Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wine (Part XV)

Found self coming down that untrodden street with a milk crate in your hand, spinning it to cast its reticulated shadow onto the pavement, some sort of diamond drill into the darkness of the night,. Diamond drills into that empty, sucking chest-wound feeling. Stopped by the King of Kensington to ask for guidance, but the homeless guy sleeping on the bench kwpt me walking. Bag laden with books I somehow got for free; laden with heacy iced green tea to ward off the heat wave--it didn't work. Neither did masonic symbols, mandalas, mantras, Gregorian chants, drum circles, hip-hop beats. Tried to ward off the heat with alcohol. Tried absinthe: by a curious twist of irony learned that the active ingredient in absinthe has the same biological effects as the drug I administer to my lab mice. Curious Buddhist thought: see how we're connected. All you have to make is an imaginative/observational leap. We can't imagine the phylogeny that ties all living things on the planet, but we can observe. And what we can't observe, we imagine. (By the way, in high enough doses absinthe has hallucinogenic properties. But not what I had.)

Laughter in the aisles at improbabilities. Standing in detergent aisle, friend says "I can't eat this!", and points to a detergent box labelled "duck". It was funner at the time. (Backyard green tree cemetery dawns.)

Received the most terrifying fortune cookie imaginable: "be prepared for the truth". Laughed hearty for a long time, but it was just a defence mechanism. I wanted to ask the King of Kensington that.

(Prisoner of Metropolis.) Waited in line for hot coffee. Want to go see a book launch and mingle with literati. Our new hotel; our agent of gentrification. I live in clutter because I choose to. Out of the clutter comes mind-clutter. But clutter also contains so many raw materials. True randomness does not exist: I have to believe we can tell a causal story on some level. Give up. This is the gloaming.

Consider: "I am for those that have never been master'd, / For men and women whose tempers have never been master'd, / For those whom laws, theories, conventions, can never master."

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Great Raft

Been dwelling on the question of "salvation". I'd like to throw in some more petty change into the crackling fire-pit that is any "discussion" of the matter. I must admit, thinking about these things frustrates me. I'd much rather dwell on the streets and alleys and trees and Bodhisattva bums I can see and touch and affect than more abstruse questions that I have almost settled. (Of course, they're never settled because it's more important to engage in the process of thinking than in the unglamorous process of answering: thus my emphasis on journey over destination, research over conclusion, wandering over transportation, bikes over cars, dynamism over holism, chrashing thought over five-paragraph essay, speculative fiction over recipe book, diverse anti-globalization rallies over speakers at the rostrum, Nietzsche over Plato, Buddha over Lao Tzu, polytheism over monotheism, psychodynamics over arbitrary "acts of will", agnosticism over fanaticism, vulnerability over control, discussion over revelation, decentralized over authoritarian, detritivore over top-of-the-food-chain, red over blue, mandala over geometric progression, ambiguity over precision, longueur over pithiness, road trip over airplane, anonymity over visibility, shocks and bruises over protective padding, mindful apprehansion over bicycle helmet, cooking over eating, tree over meadow, soup over pudding, piecemeal webcomic over beginning-middle-end arc, neurosis and romantic instability over socially sanctioned domesticity, syncretism over selecting a position, wine over liquor (and liquor over beer), abstract inapplicability over vocational training, rising action over denouement, conspiracy theories over trustfulness, foreign songs over pop music, SimCity over Duke Nukem, ferry rides over bridges (and bridges over tunnels); in short: James Joyce over Dostoyevsky.)

There's my view of religion. No, seriously. I'm tired of philosophical debates which by now run just like the standard openings of a chess game. And I have no patience for religion-specific doctrinal bullshit: it arose from the socio-psycho-economic environment and does not apply beyond its niche. So I resort to fristratingly overwrought appositive sentences. Sorry. But I wanted to try something. Who knows if it worked?

Consider: "The way you can go / isn't the real way. / The name you can say / isn't the real name. / Heaven and earth / begin / in the unnamed: / name's the mother / of the ten thousand things."


Sometimes I really want to write something, as a kind of therapy against the fleeting moments of a life that I'll never re-tread, or some horror waiting yet unnamed. But in those moments I get a feeling in my stomach, like hunger but duller, a feeling of the bottom dropping out, a kind of multidirectional tug in three to five directions. I sit and I stare at the screen, and what invariably happens is I end up surfing the internet aimlessly, kind of hopping from page to page, skimming paragraphs and pictures, half-getting jokes and not laughing, and so on.

So I wonder. How do we get into things deeply anymore? Take an example: I've read many books and seen many films in my day, as we all have, but from how many do I remember anything other than the most superficial features? I'd certainly like to: nothing would give me greater joy than the deep understanding of the piles surrounding me from every genre. But how? This bottom-dropping-out business is serious. It's why I've left a trail of beginnings of short stories, unedited poems, dropped research projects, bookmarked pages I'll never visit again. The only saving grace I can see is the ability to carry on seven-hour conversations with people close to me. Those conversations cannot help but reveal, and therein is the antihesis of the internet's seductive hummingbird mentality.

This wasn't terribly interesting, and I apologize. But try to appreciate that seeing the beast out of the corner of my eye is at least the beginning of recognition. And with recognition comes understanding. And with understanding comes control. And with control comes efficiency. And that's what I need to hone any craft I have: cold metallic efficiency, uniformly unyielding hardness, and so on.

Consider: "It is just that we should be grateful, not only to those with whose views we may agree, but also to those who have expressed more superficial views; for these also contributed something, by developing before us the powers of thought."

Friday, May 26, 2006


A few words of wisdom from an actual scientist: "find out what you want to do. You'll then find that you wake up earlier, go to sleep later, and use most of your spare time to assess what you need to do, what you can and can't do, how likely you are to be able to publish, who your friends are, who your friends need to be, what you need to read, and what you don't need to read". This is the life. The life that I might choose? A life of conferences, poster boards, review articles, discussions of new hypotheses over sake, comaprisons of subjective states, tallyings of lab animal deats? What better life? A sheltered life, one that allows spiky crystals of cynicism to poke through the smoothed-over exterior once the floodligts turn off over the cooling fridges and large, vague machinery used for electrophoresis or electroporation. A life of being a vengeful god with all the follies of the model animal. Is this it? Ever more specific spirals of colur patterns from fractals, always yielding coastlines of equivalent complexity, nothing done in the end but a clever language game following all the rules and protocols, hours spent peering over buffers and solution incubators, saying things like "well, that's unusual", or "that's impossible". A life in which they'll eventually beat out the dreams of doing fMRI scans on yogis or nuns or meditating monks with cold, hard, quantifiable results. A life of cheap coffee at the aforementioned conferences.

Consider: "Where do babies come from? Don't bother asking adults. They lie like pigs. However, diligent independent research and hours of playground consultation have yielded fruitful, if tentative, results. There are several theories. Near as we can figure out, it has something to do with acting ridiculous in the dark. We believe it is similar to dogs when they act peculiar and ride each other. This is called "making love". Careful study of popular song lyrics, advertising catch-lines, TV sitcoms, movies, and T-Shirt inscriptions offers us significant clues as to its nature. Apparently it makes grown-ups insipid and insane. Some graffiti was once observed that said "sex is good". All available evidence, however, points to the contrary."

Sunday, May 21, 2006


The past few days have felt like I'm sticking my ear into a cauldron. I feel as if there's something important kicking around in my head, but it's stubbornly refusing to enter into consciousness. So all I catch is glimpses. This happens whenever in the course of daily life I have a "this would make an awesome one-act play!" or "this reflects the magnificence of the mundane!" moment. And those moments have become more frequent lately. I can't remember specific examples, but all I know is mini-arcs are coming to me practically unbidden (this is wrong, of course; it's all eventualyl attributable to some automated meaning-crunching processes in the preconsious mind). But I feel as if I can't act on them, write them down, develop them, until I get an idea of the larger whole they comprise. What part of that sentiment involves perfectionism and what part involves laziness? To use a physics analogy: I'm having no problem understanding strings, but higher-dimensional branes are giving me difficulty.

But why subject the reader to these concerns? Maybe the reader will inadverdently provide me with some sort of trigger word that completes the cascade, kind of like my personal NO synthase, to release the unconventional signal. I apologize for the overwrought analogies that, upon closer inspection, don't really work.

Closing remarks: I am not an ecologically valid human being; I want to be a masculine mountain of a man, but I also loathe that slim possibility; I'm stuck in a catch-22 when it comes to making music; I am consciously nursing a caffeine addiction; I like trees and babies, but not for the reasons you might think.

Consider: "First we thought the PC was a calculator. Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII — and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we've realized it's a brochure."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Wine (Part XIV)

I'm a working man again; a beer-drinking working man; a socializing, all-or-nothing meat-and-potatoes man. A man whose boss is riding his ass at work, a man with problems that can get would down by jacking up the 5-HT receptor for a little while. And then I sit; I'm a mass of flesh like the flesh of the masses. No stars here. No exams; no pixie-dust exploration of the origins of the cosmos. Just a kind of edgeless fuzz that is most prominent when taken out of a social setting. In old days I used to have an entire bus ride to sober up. These days I try to read texts while the words dance, and as I nod off the sentences reform themselves around the edges of my consciousness into wholly new meanings, into paragraps about one or two or three characters doing their dyadic or triadic interactions. As I nod off I see visions of trees growing, roots opening up like a fist unclenching, colours like red or ochre or brown--mandala colours--replace the sentences. Propositional thought gives way to tentacled analog mental imagery; it's as if the two visual streams in your brain gave a collective neurochemical "fuck you" to Wenicke's area. Take that, oscillating dual inhibition, cascades of biochemistry, analogical explanations, syntactical volleys of synaptic vesicles. (Sometimes when I drink I get nerdy. Other times mystical. Other times stupid or incoherent--though rarely these days. But I suspect it's all nerdery anyway.) And then I pop back into consciousness, read a sentence or two from the book, fail to process it, nod off and repeat the cycle, except no trees this time. Something else that's reticulated: an octopus, perhaps?

This is fucked up; you've just caught me at the introvert-extrovert transition.

Consider: "Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Babylon Black Box

There are too few appropriate microcosms. Most end up being far too pretentious, and then nobody likes you, and nobody reads you, and people get frustrated with these links you're drawing, and you give yourself an ulcer from both stress and aspirin. But you soldier on. This one concerns a wee mouse, kind of like that poem Of Mice and Men.

Oh, wee mouse! You were born with defects in your brain because cruel demi-god masters (the ones that pick you up at seemingly random times of day) wanted it so. You were kept in a cage where they shaved you as an identifying mark. Last week you spent most of the day in a dark soundproof box where popping noises made you jump, really made you leap against the confines of your immobilizingly tiny cage. This is what we wanted you to do, and because of your brain deficit made you extra-twitchy, you were the darling of the demi-god hunched over the equipment delivering what he called the "stimulus", but what you probably would have called "what the fuck was that!?". Other equipment reduced your experience to a tracing on an oscilliscope screen.

What you don't know, wee mouse, is that these all-powerful cruel demi-god experimenters are caught in a box of their own, except it is a box more appropriate to them. Your box is the startle chamber. Their box is caleld Babylon. So these boxes are internersted, as you see. In Babylon the cruel experimenters walk around and get their own shocking stimuli (but Babylon is more of a longitudinal experiment). POP! A child's murder splashes out on every newspaper page. BANG! Sirens walining in the night. POP! Darfur militias charging across the Saharan plains. POP! Tupac got shot. Biggie died. The natives on the corner are getting drunk just like every day all day. Victorian houses are burning down. BANG! Hurricanes. Appropriations hearings gone haywire. (And more subtle backround white noise, much as you have to get you prepped for the stimulus.) What about your mortgage? Will your job be here next month? How will you pay tuition? You have to get groceries? Did you remember to lock your door? Don't you hate that eyesore of a fence the neigbours built?

Wee mouse, don't think that I wouldn't connect to you. If I can, I will scatter your body's ashes, but we'll keep your bain fixed so we may learn something from you. Because you are teaching us.

Consider: "Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else we do."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Urban Soup (Part XIV)

Show #1: I still haven't gotten the concert crowd down properly: sometimes I can manage. Sometimes I can dig it, and join heatily in the digging. Other times I just stand and watch. That night was part of the latter. The musicians were image-whores: a bunch of badasses with unusually high voices, rocking out in accordance with some General Order from the Office of the Rock God. The kind of interesting part were the two dancers in front of me. They just didn't care, and managed to sway and jump and twirl and whatever else for the better part of the show. It started off with a guy and girl--a couple, I presume--who both looked like Elvis Costello. They managed to suck in a few other people who they may or may not have known. You know the kinds of people they are: within minutes they'll treat you like somone they have a history with. Later on in the show they quieted down, and thay's where the two squares came in: a couple of middle-aged guys in suits amid a crowd where the median age is something like 19. One dude was clutching his pint-glass and dancing for all he was worth, which wasn't much. But it made me think. Will I try to keep "with it" at that age? I hope not. Music then will probably consist of blast beats so loud and so quick that within about ten seconds you pass out into blissful hypnagogic nothingness.

Show #2: We walked in and said "yes!", because the four-synthesizer group on the stage was sending square and triangular waves of hipness through the floor, up my leg bones as vibrations in hydroxyapatite, through my abdominal and thoracic cavities as more liquidy-type vibrations through blood-engorged organs (not that organ) and connective tissue, up through my larynx, hitting the hypothalamus and making me flush. (Wow, was that ever biologically implausible.) The girl keyboardist stashed her handbag under where we were sitting, and we praised her show. She seemed the kind of person who'd totally be down with doing whatever afterwards, except she was way more hip than we were. (So hip she could hardly see over her pelvis.) There were two other bands; the second was just loud. The headliners were good, but didn't make me say "yes!" again. What's more interesting than one-sentence pronouncements is what happens in the interstices of the show. For the first time ever, someone actually tried to tell me her life story. It's odd nodding along to lesbian heartbreak and uptown isolated sadness from someone with blue hair. (My odd fixation with blue hair is material for a long, long essay. One that might get produced ono of these days.) But this wasn't the time, and there was no time or capacity to listen--for the first time ever. Instead, my empathy surrenderred to the bass beats and phlanger noises and cowbell clicks and stage acrobatics.

Consider: "If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience."

Saturday, May 06, 2006


(Wherein once again I sound off on the contradictions of modern life without having lived in any non- or pre-modern life conditions. Wherein I try to once again characterize art--functionally, not idealistically. Wherein the triglycerides of despair are emulsified by the bile salts of wonder. Wherein Moloch-minded exam drudgery is used to make someting, anything.)

So I've been thinking a lot about what I read a long time ago about the concept of "thrownness", which I've mentioned before. Basically, it's a snappy word for the idea that we don't choose when and where we are born; where we will be nurtured; what opportunities life will afford us; who our friends are; what ideas we are exposed to. But it's more insidious than that, I think. It's the reason I can never abide to listen to anyone talk about "free will", because there is no such thing, at least as commonly conceived. The best substitute I can find is "agency". We have some limited agency, mainly consisting in low-level decisions, which is what people praise or blame us on. Otherwise, it is a matter not of random chance, but something even weirdet: contingency. We forget in our individual-minded culture how little control we have: environmental disaster is upon us, wars and revolutions and brave religions and foolish ideaologies sweep streets and mountains and entire continents, the climate proceeds to fuck thousands over. That is trivial. But what's not trivial? The fact that I speak the hodgepodge of languages I speak was up to contingency. The fact that I am of a certain social class with certain education, certain job opportunities, certain propsnsities to rebel in certain areas of life. The people I make friends with, who feed back onto my personality as I affect them, the emotions that emerge from the subconscious, painting each day in a distinct hue. The ideology predominant among my places of work and leusure. These are pesonal examples, but they are universal. I the end, we are thrown into this cauldron and we may face a number of fates. We may be ground up by Babylon, or we may set fire to Babylon. Or we may do any number of things therefrom. And I'm willing to bet the extreme division of labour in the modern world contributes to this feeling more than anything else. I'm not a Marxist (anymore), but Mzrx was right when he talked about alienation; I thinbk alienation is a subset of what we mean by thrownness. If you give up your executive control of a certian field of endeavor, you become more dependent on the whims and contingencies of other people. Did you ever feel nauseous when doing a group project back in high school (or even today) with a group of semi-strangers? That's thrownness in a nutshell.

So what does a predestined early-21st-century upper-middle class person do to maintain a sense of agency in light of institutions thrown against it? (I speak here of a horrible feeling I get whenever I walk among tall buildings, or when machinery the size of a thousand humans moves with its fiendish insect mind, or when studying the mechanics of human physiology in a reading room with five hundred similar specialists. Etc., etc.) That's where that horrible vagueness that is "art" comes in. Let me just array one criticism at art before I begin: every epithet I have ever thrown at organized religion I apply to so-called institutional art. It suffers from the same institutional ossification that happens in huge ecclesiastical hierarchies: basic processes that fill human needs become abstracted (and, unlike in scientific practice, this abstraction is not warranted by anything) and obfuscated so that a team of specialists can leech off the needs of the multitude. So when I speak of art, I speak of it as a process performed by you and me. Art is what happens when I try to write a short story nobody will ever read; art is you and your friends whanging away at the same four chords on ever-so-slightly out of tune guitars; art is hastilu interpreted pseudo-tribal dancing to the ferosious torch-light in some park; art is singing nursery rhymes while cooking. And so on. Why is that great? Because that's where the agency comes in. We have all become specialists in Babylon. There's no denying that. (And, realisitcally, it provides us all with benefits such as physical protection. We are no longer the salt of the Earth, but we will live to approximately 100.) But when you make an attempt (however clumsy) at creating something, anything you assert agency. It's a kind of anti-dialectic wherein homogenization and sterilization (not in the biological sense--yet) produce efflorescence and fragmentation. So the po-mos are right in a very limted domain. Everything they've ever said about science and politics has been bullshit of the highest magnitude; but when it came to talking about the modern "soul", they can give us some guidance. Too bad they are making a covert attempt to become the clergy of the art world.

So fragment away! I expect to see many more honour students blasting their ears with phlangers. Expect to see software engineers vomitting on walls of subways--the tiles their canvas. Expect the carefully controlled surgeon to ignite fireworks at night and launch it at her neighbours. Expect to see your psychiatrist meditating in a magnificent oak tree. But also expect the flip-side. Expect the kind-voiced beardo to have a streak of the Ford Mechanical Man, or the vegan baker to have no compassion or tolerance for computer files in disarray.

Consider: "I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope; / for hope would be hope for the wrong thing, wait without / love; / for love would love of the wrong thing; / there is yet, / faith; / the faith, and the love, and the hope are all in the waiting; / there is yet thought; / bout you are not ready for thought; / so the darkness shall be the light, and / the stillness, the dancing."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Well, it's drawing to the end of exams: soon I'll be stuck with the crushing responsibility of actually going through with all the plans I've made. Lest I forget, I've filled out a little paper with demands I'm making of myself and keeping it with me wherevere I go. These are little reminders scrawled in my illegible handwriting on topics which would bear personal relevance to only me. They are reasonable right now, but what if I get too tired to actually go through with any of them? So, as an antidote, I propose a list of ridiculous, exhorbitant, unlikely and/or harrowing plans for the summer which will never come to fruition, either thankfully or sadly

Propaganda minister for a socialist party in a third-world country? Santation engineer? (But not the driver of the big garbage truck: the guy hanging out the back and throwing people's garbage in then throwing the plastic containers back onto the lawn.) Writer of terrible sensationalized pornography? (With all that comes with the terrain: horrible self-loathing, unaddressed feelings of hack-ness, few friends and too much money, garbage bags filled with every conceivable kind of drug.) Coat-check in a small independent theatre house? (Charged, of course, with stealing unobtrusively small amounts of money from the patrons' wallets to cover the theatre's running costs.) Anti seal-hunt militant? (Making sure the seal hunters' casualties are on par with the number of dead, slubbed baby seals.) Yogic healer? (Much like this guy, who found a way to survive off nothing but light. Light!) Soapbox nut? (Which would really be my preferred employment. I've already got a few "bits".) A butter churner in Amish counties? That guy you always see mopping the same goddamn floor? That guy who's always just "hanging out" and eating a bag of chips? (Who, if he ever got up off the goddamn couch, would leave a permanent stain from the congealed sweat.)

Next time: back to ranting. I've also got a few of those saved up. What will it be about? New Jersey? Pedophilia? Information explplosion? The disenchantment of the world? Or something which hasn't been covered by everyone in every age all the time? Sorry.

Consider: " That's it, my lovely Cog Sci & AI. No more naturalistic imperative or Lance Ripps--the pornographic psychologist--or theories of categorization and concepts, or Elenor Rosch and her prototypes, or Osherson and Smith. Farewell to Medin's theory and the gestalt problem, to conceptual coherence and Mary Douglas and her very odd cross-categorization theories. One last wave to microconcepts and to the English word "splang", to "grue" and "fridgeon" and to the different types of memory and encoding specificity. To the amygdola and the reasoning-memory-concepts triad of dependendies. Goodbye combinatorial explosion and how you make me giggle, and the problems of sizing up and functional fixedness and of course the frame problem--I'll miss you greatly. Fare thee well means-ends analysis and GOFAI; and oh, the mental representation argument, I'll never forget you Pylyshyn, and that jerk Kosslyn. Sargon of Akkad and John of Pickering, medium independence, SHRDLU, and epistomological failings of the GPS, connectionism, Marvin Minsky, backpropogation of error, not being crypto-cartesian, systemic import and Patricia Churchland--who sounds like she's having a verbal orgasm when she talks about the brain. Some of you I shall always treasure: epistemic boundedness, and the Chinese room argument, the questioning of if the intrinsic-attributed distinction itself is instrinsic or attributed, and of course linguistic nativism. And Fodor, I shall perhaps miss you most of all."