Author: Martin

XXVI. 04/02/18-18/02/18; cut and carve

I get up early. An email woke me. I had forgotten to switch my phone to airplane mode. Airplane security has wrought itself into some of the daily operating systems of our earth-bound lives. Why should it be called “airplane” mode? Why not “offline” or “free” mode? To paraphrase Herb Simon, problems are more complex than our brains can handle, so we oversimplify and ignore parts of the problem statement, or fill in the unknown with our mental models of the way we think it should be, sometimes with dramatic effects on the results. Creating a useful problem statement is therefore a balancing act, a matter of providing enough solution-neutral information to capture important needs, without providing extraneous or misleading information. System Architecture, Global Edition Because the safety switch must be recognizable to strong-willed stewards in the economy classes of intercontinental flight services. An oversight like keeping your phone wired to the beating throb of cyberspace might change your life. You get up and have three or four hours more time to think or write …

XXV. 17/01/18-03/02/18; drawing lines

The train is full. I settle into a seat in the first-class compartment. Here there is ample space while it is cramped outside. I recognize others who are not supposed to be here either. The man next to me is marking tests labeled “Human Synergistics: Life Styles Inventory, Description by others, LSI2.” How does he describe himself? Is someone who evaluates states of mind with standardized tests a coach, a psychologist or a consultant? He is a kind of priest taking confession through a score sheet. “If one wanted to express the value of the priestly existence in the briefest formula it would be: the priest alters the direction of ressentiment.” He wears a blue suit, sits with shoulders hunched. The crown of his head is bald. He is on a new set of test-papers, LSI1 this time: “Strengthening organizations through individual effectiveness.” (According to the website, LSI1 is a self-assessment of thinking styles, personal effectiveness and satisfaction while LSI2 is feedback provided by peers, managers, and/or sub-ordinates.) He goes through the 20 squares on the …

XXIV. 19/11/17-16/01/18; chthonic hypostases

Old sustains new. Ruins are reductions to an essence. The past lies in fragments in order to occupy the present. When I saw Greek ruins for the first time they were distant and unfamiliar. Knowledge develops with familiarity. I find it difficult to identify with ancient temples. I’m completely unmoved on my first encounter with them. It takes a long time for me to delve into my thoughts and exercise my eye, before I can enjoy the simplicity and the wisdom, the power and grace of an ancient temple. Nikos Kazantakis In myth, Daedalus crafted statues that were life-like. Once complete they had to be tied up to stop them from running off. Familiarity itself is like a statue that is life-like. An object may be familiar today, but the thought may be lost tomorrow. We are bombarded by shards of familiarity all the time. Why would one last over another? For virtue may be under the guidance of right opinion as well as of knowledge; and right opinion is for practical purposes as good …

XXIII. 16/10/17-19/11/17; apparent design

The layout of the courtyards and gardens of Zhu’s family mansion in Jianshui was no more familiar after spending a night there. The place is being extended. Overnight guests and their cigarettes are a threat to century old wood. There is a fear that the whole thing will go up in flames  ignited by recklessness. The new concrete-built garden will be in the Suzhou style. The Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou was built by a civil servant who had become disillusioned with the bureaucracy of government.  The garden-extension in Jianshui is being built by the bureaucracy itself. No real garden can compete with an imagined garden. 假作真時真亦假, 無為有處有還無。 Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true; Real becomes not-real where the unreal’s real. Dream of the Red Chamber Upon the sort of screen, patterned with different states and impressions, which my consciousness would quietly unfold while I was reading, and which ranged from the most deeply hidden aspirations of my heart to the wholly external view of the horizon spread out before my eyes at the foot …

XXII. 07/08/17-15/10/17; better distractions

Entertainment forced on you at the airport: first at the queue for the security check-in, later in the plane itself.  A dark mirror mounted on a column in front of the x-ray machines shows a superficial likeness. Why is music needed here? Who decides, who benefits? We may soon see neuroses and allergies developing against certain music, psychological equivalents of nut allergies. Mozart writing music for fluteplaying clocks and Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory written for Maelzel’s pan-harmonicon… good God Vaucanson’s flutist! actually played the flute? Because that’s where it came from, there the technology came from right down that paper roll with the holes in it where the computer came from, you see? Just take a minute to explain all this computer madness besotted by science besotted by technology by this explosion of progress and the information revolution what we’re really besotted by is people making millions, making billions… William Gaddis Tiredness moves the self aside. Words become automatic. Consciousness becomes a bit detached. First, wear sunglasses during morning exercise outdoors. This will reduce the influence of morning light …

XXI. 28/07-06/08/17; inward rhizomes

A house, a home: we labour and work for shelter. We fear squalidness in all it’s forms and indenture our selves to avoid it. “Men have become the tools of their tools” (Thoreau). When you think of some of the high flats around us, it can hardly be an accident that they are as near as one can get to an architectural representation of a filing cabinet. (Jimmy Reid, 1972) Any building raises questions of time: the time of the building itself and the time of its “lifeworld.” Sometimes the map seems finished: nothing more can be added; the class of forms looks closed until another patient man takes a challenge from the seemingly complete situation, and succeeds once more in enlarging it. (George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remark on the History of Things) Indexicals roam our consciousness: content in or with respect to contexts. Take a walk down a city street…. You have seen a person cut in two by a car, bits and pieces of street signs and advertisements, reflections from shop …

XX. 02/07-27/07/17; accruals

The train makes an additional stop at Hitchin. The travelers there are aligned in anticipation of a different spacing between the doors. Repetition and habit rule life. It’s important to find space around fixed tracks. Thoreau wrote about the opportunities for exploration within a ten-mile radius. The urge to travel is a symptom of maladjustment. The train is stuck by a red light and the driver calls in to say he can’t reach the signaler. Then he calls again to say that there has been a points failure. Workers in orange jackets wait on the sidelines after the last tunnel before the station. Familiar stations lie beyond my destination on a London Midlands service: Coventry, Tile Hill… Places of memory and imagination. How many places of the past will you never visit again? My neighbour wears a red top and silk trousers, she has a fan which she flicks open; a few flicks of the wrist, a last flick closes it. She is watching a drama on her screen, the screen is dirty and she …

XIX. 09/06-01/07/17; uncanny valley

Asked by the FT’s “Small Talk” whether he keeps a diary, David Vann responded: Never. I hate diaries and journaling and scrapbooking and all the fake writing in the world, including holiday cards and letter-writing. I wish it would all just die. I can’t even believe there are creative writing classes that focus on journaling, and I hate that I have to read “process” essays from my students. “Who cares?” is the only thing I can think when I read any of it. In her third Reith lecture Hilary Mantel tells the story of Stanislawa Przybyszewska who was obsessed by the French Revolution. She wrote about it day and night, neglected to care for her self and died as a martyr to her project. Susan Sontag said: ‘Somewhere along the line one has to choose between the Life and the Project.’ Stasia chose the Project. It killed her. Multiple causes of death were recorded, but actually she died of Robespierre. You don’t want to work like that, be like that. You hope your art will save …

XVIII. 19/05-09/06/17; segues

Notes vanish with a software upgrade. What was lost? Artificial intelligence on desert island disks: Hassabis still sounds like the precocious and naive chess player he recalls himself to have been. An engineer is rarely a good philosopher. The idea of non-human consciousness fascinates the public. Why is that? Are we bored by our own intellect? During a train journey with Thameslink the train-driver was talkative. He described how, because of delays, he had been asked to make an unplanned stop at Tulse Hill. And he apologised in advance that it would take him a bit of extra time to release the doors of the new, complicated Class 700 train on the short Tulse Hill platform. The development of the written word is our greatest achievement. A connection between human minds is a unit of culture. Writing makes asynchronous, decentralised connections possible. Artificial Intelligence is interesting only when it develops culture. Game-playing artificial intelligence is trivial, no matter how complex the game is. Life is not a game. There is no objective function. There are …

XVII. 15/05-19/05/17; folding, in and out

A few people are waiting at the end of the platform for the 5:59. Perhaps it’s the first time they’re traveling this early and they’re used to the longer trains. When the short train arrives they all rush back from the end to get in. The week’s first brief glimpse of a fold-out bicyclist: shorts, yellow water-proof jacket, a helmet mounted camera: he looked like an adventurer. Opposite me, a man wearing a red Lycra top (Gore bike wear) probes his mouth with his thumb. He resembles Michael Gove. The sides of his face are covered by the orbs of headphones. He keeps probing his mouth, using the thumb for explorations on his left side and either his index finger or his little finger for forays into the right. It’s a repelling sight. He sticks one finger all the way in, his hand twisted so that the ring on his finger is by his nose. Then he chews on his fingers. He repeatedly indulges in an impressive whipping action: in one violent movement, he launches …