Algernon reloaded

Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon" is another theme in Sd.'s blog. The first half of that story is about the consequences of a startling rise of of a young underachiever's intellectual skills and the environmental reaction on this. His troubles of adapting his growing insight into social structures, psychologies of others, his inflating mental horizon with structures of personality, perception, valuation and interaction coming from his dim and troubled past seem to some extent plausible, but beyond reality test - until recently, when a documentary was made on someone who seems to got stuck in that sort of transition zone Keyes describes. (Video: short version, long version). I think it is interesting to look after similarities and differences between the fiction and the person. Like in the novel, the dim past shines through in the real person's try to be 'smart' in the way a mentally retarded probably imagines it - winning trivial quiz shows and looking like Rambo. Or in his puzzled relation to women. The big contrast to the novel, where the main character achieves and transcendents an academic intellectual level, is that the real person barely scratches after long tries the level of science. Obviously something is missing. I guess it is hidden in the core personality, which stayed on it's old level of development and became disconnected to the intelligent part by the huge gulf of knowledge and sensitivity between them.

This let's one wonder again how this connection is in normal, but educationally processed people in institutions of scholastic training? Maybe Keyes' story actually targets that? An indicator of a troubled connection has just been published. This article in the SciAm announces: "When rational thinking is correlated with intelligence, the correlation is usually quite modest. Avoidance of cognitive miserliness has a correlation with IQ in the range of 0.20 to 0.30 . Sufficient mindware has a similar modest correlation, in the range of 0.25 to 0.35. These correlations allow for substantial discrepancies between intelligence and rationality." The same sort of disconnection could explain the reported independence of academic frauds from personal ethics as linked to in an earlier post.

Perhaps the unpleaseant incidents in the scientific community Sd. tells in her blog come from such simple causes. This could explain why the characters in this absurd and funny film appear like transfered from a slightely satirized science millieu. One recognizes the grad student as performance oriented eureka seeker, the vision driven senior researcher allways a little outside the main stream, the experienced old stager in eternal war with bureaucrats and still good for a darwinian fight if someone enters his territory. All are a bit out of their trolley and misunderstood by women (well-known, that stare, isn't it?), who never understand the lofty ideas that drive them.


Maelströms from the Renaissance

Siddhartadevi's repeated hints to Giordano Bruno and renaissance neoplatonism as relevant input for the emergence of science and the selfperception of scientists make one very curious about that piece of mental history, which I know only through Yourcenar's brilliant novel and some random readings of Plotin. But having Yates' book on Bruno not at hand, I just remember a possibly interesting side-aspect of Renaissance hermetics: texts secured with labyrinthine semantics against uninvited readers. The corresponding mentality reflects e.g. in the architecture of renaissance castles: One finds hidden staircases within staircases, iterated layers of hidden floors and secret rooms in harmless looking buildings. One thinks at invisible inks, texts and symbols hidden in perspectively distorted pictures, esoteric symbolisms, poised pages. But there was probably a far more sophisticated method in use to secure theories: a kind of mental trick lock. I guess it really only in Kabbalism, about which Gershom, a scholar working at the JPost, told me the story below, allegedly going back to medieval south france hermetics. If that is roughly correct it surely applies to other hermetic texts too.

The trick is similar to that described by Martin Gardner in his article about "Hinton cubes". That are simple mechanical tools for developing a various parts of 4-dim. visual imagination (actually, when reading on regular solids etc., I can imagine such things without toys tools...). The unlucky practitioneers of a cult Hinton made out of that got mad because the trained ways of modified perception started working automatically, they could not stop that any more. Now imagine, someone would have confronted them with suitable analogues of impossible figures etc....

Conc. the Talmud, Gershom says: It's 63 volumes are not only 'passionate disputes': By demanding the reader to follow them, they provide a training in the type of thinking used by those medieval, hermetic scholars. The effect on a mind used to the every day way of thinking is described in the texts as bewilderment first, - the Talmud contains six 'levels', or 'orders', including one designed for beginners - then engagement and finally an "Eureka-experience" of understanding how the mind correctly works and should ever have worked. Then a kind of intellectual extasis is described, which includes for hermetic scholars obviously some sense of humour.

Then a clever designed 'mental trick lock', an 'intellectual vortex' comes. The emotional and motivational aspect of all the training with repetitions, variations, rythms, starts working like a maelstrom along the mentioned levels of learning. The first 'trick lock' the student meets is the barrier of his own intellectual strength, a barrier artificially made thicker than necessary. Only then comes the real 'trick lock' for the student who thinks he has the trouble behind him: The now since long dragged-in mental concepts and thinking-ways are set into conflict. A Talmudist described it: "... it puts the mind at war with itself; the more powerful the mind, the more destructive the conflict."

Be that as it may, here a link to the real 'glass bead game', coming from garbled ancient greek descriptions and only reconstructed in renaissance, and Illich's beautifull book on texts and reading through the times.


(dis)connected thoughts

A recent report in the New Scientist describes strange findings on the mind/body relation, how easy people can be tricked into a dissociation of their body feeling: "They film each volunteer from behind and project the image into a head-mounted display worn by the volunteer so that they see an image of themselves standing about 2 metres in front. The experimenters then stroke the volunteer's back - which the volunteers see being done to their virtual self." Then, the volunteers got an "out of body" experience, despite a normal strenght of their body perception. The perception of one's thoughts is much weaker than the body feeling, as the popularity of rethorics about 'subconscious' mental processes shows. So, could "thinking" be in a similar way dissociated from other aspects of one's personality, like the body feeling? The way one teaches in school looks a bit similar to the feedbackstructure in the experimental design described above. A dissociation of "thinking" and other parts of the personality could explain why e.g. exam cheating is apparently independent from ethical values, or why it makes no difference if professors are exchanged by actors and why a secondary reconnection of the separated parts by symbols of status and importance creates the "monsters of the id" discussed here. The same New Scientist report even hints to an other indicator of such a dissociation - if asked to remember some situation in which they had been, e.g. last holiday or a party, most people's visual memories are from an "outside" perspective, they see themself from above, even their backs. One needs not to have read Proust to guess how significant that would be, if it really should be true. I imagine historians in a far future puzzling deeply about that, like we puzzle about the - for us - weird and alien specifics of ancient mentalities, like their visualizations of time or their "bicameral" mindedness. At least that could explain why the investigative mentality in science is rarely applied to areas outside the individual's field of research - it's because the 'individual' mind is by the mentioned teaching induced disconnection 'divided' and stunned by gradings. And it explains why crucial inputs of global insight and sense of direction often come from people less influenced by school education. Using the metapher of 'climbing the shoulders of giants', one could say that such a climbing needs not only strong legs, but a sense for direction and eyesight too, else one neither finds the way nor sees something once in the crow's nest. Perhaps school education splits both from the mental toolset. One could generalise the idea a bit further: The similarity of operating and feeling abstract concepts with reports about cases of a visual pseudo-blindness "blindsight", when people have intact eyes and visual brain parts but experience themself as blind because the visual input never reaches consciousness, makes wonder if the degree to which one is "platonist" comes just from existence or absence of an "idea-blindness". The reports from blindsight people reacting to visual signals like approaching thrown objects, how they experience and explain their behaviour, look much like descriptions of how people get ideas and abstract insights. Recent reports tell that this processes are flexible enough to be improved.


I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave

I profited so far very much from the impartiality of machines and machine-like institutions, like long distance services of the libraries and online archives. Siddhartadevi describes that feature as characteristic for computers, even more so in future "sentient" machines. But my guess is that impartiality of such machines will reduce quickly. So far, it results from the lack of software and data about people, which politics furiously (NY Books quotes aims towards Yottabytes by 2015, here a new article on England) tries to change. Here is a related link collection by a lawyer and writer. Very good is the work of the "foebud", the think tank of the CCC, and it's "Big Brother Awards". As a rule of thumb one can say that today, data by the internet, credit cards etc. cover each individual roughly to the same amount as in the 1970's special police forces did with suspected terrorists. I guess the decisive experience of governments throughout the developed world for this was the 1989 collapse of the eastern block, which showed that populations can make sudden phase transitions and that these escaped even the absurdly dense monitoring of the populations by the Stasi. The main goal for AI is to enable computers to analyse communication contents sufficiently fast and accurate, for which e.g. the gigantic google bookscan has been made (acc. to a remark by one of the google founders). Once that is solved, prejudice-like behaviour of the internet follows.

Indifference towards that need an explanation - perhaps the dream of happy interaction with "sentient" computers results from an experience of self-loss? When the internet turns into a semi-permeable membrane between the individual and the worlds of content and meaning beyond it, doubts in it's "friendlyness" would be perceived as personal threat and then inhibited. This makes wonder, which patterns exist for the human-machine/city/civilization relation: I guess, aside the "symbiotic" model there are "nomadic", "hunter-gatherer", "peasant".


choked minds

A new film is reported as illustrating the mentality of the provincial people like in this region of Germany a century ago. Here the trailer, fitting to the few descriptions by local people I heard. It shows the choking down of minds, essential for the later development of faschism. An other recent film based on a real story shows an exceptional case of human behaviour among the farm people. The average reality was different. A layer of dehumanized thinking apparently still existed much later, as recent discussions of slave labour in orphanages until the mid 1970's indicate. I think it is such an ahuman thinking about people, which threatens to become generally accepted again. Like the popularity among lawyers and politicians worldwide of Carl Schmitt, a mastermind of the Nazis. Or that people start enjoying such bleached, deindividualized, marked faces in textiled insults. Carl Amery, a writer and environmental activist, even speculated that worse is still ahead of us and the historical holocaust only an anticipation.


fun with art

Whereas I find the "classical modern" art often interesting and good, the majority (not all, of course) of contemporary art today seems to me not even a joke.

Nevertheless, one can have fun there, e.g. with talking about contemporary art. Or with selfrefferential jokes on the art market. When I observed that one would enjoy some exhibition more if one were colour blind, I was told the specialist who selected the works was colour blind indeed.

Funny too are weird things in and around art. E.g. once, when I was tutoring art theory, I puzzled about some early articles by Panofsky. He had an unsusual visual defect which distorted his perception of depth and he managed that by performing in front of paintings a kind of dance, jumping back and forth with alternatively blinking eyes. Perhaps one should produce "Panofsky-glasses" reproducing his distorted sight for everyone and reconstruct his "Panofsky-dance" for explaining his theory...

A bit strange too is the story behind cubism, which seems to be a brilliant marketing trick. That times, one could do marketing with Kant! The art dealer of Picasso, Braque and Juan Gris was Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler alias Daniel Henry. He invented cubism and explained it's early development and the idea behind it later in several books and articles. Kahnweiler's idea came in turn from Kant, more precise: from the revival of Kantian philosophy in the early 20th century. A precursor of Kahnweiler was Konrad Fiedler, one can read his art theory in "On judging works of visual art" 1949, and "Three fragments of posthumous papers of C.F." 1951.

A "einzigartig bitterböser Witz über Künstler und den Kunstbetrieb".


cosmology and lifestyle

The fragments of Epicure's teaching fall into two apparently disconnected parts: One is about a cosmology based on the idea of the cosmos being a byproduct of random processes, where the buildup of structures is kickstarted by some small pertubance. The other, ethical, part is about how to live a satisfactory life, based on managing the emotions of fun and pain. The connection between both parts is usually thought as cosmology being just a kind of selfhypnosis for enabeling the students to follow the ethical part by calming the impulses from desire. I wonder if the connection could have been a bit deeper, because Epicure could have visualized fun and pain as the trays of an equilibrium balance and the random cosmos as randomly distributed unit-weights on them. Then he could have used the contraintuitive behaviour of such simple random walks, described e.g. in Feller's „An introduction to probability theory and its applications“, for teaching and applying his ethics. Perhaps there exist modern analoga to such a cosmology-lifestyle connection, e.g. as computer science-lifestyle ?

lost films, lost books

"Loss is not an anomaly, or a deviation, or an exception, it's the norm." Rescue tries: Scorsese's cinema foundation, Lost films initiative, The Book of Lost Books, The invisible Library

Some films really drove their viewers into screaming madness, like 'Nerven' in Munich 1919 (more).

Catalogue Livres curieux & bizarres

On Orwell's 'Bookshop Memories'.

Memories of the Future, (more)

An artist who "pondered harder and more courageously than anyone... what it meant to live with ideas." (more, more)

"I have met some good story-tellers in my life, but Reznikoff, a poet of the eye, was the champion" says Auster.

Nietzsche's model for a "superman" was - a woman.

THE 16th century armchair traveler's compendium and antidepressivum (acc. to Robert Burton in 'The Anatomy of Melancholy').

Oneg Shabbat Archive (book)

A play about a woman adrift in modern times - several people first watching this film wanted to vomit, not because it was badly made but because it was so harrowing and well-made, tells Brian, a NY film critique. Sounds like a cinematographic realisation of Rilke's "Das Schöne ist nichts als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir gerade noch ertragen".

A friend called this the "best film ever made by a Buddhist monk in Bhutan".

One of the greatest movies ever, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928) by Carl Theodor Dreyer, based on actual trial records.


The idea of biological and mental life defined as anti-entropic process makes me think about how an associated entropic drift pervading everydaylife, as enclosure in mental, emotional, social bubbles, shielding one from further development, looks like. People turning into museums of forgotten and betrayed dreams. The main force pulling one inside such bubbles may be that the desire to learn and experience something new and creative vanishes. There was a moving film by Jim Jarmusch on that a few years ago, where the main character - a man who appears to be permanently detached, mentally retired - is pushed into visiting his former girlfriends. Enclosed in fixed ways of life, they reject any impulse from outside and soon one gets a feeling of complete absurdity and sadness about all that loss of vitality. At the end one notices that the main character is the only person in the film mentally really alife, his absentmindedness being just his refusal to settle in some mental or biographical mousetrap. But his unability to become creative and connect with others makes him guilty of the broken lives of his former girlfriends and turns the film into a critique of the american society - finally prepared to become active, only suburb anonymity is in sight. A mousetrap of collossal extension was the former GDR, whose opening was celebrated today. The deformations of personalities and private lifes inside it then are described in this excellent film, Timothy G. Ash tells how that ended.

There is a brilliant and funny scifi story about a group of scientists fighting against the entropic forces, which materialize in strange incidents. The hero of this group is Vecherovsky, a mathematician modeled after a friend of the authors. The astronomer of the book gives up the fight.. "gathers his work and, like the others, decides to take it to Vecherovsky. The latter will apparently assume the burden of this impossible diversity of disciplinary work, along with his own project. Entering Vecherovsky's apartment, Malianov finds the usually neat scientist singed and burned, his furnishings in shambles; like Luther before him, he has struggled with this new homeostatic "devil." His decision is to take these scientific papers to distant Pamir, to seek in exile to give new (if strange) order to their apparent chaos. It is Malianov who perceives that "a line of fire and brimstone that could never be crossed was drawn between Vecherovsky and me".(source) Let's try not to become such a spineless petty-bourgeois, perhaps the line looks more frightening than it really is? This small town in south france shows the possibility to fight the evil and sets a standard.


applied Lemnology

The brave scholar Prof. Trottelreiner, figuring in many of Lem's stories, explains in "The futurological congress" a new forecasting method: "Linguistic futurology investigates the future through the transformational possibilities of the language. A man can control only what he comprehends, and comprehend only what he is able to put into words. By examining future stages in the evolution of language we come to learn what discoveries, changes and social revolutions the language will be capable, some day, of reflecting." I took that falsely as witty irony of an sf-writer on his genre - now the MIT seems to turn it into reality. An other experimental materialization of an idea from one of Lem's novels is this experiment.

At this occasion here the link to a scan of Lem's favorite book, poems by Rilke. In his autobiography, Lem desribes how he studied a lovingly made copy of it in hand-made paper and the german language in the midst of war in Warsaw.


Backs to the future

Basic ideas can deform in the course of time. E.g. this ethnological report shows that our idea of progress into a future ahead of us, away from the past which vanishes out of sight, could be just a case of collective selfhypnosis. The natural attitude would probably be opposite: "Contrary to what had been thought a cognitive universal among humans – a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies' orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind – the Amerindian group locates this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind." (More) Benjamin gives a startling connection to modrn art: The face of Klee's angel of history is turned toward the past. He would like to pause, but a storm is blowing in from Paradise which has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm carries him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned. This storm is what we call progress. Wondering if other basic concepts may have become similar deformed, I think about the idea of "abstract concepts" as being just reductive shadows of some basal reality. The natural attitude would be opposite: "abstract concepts" as being an enriched intensification of reality, causing things given at some basal, sensoric or emotional or rhetoric, level to become "really real". Other key ideas may have become simply forgotten. E.g. browsing translations of ancient greek philosophers, I wonder if they used irrational square roots and antique versions of continued fraction expansions as rhetorical model, e.g. for Platon's dialoges, or as model for the human mind. Heraclit's proportions like "god:man=man:child" look like that. But only if their "paradigm" were that "gods", "childs" etc. are well known, static ideas. Like the "docta ignorantia" or "coincidentia oppositorum", which was used by christian theologists to characterize the possible knowledge of "god" - only with the roles of "god" and "human" interchanged. If that guess is roughly correct, it would rhetorically explain why the ancient greeks saw the human mind as inherently dynamic entity, on which idea later gnostics relied.

Encyclopedia Maxima

"What is perhaps the greatest tragedy in the history of literature is recalled by the appearance of two sections of the Chinese Encyclopedia, lent to the London Library by a man who picked them up for a song in a bookshop of the British metropolis. These two volumes are among the meagre [sic] remains of the most colossal literary work ever carried out by man..." Curious?

Nemo, eternal returning

A common idea in 19th century was that of an eternal recurrence of all things, initiated by statistical phantasies in Lagrange's books on mathematical astronomy. The key text about it was written by Blanqui. Walter Benjamin took Blanqui's philosophical essay on a kind of eternal recurrence as the most intense and explicit expression of the spirit of the 19th century after the loss of the ideals of the french revolution. Blanqui wrote it in prison, where he was denied to read anything than science books, which included Lagrange's analytical mechanics. Nietzsche took the idea up and - aside the idea of evolution - it caused him for a long time to think about studying the natural sciences. Earlier, Blanqui had been the head of a kind of secret army of revolutionaires, described by Toqueville as strange and frightening outcasts when they stormed the french parlament or national assembly. He was declared war by the french government before making him a kind of mythical figure: "the man of 40 years prison". The extensive quotes of Blanqui in Benjamin's "The Arcades Project" sound so similar to statements of Cpt. Nemo in Verne's novel that I wonder if Verne took Blanqui as model for that figure. Then, the faszinosum of Verne's Nemo would come from the bad conscience of the philistines for having betrayed the "wretched of the earth"s hopes and sufferings at the french revolution, turned into a fairy tale, like the horrors of the thirty years war in Germany return in Grimm's fairy tales.

a bureaucracy experiment

A kind of bureaucracy-fiction of the way, europe's political and economical leadership think about society is contained in this novel. The author, a well known sci-fi writer and physicist, condensed in it his impressions from a stay in a university housing the most influential thinking-school for future bureaucrats. An aquaintance made an experiment out of it: When some of his friends wondered if they should offer themself as think tank for problem analysis/solving in politics and business, but the idea got stuck, he renamed it after the novel and sent leading politicians a brochure with rhetorics after that sci-fi. "Just to see what happens", he said. Something did happen...