Thursday, January 30, 2020

a digital model is a plan out of water, or like swimming at your desk

--- Kristina Andersen, Ron Wakkary, Laura Devendorf, and Alex Mclean, in Digital crafts-machine-ship: creative collaborations with machines, ACM Interactions, December 2019
Consider the complexities of swimming in the sea, indescribable and impossible if you try to think about it. But the body knows. We are made for engaging with this, an intentionality toward the world, the wind and the waves, the knowledge of the body and the strokes of the swim, the currents and the undertow, the shoreline and the place on the beach where we left our shoes. 
The digital twin promises an understanding of the complexity of the original, so that we can explore and control without risk, without consequences. But a digital model is a plan out of water, or like swimming at your desk. It is at best an abstraction, at worst a simplification, a safe reduction. When it reaches an impending level of complexity it overflows our coping capacities, typically cognitive, as we sit hapless, staring at our screens. 
Arguably, we can make a digital simulation of the sea and the currents. We can experiment safely within the confines of this reduction, a space of alternatives. Yet the difficulty for us is how to switch between plans and simply swimming, succumbing, feeling, as the currents push against the body; becoming insignificant in the process, humble; negotiating a camaraderie with the humbled; joining together, appreciating, flowing, and forming, to become again in relation to another.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The present is a bully

--- Richard Snow, in Disney’s Land: Walt Disney and the Invention of the Amusement Park That Changed the World (2019), quoted by Riley Robinson in a CSMonitor book review, 31 December 2019

"Why did you do this?" a journalist [Walt Disney] asked amid the park's scaffolding, and received the simple answer "For twenty years I wanted something of my own." There was a good deal more to it than that. Disney had become tired of animation, had been embittered by a 1941 strike at his studio, and like so many at the end of World War II felt dissatisfied and adrift. 
And this man who had so acute a sense of what the public would respond to believed that other Americans shared such feelings—that there was a vast potential audience in need of reassurance. 
The present is a bully, always making us think the molten moment we inhabit is the most alarming ever, while the past tends to slip into that specious category of "simpler times." The 1950s now bask in the sunshine of false memory, sock hops, genial Ike, two-car garages, Elvis, and a victorious America, her manufacturing plants unshaken by a single Axis bomb in the war, bestriding the industrial world.
Few saw the decade like that while they were making their way through it. In 1947 W. H. Auden published a book-length poem in which four characters in a New York City bar discuss the cosmos. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948, but reading it could be heavy going. Nevertheless, it at once became universally known because of its title: The Age of Anxiety. That's what millions of Americans thought they were living in. 
And with reason. The war had ended with the thunderclap of two doomsday weapons over Japanese cities, and just four years later Soviet Russia, recently an ally, now a threat, possessed those weapons, too. American GIs who had never wanted to see another acre of Asian landscape found themselves fighting a shooting war against Communism in Korea and, once that dwindled to a stalemate, were being urged to help the French in Vietnam.

The fear of Communism simmered, a low fever that ran throughout the decade, spiking every few months, as when the Russians matched the new U.S. hydrogen bomb, or when Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed that reds had infiltrated American life at every level.

Nor was all the unrest in other lands; in a few months Rosa Parks would refuse to yield her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white passenger, thereby triggering the first direct action campaign of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

every night we close our eyes and go to sleep, and for a few hours, quietly and safely, we go stark staring mad

--- Neil Gaiman, from Reflections on MythColumbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, No. 31 (WINTER 1999), pp. 75-84


But new mythologies wait for us, here in the final moments of the twentieth century. [...] They have their function, all the ways we try to make sense of the world we inhabit, a world in which there are few, if any, easy answers. Every day we attempt to understand it. And every night we close our eyes and go to sleep, and for a few hours, quietly and safely, we go stark staring mad.

Myths are compost

--- Neil Gaiman, from Reflections on Myth, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, No. 31 (WINTER 1999), pp. 75-84

The process of composting fascinates me. I am English, and share with many of my countrymen an amateurish fondness for, frankly, messing around in gardens: [...]
And one learns a lot about compost: kitchen scraps and garden left-overs and refuse that rot down, over time, to a thick, black, clean, nutritious dirt, teeming with life, perfect for growing things in. 
Myths are compost
They begin as religions, the most deeply held of beliefs, or as the stories that accrete to religions as they grow.
And then, as the religions fall into disuse, or the stories cease to be seen as the literal truth, they become myths. And the myths compost down to dirt, and become a fertile ground for other stories and tales which blossom like wildflowers. Cupid and Psyche is retold and half forgotten and remembered again and becomes Beauty and the Beast. 
Too often, myths are uninspected. We bring them out without looking at what they represent, nor what they mean. Urban Legends and the Weekly World News present us with myths in the simplest sense: a world in which events occur according to story logic--not as they do happen, but as they should happen
But retelling myths is important. The act of inspecting them is important. It is not a matter of holding a myth up as a dead thing, desiccated and empty ("Now class, what have we learned from the Death of Baldur?"), nor is it a matter of creating New Age self help tomes ("The Gods Inside You! Releasing Your Inner Myth.") Instead we have to understand that even lost and forgotten myths are compost, in which stories grow
What is important is to tell the stories anew, and to retell the old stories. They are our stories, and they should be told.
I have lived here for six years, and I still do not understand it: a strange collection of home-grown myths and beliefs, the ways that America explains itself to itself.

Monday, January 20, 2020

the problem comes not from mythos itself, but from mythmongers demanding that their story be validated by logos institution

--- Peter Heehs, in Myth, History, and Theory, History and Theory, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb 1994)


Since the Greeks, logos (word as demonstrable truth) has been opposed to mythos (word as authoritative pronouncement). […] The Agastya-Aurobindo narrative is an example of an account based on factual materials that gradually became transformed into fiction. […] The Ramjanmabhumi narrative (at the center of sectarian conflict in India) took form in much the same way.
Clashes between logos and mythos are not uncommon, and are not confined to the third world. Greece's blocking of the European Community's recognition of Macedonia on account of that country's name and flag is the result of a mythos notion even if couched in logical language. The debate over the suitability of basing the teaching of geology and biology on the Hebrew scriptures is another example. And when a prominent speaker tells the Republican National Convention, "There is a religious war going on for the soul of America," he clearly is using the language of myth in what is often thought of as a logos forum. In each of these cases the problem comes not from mythos itself, but from mythmongers demanding that their story be validated by logos institutions.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics

--- Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, quoted in How political tribalism is leading to more political hypocrisy, Christian Science Monitor, January 10, 2020

Some excerpts
But today, it seems, hypocrisy is particularly rampant – and there’s a reason. “It’s a function of our extreme partisan polarization, and really, it justifies anything,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics.”
“It is pragmatic for politicians to act like hypocrites during periods of hyperpartisanship, since they otherwise might be harassed or expelled from their group for disloyalty,” writes Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at New York University ... 
But in other ways, commonly cited examples of hypocrisy may in fact represent a misunderstanding of the people who hold seemingly contradictory views. Strong support for Mr. Trump by white Evangelicals is one case, [Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania] says.