Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Symbols of Immortality 4: Snake

On 12 September 2013, HuffPo reviewed a new book of poetry, "that could very well reinvent how the world may now view poetry as an art form." That is high praise for poet Gary Lemons, and his new volume, Snake. His poems concern one character, Snake, who is the last creature left on earth after the apocalypse. According to the Amazon blurb about Lemons's book, Snake embodies everything that has gone before; and Snake reaches toward everything that will come after. The character marks the changing of an aeon (a gnostic idea, where time and existence unite in one semi-divine principle). Snake also represents the changing of an aeon's reality:
In Snake, Snake is the last thing left alive. He’s all that remains of our voices. The bodies of all living animals and plants have escaped down the Dreaming Way, leaving behind a residual ego trapped inside Snake: the sole survivor the Earth must destroy to complete the cleanse and start over. All that is gone—all that has been reduced by fire and ice and the other dynamic retributive forces of Earth—lives on in Snake. Snake is the extracted limbic brain removed from the collective consciousness and hunted across an emptied landscape. Snake is the bad ass reptile holding back the end of time by sticking himself into the spokes of Samsara. Snake is a single narrative sequence, a frontline account of pursuit, avoidance, and even friendship, forged in the heat of struggle.
The HuffPo interview with Lemons confirms the poet's awareness of contemporary Millennial themes, especially rapid change, altered values and shifting consciousness. His post-apocalyptic character is a Phoenix-like symbol; Snake describes our awareness of the significance of the turn of the Millennium and our related sense that everything will be smashed in order to create an incontrovertible transformation of the world:
[HuffPo:] Despite its post-apocalypse setting, Snake's reflections on the human condition feel thematically urgent to our rapidly changing times. What was the basis of creating a story from a far-future Earth where humanity has long been vanquished?

[GL:] ... I've come to realize ... that the narrative--or the message coming through--is about the line between life and death--how it isn't carved in stone, and how graves aren't any more than wounds that heal on a larger body--and how what we call spirit is the dream around whatever the current reality seems to be. In other words--the future that Snake describes--where life forms on Earth are destroyed in a final cleansing--is not about the death of those forms but the transformation into a new reality. Like a quantum loop world. Uncertainty rules and realities are probabilities contained inside of one another. Events hatch out of events. What dies isn't important--what can't die is.

The character Snake at times ... behaves like a physical entity, preoccupied with food and other basic needs. It also seems like a complicated stream of leftover consciousness, an artificial intelligence drawing upon leftover big data to contemplate its existence. What was the basis for creating the background for a character so difficult to pin down?

This is Snake describing itself--its physical needs are memories of the time it spent as a human being--a time when it had a wife or husband, and a child--a time when it filled the car with a fuel made from ancestors and tasted the bright flesh of cherries on its tongue--these still live in Snake and often in its exile--in the billion years of desolation--as it roams the atomized flesh of creation. It sucks on its memories like a brief neon sign flashing on the lost tavern of its tongue--memories drift into reality like they do all the time. And in Snake's world they become indistinguishable--like protons wandering into the field of electrons--new shapes emerge from this random coupling.

So though Snake is the composite of everything that is gone--the infinite hard drive where the missing data is embedded--waiting for retrieval--it's also the world around the leftover world the hard drive of humanity holds its secrets--it's the dream of the hard drive out of which the hard drive appears--and Snake is the current that runs between them, powering both of them. When it returns to the dream, and when he goes back to Berlin and watches the people walking the streets continuing their lives as if they still exist--Snake's actually present there because that world is also real--curled into the emptiness like an imaginary number inside the mind of the unborn. Snake is real everywhere--like we are--even as we hold to the conviction there is a single reality and the belief we can die in that reality forever.

Intelligence that risks everything is the entrance into creation--or one of them--according to Snake. Everything flowers out of our willingness to risk everything we know for the next step. In any direction.
See my other posts on Immortality.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Princeton Professor Cracks Human Consciousness

Image Source: The Witness Within.

Yesterday, Vice published an interview with Princeton neuroscientist Professor Michael Graziano, who has explained the evolutionary reason why and how we are aware of ourselves and the larger world. The report begins with reference to a way you can test your brain's limited capacity for understanding the world beyond itself; it is called the Pinocchio Illusion:
There’s a goofy neurological trick you can play on your brain that makes you feel like you have a super long nose. It’s called the Pinocchio Illusion and all you need to make it happen is a vibrator and a friend.
Here’s how it works. Person A closes her eyes and places the tip of her finger on her nose. Person B applies a buzzing vibrator to the tendon that connects the bicep to the inner side of the elbow of the arm that’s touching the nose. The vibration on the tendon stimulates the muscle fibers in such a way that tricks Person A’s brain into thinking that her arm is extending, but since Person A’s index finger tells her brain that it’s still connected to the tip of her nose, the brain does a quick and dirty calculation (in the absence of visual data) and concludes that her nose must be growing super long. It’s fucking crazy. Try it.
According to Princeton University neuroscientist Michael Graziano, this phenomenon is indicative of the key aspect of the human mind. Our brains create models of the world around us, including our bodies, in order to be attentive to the various signals we get from our senses. So in the Pinocchio Illusion, your brain creates a model of what your body looks like and the model falls apart due to the conflicting stimuli. Our brains might be exceptionally good at making models, but they’re never perfect replicas of what’s happening in the world, just fast and loose sketches to make sense of things.
There’s a funny consequence to our brains’ proficiency in model-making, Professor Michael Graziano argues in his book Consciousness and the Social Brain, which came out this month. That consequence is what we call consciousness, the ineffable ungraspable “I,” the magic sauce of Being that defines our essential humanness. From Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum,” to Kant’s theory of a priori forms, to Taoist, nondualist Vedantic whatever, the origin of consciousness has been, you know, a real head-scratcher. And Professor Graziano’s theory proposes an exceptionally clear explanation of what’s going on in our domes’ pieces every day of our short little lives.
So to the question: Are we ordained by our divine creator or are we just delusional lumps of carbon and guts? Professor Graziano concludes something closer to latter. But it’s not delusion that makes our brains aware. It’s a highly functional adaptive strategy. What we think of as sentience can be explained by what he calls the Attention Schema Theory, and I talked to him on the phone this week to understand what his theory of a neurological basis for our consciousness means today and what it could mean in the future.
VICE: Can you describe what exactly your investigation into consciousness is?
Professor Michael Graziano: Here’s a quick background. I can be conscious that I am me and I am human. Whatever that consciousness is, is an experience. What I am asking is what set of information is that consciousness. What does it mean to have an actual subjective experience of something?
What’s unique about your method of inquiry? This question sounds like something a lot of people have tried to figure out.
To start off, many scientists are asking the wrong question. They’re asking, “What does it mean to have the magical inner feeling?” You start with the assumption that there’s magic and then you start experimenting. The better question is how and for what adaptive advantage do brains attribute that property to themselves? And right away that puts it into the domain of information processing, something that can, in principle, be understood.
How is it that the cognitive machinery in our brains accesses internal data and arrives at a conclusion and can sometimes report, “I have experienced, I am aware of something.” Not just “that is blue,” but “I am aware that that is blue.”
OK, so how do brains do that?
Brains construct models, informational models of all kinds of things, in fact it’s one of the things brains do best, make models of the external world and models of things going on inside your body.
The theory at heart, the reason why brains attribute the property of awareness to itself, is because the brain is essentially constructing a model to monitor the fact that it is paying attention to that object. So attention is a physically real data-handling method and awareness is the brain’s cartoon sketch that’s used to keep track of what it’s doing. That it can use to keep track of what it’s doing.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Voyager 1: Welcome to the Interstellar Neighbourhood

The interstellar neighbourhood: "The solar system moves through a local galactic cloud at a speed of 50,000 miles per hour, creating an interstellar wind of particles, some of which can travel all the way toward Earth to provide information about our neighborhood." Image Source:Adler/U. Chicago/Wesleyan/NASA (Hat tip: Emily Lakdawalla).

NASA reconfirmed today that Voyager 1 left our solar system and entered interstellar space. From The Atlantic:
Thirty-six years ago, from the ground in Florida, Voyager 1 launched into space. It traveled out of Earth's atmosphere, and it kept going. It passed Jupiter in 1979 and then Saturn in 1980. And then it kept going. ...
And today, in a historic announcement, NASA revealed that this piece of machinery, built by humans here on our planet, has officially sailed beyond the region of solar winds around our sun and into interstellar space.
The transition happened a year ago, around August 25, 2012, but scientists didn't realize it until recently, when they analyzed the vibrations made by an explosion on the sun in March of 2012, which arrived at the spacecraft in April 2013. As NASA explains, "The pitch of the oscillations helped scientists determine the density of the plasma. The particular oscillations meant the spacecraft was bathed in plasma more than 40 times denser than what they had encountered in the outer layer of the heliosphere. Density of this sort is to be expected in interstellar space."
The spacecraft sent back the following sound recording: "This is the sound of an explosion on our sun, [after it] traveled 12 billion miles, and [was heard by Voyager 1] ... in interstellar space."

See my earlier posts on the Voyager spacecraft: here, here and here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Decryption, Public Trust and Civil War

British intelligence office GCHQ is now hiring, with a public call to anyone who can break a series of codes on its Web site: "The Can You Find It? competition is designed to test both experienced and self-taught techies to crack a series of cryptic codes." (Daily Mirror report from 11 September 2013). Image Source: GCHQ via The Daily Mirror. If you crack the codes, the GCHQ promises "You can win 1 of 100 Raspberry Pi or 1 of 5 Google Nexus 7 tablets."

Do not discuss the NSA decryptions, please. There's nothing to see, move along. On 5 September 2013, Matthew Green, Assistant Research Professor in Computer Science (with a specialty in applied cryptography) at Johns Hopkins University, wrote a blog post about a sensational joint report from The Guardian (here) and the NYT (here). These reports claimed that the American National Security Agency and British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have decrypted a whole spectrum of Web software and communications and monitor them with the Sigint Enabling Project. The NYT remarks that Sigint involves: "industry relationships, clandestine changes to commercial software to weaken encryption, and lobbying for encryption standards it can crack."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Anniversaries: 9/11 and Terror's Nihilism

Image Source: SND.

This post is dedicated to a friend who was under the first World Trade Center Tower as the first plane hit it on 9/11, and was engulfed in the cloud of toxic dust when the tower collapsed. May all those who were killed and who suffered that day be remembered today. Another grim anniversary today observes the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens (a picture of the aftermath in Benghazi is here) and three other Americans in Libya one year ago. Wikipedia's list of all terrorist incidents, in all countries, is here.

It is hard to absorb how completely 9/11 changed the world for the worse. We live with constant, daily reminders of its repercussions, most recently from the London beheading; the Boston bombings (graphic images of the aftermath here, here and here); the NSA's assertion that their surveillance programs have prevented 54 terrorist attacks; the sky-rocketing price of oil; and crises in Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere.

The other side of this coin is 9/11's erosion of reality. A conspiracy theorists' Web culture denies nearly everything in the news now and assumes it to be a photoshopped hoax or a false flag. This is as true in America as it is in the societies of America's allies, critics and enemies. Since 9/11, international affairs have become nightmarishly complex. But more nightmarish is the fact that 9/11 created a global Hall of Mirrors, where for most people, the truth and the difference between right and wrong have become infinitely relative.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sino-African Ghost City Serves an Unknown Future

Kilamba, Angola. Image Source: Daily Mail.

Last year, the BBC reported (here and here) on a city the Chinese built on the outskirts of the capital city of Angola:
A giant new Chinese-built city has sprung up on the outskirts of Angola's capital Luanda. Nova Cidade de Kilamba is a brand-new mixed residential development of 750 eight-storey apartment buildings, a dozen schools and more than 100 retail units. Designed to house up to half a million people when complete, Kilamba has been built by the state-owned China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) in under three years at a reported cost of $3.5bn (£2.2bn). But on a recent trip back to Luanda, the BBC's former Angola correspondent Louise Redvers discovered that most of the buildings currently lie empty, as this footage she recorded shows.
This city is reportedly eerily quiet, while local people are hired to manicure the lawns and keep the buildings in repair.