All posts filed under: Trains of Thought

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 …

XVI. 08/05-12/05/17; untied

A man with thick-frame glasses and a white beard browses his facebook feed: regional elections, oldtimer cars, misc. scenery, cat and family photos. Our information is as fragmented as the circumstances we live in. Opposite him a passenger in blue jeans, a blue sweater over a chequered shirt, wearing brightly pink, round-frame glasses. Out of character or in character? They’re temporary. He puts them away with his book before we arrive. The days trickle in to London and back out in the evening. A scarf hangs from the luggage ledge and pools onto my neighbour’s lap. He doesn’t mind. As we arrive the man in front stands up from his aisle seat and claims it. As he does so the scarf opens up, revealing itself as a generous piece of fabric. I don’t know why — perhaps the glasses, the elegant corpulence, the steady indifference — the man with the generous scarf reminds me of Umberto Eco. On the way out: a suited young man with orange-laced training shoes and a duffel bag and his red …

XV. 01/05-05/05/17; habits of haste

Approximately one-hundred travelers coalesce into the usual small pools, regularly spaced like a smeared out sequence of 1’s and 0’s. The depth of the pools varies according to habit and ad-hoc decision-making. Our habits are base-camps for exploration: if you usually walk to the “near end” of the platform (so that you will be closer to the ticket gates on arrival) then you are unlikely to move the opposite way to the far-end the next day. And our habits do, indeed, in large measure, enable even our organisms to accommodate themselves to an existence which at first seemed impossible. We have all seen an old circus performer with a weak heart accomplish acrobatic tricks which no one would believe his heart could stand. Time Regained It seems to me that on average, the position of a group is biased towards the direction of the incoming train. So I try to stand further towards the near-end to improve my starting position for the jostle into the train. I am nearly always one of the first four on-board. …