synthetic zero


March 30, 2005

Here's a weird thing: Molly wrote me to say that she'd been listening to "American Pie" a lot just when I wrote that that song was in my head. Then my friend Asha writes in her livejournal (private) that she's had that song in her head a lot recently, too! Could it be that ... Molly listened to the song, putting it in my head, and then it jumped from my head to Asha's head? What kind of weird spatiotemporal jumping is going on here? Do minds and thoughts really overlap like this? Perhaps a lot of the thoughts in our heads actually come from other people, and we aren't aware of it. Maybe the notion of "my" thought is really sort of quaint --- maybe we're all sort of hooked together in a great collective unconscious. Am I starting to sound MAD? It is not I who am crazy, it is I who am MAD!

March 29, 2005

When I met Tony in Seattle we talked of many things, but one thing in particular was the fact that traumatic experiences and moments can, in fact, turn into opportunities. When you're younger, it's difficult to realize how easy it is to fail, and in fact how important it is to risk failure and keep going.

March 28, 2005

Longbaugh wrote me back when I complained about the short films and the other glitches I ran across --- they apologized for the badness of the short films, and said they had only received 20 submissions, most of which were terrible. I'm glad they at least realized how bad they were... it makes me feel better about Portland, though I wish they would have simply not shown the worst of the short films (i.e., most of them) and cancelled some of the short film screenings... I suggested that I could hook them up with some better short filmmakers ... they seemed receptive.

Caroline made a transparent screen of me on our last day together in Portland:


March 27, 2005

If you happen to be in Portland for one day and you are looking for something to do that is distinctively Portland, don't go to the Longbaugh Film Festival --- at least don't go for the short films --- I think I've never seen such a terrible collection of short films, ever.

But I love Portland graffiti:

Ladies expect ambition,
then prestige, sometimes
even luxury.


                                     isn't a

This is the sort of thing you find in Portland bathrooms. Not necessarily brilliant stuff always, but a little different from usual bathroom stall reading.

March 26, 2005

The problem with the ordinary idea of time, or circumstances, is that we think we have some basic idea of all the things that are present in our situation, so that we can then act on those things to achieve a change in circumstances that then lead to the next moment of time. Time then becomes a psychological matter of control: I am going to cause the next set of circumstances to be a certain way, etc. Or, alternately, my circumstances prevent me from doing the things I want to do, and my circumstances thus constrain me in a specific yet total way: a change of circumstances is thus seen as necessary before one has the conditions needed to effect the actions one has in mind to get to the new and better situation.

However, this ignores the fact that in any given situation we tend to be massively unaware of the totality of what is actually present (as opposed to what we think is present) --- in fact it is strictly impossible to be conceptually aware of everything that is truly involved in our situation as it is, but we nevertheless act as though we know, basically, what the deal is at any given moment. There are so many additional dimensions of freedom to our situation that what actually is the case at any moment can give us not only a vastly larger set of possibilities but a radically different notion even of what an "action" is, or what time itself is. Since even a so-called action isn't initiated solely by the thing we call our "self", and it entails factors that are beyond our conceptual awareness, to imagine that we are controlling and/or at the mercy of the circumstances around us in a simple sense is really taking a large space and crunching it down into a very small, constrained picture. We have far more available to us as resources than we think, and many more possible directions, some of which are nonlocal in time and space (I believe). This last point is something I think one can discover empirically (it isn't logically necessary, but I think practically it is the case) -- in fact, even ordinary clock time I believe is an approximate notion partially induced by awareness (as I've argued before).

March 24, 2005

I've been feeling strangely dry recently, like my heart is constricted somehow. Not sure why. It's as though I need to allow myself to love, or allow myself to be loved, or something. I am trying to feel it out, to let it flow.

I wanted to write this elaborate thing about time here, but I am too sleepy. I had all these ideas for diagrams and pictures, metaphors and gesticulations. It was going to be great. Maybe later.

March 23, 2005

My dad told me once that one of his mentors (I don't recall who) once told him, when my father was about to become an art professor, that he should do it for ten years, but if, after that, he notices that he's starting to take himself seriously, that means he's going crazy and he should quit.

March 22, 2005

I am now at a meditation retreat on Pender Island, off of Victoria, BC. It's probably the most luxurious accomodations I've ever had at a retreat --- sparkling ocean literally right outside my window, which actually covers most of the wall, with a private deck right outside. The sea is dotted with little islands, actually, making the whole environment eerily reminiscent of Solaris.

Plant appears to repair its own gene without using DNA. Very bizarre!

March 21, 2005

In the face of my rather dire feelings of yesterday morning, I decided to totally reexamine my plans, go to Victoria instead of Vancouver, get a Canadian cell phone instead of trying to use my own, etc. I find when I'm feeling doomed it's always a good idea to radically change my plans --- not randomly; but to sort of feel them out until they feel right. Shift things, reexamine my assumptions, re-check stuff, AND change things (not by fiddling, but by settling). I feel better.

March 20, 2005

Sometimes I wake up in the morning with (often banal) pop lyrics in my head (it's as though my unconscious uses pop songs, good or bad, as a kind of cultural archetypical sign system) and that seems to become the theme for my day ... just now I woke up with this:

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levee
But the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die, this'll be the day that I die
I don't even really like that song (often the case when this happens) but I wonder if again I am feeling some sort of death today, or an ending of some kind. (I am driving a rented Chevy Impala... car rentals are a great way of discovering precisely what sort of car you never want to drive again.) Ending of what? We'll see, I guess.

By the way, check out the newly redesigned DonorsChoose site I've been working on. The information architecture was done by the wonderful Heather Anne Halpert, and the visual design by Steve Toole. I particularly love this impact page Heather Anne designed.

March 19, 2005

These cell phone cameras and whatnot really take fuzzy kind of bad pictures, but there's something great about having something ready at hand to take a photo at a moment's notice. I had that with my old Sony Clie, and a lot of other cameras I've carried around with me over the years. The cameras that are the smallest and most portable, though, are the ones I end up using the most, somehow. I haven't been carrying a good camera with me, recently, so right now, the only camera I always have is my cell phone, a Nokia 6820, and as Khaela Maricich and I were having a quick coffee together before she had to whoosh up to Seattle on the train for a rehearsal of a performance she's doing at On The Boards in Seattle (April 2-3 at 5pm, check it out, she's amazing), we started to talk about her (now broken) camera she used to carry around with her everywhere and I was saying how I always loved having a camera ready, so I decided at that moment to take a picture of her with my crappy cell phone camera:

The funny thing is her camera got trashed because she kept it in her back pocket all the time, and today, just hours after I took that picture, my cell phone went on the fritz, maybe because I had it in my pocket while I went on an intense fast zooming bike ride through the city with Caroline, later. The above picture may well be the last picture that I ever take with that cell phone.

I have another small camera, though, my Optio S4 --- I'm going to start carrying that one around in one of my pockets. I want to be able to keep taking pictures right away, all the time.

I asked Khaela about her work and she was telling me about the various projects she's doing but saying she might have taken on too much because she feels like she needs a break, time to settle. It reminded me of something I've been thinking about recently... it's sometimes important to let things sit for a while, give things some space to become themselves.

There is now an REI in downtown Portland. There's an amazing little pleasant tea place called Tea Chai Te in NW Portland, which isn't the first tea place of its kind over there; the Tao of Tea has had a location there for a while. Escape From New York Pizza is still one of the best slice pizza places anywhere. Sure, some places I loved have closed, but Portland not only continues being great but even seems to be getting better. I kept thinking, you know, places have heydays and then decline ... but Portland hasn't passed its heyday yet.

March 18, 2005

Met Anna Oxygen today for tea; it was lovely. We've seen each other at other people's events over the years but this was the first time the two of us had actually sat down and chatted at length. We ran into each other by accident at Sundance (I went to see her film, Police Beat, without knowing she was in it. Imagine my surprise ... especially because she isn't even an actress, normally, so I had no idea she could even be in a film at all, much less be the main female character.) Anyway it was cool to hang with her at the Tao of Tea. We talked about a lot of stuff even though she was late and we didn't have much time. She says she's working on her time management...

Also saw Tiffany Lee Brown, famous underground writer/editor/performer. We talked about Portland, the local art/performance scene, and her recent realization that she is and always has been an interdisciplinary artist.

I've been staying with the wondrous Caroline and her boyfriend Brian in their giant 1,900 square foot rented home. It's amazing how nice a space you can get here for comparatively little money. It's always fun to hang out with her. We went out for dinner at one of my favorite Thai restaurants, had some gelato, and then went to Powell's. It occurred to me that my absolute favorite area of the store has always been art and architecture, rather than the technical areas. If I were to guesstimate how much time I spent in the former as opposed to the latter, it would be at least a 20:1 ratio.

March 17, 2005

One of the interesting things about thinking is that we tend to think that we've thought about something deeply when all we've really done is flit past it, getting distracted, over and over again, digressing and going to the next, next, next thought, always fragmented, in bits and pieces. Repeating the same thought about something is not the same thing as really thinking on something deeply. Repeating a cycle of successive thoughts, even less.

On the other hand, I've noticed that if I stop to really consider something, just to hold it there, whatever it is, to really pay attention to it, to let it seep in, so to speak, instead of moving immediately on to the next-next --- just sit there with whatever it is, considering it, not trying to force it into shape or to a quick conclusion --- then, sometimes after only a moment or two something suddenly becomes clear about it. It seems that it can become clear more easily if I don't try to force it to be clear. In other words, letting myself sit with the feeling of "I don't know" while staying with whatever it is I am contemplating is often more useful and fruitful than "thinking" about it over and over again in the usual way. Sometimes it's just a matter of moments --- a minute or two really considering something can be a million times more valuable than going around and around with the same shards of thoughts that always promise they are leading somewhere but never get anywhere.

In Portland again --- what a beautiful city. I am never really sure what I should expect being here, but here I am again, and it is delightful as ever. It makes me happy to be here. It even smells fresh. It's sad to see things that I loved about the city gone (quirky delights like River City Pizza), but there are new funky weirdnesses to take their place (Voodoo Doughnut).

March 16, 2005

After staying up until 4:30am working, I woke up early (at 9:30), and continued to work --- prompted not so much by an idea of necessity as just my body telling me: time to get up. Immediately, the calls, the instant messages, the emails started to flow in, and I dealt with them, one by one. I got a bunch of essential work items done, met Sue for lunch, had an argument with her, tried to make up, met Charles for an intense discussion of personnel matters, bought some items I needed for my trip, etc. I felt bleary and tired but focused. Finally I was at the DonorsChoose office doing the last few things I needed to do --- we are launching a major new site tomorrow --- and with all I needed to do, I wasn't able to get out the door until 6:40pm, only an hour and twenty minutes before my flight.

Thankfully I have flown many times from JFK at this point and I knew the fastest way there --- LIRR to AirTrain from Penn Station. I felt I might only have minutes to spare (if I wasn't already too late already), so even though the station was very close, I followed my intuition and jumped in a cab to go the two long blocks and two short blocks to the station entrance. I got the 6:53pm train --- only an hour and seven minutes before my flight, and I was still in Manhattan. It wasn't looking good, but I felt calm --- I just had to be as efficient as I could be, and whatever happened, happened.

A hurried transfer at Jamaica station, then: my AirTrain finally arrived at my terminal at 7:31pm --- I ran as fast as I could with my two unwieldy bags to the skycaps, and they were, miraculously, able to check me in. Through security, I hit the bathroom and picked up a sandwich and an orange juice, and finally managed to get in my seat 7 minutes before the plane was scheduled to leave.

As soon as the plane took off I fell asleep; I had a nice deep nap. It was as though my body knew I had needed to wake up early to deal with the events of the day, and once I was on the plane it was time to catch up on my rest. The whole day had a fated quality to it. A tiny shift --- a few minutes wasted --- and I would have missed my train and my flight or failed to complete something critical I needed to complete. I feel this sort of thing more and more now --- as though I no longer have the luxury of expansive choice, I can't just fiddle around doing this and that anymore --- I seem to have a more constrained palette of choice. One wrong move and blamo --- you're dead, like a choose your own adventure novel gone wrong. The luxury of youth is precisely that you can waste it --- you can make lots of wrong turns, and still survive. Of course, I am glad to have a sort of body sense that tells me when I need to wake up (even if I am tired), something that warns me when I need to do crazy things like take a cab to go a third of a mile. It's the curse as well as a benefit of that body sense --- trapped into doing what needs to be done.

Late addendum: I wrote the above on the plane. When I got off the plane, it looked like my luggage might have been lost. But no, the ground crew had forgotten to bring over one palette of luggage. So, yet again, what looked like a disaster turned into a surprise happy ending.

March 15, 2005

I recently got a high definition DirecTV TiVo --- an amazing little box that records and plays back high definition satellite as well as over-the-air broadcast. It's actually a pretty amazing experience. Films and documentaries range from good looking to occasionally stunningly beautiful. The improved resolution actually turns television into a qualitatively different medium. Human vision seems to delight in detail --- it's almost a visceral pleasure to see blades of grass, shimmering water, or the sweat on someone's face. Perhaps it is also because the detail makes things seem less conceptual and more concrete, which is to say more mysterious, because not so easily categorized. You confront more detail, and you cannot file it away quite as easily.

March 14, 2005

My new discipline is to write something here every day. Yes, every single day.

Here's something that's really difficult to talk about. But, here goes. When you're talking about a divide like samsara and nirvana, or the divine and the profane, etc., they seem to be separated worlds. We look for solace outside of the painful world, we try to find a place or a way that allows us some relief. And there's nothing wrong with that, in some sense. However: there is a way to see the divine in the profane --- not by staying inside the profane, but by seeing more of what it really is connected with, what is really going on there. And this allows you to live in heaven and hell at the same time. Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here. The next sentence should read: and that will let you into the gates of heaven, without ever leaving hell.

I got a brief mention in the New York Times yesterday. It's not entirely accurate, since I'm more of a film curator than a filmmaker; I've done some bits and pieces of technical work on a few films, multimedia pieces, and some experimental theater. Still, I was flattered that he called me "young." I suppose I will accept being called a philosopher --- it's one of the two things I think I do reasonably well.

March 13, 2005

I am impressed with this camera: the Sony HDR-FX1, the first 3 CCD prosumer high definition camcorder. It lacks a true 24p mode and has no XLR inputs (but you can get a cheap Beachtek box to solve that problem), but it is nevertheless capable of doing 1440 x 1080i video with reportedly stunning image quality. Finally, a consumer camera with the potential to do decent low-budget cinematic work.

March 11, 2005

The problem with being "smart" is it doesn't really take you anywhere on its own. There are so many ways to stop yourself, to get mired down, stuck, even while there is a seeming flurry of activity in your "life." Death can look a lot like movement. Since I moved to New York I've been constantly busy. That's what I wanted ... but I'm not sure I'm really moving in a real sense. However... the non-movement of my movement is something I really feel now, more than I did before. I think that's the great thing about New York --- you realize how close to death you really are, all the time.

March 10, 2005

Physics/philosophy musings:

I would argue that information co-arises with perceiving systems --- at a very fundamental level. Let's look at a very basic question: what constitutes a distinction? In Shannon information theory the basic unit of information is a bit: a distinction between two states. But in quantum mechanics what you have are waves, and it's still not clear what it is that causes these waves to "collapse" into specific observations.

A strange puzzle in quantum mechanics, is why it is that "observers" distinguish the states they do (i.e., why do we "see" the observables we do, rather than some other superposition which also provides a basis --- the so-called "preferred basis problem")? It turns out that the observables we observe happen to be the only ones that allow for spacetime locality of "objects", etc. But I would argue that an "observer" might be defined by a specific architectural relationship, an information feedback loop, which may be required for anything we would meaningfully call computation. If this is true, then it may be that the solution to the preferred basis problem will take into account the fact that the preferred basis is the only one which allows for computation as we know it --- and this also is why we perceive a universe that seems to be filled with objects that are localized in spacetime.

If this hypothesis is correct, then context plays a much more fundamental role than one might initially expect: it might actually be the principle that allows 4-dimensional spacetime to emerge from what might otherwise be a nonlocal disordered background. It may be that it is not that organisms evolve to pick out signals that somehow preexist in nature, but that organisms can only exist in a relationship to a reality that then has to tease itself out as local in space and time.

In this case the perceiving system, information, and quantum observables as we know them would all sort of co-arise. It would be the whole cycle, the relationship "all at once" or more precisely it would be the relationship itself that would create time. "Before and after" would be properties of this relationship, not some pre-existing background substrate.

March 8, 2005

Of course, now it's up to three Google hits for spppooooooo, since Google now has indexed my page. It'll be dropping back to two, shortly, however, since one of the two old hits is now a dead page. Unless the word starts to catch on...

March 7, 2005

I remembered some old cartoon involving parallel universes which I thought was very funny at the time, and I figured it was impossible to look up, but I recalled one particular word in one panel which was something like "spppooooooo." I decided on a whim to type that into Google, expecting no results. But no: "spppooooooo" --- two Google hits. Neither of them the cartoon, but still.

March 3, 2005

Come to the next synthetic zero loft event this Saturday night, 7pm.

I went to see the new MOMA with Kenneth; I wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped to be. I think they could have been a lot more creative with the spaces, the light, etc. Still, it was a fun afternoon of gliding through the galleries, and we had a late lunch afterwards. One subject we spoke of I thought was worth writing about: habit. Not really habit in the sense of routines, but habits in the sense of responses to new situations. It occurs to me that the more habitual, the more asleep we are, the closer we are to death; if we are locked into a single set of responses, then we're just biding our time, rolling down a funnel towards the end. One way to deal with this is to simply mix things up, do things more randomly ... but perhaps a better way is to wake up, pay more attention, buy into our conditioned responses a little less.