synthetic zero


October 31, 2006

Khaela Maricich is going to be performing in New York at 7:30pm on Friday, November 3 at Irving Plaza... Her performances are astounding... inventive, delightful, spontaneous, energized, musical... you should go.

October 30, 2006

Today, in my car, I was singing, at the top of my lungs: "If only we were disembodied heads, if only we were disembodied heads, everything would be fine, everything would be okay!" The story behind this spontaneous song is a story of impossible longing with a sort of imagined Futurama resolution.

October 29, 2006

Heather Anne wrote me a few days ago:


The comment beneath are even funnier than the poor creature.

It made me think about all those philosophers who have gone out of their way to attempt to demonstrate the impossibility of conscious computers ... yet I suspect a great deal of our reluctance to accept the possibility has to do with the packaging. If an artificial intellgence were really packaged in something that felt alive, we would probably be more than ready to accept the possibility of its consciousness --- we'd want to project life onto them, in fact.

October 28, 2006

Sometimes it's just the thing to stay indoors all day on a lazy Saturday.

October 27, 2006

Just finished Chicken With Plums by Marjane Satrapi, Iranian-born author of the well-known Persepolis. Satrapi has an almost cinematic flair for editing in her books; and the facial expressions she obtains with the most subtle nuances of line are truly impressive. She evokes whole worlds with tremendous economy.

October 26, 2006

My coworker is playing this old David Bowie song that always used to go through my head over the years when I thought about a certain feeling about a future situation that never ended up happening... it's nostalgic to hear it now. Pop songs often act as messengers from my unconscious... they have a strange archetypical power, somehow (the whole song acting as a single complex sign). Some fragments of the song that jump out at me:

In walked luck and you looked in time
Never look back, walk tall, act fine
...I'll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing's gonna touch you in these golden years

...Some of these days, and it won't be long
Gonna drive back down where you once belonged
In the back of a dream car twenty foot long
Don't cry my sweet, don't break my heart
Doing all right, but you gotta get smart
Wish upon, wish upon, day upon day, I believe oh lord
I believe all the way
Come get up my baby

Run for the shadows, run for the shadows
Run for the shadows in these golden years

There's my baby, lost that's all
Once I'm begging you save her little soul

...Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel


October 25, 2006

Some people are born as waves, pretending to be human, to make a report for the benefit of the ocean, but they never completely learn how to be human. They never completely learn the game. But they're the luckiest people on Earth, even if they think sometimes that they'd like to forget where they came from. We're all actually waves, but some of us have forgotten it, which is a kind of tragedy.

October 24, 2006

Today I was sitting on the couch thinking about what I actually look like, and realizing that until that moment I had never really been viscerally conscious of my facial appearance (except in general, abstract terms, or when in front of a mirror or looking at my photograph). I am acutely unaware of my own appearance, under most circumstances. I feel as though I'm just this vortex at the rough center of a set of sense impressions, without a face. But in fact I have a face, a very specific face! I imagine many if not most people (perhaps more women, typically, than men?) are very aware of how others see them, physically --- but not me, until that moment. It's quite an interesting sensation.

October 23, 2006

Why is that we are so incompetent here in the Northeast when it comes to basic public works projects? The Acela train built 4 inches too wide and twice as heavy as European trains --- for no apparently good reason? Trains that slog along only 30 minutes faster than regular trains between Boston and New York?

October 22, 2006

My old friend Jonathan Tash is visiting; we're collaborating on some work together. He's one of the most laid back, yet brilliant fellows I've ever known (which is saying quite a bit). He was famous for taking one of the hardest classes at Caltech (the senior physics lab course) while putting off all of the work for the class until nearly the last minute, and doing the whole thing in one week. And, getting an A. Sue and Jonathan and I did various touristy things, but when we attempted to go to the top of the Empire State Building, we were thwarted by the over two hour line. Someone suggested the top of the Rockefeller Center --- which turns out to be extremely spectacular (with a better view of the park, I think, than from the Empire State Building), and no line at all. Sue said she liked New York better after seeing it from a high altitude. Kind of an amusing interactive Target ad up there, as well.

October 21, 2006

I had a dream that I was making a movie, and we were talking about how David Lynch is so great with casting. In the dream, there was something really crucial about casting, and that if only we could cast the film as well as Lynch does, we'd be doing very well indeed.

October 20, 2006

Karina (a young Massachusetts college student Internet friend of mine) wrote, a few days ago: "I'm going to make some vague attempt at writing a poem/ramble about alternate theories to the Big Bang a little later, possibly before calculus, possibly after. Probably before. I'm such a lazy bum." And then produced this, which impressed me a great deal, somehow:

alternate theory

The thread sways.
The ball drops.
(We do not try to catch it.)

The thread has been woven,
woven without a machine
by hands with vibrant fingernails or no fingernails at all.
And we pull on our thread all our lives,
pull until our own fingernails are bloody and our hands are calloused,
our minds wandering and rampant and free.
And on we go forever, into an everturning, neverending cyclic motion
of time and space, the parallels of our universe
crashing and reforming,
universes blink in and out,
like eyelashes stuck.

The glimmer sparkle residing inside of my stomach blinks into existence
every other millisecond, like universes born and rebirthed;
I am born and die with the universes,
every other millisecond,
my body merely a holding place for all the light that shines out of my eyes
and off of my tongue and through my ears
when no one's looking.

I made no promises to anyone, except maybe my mother.

When she pushed me out of the womb,
and I lay bloody and inaudible on the sterile hospital bed,
I told her things I do not remember now.
But they must have been promises,
for she took up my tiny child head and kissed me
and gooed and gahed inaudibly, too.

There are languages we can only speak when our mouths aren't moving -
somewhere in this language is the pre-life, the after-life,
the in-life we forget about
while we're living it.

And at some point I will return to this place
and speak this language,
quiet and demure,
or wild and unclothed,
and dance until my feet bleed

and I am born again.


October 19, 2006

Sometimes, no matter how prepared you might be for a loss, or how much you expected it, when it actually happens, it still brings tears. But even so, when something transforms from an uncertain expectation to a reality, it is, in a way, a relief.

October 18, 2006

Ohio poll results looking good.

October 17, 2006

Sometimes, I think, we sense things that might happen in our lives in the future, like strange echoes. But when we get to that future ... the memory of the echo is all we have, because due to some turning along the path, that future never came into being. It's strange to remember things that never ended up happening.

October 16, 2006

The principle is Being -- already, as it is. It's so hard to remember to apply that, because even the notion of "applying it" takes us into the logic of time. It's not impossible, however: we can try to remember that we don't need to try to do anything, not even trying to remember. Somehow, if you can hold that paradox, you gain the universe (which you already had before but couldn't really appreciate it).

October 15, 2006

Melody Owen's pictures of Alfred. She's a really wonderful artist.

Meanwhile Cat Tyc, whom I met recently in Portland at one of Pash and Khaela Maricich's events, has made a website.

October 14, 2006

Massachusetts is very Massachusettsy. I mean that in the best sense.

October 13, 2006

I had lunch a few days ago with my old high school friend Liz Losh who has a very interesting blog, Virtualpolitik and is currently engaged in so many diverse, interesting academic pursuits it's quite dizzying. It's wonderful and satisfying to see someone you expected to be having a brilliant, amazing career actually having a brilliant, amazing career. I published Liz in one of my first attempts at reaching out to the world, a little Xeroxed zine I made and sent out to maybe 50 people... I remember Liz's mother actually wrote me a check to help defray the costs, a check which I don't think I ever cashed, but I cherished for the thought of it (later, I think Liz complained to me that her mother couldn't balance her checkbook because I'd never deposited that check...) She asked me if I'd seen anyone from college or high school recently, and I couldn't think of anyone at the time, but I now remember that I'd recently gotten back in touch with Kevin Greutert when I happened to randomly sit in on one of the short films he had edited at Sundance a couple of years ago. He stands out in my mind for many reasons, not the least of which is we had a crush on the same girl in high school (though I didn't know this until we spoke about it years later), and he signed my yearbook with one of his famous detailed cartoons, this one involving clocks with tiny Kevin heads in place of the numbers, with the caption "It's Kevin O'Clock!" He went to the USC Film School and recently got a big break when he edited the hugely successful Saw. Kevin always seemed like the sort of person who might make some really interesting, weird films; he's made a couple shorts which I want to see.

October 12, 2006

Speaking with Jenny Doussan about Foucault, I brought up my (rather fuzzy) intuition that there seems to me to be a resonance between Foucault and Kuhn --- the idea isn't entirely unique to me but it does seem to be something that hasn't been much explored. Jenny pointed out that Foucault himself denied that his method would be applicable to science, and related more to the general history of ideas, but I think he may have underestimated the applicability of his approach --- science has experienced similar discontinuities in discourse for reasons that echo those Foucault brings up in the Archaeology of Knowledge. I've long found it interesting that the parallels between, say, developments in the philosophy of science in the U.S. and continental thought haven't been as thoroughly examined as one might have imagined they ought to be --- perhaps because Kuhn and Foucault wrote in such different disciplines and in different geographical locations, the parallels have only been noticed but not really elucidated by anyone. (I have similar thoughts about parallels between Buddhist epistemology and postmodernism.)

October 11, 2006

While riding the subway today I was sitting (in the Zen sense, practicing meditation) and it occurred to me that one of the chief mistakes people tend to make when they meditate is they think of stillness as being stasis --- that is, that stasis is peace, when in fact stasis is a form of neurosis in itself. There's a much deeper sort of peace and rest in a dynamic, alive responsiveness to the world --- not the same as ordinary movement (which is far more tight, controlled, narrow) but rather a flow which contains what seems to be movement but which has a kind of deeper stillness. This to be contrasted with stasis: holding yourself still (or attempting to do so) which is itself a kind of narrow movement in which one is constantly attempting to hold oneself, one's mind, body, energy, etc., in place, which requires a million tiny adjustments and reactions --- that is not true stillness, at all. That is just another form of neurotic frenzy, in the name of peace.

October 10, 2006

Jenny Doussan writes me (regarding computer dreams):

I have often dreamt of being ... at work and of course pcs are part of that landscape but I can't remember having a dream where I was actually operating one. I wonder if maybe they are too new to be part of the collective unconscious just yet which one could argue is where we pull the symbolism in our dreams from. Also no one that would be part of this discourse has really had early childhood Freudian experiences with computers but we may not be too far off from this.
I agree regarding the collective unconscious, something I've speculated as well, and her point about computers not being part of most early childhood experiences is quite interesting.

My friend and coworker Monty Zukowski wrote to me that he has dreamt of using computers: "[I] was moving the mouse over a picture of the skyline of chicago... then I noticed that I could click & move the buildings... and then I was there, actually in Chicago moving skyscrapers around with my mouse" --- again this seems to fit the pattern --- we tend to favor physical space, but may bring computer interactions into that physical space.

So far, my friend Caroline is one of the few people who reports having a dream where she is actually using a computer in a normal context, in this case, to play music. This doesn't completely break the pattern, however --- she was using the computer to play music. It reminds me a bit of my lucid computer dream in which the computer became an instrument for playing a multimedia presentation, complete with video and animations. Since I've been thinking about text in dreams, last night I had a dream about trying to read; I kept thinking --- I am dreaming, so let's see if I can get myself to see or read actual text --- but this was very difficult. I could see words, but they were jumbled, incoherent (unlike James Luckett's dreams...) Perhaps if computer interfaces evolved towards greater and greater three-dimensionality and vibrancy (both visually and aurally), using computers would become a more common feature of our dreams (and using computers could become a more dream-like experience).

October 9, 2006

I saw An Inconvenient Truth again tonight; it was interesting to be reminded of the fact that, as a species, we have an evolved tendency to pay attention to fast-moving events but ignore slow-moving, long-term problems. But it's precisely these slowly developing problems that can bring down civilizations --- and, while we're peripherally aware of it, the fact is that environmental problems such as global warming nevertheless remain on the back burner of our consciousness. It's as though we need constant, continual reminders of the slow-moving catastrophes in order to take action. Of course, nature has a way of transforming a slow-moving catastrophe into a sudden collapse; since the response of many complex feedback systems is often highly nonlinear; that is, for a while, the effect may be gradual, but then a sudden shift can occur, such as the sudden collapse of the Greenland ice cap which would have a devastating impact on coastal cities and countries. Somehow, we need to constantly remind ourselves not only about the small problems that face us day by day, but the larger, global issues that could well be far more dangerous to our children and even to us within our own lifetimes.

October 8, 2006

More on computer dreams.

James Luckett writes:

i have dreamed of using a computer, though the dreams are less about computers and more about how i make words.

when i was young i would dream of writing. my whole field of vision would be filled with a blank lined notebook page and my hand would begin writing with a pen. i never knew what i was writing -- i would have to read the words as they appeared, sometimes reading faster than i could write and having to wait for next word to be spelled out.

this dream changed when i took a typing class in 9th grade. after that the dream space was filled with a page rolled into the the typewriter, the hammers snapping into the platen one after another.

then later these journeling dreams changed to a computer screen -- though i could never really get used to word or any other complex word processor. just a plain text edit page, like bbedit. white screen, black letters. reading my own thoughts.

the writing always seems important and profound when i am reading it, though i don't remember much of it when i wake up. though i have a general sense they are messages to myself about situations or events i should be listening to my intuitions about.

He's unusual in that he dreams of text --- I've found that most of my dreams involving text are jumbled -- though I have had a couple of dreams with clear, readable text --- they're the exception.

Tonatzin Barragan writes:

Many years ago I had a computer dream. In my sleep, the dream started as a computer screen that "turned on" in my mind. On the screen (which covered my entire peripheral vision) was a video game, like Pong or something. I discovered that I could control the characters with my mind, and played the game happily for several minutes. Then the game suddenly froze. My mind could not control the screen images anymore. With horror, I realized that this screen was all that existed, and I had no physical self - no hands, no body - and I could not look away. All I could do was wait until the dream ended. It felt like I stayed on that stuck screen for at least half an hour. I was very relieved when I woke up.
This one is again interesting --- my first attempts to use a computer in my lucid computer dream last week involved crashed, frozen screens. This is also interesting because the dream, while involving a computer screen, the entire space of the dream was the computer display (rather than having a computer screen inside ordinary space).

October 6, 2006

Some interesting responses to my computer dream survey; esther wieringa writes:

In that dream I had to feed all seven babies of my pregnancy class through the internet. You had to click on a baby to feed it, or to get it over here, or to find out it was hungry, I don't remember exactly. But I was busy doing that, or trying to do it while I realised I did not have enough time to feed all of them. It took me quite some time after waking up to realise that the very act of feeding babies through the internet is impossible.
I asked her a little bit more about this, and she mentioned that the babies were representations of babies (not the actual babies), but rather than being on a screen, they were arranged in space around her. So Esther had an interaction that was computer-like (with clicking, and virtuality), but it was arranged in space not on a screen. I think this is quite interesting; it seems to me that one possible reason why computer-using dreams are rare is that they utilize a flat, two-dimensional, mostly text-oriented interface, and most people don't dream about flat text-covered surfaces (for example, most people have difficulty reading books in dreams). The computer-like or internet-like interaction translates into the dream world, but the screen interface is far more scarce, it seems, in many people's dream experiences.

Heather Anne Halpert writes, in a similar vein, that she does "CTRL F to find things all the time" in her dreams. In addition:

I don't encounter TVs much in my dream either though movies and the idea of movies and the process of making movies features large for some reason.

The other thing I realize is that I often dream in environments that were made or rendered on a computer. I even think as I'm dreaming about how they might be put together. Various styles of cartoons or oddly composed film.

Again --- the computer-generated world enters into her dream experience, but she actually dreams inside it, rather than seeing it on a screen. Regarding using a computer in a dream --- after our conversation about it, she tried looking in her bag for her laptop, while dreaming --- and there it was, but she found she wasn't able to open it, no matter how hard she focused.

Tony von Storz writes what a number of people have told me:

You have hit upon something with the computer dream thing; they have been a part of my life for 25 years and... no, I cannot recall a single dream about using one.

Perhaps computers haven't been around long enough to enter into our collective unconscious...

October 5, 2006

Went to see Fall for Dance last night --- not the best dance I've ever seen, but more consistently good than a lot of dance potpourri shows. The standout performance was Bridgeman/Packer Dance's excerpt from Under the Skin, a clever, spectacular at times, and engaging mixture of multimedia video and live dance.

October 4, 2006

Have you ever dreamt you were using a computer? Please email me either way. I'm conducting an informal survey. I was talking with Heather Anne the other day about dreams and we were talking about how hard it is to read books in a dream, and then it occurred to me that I couldn't remember ever dreaming about using a computer. Even though I've often dreamt about people at work, etc., the actual act of sitting in front of a computer --- I couldn't remember a single time I was sitting, looking at a computer screen. Heather Anne said that she, too, couldn't remember dreaming about using a computer either. I asked my friend Karina about this and she also can't remember it --- the whole subject ended up freaking her out and she had to stop using her computer and go read a book...

Last night my dream suddenly became lucid so I remembered a pact I had made with Heather Anne that the next time we were lucid we'd try to use a computer. The first few computers I tried had frozen, crashed screens. Then I got a couple with lots of weird static and snow, but what looked like operational Windows underneath. Finally I got one with working Windows, but only briefly, and then the whole dream shifted to a big projected presentation which ended with lots of video and animations of logos and so forth, and it turned out to be coming off of a Mac laptop (when the presentation was over, the OS X desktop was visible). I went over to the Mac and played with it --- looked like a normal OS X desktop, everything perfectly clear and sharp, I could move the mouse around and everything.

That was the first time I can ever remember seeing a computer screen and interacting with it in a dream. So tell me: have you had computer dreams? Either yes or no, I'm interested!

October 3, 2006

Jenny Doussan sends me this hilarious link:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.


October 2, 2006

The tension between the future and the past is a tension between staying open and committing. Limitations (such as those created by making a firm choice) can be both liberating and confining: liberating when chosen willingly (understanding that the choice to self-limit is partly arbitrary), confining when imposed.

October 1, 2006

Boy, this IQ/sex/marriage study has generated a lot more emails than I normally get. Jenn Rimm writes to me:

That study about men preferring women with lower IQs was based on data gathered from born in 1921. "They are now in their 80s." (http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/sommers200512080847.asp). If you notice, almost no one who cites this study ever includes this fact.

I think you really have to watch out trying to use, or expecting, evolutionary biology to explain everything. Our identities have almost nothing to do with instinct, and a whole lot to do with how we behave.

It's somewhat a relief to learn that the study is based on very old data --- however the question remains, even if the gap has narrowed (or, hopefully, disappeared), why would there have been such a large gap to begin with? Why would there have been a time when men would have agreed to marry women who were considerably less bright than themselves? The reason I find this so puzzling is precisely because it is nearly inconceivable to me that I would ever want to be married to a woman who wasn't extremely smart in many dimensions (not necessarily only IQ, there are obviously many factors that go into overall mental capacity many of which aren't measured by the IQ test). The fact that, even in the past, women of lesser IQ would have an easier time getting married is still quite bizarre to me.

Given that the study was done on people who lived in the first half of the 20th century, it tends to make Caroline's and Ann Althouse's hypothesis less likely, it seems --- since back then it was much more difficult for women to be able to independently support themselves, and it was before the rise of feminism as we know it today, so it seems that the explanation must lean more towards the alternate hypothesis, having to do with preference at least at that time (women preferring men smarter than themselves and/or men preferring women less intelligent than themselves).

I do agree with Jen's objection regarding evolutionary biology --- in fact from a very early time I've been skeptical of exclusively evolutionary explanations for behavior. We are not merely robots programmed to behave by our genes: obviously, there is a great deal of plasticity to human behavior. Nevertheless, evolutionary explanations have some power --- even cultural patterns would not survive if they didn't promote the survival of the culture either via reproduction or in terms of a competitive advantage with other cultures (i.e., there is competitive cultural evolution as well as biological evolution). Therefore, it remains somewhat puzzling if it was the case that either women prefer higher IQ men or men prefer lower IQ women --- even in the 40's. What was the cultural OR evolutionary reason for this strange divergence?

Clearly cultures differ in this respect. Samurai culture, for example, as I've mentioned, has always prized high intelligence in both men and women --- though traditional Japanese culture has strongly divergent sex roles, samurai culture at least often involved the wives taking on informal roles in political and military strategizing --- there are famous examples of ladies of the great houses being instrumental in the direction of the house. For these and other reasons samurai culture has often celebrated highly intelligent women. My grandparents' marriage was arranged, but I happen to know part of the reason my great-grandfather wanted my grandmother to marry his son was because he found her impressively bright. Etc. The notion of marrying a much less intelligent wife --- it seems very bizarre to me.

Nevertheless --- there is something fishy about the study, which is that among the couples my age or younger whom I happen to know personally, the two are usually of comparable intelligence and accomplishment. So, perhaps the gap has disappeared or narrowed today. I would hope so! However, while we can hope, we can't presume that the gap has necessarily been entirely erased by feminism --- for example, there are other gaps which remain (for example, both men and women still seem to prefer the man being taller, etc.)