Without borders

I happened to stumble upon this article about a program called scientists without borders. It’s basically a web 2.0 project much like jove, but with focus on interactivity and network building for scientist around the world with goal of negating some of the more significant effects of brain drain across the globe rather than sharing physical data or research protocols. Wonderful stuff, somewhat of expected and perhaps even redundant with all the ‘community’ sites aimed at various strata of the world popping up all over the place, but still it’s nice to see that someone in this world noticed the negative effects of professional brain drain and is attempting to do something about it (I’m looking at you, United Nations). Perhaps this program can also work in favor of certain people of professional learning scraping dishes in remoter corners of the globe simply due to the problems of accessibility, rather than lack of talent or diligence. Such waste of men/womenpower always bothered me.

The problem of brain drain is a serious issue. It had been as long as anyone can remember. However, just like the field of synthetic biology which, despite being of opensource nature (reflecting the roots of the movement based on informations technology), can’t establish itself without significant industrial presence of genome synthesizing and computerization facilities, science utilizing web 2.0 concept itself won’t work well without some sort of physical international distribution network that would make it possible for remoter corners of the globe to have access to the more sophisticated laboratories and equipments available in richer nations.

Application of the web 2.0 and related human network philosophy (…engineering?) ethos is only beginning, of course. What we see right now will not even remotely be close to what we will see in the future, and all I can say at the moment regarding the matter are mere speculations. However, am I too far gone in predicting that in the future the science community might be able to reap the benefits of an international laboratory that does the lab work ‘contracted’ from scientists around the globe regardless of nationality and location?

Lebanon crisis- Military arising?

The political strife and violence in Lebanon is reaching its heights, and might get worse. Am I too quick to blame this event on the recent Israeli incursion into the Lebanese territory? To be frank, in the past situation of the Israeli invasion of the Lebanese sovereign soil, the decision to attack was a total military and political failure in that Israeli army was unable to secure total victory over the Hezbollah faction and that the Israeli government was unable to secure moral and legal superiority over the faction/party/idea they were supposedly fighting against despite relatively significant loss of resources and decidedly superior men/womenpower Israeli army had considering the strength of the enemy. All that ‘war’ caused was worsening of the split within the already significantly weakened Lebanese government base and moral justification and effective recruitment campaign for Hezbollah and other violent political parties of the middle east sector of the world. Regardless of what the Israeli government and military intended during that ‘war’ (which is in itself peculiarly uncertain), the end result is that a sovereign nation’s economy was destroyed along with significant portion of its infrastructure. And looking at all the homeless people in the NYC, I don’t think people without money and education would devote themselves to peace with the people who bombed the hell out of their job, homes, and families. It almost seems as if some core faction within the Israeli government doesn’t wish for any sort of stabilization of the middle east region, a claim frequently sprouted by many fringe theorists of international politics. Either that or the visible majority of the Israeli government is composed of idiots who can’t figure out what’s good for their own country, but I’m personally against assuming that other people are simply retarded, so this is beginning to worry me quite a bit.

The government ‘crackdown’ on the Hezbollah owned media/telecom facilities hint toward some sort of outside influence/pressure that had been building up for quite a while, ignited by already present internal strife for/against the Hezbollah and the brand of politics such parties frequently represent, militaristic, fundamentally religious (though I do not believe that any religiously fundamental and political objective can be in any way related to religion) and anti-Israel policies. This is a nasty can of worms for any surrounding nations, including Israel, since any sort of intervention by a single foreign state in the region would be interpreted as partisan to one side or another, since everyone around Lebanon has a direct geopolitical and diplomatic interest within the region and its controlling regime.

What is even more worrisome is how the Lebanese military is intervening in the conflict between two major governing factions of Lebanon. In my experience with world history, such movement by the military of a sovereign nation rarely results in any diplomatic or politically sound policies. In fact, they tend to foster a tendency toward ultra-nationalism and dictatorship in which the military is such a deeply entrenched influence in the governance of a nation that they need to spend decades, and even centuries to cleanse themselves of the impact, provided that they are lucky enough to be rid of the military dictatorial regime in the first place. Numerous examples of such situations abound, like Iraq under Sadam, China, Pakistan, past South Korea (not contemporary), and in some limited fashion, even Japan (though not in any contemporary times).

I do find some of the people of Israel I know to be perfectly lovely and respectable people. And that is the same sentiment I have for the people of Lebanon towards whom I hold great respect. Yet the regional government policies and their actions (especially that of Israel) certainly leaves a lot to be desired, to the point that they are making a perfect stranger like me, who resides in NYC and holds no aptitude in international politics, to suspect of willful wrongdoing in supposed interest of their nation, which will soon prove to be severely short sighted.

If only United Nations had some effective decision making organ and a backbone to support their decisions, about the half of the mobilzing conflicts in the world would be finished before they even start. Perhaps this century will see the United Nations finally taking a step to becoming something they always meant to be?

Seriously, the military in Lebanon wasn’t as pronounced as they are now, and I’m beginning to suspect that certain chain of circumstances stemming from the widely publicized (and criticized) Israeli invasion of Lebanon led them to gaining certain political and cultural momentum they were prevented from attaining in pre-war Lebanon. Of course, I’m no expert on the matters of international politics and their subterfuge which tend to be rather too subtle for public consumption, but still, the logical reasons to suspect so are clearly in place, I think.

All the more reason to lament the lack of backbone present in contemporary United Nations. Have I ever mentioned that I am a great supporter of the concept of United Nations and such related ideals of internationalization? Some would cry foul at such sentiments, but I view the problem of internationalization as the problems of implement rather than idea, so there it is.

In this world, where the powers of individual states fluctuate and condense into arms-based absolute levels (am I the only one finding it ridiculous that the only permanent members of the security council happen to the the biggest arms manufacturers and sellers in the world?), the only sure way for peace would be to place some sort of international laws, enforcements for such laws, and forums to discuss such laws beyond the narrow aspirations of any single nation. Unlike what some amazingly complacent people seem to believe, population in misery have a habit of wanting to be rid of the source of their misery, and within the cycle of the world economy, which is a physics applied with human emotion, the source tend to be (justifiably?) those who are more advantaged than themselves due to environment/stroke of luck, slant of the system itself and etc. Such a world system is innately unstable in that the very moment it is implemented upon real people, it begins to manufacture dissidents with significant energetic potential and logical reason to overturn the whole system. Such a system maintained by human beings able to perceive the threat to their relatively priviliged way of life, then must spend significant amount of energy and resources to manufacture the ‘antibodies’ against such dissidents, the very dissidents who are in fact also the result of the materials and resources that might have been spent to further the causes of general human philanthropy.

In such a world, composed of such examples of humanity, the only efficient way (physically and economically, in long term) would be to provide a forum in which disadvantaged nations and individuals might be able to speak out on equal footing as the ones with the most nuclear weapons on subjects that affect them. And economical and diplomatic fairness guaranteed by the international organization (United Nations) would provide the incentive for the groups of weaker nations and middle-of-the-way bourgeoisie nations (like many nations in the Europe region) to seek diplomatic methods to their conflicts that would in the end be significantly less violent and damaging to the infrastructure and civilians of the world (though I expect that they will be no less fierce).

The problem, then, is how such international organization would rise to such prominent position amidst all the scheming supernations of the world, and how such an organization would be able to guarantee fairness and diplomatic coverage to the less advantaged portion of the globe, preventing them from turning into groups of violent dissidents like so many supernations had done before.

Giorgio de Chirico- Ariadne to artificial life

painting ariadne

On my recent excursion to the Met, I’ve had chance to sit in front of Giorgio de Chirico‘s painting Ariadne. On days like that I enjoy strolling among the vistas of my thoughts, sightseeing in my own mindscapes. Sometimes I reach some interesting idea, and I’d like to share this particular one with you. I start with the first hand observation and speculation on the painting, and goes on to the social contexts and perspective on the relationship between art and artificial life. Of course, I am in no way educated in matters of art, so what I say about the painting is purely personal and speculative. If you want proper information about the painting itself, I’d suggest the official Met description and associated sources.

Ariadne awaits outside the labyrinth, frozen cold as a statue. The towers and progresses of the world slip by outside, unnoticed by her and the observer locked within the wall. Ariadne is a statue, but as I look closer she begins to resemble a stone cover of an ancient sarcophagi. It would fit with the melancholy atmosphere pervading through the painting. Theseus walked into the labyrinth ages ago with the thread of Ariadne, and he is yet to emerge from its dark paths. Or perhaps he has left the empty husk of the labyrinth a long time ago? Defeating it of the ferocious monster inside, leaving it as an empty dark corridor. Only the desolation remains and shadows haunt the dark corridors of the labyrinth.

When did Ariadne pass away? What had happened to Theseus? Perhaps he met the same fate he would have met within the dark corridors of the labyrinth, as a desiccated corpse. The activity of the world surrounding the walls begins to throw an ominous hint as to the fate of our hero and heroine. The heroic and dramatic gives way to the tides of the mundane.

The sense of timeless waiting and longing, intermingled with the thick taste of isolation and desolate serenity fill the whole of the canvas with strange attraction, and makes it stand out among the numerous canvases displayed in the white halls of the modern art exhibition of the museum. As I stare into the painting the position of the observer becomes uneasy, as I begin to wonder whether to apply myself to Ariadne, Theseus, or even the bustling activity of the world outside the wall.

Depiction of Ariadne as a sculpture provides some interesting insight into the world of the painting. What was the fate of Ariadne? In the state she is in now she has become a symbol in the lexicon of the consciousness. As I consider the matter of Ariadne and the rich symbolism of labyrinth in human history, I feel as if the world of the painting is being spread from the mind of the artist to my own. Perhaps the inside of the wall (though it might be argued that the stage is set outside, there is no way to tell) can be understood as the collective unconsciousness of the human world. Maybe it is a desolate, timeless place buried within the waves of zeitgeist. Perhaps the place within the wall is an ancient, timeless place in our psyche, waiting for some sort of resolution that we know for certain will never be found.

It is no secret that the mythical labyrinth associated with Ariadne held a minotaur within its dark corridors, and is a frequently visited theme across variety of cultures depicting the primordial passages of the human psyche. As such, labyrinths of almost any cultural significance is a path to some sort of resolution, guarded by difficult ordeal or mythic beast that must be overcome. Even within the labyrinth depicted in the painting, quite clearly devoid of all life, one cannot help but to think that some sort of secret still lurks inside, throwing an overwhelming curiosity toward us that soon borders on obsession. In fact, beneath the veneer of timeless desolation and serenity, one cannot help but to perceive of certain intense quality of questioning, as our eyes drift toward between the archways of the entrance to the labyrinth. The whole painting begins to metamorphose into a question in the back of the observers psyche, isolated from the world yet longing for something, some kind of attainment.

Here is where the conventional notion of the classic and the modern splits. Being classical or modern in this case has nothing to do with timeline in this case, of course. Classic and the modern are mindsets, values impressed into the very fabric of our social consciousness. The classics are obsessed with the idealized patterns, the equation of the human with the superhuman, contemplation of the nature of superhumanity and underlying human pursuits, and so on. A kind of peculiar disdain toward contemporary human condition and urges to metamorphose is a common universal sentiment among the arts and ideas commonly referred to as classical. The prevalent attitude encompassing almost every single work of art and ideas considered classical, all superhuman, not because human is, but because the human strives to be.

Yet certain indefatigable essences of the modern runs directly contrary to such sentiments. Consider the works of Gustave Courbet and his realism. Gustave Courbet and his realism is widely considered to be the first step of the true modernism in painting, in a twilight zone where the classical begins to turn modern. The most conspicuous feature of the modern is the depiction of the human wants. No more hero becomes the motto of the day, either by making everything heroic or denying the concept of the heroic. And as the process continues the art increasingly becomes the depiction of the art rather than depiction of the human of art.

It almost feels as if there is some sort of cycle, propagating through the stages of Middle Ages-Renaissance-Baroque-Rococo-Neo Classic-Empire, which are not as clearly defined as they would appear on paper but still retains certain zeitgeist that is apparent to a methodical observer. They all seem to revert back and forth in the relationship between the art and the human. Is this a primarily European (thus Christian) fluctuation? I am beginning to doubt it, for many other cultures like those in the Far East, show similar fluctuations of the relationship between the art and the human.

Such fluctuation is interesting in light of the oncoming possibility of artificial life. What will the art of artificial life be like? Idealized pursuit or depiction of the basic principles of the life? Life-like physical system treated as an art is a valuable opportunity to clarify some of the dilemma facing the issue of art and art’s relationship to the world and the human, though the precise form it would take is difficult to predict at the moment. Art, real or ideal, is quite discontent to be sitting on canvas and velvet lined pedestals. The art will inevitably flow out into the world (in some sense it already has) and walk and talk with us. Perhaps the divide between the real and the ideal, the focus on the art of art and the art of the human would manifest as a debate on the form of artificial life in human world. Perhaps it will be a debate on whether the human should BE artificial life.

Why my ongoing interest/obsession with the artificial life and the art? Why do I believe in art as life and life as art? Why my belief that the science and art should, and will, become inseparable from each other?

There was an interesting accident a few years back, when a young child stuck a chewing gum on a priceless painting of modern art, and gave an excuse to the horrified museum authorities that he did not think it was art. It is true that art in modern times seem to be an acquired taste, which is very peculiar to me. Isn’t art, at its naked core, a search and depiction of beauty? The nature of beauty might remain as illusive as ever, but for all intends and purposes it is universal. And if the social conception is in such a way that capacity to feel beauty must be educated into someone’s head, we have a problem. This might be the root cause behind today’s absurd separation between the field and practices of arts and sciences. Art in its inception should be universal to all of us, and that means it should be universal to all senses and all brains, something fundamentally integrated into the human system’s architecture that might even be replicated in non human life forms. The true nature of the origin that powers people to perform art and the true nature of the beauty that cativates us and evokes things and ideas that we never consciously thought of before, must in someway be related to our own physique, for life and consciousness cannot manifest without a body.

If the existence of the physiology and metabolism of life is essential to the process of art and aesthetic fulfillment, we have a pressing need for artificial life, both as scientists solving the great and observable problem of the human phenomena and as artists searching for the manifestation of art. The art will walk and talk among us, and no child will dare to stick gum on their faces. Everyone, even those without the art education and art sensitivity drummed into their heads will be able to intuitively grasp the presence of beauty and revel in the process of aesthetic fulfillment, since, in the end, human beings best understand things that resemble them. And what better resembles us than life, staring at us in the eye?

Rice shortage-Network demonstration

The matter of rice shortage is becoming increasingly mainstream. The warning of possible shortage and dangerous increase in price had been around for a long time, and unusual price hike of rice in major exporters like Thailand had been reported in (relatively) mainstream media about three to four months ago. In fact, major United Nations advisers and IMF personnel had been giving warnings since mid 2007 in mainstream sources. I myself remember scoffing at a particular warning given by a United Nations forecaster, warning of possible food shortage and criticizing the rapid increase in biocrop cultivation as a major player. I guess such is the evanescence of appealing to mainstream media, where the specific sources and logistical data to support novel claims are frequently invisible or simply unavailable.

The warning was in place, and the back-up system for possible shortage in each of the nations most heavily affected had been more or less in place. So why do we have a developing crisis at hand with reported casualties? The answer I believe, lies in the lack of distribution network in the world today. Of course, with the advent of the technology the world itself is ever more networked than before. As each second passes it is predicted that the network of the world will become thicker and wider, someday possibly encompassing every single member of humanity in direct and accessible way. But that is the network of information. What about the physical network, the infrastructure, the ones we use to ship the things we order through the virtual spaces of the net? The airlines, the shipping lanes, the railroads and the expressways. I have on reliable sources that the actual range and volume of physical shipping across the world had remained at similar or lower levels since the height of the age of imperialism so long ago (the specific source I can’t find at the moment, if someone knows otherwise please correct me). It is somewhat unlikely that there is an actual shortage of food (at least not to the degree that some sensationalist media would have us believe). What we have at hand is more akin to the lack of distribution network, so that the flow of resources are channeled into the most readily available physical network without regards to economical balance, or even, the need. In the type of eschewed free market system we have in place at the moment, there is virtually no incentive for tapping into parts of the world without pre-built infrastructure. And without the resources of the world available at hand, popular discontent is bound to rise, leading to further instability.

Living in New York city, I am physically and mentally insulated from most of such problems plaguing the world. Hipsters in fashionable clothings walk into fashionable restaurants and eat a plateful of vegetables, supposedly crafted from fashionable ingredients, possibly grown in fashinable dirt, as they clutch their fashinable laptops while hoping someone sees them writing down a ‘novel.’ In the subway a woman so bloated that she has to take up two sits and a half holds onto her third bucket of KFC. Is there something wrong with this picture? I do not particularly think so. Of course, the scene I’ve just described is certainly distasteful, but I do not believe people should be judged and criticized for utilizing the resources made available to them by the environment. The physical network of the world is configured in such a way that massive amount of cheap resources and resources expensive beyond their actual value exist hand-in-hand, composing the greater fabric of the market system.

We are all cogs reinforcing the current system of the world. And this system of the world, this world-wide system of ‘free-market’ seem to be suffering from some sort of bug. A free market system without proper physical distribution network for the market to take place on is fundamentally oppressive and exploitative, even without malice, even with good will of the individual members of the system. Perhaps it is possible to speculate that the fiasco experienced by certain biocrop based national economies are very similar to that experienced by planned and enclosed economies of the old communist nations. There had been a few novel attempts at readjusting the system of the world through various means, like freer access to information network from poorer places of the globe allowing development of a market system based on information and knowledge, but outcome of such works-in progress are unpredictable at the moment.

All I can say is, I think the problems like the kind we are seeing right now seem to stem from certain inadequacy of the global network itself, and will persist in different forms so long as that inadequacy continues to plague the system of the world. And the developed nations of the world are making a huge mistake in allowing such unbalance to continue, as such difference in network-system tend to cluster individual components into groups sharing similar traits, which in this case would be poverty and isolation of economic and cultural nature.

This reminds me, how about donating some rice to the UN? It won’t cost you a dime and you’ll probably have fun doing it.

Hackability of the world

I’ve been thinking and writing about the whole steampunk and tranhumanism ‘movement’ (if it can be called as such) all over the net. Though they were nothing more than novelty writings, jumbled things that came straight out of my mind without much introspection, I think I’m beginning to see some underlying pattern here. I do not particularly believe in attitude or belief of any specific cultural movement like the steampunk or the transhumanism. As someone dedicated to the study of sciences the ideas of transhumanism does appeal to me, but I still think appeal alone doesn’t make for a sound prediction of the future, and the St. John’s apocalypse-like images espoused by some of the more enthusiastic believers of the transhumanism thinking doesn’t really help things either.

What I am really interested in, is the shape of the world that is beginning to emerge underneath all the superficial beliefs and cliques of various social/cultural movement. A human network that is being accelerated and consolidated into an emergent and concrete form by the technology of near instantaneous connection between individual members of the humanity, which seem to form the backbone of the majority of the changes that make up what we call the ‘modern age’, web 2.0 generation, and etc etc. It’s really just a thought, nothing eloquent and lucid enough to be a theory… Perhaps this is merely adaptation of the mathematical theory of networks and links in the fashion of Barbarasi to the perspective of social theory… But something doesn’t sound quite right to refer to it as such.

Formation and linking of human beings to ideas, the belief and search for the method to change/control the world through variety of means, linking which leads to a form of phase shift, the compounding between the idea and the human being… A history is a fundamentally human story… If linking between ideas and human beings, ideas and ideas, human beings to human beings is viable and displays emergent characteristics so common in their physical equivalents, the term zeitgeist begins to take more significant meaning in the structure of the world.

If the ‘structure’ of the world and its interactions can be defined as such , wouldn’t it be possible to hack the system of the world to gather wanted result from it? A giant machine-construction formed of human dreams and lives, that are linked with each other so that while each part may be independent the whole remains homostatic, hacking such system to follow certain path would be tantamount to hacking the Genie of the lamp or the holy grail, since, in the end, the only thing that responds to human wishes is the human world itself. This giant human world, soon to be even bigger, is in effect a substitution of the human wish and the human will.

All the fad associated with the UCC or the web 2.0 generation will come and pass. Yet the wisdom and experience gained from this generation will invariably effect the other. Who is to say that the brave new world will bring with it social concepts and mundane practices so powerful and so fundamentally human that it would form an entity on its own, political, scientific, and artistic ideas living and traveling across the world like full-bodied life, while the human beings are both subject to its whims and a master of its path, raising and training it like pets.

Should such a day ever come, it would be the beginning of the age when arts may finally walk among the humanity.