Archive for February, 2010

Vitalism and Time

February 25, 2010

What is time? This the kind of question which appears simple, even banal, but after a moment of reflection it leaves us dumbfounded, breathless. Time is all. It is what was, is, will be.

There is, of course, a prosaic, straightforward way to understand time. Time as social phenomena. Socially-constructed time. From the hexadecimal seconds, minutes and hours of the Babylonians we get recordable (and recorded) time. Along with writing, this gives us history. History and time, as rational objects, are thus born at the very beginning of civilization. They are, along with agriculture (which creates its own sense of “cyclical” time…), what defines “civilization”.

We move on from this point (in rational, linear fashion) to devices for keeping time broadly, like sundials and calendars (some, like Stonehenge or the Mayan temples, that happen to be very concrete). The deep human desire to try and answer the above question is imprinted in the archeological record and the history of astronomy (recently synthesized through “archaeoastronomy“).

As the years pass (and humanity develops) technologies emerge that attempt to capture the dynamic, moving nature of time. Water clocks (clepsydra), some elaborate beyond imagination, like the one built by Su Song in China in the 11th century AD, give way, finally, to the simple mechanical contrivances of medieval Europe.

This has dramatic social and philosophical consequences. For one, the ancient “cyclical” conceptions of time are transcended by “linear” time. Historians like Jacques Le Goff and E.P. Thompson argue that the move from “Church’s” to “merchant’s” time, and the appearance of the clock tower in the centers of the late medieval town, changes our perceptions, introducing work-discipline. Mechanical, linear time continues to shape and form the modern mind, laying the foundations of industrial capitalism.

The easy abstractions of mechanical time, however, are conceptually shattered by Einsteinian relativity. Yet how significant is this shift in the larger social sphere? In fact, our communal arrangements regarding time remain pedestrian, conformist. As the modernist era begins, a sense of the immensity of the past dawns. Paleontology and Darwin’s ideas push this door ajar, but atomic physics smashes it open. From an earth thousands or even millions of years old, we move to being young beings on a planet billions of years old.

Philosophers grapple with this. Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution (1907) gives us “duration” (durée) and a notion of “lived” time. For the neo-vitalist Bergson, mechanical time ceases to have real significance in a post-Darwin world. Early 20th century philosophy witnesses a flurry of interest in the living, vital nature of time. Hans Driesch revives Aristotle’s entelechy, a purposive, goal-directed quality embedded in the universe, inseparable from life. Time here becomes the framework of existence. It’s the fuel within which the living burns. Notions of being (or what Heidegger identifies as “Being“) are paramount.

Simultaneously, analytic modes of philosophical thought led by logical positivism try to tame the mess of the physical, reimposing a mathematically, logically-sound neo-Kantian synthesis.

Yet humanity continues to grow and change. A Heraclitan flow of existence and death surges under the calm seas of science-based thought. We find ourselves in constant flux. The rigidities of mechanical time and its disciplining force reign in our conscious minds. But instinctual life is inured to this. Time is more satisfactorily captured in the growth, transformations and mutations of a myriad microscopic living beings.

Time is not an arrow, linear; it sprouts off in all directions, oozing out as it literally “creates space”. Like bacteria in a Petri dish, it jumps across geometrical constraints almost gleefully. Time is disease…Without cure.

Our rational, conscious mind breaks time into distinct, manageable units, but we sense, instinctually, that this is an unsatisfying illusion. We live and breathe time — our life, all life, is immersed in its totality. Perhaps this is its essence; without life, organisms, living, breathing, perceiving beings, time is meaningless. Like an inert gas. It only takes shape, manifests, in the event. Moment. Action.

At the same time, it is beyond us. The idea that things are coming together — the dream of “singularity” as imagined by Kurzweil, et. al. is absurd (and really only a shadow of Teilhard de Chardin’s “omega point“). There is no arrival, no destination, no “there”.

There is only the unending, ever-changing, innumerable “here” of the living and life. All life.

We are time, but it is beyond us.

RAW Revisited

February 20, 2010

Always fun to do. For further explanation see here and here.

Thanks to Boing Boing for the find…


February 18, 2010

Reality is just an illusion. A shell. Like the conch you put to your ear to try and hear the sound of the sea, there’s a twisting mass of grooved pathways to the true living core, within.

I haven’t found the key, but sometimes the door comes ajar. I shiver at the possibilities inside. They’re perhaps not to be known…

I remember symbols and sigils from ages beyond memory. Language from the root of the cerebellum. It’s all so complex. Like following a trail leading you back to the beginning of the maze. You think you have awoken, when in fact you are still dreaming.

There are dark forms, too. Great cyclopean cities filled with ancient tomes we shall never know. Immense, living and truly universal. Beings of unimaginable size and bizarre shape.

As I awoke and wrote, it seemed urgent to record the experience — the glyphs on the walls of my mind, messages from the dawn of time, inscribed by otherworldly draftsmen — architects with eternal tools. Now it’s all fading from view — re-entombed in the sarcophagi of eternity.

It dims so quickly, the sense of terror mixed with pure enlightenment. Maybe that’s as it should be; we return to the day, the dull routines of lighted life. So that we may be sane, pedestrian. I am sure it’s still there, beckoning…

To write makes it real, but also unreal. For it is a place, all places, as concrete as a pier leading to the merest edge of the deepest ocean. Day dawns, birds chirp, but I know there is a silver key, held by a mystical chain.

Multus anum eo deus trans electus. None-sense now. Must stop…

Orbit: Contact Incident 117

February 16, 2010

The sleeping trooper stirs,
a slow syrupy flow
through plastic tube,
Eyes adjust to harsh, cold, blue
Skewed shadows invoke
foggy memories
of imagined fears.
The stark metal slab
stiff stirring bones,
yet does not comfort.
Lying among a company of companions,
anticipation lingers in stale air
as a rising mummer of quiet
signals the end
of a long journey.
What lays ahead,
looms dauntingly.
On the sickly green orb
ancient intelligence awakes,
and knows.

Fisherman’s Wharf

February 13, 2010

Girls, Girls, Girls

February 11, 2010

What’s the fucking deal? Moreover, how do you close the deal to fuck? Well, actually talking to a girl and being relaxed and charming might help. What’s wrong with the girl you have? Nothing, of course. The problem is you always have her. And you always want what you don’t have. What a fucking drag…

No wonder the Buddhists tried so hard to be desire-less. Then there’s this article in the Weekly Standard. About (post) modern dating. Focused on how the girls love the players, the Alphas, and how some of those dudes make picking-up an art (and a business).

It smacks of some sad and pathetic confirmation of Darwin and evolutionary psychology, like we’re all well-groomed monkeys fighting over the best banana hunters. Seems so visceral, so low…I guess this is what happens when science (i.e. social Darwinism) comes to eclipse silly things like language, feeling and love.

Perhaps this is just the frustrated cry of what the pick-up artists call the AFC (Average frustrated chump — or is it chimp?). But what artists are these? The article mentions the book, The Art Instinct by Arts & Letters maven Denis Dutton. This assumes that some dickhead with a perm, a fuzzy pimp hat and some well-worn pick up lines is the contemporary equivalent of Da Vinci. Besides, not to put a dagger through the heart of this theory, but Leonardo was probably gay.

So where are we? Largely nowhere…Somewhere within Huxley’s Brave New World, hedonistic slaves to our endorphins and unable to channel our desires towards anything smacking of real creativity or revolution. We are, for lack of a better term, right where our capitalist masters want us to be — completely and thoroughly fucked…

Article from Arts & Letters Daily.

What is Philosophy?

February 8, 2010

“The past century tried very hard to rein in the human mind and hold it in check within the limits set by exactness. This violence, this turning the back on ultimate problems was called ‘agnosticism.’ Such an effort is neither justified nor plausible. That experimental science may be incapable of resolving those fundamental questions in its own way is no reason why it should behave like the fox with the high-hung grapes, should call them ‘myths’ and invite us to abandon them. How can we live deaf to the last, dramatic questions? Where does the world come from, whither is it going? What is the definitive power of the cosmos? What is the essential meaning of life? Confined to a zone of intermediate and secondary themes, we cannot breathe. We need a complete perspective, with foreground and background, not a maimed and partial landscape, not a horizon from which the lure of the great distances has been cut away. Lacking a set of cardinal points, our footsteps would lack direction. To assert that no manner of resolving the ultimate questions has yet been discovered is no valid excuse for a lack of sensitiveness toward them. All the more reason for feeling in the depths of our being their pressure and their hurt! Whose hunger has ever been stilled by knowing that he will not be able to eat? Insoluble though they be, those questions will continue to rise, pathetic, on the clouded vault of the night, blinking at us like the twinkle of a star. As Heine put it, the stars are the night’s thoughts, restless and golden. North and South help to orient us despite their not being accessible cities reached simply by buying a railroad ticket.

What I mean by this is that we are given no escape from the ultimate questions. Whether we like it or not, they live, in one fashion or another, within us. ‘Scientific truth’ is exact, but it is incomplete and penultimate; it is of necessity embedded in another kind of truth, complete and ultimate, although inexact, which could be called ‘myth.’ Scientific truth floats, then, in mythology, and science itself, as a whole, is a myth, the admirable European myth.”

From José Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy?, trans. Mildred Adams (New York: W.W. Norton, 1960), pp. 66-7.

Dead Language

February 4, 2010

A report from the BBC about the death of an ancient language. The language, Bo, was spoken by a woman living on a group of islands in the Indian Ocean. For 30 years she had been the last speaker of the tongue, which it’s suggested originally came from Africa and may be up to 70,000 years old.

A part of the wonderful process we call “globalization”, the disappearance of aboriginal and tribal languages is a genuine concern. As cause, consider the imperious effects of technology (80% of the content on the Internet is in English), as well as the displacement and destruction of long-established native communities. Apparently, a language disappears every two weeks or so, and by the end of the 21st century, half of the world’s approximately 7000 languages will become extinct.

Like the threat to natural biodiversity, which the UN has pointed to as a particular problem this year, the loss of cultural diversity is an incalculable loss, the result of the same monolithic, standardizing forces. It’s the very assumptions of our globalized world that threaten species diversity as globalization in its other guises also threatens cultural, linguistic, and political diversity. The extinction of natural and cultural forms hand in hand is a disturbing phenomena, and it bears investigating this dark relationship…


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