Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Wittgenstein at His Best

Ultra-minimalist political flyer, Los Angeles - Xeni Jardin @ BoingBoing

This is probably one of the most perfect examples of how Wittgenstein's language-game works. We know who she is and which war we are talking about because of sheer context alone. It's a thing of beauty.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Let the Tears Begin

Hillary Clinton cries in Connecticut - The Swamp

Oh for the love of God. If Sen. Obama teared up at an event the press would be all over him for showing weakness. But God forbid anyone criticize a woman for crying during a political campaign. I want a president who shows their emotions by doing something, not just standing there and crying. This is pathetic.

Depressed Soldier Better Fighters?

Will We Drug Soldier to Make Them Depressed? - Annalee Newitz @ io9

Some of you might remember this photograph from early in the Iraq war of a soldier taking a break after a long night of fighting. I remember reading an article (note: this is not the original article I read, but you'll get the gist of it) nearly a year later about this soldier, Blake Miller, who suffers from severe PTSD. It's soldiers like this that make me proud of our armed forces, but at the same time make me wonder about the stresses we as a country put them through without serious thought or care. Miller became a poster-boy for the Iraq war and now he sees Iraqis he killed walking down the street and can't seem to get over the edginess his time in the war has ingrained in him. The toll that it has taken, his wife divorced him in 2006, is something I never want to hear about from returning soldiers. My cousin-in-law, Marine of nearly fifteen years, came back from Iraq with a Purple Heart he doesn't talk about and even now he knows he will have to return to Iraq at some point in the future.
So now, via the folks at io9, I hear that depressing soldier might have beneficial effects on their ability to take on highly dangerous situations. A report Newitz has found claims that giving soldiers serotonin inhibitors would produce soldiers more likely to take risks that otherwise non-depressed soldiers wouldn't. For those of you fortunate enough not to have needed anti-depressants let me explain what serotoin and serotoin-related drugs do. Your standard SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) is a common anti-depressant that improves your mood by keeping more serotonin in the body. It's loosely similar to the effects of MDMA, or ecstacy, in that the more serotonin you have in the body the better you feel. By introducing a drug that inhibits the release of serotonin you are intentionally producing a depressing effect.
This kind of thinking sickens me. At a time when we have seen twice the number of Iraq veterans take their own lives than were killed in combat we have government reports suggesting that we should depress our soldiers even further? What unholy insanity is this?

Step 4: Profit!

Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work - Janet Rae-Dupree @ NYT
Image Courtesy of Margaret Riegel

I came across this NYT article through Slashdot and was immediately intrigued by its subject. In philosophy there's always the issue of the 'black box' in a theory, a phrase pulled from the engineering fields I believe (a black box is a section in a theory or schematic where input goes in and out comes the desired result, but no explanation is given for what occurs within the box. Typically a black box in a theory or blueprint is its the deathknell). So Janet Rae-Dupree's article on modern inventors debunking the idea that a 'eureka' moment is what propells innovation has a certain attraction for me. Not that I believe all innovation is simply hard work, I just believe that innovation does not always require a leap in logic from nascent idea to finished product. Nikola Tesla is a rather good example of someone who could take those leaps of logic consistantly, but then again he also hallucinated a lot.
Where I do think that a eureka moment happens is when someone takes a problem or an existing product and sees clear potentials or solutions. The problem with the eureka moment isn't that it's so rare but that going from point A to eureka point Q takes a lot more than inspiration. History is filled with happenstance and chance--Napoleon falling ill before Waterloo, the failure to wake Hitler on the morning of D-Day, the WTC towers falling instead of just burning--and through those chance moments history is driven in a slightly different direction. So one must always remain open to lucky chances, to the eureka moments. Even then, the eureka moment does not instantly produce a solution or a radical new invention. The eureka moment is merely the starting point for the hard labor it takes to reach the eureka solution.
What many people forget is all the hard work that it takes to reach the eureka solution. There's a running joke on the Slashdot message boards where you have: a) a great idea; b) some money and support; c)???; and then d) profit! It's step c, those question marks, that separate those who make a successful product or a radical new theory versus those who merely have ideas that never come to fruition. No matter how good the idea or the potentially radical changes said idea might bring about, it will only happen through hard work. So don't dismiss the eureka moment, but realize what you are getting into. You still have to explain what is in that black box that separates the idea from reality.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Tesla the Mad Scientist

Nikola Tesla @ Wikipedia

Now here's something that I didn't know about Tesla. Apparently he had a photographic memory, but along with such an extraordinary ability came flashes of light, hallucinations, and detailed images of ideas or inventions sparked by certain words or images. In other words, he was a sufferer of synesthesia, or rather the mixing of sensory experiences. Makes perfect sense to me.

Travels in Hyperrealism

Jacques Bodin
Jacques Bodin @ Wikipedia
Hyperrealism @ Wikipedia
Jean Baudrillard @ Wikipedia

The photo you see here is not a photo. The subject is not real in the sense of a photographed subject. Instead, both the photo and the girl are subjects of a painting by hyperrealist artist Jacques Bodin. An offshoot of the Photorealist movement from the 60s and 70s, hyperrealism differs in both narrative structure and the use of technology to paint or sculpt subject at a level of detail that goes beyond what a 35mm camera could accomplish. The hyper in hyperrealism is taken literally as most works of hyperrealism are produced to a level of detail far beyond that of real life. The dimensions of the finished product go far beyond reality as well. Most paintings and sculptures are done at an almost absurd scale. Thus by paradoxically enlarging then magnifying the detail of their subjects, hyperrealists artists amplify reality to a point of non-reality.
The original photorealists were influenced by semiotician and cultural critic Jean Baudrillard. Basing his ideas on language and semiotics around the idea that an object's meaning is determined by its prestige in relation to other mundane objects. While not as simple as Wittgenstein's formulation it does share traits such as the need for context and relation to other elements in the world. Where Baudrillard breaks with such older theories and joins with his contemporaries Foucault, Lyotard and Lacan in his postmodernist thinking about how reality is perceived and treated in the larger-scale social structure. It is on this point that Baudrillard intersects with the photorealists and hyperrealists. As the relation between object and subject becomes magnified to the point of absolute minutia as the subject (people, you and I), in attempt to gain a total understanding of all reality, becomes lost. Once lost, the subject ends up creating a simulation of reality in their mind. Reality, in this sense, becomes non-reality and to the subject the simulation is more real.
I don't buy most of it, since I never bought into Berkeley's idealism or the theory that perception is so fallible that we never have a truly unmediated experience of reality. Then again, I think Baudrillard did have an understanding of how technology like virtual reality and social networks create a simulated reality that, for some people, becomes more real than the real world itself. The acronym IRL (in real life) is a pretty convincing point of evidence for Baudrillard. Even so, to say that an unmediated experience of the real is, for all intents and purposes, impossible goes beyond what I'm willing to accept as a sentient creature whose grey matter is based on a lizard brain. If you can prove to me that lions chasing down gazelle are also seeing a simulation of reality versus an unmediated reality then perhaps I'll buy into Baudrillard.
But despite my criticism of Baudrillard, his influence on the artistic movement of hyperrealism does expose some of the flaws in the human experience. There are grey areas of experience where we have difficulty telling between the real and and non-real. Our perceptions and beliefs are prone to trickery but this has long been known. It's our ability to winnow out the real and non-real that make the human mind an amazing organism.

Come In and Enjoy the Show

My new favorite blog: The FAIL blog

Yes We Can

My sister has raved about this all day. I haven't figured out all the faces in it, but most of them I have. Watch and realize why electing Sen. Obama is more important that electing the first black man or the first woman as president.

Update: So according to Truemors this ad was commissioned by MoveOn.org after they endorsed Sen. Obama on the 1st of February. The vote to endorse was an overwhelming 7:3 ratio of Obama to Clinton. So I don't think MoveOn is doing anything beyond giving their chosen candidate the best support they can give.

Fear of a Black President

Pro-Clinton Push Poll Erupts in CA - LA Times

Via TPM, who themselves have spent a lot of time examining the push polling of Republicans in the last two election cycles, comes this tidbit of information on the Clinton campaign push-polling undecideds and independents in California days before the primary election. For those of you who don't know what a push-poll is, think of a telemarketer calling you to convince you to buy their product, except they present themselves as your typical survey taker. The questions asked are designed to place the preferred candidate in the most positive light while slamming every other candidate. Now during the last election cycle, push-polling and robo-calls were the bread and butter of Republican campaign tactics. That the Clinton campaign has resorted to such Rovian tactics is telling of how much the Clintons fear a black man and to what lengths they will go to win an election.

Never Let Me Down

U.S. Pulls Plug on Low-CO2 Powerplant Project - Slashdot

Wait, let me get this straight. The U.S. government is withdrawing its support for a FutureGen coal-fired powerplant that had a way of trapping CO2 emissions all because the projected costs went 800 million over what was an expected billion dollars? The same U.S. government that has for years pumped billions into Iraq? Into 'advanced' aircraft design? Into the Future Warrior system that doesn't work? The same U.S. government that has given billions in subsidies to the coal and oil industry? But a simple plan that might have kept coal as a viable power source for another decade that runs 800 million over budget get axed? Jesus tap-dancing Christ, can this administration do anything right? My fucking God, it does not take a genius to figure out what a boon U.S. involvement in the FutureGen project is and now this? I'm going to go burn some tires and beat up babies now.

The Spherical Cow of Language

Language as a Spherical Cow - Science Blog

And once against Chomsky gets it wrong on what language is and does. This is what happens when to attempt to take the context out of language. Wittgenstein still has the best explanation, in my opinion, and I have yet to come across a better theory of language that explains as much as Wittgenstein's 'meaning as use' and the language-game theorems.

Magnetic Reconnection = Cosmic Bombs

New Discovery On Magnetic Reconnection To Impact Future Space Missions - Science Daily

I really don't get the theory or the tech speak behind this article. All I know is there's a possibility of giant random explosions in space. That's enough for me.

A Dark Fluid Beating at the Heart of the Universe

Particle Accelerator May Reveal Shape of Alternate Dimensions - Science Blog
New Light on Dark Energy - Science Blog
Dark Fluid: Dark Matter and Dark Energy May Be Two Side of the Same Coin - Science Daily

The search to discover what dark matter and dark energy are have buggered particle physicists and cosmologists for more than a decade. On the other side of this is the role that the extra dimensions string theory require might play in how dark matter/dark energy affect the large-scale structure of galaxies and the universe as a whole. Dr. Hong Sheng Zhao's theory that dark matter and dark energy are simple two elements of a singular dark fluid. If the new LHC that is coming online soon can show similarities between the particles and dimensions produced in particle collisions that match the idea of dark fluid then we might see a leap in understanding of how the expansion of the universe occurs and what the other 96% of the universe is made of. Those extra dimensions, I think, are key to where this dark energy or dark matter reside. It's just a matter of crafting a theory that explains both the effects of dark fluid (dark matter/dark energy) on the large-scale structure of the universe and how, if this dark fluid exists, is hiding within these extra dimensions.

Flash Mobs Mob Grand Central Station

207 Pranksters Stand Still for 5 Mins in Grand Central Stn. - Cory Doctorow @ BoingBoing

Cory Doctorow has posted about a flash mob in Grand Central Station. No, they didn't do anything like open umbrellas or suddenly start singing old Boy George tunes. No, they, simultaneously, froze in place for five minutes. Apparently a crowd gathered around in amazement and when the five minutes was up everyone suddenly started moving again, this time to applause from the gathered crowd. Now this is the power of SMS, IM and other micro-texting applications like Twitter. Flash mobs are one of the coolest developments of Web 2.0 and instantaneous communication. I'd like to see more of the in American culture.

Obama the Giant

Shepard Fairey's Obama Poster - David Pescovitz @ BoingBoing
Obama @ Obey Giant

I love these aesthetic of this poster and of several of the t-shirts I've seen of Sen. Obama lately. It recalls the Che Guerra shirts one tends to see on college campuses. I've actually wanted one like that of Huey from The Boondocks for some time now. What makes the poster interesting, but fitting, is that it was created by the same artist who created the black and white Andre the Giant poster. Unfortunately the print run is sold out and according to the web site no other print runs are planned at this point. Still, I would love to see ad walls covered in posters like this.

Waiting for 2012

There are 200 'Real' Superheroes in the United States - Kevin Kelly @ io9

Damnit, Grant Morrison was right.

Taking to the Streets, Taking to the Blogs

Why I Love the Horse Race - publius @ Obsidian Wings

Publius has posted an interesting view on the horse race that has been this primary election season. He's gone meta with it and examined the aesthetics of this election year, pondering the Political versus the political as candidates of a very diverse range compete against each other in sometimes hostile territory and in combative ways. For me, while I love talk of the Political, I've found another positive benefit from this primary season--that my parents have started to pay attention to the political blogs. More to the point, they're reading the good blogs too, the ones that shirk from the shrill and focus on the factual and intelligent. Whether that lasts I cannot say, but that they are no longer relying on the tv news pundits for opinions says a lot about how this primary season has inspired them to involved themselves, at least on the informational side, in this race. I don't know how many stories there are similar to mine but I'm sure many of my generation have seen their parents take to the blogs as well. Now that's a sea change my friends.