The question of feeling

That fresh new-year smell is beginning to wear off the 2009 already, thanks to the crazy schedule I’ve been leading my life on. I decided to do a bit of mind-digging before the novelty wore of entirely, which sent me down some really trippy tour down the memory lane. Here’s a concise version of what I came up with.

There is a film that makes me feel this absurd mix of feelings that I cannot possibly describe in words, most likely due to my lack of command of any language. In that film, as well as in the creator’s other works, aspects of light, motion, and wide open spaces are featured prominently, almost as if the entirety of the creator’s work was designed to take place in an infinitely large, translucent prism that deconstructs light strewn into a million shades of spectrum as it passes through the main characters and vicissitudes of their affairs. Individual effects aren’t really that novel, but when combined together into a coherent whole his works take on certain peculiarly beautiful and memorable allure. The memorability and (illusion of?) profoundness of his works are especially amazing when I consider that his works, when dissected into little atoms of dispositions and styles, aren’t even that unique, possibly even pedestrian. Similar styles can be observed all over the place, East and West, usually when the medium centers around the theme or the existence of sky and atmosphere, though presence of requisite elements does not necessarily guarantee the style.

Whenever I see one of his works, or any work of art that shares the certain ‘style’, the impact on my senses, I feel strange nostalgia… In fact, I should say that I feel quite a number of emotions simultaneously, with distinct after taste of nostalgia running between them. The experience is never really overwhelming unless I let it be. The nostalgia is different from the usual bar-room affairs I have, tacked with dark, foggish candlelight and thick tingle of wine to be washed down later with doses of sleep. This nostalgia is more like clear air, the kind you are allowed to feel for a brief moment at specific moment of twilight, when all things past and future has to be in their right place at the right time. It leaves you with strange sensibility of awake-ness and understanding of the things around you. It’s the nostalgia that draws your eyes to the stars and patterns of clouds, beautiful yet true, telling of the things to come. It’s the nostalgia of the indescribable.

Even when I was young, I was always captivated by the kind of ‘feeling’ I’m able to feel in certain specific situations in life. Pain and happiness are easily understood. I am reacting to bunch of stimuli that can be categorized and organized into myriad of different psychological description of the human self, and even then I didn’t place much significance on those calculus of human psyche. What really haunted me was, the subtlety of feeling (I use ‘haunting’ and ‘feeling’ for lack of better terms in my vocabulary) within very vague and nondescript situations, with no clear coherence of elements yet unmistakable impact. When I was young I would go out during the time of twilight, sit in a park, and watch the world silently turning from violet to blue to black (or vice versa), watching the rhythmical swaying of the trees in the wind, lazy spread of clouds shining in some strange hue of the light, trying to figure out just what exactly I was feeling at that moment. The experience was addictive and frustrating at the same time. I knew I was feeling something, something I usually can’t feel in company of the normal things of life, but what was it? What are the words for the state of mind? Finding the answer was difficult in the least by the fact that the ‘strange feeling’ seem to contain within itself bits and pieces of all the shades of other urges and sensations, ranging from the urge to create to fulfillment, greed, happiness, and reverie. It was a complex amalgam of the primal and the logical, each biting the others tail like ouroboros…

Those experiences were the closest things I’ve ever come to a sort of religious revelation, or intense attraction of any kind. Even now, I still cannot forget about that ‘feeling.’ In fact, the feeling might have been getting stronger, more intense, as I live and understand and feel even more things like sexuality and self-identity. It had significant impact on what I’ve done so far with my life, and my interest in sciences began as an attempt at finding an answer to the question, since I felt that reliance on ‘verbal psychology’ not grounded in hard physical facts will inevitably end up leading to a tangle of other ideas, in an infinite loop of self-reference.

I’m still trying to figure out just what exactly I am feeling.

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Augmentation

I’ve had a chance to encounter a service on the web called ‘tumblr.’ So far I like it.

Tumblr is a service that’s somewhere in between the constant microbursts of the twitter and full-scale blogging of the wordpress. Only more modern, not in sense of any aesthetic faux pas, but in sense of integration with the user, like being able to post animation/picture directly from one’s cell phone, rssing different services on the web and etc… More media centric friendfeed would also be a reasonably accurate description of the Tumblr service.

While I am somewhat tired of such deluge of ‘web 2.0’ applications that are practically everywhere these days, I do feel that the whole experience is a positive one. Some people might argue that broadcasting one’s own thoughts and lives are somehow ‘arrogant’ or something such because no one would care about their lives in the first place anyway… Well people who argue that point must not have many friends. 😛

Seriously though, I do not see services like twitter and Tumblr as a channel to reach out to people. Rather, such web applications are augmentations of modern human mind, something physical technology is hard pressed to catch up to. Augmentations of memories and visions one would encounter in the daily life, recording bit and pieces of ‘experiences’ that are separate from carefully mediated thoughts that permeate the decent portion of the web these days…

A rough continuum created to fill the vacuum left by the lack of physical technology of memories and experiences.

And when you tinker around with one of those services, you are tinkering with an augmentation service for your mind itself, albeit in crudely executed form that requires multiple intermediaries.

It is interesting how then the user’s lives get increasingly intermingled with the web, as the experience of the living stands next to the fantastic shapes and movements scrounged from the remotest corners of the infosphere.

Abstraction- Engines of Art

The update at this blog had been intermittent for a while due to my personal circumstances, with moving to a new apartment, and the need to write up bunch of papers happening all at once. Now that I am a bit more settled I should be able to write here regularly. At least I hope that is the case… I do not think I can handle as much workload for a while.

I have always been interested in writing things. Writing is something that comes natural to me, in that while I am certainly not good at it, I can always pick up a pen or sit in front of a keyboard and scribble/type away as I drift away to a state of reverie. It is the same as with reading a good book. There is no need to force myself to concentrate. The process is quick and natural like playing an old instrument while intoxicated by its melody, a sort of self-reinforcing phenomena.

As such, it was only natural that I would try to fulfill my predilection toward the ever vague idea of beauty. I have always been puzzled by the nature of beauty since young age. I can tell for sure when something is beautiful to me or not, yet it is quite impossible to pinpoint the specific quality of the thing/person/situation that makes it appear/smell/feel beautiful in my senses. There is no consistency in the things that are capable of displaying the traits of beauty, as a garbage can and a work by Michelangelo might display the similar sense of sublime, that strange trait that we can only refer to with the vague term called beauty. And this *beauty* appears quite immaterial. I do not believe there is a single thing in this universe capable of appearing beautiful to all observers for all lengths of time. The trait of beauty can be highly subjective, and is bound to fade away after a period of time (when in view of a single observer) regardless of the hardiness of the physical material that radiates the feeling of beauty in its observers.

Would such traits suggest that the beauty literally is in the eyes of the beholder? There is no evidence to think that inorganic objects in this world is capable of reacting to certain objects in a way that an organic, conscious object would react to a thing of beauty. So it would be possible to assume that the ability to perceive beauty and react toward it in this world is limited to complex life-like systems (this is an assumption based only on what we know about complex systems and the physical relationships within the universe at the moment, of course). Yet the problem does not quite end at that point. Prokaryotes are complex life-like systems, yet can we possibly assume that such microbiotic systems are capable of feeling the thing we conscious human beings refer to as beauty? I have never talked to a prokaryote culture before, so I would not know. Let us re-examine the trait of beauty and beautiful things in this world for a moment. From what I can tell, beauty requires significant amount of neuronal resources in terms of sensory organs and processing units, aka the CNS. Would that mean that the ability to perceive beauty must be limited by the capacity of the senses? That external catalysis of sorts is always required in order to perceive/imagine beauty? It might be tempting to say yes to such an assumption, but I think we must remember that there are plenty of things in this world that are considered beautiful despite having no physical counterpart. Beautiful ideas. Beautiful future. Such are more or less information based constructs that might be represented by certain physical objects and situations in this world but not tied to the specific characteristics of the material. If beauty is intimately tied to its nature as a construct of information, then it is possible that the ability to perceive and react to beauty is intimately tied to the information processing capability, like the brain, which is in itself a vast complex adaptive system.

I think we might be onto something here. If the things I have outlined above have even a modicum of truth in it, the illusive nature of beauty might in fact be tied to the informational structure of the brain and its interaction with the external world, within which learning and memory themselves might act as catalyst between the world and the brain in perceiving and reacting to beauty…

Here is a million dollar question. If the immateriality of the concept of beauty and its acting in concert with innate mechanisms of brain and memories are true, would it be possible to write a finite-length work capable of giving persistent impression of beauty by conjuring up any and all images and ideas that can be felt/perceived by the readers mind? Would it be possible to write a piece that can simulate almost infinite gradient of human ideas and feelings within the readers mind by the virtue of ever changing yet persistent nature of human memory and innate information processing capacity of the human brain itself, using only limited number of imageries and terms that can be utilized in a single work of writing? The idea behind such a writing would be similar to the idea behind the evolution of natural language, of how limited number of alphabets are capable of composing rich vocabulary and astronomical variety of written, spoken works and ideas born from those works. Instead of alphabets, however, the work would have to discover and utilize certain archetypes of ideas, patterns and imageries as to make it possible for the reader to create something entirely new every time he/she reads it, the only characteristic shared between the infinite variety of reconstructions being the persistent presence of the indescribable beauty.

The ideas of artscience and artificial life takes on an entirely different perspective when viewed in such light. Artificial life would no longer be static art, but rather an *engine of beauty* in a persistent yet ever changing universe. Just as Kurzweil proposed the universe of meaningful information, artificial life might as well be the first step in a whole universe of sublime beauty.

On time, and the life

I read a poem from a blog of my acquaintance, titled ‘On time’ written by John Milton.

On Time

FLY envious Time, till thou run out thy race,
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy Plummets pace;
And glut thy self with what thy womb devours,
Which is no more then what is false and vain, 5
And meerly mortal dross;
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.
For when as each thing bad thou hast entomb’d,
And last of all, thy greedy self consum’d, 10
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss
With an individual kiss;
And Joy shall overtake us as a flood,
When every thing that is sincerely good
And perfectly divine, 15
With Truth, and Peace, and Love shall ever shine
About the supreme Throne
Of him, t’whose happy-making sight alone,
When once our heav’nly-guided soul shall clime,
Then all this Earthy grosnes quit, 20
Attir’d with Stars, we shall for ever sit,
Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee O Time.

Beautiful poem. I just wanted to share it with you all…

I’m a physicist (to be). Everything in the world is within the realms of cause and effect, even the imagination of the human beings, even the ‘bits’ of information that can ever be represented by the universe itself. If my belief is true, just what mechanic of this universe allows impressions to surpass their expressions? Musics transcendent over instruments, and memory over life? Integrated together into a beautifully knit whole, yet one’s emergence feels entirely different from the substance it originated from.

Again, I am a physicist and a scientist (again, in training). And I refuse to leave such profound movements of my heart to simple metaphysical jumblings as if they weren’t part of this universe to begin with. I can perceive them, and I can feel its intent spreading throughout my heart. The indescribable sensation of being alive and empathetic to things made by the living, they are definitely integral parts of this physical universe.

The beauty should not be relegated to some pathetic social conventions that grew from physical impediments of last few centuries should humanity ever hope to go beyond a few more centuries into the future. If something in this universe is so capable of grasping at our hearts, then we must be able to explain it in the language of this universe. We must be able to recreate it. And active study and understanding of us, the life, might as well be the first step into the breach.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason why I am obsessed with artificial life.

Beauty, memory, brain, all jumbled together.

Nature of nostalgia suggests a few profound things about the true nature of human recognition and memories. For example, sometimes I feel an almost irresistible nostalgia to the days I can objectively say as one of the worst humanely possible conditions one can encounter. The horror, the anxiety, the sadness and the utter feeling of powerlessness. All is subdued within certain lights and certain strange winds, the quiet swaying of trees and the touch of cool twilight wind which turns the whole horrible experience into a perverted romance, making me long for the day even for a single moment. As such, the nature of memory and nostalgia is quite peculiar. I think except under very limited circumstances the nature of memory might as well have only a superficial resemblance to the conventional ‘copy of reality’ sense we get from the analogies comparing human brain and its functions to that of computers. In fact, first hand experience with a human brain (I have one in here, I assure you) makes me think what we consider to be specific and clear-cut functions of brain might not be as clear cut as usually believed, although I do not quite believe that the structure and function of the brain is entirely holistic as some proponents of the theory seem to suggest. It is more like one function complementing each other in a sort of linked reaction, one thing always verging on the territory of the other, physical and mental reaction accompanying the other (physical pain and memory?) for no sound physiological reason. In such perspective, it is not that memories and processing capabilities come together to build a conscious system, but the conscious system forms aspects of memory and processing ability as the original system gradually becomes specialized with time/evolution.
If certain quality of emotion and reaction can be expected regardless of actual physical situation being experienced, such as an aesthetic thrill or a dramatic flair in situations of distress or sadness, then what does that tell us about the nature of human experience on the more profound and general level? Would that mean human perception and reaction is entirely separate from the physical circumstances we subject ourselves to? Wouldn’t that mean that the sense of beauty exists separate from the ‘beautiful thing’ being observed at the moment, and that while certain quality for evoking a response may be present in objects, there is no staying power in such evoked responses since the response have nothing to do with the quality of the physical object, its ‘being’ in the first place? If that is the case, then it is impossible for things in this world to remain beautiful forever, in the eyes of everyone, of everything. It would basically limit the quality of this strange thing called ‘beauty’ strictly within the realms of cognisant system, biological or not.
However, even if that is the truth, what can I make of it in connection to certain philosophies behind the beauty of photography and abstract expressionistic art, where certain moments or (rather hazy) units of human response in front of the object-world are sought out as sort of atoms of human experience and thought? And even human brains and manifesting trait we refer to as consciousness is basically a physical system. As a would-be physicist, how should I understand certain strange quality that is receptive only to a special type of system, despite having originated from same materials? Would this be a sign of a nonergodic universe?

It is a relatively simple matter to debate the nature of beauty on purely artistic or even physiological level because we lack a profound understanding of it. Humanity had been practicing the things of beauty for as long as anyone can remember, but no one seem to be able to tell what exactly we are practicing to what end, and each debate have boiled down into arguments decided on the merit of logical infallibility rather than physical evidence, which is quite distressing to me on so many levels. This complex switching between the realms of the physical and the not-as-physical in the sense that it cannot yet be explained from the traits of its original component, is the quality of beauty that I cannot help but to compare to the ever illusive nature of life, how it began and how it is to be replicated.

So many questions questions… And no answer, not even a clear distinction between all the tangled knots of the questions, all seemingly tied together to some strange end.