Monday, December 21, 2009

Bees: Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood and Douglas Coupland's Generation A

"Time is not a thing that's a sea on which you float."
Atwood's prose, timeless; her zeitgeist, cryptic. Yet, interesting that two Canadian authors would publish works with bees in 2009.

"People who think that dying is the worst thing don't know a thing about life" (Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd) may be a connecting thread, but I can't really say, as I haven't read it. I did see the movie, though it didn't make that much of an impression, and I pulled up the "look inside" version from Amazon for the first few pages. I think Kidd's "bees" in 2002 may have sparked something in these two Canadians culminating 7 years later in their own metaphoric explorations of bees as magic messengers between worlds.

I'm just finishing Coupland's Generation A and am stung by the viral nature of stories. As physics proves that softly batting butterfly wings change the course of history, in a simpler world, we recognize that stories are the bread and butter of metaphysical sandwiches around the world.

The experience of bees swarming is as disturbing a force of nature as a violent storm. The buzz starts softly below the level of awareness, growing in volume as their disturbing and unexpected quickly moving black cloud is spotted. Still not registering on consciousness, as the phenomenon is most uncommon, we are given a few moments to consider sheltering options while yet unaware of the origin of the threat. And thousands of bees, moving as a single unit, are most certainly a danger to be avoided even if the likelihood of drawing their attention away from the swarm unlikely.
Atwood's bees are somewhat less central to the story than Coupland's and yet the mythology and relationship to human psyche form a pivotal point for both novels.
Atwood's bees represent collective consciousness, while Coupland's bees are seminal in their sting which Coupland correlates metaphorically to communication between/across mammalian neuropeptides.

Read them back to back, or simultaneously, for a rich Canadian rush.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Powers, Rucker, Gaarder, Sawyer, Griffith, Doctorow

Life versus simulated life rights? (ROLLBACK, Sawyer)
"How programmed are we?" (GENEROSITY, Powers)
Can a/the Maker be created or destroyed considering Higgs boson, the latest in a long list of names for God?
Opt out of procreation to eliminate aggression or individual psychological variation versus hive mind in moral instruction (ROLLBACK, Sawyer)
"Causal stories for a causal universe" (MAKERS, Doctorow)
John G. Cramer: Transactional Interpretation, or TI (FLASHFORWARD, Sawyer)
Planck length applied to time (ROLLBACK, Sawyer)
Aleph-null: First level of infinity (HYLOZOIC, Rucker)
Runaway branching feedback, i.e., everything caused by everything else (GENEROSITY, Powers)
"Causality run amok." (MAKERS, Doctorow)
Block universe = NOW = Illusion(FLASHFORWARD, Sawyer)
Mirror neurons: Hunches, intuition, adviser, interpreter (ALWAYS, Griffith)
Without conscious beings anywhere, does reality break down, all possibilities exist in a shimmering whiteness as in the Copenhagen interpretation?(FLASHFORWARD, Sawyer)
Physical nature of the universe: external material for its own self-awareness (ORANGE GIRL, Gaarder)
Quantum physics = "By-product of the level of resolution of our simulated world" (ROLLBACK, Sawyer)
Mirror neurons re-create experience of others inside ourselves...our own cortex/body. (ALWAYS, Griffith)
"Will and words make a difference." (GENEROSITY, Powers)
Evolution favors the pessimistic aggressor. (ibid)
Tulpa, lazy eight & think infinite thoughts (HYLOZOIC, Rucker)
New Work: Authors of our own destiny (MAKERS, Doctorow)
Information at speed of light while meaning at speed of dark (GENEROSITY, Powers)
Chaos Theory (small changes have big effects over time) versus Block Universe (timelessly existing four dimensional world)(FLASHFORWARD, Sawyer)
"The secret of all imagination is theft." "The secret of survival is forgetting."(GENEROSITY, Powers)

"Threatening images get our attention faster, and we have to work harder to look away." (ibid)
Sweeping and tagging with the unconscious to envision prioritizing the gestalt for later analysis by the conscious mind. "Panic is a system conflict" between conscious and unconscious mind, much like a robot trying to compute a human saying 'I always lie'. Aligning the conscious and unconscious mind engenders power and awareness of intention of the other reveals opportune moment for action. Apologies, explanations and/or threats equals TMI. Information is currency, power, a tool. Love = loss of autonomy. We tend to believe what is convenient and ignore the rest. (ALWAYS, Griffith)
1.base 2.torque 3.movement on the out breath; rest on the in breath 4. Speed>weight 5. Don't stop at the surface. 6. Range 7. Repeatable & sustainable action preferred

Philosophical Phiction, Phriction and Reading for Phun

If there were a genre of fiction that I enjoy above all other reading matter, it would be philosophical fiction. Not a genre? What falls into the category? Who are its recognized authors? Where did it originate? Are we the when of philosophical fiction? It's a category applicable to fiction only via the reader's ability to process what s/he reads on a level other than superficial entertainment? Why is this important, not only to me, but to our conscious evolution as a species?

Some of the authors I've been reading lately might have some answers to these questions. I certainly see the underlying thread in all their works. And that's the beauty of fiction, or any art form really, it can really only ever be a reflection of the observer. Whether the observer is the creator, co-creator through the act of perceiving, or simply subject of the art object.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flash Forward's author SAWYER

The 09 fall tv line up includes Robert J. Sawyer's Flash Forward.
Who knew? Probably most people won't ever.
Sawyer's examination of consciousness, relativity and an infinitely self-aware universe poses a simple analogy, "...time is like a bunch of motion-picture frames stacked up, and 'now' is the currently illuminated frame."

A few things to look up in Wikipedia to enhance your viewing and/or reading pleasure:
Many-worlds interpretation MWI or block-universe concept (no point in time is any more important than any other), transactional interpretation TI.

Tipler The Physics of Immortality

The butterfly flaps in China and a hurricane forms off the coast of Africa:
"In chaos theory small changes have big effects over time."

Higgs boson

And the proverbial tree falling in the forest:
"Without any conscious beings anywhere, reality breaks down."

"The strong anthropic principle said the universe needed to give rise to life and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics said it requires qualified observers, given what was now known about the interaction of neutrinos and consciousness, the solar-neutrino problem seemed to be evidence that the universe was indeed taking pains to foster the existence of such observers.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sawyer's WWW:Wake

From the first mention of Julian Jaynes Bicameral Mind, it was a kind of "he had me at 'hello'" kind of reading.
The young protagonist asks in the paragraph immediately preceeding the mention, "And who decides what to leave in and what to leave out?" An interesting query to be followed by an helicoid reference to a study of human consciousness.

Caitlin reads Homer noting he, like she, is blind. Iliad and Odyssey not withstanding, Sawyer's brief reference to the importance of self-reflective thought as mirrored in western literature's two early representatives, speaks to the layering of ideas that makes Wake worth more than a cursory read.

Autism, Helen Keller, AI, and "I know I exist...because you exist" becomes Sawyer's invitation to participate in the ongoing philosophical question of Being aka ontology.

As Caitlin learns to apply her experiential awareness to its corresponding words, Sawyer works very hard to repeat his theme in different ways to present thoughts and ideas difficult to communicate because the thoughts and ideas themselves and words used to discuss them are the subject of discussion. To think in terms of colors as "flavors of light" requires a combination of sensory understanding and logical reasoning and gives us "insight" into the mechanisms involved in processing reality.

, Penrose, cytoskeletons, microtubules, tubulin dimer, cellular automata: this is the reason I read sci fi. Shannon entropy, Zipf plots, Doug Lenat, synsets on WordNet and information theory: this is why I love cyberpunk.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Thinking & Perceiving

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. A 50 year old cognitive psychology professor faces early onset Alzheimers. The author has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard and tells a good story.
Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief, which you read, right? Happy to see Coupland back up to his own standards. His remark, "I think it's better not to know the lyrics to your life" made me think that reading has been the soundtrack of my life. His recommendation for Running Wild by J.G. Ballard may well follow this blog.
Jostein Gaarder, author of Sophie's World, one of my favorites, The Ringmaster's Daughter is good but not as good as some of his others, as it feels a bit contrived: "It's a post-modern misconception that you can write first and live later...Writing is the fruit of life. Life isn't the fruit of writing." Still, good advice. "I've always had the need to unload my thoughts...a kind of mental incontinence..."
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf was nice surprise from Russian novelist Victor Pelevin. The Times Literary Supplement compares him to Murakami, but I found Pelevin more readable.
Quotes from Pelevin: "I couldn't really say what I care less about, the appearance of the things around me or the opinions of the people I meet." "Reading is human contact, and the range of our human contacts is what makes us what we are." "Transformation can appear by two routes...perception of transformation or transformation of perception." "Sex is more than just the simple conjunction of certain parts of the body. It is also a connection between the energies of two beings, a joint trip." "Love was absolutely devoid of meaning, but it gave meaning to everything else."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Bruce Sterling...yawn...
Have been trying to read B.Sterling's latest The Caryatids this weekend but kept falling asleep. Read two pages, nap two hours, read two pages, nap two hours...etc. I'm about half way through the book and still waiting for the excitement Sterling usually engenders. The link to his speech at a recent conference somewhat explains it: Sterling is out of the loop, no longer pushing the envelope, past his due date. He's talking, and writing, like one of the been there done that generation; there's no flash in his pan. Can someone point me to the new generation of forward thinking cyberpunk authors? Or maybe post-cyberpunk?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Consciousness, Reading & Forgotten Plots

My reading has been somewhat disappointing this year. I don't know if I'm becoming more critical in my old age, or if my selections have been poor. I have even taken to re-reading some of my favorite titles, something I at one time could have sworn I would never do: There being "so many books and so little time." Then there is the book that I remember reviewing once for the library newsletter and was very moved by the story but, upon stumbling upon the book again, I can't seem to motivate myself to re-read it. The latter being a novel by Sandra Shea, Philadelphia journalist, The Realm of Secondhand Souls. Checking on Amazon, unfortunately, I found nothing else attributed to her. Too bad. Sometimes a body of work is necessary to get at the soul of the novelist.

This could be said of Caitlin R. Kiernan. I have enjoyed her novels over many years and feel as if I am a part of her maturing process. Her writing hasn't necessarily matured, it was and remains good, but her sense of "being in the world" or gestalt would seem to be struggling with more of the complexity of our humanity. Her works are less dependent on the clear demarcations between good and evil. The graying out of morality colors her newer stories. I enjoyed a feeding frenzy a few months ago and zipped through Low Red Moon and Daughter of Hounds. Her work has yet to offer the insightful kernels of philosophical self awareness that I crave in a novel, though there was a breath of it at the beginning of chapter eight, Intersections, in Daughter.
And from the starry place, all things are possible, and, perhaps, all things are also probable.
Possibility is infinite here, and possibility collides, in spiraling space-time fusillades, with probability
at every turn. The unlikely and the never-was become, for fleeting instants, the actual and the
inevitable and the black facts of a trillion competing histories, each entirely ignorant of all the
others, each confident that it's the only 'true' history.

Though I have enjoyed all Kiernan's novels. She's unlikely to be someone I would re-read, not to say she won't yet write something to relish more than once.

Not so with Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age, I read it again and there may be a third read in its future. Stephenson's steamerpunk classic continues to compel evolutionary thought. His ideas, like the worlds he creates, are multi-dimensional and convoluted, woven with vibrant threads of one who sees between the cracks, reads between the lines, hears the pulsing of nature's heart. Stephenson, as Hackworth, describes Fiona, the daughter's curiousity: "The universe was a disorderly mess, the only interesting bits being the organized anomalies." Fiona, for whom the "young lady's illustrated primer" has been created by a father with the imagination and means to give his daughter ready access to wisdom beyond her years. The primer ends up in the hands of one who has the greater need for understanding in order to survive alone and after a interacting with the primer is asked by a friendly constable, "Which path do you intend to take, Nell?...Conformity or rebellion?" To which she astutely responds, "Neither one. Both ways are simple-minded--they are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity."

And it is this very ability in Stephenson, which deepens the consciouness while reading so that "the story (is) anfractuous develop(ing) more ramifications the more closely" (we) read it. "

His latest novel, Anathem, is excellent, though not one of my favorites of his (favorites being Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon with Snow Crash in the running.) In Anathem he writes, "Consciousness applifies the weak signals that, like cobwebs spun between trees, web Narratives together. Moreover, it amplifies them selectively and in that way creates feedback loops that steer the Narratives." In this description, I see the key to his technique and genius, the patient weaving of word over word, under and over, repeating and repeating patterns and ideas in kaleidescopic ways to invest breath in his characters by virtue of their need to find meaning in their being, whether reality or fiction is called home.

Rudy Rucker, another cyberpunk master, has a similar ability to create worlds of fantasy filtered through his own refined consciousness of abstraction and mathematical theory. Unlike,Stephenson, however, Rucker doesn't seem to take himself or his insights seriously. Absurdity being his stock in trade, Rucker challenges the reader to drop all pretense of understanding in order to fall, like Alice, into a rabbit/worm hole of surreality. In his latest, Postsingularity, Rucker toys with a new medium, not unfamiliar to those who read the genre. Rather than describe it, instead I find his depiction of the authors of this new genre more suggestive, "(Metanovelists) were more like cartoonists or directors, assembling blocks of mental states, creating networks of glyphs. Their works were embedded as teep-tags within handicraft items: tie-dyed scarves, bead necklaces, carving bits of wood."

This short passage is a perfect example of the whacked out ideas making up Rucker's novels. I'm often left feeling like I'm either stupid, uninformed or out of the loop. His terminology, such as "teep-tags" may have some meaning discernible to academic mathmeticians or computer geeks, but to me seems like a nonsensical term in the tradition of the Jabberwocky. My mind gives meaning, correct or not, in order to make sense of the story, because the story is worth making sense of.

Story, narrative, consciousness--all only slightly more complex terminology for the same sense of mapping meaning. Such is the theme in Justina Robson's Mappa Mundi, in which she writes:
" Consciousness is the emergent product of a complex and discrete set of actions
in the brain. It is the narrative story that comes a fraction of a second after the
subconscious mind has already made its decisions and taken its actions. It is a
macro-level event. But the quantum manipulation...Fermions are the stuff of matte
and bosons the stuff of fields, together forming the fabric of the universe."

Like and yet unline Rucker's higher mathematics, as I'm totally science illiterate, fermions and bosons could be anything, but at least have a ring of familiarity. Robson's character's yoga teacher is closer to my preponderance for metaphysics: "The universe came and sat inside you, the ocean poured into the drop, the drop didn't dissolve in the ocean."

And, it is exactly this kind of insight that draws me into cyberpunk, which isn't science fiction though that's where it's shelved in bookstores and libraries. Cyberpunk fiction is a search for meaning in new medias, metaphorizing McLuhan's philosophy into art forms. Such as in Robson's: "...underneath the shell of your self, all your defining moments, there is another entity that isn't bound by your human lifetime, it's an eternal, immortal thing, and the maintain that by bringing the mind to stillness, while conscious, you can make contact with it.'s the resonance."
It's the "ghost in the machine" that seduces us in the genre, they mystery of consciousness that shapes the story. "...all understanding is a story and no more. ...a construct of reasons and connections and ideas tethered together by narrative links..."

These links, novels, give me more in the way of understanding than math or science teachers who insisted that they couldn't answer my questions because I had to learn the basics first. Looking back, I wonder how they would feel if they had been told that they wouldn't be able to read and appreciate a work of fiction unless they could first grasp the underpinnings of transformational grammar, phenomenology or synchronicity. Which leads me to the accidentally omitted of Caitlin R. Kiernan's Murder of Angels whose ideas fit here like the single letter inserted in a game of scrabble that giving triple points: "We call it syncretization, taking elements of older stories and putting them together in new ways, or combining them with other stories to make new and more useful myths."

But back to Robson who began her Mappa Mundi with Charles Darwin, "Free will is an illusion caused by our inability to analyze our own motives." The only way we can question ourselves is through fiction, when we question and find proof in the real world it's non-fiction. Memetic theory plays a large role in Robson's novel and inspired me to pursue the topic in Wikipedia:
Memes are copied by imitation, teaching and other methods, and they compete for space in our memories and for the chance to be copied again. Large groups of memes that are copied and passed on together are called co-adapted meme complexes, or memeplexes. In her definition, thus, the way that a meme replicates is through imitation. This requires brain capacity to generally imitate a model or selectively imitate the model. Since the process of social learning varies from one person to another, the imitation process cannot be said to be completely imitated. The sameness of an idea may be expressed with different memes supporting it. This is to say that the mutation rate in memetic evolution is extremely high, and mutations are even possible within each and every interaction of the imitation process. It becomes very interesting when we see that a social system composed of a complex network of microinteractions exists, but at the macro level an order emerges to create culture.
Fascinating in the implications for what we may be creating with social networking, this blog being an example of a social evolutionary contribution and not just another masturbatory undertaking. Robson makes Game Theory matter in the way that only information can matter in the web 2.0 world: "As the shadow is seen in the light so the emptiness of energy alone is animated by information, and all life is a supercollation of informative points... Because the spaces and the forms ar part of one thing. Like a jigsaw. There is no division between space and form, the void and the illusion of dense matter. Matter itself is an energy vibration. Reonance derives shape, property and gravity. Matter is information. Every one of us a unique product, constantly evolving along a narrative storyline that chooses us, as we once chose it, without knowing."

From what I can tell a first time author, Adam Felber, wins the NYMLibrary (not your mother's) prize for Schrodinger's Ball and his definition of humans as "spatiotemporal origami" and that yes we may be the "end product of history" but that we must "bear in mind that history is more or less a digestive tract." Puts me in mind of one of Marilyn Monroe's mentors whose advice when addressing her artistic aspirations was reputed to have been "Make good shit."

Schrodinger's Ball consists of string theory (or even suggests M-theory M might stand for maybe) with "the power of the observer" versus the "understanding of the observer" and reality being permeable from both sides but most importantly in pointing out that "what survives and propogates is the story itself, not what the story's about." And, that "to talk about a 'thought pattern' is redundant. Thoughts themselves are patterns--huge, multilayered patterns built on custom-tweaked operating systems, no two alike. The idea of a single, expressible 'thought' is a lie. But believing that lie is the only thing that makes communication possible."

Whoa, I've got to think about that in context of my upcoming book on bridging the communication gap between techies and non-techies.

So, I'll end on a now for something completely different note with Alain de Botton's Kiss & Tell. (See earlier reviews.) de Botton's prose is so seductive that if I weren't a confirmed spinster, I'd be tempted. He speaks the language of women without patronizing the gender. I learned much of myself reading his On Love (reviewed April 06) and again here: The process of intimacy therefore involved the opposite of seduction, for it meant revealing what risked rendering one most open to unfavourable judgement, or least worthy of love." And communication, expression of our thoughts verbally, is no less than a breakdown in communication and a reminder of our aloneness as a lover's fantasy is to "be understood without needing speak" but rather through an intimate level of intuition.

Though de Botton's biographical novel of his lover doesn't profess any cutting edge science, it is a still a part of the exploration of new uses of media in that the biography takes us into the life story of a woman remarkable only by virture of the fact that a biography is written about her, and yet, her story is one of meaning and an individual's evolutionary consciousness through the simplicity of being. In Kiss & Tell, the ocean comes to sit in Isabel Rogers.