Archive for April, 2008

Breaking the Galilean Spell

April 28, 2008

Causality is a curious thing. We learn it at a young age, but for some the lesson never totally takes. It’s a simple formula: “Don’t do x or y will happen.” Or, even…”If you do x then y will result.” You get the idea…

But is that how life really functions? Much of our understanding of what it means to be rational and scientific derives from a beginning point of rational and scientific inquiry — the 17th century transformation grandly labeled “The Scientific Revolution”. In this sense the origins of science are rooted in a linear, mechanical, mathematical and, ultimately, de-spiritualized vision of nature. In an essay in Edge entitled “Breaking the Galilean Spell” Stuart A. Kauffman from the University of Calgary challenges these assumptions, arguing for the legitimacy of phenomena that are “emergent” (i.e. incalculable based on what is already given).

I have written about ideas like emergence and the spiritual vs. scientific divide before, using the term vitalism in relationship to these ideas. In an importance sense, emergence and vitalism are synonyms. They are, as suggested by the philosopher of science Georges Canguilhem, more moral than methodological imperatives. Kauffman argues in his interesting little essay (derived from a book…) that there is a dire ethical need to understand nature and science through new metaphors and paradigms. Our survival may depend on it.

N.B. This article found by way of Arts & Letters Daily.

Victoria Welcomes You…

April 22, 2008

By boat.

Or on a wing.

Western Horizon

April 21, 2008

Back out west for a while. Remembering the sunset. This is the best one I’ve seen so far. Such an amazing thing, the western horizon.

Squirrels Unite!

April 20, 2008

“The squirrel has a brain the size of an oversize pea. But research has shown that it demonstrates a quite extraordinary intelligence and memory capacity that may be endangering the future of mankind. It is all too easy to underestimate the capabilities of these animals. But we are facing the prospect of world domination if we do not become aware of the potential dangers confronting us.

Every year, a squirrel will store away about ten thousand nuts, and their very survival depends on their ability to find where they have hidden them. Their memory capacity is enormous, hiding each nut in a different place and then being able to find it again. A series of experiments in California attempted to research something of this intelligence. The first experiment placed a nut in the same position over a number of days, testing the squirrel’s spatial memory. The second experiment, however, was more complicated, changing the route to the nut so that the squirrel had alternate routes. And the squirrels demonstrated that they were not relying on merely retracing their steps. When the route changed, they could still find the nut at the end of it.

However, what is disturbing is that there would appear to be suspicious squirrel activities taking place in Europe. Squirrels seem to be behind much of society’s ills, controlling governments and eliminating anyone who stands in their path. Most frightening of all, while the prospect of a squirrel takeover is scary enough, it has been suggested that stoats, ferrets and hamsters may also be involved. Their role is as yet undefined, but the possibility of a major military attack cannot be ruled out.

While the whereabouts of the headquarters is unknown, possibilities have been narrowed down to one of the following areas: Red Square, Moscow; under the Eiffel Tower, Paris; in a Romanian sewer; Stoke-on-Trent, England. One can only live in hope that the true whereabouts will be discovered in the not too distant future.

As a warning: Offering squirrels food may lull them into a false sense of security, but it would seem that they are starting to see through this bluff and may attack viciously. It is not worth making oneself known personally to them. There comes a time in every civilization when humankind must unite and fight for the common good. It is to be sincerely hoped that this way we can prevent rodent domination.”

From Kate Tuckett, ed., Conspiracy Theories (New York: Berkley, 2004).


April 19, 2008

The Bachelor’s Death

April 10, 2008

“Above the entrance to the main hall — the Salon Bordurin-Renaudas — someone had hung, undoubtedly only a little while ago, a large canvas which I did not recognize. It was signed by Richard Séverand and entitled ‘The Bachelor’s Death.’ It was a gift of the State.

Naked to the waist, his body a little green, like that of a dead man, the bachelor was lying on an unmade bed. The disorder of sheets and blankets attested to a long death agony. I smiled, thinking about M. Fasquelle. But he wasn’t alone: his daughter was taking care of him. On the canvas, the maid, his mistress, her features marked by vice, had already opened a bureau drawer and was counting the money. An open door disclosed a man in a cap, a cigarette stuck to his lower lip, waiting in the shadows. Near the wall a cat lapped milk indifferently.

This man had lived only for himself. By a harsh and well-deserved punishment, no one had come to his bedside to close his eyes. This painting gave me a last warning: there was still time, I could retrace my steps. But if I were to turn a deaf ear, I had been forewarned: more than a hundred and fifty portraits were hanging on the wall of the room I was about to enter; with the exception of a few young people, prematurely taken from their families, and the mother superior of a boarding school, none of those painted had died a bachelor, none of them had died childless or intestate, none without the last rites. Their souls at peace that day as on other days, with God and the world, these men had slipped quietly into death, to claim their share of eternal life to which they had a right.

For they had a right to everything: to life, to work, to wealth, to command, to respect, and, finally, to immortality.”

From La Nausée (Nausea) (1938) by Jean-Paul Sartre.

Who Needs Secret Societies?

April 8, 2008

This very intriguing book by geographer Trevor Paglen just came to my attention. Entitled I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed By Me, it features images of patches used by “secret” branches of the Pentagon complex. A fascinating trip down the rabbit hole of U.S. military secrecy and its bizarre offshoots. The New York Times also has a brief piece about it, which touches on the latent occult dimension of the whole thing. Reminds of recent events, and how far things have come since the early Cold War. Paglen, who has also written about rendition and inappropriate U.S. government behavior, was on The Colbert Report last night talking about the book project. Mesmerizing.


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