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Month: January 2014

Text Dump: Sloths, Politics, Narratives

I wrote enough to post normally this week but decided to hold some of that text back. I was in Atlanta for a couple of days, and I guess I brought some pretty shitty weather with me. I didn’t schedule any posts while I was preoccupied with all of this. I’m dumping these ideas here to air them so that my head can empty a bit, and maybe I’ll take parts of them back up later.

Intensive Science post #3 should be ready at the end of the week. #4 next week.

 

Contents:

I. The Sloth Assemblage: The Sloth/Moss/Moth interaction covered recently in the NYT. Short, fun.

II. The Party Line: Although I don’t want to throw away other totalizing views on “political values”, I have a slightly different impression on the topic.

III. Increasing Apparent Likeness: A less triumphant end-of-history narrative.

IV. Tinkering with a Leaky Landscape Metaphor: Trying to avoid looking like a cynical relativist.

V. Where I’m Clearly Failing the Ideological Turing Test: New Age. Holacracy.

VI. Baby Boomers: Just sharing a snippet from the Archdruid that tickled me.

So, leadership training down in Atlanta. They had me take the Myers-Briggs and I got what I always get- INTP. They had a breakdown of result confidence: off the charts I, very very T, more middling N and P. Adorably, I typed fogbanking.com/blog into this app and it also tagged my writing as the ravings of an INTP.

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Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy II

Yesterday I accidentally published this alongside my scenes post. Sorry about that. More non-DeLanda posts next week.

The last post on this topic attempted to define Deleuze’s three ontological dimensions by following DeLanda’s examples for the logic behind it. These three ontological levels:

  1. Apparent actual things with extensive properties (e.g. “metric” measurements)
  2. Morphogenetic processes with intensive properties (e.g. temperature, pressure, other variables with critical thresholds that can change apparent properties). The intensive science is complexity theory.
  3. Virtual structures of the morphogenetic processes (singularities defining the tendencies of multiplicities down in the level of the obscure/continuous/indiscernable). The virtual philosophy is Deleuze’s treatment of this ontological level.

Deleuze’s is a process ontology, not at all anthropocentric, and not connected to the mind at all- for Deleuze, reality is out there. And although it can be pragmatically acted upon, the virtual might be even more complex and nonlinear than simple inquiry reveals because we tend to linearize and focus on close-to-equilibium phenomena. The virtual itself is also not an eternal, transcendental thing- it is immanent, a part of the world, affected by events. More on all of this, below.

Some of these ideas were alluded to in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, another book by De Landa that I “read” last year (but generally didn’t understand all that well). It is about how intensive processes actualize various institutional forms. At some point I will have to return to that particular mountain.

This post is on the second chapter of ISVP, The Actualization of the Virtual in Space. 

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Scenes

First pass on scenes today. Next chapter of Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy on Friday, probably?

Current Trajectory

  • Grounding: (as in “common ground”): collection of mutual beliefs and assumptions between people (and also the act of amassing this collection)
  • Scenius, an introduction by Kevin Kelly
  • Presumably, accepting people are biological (and cognitive) assemblages, it is plausible that larger complexes of human interaction have an apparent intelligence/behavior of their own.
  • Information can be encoded in institutions, or afforded in tools or interactions.

Four months and 80-odd posts ago, I plucked the idea of the “tribe” as a fundamental form of human organization (alongside the Institution, the Market, and the Network) from this RAND paper. I very quickly broadened this definition from strictly “kin-based” to based on a sort of Lakoffian “values-based” definition while I spent some time mulling on apologetics, rhetoric employed to defend and elevate the tribe. I also sort of muddle this conception of the “tribe” with Huizinga’s “Play Communities”, enshrouded with their own internally-important rules and mythologies, crafted by the sharing of values and narratives, and the exchange of shibboleths and fictional truths, some conscious and others implied.

People and language are important, but perhaps there is a social architecture that is common between particular events that we might have seen at the Home Brew Computer clubs, or at MIT’s famous Building 20, or Woods Hole? Something about being at the same place and the same time, creating temporary play communities, constructing ideas and artifacts, and then disseminating it elsewhere.

Last year, I sat in on a presentation by Seb Paquet about Scenius, and I took some notes (that I lost! Miserable.). I had heard the word ‘scenius’ in a previous life but never paid it much mind before.

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Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy I

These are notes on Manuel De Landa’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, which is a refactoring of Gilles Deleuze’s ontology (specifically, it’s intended as an introduction to Deleuzian thought for analytical philosophers or scientific-minded readers unfamiliar to Deleuze and his very continental methodologies: this dude has two very different, very important concepts called “differentiation” and “differenciation”. That’s what we’re up against.).

Also as a warning, I’m certainly doing more violence to De Landa’s work here than De Landa himself fears he may do in warping and repackaging Deleuze’s ontology for “outsiders”. I have no experience with Deleuze outside of this book, so this is a juvenile attempt to share as I’ve learned. I will happily edit on feedback from more knowledgeable readers.

I have only read the chapter I’m summarizing, so far. It seems reasonably self-contained. I liked some of the ideas although some implications are above my pay-grade. This first chapter (of four) is called The Mathematics of the Virtual. I haven’t even begun the second chapter yet so the sequel posts may not come quickly.

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The Arcane in Two Aeon Articles

I’m done for the week. Now that my winter break surplus is expended, I think I’ll try to reduce my output back to two posts per week. That’ll also give me more time to edit, which is a skill I really ought to be honing a bit (I’m a bit of a gunslinger with the writing-publishing cycle).

Current possible near-future topics: scenius, flat organizations, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, and more game studies (although I’m going to pull away from the anthropological angle for a bit).

Below are two articles I read last week, both from Aeon Magazine.

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The Lives of a Cell

I’m flying to and from Orlando these weeks, guaranteeing several hours of undisturbed reading.

I read Lewis Thomas’ book of essays in the air last week, The Lives of a Cell: Notes from a Biology Watcher (1974) [pdf]. It was quoted by a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook, and I recognized something in the quote and began reading the first essay. I got hooked. I had no intention of reading the whole collection but I’m very happy that I did. The prose was excellent, but I’m going to outline some themes.

Thomas’ essays tend to use biology as a springboard to launch into broader topics. He brings up probability often, while discussing medicine (he touches on iatrogenics in medicine), while discussing language development, while discussing science and science funding. He touts a holistic view of biology. Germs are vastly mostly beneficial/indifferent, and bacterial infections are usually catastrophes for the bacteria involved far more than the host. Poetically, Thomas notes that the capacity to infect is the result of an intimacy that takes a great deal of effort and time. Most diseases as we understand them are essentially iatrogenic phenomena- the nervous system is a minefield, often scorching the ground it’s meant to protect. Through some bacteria Thomas notes that some organisms can and will destroy themselves voluntarily as a(n over)reaction to a straggling intruder.

One central theme of Thomas’: Organisms are both collectives and components: He mulls on Myxofricha paradoxa, whose cilia are still entirely different organisms; blepharisma, which often accidentally destroys itself due to interactions between pseudo-distinct organisms within it; plant-animal assemblages in the sea; and, as I’ve mentioned before here, the distinct lineages of mitochondria and chlorophyll (and neurons, although Thomas never touches on that.) Thomas describes us all as assemblages, renting and leasing our bodies at the cellular level, swarming in/affected by/composed of whole biomes and ourselves comprising more complicated systems than we can appreciate. Thomas discusses insect collectives, where minds are larger than any individual’s body, and how the hive intelligence is embedded in communication- termites don’t build compulsively in isolation, they need to feel a group around them and interact with one another in appropriate numbers in order to change from dumb nomads to intelligent builders. Ant chemical trails build much of their intelligence into their environments. Bees are even more codependent on one another, dying in isolation. Locust nature is dependent on locust population density before there is even a possibility of triggering the single-minded swarm.

Lewis makes the connection between these emergent hive (communication-enabled) intelligences and human language, with its careful complexity, the adaptation of words that no individual person dictates (usually), the compounding of meanings even in words not thought of as being metaphorical (essentially all words are dead metaphors of a sort). For Lewis, it seems, urbanization is exciting because it piles us in together, and this closer and closer proximity is part of some grander pattern- this vague notion reminds me of an article that had a big impact on me last year: “Collapse Is Humanity Adapting To Its Own Presence”, an article that I referred to in some of my earliest posts but that seems to have totally disappeared from the internet. Thankfully, great excerpts were kept by Jordan Peacock.

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Make-Believe

The best article I’ve read on Ebert’s response to “Are Games Art?”: An Apology for Roger Ebert. It is clear, it is elegant, and you don’t have to ‘buy’ it to see that the negative argument can exist in the absence of curmudgeonly ignorance.

There’s no need to delay my answer to the question, especially since the answer is not very satisfying anyway.

“Are Games Art?” is a poorly posed question, and I agree with those who have suggested that art is actually a subset of play.

I do not want to see a Citizen Kane of games. The comparison is meant to refer to some kind of flowering of the form but the analogy can spawn some muddled thought. Show me a Soccer of books. Show me a Go of movies. Show me a Sim City of paintings. Those are all affecting, effective, brilliant artifacts in their own right. They are not each other. Nor are all books, movies, and paintings obviously in a class all together (or among themselves).

Also, a big part of what made Citizen Kane Citizen Kane is the ascension of the movie critic- Kane was a generally liked by local critics when it was released, but it did not perform well at the box office and was not beatified until a decade later, due partially to influential European writers (the movie was not seen much in Europe until after WWII), and also due to RKO selling its library for use on television, increasing the number of Americans who would see this film the European intellectuals were calling the crown of American cinema. This is notable, but I’m not interested in veering into talk of videogame criticism at this time.

I’d argue (and I’m not the first) that the want to designate videogames as High Art is a shibboleth, a signal that you are of a certain group. You’re looking to elevate an activity you engage in. This is sensible. A pot smoker who is in favor of his own persecution is either confused or an asshole. Brooks.

Not that I don’t sympathize with the impulse to elevate the medium- videogames do mean a lot to me. In some of my personal narratives I see different phases of my life as associated with my relation to games as a consumer and a producer.

But the same tribe that celebrates when museums accept games generally doesn’t acknowledge what the museum accepted just yesterday and what they’ll accept tomorrow. Ant hills. Ready-made furniture. Sleeping people. None of these artifacts have been necessarily elevated by their admission into the buildings where we pay to look at things and think about them and their histories and their meaning and their relations to us.

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