Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Re-watching familiar videos can be a kind of secular prayer

--- Laurence Scott, in his wonderful  article "In Search of Lost Time on YouTube: How the platform takes us to places where we ache to go again," The New Atlantis, Number 59, Summer 2019

In context

The digital, unbloody ease with which YouTube revives the past, so much more nimbly than its DVD and VCR predecessors, invites us to become re-watchers of the same content. Indeed, quick repetition is a main feature of our new digital aesthetics. Whereas we use GIFs — those twitchy, looping clips — as public illustrations of our feelings or responses to events, an oft-repeated YouTube video is the GIF’s private counterpart. Re-watching familiar videos can be a kind of secular prayer. There is comfort in the repetition, and the videos to which we give this repeated attention can feel deeply personal. We wouldn’t necessarily want others to know that we return to them in this way. Aren’t we wasting the time of our own lives? It’s easy to attach embarrassment or shame to the act of re-watching.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

We don't want to be watched but we want to be visible

--- Patricia Lockwood, LRB podcast "The State of ... The Internet" at 20:50

In context:

And the stubbornness of the human mind, I think, because again, with all this surveillance, like, yeah we do want to be visible -- right? -- but we're being watched. We don't want to be watched but we want to be visible.

A few more

John Lanchester talking about mixed feelings about technology, around 32:39

 There's a funny thing, this shiny device has liberated us, but [...] it's trapped us too.

John Lanchester talking about early use of modems by tabloid journalists, starting at 35:58

I remember that seeming like a kind of ... magic trick, but at the same time it was in that really intermediate stage, that wonderful -- I can't remember who said it, something about technologies -- "Technology's stuff that doesn't work yet." ... Because once things really work, we stop experiencing them as technology; glasses are the thing I'm obsessive about: technology but we don't think of them as technology because they just work. But technology being in that kind of liminal state between working and not working ...



Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world

--- Albert Einstein, in an interview that was published in “The Saturday Evening Post” in 1929, according to Quote Investigator. In context

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am. When two expeditions of scientists, financed by the Royal Academy, went forth to test my theory of relativity, I was convinced that their conclusions would tally with my hypothesis. I was not surprised when the eclipse of May 29, 1919, confirmed my intuitions. I would have been surprised if I had been wrong.”

“Then you trust more to your imagination than to your knowledge?”

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Friday, June 14, 2019

Rule 34: If something exists, there is porn of it

According to Know Your Meme:

Rule 34 is an Internet adage in the "Rules of the Internet" list of protocols and conventions which asserts that "if something exists, there is porn of it." The humorous concept is commonly illustrated through fanarts and fanfictions in which fictional TV and cartoon characters engage in sexual behavior, in similar vein to the Ruined Childhood meme.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

... build something that you haven’t done before, you don’t know how to do it, and it’s kind of amateur way of doing things ...

--- Karl Ove Knausgård, in an interview with Kurt Anderson, Studio 360 interview, May 2, 2019

The blog post paraphrases the verbatim (see my transcription of the audio below) as follows

If you want to get rid of all the automatic ways in, then you have to do something from scratch so to speak and build something that you haven't done before . . . It's like you do it for the first time. And I think that's that's the best place to be in writing…. And I think Munch somehow searched for those places in his painting throughout his life.

Quote in context (my transcription)

[12:55] Kurt Anderson: And, and, you don’t just mean the overused formula that everybody would regard as, that’s been used forever, that’s a cliché; you mean, any technique or any trope or any idea that an artist just comfortably returns to in his or her own work, right? It’s all of one’s personal habits, as well, and tics.

[13:16] Karl Ove Knausgård: Yes, exactly, and its about safety, it’s easy if you find a way to do it, find a way to paint or find a way to write, and it’s works to be successful, or at least it works, it’s very tempting to just continue because [sigh] the risk of failure is enormous in doing these things, you know. So, for instance, a man like David Bowie, he should be admired so much for the courage he had to completely go somewhere else you know, every second year, since 70s and 80s. Because the risk and what’s at stake is a comfort and you know your skill, you can do it, and it’s easy, you can do it one more time, but if you do it, then you know what it is, and there’s no curiosity anymore, and you won’t find anything else, anything new.

[14:08] Kurt Anderson. Right. I’m fascinated by the common struggles and common challenges and problems of artists in different disciplines. You say, for instance, that a serious painter, quote, starts a work because he knows what he wants to do but not how to do it. And that seems at least as true of writing as painting.

[14:35] Karl Ove Knausgård: Yeah. If you want to get rid of the novel before the novel, if you want to get rid of all the automatic ways in, then you have to do something from scratch so to speak, and build something that you haven’t done before, you don’t know how to do it, and it’s kind of amateur way of doing things, you know, there’s no professionalism in it, it’s as if you do it for the first time. And I think that’s the best place to be in writing, and you can feel it in the novel. It’s not like a professional, you know, smooth, … it’s much more awkward, and I think Munch somehow searched for those places in his paining throughout his life, actually.

Friday, May 31, 2019

In astronomy, one is an outlier, two is a population


--- Emily Petroff at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, quoted in "Radio wave bursts from space keep hitting Earth and we don't know why," New Scientist, 9 January 2019

In context:

Knowing there is more than one repeating FRB means we are likely to find further ones. “In astronomy, one is an outlier, two is a population,” says Petroff. Hunting down that population requires looking at a large portion of the sky for a long time.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Technology is also the central character and actor in our social drama, an end as well as a means. In fact, technology plays the role of "the trickster" in American culture

--- James W. Carey, in "Communication, Culture, and Technology: An Internet Interview with James W. Carey," in Journal of Communication Inquiry 22:2 (April 1998): 117-130; https://doi.org/10.1177/0196859998022002001.

In context
Langdon Winner called this belief "autonomous technology," the faith that technology is and must be highly differentiated, identifiably disengaged, and objectified. While common to all industrial societies, autonomous technology occupies a peculiar place in the life of North Americans. Technology, for us, is more than an assortment of artifacts or practices, a means to accomplish desired ends. Technology is also the central character and actor in our social drama, an end as well as a means. In fact, technology plays the role of "the trickster" in American culture: At each turn of the historical cycle it appears center stage, in a different guise, promising something totally new.
More excerpts
Our national storytelling is, to an unusual extent, embedded in the history of technology; it is the story, to use Leo Marx's useful phrase, of the "machine in the Garden."

… once constituted, technology, like any God, must be propitiated.

The rituals of theory are themselves ways of propitiating technology. If human imagination operates mainly by a process of analogy-a "seeing-as" comprehension of the less intelligible by the more (the universe is a hogan, the world a wedding)-the main analogy of modem thought is technology.

The consequences of technology are always profoundly contradictory; contradiction is of the essence of technology, not just some accidental byproduct of the historical process.

The more appliances that our lives require-appliances rather than our own biological capacity-the more influence their producers have over the texture of our lives.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

By consuming what the algorithm says I want, I trust the algorithm to make me ever more who it thinks I already am

--- Jon Askonas, in "How Tech Utopia Fostered Tyranny," The New Atlantis, Winter 2019

Quote in context

We can see the shift from “access to tools” to algorithmic utopianism in the unheralded, inexorable replacement of the “page” by the “feed.” . . . The feed was the solution to the tedium of surfing the web, of always having to decide for yourself what to do next. Information would now come to you. Gradually, the number of sites involved in one’s life online dwindled, and the “platform” emerged, characterized by an infinite display of relevant information — the feed. . . . But the opacity of these models, indeed the very personalization of them, means that a strong element of faith is required. By consuming what the algorithm says I want, I trust the algorithm to make me ever more who it thinks I already am.
Some more quotes:

"Authoritarians’ love for digital technology is no fluke — it’s a product of Silicon Valley’s “smart” paternalism"

"Tools based on the premise that access to information will only enlighten us and social connectivity will only make us more humane have instead fanned conspiracy theories, information bubbles, and social fracture. A tech movement spurred by visions of libertarian empowerment and progressive uplift has instead fanned a global resurgence of populism and authoritarianism."

"But what we are searching for — what we desire — is often shaped by what we are exposed to and what we believe others desire. And so predicting what is useful, however value-neutral this may sound, can shade into deciding what is useful, both to individual users and to groups, and thereby shaping what kinds of people we become, for both better and worse."

"As long as our desires are unsettled and malleable — as long as we are human — the engineering choices of Google and the rest must be as much acts of persuasion as of prediction."

"Each company was founded on a variation of the premise that providing more people with more information and better tools, and helping them connect with each other, would help them lead better, freer, richer lives."

"Moreover, because algorithms are subject to strategic manipulation and because they are attempting to provide results unique to you, the choices shaping these powerful defaults are necessarily hidden away by platforms demanding you simply trust them"

"What’s shocking isn’t that technological development is a two-edged sword. It’s that the power of these technologies is paired with a stunning apathy among their creators about who might use them and how. Google employees have recently declared that helping the Pentagon with a military AI program is a bridge too far, convincing the company to cancel a $10 billion contract. But at the same time, Google, Apple, and Microsoft, committed to the ideals of open-source software and collaboration toward technological progress, have published machine-learning tools for anyone to use, including agents provocateur and revenge pornographers."

"They and their successors, based on optimistic assumptions about human nature, built machines to maximize those naturally good human desires. But, to use a line from Bruno Latour, “technology is society made durable.” That is, to extend Latour’s point, technology stabilizes in concrete form what societies already find desirable."

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The first scent you pour in a jar stays there / For years

--- Horace, Epistles I, 2 (to Lollius), transl. by Burton Raffel, in The essential Horace: Odes, epodes, satires, and epistles (1983), p. 200

The closing stanza
    A good groom trains a colt, teaches it obedience,
Before its neck grows too strong; a hunting hound
Works in the woods from the day it finds a deerskin
In the yard, and barks at it. You’re still a boy: drink
My words with a boy’s pure heart, trust in men who know.
The first scent you pour in a jar stays there
For years
. God as fast as you like, go as slow:
My pace is my own, now, indifferent to the world around me.

(I don't see why Lollius should take Horace's advice, since I'm not sure Horace is indeed one of the "men who know"; his "My pace is my own, now, indifferent to the world around me" sounds smug to me.) Still, the "first scent" image is lovely. It reminds me of a saying of the Buddha that I vaguely remember (and now can't track down; perhaps in the Dhammapada?) to the effect that grass wrapping something smelly (fish?) takes on its aroma; it's a metaphor for bad friends.

avoid the atmosphere of easy acrimony which sometimes haunts footnotes

--- Henry Steel Commager, The Odes of Horace: A Critical Study, quoted by Burton Raffel in his Translator's Introduction to The essential Horace: Odes, epodes, satires, and epistles (1983), p. xvii

Commager as quoted by Raffel:
I have made an effort to avoid the atmosphere of easy acrimony which sometimes haunts footnotes. Since we have inevitably to stand upon the shoulder of previous scholars, it ill becomes us to step on their toes getting there.

Monday, April 08, 2019

researchers’ careers depend more on publishing results with ‘impact’ than on publishing results that are correct

--- Arturo Casadevall in Nature, "Duke University’s huge misconduct fine is a reminder to reward rigour", 2 Apr 2019

Quote in context
The Duke experience is unlikely to be replicated exactly elsewhere. Channelling Leo Tolstoy, every instance of research misconduct is unhappy in its own way. Still, one thing is common: researchers’ careers depend more on publishing results with ‘impact’ than on publishing results that are correct. Pursuit of academic success generally means targeting particular journals, citations accrued and, occasionally, media attention.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Better to be enveloped in a matter that darkly feeds itself with hidden fires

--- Lewis Hyde, in Trickster makes this world (1998), Interlude, p. 90

In context
In the coal fields of West Virginia there are abandoned mines—their entrances long closed, the nearby towns long impoverished—that have caught on fire. These fires are impossible to put out; slowly they burn through the seams of coal, thirty or forty years. How wonderful if the writer of a book should happen on a topic with such longevity! At times he'll wish he'd picked some simpler theme, something he could strip-mine in a season, or something that would flash up and die down in a matter of months so that he could publish and get on. Get on with what, though? Better to be enveloped in a matter that darkly feeds itself with hidden fires; better not to know fully where the veins of fascination lead, but to trust that they will slowly give up their heat in recompense for attention paid.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

J'ai toujours préféré la folie des passions à la sagesse de l'indifférence

--- Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881). Via Dale Hatfield, March 2019. Often translated something like, "I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom"

From Wikiquote:

J'ai toujours préféré la folie des passions à la sagesse de l'indifférence.
I prefer the folly of enthusiasm to the wisdom of indifference.
Variant: I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the wisdom of indifference.    
Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard, Pt. II, ch. 4, as translated by Lafcadio Hearn (1890) - full text of translation at Project Gutenberg 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A metaphor is not an ornament. It is an organ of perception

--- Neil Postman, from The End of Education (1995), quoted on Rattle's page for the Neil Postman Award for Metaphor

Various web sites list this quote, but without a pin cite; the Amazon Look inside seems to confirm it, but I couldn't view the page (p. 171 given). QuoteFancy.com gives a slightly longer quote: “A metaphor is not an ornament. It is an organ of perception. Through metaphors, we see the world as one thing or another.”

ThoughCo.com offers a few sources for this quote, but neither are from Postman:

Gerard Genette on the Recovery of the Vision
Thus metaphor is not an ornament, but the necessary instrument for a recovery, through style, of the vision of essences, because it is the stylistic equivalent of the psychological experience of involuntary memory, which alone, by bringing together two sensations separated in time, is able to release their common essence through the miracle of an analogy — though metaphor has an added advantage over reminiscence, in that the latter is a fleeting contemplation of eternity, while the former enjoys the permanence of the work of art.
(Gerard Genette, Figures of Literary Discourse, Columbia University Press, 1981)

I.A. Richards on the Omnipresent Principle of Language
Throughout the history of Rhetoric, metaphor has been treated as a sort of happy extra trick with words, an opportunity to exploit the accidents of their versatility, something in place occasionally but requiring unusual skill and caution. In brief, a grace or ornament or added power of language, not its constitutive form. . . .
That metaphor is the omnipresent principle of language can be shown by mere observation. We cannot get through three sentences of ordinary fluid discourse without it.
(I.A. Richards, The Philosophy of Language, 1936)

From the Rattle page:

"Much like George Lakoff and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Postman maintained that words (and words, in truth, are metaphors) are as much the driver of reality as they are the vehicle. . . . For Postman, the study of metaphor was unending and metaphors were as crucial as they were omnipresent; they served to give form to and dictate experience. Is America the great melting pot, or is it an experiment in unity through diversity? What metaphors are embedded in television commercials . . . Put simply, Postman (like his teacher and hero, Marshall McLuhan), maintained that the medium through which information is conveyed directly colors meaning and our sense of the world . . . We are, essentially, what we see, hear, and read. Postman might go so far as to opine that we are the metaphors we use."

This makes me wonder about metaphor shading into myth...

writing was invented by introverts who didn’t want extroverts having all the story-telling fun

--- Poet James Valvis, in the biographical statement below his poem The Distracted (2019 winner of the Neil Postman Award for Metaphor) in Rattle  #61, Fall 2018.

Quote in context - the biographical statement:

James Valvis: “I don’t know why I write. Or why I ever started. It feels a bit like asking a penguin why he eats fish. It’s just what penguins do. Still, I’m an unlikely writer, to say the least, a ghetto kid who preferred baseball to Baudelaire, chess to Chesterton, Whitman’s chocolates to Whitman’s poems. I think I simply had too many stories inside not to let some out—and not enough friends to tell them to. I have this theory writing was invented by introverts who didn’t want extroverts having all the story-telling fun.” (web)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

it is not the car that you drive or the clothes that you wear that is important, but whom you dine with

--- Mamdouh Bisharat, quoted in the CS Monitor profile, "Patron of the past: The Jordanian duke who's preserving the soul of the Levant", November 5, 2018.

Quote in context

The late King Hussein, enamored with Bisharat’s love of country, decided to make his nickname official, issuing a royal decree in 1974 recognizing him as “Duke of Mukhaibeh.”

Dukedom has not given Bisharat airs.

While Amman’s rich and powerful clog Amman’s narrow streets with Rolls-Royces and Lamborghinis, the duke drives a silver Chevy pickup packed with tomatoes. His blazers and suits are frayed, dating to the 1960s.

“What I learned in England is that it is not the car that you drive or the clothes that you wear that is important,” Bisharat says, preparing for his next supper party, “but whom you dine with.”

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

To me, a formula is a baked idea. Words are ideas in the oven.

--- Judea Pearl, in his 2018 book with Dana Mackenzie,The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, p. 335


Quote in context:

Many people find formulas daunting, seeing them as a way of concealing rather than revealing information. But to a mathematician, or to person who is adequately trained in the mathematical way of thinking, exactly the reverse is true. A formula reveals everything: it leaves nothing to doubt or ambiguity. When reading a scientific article, I often catch myself jumping from formula to formula, skipping the words altogether. To me, a formula is a baked idea. Words are ideas in the oven.

One is tempted to say, "Great minds think alike," but perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that great problems attract great minds.

--- Judea Pearl, in his 2018 book with Dana Mackenzie,The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, p. 313


Quote in context:

Unlike Kruskal, we can draw a diagram and see exactly what the problem is. Figure 9.5 shows the causal diagram representing Kruskal's counterexample. Does it look slightly familiar? It should! It is exactly the same diagram that Barbara Burks drew in 1926, but with different variables. One is tempted to say, "Great minds think alike," but perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that great problems attract great minds.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Zeus does not arrive at decisions which he then enacts in the mortal world; rather, human events are themselves an enactment of divine will

--- Harold Bloom. Quote taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus, which seems to be citing Bloom's Major Dramatists: Aeschylus (2002), p. 14-15. (I wasn't able to verify the reference.)

Quote in context (taken from the Wikipedia article):


Much critical attention has been paid to the question of theodicy in Aeschylus. For generations, scholars warred incessantly over 'the justice of Zeus,' unintentionally blurring it with a monotheism imported from Judeo-Christian thought. The playwright undoubtedly had religious concerns; for instance, Jacqueline de Romilly suggests that his treatment of time flows directly out of his belief in divine justice. But it would be an error to think of Aeschylus as sermonizing. His Zeus does not arrive at decisions which he then enacts in the mortal world; rather, human events are themselves an enactment of divine will.