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Arts & Sciences, models & illustrations, Buddhas within mandalas

Friday, June 29th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — on the illustration, visualization and modeling of supposed reality — note: I am no scientist, no artist, in fact an aphantasic ]
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A telling caption to an image in New Scientist gave rather more of the game away than was maybe intended.

The image:

The caption:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this one instead. Oliver Burston/Alamy

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It’s a nice image, and could be used to represent Lise Meitner‘s discovery of nuclear fission, or some new feature of Kepler’s Supernova, or even, Lord knows, to sell collectible gold coin or diamonds.. And it brings up in acute form an issue I’ve long had with science — in the context of education and the last century’s growing indifference to the arts and humanities.

How much of what passes for science in the pop science press is in fact art, and specifically photography? And as a sub-question, how much of the impact a particular piece of scientific work receives is dependent on the various qualities of the illustrations used to accompany and promote it — which all too often fit the description in the caption above:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this one instead.

Or alternatively, shooting for something a little more frank, but not too terribly impolite:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this bullshit instead.

**

We hardly ever have a picture of the real thing — which occurs at nano-scale, or outside the visible spectrum, or —

Well, some while back, we discussed (ignorantly, rest assured, De Docta Ignorantia, qv) a mathematical object of interest to physicists known as The Amplituhedron:

The Amplituhedron can alternatively be illustrated thus:

There’s a donut for anyone who can imagine what can possibly merit both illustrations!

**

On our way to an understanding of the Amplituhedron, we pass by diagrams such as this:

— immediately followed by these words:

Although it is hard to draw the complete four-dimensional polytope, its four three-dimensional faces each define square-pyramidal regions of G(2, 4)

— as, for instance, this:

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Oh, c’mon, it’s not that hard, just visualize it!

Tibetan monks can visualize things like this 3-D palace replete with Vases, Wish-granting Trees, Bodhisattvas, Tathagatas and Shaktis, all surrounding the deity Kalachakra and his Consort, Vishvamata

And the vajrayanist Tibetan practitioners, yes, manage this just by PhD and postdoc level visualization practice, with diagrammatic assists like this:

— and a blueprint like this:

— always bearing in mind that, eh, “Kalachakra is a black skinned, four-faced god with twelve arms and twenty-four hands, in passionate embrace with his consort”:

Kalachakra and Vishvamata, from the Rubin Museum of Art

**

Ah, but that’s arts and humanities > comparative religion > Tibetan meditation, not sciences > physics > mathematical physics, eh?

In all this, I intend to defend both science, properly so understood, as practiced bt qualified practitioners within its various subdisciplines, and arts and humanities, properly so understood, as practiced bt qualified practitioners within their various subdisciplines — while making clear the overwhelmingly important distinction that illustrations are all too often not science but STEM-propaganda, glossy / shiny objects passing for science while in fact falling under the categories of illustration or photography.

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This isn’t, for instance, in any scientific sense, the Horseshoe Nebula

It’s, as its title suggests, a reproduction of a compositie color image of the Horseshoe Nebula

— and to be honest, it may bear as much resemblance to a horse’s head as this reoroductionf of a color image of a seahorse does:

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Just let’s keep the arts’ contribution to science illustration filed under arts (illustration), and math diagrams filed under math (diagrams) — I’ve included some of both above — and maybe the arts and humanities will get to siphon off some of the excitement and funding currently pouring into the coffers of (poor little) science.

Tibetan Buddhists FTW!

**

Ooh-wah!

Art or science?

Gravitational lens RX J1131-1231 galaxy with the lens galaxy at the center and four lensed background quasars

That, at least, is what they tell me..

Vog and laze, MARFORPAC, Leilani Estates, and above all, Pele

Monday, May 28th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — language at the heart of worship where the earth erupts in Hawai’i ]
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Lava burns across a road in the Leilani Estates subdivision as an unidentified person takes pictures of the flow, Saturday, May 5, 2018 near Pahoa, Hawaii. Offerings of Hawaiian ti leaves, rocks and cans to the fire goddess Pele lie in the street in front of the lava. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

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Language! New words! Fresh realities!

Vog and laze are the first words to catch my eye:

Through the laze and vog, Kilauea is giving up some of its secrets.

Then there’s USPACOM and MARFORPAC:

The additional helicopter support from USPACOM and MARFORPAC provides the County of Hawaii and Hawaii’s Joint Task Force-50 tremendous capability

There’s a quiet, professional language of scientists and land management experts once we escape the immediacy of vog and laze — and which blends in easily with the alluring speech of realtors:

At present, Hawaii County Civil Defence officials say the “middle portion of the fissure system” in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens is the most active.

Leilani Estates — no doubt the brochures for the subdivision refer to homes there as desirable — and desirable, no doubt, they are..

And then there is Pele.

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Pele goddess of fire is the restless ever-presence of volcanism on the Hawaiian islands. The restless ever-presence of volcanism on the Hawaiian islands is Pele goddess of fire.

Say it how you will, scientific realities meet the goddess on the road. Madame Pele, beloved and feared, spits fiery plumes five miles high, speaks lightning, opens mouths in the earth, belches gases:

Laze contains tiny shards of volcanic glass and killed two people in Hawaii in 2000 after they ventured too close to the boiling acidic cloud.

The flickering tongues of Madame Pele lick out as she pleases:

Flying lava shattered a man’s leg while he was on the third-floor balcony of his home on rural Noni Farms Road.

There is no arguing.

And yet many living in Kilauea’s shadow welcome the eruption, express reverence for Pele and thank her — even when the lava destroys their home.

**

Pele:

Fire like snow in a high wind in the Himalayas..

Fire like a river, singing and swinging its way home..

Pele like an artist’s flaming trail of paint between the trees..

The slightest touch of Pele — who dares forge a sword in such a furnace?

Pele.

**

Great she is, or to put that another way, the volcanic activity we are now witnessing has a long history and immense potential for destruction — and creation:

The devastation is poised to continue, and experts have little clue as to when, and where, the current flood of lava will cease to flow. But the belief that Pele is both a destroyer and a creator has offered many locals some consolation. They see the goddess’s unpredictability as a fact of life that they not only accept and prepare for but also internalize and revere. The goddess of fire alone decides when she’ll morph from ka wahine ‘ai honua — the woman who devours the earth — into the shaper of sacred land. The myriad ho’okupu (offerings) found all over the Big Island, from Halema’uma’u crater to black-sand beaches to paved highway roads, attest to her grip on its residents.

And Madame Pele has grace in plenty to bestow when she so chooses:

Pele has given us the grace of quiet for today, but we don’t know what tomorrow may bring,” Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said at a community meeting Monday night..

**

Giver of islands..

“My house was an offering for Pele,” said Monica Devlin, 71, a retired schoolteacher whose home was destroyed by a lava flow. “I’ve been in her backyard for 30 years,” she reflected, doing the math on when she moved here from Northern California. “In that time I learned that Pele created this island in all its stunning beauty. It’s an awe-inspiring process of destruction and creation and I was lucky to glimpse it.”

I offer flowers here in my written thoughts, considering her.

**

Sources:

Silence as protest and gift

Friday, April 13th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — on the frayed edges of music ]
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Silence is the exception rather than the rule — so much so that it’s notable.

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The bells of York Minster were silenced for a year in protest at the sacking of, as the Guardian eruditely puts it, “30 campanologists”. Bell-ringing is an ancient craft in the UK, mathematical in its combinatoric precision, glorious in its language and literature. Spanning the arts and sciences, it is thus a bridge between the two sides of that academic and popular schism or chasm which CP Snow famously described in his book, The Two Cultures.

**

Mathematics and combinatorics:

The ringing of a peal or complete sequence of bells is a highly mathematized form of music, and the order in which the bells are to be rung — the method — can therefore be transcribed in graphical form:

Oh, the beauty in so musical a score.

I dare not show you a full extent — we might run out of pixels!

**

Language and literature:

Truth (and the detested false), Grandsires, Triple Bob Major, oh, and Spitalfields Festival Treble Bob, and how could one forget Affpuddle Treble Bob Major..

Dorothy Sayers‘ novel The Nine Tailors has nothing to do with bespoke and everything to do with murder most fouldeath and detection:

In some parishes in England the centuries-old tradition of announcing a death on a church bell is upheld. In a small village most people would be aware of who was ill, and so broadcasting the age and sex of the deceased would identify them. To this end the death was announced by telling (i.e. single blows with the bell down) the sex and then striking off the years. Three blows meant a child, twice three a woman and thrice three a man. After a pause the years were counted out at approximately half-minute intervals. The word teller in some dialects becomes tailor, hence the old saying “Nine tailors maketh a man”.

The bell used in the novel for the announcement is the largest (tenor) bell, which is dedicated to St. Paul. Hence “teller Paul” or in dialect “tailor Paul”. Sayers is here acknowledging the assistance of Paul Taylor of Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough, England who provided her with detailed information on all aspects of change-ringing.

Scientific American adds other details, describing:

another time-honored tradition of bells, which frequently have nicknames and inscriptions, as if they were, indeed, alive.

For instance, in Sayers’ novel, the oldest bell is dubbed Batty Thomas, cast in 1380, and bears the inscription “Abbat Thomas sett mee heare + and bad mee ringe both loud and cleer.” (The oldest bell hung for change ringing that is still in use was cast in 1325; it is the fifth bell at St. Dunstan’s Church in Canterbury, Kent.)

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Argh, the lockout:

Enough of the beauty of the English bells. From the Guardian piece referenced in the upper panel, above:

But simmering tensions between the minster’s governing body, the Chapter of York, and the ringers came to a head last October when the band was summarily dismissed and locked out of the 15th-century cathedral’s bell tower.

The silencing of the York Minster peal is thus a case of a sacred sound being stilled by a secular — or at least unionized — silence.

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How opposite, and apposite, then, is the ringing silence offered by the youthful Quakers as a podcast in the second Guardian piece referenced (lower panel, above):

It’s not the most obvious subject for a podcast, but a group of young Quakers in Nottingham have recorded their 30-minute silent meeting so as to share their “oasis of calm” with the world.

In an episode of the monthly Young Quaker Podcast, called the Silence Special, you can hear a clock ticking, pages being turned and the rain falling, as the group meets and sits in silence at the Friend’s Meeting House in Nottingham. [ .. ]

The idea for the silent podcast first came from Tim Gee, a Quaker living in London, who was inspired by the BBC’s season of “slow” radio, which treated audiences to – among other things – the sounds of birds singing, mountain climbing and monks chatting.

Gee said he had wanted to “share a small oasis of calm, and a way to provide a moment of stillness, for people on the move”.

Jessica Hubbard-Bailey, 25, from the Nottingham Young Quakers, who recorded the podcast, said they had jumped at the opportunity to broadcast something “immersive and unusual”. She added: “We have very different ways of worship to most people of faith and we thought this was a really unique opportunity to give people a little slice of what the Quakers do. Also, we are really good at being quiet because we’ve made a practice of it and I think that is of value. These days everyone is so busy, everyone is working all the time, so it’s really valuable to have the opportunity to sit down once a week and just be quiet and listen.”

Listen? Listen to the birds, to the chattering monks — or to the still, small voice?

**

Listen, in any case, to the sound of silence:

Just listen!

Time In all his tuneful turning (ii)

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Dylan Thomas’ vision of time to set beside Stephen Hawking’s ]
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I’m arguing here that Dylan Thomas is at least as great a thinker about time as Stephen Hawking, and his masterpiece, Fern Hill is my proof text to that effect.

I’ll borrow here from a piece I wrote called That HyperText is Linear: it’s the Northrop Frye applied to Dylan Thomas bit that’s of relevance here:

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I get much of my thinking in this area from the literary critic, Northrop Frye, who says somewhere that you can (and should) read a poem through from beginning to end, and that this will give you what he calls the “diachronic” meaning — the sequential meaning “through time”: but when you have done this, you should also perceive what he calls the “synchronic” meaning — the meaning that comes from the poem as a whole, with all its parts simultaneously present and influencing one another, in a way that is impossible in a first sequential reading, but is possible in a meditative way afterwards…

Take Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Fern Hill”, for example. It’s an incredible tour-de-force, moving from the poet’s sense of wonder and praise at the natural world around him in childhood, to the moment when time takes him

Up to the swallow-thronged loft by the shadow of my hand

and he wakes

to the farm forever fled from the childless land…

— his “lamb white days” are over, and he realizes finally that

as I was young and tender in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying…

That is, so to speak, the throughline, the sense of the poem from start to finish — as I child I was young and easy under the apple boughs, I was green and carefree: and yet, all the while, my childhood was slipping away from me, for Time itself held me green and dying…

That’s the “diachronic” reading…

But the “synchronic” reading is quite different. It doesn’t depend in the same way on a process through time. Instead, it works by the piling up of similar phrases:

the sun that is young once only…
All the sun long…
the sun grew round that very day…
the sun born over and over…

These phrases, scattered throughout the poem, seem to build on one another, almost imperceptibly, in a very remarkable way. Suppose that it was life, rather than the sun, that was at issue here:

A phrase like “life that is young once only” would clearly emphasize the freshness of youth and the decay that age brings — and thus be very much in line with the diachronic meaning of the poem. But a phrase like “life long” would emphasize the enduring quality in life, maybe even its eternal quality (“eternal life” even), while “life born over and over” would capture the cyclical feeling that’s present in the rotation of the seasons (and in the idea of reincarnation) — and “the sun grew round that very day”, while it doesn’t make sense to read it as “life grew round that very day”, clearly means that each moment is itself the moment of sunlight, in a way that’s akin to the zen sense of living in the moment…

So it’s as though the poem moves from beginning to end along a track that emphasizes initial innocence and its eventual loss: but read in the wholistic, “synchronous” sense, it quietly suggests that time can be viewed as a slowly entropic and degenerative process, as an endless and unbroken wholeness, as always and only the instant, and as a cyclical recurrence…

To me, that’s mind-blowing. Thomas isn’t presenting one of these as “the truth” — to the extent that there’s a “main” way to view time in the poem, it’s certainly in terms of a slow and not so slow process of the loss of innocence — but as four complementary ways in which we can see it. Four major philosophies of time in one poem, phrased in terms of the sun, and thus slipping almost unnoticed into our consciousness while we’re busy following the “throughline” or “plain sense” of the poem… four major philosophies, not contradicting one another, but spoken together, as in a polyphony.

There are some similar phrases relating to the moon, too, and they need to be similarly weighed and considered if you want to go deeper into “Fern Hill” — but that’s another part of the story, for another day…

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That’s from That HyperText is Linear, not currently available on the web.

Four major philosophies of time, each seen from a human perspectove, voiced together as a polyphony, and presented “subcutaneously” — beneath the surface of the poem, and of the reader’s conscious awareness.

That’s what I admire in Thomas’ poem, and what I would compare with Stephen Hawking’s analog of another great scientist’s “Single vision & Newton’s sleep!” — for the juxtaposition of Dylan Thomas vs Stephen Hawking is indeed an age-old one, finding its classic instantiation in William Blake‘s antipathy towards Isaac Newton.


William Blake, Isaac Newton, The Tate Gallery

I’ll let Alan Moore, he of the comics [Watchmen, eg], explain:

For Blake, the boundaries of Newton’s thought were the cold, stone parameters of an internal dungeon to which all humanity had been condemned without its comprehension or its knowledge. Despite the invigorating consequences Newton’s influence would have for a then-nascent industry, Blake would elsewhere describe this rigid and reductive pall as ‘Newton’s Sleep’, a drowse insensible to vision or to ethical restraint beneath which it appeared the world had fallen. Goya to the contrary, here the monstrosity was birthed not by the sleep of reason, but instead born from that sleep which reason represented. From our own industrially despoiled and bankrupted contemporary perspective, Blake’s view surely seems a product of extraordinary prescience rather than of the angel-addled madness which some of his less insightful critics have attributed.

Enough.

Time In all his tuneful turning (i)

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Stephen Hawking, RIP, and synchronicity? ]
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Connsider these high-popularity responses to Stephen Hawking‘s death:

Sources:

  • USA Today, Hawking’s death, Einstein’s birth, and Pi Day: what does it all mean?
  • Time, People Think It’s an Interesting Coincidence That Stephen Hawking Died on Pi Day
  • **”

    The Time article focused on the internet:

    Some people on the internet think Stephen Hawking couldn’t have calculated a better day to die.

    Calculated. Like it.

    The 76-year-old theoretical physicist, one of science’s most famous luminaries died on March 14, also known as National Pi Day — an annual day for scientists and mathematicians around the world to celebrate the value of pi that even includes deals on pizzas and actual pies. Suffice it to say that the noteworthy coincidence was not lost on the internet.

    The date of Hawking’s death — 3/14 — is significant because 3.14 are the first three digits of pi, a bedrock of geometry. Specifically, it’s the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Naturally, the fact that science’s big celebration overlapped with the day the life of the party left us is making people geek out about the details.

    As soon as news spread that Hawking died early Wednesday morning in London, people were quick to connect the dots.

    Connect the dots, eh?

    **

    And here’s the complete USA Today article:

    So, is there some mystical theory explaining how noted astrophysicist Stephen Hawking died on the same day Albert Einstein was born, which also happens to be the day we honor the mathematical constant Pi?

    Nope. It’s just all one giant coincidence.

    Hawking died at 76, his family confirmed early Wednesday. He was considered one of the world’s foremost theoretical physicists, developing critical theories on black holes and writing A Brief History of Time to explain complex scientific concepts to the masses.

    That’s it. Nope, in a word. Nope. There is no “mystical theory explaining how noted astrophysicist Stephen Hawking died on the same day Albert Einstein was born, which also happens to be the day we honor the mathematical constant Pi”.

    That’s decided without consulting Pythagoras, Newton, Johann Valentin Andreae, Hermann Hesse‘s Joseph Knecht, or any of a dozen other worthies I might name..

    **

    But note: Warren Leight adds another datapoint and brings the circuit to completion:

    Galileo, ooh.

    It seems worth recalling at this point that pi is an irrational number.

    **

    Where do we go from here?

    First, note that Warren Leight posts that Hawking died on the 14th, in a tweet dated the 13th.

    One of Leight’s commenters challenges the whole coincidence chain:

    He died March 13th

    Leight’s response to that challenge could also serve as a response to mine:

    It depends on how and where you measure time

    Time is circular, date is relative..

    **

    God save us, here’s a game ref:

    Is that Johann Sebastian Bach?

    Kidding.

    **

    May the extraordinarily, ceaselessly curious mind of Stephen Hawking rest at last in the balm of peace.

    **

    And my title, Time in all its tuneful turning?

    It’s from Dylan Thomas, approximately. He wrote, in this masterpiece, Fern Hill:

    And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
    In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
    Before the children green and golden
    Follow him out of grace…

    I want to suggest that Dylan Thomas is at least as great a thinker about time as Stephen Hawking, and Fern Hill is my proof text to that effect. I’ll explain why in part ii of this post.


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