in the polar ice cap a mile wide has been encountered at the North Pole. The north polar ice cap has thinned by 45 percent since the 50's and 60's.

John Pang sends me a reference to the work of Hiroaki Kitano, who is doing interesting work on the computational evolution of biological and neurological systems. One of his projects is the Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project.

Yellow Peril Alert. The FBI, in spite of a howling lack of evidence and the continued undermining of their case (none of the "nuclear secrets" that the Chinese supposedly stole --- most of which have been shown to be easily obtainable from nonclassified sources --- could have come from Wen Ho Lee, since that information did not exist at the time Lee downloaded the information to his encrypted laptop), they continue to press charges against a man whose only crime was some sloppiness with unimportant information (which was only later reclassified at a higher security clearance --- after the "crime" took place --- and which John Richter, a former senior weapons designer at Los Alamos has just now testified that, if it fell into enemy hands, he doesn't think "it would have any deleterious effect at all.") Furthermore, sloppy handling of such information occurred regularly at the lab (luckily for most of those folks, they aren't Chinese). The FBI has systematically engaged in deception and now they're recanting false testimony they gave last winter. Wen Ho Lee actually passed an independent polygraph test with flying colors (the FBI witness admitted that "Lee had scored among the highest possible scores for credibility"), but they explained their claim that he had "failed" the test by saying that the test did not follow FBI protocols. The only explanation I can think of for this persistent obstinacy is that the FBI is trying to cover their asses on what is clearly turning out to be an entirely frivolous and racist prosecution (one might note that Wen Ho Lee is not from mainland China, but from Taiwan, and is perhaps one of the least likely people to want to compromise American security --- but to the FBI, yellow skin is yellow skin is yellow skin, apparently).

August 18, 2000

My friend Atau Tanaka sends me a note that his performance art group, Sensorband, which utilizes sophisticated bioelectronic sensors and sound synthesis, will be performing in Berlin on August 29, 30, and 31, in Taipei on September 9, and at ICC Tokyo on September 23 for Caipirinha's Architettura screenings.

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have uncovered evidence that better problem solving comes with less mental effort (i.e., higher efficiency). His group found that people who scored higher on tests of visual-spatial ability showed less increase in brain activity in visual regions when solving a spatial problem, and similar results for verbal tasks and related brain activity. The implication is that people may solve problems better not by expending more effort, but by using their brains more efficiently. This report supports earlier research that showed that as the brain learns, it becomes more energy-efficient, and that decisions can be aided by powerful but simple tactics.

Which reminds me of a certain Chuang Tzu story.

August 17, 2000

Of course, one problem with this idea of consummation-free love is that it would be difficult to find an evolutionary story to go with this idea. Perhaps another problem is our notion of absolutely strict monogamy is overly artificial. Of course, there are practical issues involved: custom, jealousy, and so forth. Difficult to find balance in such a rough sea of considerations.

Obey Giant (via Bovine Inversus).

August 16, 2000

Back from the Kira experiment and a post-Kira visit to New York. I was kind of surprised, actually, at how much progress we made at the Kira conference dealing with such difficult and intractable subject matter. One of the more interesting unifying themes to arise was a much clearer notion of what it is that is lost when one attempts to ignore the effect of the observer; this is of course an old idea, but there are many deep ways of looking at this from multiple vantage points. We are a part of the universe we observe, and there are ways in which acknowledging the fact of our participation in the universe is an essential part of carefully making our way in it. This is not to sacrifice objectivity but rather to enhance the real aim of objectivity: that is to say, to be more aware of the ways in which we are embedded in and influencing our pictures of the world.

Met with Heather Anne and Victor again. One idea that we bandied about in an amusing evening of ideas was the notion that some architects (i.e., Gehry's Guggenheim BilbaoFrank Gehry) seem to be focusing more on the external shape of the building while others (like Meier's Getty CenterRichard Meier) seem to be primarily thinking now about the actual experience at the human scale. It occurred to me, later, that in web design, it is almost impossible to see the large structure of a web site "from the outside" as it were --- there is only the page-by-page individual human user experience. It would be rather pointless to make a web site with a view to the external shape --- there is no visible external shape. Of course, the external shape of buildings cannot be entirely ignored (it affects the climate of one's experience of the built environment in a city, for example), but buildings are primarily meant to be used, not just be monuments. Even when considering the monumental aspect of a building, where buildings (and web sites, and neighborhoods, and cities, etc.) must work is ultimately on the scale of the human user, the participant, the living components of any system. To the extent that large-scale structure is important, it ought to serve living needs. Designing for giants rather than people leaves one like an ant exploring a sculpture --- driving for miles to get to a huge shopping mall, gazing from afar at a wonderful shape in the distance, only to be swallowed up as insignificant when one actually enters the space.

Ideas have causal effect in the world. They are not innocent, uninvolved bystanders. They change the ways in which even the physical universe evolves, because of us (they aren't really separable from us).

I have been thinking recently about the possibility or meaningfulness of romantic love which does not ever get "consummated"--- which doesn't even really try for this. What is the status of this sort of love? Loving someone, with the emotional intensity of ordinary romantic love, but without actual sexual contact of any serious sort? It seems to me that it ought to be possible to love in this way, if there is no possibility of physical realization of love, it should still be possible to love without that. Why should love be limited to only those people with whom one can have a physical relationship?

August 10, 2000

Heather Anne sends me a link to this study on cross-cultural cognitive differences. It's odd how much I find myself in that account; even though I was born and raised here. Immersed in the culture of my family (my dad born in Japan, my mother raised by Japanese parents), I certainly internally think in many of the ways described in that article as typically "Asian." It was, in fact, a sort of shock when I was younger to realize how different my inner life was from that of most of the people around me; since I speak English and am in almost every other outward way a perfectly American person.

Lopati sends me this fascinating link to a web site on something called process physics. These process physics guys are trying to derive space and time, relativity and quantum field theory from a set of fundamental assumptions that do not presuppose a 4-dimensional space-time manifold, but rather they attempt to show these as emergent phenonema of a non-geometric nonlinear stochastic, iterative map. Interesting.

August 7, 2000

Some people complain about rain in Portland, but I am here to tell you that when it is hot, humid, AND raining, then you've got the ingredients for truly miserable weather. For most of the Kira event here in Amherst, Mass., this has been our fate. However, for the three days of the public part of the Kira Conference (which just ended), the weather was perfect: just like a sunny spring day in Portland.

We have been doing a lot of philosophy here at Kira. I enjoy philosophy, though I would have to say that it is only when applied in some way that I really feel satisfied with it. Simply thinking about viewpoint is to me in and of itself only an intellectual amusement, which, while very important I think, only becomes alive as it were when applied to practice. If I went back to academia, I would say that if there were a department of Applied Philosophy then perhaps that's where I would find myself most comfortably situated as either student or faculty.

Having said that I want to say something about philosophy anyway. At this conference the Husserlian philosopher Erazim Kohak raised the issue of the fundamental conflict and dialogue between Heidegger and Husserl, in the course of a response to a question raised by Brian Cantwell Smith. Husserl, it was said, placed himself firmly in the world of the known: that is, the "life world" which is the world as construed by life as an intelligible system. Brian, however, raised the issue of the grounding of that system in what he called the "raw stuff", which is in and of itself not knowable (in the sense of being fully captured by any ontology or "way of splitting up the world") but is nevertheless a ground in the sense that there is only "one reality" as it were. That is to say: while we cannot know the ground, we are *in* the ground.

But Kohak admitted that these "life worlds" are not in and of themselves closed, that is not closed in a metaphysical sense. If they are not closed, then what are they open to? In the end, I believe it is sensible to propose that they may be open to Brian Cantwell Smith's "raw stuff"; the ground of being. However, I would like to propose two things. First, while any given life world *must*, by necessity, leave out a huge amount, and that NO life world can avoid doing this, this does not mean that there is any part of the "raw stuff" which is in some sense entirely hermetically sealed off, in a metaphysically absolute sense. That is to say, the radical otherness of the other, in Heidegger's terms, ought to be construed not so much as an absolute division of the world into two parts, the knowable and the unknowable, but rather a statement that no given intelligible system of construing the world can in fact cover the ground of being. In Brian's terms, we are grounded, but not grounded in alpha, for any given alpha.

There is always a connection, in some sense, to something that *is* known from something that is not... this is crucial. One could define the universe as everything which is connected, in some sense, to anything that could ever be known in any life world. One might propose, even more radically, that there is no reason to think that *any aspect* of the universe could not in principle be known in *some* life world, even though we know there would always be massive amounts left out of any given life world.

Why does this matter? I think it matters because the "not closedness" of our life worlds is precisely what makes it possible for the world to be deconstructed and reconstructed in more rigorous and precise and sensitive ways, via various practices (science, contemplation, art, and so forth). We cannot acquire the world (by "stealing" it and locking it away into our intelligible systems), but we can, in some sense, allow reality to operate in and through us, and thus give us an inspiration to go beyond the identifications we make (with our conceptions of ourselves and of the world). The danger, of course, is in capriciousness: how do we ensure that we are not constructing a fantasy world? Well, having a reason alone doesn't save us: we can base our reason on unconsidered hidden assumptions (as many philosophers seem to want to do). There is no absolute safety in merely having reasons. The danger of fascism, for example, was not simply in their faith in irrationalism, but that they were willing to clamp down on their assumptions so intensely that they decided they had to impose this on the world at large. This is not a respect or a humility in the face of the unknown but rather precisely the opposite: a capricious insistence on what they decide to be the known, and a subsequent attempt to physically force reality to conform to this insistence. A fascist has no real respect for either the unknown nor the unknowable.

In the end, admitting that our worlds are not closed is tantamount to alowing the possibility of waking up: waking up not to the "real" world but rather simply the gesture of waking up. Without contact with that which lies outside our intelligible picture, we could simply live in what appears to us to be the case. Logic and reason help us to ferret out the contradictions in our world views, but they don't help us to crack our shells and open out to a larger reality as experiment and contemplation and artistic engagement can.

August 3, 2000

Maybe there is a God after all.

August 1, 2000

I ended up getting the Fuji FinePix 1400 (review via the excellent Imaging Resource, which has the most useful comparative reviews of digital cameras I've seen.) It was $379 (a bit high considering that I had set out originally to just get a cheap web cam) but I got sucked into feature creep and decided I wanted the zoom and USB. However, I was also impressed with the MX-1200 I mentioned last entry; small, cheap (I found it for $200 at a local camera shop), and high-quality.

TextingWhile in New York, I visited with Heather of Texting (left). We had fun with long conversations about the vicissitudes of her online and offline personal life, among other things. Before I left I installed some video compression software on her machine so she can post clips of her performance art online; she had always had a video capture board but had until now not had software to compress it for Web distribution; she was quite excited.

Later on I spent some wonderful time with Heather Anne Halpert (who is rather private about her photo so I won't be posting her picture) and Victor. We had lots of fascinating conversation and some very good food. One of the interesting topics that came up was the subject of organizational architecture. Heather Anne was talking about a new organization structure she had heard about which involves the elimination of formal titles and the destruction of traditional hierarchical authority structures in favor of a network architecture. This is, of course, an idea that I have long advocated, for many years; it is the basis of all of the group work that I have done since I left my first and only traditional job eleven years ago. It seems patently clear to me that information flows much more naturally and readily in a network topology than via a hierarchy; in a hierarchy, each node in the tree further up becomes a potential information bottleneck. For the design and implementation of complex systems, therefore, it seems obvious that one ought to organize one's teams in a network architecture. This does not mean the elimination of all structure; in fact, it requires the creation of much more varied, robust, flexible, and rich structures, tailored to meet the demands of the problem domain. I believe that team architecture ought to match the structure of the problem the team is attempting to address.

I have participated in variants of this organizational architecture for projects ranging in size up to 60 people. Of course, one doesn't want the network to deadlock due to disagreement, so one strategy I like is to assign single leads to domain expertise areas for each project. Project decisions can generally be made by coordinating the opinions of all the domain experts on the project team, but in the event of an irreconcilable difference, the decision devolves to the lead for that domain (i.e., engineering decisions made by the lead engineer, etc.) However, there would not be a single overarching lead who makes all decisions. Furthermore, the leads are not so much managers but rather support personnel for their domain areas: management ought to be seen properly as a support role. Another important element is that the different domains cooperate and coordinate their work from the beginning; complex projects invariably involve side-effects and interrelationships between factors; this should be reflected in team operation. The leads should collaborate heavily, as well as other points in the network. Of course, you don't want a totally n^2 effect where everyone is talking to everyone else pairwise, however. Either broadcast emails to subsets of people (one to many) or more structured communications "nodes" (people who act as "information routers" in the project graph) can ameliorate this problem. All of this I have advocated since the early 90's, when such notions were quite radical---however I had always imagined that eventually these ideas would begin to catch on, simply because they are sensible. I'm happy to see that others have begun to evolve similar notions.

Of course, the question remains, why did these inefficient hierarchical structures evolve in the first place? I told Heather Anne my historical theory, which I developed along with my new organizational ideas as a way of motivating the switch (because we tend to simply believe in hierarchical forms without really thinking: why did they arise?) I believe at one time they were, in fact, a reasonable solution to an emerging problem. I thought back to the context in which hierarchical managment arose: aristocratic and military control of physical territory. In the old days, communications were highly constrained by one factor: physical distance. In such a situation, to effectively control large amounts of territory, it made perfect sense to subdivide your kingdom (or, in the case of a military conflict, to divide the battlefield or the front) into regions of locally-proximate control. When you divide your regions in this way, what naturally emerges is, of course, a hierarchical structure. It doesn't work well to have far flung regions connected in a control structure in that situation, simply because the communications infrastructure (man on horseback?) couldn't support it.

However, today, of course, not only is hierarchical management no longer necessary in most cases, it is in fact inappropriate, costly, slow, and inefficient. Information bottlenecks are one of many problems; another is that a single manager can no longer be expected to have nearly enough experience or knowledge to make all of the decisions necessary to run a complex project. One must divide decisions up and give authority to make those decisions to people with the requisite expertise. What sense is there in having just one person ultimately responsible for all engineering, creative, financial, QA, and project management decisions? Clearly none. Although of course this doesn't exactly occur in practice even in hierarchically-managed companies; what often occurs instead are managers who are either irrelevant to the process or are incompetent obstacles (cf. almost any Dilbert cartoon). It is time to move on from archaic and outdated organizational structures which obscure the efficient solutions to these difficulties.

Attending the Kira conference this week. I've been particularly interested in the excellent and intriguing work of one of the speakers: Brian Cantwell Smith's On The Origin of Objects. Smith argues, first of all, that commonsense notions of absolute ontology (i.e., the idea that objects are atomic, clean, absolute entities, or can be treated as such) are simply unjustifiable. This I believe is quite obvious to anyone who has carefully thought or felt these issues, but he is coming from a very "hard science" perspective: computer science and physics:

...consider a frog tracking a fly. Except now register the situation without any individuals or boundaries. In the spatio-temporal region of the fly, there is a differential density mass with a complex internal structure. For simplicity, suppose that roughly even spatially distributed flux of electromagnetic radiation (constant illumination) flows into the region. In the patch of higher mass density, various reflections and obstructions cause a local disturbance in the radiation pattern. Some of this (reflected) radiation, after making its way through an intermediating region of air, impinges on what we are tempted to register as the frog's retina. But of course there is no frog, yet, nor any retina --- merely hills and valleys and spikes and skews in the various relevantly oriented feature fields, corresponding to the fly, the frog, the focusing properties of the eye, and so forth.

If, as theorists, we look in the vicinity of the frog's retina, but let go of any tendency to register objects, we can see (what amounts to a local projection of) a patch of disturbance, extended in both space and time...

...A property we ultimately associate with both subject and object --- that of a boundary or edge --- is in the first instance a property of their interaction.

...And so the initial boundaries or edges that allow the frog to see the fly as fly --- or at least allow the frog to see the fly as whatever it sees it as, i.e., in its own register --- are what theory will eventually call relational. These boundaries matter, too; it is no accident that edge detectors are among the first neuronal circuits to get into the registrational act. Except that to call them edge detectors is both misleading and expensive. It is expensive because it describes the situation in terms dangerously close to the structure of the solution ('detect' being a fully intentional word.) It is misleading because all we have, so far, is a causal loop involving subject and environment.