Thursday, May 22, 2008

Irony and beauty

The trouble with doing lots of stuff worth blogging about is that it leaves one with little time to blog. Life's getting more and more interesting, and correspondingly more difficult to capture. I've been wrapped up with thinking about art lately; a friend of mine named Lindsay saw my Meme/Gene-Mind/Body ambigram banners (the ones lat look like DNA), and suggested I make a sculpture of it. The simple suggestion kicked off a pseudo-obsessive chain of thoughts on how and what I could do in three dimensions with the same ideas, what added layers of symbolism could be read into it, and all sorts of grandiose ideas on the final product. Anyway, I'll write (in great length) about that in a moment, first lets do a breif recap of the notable events of the last few.

Visited Michigan a couple weeks ago for my sister's birthday party. Made a friend named Saundra, helped my Grandpa clean out his gutters, and partied very hard. Had some good conversations with lots of relatives, drew pictures with my cousin Ian, and landscaped some stuff as a mothersday present. The weekday evenings have been filled with lots of drinking at highlands and a few visits to Taza. Stayed home sick last wednessday; apparently all this excitement and going-out hasn't been good for recovery.

Friday I had to turn in early, tragic because I missed what sounds like a really fun time at Jude's, and possibly some romance. But it was for a good cause (I tell myself consolingly), because I was supposed to be up early to paint a mural at a community center.

Pooh is my personal acheivement; I did it all by myself (yay!). Of course it was already traced on the wall and the artistry involved was minimal. Still, looks nice eh? Hopefully that's enriching enough to whatever kids that see it that it makes up for me missing a good time friday night, though thats setting a pretty high bar. I also did the line-work on most of the rest of the figures; including Tigger, who looks the best by far. I also met a very nice young lady by the name of Enza (short for Vinchenza) there; I hope to see her again. Tigger was her masterpiece, I just did some of the lines.

Saturday afternoon I took to heart Lindsay's advice to enjoy Burnet Woods more , and I went down there to read Fenyman's the Character of Physical Law, another recommmendation of Hofstadter's. While my social life's been getting alot richer, I'm afraid it's caused a bit of a drop-off in the quantity of reading I've been doing over the last few weeks. I think that's allowable, considering the volume I'be been doing recently (see the bibliography on the bottom left). Anyway, Feynman is great, and he inspires me to learn more fundamental mathematics, to be excited about it, and to look for the beauty in it. I wish I had had that attitude when math was being taught to me; I feel like I'd be alot further along in my development.

After that I watched some improv everywhere with Matt, which is brilliant and looks like a lot of fun. That got us talking about how it would be cool if like were like an RPG, where you can walk up to random strangers, hit triangle (or A, depending on your era), and strike up a conversation about whatever quest you're on. And we got to thinking, why can't life be like that? We can infact walk up to anyone and strike up a conversation... the question is what to talk about. He and I decided to spend an afternoon walking around asking people "I'm seeking enlightenment, where do you think I can find it?" and seeing where that takes us. Hopefully it gets really complex and we have to find items and bring them to other people in exchange for other items, maybe fight some monsters; you know the drill.

That evening he and Steve and Alison and I saw Danielle perform La Boheme, which was brilliant and beautiful and tragic. She's wonderful. I feel really privilaged to have gotten to know her before she's become famous; it makes watching her perform all the more engageing. I also feel like CCM is at least as good if not better than seeing opera at Music Hall. The performers are of equal caliber (I feel), the theater is smaller, the seats better, and the sets (I think) more beautiful. So brava, Danielle! I'll be sure to see as many of your performances as possible in the future!

Saturday night at highlands was like a perfect storm of weird humor. I probably sat and laughed for two hours straight just listening to Matt and Steve pun and argue with eachother. An example of the tone of conversation: somone mentioned the movie Four, to which Steve responded: "... is that like the thrid prequel to Seven?" and proceeded to try to find the relationship of third prequels to Pi... for probably a half hour. The funny part was the vehemence with which he went about it and staunchly defended his methods for finding the value of four. There may have been alcohol involved. Later there was some hooka-barring, and some romance.

Sunday Matt and Rachael and I had a picinic dinner at the lookout in Eden park. Beautiful park; here's a picture of Rachael and Matt:

following this was some good discussion at Murmur of Frank O'hara, Micah's favorite poet. Rachael enjoyed Murmur; I'm glad she came. I'm running out of lunchbreak to write in, so I'll have to be brief here. Upon Issacs suggestion, we all wrote letters about whatever we felt like writing about, and he's gonna send them out to random people from the phonebook. Here's mine:

The ambigram at the bottom is "Random" with mirror symetry, and yes the first line is a Homestar Runner allusion. If you received this in the mail, you sure as hell better post a comment, cause that would be the most random coincidence ever.
Finally: this scuplure thing I've been doing so much damn thinking about. Basically I wanna make a ceiling heith sculpture of two separate helixes out of sheet metal with the Meme/Gene and Soul/Body ambigrams cut into the sides. They'll be on turntables, and when they spin light will be projected down the axis of the ambigram to make another letter on the wall (but only where the light from the two helixes intersect). I'm gonna paste below most of a letter I sent to Lindsay about it, because it describes in detail what I'm trying to symbolize with it.
The projection Idea was inspired by this book (as was a lot of the other symbolism), doing it with a spinning helix just puts a new twist on it.
... pun intended.

I was also thinking that instead of (or in addition to) capturing the complete projected phrase with glow-in-the-dark stuff, a long-exposure photograph might also have a similar effect (idea ala your camera-obsura idea you shared with me on Saturday, thx). This would have the added interesting effect of making the spinning helixes look like semi-solid columns, I'd expect.
So I said I'd explain the significance of the Godel theorum-thingy later, and email seems like a good medium to do it in ('cause I can think slowly and carefully as I write, and I have only a gentle grasp on the ideas). Note: this may get long, but I'll try for conciseness.

Starting at a high level of abstraction and then getting more specific: what Godel proves is that it's not possible to have a system of reasoning that is both complete and consistent. Complete meaning that it's capable of describing all the rich phenomenon in the physical world, and consistent meaning non-contradictory. Thus, any powerfully expressive system (or "mode of expression") must be able to contradict itself, as language does in the sentence "This sentence is false," or the quip from Epimenidies the Cretan: "All Cretans are liars."

Some context for the impact of this: it had been the holy grail of the intelligentsia for a very long time (since the Greeks?) to devise a complete, consistent system of reasoning; the idea being that nature must obey laws, so so must reasoning. Since laws aren't supposed to contradict eachother, they sought to sanitize reasoning by eliminating contradiction. Around the turn of the 20th century Prinicipia Mathematica was written; a huge multi-volume work that created its own expressive language and was supposed to be contradiction-proof by way of being incapable of referencing itself, but still capable of proving anything mathematical (and thus all of physics and so on). Godel basically showed that meaning can be encoded on multiple levels, and if you shift your interpretation of the symbols via a clever coding, self-reference can be seen (and thus potentially contradiction can be seen) even in the barren world of Principia Mathematica.
Another way of saying this: no symbol has meaning until we give it one, and that the meanings we give to symbols are dependant on the meanings we've previously given to other symbols, and so on ad infinitum. So Godel broke the system, but in the process uncovered rich new paths for exploration.

So getting to the point: an interesting example of meaning being encoded on many levels can be found in DNA. On the most basic level, we've got this long molecule that can be interpreted as nothing but an inert string of four base chemicals ordered in interesting ways. But in a cell, that interesting ordering becomes instructions for making enzymes and proteins, which in turn act on the DNA itself making the system capable of self-reference. In a womb, those interesting orderings and their instructions for the enzymes and proteins collaborate and make a larger structure; an organism. Part of those instructions include the basic layout of the brain, out of which potentially emerges mind. And minds, these highly abstracted ephemeral patterns so many levels away from that string of four chemical bases, are capable of understanding their own foundation, right down to their origin in DNA. And perhaps miraculously, but perhaps inevitably, these minds are now becoming capable of reaching back down to their foundational level and interfering with it. Scary? Perhaps. Exciting? Perhaps. Worth thinking about? Definitely; else the future is definitely more scary than exciting.

Finally, the symbolism of the Meme/Gene Soul/Body idea, and projecting the incompleteness theorem through it: Memes and genes can be seen as both analogs and opposites, as can souls and bodies; something that is represented by displaying them as an inversion ambigram. By extension: Memes are the foundation of souls, and genes are the foundation of bodies; so there's some conceptual symmetry which I find beautiful even if not particularly meaningful. The four words together (M,G,S,B), can be seen to be analogous to the DNA bases (A,C,G,T), as is suggested by arranging them helically. Projecting something through them is analogous to the process by which DNA is decoded to have other meanings and representations; ultimately an autonomous organism. Projecting the incompleteness theorem through them is a sort of self-referential irony, in that the theorem basically describes the phenomenon of self-reference via multi-layered meanings in a sentence of abstract symbols, which by themselves have no meaning until we interpret them as a whole. This suggests looking back to the medium from whence the pattern came, which on the surface is a pair of twisted metal columns with holes cut in them; meaningless until we spin them, cast light through them, and capture the light with photoluminescence or a long-exposure photo, and interpret it. Thus, we are led on circular path of interpretation and re-interpretation; and we can never be entirely sure what exactly is the foundational level of meaning. Point being: there isn't one; all meaning is circular and recursive in nature.

One thing I like about the photoluminescence approach, by the way, is that the message will fade away quickly, reminiscent of the fragility of thoughts in their human hosts: getting lost in confusion without constant refreshing and being destroyed forever if the host dies before transmitting them. And so the purpose of this long and perhaps over-wrought email (I hope you'll forgive me for presuming upon your time and attention) is to transmit all the things that have been banging around in my head for the last three days before they get lost or fade away. Also because they've been absorbing me to the point of distraction and they seem to be begging to get out; and you seem like a good person to share them with.

Again, sorry, I hope you find the ideas at least somewhat as interesting as I do, and that you aren't terribly put off by all this rambling in sentences of questionable construction.

PS: When I say "soul," I mean it in the purely secular, "soul-as-mind" and "mind as the collection of patterns that make up an individual" sense.
Long post, W00t!

Also: KXCD is the best webcomic ever.

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