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{Saturday, December 20, 2003}

bull cycle and verbomotor

Exposing the Nerve: Notes on Memory, Hypertext & Poetry
"Ted Nelson's utopic vision of the "docuverse" represents no more than the culmination of our collective hope to inhabit a universe of externally perceived memory, where once an invisible memory inhabited us, silently directing our thoughts and actions. Nelson envisions nothing less than a new storage system which "will represent at last the true structure of information ... with all its intrinsic complexity and controversy, and provide a universal archival standard worthy of our heritage of freedom and pluralism" (0/12). Quite fittingly, Nelson's name for his "framework of reunification" is Xanadu."
William Marsh - Witz 5.2, Summer 1997

A Group has No Head: Conceptual Frameworks and Systems for Supporting Social Interaction (pdf)
Gerhard Fischer writes: "Distributed cognition [Norman, 1993, Things That Make Us Smart] emphasizes that the heart of intelligent human performance is not the individual human mind but groups of minds in interaction with each other and minds in interactions with tools and artifacts. It is important to understand the fundamental difference of distributed cognition as it operates for the aided individual human mind. Distributed cognition between the individual human mind and artifacts (such as memory systems) often function well, because the required knowledge which an individual needs is distributed between her/his head and the world (for example: an address book, a folder system of e-mail messages, a file system). But a group has no head -- therefore externalizations are critically more important for social interaction. Externalizations (1) create a record of our mental efforts, one that is "outside us" rather than vaguely in memory, and (2) they represent situations which can talk back to us, critiqued, and negotiated."

Wired 3.06: The Curse of Xanadu by Gary Wolf
"[...] As with everything else in his life, Nelson's conversation is controlled by his aversion to finishing. There are no full stops in the flow of his speech, only commas, dashes, ellipses.
"And I remember thinking about the particles in the water, but I thought of them as places, and how they would separate around my fingers and reconnect on the other side, and how this constant separation and reconnection and perpetual change into new arrangements was - "
Suddenly, the monologue stopped, and Nelson reached into his cache of equipment. He retrieved his own cassette recorder, tested it, and turned the microphone toward himself. "OK, I'm at The Spinnaker," he continued, "talking about the old hand-in-the-water story and how the sense of the separation and reconnection of the places in the water made such an impression on me, and how all the relationships were constantly changing - and you could hardly hold onto it - you could, you could not, you couldn't really visualize or express the myriad of relationships."
[...] Xanadu, the ultimate hypertext information system, began as Ted Nelson's quest for personal liberation. The inventor's hummingbird mind and his inability to keep track of anything left him relatively helpless. He wanted to be a writer and a filmmaker, but he needed a way to avoid getting lost in the frantic multiplication of associations his brain produced. His great inspiration was to imagine a computer program that could keep track of all the divergent paths of his thinking and writing. To this concept of branching, nonlinear writing, Nelson gave the name hypertext.
[...] Nelson has never catalogued his thousands of hours of audio- and videotape. This would be impossible, since they are coextensive with his waking life, and it would also be unnecessary, since he has no intention of viewing or studying them. He rents several storage spaces [...]
Nelson records everything and remembers nothing. Xanadu was to have been his cure. To assist in the procedure, he called upon a team of professionals, some of whom also happened to be his closest friends and disciples.
In the end, the patient survived the operation. But it nearly killed the doctors."

Body Odysseys of the Famous
The world famous composer, Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) had his head stolen. Fortunately, he was dead at the time.

Sex, Time & Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution by Leonard Shlain

Reviewed by Julie Mayeda in The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday 17 August 2003
"In his 1998 book, "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess," Shlain, a Mill Valley author and chief of laproscopic surgery at California Medical Center, argued that the invention of writing reconfigured the human brain and initiated the reign of patriarchy. That book alone would have reserved him a spot in the Audacious Thinkers' Hall of Fame, but the vascular surgeon turned master synthesizer was not done. Next, he mind-traveled beyond the invention of the alphabet to the time when Homo sapiens emerged as a freshly minted species. Shlain returned with a fascinating story in tow, replete with another audacious hypothesis ..."

Meet Stelarc, the face of artificial intelligence
Garry Barker reports: The head is a 3000 polygon model wrapped in a graphical skin texture copied from Stelarc's skin. The eyes move, the mouth synchronises with its speech, it smiles, raises its eyebrows and creases its brow. While it does not "learn" from the questions it is asked, its database is growing so it can produce a more informal response to questions. "It has some knowledge of Melbourne - Flinders Street, ACMI and so on," Stelarc said. As for public reaction: "Some people get totally engrossed in their conversation with it. I went in a while ago to talk to my head but there was a crowd there," he said. "I walked away feeling that I had been beheaded; suffered prosthetic loss."

How do you take a snapshot of a contradiction?
Terry Eagleton reviews the Mimesis of Erich Auerbach: "[...] Bernard Shaw's plays may be radical in their content, but their stage directions portray a world so solid, familiar and well-upholstered, all the way down to the level of the whisky in the decanter on the sideboard, that it is hard to imagine ever being able to change it. In this sense, the realist form usurps the radical content. Besides, representational art is from one viewpoint the least realist of all, since it is strictly speaking impossible. Nobody can tell it like it is without editing and angling as they go along. Otherwise the book or painting would simply merge into the world. No sooner had the English novel embarked on its celebrated rise in the 18th century than Laurence Sterne reminded his literary colleagues of the crazed hubris of the realist project. Determined not to cheat the reader by leaving anything out, Tristram Shandy represents so much material so painstakingly that its narrative collapses."

The late Hugh Kenner's theory of everything
John Wilson, writing in The Boston Globe, celebrates the life & mind of chain-smoking alien Hugh Kenner:
"[...] The "rich, chaotic world" of painter Romare Bearden's collages, the surprising efficiency of a messy desk, the design of mazes: wherever he looked, Kenner found meaning, held in an intricate system of stresses like a sonnet or a geodesic dome.
He was himself a "pattern recognizer," as he described inventor Raymond Kurzweil in the December 1990 issue of the pioneering personal computer magazine Byte. (Kenner was surely the only writer ever to serve at the same time as a columnist both for Byte and Art & Antiques.) "A 'Kurzweil,'" he wrote, "that would be a pattern recognizer. Examples: a machine that can read books aloud to the blind; another machine that can type to human dictation; yet another that combines acoustic patterns so accurately that professional musicians have thought they were hearing a $400,000 concert grand."
In his masterpiece, "The Pound Era," published in 1971, Kenner had given another example: the "patterned energy" of a poem, transferable from Greek, say, to English or Chinese. As a rope makes a knot visible, Kenner wrote, so the Greek text "makes Homer's imagined realities apprehensible." But "the poem is not its language. Hence Pound's reiterated advice to translators, to convey the energized pattern and let go the words. To tie the knot you need not simulate the original fibers."
"The Pound Era," Kenner said, was a book he'd been trying to get started for years. What enabled him finally to pull it together was the insight that the great writers of the early 20th century and their kindred spirits in the arts and sciences shared a common awareness of "patterned integrities" -- the knot that exists apart from the rope; the gist of Homer -- that make up "a universe of ordered dynamisms." For Kenner, the Oxford English Dictionary's sequences of citations, T.S. Eliot's essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent," and the revolutionary cinematic montage of the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein were all aspects of the same great enterprise ..."

Popular Science: The Mod Squad by David Kushner
"The culture of mod making grew out of what author Steven Levy famously described as the hacker ethic, which predated the explosion of Internet culture and emphasized "sharing, openness, decentralization, and getting your hands on machines at any cost." When it came to software, games were ideal hacking material: creative objects whose DNA was ripe for sharing and mutation."

A Critic Whose Scholarship Gleamed With His Writing
An Appreciation from The New York Times - Saturday 29 November 2003
Benjamin Ivry pays tribute to Hugh: "Kenner studied mathematics early on in his native Canada, and with informed enthusiasm for the machine age, in 1984 developed a computer program, Travesty, that scrambles literary texts, highlighting idioms and structures within. In another book, "Geodesic Math and How to Use It" (1976, recently reissued by the University of California Press) Kenner explicated the domes invented by the ecological designer Buckminster Fuller more lucidly than Fuller did himself.
For Kenner, computers furnished a partial solution for the hearing loss that afflicted him from early childhood, along with a thickened and often difficult to understand speech. The possibilities of written communication online, bypassing the need for hearing or speaking words, thrilled Kenner, who told a college computing symposium at St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 1983 that computers were destined to affect education in a way comparable to "the invention of the alphabet that made writing possible."
The development of educational software in the subsequent 20 years has proved his point. In the mid-1980's Kenner assembled his own pioneering Heath/Zenith Z-100 computer and wrote a guide to the machine."

LRB - Peter Campbell : Reading the Signs
"The city has become a print-substrate, an almost anonymous structure which you read by way of notices, badges, signs, logos and banners. The battle between one message and another has escalated."

Tim Adams encounters Noam - the 'Devil's Accountant'
"On the railings outside my local train station at Harringay, in north London, someone has carefully placed a series of small white stickers. The stickers, all at eye level, are designed, I suppose, to be the first thing you see on the way to work and the last thing you see on your way home. They are all neatly typed with two words: READ CHOMSKY. Most mornings I find myself wondering for an instant whether the words are an imperative ('If you do nothing else today...'), or a swaggering boast (along the lines of some of the station's other typical graffiti: 'Shagged Karen', say).
[...] Chomsky works from within the empire, in one of its more rigorous outposts, at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology. MIT has none of the marginal, down-at-heel feel of a British university. Its pristine campus, all smoked glass and soaring marble, across the Charles river from Boston, has the sheen of a hi-tech business park. MIT advertises itself as 'America's ideas factory', and nowhere does the production line work as efficiently as in the offices of Professor Chomsky."

Humanity? Maybe It's in the Wiring [also here]
"Neuroscientists have given up looking for the seat of the soul, but they are still seeking what may be special about human brains, what it is that provides the basis for a level of self-awareness and complex emotions unlike those of other animals.
Most recently they have been investigating circuitry rather than specific locations, looking at pathways and connections that are central in creating social emotions, a moral sense, even the feeling of free will.
There are specialized neurons at work, as well -- large, cigar-shaped cells called spindle cells."
Sandra Blakeslee

Working in Movement - Uniquely Human
"The spindle cells aren't present at birth and develop during infancy and childhood.
Humans are unique in their ability to sense themselves and process the complex emotional states that often arise from this sensory ability. But you don't have to have a person under an MRI machine to know this. As movement educators see every day, just observing the way a person uses themselves in movement tells you a lot about the whole person. Putting hands on them is even more revealing." Tom Landini

Au commencement était la peau
The anthropologist Margaret Mead speaks about the "shock of the skin".

Reith Lectures 2003 - The Emerging Mind - Lecture 1: Phantoms in the Brain - Q & A
Anthony Gormley asks: "Hi Rama, yes, I'm just absolutely fascinated by the way tonight has unfolded because in fact what you seem to be doing is folding the brain back into the body and I had never heard about the Penfield homunculus but I suppose my question is, well where do the other brain functions come from, that have as it were, nothing to do with bodily perception? Can there be a consciousness of consciousness itself?"

BBC Radio 4 - Reith Lectures 2003 - The Emerging Mind - Lecture 1: Phantoms in the Brain
"The entire skin surface, touch signals, all the skin surface on the left side of the brain is mapped on to the right cerebral hemisphere on a vertical strip of cortical tissue called the post-central gyrus. Actually there are several maps but I'll simplify them and pretend there's only one map called the post-central gyrus. Now this is a faithful representation of the entire body surface. It's almost as though you have a little person draped on the surface of the brain. It's called the Penfield homunculus, and for the most part it's continuous which is what you mean by a map, but there is one peculiarity and that is the representation of the face on this map on the surface of the brain is right next to the representation of the hand on this map, instead of being near the neck where it should be, so it's dislocated. Now nobody knows why, something to do with the phylogeny or the way in which the brain develops in early foetal life or in early infancy, but that's the way the map is."
Vilayanur S Ramachandran

Dr Stephen Juan - Can we talk to the unborn?
"In experiments conducted by Dr. [Frans] Veldman, it was discovered that during the final trimester of pregnancy, if a father places his hand upon the bare abdomen of his pregnant wife an extraordinary thing happens. Watching under ultrasound imaging, the unborn child "responds to the invitation to relate, moves itself toward his hand resting on the mother's belly and snuggles up into it." When the father's hand is taken away, the baby moves away. In any case, there is a distinct desire for the unborn baby to establish communication contact."

PhillyTalks #17 - October 3rd 2000 - Featuring: Lisa Robertson, Steve McCaffery (pdf)
In the course of an email correspondence with Lisa Robertson, Steve McCaffery quotes a slightly modified form of his own essay ["Blaser's Deleuzian Folds," printed in The Recovery of the Public World: Essays on Poetics in Honour of Robin Blaser, edited by Charles Watts and Edward Byrne (Vancouver: Talon, 1999), pages 373-392], as follows (in part):
"The double helix of our DNA is actually a procedure of the "superfold." There is also the becoming-fold along an ogive trajectory or planar crinkle. All these choreographies of folds and detours lead back to the skin, that most quotidian and insistent organ, enveloping us. Above all, the fold is anti-extensional, anti-dialectical and intransigently inclusive. Baroque folding comprises an "inside as the operation of the outside" returning surfaces to a topographical paradox in which "an interiority ... constitutes liberty itself." Folds being monads cannot be points. For instance, Baroque logic must treat the syllogism not as a resolution of points and counterpoints, but as the folding of a single discursive proposition. And while conceding to Plato's Socratic dialogues the potential to seduce, an erotics of the dialectic is rare. However, there must be a constant eroticizing within the fold whose differentiating agency repudiates antagonism and opposition as the basal coordinates for change."

Mediamatic: Omar Muñoz-Cremers reviews Germinal Life by Keith Ansell Pearson
"It is the French philosopher Bergson who convinces Deleuze that philosophy has the capacity to go beyond human experience and simultaneously is able to deepen it. As Pearson makes clear, this implies a radical reorientation of philosophy which makes use of a new logic of nuances in place of antitheses."

Neurology of Phantom Limb Pain
Andrew Austin: "In the 1950's Canadian neurosurgeon, Wilder Penfield, demonstrated areas of the brain that map out bodily sensation and perception in the parietal lobes. A schematic model of these areas representations became known as the Penfield Homunculus.
In 1986, Wain tested the efficiency of hypnosis in treating phantom limb pain."

Mastering the Pain by Michael Gliserman - Maisonneuve Magazine, November 2003
"Pain. The mere mention of the word makes us cringe. Albert Schweitzer once called pain a more terrible lord of mankind than even death itself. Dr. Ronald Melzack, internationally renowned professor of psychology at McGill University, has made Schweitzer's dark lord his life's work. [...]
With Hebb as his thesis advisor, Melzack's first experiments focused on irrational fears in dogs. He noted how they recoiled from skulls, umbrellas opening up, and balloons being inflated. He also noted, when he lit matches, that the group of dogs raised in humane isolation would -- after sniffing and recoiling like any normally raised dog -- return repeatedly to sniff the flame."

What is Cyberculture?
"A Stanford hacker named Donald Woods discovered a kind of game on a Xerox research computer one day that involved a spelunker-explorer seeking treasure in a dungeon. Woods contacted the programmer, Will Crowther, talked to him about it, and decided to expand Crowther's game into a full-scale "Adventure," where a person could use the computer to assume the role of a traveler in a Tolkienesque setting, fight off enemies, overcome obstacles through clever tricks, and eventually recover treasure. The player would give two-word, verb-noun commands to the program, which would respond depending on how the command changed the universe that had been created inside the computer by Don Woods' imagination."
Steven Levy - Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
(Anchor Press / Doubleday, New York, 1984, page 192)

Virtual Reality as the End of the Enlightenment Project
"With geography filled up, and the dreams of space colonization less viable every day, the drive to the frontier has collapsed in on itself. The space remaining for colonization is the space of the technology itself. No longer the tool by which the frontier was defined, the body of technology is now itself under exploration. Back in the early 60's, one of the pioneers of computer graphics, Ivan Sutherland, declared that the goal was to "break the glass and go inside the machine." More recently, Jaron Lanier has said of VR that: "the technology goes away, and all that's left is the cultural component." The technology 'goes away' because we are inside it."
Simon Penny - March 1992

Hypertext: Exposing the Nerve
William Marsh - Witz 5.2, Summer 1997
"Once again, we're in front of the mirror, at first blushing but later admiring and celebrating the intricacies of a vastly externalized human cognition. However, we are nowhere near knowing how to inhabit the reflection - despite claims by celebrants that computerized hypertext marks just such a change in habitat."

The knight in the mirror by Harold Bloom
"Herman Melville blended Don Quixote and Hamlet into Captain Ahab (with a touch of Milton's Satan added for seasoning). Ahab desires to avenge himself upon the white whale, while Satan would destroy God, if only he could. Hamlet is death's ambassador to us, according to G Wilson Knight. Don Quixote says his quest is to destroy injustice.
The final injustice is death, the ultimate bondage. To set captives free is the knight's pragmatic way of battling against death."

[ash] Imagined Cities
at some point i realized that all i ever dream about is cities. covered concourses, underground caverns filled with people, a branching network of platforms over the reservoir, and of course those stairs that go upward forever. but nothing that isn't of the metropolis. no trees, no grass, no lake, no birds, no sky.

Mediamatic: Manuel DeLanda: Homes: Meshwork or Hierarchy?
"It may be, as philosopher Andy Clark has suggested, that our minds are a kludge (or bricollage) of different kinds of intelligence: some intelligent abilities arise out of decentralized and parallel processes, others from centralized and sequential ones.
One useful way to think about this is to view the evolution of the human mind as involving a similar process as symbolic AI, only in reverse. Let me explain. When the first AI programs were written, programming languages and computer hardware were very hierarchical and sequential. In the 1970's when symbolic AI switched to the creation of expert-systems, the need for flexibility forced them to create programing languages which simulated parallel processing even while running in sequential hardware. Andy Clark's idea is that our evolution may have involved a similar, though opposite, solution: we began with a highly parallel and non-hierarchical hardware (like birds) and at some point our brains began to simulate a sequential and centralized mind: the stream of linguistic consciousness with which we are familiar through introspection."

Italo Calvino - Invisible Cities
"Zoe is the place of indivisible existence. But why, then, does the city exist? What line separates the inside from the outside, the rumble of wheels from the howl of wolves?"

Invisible Natures: On Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities (pdf)
"Artificial nature is invisible, yet it weighs on us. It weighs us down through its universal excess: the sources of images and information produce overdoses of news and fictions originating from all corners of the planet and on all possible subjects. [...] Information, knowledge and news are diffused in a near-instantaneous and unpredictable fashion, via the "electronic word-of-mouth" which characterises the networks of which the invisible natures are made. In the traditional media -- television, radio, newspapers -- information essentially flows one way only. In the new networks, information flows with the tide, and everyone can act on it, receive it and pass it on ..."
Virgílio Fernandes Almeida

Gamasutra - Features - "Turning a Linear Story into a Game: The Missing Link between Fiction and Interactive Entertainment"
Paul Warne writes: For [Lebbeus] Woods, breaking down bureaucratic hierarchies is the only way to truly advance not only architecture, but the human condition as well. Some might call it anarchy, but Woods likes to think these constructs are products of an assemblage of "heterarchies", a term he borrows from cybernetics which Woods defines as "a spontaneous lateral network of autonomous individuals; a system of authority based on the evolving performances of individuals (e.g. a cybernetic circus)."

Italo Calvino and Stones and Arches
Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone. "But which is the stone that supports the bridge?" Kublai Khan asks. "The bridge is not supported by one stone or another," Marco answers, "but by the line of the arch that they form." Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: "Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me." Polo answers: "Without stones there is no arch."
Italo Calvino - Invisible Cities

posted by Andrew 12/20/2003 07:36:00 PM