Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Drug Report for November, 2012: Jimi Hendrix, CalTech, Ultra-Hot Chili Peppers, A Gorgeous Female Film Star

Well, it's Jimi Hendrix's birthday - he was the Seattle Sound 1.0 - and Jimi was whipping his Fender Strat around onstage, catching the harmonic feedback at just the right moment, dive-bombing it with the whammy, then ripping a blues lick with a wicked vibrato, while picking with his teeth...before violently smashing his axe through his Marshall stack, then burning the thing, all while Kurt Cobain was in diapers. Kurt was three when Jimi ODed on Vasparax (sleeping pills) and red wine...Jimi would've been 70 today. In some Universe Next Door he's still alive and has recorded three totally killuh albums with Jeff Beck. Kurt would be alive there too. Hey why not?

FREE CalTech Class: Drugs and the Brain: Starts December 1st:
I know this is late notice, and I'm personally passing on this one, but you can take a free course at Coursera called Drugs and the Brain; it's the first class you take in Neuroscience when you go to the true Left Coast "genius" school. (MIT is the Right Coast one.) Henry A. Lester is a heavyweight and the class will go from December 1st, for five weeks, will take 4-6 hours a week of your precious time, and it's - fair warning - a gateway drug to more neuroscience. Lester can probably tell you, extempore, in garish detail, what happens when you take the same cocktail of drugs Jimi took that horrible night, presumably telling us way too much about dying by inhaling your own vomit, but then I've got my digression out of the way...

Red Hot Chili Peppers: the Food, Not the Band
Although: Flea of the RHCP has a Hendrix tattoo.
Full disclosure: the OG is a spicy food fiend, and I will try the hottest salsa or curry that comes my way, and one time I had a bona fide weird experience with something so hot, so spicy, I probably couldn't handle it, which I'll get to momentarily.

Columbus's crew encountered the new world chile "peppers" (a misnomer: that's all they could compare it to); previously it was unknown what the actual response was to eating one of the hottest ones the natives had, but recently I unearthed some lost documents, and Columbus himself is recorded as being handed one by a native, Columbus looks at its bright red color and says in Italian to his friends, "What's the worst it can do? Give me the squirts? It's not like we don't have that every day on the Santa Maria, eh boys?" The parchment records that that line killed, much laughter was heard. Then Columbus took a bite, started to remark on its texture and not-unpleasant flavor, how King Ferdinand might like it, then, suddenly, "Sweet Isabella's netherparts! That's some molten demon fruit! Christ, my tongue's got a Mount Aetna situation here boys! Watch yourselves! This may be a trick...HOLY!...it keeps creepin' up on ya, like a horny galleymate after two months at sea. Someone give me a glass of water, stat! Then begin enslaving these godless heathens for the next, oh, let's make it 400 years." (My translation)

What Columbus didn't know - no one knew, apparently, was that if he just smoked a huge bomber of some nearby cannabis, it would've alleviated the pain. Don't believe me? (You have every reason to suspect I'm bullshitting you after that above paragraph, I don't blame you.) Check out this study.

Are we cool now? (No?)

                              Baskets of chili peppers at a market in Oaxaca, Mexico.
                              Like Pavlov's dog, my mouth begins to water just seeing them

Pharmacagnosy of Blazing Hot Peppers
You eat something with a real spicy pepper kick. The chemicals in peppers that give the effects are called capsaicinoids. They hit the tongue and stimulate the vanilloid subtype 1 nerve receptors in the mouth, throat, anything nearby that's nasal. When these receptors are activated, evolution has made us perceive this as "heat," although there's nothing hot about the capsaicinoids, temperature-wise. It's probably an evolutionary protective effect. Anyway: the perception of heat releases a neuropeptide called Substance P, which says to the body's systems, "We got some pain INCOMING!" Substance P gets into the brain, binds to opioid receptors, and the brain releases its own endogenous morphine, called endorphins. (Thank you, scientific goddess Candace Pert!)

Minor encounters with really hot peppers: reports of euphoria, clarity of mind, sweating. I must have had something really strong, which I'll get to later.

Wilbur Scoville
In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, trying to develop a drug using capsaicin for muscle aches, invented a method for measuring how hot certain peppers were. Ingeniously, he had people eat certain peppers, then he measured how much sugary water it took to douse the pain. The more sugar water required, the hotter the pepper. If 3 out of 5 volunteers said they were good to go, let's bring on the next pepper, then Scoville recorded his data. What I like about Scoville is that he used organoleptic methodology: actual human beings reporting phenomenologically the effects the drug (capsaicin, in this case) had on them. The Scoville Scale is still used, although now a highfalutin' High Pressure Liquid Chromatography gauge has been developed, which directly measures capsaicin. But no organoleptic methodology, so...

Peppers are still measured in Scoville Heat Units, and the Naga Jolokia pepper of India has 855,000 SHUs. The average jalapeno? A mere 5000 SHUs, ya pussy. 'Smatter? Can't you handle it? Go ahead, try a Naga Jolokia, plain. I dare ya.

Going For The Record
Trying to determine what the hottest pepper is in the world is not easy. The people at Guinness are interested. The competition is hot...uhhh...fierce. An article from NPR in 2011 has Ed Currie (apparently his real name) of So. Carolina, and a major pepper freak who originally got into the game because he heard capsaicin fights cancer, which he has a lot of in his family, developing a pepper that apparently was going to measure 1.5million SHUs, breaking the Trinidad Scorpion's 1.4 million SHUs. Currie bragged that 2 of 3 people who ate his pepper vomited. Good job, Currie! And thanks for bringing the world record back to us. USA! USA! USA! (Currie is marketing his stuff under the Pucker Butt Pepper Company. Stay classy, Ed.) And if you doubt the overwhelming power of megahot peppers, watch the video embedded in the NPR link I gave at the beginning of this paragraph. If it does fight cancer, it looks like some sorta chemotherapy itself, doesn't it? Moving on...

However, a 2012 article in Time has the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion as the hottest in die welt, at 1.2 SHUs. Something seems amiss, and a decent reporter would get to the bottom of this by contacting the Guinness people, but I am not decent. I'm in a ratty old sweatshirt, and I'm goin' "commando." I am not your man. Let us be happy that the race is on to make the asphalt on a lone Texas highway buckle under the latest, hottest chili peppers. Someone has to do it!

Effects of Uber-Hot Peppers
The heart rate goes up and you sweat a lot. You feel mentally and physically stimulated. You're giddy, euphoric and one guy in the hot pepper biz says you get a "crack-like rush." This is all legal, for now. Many ingesters have reported dissociative thoughts. In this it's like DMT, which you use and you're gone, even sitting among your friends. And both DMT and very very hot peppers can make you feel "gone" for 5-20 minutes. Then it clears. (Kids: DMT has a few whole Other dimensions to it, and I meant that capital O very seriously. Watch it! Read up on it first. It's a very intense psychedelic experience.)

Dr. Andrew Weil has advocated "mouth surfing" in order to get high and/or use in lieu of Vicodin. This involves using really hot peppers, titrated, calculatedly in a continuous ingestion for a long-term endorphin rush. I have done this once, and it was only half-calculated.

                                      mouth-wateringly gorgeous Angelina Jolie, a main 
                                      player in one of my own psychoactive drug trips
My Weird Hot Pepper Experience
I'm sitting with my wife in a booth in our favorite Thai restaurant, in Albany, California. (Since closed: sigh) I always order the chicken red curry, "extra spicy." Sometimes it's really, really hot and I get a nice endorphin buzz, I'm ebullient, new ideas flow, I'm glib - I'm also drinking Thai beer - and it's just one of life's simple pleasures. Maybe you have friends like me: I'm the guy my friends dare to eat "that pepper, plain," and I do it. Do I often feel pain? Of course. But also: the opiate buzz.

So: we're sitting against the back wall and I'm facing a corner booth that's empty. We order. I ask for the same thing I always get, but since the last time we were there, I'd learned a Thai phrase, "mak-mak," which means "Thai spicy-hot," basically. So: there's "hot" for people of European descent, then there's a "Thai hot." When I said this, I distinctly remembered the waitress's pupils double in size and she asked, "You sure?" I said yea, of course. I mean, how much hotter could it be?

Hotter than anything I'd ever had in my life. I was a quarter way through and in pain. I was amazed at the heat. Sweat immediately pooled at the back of my neck, then ran down my spine, noticeably. I had to wipe my brow every two minutes, as if I'd been digging ditches at high noon in Tombstone, Arizona. But I was also starting to feel the high, so I was enjoying myself. Sips of beer or ice water did nothing to attenuate the fire roaring in my mouth, but our conversation was pleasant, even if my wife interrupted with, "Are you alright?" When curry is this hot, it's not a meal, it's an event. Hey, I'm a tough guy when it comes to hot peppers. Everyone knows this. Don't worry about it.

Then a couple came in and sat in the corner booth, a man and a woman. The woman faced me while the man's back was to my wife's back. I made eye contact with the woman who was quite beautiful. She was with an older man who had a ponytail and reminded me of Hollywood producer-type guys. She looked uncannily like Angelina Jolie. My wife and I kept our conversation going. The waitress came over to ask if I was okay. I said this was the hottest curry I've ever had, and...uhh...bravo! She told me that if things were too hot I should swallow a packet of sugar or two. I was going to say no, but thought, hey, it's maybe not a bad idea. I made eye contact with the woman again, and quickly I was convinced it was Angelina Jolie. But why would she be in a relatively out-of-the-way Thai restaurant on San Pablo in Albany? I leaned over and whispered to my wife that I think Angelina Jolie was sitting facing me, and to eavesdrop in order to hear what they're talking about. I poured two packets of sugar on my tongue and kept eating, knowing that I was acting crazy but this was all too weird and exciting. I wiped my brow. Angelina smiled at me. Those bee-sting lips! Those cheek bones! She was covered up with a white jacket with feathery-fringe around the neck because it was a rainy night and cold, wind whipping up off the San Francisco Bay.

My wife said she was going to the ladies' room, so that when she came back she could get a good look at "Angelina." Ms. Jolie and I made eye contact a couple of times. Should I wave hello? Is this "mak-mak" red curry so hot I'm hallucinating Angelina Jolie? I tried to remain cool, but my face was sweating. My wife came back, got a good long look at Angelina, then, after 20 seconds, leaned over and whispered, "It looks a lot like her, but I think it's someone else." I was both disappointed at her report and vaguely relieved. Meanwhile, I had heard a report earlier in the day on the economics of micro-lending to poor people in Africa. Someone had won the Nobel Prize in Economics for the idea, and the idea was big in Berkeley, especially at the university. And I had told myself, Angelina's in town to learn more about micro-lending; she's adopted all those Third World kids. She cares. It makes sense!

All my friends have laughed when I told them this story. I have pretty much convinced myself it wasn't her, mostly because I did some research on plastic surgery and how common it is for people with too much money (and maybe values I don't subscribe to?) to get five, seven, 15 "upgrades" (this is the term I saw used over and over) over the course of their lives. And there are some women who actually try to look like celebrities, and Angelina is a hot item. My guess is I was sitting across from some gal who had tried her best to look like Ms. Jolie, and combined with the psychoactive properties of that nuclear red curry, I had had one helluva weird and memorable 40 minutes.

Further Items
Capsaicin may help with weight loss.

Here's a report on my favorite blazing hot salsa, available where I live, Happy Jackal's Hell-Fire from fellow blogger Isoceleria. Other scorching salsas I've read about: "Endorphin Rush" and "Molten Lava."

Why do astronauts begin to crave hot, spicy food, Tabasco and peppers when they go into space, even they didn't like spicy foods on Earth?

The Mayans used hot peppers as chemical warfare: they burned them upwind from their enemies. Of course, Pepper Spray is derived from capsaicin, so James Pike's spiritual descendants are the Mayans. Go figure.

Here's Hendrix playing "Killing Floor" at Monterey:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shulamith Firestone: Second Wave Radical Feminist, Heretic, Visionary

Late this past August, in the East Village in New York, someone noticed a bad smell. Others said they hadn't seen Shuley for awhile and were a bit worried. Someone climbed up the fire escape to the 5th floor where Shuley had lived for about 30 years, among mostly books. Peering in, the person saw her on the floor. It was Shuley. She'd died. Later the coroner thought she'd been dead for about a week. The preliminary was "natural causes." She was 67. Shuley had had a rough life. I never met her; if I had met her it would've been weird: she was probably something along the paranoid-schizophrenic axis  by the time I would be old enough to try to have a conversation with her. I admire her wild intellectual chops. Her sister - a Rabbi in Boulder, Colorado - once said, if I recall correctly, that the reception her 1970 book - both positive and negative and everything in-between, eventually got to her, and it started to tear her down.

                                        Shulamith Firestone, who died at 67 in August

Born in Ottawa, Canada, on June 7, 1945 to orthodox Jews, she grew up in St. Louis and Kansas City and was a prodigy, at age 25 producing The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for a Feminist Revolution. In a few short years she would drop out of the radical feminist scene she'd been a major player in, and move to Saint Marks and paint, and soon showed signs of mental illness. By the late 1980s she began her trek in and out of mental hospitals and in 1998 published a book, Airless Spaces, purportedly a bleak, haunting account of her life in those hospitals. I have not read that book yet.

In her magnum opus, The Dialectic of Sex, she draws upon and synthesizes Freud, Marx, Engels, Wilhelm Reich, Simone de Beauvoir, and, with the vision of a science fiction genius, foresaw a world in which the biology of women would not hamper them. That's what's most striking to me about Firestone: she thought carrying a baby around full-term and then raising it in the nuclear family was a total nightmare for women, it was practically a disease, and she thought this must be cured. She compared pregnancy to barbarism and said giving birth was like "defecating a pumpkin."

She called on cybernetics and science in general to free women of this plight. At the time, most intellectuals thought she was brilliant but crazy. She was indeed a little of both, but her visions are starting to become reality.

Shulamith (which she pronounced "shoo LUH mith") was part of the New Left, but helped lead splinter groups from not only SDS, but from less-radical feminist groups. A firebrand at the age of 23, she urged women to vote for themselves, and not how their husbands told them to vote. 50 years after women gained the right to vote she said, "what is the vote finally worth if the voter is manipulated?" She took seriously ideas such as community-raising of children, because the nuclear family was the nexus of sexual repression and emotional illness. "Marx was onto something more profound than he knew when he observed that the family contained within itself in miniature all the antagonisms that later develop on a wide scale in the society and the state." (Dialectic, p.12) I was drawn to her from her reading of Wilhelm Reich's ideas, and, more generally, because I'm congenitally drawn to brilliant heretics,  people whose ideas are so "dangerous" (I think: ahead of their time) to society they're either persecuted and locked up, or they are driven insane, or their genius and latent mental illness express themselves one after the other. Shuley - as her friends called here - was one of these.

The history of the feminist movement is for all of us who care about human freedom and should not  only be taught in Women's Studies classes once you get into university. The history of women's liberation tells us much about how the paideuma can be changed. It takes a long time. It takes brilliant, fearless weirdos who dare to envision a Better World. The history of women in the First World, in the  West, since the early 19th century, is a ceaselessly fascinating study. Freedom! Let us study it.

For, as a young male, I never understood why women should be considered "the second sex." Maybe because my mother was a (non-radical) feminist and I was not raised on the Adam and Eve story?

But Shuley ran with some rough gals. But I will give her this: she didn't shoot Andy Warhol!

By 1967, the hyper-educated radical feminists were tired of taking orders from the male leaders of SDS, so they split, while still protesting the Vietnam War and sexism in general. After the demoralizing victory of Nixon in 1968, Firestone and a few other militant, radical feminists got together around the moment of Nixon's inauguration in January of 1969 and formed the Redstockings, to honor socialist ideas that harken back to the Blue Stocking feminists of the 19th century. The First Wave of feminists included people like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Emma Goldman.

                                   Simone de Beauvoir, influence on almost all Second Wave
                                    feminists. Best known for her The Second Sex

Shuley thought that men couldn't truly love, but this was conservative compared to another Redstocking, Pam Kearon, who advocated openly for hatred of men (misandry), arguing that hatred is a natural human instinct, and unless women allowed themselves to hate men, they would turn that hateful energy back on other women. And children. Best to hate "men."

My reading of radical feminism, as of this date, totally deplores any hatred of any group. Group hatred is all-too-common, as we've seen with the Nazis and any other faction that thinks the "real problem" lies in getting rid of the muslims, the Palestinians, the jews, the Gypsies, the gays, the blacks, the whites, the "liberals," the Large Group of People Who Go Under Some Highly Abstract Noun, etc. This is a deep semantic sickness, no matter who is doing the persecuting. No one could possibly know enough about any of these groups to justify the kinds of things that Hitler wrote about "Jews," or Coulter writes about "liberals," or that Dennis Prager writes "secular humanists" or that Andrea Dworkin wrote about "men."

In the case of some but not all of the Radical Feminists, their open misandry, in my opinion, hurt the cause of women in general. Why? Because most young women are not mistreated by their fathers or brothers; in fact, when they hear of this "all men are sick, evil bastards who can't love; only want to use you to spread their disgusting seed inside you," they know it's not true...and they decline to call themselves "feminists." (But they stay in school longer and longer and now they're doing better than men, which we'll get to later.)

Because I believe in gender equality and negotiation, I will call anyone who uses language that seems to suppose they've experienced an entire group, and found "all" of them bad/dangerous/evil/etc: assholes. These individuals are assholes. Now: sure, they may have been mistreated themselves, but someone like Kearon is an asshole to me. She never met me, or my dad, or my brothers, or any of my male friends. What? Because she's a woman I'm not supposed to come right out and say it? Fuck that!: I believe in equality, as much as possible. Note: I'm calling Kearon (I think she's dead) an asshole, not "women." Why? First of all, I dig women. But for our purposes here: I do not have nearly enough knowledge of "women" to say what "they" really "are." And no one else knows enough, either.

When someone asked whatever happened to Shuley, Andrea Dworkin - another asshole - who once argued that any sex between a man and woman was "rape" (I am not making this up), but not if the man's penis was limp - told British journalist Linda Grant that Shuley was "poor and crazy," that she rents rooms and fills them with junk, gets kicked out and then rents another room and fills it with junk. Sisterhood is real powerful with Andrea Dworkin, eh? Maybe Shuley didn't hate men enough for Andrea's taste, I don't know.

Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine.
Andrea Dworkin 

Oh really? So artists are no different than totalitarian dictators, I assume? - OG
Shuley was instrumental in leading women to protest the 1969 Miss America show, which led to the media myth that women showed up and burned their bras. There is no evidence anyone burned their bra then, but many of the women who objected to Miss America as a sexist show threw their bras in a trash can. Shuley also led a heated protest at Ladies Home Journal in 1970. They burst in and demanded the editorial and advertising staff be replaced by women, and Shuley herself jumped on editor John Mack Carter's desk and began ripping up magazines, and threatening Carter himself, allegedly. It was widely seen as a publicity stunt, and Shuley was criticized for making the Movement look crazy. (Which, in hindsight, it pretty much was, right? But we're talking the Sixties/early 70s: Weather Underground, Baadher-Meinhof, the SLA, Mansonoids, MK-ULTRA, etc.)

Shuley's book is what will endure. As far as I can tell by Internet research, it's still taught in universities. She was quite brilliant and crazy, a heretic, my kind of thinker. I may not agree with everything, but I admire the overweening chutzpah. When I read in The Dialectic of Sex I feel the spirit of Wilhelm Reich, Timothy Leary, Ezra Pound, Nietzsche, the condensed righteous demand for equality - Emma Goldman, anyone? - from her feminist forebears, even William Blake. The Mad Heretical geniuses that changed the world.

Shulamith Fireston's Visions Slowly Coming To Fruition
I thought of Shuley today when, reading in Salon, I caught an article that said the nation's largest group of OB-GYNs have said that the Pill should be available over the counter. Shuley was way ahead on this one. Of course.

                                    Dr. Carl Djerassi, one of the major developers of the 
                                    oral contraceptive pill (OCP). Now at Stanford.

I recently read a play by one of the main inventors of the birth control pill, Carl Djerassi. He's concerned with conveying ideas about science and the quite-human lives of scientists in works he labels "science-in-fiction" and (as in his plays) "science in theater." The play was titled An Immaculate Misconception, and is surrounded by the story of ICSI, or IntraCytoplasmic Sperm Injection. When, for whatever reason, a man is infertile, he can ejaculate into a cup and the doctors can find one viable sperm, then inject it into a woman's egg, and place the egg back inside her. In 1992 a paper was published that made a big splash: they had figured out how to do this! Now there are tens of thousands of ICSI kids walking around, in their teens. The female scientist hero of the play envisions a world in which sex will only be for fun, procreation being a whole other thing altogether. This made me think of Shuley too...although I'm pretty sure she liked girls.

A recent article on ectogenesis - artificial wombs and Firestone's dream - are already possible, but they will be perfected in either 10 to 60 years, depending on which expert you read. Andrea Dworkin, contra Shuley, thought, in a hopelessly patriarchal society, women are only valued for being able to give birth. The rise of ectogenesis - a word coined by the great biologist JBS Haldane in 1924! - would make women "obsolete." The social, political, and ethical implications are truly staggering here. When will we get the "immaculate gestation," as two scholars are calling it? Haldane predicted that only 30% of births will be via a woman's body in 2074. Will the technique liberate women or further oppress them? My vague guess is that, in places like Idaho and Alabama and Saudi Arabia, it will further oppress women; in places like California and Vermont and the Netherlands it will further liberate them. But we shall see.

                      Hanna Rosin, editor at Atlantic Monthly and author of The End of Men

Finally, Hanna Rosin has stirred up quite a crapstorm with her recent book, The End of Men and the Rise of Women, which I have only read 60% through. First off, it seems giving your title The End of is both audacious and almost guarantees sales. But what of her argument? If you haven't read it and you're interested in men or women in the First World, you might find it interesting. If you don't have the time you might practice Bayard's art: listen to people talk about the book, read reviews, ask someone you know who has read the book to talk about it, and then go to a party and act like you've read the book and give your opinions. What's of recent interest to me is that some feminists seem threatened by Rosin's thesis, and if you read this article, you'll be both practicing some of Bayard's art and getting part of Rosin's argument: that women have adapted far better than men have to the changing world of work, the information economy, etc. In the First World, we're becoming less and less of a patriarchal world, and I think that's good for all of us...but the birth pangs of this New Thing will smart, pun intended.

One thing Ms. Firestone would still be most impatient about is...class and economic inequality, which has only increased since her 1970 book.

Shuley saw all this coming. RIP.
obit from The Villager
obit from NYT
obit from The Guardian
first of 2-part piece on Firestone at N+1 : Goes in-depth about her difficult life, really terrific.

Here's a recent 6 minute interview with Rosin about her book, to help you practice Bayard's art:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I Get (Imaginary) Letters...

So hey yea! kiddies! Its time to open up the Ol' Mail Bag. Let's see what my phantom friends/fiends/detractors/slavish admirers have for the OG...(NB: a few of my correspondents seem to have zero clues about properly formatting their email Qs for me; the problem lies with them, not your humble OG.)

 Dear Overweening Generalist dude,
    A friend turned me on to your blog, saying you were all into Robert Anton Wilson and conspiracy 
    theories and the Deep State and stuff like 'at. But you hardly write about that stuff at all. Oh, there are 
    a few pieces here and there. Are you holding out on us? What gives?
    (Signed) Disgruntled

Dear Dis: first of all, get your gruntle back; you'll never know when that shit will come in handy, and besides, I'm not worth the loss of it. (BTW: what's with your fucked-up formatting?) While I'm truly fascinated in all that stuff you're fascinated in, and I have a lot to say, I'm not sure this blog is the place for all that, and besides, when I last looked, there were precisely 789 million other sources online for conspiracy theories and paranoia, really meaty stuff about the Deep State. The more I've delved into that whole schmeer the more model-agnostic I've become about most conspiracy theories. And then again the NSA came to my door and used vaguely threatening language about me even "thinking about" (one of the three guys's exact words) writing about what I know. But thanks for reading!
Hey man: What's it like where you are? Here it's cold and sorta clammy, which is a drag because         I'm allergic to shellfish. (LOL!)
(no signature given)

Dear No Sig-
Hey man back atcha: I love jokes like that, and I thank you for sharing with me and not being...wait for it...shellfish! (HAHAHAHAHA! ROTFLMFingAO! Don't you love this Intrawebs thingy?) 
Stay cool, man. (Or, you could be a woman, in which case: you lucked out, eh?)
3.) Hi. I really liked your piece on bumperstickers and how people feel the need to express themselves 
     "safely," as you wrote. I agree that the sorts of sentiments found regionally can tell us something 
      about the local semantic unconsciousness. - Publius

OG: Uhhh...I haven't written that piece yet. How did you read it? This email baffles me. I have 
        sketched notes for that piece, but it's nowhere in my computer yet. This really freaks me out,
        because I would have written about what you say you've already read from me. Are you
        mistaking me for someone else? 

Publius: No, I read the piece in Overweening Generalist from, gosh, I don't have my computer nearby...sometime in mid-December of 2012?

OG: Wha?...How are you writing to me if you don't have your computer nearby?

Publius: Brain implants, muthafuckuh! They rock! I think a thought and my iNeuron writes it as sentences? Duh! Of course, it still requires effort on my part to think, "Message to Overweening Generalist blog." So they have a lot of kinks to work out.

OG: What? Are you putting me on? 

Publius: Oh, no: I'm sorry! I forgot: you are writing before the time machines came in. I'm from 2027. I should've said that earlier. Sorry!

OG: Okay, I'll bite: if you're from 2027 and you've read a piece I haven't written yet, then how are we exchanging email right now, in my blog?

Publius: I'm not sure if I follow?

OG: You're not sure...? This makes no sense! You're freaking me out, "Publius."

Publius: Oh wow. Sorry dude. I was only trying to express how I like some of your pieces. Some of your other ones? Not so much...But hey: I'm no great shakespeare as a writer myself! 

OG: Ummm...okay, I'll grant you're from the future. Ray Kurzweil's most fervent admirers were right. But I still don't understand how we're conducting an email correspondence in "my time," right now, right where I'm sitting. Just answer that and I think I'll be okay.

Publius: They said we're not allowed to divulge that info, dude. But I swear, man: it's not a big dealio. Things will be okay, and btw: don't worry when they find something bad after your physical.

OG: All right: that's it! I'm tired of you fucking with me! I would like to politely request that you do not write me anything from 2027, as I'd rather just pretend the future can't be known. Humor me. Unknowableness gives me comfort.

Publius: Jeez-a-Louise! I'm sorry, asswipe! I contact you to say I like your piece and you jump all over my shit with a 15 year separation. Fuck you!

OG: Allright: I got carried away. I apologize. But can't you see that using a time machine can really freak out people from the past? By the way: how did they do it? I was sure Einstein's theory of relativity and all the other quantum gravity stuff and wormholes just were hopelessly unworkable.

Publius: Einstein's for schmucks! Do you know about n-dimensional tensile matrices and Gilhooley's theory of antimatter aggregates?

OG: Nevermind. Have a great day, whenever you are.
4.) Dear OG,
     I noticed that, unlike bloggers who actually make money from their blog (and I'm aware of your
     rather unfortunate history with some clueless Puritan assclown d-bag from Google who scuttled
     your affiliate-derived income), you not only write far too much to hold the Average Reader, but you
     eschew the time-honored "5 Reasons Why You Should Do This and That To Make Your Life   
     Better" list-formula. Why? No offense intended. 
     (Signed) - SEO in Oshkosh

Good question. I don't do the listing thing for a number of reasons:
  1. I just think it's trite, and I'm a contrarian, maybe congenitally. Others would say I'm an a-hole, or worse: a hypocrite. One thing I'm not is a cheap Ironist, I'll tell you that!
  2. The List Approach seems so horribly formulaic I simply can't bring myself to stoop that low, and besides: it seems to appeal to that aspect of the quick I want it now I have the attention span of a poodle on meth thing in our culture. I detest what's happened to us. Did you read my post on long sentences? It's HERE.
  3. Furthermore, the List device violates my personal aesthetics derived from Nietzsche, Rorty, and (Groucho) Marx.
  5. I'm frankly afraid - and I hate to admit this - that the listing technique, approach, gadget, whatever: it might become addicting. And I'm okay with all sorts of addictions, but this is one I will not do. Sorry to disappoint you!
5.) Dear blogger,
In order to leverage user-friendly interest graphs to maximize social media feeds, I can show you how to synergize cutting-edge podcasting techniques in order to harvest the inverted output of crowdsourced, integrated models and reinvent a bottom up mashup to generate buzz and attract the most talent to your blog endeavor. (not signed)

Dear Robot,

Please watch the below video. It sums up my stance on your schtick really well:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trippy Art Theories From Oliver Sacks and His Antecedents

My own thinking about art theorizing, and later anti-theorizing, may have started as a young teenager on a beach towel in the sand, during the summer, at Huntington Beach, or Newport Beach. The visual tableaux of "straight line" horizon of sea/sky, the relaxing auditory soundtrack of Pacific Ocean waves crashing in their marvelous periodicity, the caress of sun on my melanin-deficient skin (yearly checkups now for melanomas, OY!), the primal people-watching of others there, barely clothed, the smell of sea-brine and cocoa-butter suntan lotion, and often, with friends, mind-altering chemicals, like beer or cannabis. On my back, the sun overhead and reflecting off the proto-glass sand surrounding, Sol beating down on my closed eyelids, entoptic imagery. I hope all of you reading this have had the experience of seeing geometric squiggle-waves, or waves radiating out orange or blue waves in roughly 360 degrees from a point, or little bacterium-like shapes floating around in your field of vision. Some people call them "floaters," and sometimes they encounter them while being ill, or faint. I saw them on the beach, always. I could always count on them. I could also banish them by thinking of more worldly things. But eventually, after looking at plenty of cave paintings from places like Lascaux, or Islamic Art, or modernist Abstract Expressionism and 1960s psychedelic art...I wondered: is my beach experience related to the history of art in some way?

                                            entoptic imagery, consciously elaborated

The OG Is Anti-Art Theory
I have no problem with anyone's art theory (with exceptions: Ayn Rand's, the Nazis, 1930s Soviet ideas, and a few others), and I will continue to read anything that seems new. I find value in many aesthetic theories. I get a kick out of Ruskin. E.H. Gombrich's book Art And Illusion was thrilling, and will thrill me again when I return to it. I love looking at Kandinsky's paintings, and his mystical-intellectual ideas about juxtapositions of forms and colors I find baffling yet still interesting. Etc.

I object to the idea of "the best" theory of art. If your favorite theory of art doesn't show up in the blogspew, I could not possibly care less...just continue to enjoy your Art.

Alan Watts, in his The Culture of Counter-Culture, wrote that it's good that we don't have a precise theory of art, or more widely, a precise aesthetic theory, one that, if applied correctly, would churn out great art and artists. Because that would be very boring. I read that over 15 years ago and still agree. Moreover, my developing epistemology increasingly provides evermore doubt we'll ever arrive at a precise aesthetic theory. There was a time - perhaps 1880? - in which this idea would've been thought pessimistic; I see it as an unalloyed joyous thing.

As a young man, Oscar Wilde was furiously reading esthetes and theorists, trying to find his own way. He read the great aesthetic theorist Walter Pater and fell under his influence. Eventually, as Richard Ellmann writes in Four Dubliners, "[...] but he never fell into the error of arresting his intellectual development by any formal acceptance of creed or system, or of mistaking for a house in which to live, an inn that is but suitable for the sojourn of the night in which there are no stars and the moon is in travail [...] no theory of life seemed to him to be of any importance compared with life itself." (p.23)

This seems quite isomorphic to Alfred Korzybski's "The map is not the territory."

                                                     basic entoptic imagery

Oliver Sacks
He's just produced another book, Hallucinations. My local library bought five copies, they're all checked out, and there are 42 holds. The Berkeley intellectuals (most of the population?) are fascinated by hallucinations, for multivarious reasons. It also doesn't hurt that Sacks is one of the few scientist-intellectuals who writes so well for the general public that his books still qualify as non-fiction juggernauts in publishing. I will devour his latest book as soon as I can get my hands on it, as I have all of his previous books. From reading reviews of Hallucinations, I find it laudable he's making a very nuanced argument in an effort to de-stigmatize hallucinations, because we're all hallucinating far more often than we'd think.

The paideuma - our collective semantic unconscious - assumes hallucinations are for the seriously ill. It seems part of our long historical baggage of overly-rationalized systems of thought that are now built into the fabric of almost every aspect of our lives, and owes largely to the incredibly influential and persuasive rhetorics of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, St. Augustine, Descartes, and Newton.

Around 2008 Sacks published a book on Migraines. His latest book seems to elaborate on some of what was in his headache book, but I'll have to see for myself. In Migraines - which he has had since early childhood - (he also has prosopagnosia, or "face blindness") he describes the imagery that accompanied a migraine headache: tiny branching images, like twigs, geometrical structures that covered his entire visual field, lattice and checkerboards (typical OG digression: this reminded me of Werner Heisenberg, trying to come to grips with quantum phenomena, and in order to escape his hay fever, retired to an island, where he could hike and think and play mental games of chess with his friends, finally arriving at a mathematical solution to the quantum by using a bizarre matrix algebra that no one would have ever thought would be put to practical use), and sometimes more elaborate patterns like Islamic carpet patterns and complex mosaics, spirals and scrolls and filigree, eddies and swirls. At other times he saw three-dimensional shapes like pine cones and sea urchins.

                                                       Heinrich Kluver

Now, this is not new territory. Sacks, as a neuroscientist, read Heinrich Kluver's books Mescal  and Mechanisms of Hallucination. Kluver experimented with mescal himself and saw infinitely small and transparent oriental rugs and malleable filigreed biological-like objects, often spherical, like radiolaria. Kluver hypothesized that these were "form constants" that were geometrical and ornamental but were innate, which reminds me of Mandelbrot's sets and their descriptions and fantastical arrays in our natural world.

Reading Sacks and then Kluver, this resonated with me because one of my favorite things to do, late at night, cannabis or no: page through marvelous books of prints by Kandinsky, Alex Grey's staggering book Transfigurations, and Ernst Haeckel's Art Forms In Nature, among many others.

When I consciously do this, it is because of the reliability of pleasure, and a concomitant entrance into a finite province of meaning, outside the primary, ordinary, taken-for-granted "reality" of our (in this case my own) daily lives.

                                                 Hubel and Wiesel

Basic Idea of Where These Forms Come From
Kluver was fascinated because these visual images seemed to not have anything to do with memory, personal experience, imaginative force, or the desire to see them. They appear to be archetypal. Furthermore, people the world over express these forms in their artworks, whether in Africa, ancient Mexico, or southern Europe during the Paleolithic. But why? What explains it?

The visual cortex, located in the occipital lobe near the "back" of our brains, was described by Torsten Wiesel and David Hubel, and they deserved more than one Nobel Prize, their work was so fantastically groundbreaking. It turns out the part of our brains that is involved in seeing has very many layers and they're quite specialized. One sheet of neurons only knows a dot, others know little lines, other colors, etc. It's incredibly complex and totally amazing they were able to crack this code, via painstaking work.

So, via migraines, or sensory deprivation or hallucinogenic drugs, or fever, or flickering lights, or just-waking/just-falling asleep states: the cytoarchitecture of these basic sheets of neurons - each neuron only "knows" how to do ONE THING! - gets activated. Our primary visual cortex, in these altered states shows us, makes available to us for contemplation, the dynamics of a part of our visual cortex: lines and shapes, from Euclidean forms to non-Euclidean forms, up to - if we're really "out there," Mandelbrot-like forms: animals, landscapes, people, other Beings.

Oliver Sacks thinks the elementary forms of our worldwide human Art can use, as explanatory schema, non-ordinary states available to all of us in one mode or another, and the workings of the neurophysiological workings of the primary visual cortex.

Now, this may seem reductive. And I think it is. But it's my current Number One as far as the basic mental elements of Where Art Comes From. And it seems to go a long way in explaining what caused those shapes playing for me, unbidden, on the backs of my eyelids, in the Theater of the Entoptic,  while sunning on the beach. Am I married to this theory? No. But I will be astonished if a richer one comes along.

A Parthian Shot: because I think it's basically correct - that various non-ordinary states in the human archetypal landscape have given rise to Art - I see the so-called War On Drugs (which I often extensionalize to a War On Certain People Who Use Drugs The State Arbitrarily Outlaws) - as a War on Human Nature, and I got this idea from David Jay Brown, in an essay he published in Rebels and Devils: The Psychology of Liberation.

Entoptic Imagery and Altered States of Consciousness

Oliver Sacks on hallucinogens and hallucinations. We need more and more of these hyper-articulate intellectuals talking about their own phenomenological experiences on psychoactive drugs. This is less than 5 minutes, and get a load of what Sacks says about amphetamines!:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Drippy Jackson Pollock Theories: Art and Mathematics!

Sometime in 1996, physicist Richard Taylor decided he'd also pursue a degree in Art History, so he's my kind of guy, obviously. He was on sabbatical and checking out Jackson Pollock's drip-art (1943-52). In 1949 Life magazine featured Pollock as the Hot New Guy Painter and then received tons of letters protesting this abstract expressionist's work, a common argument being something like, "My kid could paint that!" 50 years later, a major exhibit of Pollock at New York's MOMA had lines around the block, and a Pollock has sold for $40million. You explain it. I've got some fractal fish to fry.

                            A detail-section from Jackson Pollock's 1949 work Number 8

Taylor got the idea that Pollock, in his use of particular paints, his manipulations of the paints' viscosities, his bodily motions, his attacking the canvas by walking around it from every angle, using his famous drip technique, had produced fractals. Either Taylor intuited that Pollock had intuited the basic minute algorithmic structure of Nature, or Taylor thought it might be really interesting to pursue the idea and see where it took him, I don't know. But he began an interesting controversy that rattles and drips down to today.

Taylor pursued his hypothesis. As a physicist he was already familiar (an understatement) with Benoit Mandelbrot's book The Fractal Geometry of Nature. In order to test whether Pollock's paintings between 1943-52 contained fractals - whether they contained complex geometric patterns that could be detected at very small scales, medium scales, and larger scales, a hidden occult order that corresponded to well-defined parameters in fractal geometry - he scanned pictures of the drip paintings and put them in his computer. Then he divided the images into very small boxes that added up to five million drip patterns that were, when looked at by the naked eye, anywhere from four yards wide to less than 1/10 of an inch.

                                         Sabinoso canyons of New Mexico, aerial view
If there were fractal patterns in Pollock, it didn't matter what the original size was that was placed into a tiny box in a computer image: fractals are "as above, so below": fractals at the tiniest levels are reflected in the largest levels. If we look at a tree, a twig fractally mimics the whole tree. Mandelbrot - whose work was sneered at when it first appeared (by the most eminent mathematicians of the day!), argued that he had discovered yet another non-Euclidean geometry, one that could be applied to the "roughness" of Nature. Previously, Euclid and other inventors of non-Euclidean geometry assumed smooth shapes basically governed "reality."

[Mandelbrot has won, and for further information - even though I assume nine of 10 readers of Overweening Generalist already know quite a lot about fractals - I've linked to a pretty good 50 minute Nova TV program, which includes Mandelbrot, Richard Taylor, Keith Devlin, Ralph Abraham and many others. If you're bored with my spew here and want to know more about fractals and Mandelbrot, skip to the end of this post. - OG]

                                          a computer-generated fractal image

Anyway, Taylor (1999 paper) found that Pollock's paintings were indeed filled with fractals. As Jennifer Ouellette wrote in Discover in their November 2001 issue about Taylor and Pollock, "Pollock was apparently testing the limits of what the human eye would find aesthetically pleasing." Let's be clear about why this might be so: if we contain fractal structures in our bodies, and Nature - say, a rain forest, mountains, trees, and clouds - are fractal, then we intuitively "understand" these very complex-looking images, because we evolved with them and they are in us. Studies have shown that people's stress levels can lower by as much as 50% by looking at fractal imagery.

This seems to be true at many levels. Imagine the sound of a baby pounding his fists on the keyboard of a piano. Then think of listening to someone playing major scales in every key on a piano with a metronome. Then imagine Beethoven playing variations on a simple theme.

Some evolutionary psychologists have surmised that, deep in our evolutionary ancestry, we became attuned to deviations in the visual environment that disrupted fractal patterns, and this aided in survival, thus making the argument that we are oddly soothed by looking at fractal patterns because they were primarily about survival, and predated aesthetic concerns. (Another Just-So story?)

What's weird is that Pollock did his drip paintings before Mandelbrot published his work on fractals. If we think Richard Taylor was basically correct and Pollock's drip paintings contain fractals, how did Pollock "know"? Almost every writer who's covered this story uses the words "intuition" and "instinct." Some link this to the fractal nature of our selves, but even if this wonderful idea is true, I still marvel at...how? My best guess, as of this date, is that Pollock somehow got himself into harmony with the way of Nature, what the ancient Chinese called Tao. 

"I can control the flow of paint. There is no accident." - Jackson Pollock

Taylor found, using the parameters of fractal geometry and his computer, that, as Pollock's drip technique evolved, the later, more complex paintings had even higher levels of fractal dimensionality.

The next step for Taylor was to build his "Pollockizer," which was a device that used fractal algorithms that allowed a machine to splatter or drip paint in ways that created paintings that were either fractally based, or, when he tweaked the numbers, produce just random, non-fractalized paintings. Then, to test his theory on the public, he displayed his machine-produced fractal paintings along with his non-fractal/ordinary "chaos" paintings. Of 120 people surveyed, 113 chose the fractal paintings as most pleasing.

Fractals are found in nature, but there are others that are man-made (like Pollock's dripworks), and there are still others that are computer-generated, and anyone can look on You Tube and find meta-psychedelic fractal videos that trippers during the Summer of Love could've never imagined. Taylor worked with perceptual psychologists and found that subjects preferred looking at objects that fell within the 1.3 to 1.5 level of dimensionality of fractals, irregardless whether the images were from nature, computers, or human-made. (This reminded me of my studies of why we find some people more beautiful than others.)

There's much more to Taylor's arguments about fractals in Pollock, but what he wanted to argue was that he had developed a way to quantitatively analyze the style of an abstract artist. As wild as Pollock's abstract paintings appear, Taylor said his method was objective and that he may have stumbled onto a way to authenticate and legitimate actual Pollocks, to detect the "fingerprints" of his style, and separate them from the (probably) hundreds of fakes out there. Conservators came running to Taylor, eager for him to apply his method.

The Method Gets Tested: Let the Drama Heat Up!
In 2003, Taylor analyzed 24 putative Pollocks and said they did not possess the fractal signature of Pollock.

In 2006, Alex Matter, the son of friends of Pollock, said he'd found 30 Pollocks that the famous painter had given to his parents. They were found in a storage bin in Long Island, New York. Taylor used his method and determined the paintings were not Pollocks.

Enter two physicists, Kate Jones-Smith and Harsh Mathur of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. They argued that Taylor's methodology was flawed and that it should not be relied upon to authenticate paintings. In the journal Nature they said, "Several problems must be addressed before fractal analysis can be used to authenticate paintings." And one was the small-box counting technique Taylor used. Jones-Smith took her own simple childlike line drawing, Untitled 5:

...and subjected it to Taylor's method. She and her colleagues used the box-counting technique and found them to have the fractal dimensions of a Pollock! (?) Furthermore, Jones-Smith said Pollock's paintings lacked the range of scales needed to be considered as fractal, because the smallest speck of paint analyzed by Taylor was only 1000 times smaller than the entire canvas. Taylor responded in Nature that invoking this power law "would dismiss half the published investigations of fractals." Additionally, Jones-Smith found that, when she and colleagues analyzed Pollocks using Taylor's published methods, they found that two out of three Pollocks failed to satisfy Taylor's criteria. They charged that Taylor had kept some of his methodology unpublished. Also, Jones-Smith said Taylor only analyzed 17 of the drip paintings (other sources I've read give it as 20), which makes the sample size too small, as there were at least 180 drip paintings. This means that Matter's works may have really been Pollocks and that Taylor's idea about Pollock's stylistic fingerprints should not be used in authentication.

Taylor responded that Jones-Smith's Untitled 5 does not show fractal patterns. By late November, 2007, the idea of authentication by fractal signature seemed wildly unsettled.

Here's an interesting point for the OG: by the time physicists with the advanced ninja Mandelbrotian juju apply their numbers, I obviously lack the math chops to stick with the argument. It seems that when a story goes off in this direction - specialists clashing in a language I'm not conversant in - I retreat to the sidelines to watch the melee and see how it all plays out. And sometimes it takes years! Which is fine with me. I actually enjoy the drama of it all.

Enter: Four New Nerds
In early 2008 a paper appeared, "Multifractal Analysis and Authentication of Jackson Pollock Paintings," by Coddington of NY MOMA, Elton of Pegasus Imaging Corp, Rockmore of Dartmouth mathematics, and Wang of Michigan State mathematics. They looked at Taylor's methodology and how he'd determined that the 30 Alex Matter "Pollocks" were bogus. They extended Taylor's methods, adding the "entropy dimension," which they described as a quality related to the fractal dimension, and I'll just have to take their word for it. The four seem excited that geeks like themselves are making inroads into "Stylometry," and early in the paper cite its nascent use in literature, and this reminded me of a totally fascinating book I'd read a few years ago by Don Foster, Author Unknown.  Foster called what he did "literary forensics" (other times "forensic linguistics") and he used his computer and algorithms he'd developed about word choice, length of sentences, certain tendencies towards tropes, etc, to try to determine who some unknown author was. He was involved in the Unabomber case, he figured out who wrote Primary Colors, and showed that an incredibly literate and witty letter-writer to a Northern California newspaper, who signed as "Wanda Tinasky," was not Thomas Pynchon, as many suspected. It's a great read, but I've digressed. Again.

So yea, the four geeks. Stylometry would use advanced statistical analysis and improved digital representations to quantify works of art. They thought Taylor's box-counting method was legitimate. Hell, what do I know when they haul out their "entropy plots" and "slope statistics"? What did they conclude about Taylor's methods?

They thought Taylor was right: based on their entropy plotting, the Matter paintings were fakes. When they compared a known Pollock with one of Matter's "Pollock"s, they saw a "dramatic distinction between a secure Pollock and this drip painting found by Alex Matter."

Score one for Taylor.

2009: Jones-Smith and Mathur Team Up with Big-time Physicst Lawrence Krauss
They have done their best to debunk Richard Taylor. HERE is a short writeup on their doings.

2011: Fluid Dynamics Leaks In
Check out this article by Lisa Grossman from Wired. When I read the title I thought, okay, more of the math-physics-art geek wars and Richard Taylor, but noooo. What we get here is two geeks from Boston College and a Harvard mathematician claiming the first quantitative analysis of Jackson Pollock. The nerve! Grossman doesn't mention Taylor, but links to his 1999 correspondence to Nature about fractals in Pollock, co-written with Micolich and Jonas. There's no mention of Coddington, Elton, Rockmore and Wang. Why? Because they're not at Harvard or Boston College? What? If you're at Dartmouth it's a denigration?

Herczynski and Cernuschi of BC and Mahadevan of Harvard "believe they've done the first quantitative analysis of drip painting." Yea, hoo-kay.

Well, these fluid dynamics guys had just published an equation about how Pollock spread paint on a canvas, in Physics Today. So...why are they "the first?" Well, they're drawing on novel findings in the area of physics called fluid dynamics. How honey coils when you pour it onto a conveyor belt, the behavior of a dripping faucet, the movement of nanofibers and rope. Some whole other thing that ain't fractals. No, they've done a "quantitative analysis" of "inertial, gravitational, and viscous coiling regimes." Alright, but I think Taylor, Micolich and Jonas did a quantitative analysis in 1999, and the four nerds in 2008 did so also.

I will chalk all this up to the dimension of scientist's lives perhaps best shown in Carl Djerassi's books of what he calls "science-in-fiction," in which an anonymous author's short bio of Djerassi, we read, "illustrates, in the guise of realistic fiction, the human side of scientists and the personal conflicts faced by scientists in their quest for scientific knowledge, personal recognition, and financial rewards."

But just as Taylor thought Pollock was doing fractals before anyone knew about them - even himself - the fluid dynamics dudes say Pollock was doing experiments in fluid dynamics before any physicists had known about the way certain fluids of certain viscosities moved. (This all reminds me of a stunningly imaginative speculative work by a real Leonardo-level Generalist: Leonard Shlain's Art and Physics: Parallel Visions In Space, Time and Light. Here's a thick book on how, throughout history, artists seem to stumble upon "knowledge" about Nature before the physicists, astronomers, chemists, and biologists "discover" the same thing, and then quantify it. Shlain was a surgeon. Yet another digression. Sorry!)

Pollock was obsessive about finding new paints and pigments, and loved to alter their consistencies. Maybe the fluid dynamics guys have something here.

Meanwhile, Benoit Mandelbrot (who died in 2010) thought Taylor was right: Pollock drip paintings were fractal. He supported Taylor in a 2007 Science News article.

Harsh Mathur, Kate Jones-Smith's colleague and Richard Taylor's nemesis, is impressed by the fluid dynamics guys' work. But I find Mathur a tad glib when he says, "Either Taylor is wrong or Kate's drawings are worth $40 million. We'd be happy either way." Why? I'd still like to figure out whether Jones-Smith and Mathur had an ulterior motive for taking on Taylor.

As of 2011, Richard Taylor says that fractals are "just one key to authentication, and should be used with other methods. It's not a red-light green-light method." He's gone on to investigate neurobiology and fractals, using MRIs, EEGs, and skin conductance to measure stress levels of people looking at fractal imagery.

Tangentially, Frances Stonor Saunders, in The Cultural Cold War showed how the CIA covertly backed Western abstract expressionists like Pollock in order to win the war with the Soviets. The idea was that we were way ahead, because, well...just look how "advanced" someone like this Pollock character is! This is what a "free society" looks like!  A wonderful work of "hidden history" that almost reads like a byzantine spy novel, yet it's true. What a weird, weird world some of the CIA guys live(d) in.

Late in my investigation, I discovered Sarah Everts's article in Central Science. It serves as a recapitulation and extends my little ditty here. I like how she points out that fractals soothe, the debate rouses, the math and physics sooth, presumably due to their elegance.

"Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement." - Jackson Pollock

Here's a good overview documentary of fractals and their history, Mandelbrot, etc:

Other Works Consulted

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ayn Rand's Dippy Art Theory (and some fun schtuff too)

Jillian Steinhauer's "Ayn Rand's Theory of Art," which Hyperallergic ran a couple months ago surprised me, because I would have guessed Rand's ideas about art would be dull, but I had no idea how utterly impoverished they would seem.

A 539 page book that Steinhauer admits she didn't buy and only read in chapter summaries and excerpted bits, I might someday see if I can get my hands on a library copy to see if it's as thoroughly ridiculous as it seems, after reading what Steinhauer gleaned from it.

                                  Kandinsky's Unbroken Line (1923), which is NOT art,
                                 according to Ayn Rand, because it's not representational.
                                 Interestingly, the Nazis had a similar esthetic.

Presented as a "groundbreaking alternative view" of Art, contra the Art Establishment, it seems that Rand only thought representational art in painting, sculpture and drawing was legitimate. Apparently there were other ideas about poetry and novels. But let's learn about what IS NOT art from Rand:

  1. any and all abstract art (remember: it must be representational!)
  2. photography (fuck you, Ansel Adams!)
  3. any sort of crafts from indigenous peoples (why? I'd like to know)
  4. John Cage and Merce Cunningham (big surprise)
  5. James Joyce and Samuel Beckett (it seems likely that Robert Anton Wilson was going around calling himself an Objectivist - before he was finally summoned into Rand's presence and was thoroughly underwhelmed by her, mid-1950s - while he was a budding Joyce scholar. He probably had no idea at the time what Rand thought about Joyce, or her ideas of What Constitutes Real Art in general. That's my guess.)
  6. inscrutable "postmodernist" poetry, like John Ashberry (gosh, I'm shocked)
  7. anything "postmodern" or - seemingly - too cute for Rand: Warhol and Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman and Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg (one of my faves)...you get the point: none of this is true Art, according to our delightful Objectivist
  8. any "art" that comes with a prefix: "visual" or "video" art IS NOT art; "pop" or "performance" or "installation" or "conceptual" art IS NOT art. These are all terms the decadent, socialist, weak moocher Art Establishment has been trying to pawn off as "real" Art to all you saps. Don't fall for it!
  9. finally (yea, I know, you're enjoying this and don't want it to end; sorta like an installment of "Fox and Friends"): anything described by cretinous non-heroic artfolk as "challenging"or "explorational" or "confrontational" or "quirky." See these terms and run, ladies and germs. Get with the Objectivist Program and learn from the amphetamine-addled Aristotelian Ayn herself.
On a lighter note, I had not known that Ayn Rand had had her own cable-access (excuse me: private access) TV show from way back when.

Also: HERE's a link to 10 articles about the brilliant purveyor of "Me" and mean-ness, Ayn Rand.

Reykjavik's Wild Street Art
Check it out HERE.
I have the feeling Ayn would not approve.

More Street Art: Slinkachu's Tiny Worlds in the Street
Check it out HERE.
One strongly surmises Ayn would want to spit.

Shelly Miller's Temporary Sugar Mural, About Sugar: "Cargo"
Appearing as a ceramic, but it's not. It was placed on the side of a building in Montreal, and was made from sugar, something so playful and saccharine Ayn would no doubt want to puke. See it HERE. (Sugar murals, not Ayn Rand's puke.)

Speaking of Street Art: Jon Rafman's Google Street View Images
Found at 9Eyes. I use Google Street View but apparently not often enough! (Ayn is spinning in her grave: just think: images captured...ewwww...photography!) Why do I suspect the tiger in the parking lot is some sorta put-on? Still: pretty cool anyway. And who knows what the story is in the first image?

Yuri Suzuki's London Underground...on Circuit Boards
So cool. Cool enough to enrage Ayn Rand? Yep, the idea that this would be shown to a paying public?
Check it out HERE. And what would she make of nudists having an orgy on a polyimide surface of a semiconductor in an integrated circuit, etched with reactive ions? I do not think she would call this Art.

May K's Protein Strand-Art
How wonderful is this? Vote for her if you like what she's seeing/doing. Getting even smaller, you can get your personal DNA map enlarged and printed out and looking like...something Ayn Rand would not cotton to.

Top 20 from 2011's Nikon Small World Contest
HERE. I find all of these completely wonderful and when I got to the 5th place finisher, the microchip surface, I thought I had my favorite. But then number 20, "Agatized dinosaur bone cells, unpolished," from around 150 million years ago, was my favorite. Oops! It's photography, so for Ayn Rand it's not Art.

Finally: A Nod to the 2012 Election: Marriage Equality Art...
Made from seeds!

I first found out about more than half of the above collections of artwerks via BoingBoing.

I suspect the world I perceive is far far far more open than the more-famous Ayn Rand's was, but then I admit my bias.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Human Brains: Enchanted Looms, Electro-Colloidal Computers, Flying Lasagna, and Other Grey Matters

A Generalist trying to study and write about the human brain seems bound to tax attention: there's simply so much there to get all worked up over, especially since the 1990s "Decade of the Brain" and the resultant supernovae of imaging machines, knowledge of genes and epigenetics, experimental psychologies, and an ungainly amount of scientific data. No PhD in Neuroscience can keep up with all of it; one must specialize. We now have Neuroeconomics. Finally!

But the Generalist is at free play in the dense, massive fields.

I had wanted to do an entire blogspew on the materiality of the human brain, simply because I find descriptions of it so trippy. Full Disclosure: I have never held a human brain in my hands. But I've read and seen enough from people who have, or surgeons who have performed brain surgery, to palpably - in my imagination - "feel" the majesty of it all. But first: the human brain from another level: how we perceive or make "reality," and how tenuous it all seems.

Two Quotes From Disparate Recent Readings
We've learned a lot about how memory works in the last 20 years, but there's a lot left to learn. Just about any textbook minted in the last ten years will discuss how different declarative memory ("knowing that") works versus procedural memory ("knowing how"...like navigating a stairwell, riding a bike, or tying your shoes).

Discussing recent findings using imaging machines, Amiri, Lannon and Lewis write, "While explicit memory (basically: declarative- OG) is swift and capacious, a fallacious sense of accuracy attends its frequently erroneous returns. New scanning technologies show that perception activates the same brain area as imagination. Perhaps for this reason, the brain cannot reliably distinguish between recorded experience and internal fantasy." - A General Theory of Love, p.104

Before you go thinking about you and your friends and everyone you love here - not to mention how this might impact "personal responsibility" and the Law! - dig this quote from Douglas Rushkoff's Program Or Be Programmed: Ten Commands For The Digital Age:

"But the latest research into virtual worlds might suggests the lines between the two (digital models of reality and our own being-in-the-world models - OG) may be blurring. A Stanford scientist testing kids' memories of virtual reality experiences found that at least half the children cannot distinguish between what they really did and what they did in the computer simulation. Two weeks after donning headsets and swimming with virtual whales, half of the participants interviewed believed they had actually had the real world experience. Likewise, Philip Rosedale - the quite sane founder of the virtual reality community Second Life - told me he believes that by 2020, his online world will be indistinguishable from real life." - p.69

[Note: This all may dovetail mindblowingly with Nick Bostrom's ideas about humans being a computer simulation, which I touched on HERE, and this recent article, "Physicists May Have Evidence Universe Is A Computer Simulation". Caution: If you you're not familiar with these ideas yet and have wanted to do a psychedelic drug such as psilocybin mushrooms but can't find any, these ideas may prove an adequate substitute.]

Three Pound Universe: Dissection Witness
I liked Zoe Williams's brief article on her experience in the room with a neuropathologist and his "special chopping board and really sharp knife." I'll watch anything on the science channels on TV that are about the materiality of the brain, and I can't get enough of reading about the sacred object you're using now to decode what I'm trying to say. For us, it seems plausible that the brain is the most complex object in the universe. And when Williams describes it as "jaundiced pallor and pronounced bulge, like pickled eggs," it activates those circuits in my own brain that have to do with...surrealism.

Maybe that's just me.

Dr. Gentleman, who seems to love his job of slicing and dicing recently deceased brains, works for a UK brain bank devoted to researching Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Multiple Sclerosis, roughly in that order. He can use the naked eye to read the sorts of suffering the human underwent. It's always interesting to hear about something like, for example, strokes.

"'It's pot luck with strokes,' he explains at one point - you can have a stroke and not notice. Or you can have a stroke that leaves you with a cystic cavity, or what a layperson might call, a big hole in your head."

Gentleman cuts away in front of the journalist, pointing out, "that's the main event; personality, executive function, reason." I find the high number of errors interesting: people while living had been diagnosed with some brain disease - they and their loved ones were at least given a name for their malady - and far more often than I would've thought, it was wrong, judging by the visual evidence of the physical insults of the person's actual brain. Clearly, we have a long road to hoe here.

All this stuff not only puts me in the mood of surrealism, but concomitant to this, in encountering the actual material brain, a combination of dreamlike wonder juxtaposed with ghastly existential terror, back to dreamlike wonder. And quite often a dark humor suffuses the scene.

If you're still interested in this stuff, HERE's another: cutting through the deeply-buried pineal gland. You can thank me later.

                                                            Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan's Brains, "Literally"
You can make this stuff up, but you must have an eldritch, poetic mind. But this story is true: poet J.J. Phillips wanted to do research on the counterculture novelist/poet Richard Brautigan (have you read Trout Fishing in America?). Stephen Gerz tells the story in his edifying book blog Booktryst in a post "Novelist Richard Brautigan's Brains At Bancroft Library: A Grand Guignol Adventure," which you must read; I can't do it justice.

Maybe I should've posted this on Halloween.

I take some odd and demented delight in knowing most of the action here took place in my neighborhood. The owner of Serendipity Books, Peter Howard? His legend grows by the year. Did he know for sure that's why some of Brautigan's papers were so messy? Phillips had to call in a coroner to confirm. And what of the librarians at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library? Phillips thought they were acting "squirrelly and obfuscatory." And I think Phillips has a point: what if Brautigan had had Mad Cow disease?

Being a fan of Codrescu, I can only imagine his reaction upon hearing the story. Wow.

Another Poet
I'd like to leave you with a link to "Brain," by C.K. Williams. Here the brain is traversed by the poet, a cavern, a maze of corridors...and where is a comforting soul?

Who knows what's real? All "I" - this is my brain speaking here - know is, I'm hungry and it's time for dinner, so I bid this spew adieu.