[ by Charles Cameron — three or four steps out along stepping stones you have no idea where you’ll land next ]
You know that for me the basic unit is the duet / duel? And that what’s most interesting in the duel / duet — let’s just call it the dual — is the leap, the creative leap, at best the stereophany between them. Well, my bassic image for that leap is the DoubleQuote board:
That’s a simple graph with two nodes and an edge between them:
And beauty and depth — creativity — lies in the leap along the edge between them.
The rue, as I discussed with David Gelernter lo these many years ago, is that the greatest beauty is found — identified, by AI search; acheved, by artistry — when the two nodes are rich, the edge is rich in connections between themgreat:, and the distance between them is
I don’t know how Theodor von Kármán came by his Vortex Street, and I’ve spent a decade in Pasadena wandering its streets and even picked up his four volume works — signed — at a CalTech book sale, but if he had the Van Gogh painting in the back of his mind, there’s the beginning, the seed of an awesome leap.
And you might say van Gogh made a mighty leap, pre-intuiting the von Kármán pattern in the night ckouds..
Okay, here’s a terrific leap by Claude Shannon:
There was this idea that you could connect the computer to a machine to turn the cranks on a milling machine and make aircraft parts. At the time, this was a huge leap. It was connecting two alien realms: this new computer thing and a milling machine. What it let you do was make aircraft parts you couldn’t make any other way.
The key words here are “connecting two alien realms“.
Perhaps the milling machine’s greatest distinction is that in 1954 it became the first machine tool to be controlled numerically, thereby representing one of the greatest industrial advances of the twentieth century.
And then there’s this leap too, earlier:
In the 1930s and working independently, American electronic engineer Claude Shannon and Soviet logician Victor Shestakov both showed a one-to-one correspondence between the concepts of Boolean logic and certain electrical circuits, now called logic gates, which are now ubiquitous in digital computers.
Play — play, I emphasize — is the connecting link or edge that leaps between theem:
If there were an Olympic sport of mind leaps — why forever not? long leaps, high leaps, long high leaps, ski leaps — Claude Shannon would surely be a contender.
With a hat-tip to Monica Anderson, who set me off on this particular journey.
[ by Charles Cameron — unenthused by current prospects of nuclear war or power plant interferencer, putinesque america, american proto-fascism, etc — yet filled with joy and wonder ]
I would like to do a zoom down in.
My daily reading doesn’t follow neat trails such that each article builds not just in general thrust but also in detail on the last — so please overlook the strange leaps I’ve taken here — all in a morning’s web-scan.
Enjoy the three individual essays I’ll quote, in other words, but don’t sweat the details.
I’ll start with Africa, as explored in George Clooney and John Prendergast‘s major Foreign Affairs piece, The Key to Making Peace in Africa, available without a paywall — because they offer an unparalleled glimpse of the conflicting values that will define our common humanity, fail or fair:
JAMES AKENA / REUTERS Government troops and tanks are seen in the eastern Congolese town of Rumangabo, July 26, 2012.
Here are the matters to weigh in our scales, captured in two of Clooney and Prendergast’s four punchily effecrive lists:
Oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper, and a variety of other mineral deposits and trafficked wildlife provide immense opportunity for those in power to line their own pockets
corrupt figures .. using their forces to bomb, burn, imprison, silence, torture, starve, impoverish, kill, and rape to maintain or gain power
That’s the basic comparison, the weighing in the scales that chraacterizes the Clooney / Prendergast piece.
Next for a sideways extrapolation of the dark vision Gen. McCaffrey offers:
Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to US national security. He is refusing to protect vital US interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that he is for some unknown reason under the sway of Mr Putin.
With a further zigzag away from McCaffrey and Putin, I’ll consider our local, USian situation in light of This is the Spanish Civil War by Jonathan Kirshner. We’re zooming in from African gazillions to mere Americo-Russian billions, financially speaking, and from out there to in here — though not yet within.
Franco arriving in San Sebastian in 1939
Comparing our Trumpian times with the beginnings of the Spanish Civil War, and with the decades-long reign of Generalissimo Franco that followed — an arguable comparison, surely — Kirshner writes:
The stakes here are not about partisan politics — Republicans now love him, but other than his plutocratic bona-fides, Trump is barely a Republican — rather, they are about what we are, and what we may become. The Trump Presidency is not normal, and it is dangerous to our democracy.
Again, the scales.
I hope it will be apparent that I am neither comparing America with Spain nor Russia, but simply offering one respected military man’s testament as a preamble to a differently focussed writer’s rant about Franco, in hope of providing a diffuse, impressionistic sense of alarm with an active sense of what the fractious breakdown of democratic and humane values can bring forth.
Steve Bannon‘s reading list, occut and radical — Julius Evola as much as Ivan Ilyin — still lurks in the background, and deserves a=n essay of its own.
Zooming yet further in, leaping from the nation to the individual — and who knows how the many manages to integrates the one — or the one to evade the blandishments of the many, especially its witch hunts, scapegoating and madness of crowds — I find myself in a beautiful and utterly apolitical world:
My mother called it “the green lace.” Every spring there was a window of just a few days where the buds on all the trees had barely begun to flower, tiny leaf-tips pushed free of supple branches, and all of Nature was briefly sheathed in the most delicate green embroidery. As warming winds signaled “the green lace” was near, the years fell like calendar pages from my mother’s face. She stood taller. She would smile and laugh easily, but at the same time seemed ever on the verge of tears. The first day “the green lace” burst forth and draped the countryside, Mom would disappear in the family car to drive backroads alone, basking in the newborn spring, weeping freely as she drove. I never witnessed that last part in person, but I find it easy to imagine. My mother was not an emotionally expressive woman. But this emotion overcame her. She couldn’t control it, and more to the point, she didn’t want to control it. It was an eruption of the sacred, to be revered in seclusion, but never denied. She loved it privately, without having to define or justify the experience to anyone.
For me, this feeling descends in Fall. A few trees turn early, adding splashes of red and gold to my morning commute. Each evening when I arrive home from work, more grass has vanished beneath a thickening carpet of leaves. The sunlight slants, and afternoons golden. Then there’s always one day, usually in mid-October, when Autumn happens. The red maple in my front yard bursts overnight into flame. I step onto my porch and the air crisps just so. My heart wells as if someone I love with abandon has returned from a long absence. I ache with longing to merge with the trees and the air, the sunlight and sky.
Joy. Sehnsucht, King calls it.
If you thought my leap from Africa to the US — or from Trump to Franco, Bannon to Evola, Evola to Ilyin — was a stretch too far, I invite you to cnsider how much greater a stretch the leap from outer to inner is. Yet that, in one sense, is the creative leap par excellence — the leap from exteriority to interiority..
I trust it is also a leap from darkness into dappled light.
[ by Charles Cameron — or, a samurai’s weapon glistens more brightly than an assault rifle ]
And in case your object that the proposed assault weapon ban (upper image above) is stereotypically associated wwith active shooters in schools, not issues of love and romance, take this, from Does anyone have the right to sex? in the LRB:
On 23 May 2014, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old college dropout, became the world’s most famous ‘incel’ – involuntary celibate. The term can, in theory, be applied to both men and women, but in practice it picks out not sexless men in general, but a certain kind of sexless man: the kind who is convinced he is owed sex, and is enraged by the women who deprive him of it. Rodger stabbed to death his two housemates, Weihan Wang and Cheng Hong, and a friend, George Chen, as they entered his apartment on Seville Road in Isla Vista, California. Three hours later he drove to the Alpha Phi sorority house near the campus of UC Santa Barbara. He shot three women on the lawn, killing two of them, Katherine Cooper and Veronika Weiss. Rodger then went on a drive-by shooting spree through Isla Vista, killing Christopher Michaels-Martinez, also a student at UCSB, with a single bullet to the chest inside a Deli Mart, and wounding 14 others. He eventually crashed his BMW coupé at an intersection. He was found dead by the police, having shot himself in the head.
It just didn’t have a headline tht would have made any sense in the DoubleQuote!
Okay, gunds and swords.
There’s also the question of whether the pen is mightier than the sword, of course — even the samurain sword? — or to coin a phrase:
[ by Charles Cameron — Dylan Thomas’ vision of time to set beside Stephen Hawking’s ]
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:
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…
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.
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.
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:
Stephen Hawking was born January 8, 1942, on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death. He died today, March 14th, on the anniversary of Einstein's birth. Time is circular – no beginning, no end.
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