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Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. (Albert Camus)
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    Of course but Maybe, (a 2013 take in ten points)
    Project: Polytopia
    “Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.”

    George Carlin

    1. Where are we now?


    So it is the end of the year (again) and as I review the year that was, I am listening to the fantastic album David Bowie released this past March. The track I am listening to ‘Where are we now?’ From the album:” The next day” has this fascinating appeal that some of us call a nostalgic moment and I thoroughly enjoy it.
    Back before the summer I went with friends to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A museum in London, it was, I admit a masterpiece retrospective of an extraordinary artist, the exhibition featured Bowie’s amazing collaborations in a wide array of fields such as fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film. The reason I am telling this is because 2013 was for me a year in which watching the past, at present, rekindled a future I am looking forward to.
    Bowie was absent for the last decade, in what is called a musical hiatus; obviously he needed time away from the limelight to release this masterpiece, recorded in total secrecy, but record he did and the result is a reminder that greatness takes time to unfold and is not restricted by age (Bowie is 66 this year) and the changing of times and culture.

    David Bowie represents culture at its best.
    Kudos!

    2. Of course but maybe

    When ‘the dean of counterculture comedians’ George Carlin, (RIP) passed away in 2008 some of his fans, me included, thought that this was an event that signed the end of an era and lo and behold along came Louis CK and made himself a worthy successor.
    In one of his most hilarious routines, Louis CK tackles his own mind reflection comically portraying thoughts, that are, to say the least, politically incorrect.
    The routine entitled ‘of course but maybe’ (from which the title) I find particularly interesting, over and above its comic value. Maybe it is the way the words are put together, and maybe it is because we all have to different extents unvoiced thoughts that recognize certain inevitability and yet, somehow we always have this inexplicable hope that, maybe, just maybe, not everything is going down the drain.
    In this spirit I write these words at the end of 2013, as a positive radical view that though the state of affairs of the world is not amazing certain undeniable realities emerge that gives me hope that together we can still do it. ‘It’, being the betterment of the world and our civilization into a future that we can all be proud of and maybe, just maybe, really like.

    So taking a hint from Louis CK my take this past year is:

    Of course.. (Insert negative whatever)
    But maybe.. (Insert positive possible)


    3. Of course ‘Selfie’ reeks of cheap narcissism but maybe..

    The first known selfie, taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839


    “The Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year, 'selfie' seems to be all about me, me, me. But its social nature reveals a desperate search for an us.” (Guardian- Nov 2013)

    Of course the Selfie meme in action is nothing new (witness the selfie of 1839), but what maybe the most important feature the critics of selfies forget is the utter lack of seriousness, these self-portraits represent in 2013. Of course obsessive self-reflectivity a la narcissus is as old as the Greeks, however unlike in the Greeks myths fatal ending, I do not believe selfies represent a fixation with oneself, superficially maybe, but not really. For my part I understand selfies to be a certain sort of contour relaxation, a softening of self-seriousness, an allowance if you like for the mind of the selfie person to portray himself or herself in a (mostly) funny fashion to the world.
    The semantics of selfies (if such are allowed) are to be found in hyperconnectivity and the undercurrent of self-representation allowed by the ever-increasing pervasiveness of social networks.

    These are some captions from some random selfies I found here :

    “Girls I know: *post selfie* *get hundred plus likes on facebook*
    me: *post selfie* *gets 0 likes and people comment saying "nice halloween costume"* “

    *breaks into an art museum and staples my selfies on all the artwork*

    Lighting is just the flash on gods camera when he's taking selfies.

    Self-irony and lessening of severity at its best, when even Barack Obama and David Cameron pose for selfie with Danish PM, the world, maybe, just maybe, might be a bit less rigid.



    Of course in the age of transparency not everyone takes Selfies seriously, this picture taken by the daughter of some friends (and published here with her explicit permission) came with her mordant though NSFW hilarious response to my question what is the difference between someone taking your pic and you taking your own pic as a selfie? She laughed and I quote” well, think about it like masturbation, in the first case it’s a hand job you give someone, in the second case it is you and you alone, the truth of selfies is in the self pleasure.. ☺, it’s a private thing that you make public.”
    Yes that’s the response of the ‘me’ generation.
    Make of it what you will.

    To my mind, selfies represent the current version of the ‘me’ generation, always in the process of becoming. Though I do not indulge in selfies I think the practice one of the most interesting artifacts of our current culture.

    4. Of course our home planet is unique (habitable) but maybe..

    One in every five sunlike stars is orbited by a potentially habitable planet



    Roughly one in every five sunlike stars is orbited by a potentially habitable, Earth-size planet, meaning that the universe has abundant real estate that could be congenial to life, according to an analysis of observations by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

    More good news for us, we are after all ,the SPACE collective;
    Few days ago (December 19) the Gaia space telescope has been launched.


    Gaia is an ambitious mission to chart a three-dimensional map of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, in the process revealing the composition, formation and evolution of the Galaxy. Gaia will provide unprecedented positional and radial velocity measurements with the accuracies needed to produce a stereoscopic and kinematic census of about one billion stars in our Galaxy and throughout the Local Group. This amounts to about 1 per cent of the Galactic stellar population.

    The Gaia Mission page at ESA

    More importantly perhaps the door to space colonization might finally be here, with advanced 3D printing in space.
    The Future Is Here: How 3D Printing Is Opening The Door To Space Colonization (Forbes 10/21/2013)


    5. Of course Artificial intelligence is very very far (if possible) but maybe..



    A new interdisciplinary research center at MIT, funded by the National Science Foundation, aims at nothing less than unraveling the mystery of intelligence.

    According to MIT: “The center’s four main research themes are also intrinsically interdisciplinary. They are the integration of intelligence, including vision, language and motor skills; circuits for intelligence, which will span research in neurobiology and electrical engineering; the development of intelligence in children; and social intelligence.”

    6. Of course mind reading is impossible but maybe..


    By scanning blobs of brain activity, scientists may be able to decode people's thoughts, their dreams and even their intentions.

    According to Nature: “These recordings are fed into a 'pattern classifier', a computer algorithm that learns the patterns associated with each picture or concept. Once the program has seen enough samples, it can start to deduce what the person is looking at or thinking about. This goes beyond mapping blobs in the brain. Further attention to these patterns can take researchers from asking simple 'where in the brain' questions to testing hypotheses about the nature of psychological processes — asking questions about the strength and distribution of memories, for example, that have been wrangled over for years. Russell Poldrack, an fMRI specialist at the University of Texas at Austin, says that decoding allows researchers to test existing theories from psychology that predict how people's brains perform tasks. “There are lots of ways that go beyond blobology,” he says.

    7. Of course 3D printing is always around the corner but maybe..

    3D printing human organs: the Bionic Ear



    To construct the ear, Princeton University researchers print the polymer gel onto an approximate ear shape and implement calf cells onto the matrix. The sliver nanoparticles fuse together to create an antenna which picks up radio signals before being transferred to the cochlea, which translates the sound into brain signals. (TNW)

    Despite all of this, researchers have yet to draw up plans to attach the ear to the human head.

    Lab grown organs has been all the rage this past year but the most fascinating news to come out of the science labs comes from Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden where the first steps to laboratory made grey matter are being put into place.

    Grow a new brain: First steps to lab-made grey matter (New Scientist-11 December 2013)


    8. Of course the Matrix is only a movie and Holograms are neat tricks but maybe..


    According to a release by Scientific American: “A team of physicists has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that our universe could be just one big projection.

    So maybe

    The Universe Really Is a Hologram, According to New Simulations.

    The debate over whether the universe is a hologram or maybe even a simulation carries a long tail, but this year according to Nature:” Yoshifumi Hyakutake of Ibaraki University in Japan and his colleagues now provide, if not an actual proof, at least compelling evidence that Maldacena’s conjecture is true.” (go read either at SCIAM or Nature)


    9. Of course aging is a one way street but maybe..

    According to Harvard Medical School, research have shown that some aspects of aging can be reversed.
    Youth-drug can 'reverse' ageing in animal studies (BBC Dec 20)



    Reversing Aging: Not as Crazy as You Think (Time Dec 19)

    The study was published in the Journal Cell

    Of course presently it is in mice, but maybe.. soon..

    *For an extensive curation of all things Science, technology, Art and Philosophy please check (follow or subscribe) my Momentary Flow blog.

    10. An extremely personal narrative theory in action

    To a very large extent I am a narrative theorist, which basically implies that over and above the fact that I am a storyteller, I also thoroughly enjoy the analysis of a good story.
    How much more so when the story, happens to involve humans that inspire me, and let it be said here and now, that from all possible options of recognizable objects of inspiration (and there are many that are non-recognizable) humans stand tall.

    And yes I do make a very clear anthropo-centered distinction; I love humans more than other recognizable objects of inspiration, such as artistic expressions or natural phenomena.
    Indeed when I walk in the desert as I recently did, the desert inspired me; I love the desert, its cleanliness, its emptiness, its vastness, its solitude-ness inducing characteristics and the silence it tempts me with.

    And yet if I were alone in the desert as I was in many occasions in the past, the above would have held an undeniable truth. But in the case I am recounting here and now, I was not alone, I was in company, quite a large and mostly unknown to me company, for in a sense even if I knew the humans by name, I did not know what they were made of.

    I’ll get to that eventually.

    For now I wish to tell something about the fashion I understand narrative theory and why I deem it so important. Simply put narrative theory starts with the assumption that the main strategy of sense making is narration, our own internal narration, the cohering of our experiences of time, change and processes into an arrangement that makes-sense. There is a reason why the cohering of experience into a greater whole, allowing for an extensive interpretation of events cannot be reduced to a formulation and-or be subjected to an outside scrutiny based on fixed methodology. The reason is called entanglement and presupposes that minds, human minds currently, might become so intertwined under certain circumstances that to give a coherent account of what was important and interesting in a particular event is of such high complexity that short of a full transposition of experience no account can do it justice.

    For entanglement complexifies.

    For those that are well acquainted with their cybernetics formulations, the law of requisite variety might be useful to recall.
    According to F. Heylighen, & C. Joslyn, the law of requisite variety means that:

    “The larger the variety of actions available to a control system, the larger the variety of perturbations it is able to compensate.”
    (See Principia Cybernetica).

    But if we wish to understand this in more mundane terms Ross Dawson has given a slightly more accommodating variation on the theme:

    “The only way you can control your destiny is to be more flexible than your environment”
    (see RossDawsonblog).

    I do love his description and yet even that is not sufficient for the narrative I have in mind.

    What I have in mind involves primarily fiercely independent systems, minds, which do not need the ensemble in which they purposefully deliberate and interact with. Minds that are under certain circumstances so deeply entangled that an increase in variety emerges spontaneously but more importantly an immense amount of flexibility enters the equation.
    Flexibility in this sense softens the contours of perception and allow for a self-description that is other than self.
    That is where the quote by George Carlin at the beginning of this essay comes in, “Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it”, this quote to my understanding stands as the ultimate irony when confronted with changing circumstances (I understand the ‘they’ in this statement as meaning the environment- natural, cultural, memetic or otherwise). The idea that one can and one should be more flexible than his or her environment is not new, adaptation after all means exactly that, but the manner I propose to understand that flexibility might be new here.
    The point is that via entanglement the complexity of the individual is being amplified in such a fashion as to provide an array of options that were not previously available on an individual scale. In other words a system (mind) that has a larger variety of actions available (increase in freedoms) has ipso facto a larger ability to compensate for the changes (perturbations) in its environment.

    The new narrative that we may need embrace therefore involves the inherent entanglement of humans as a race and as a civilization.

    In 2014 I plan to explore more in depth the concept of entanglement and its inherent criticality for the Polytopia Project .

    Of course.. but Maybe…


    Best projects of 2013:

    1. The Everyday Sexism Project suggested by Marcus Barber (@rightfuture)

    The Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalog instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalized that you don’t even feel able to protest. Say as much or as little as you like, use your real name or a pseudonym – it’s up to you. By sharing your story you’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss.

    2. The Social Good Summit

    The Social Good Summit is a three-day conference where big ideas meet new media to create innovative solutions. Held during UN Week from September 22-24, the Social Good Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss a big idea: the power of innovative thinking and
    technology to solve our greatest challenges. The most innovative technologists, influential minds and passionate activists will come together with one shared goal: to unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place, and then to translate that potential into action.

    3. The World Well-Being Project (WWBP)

    The World Well-Being Project (WWBP) is pioneering techniques for measuring psychological and medical well-being based on language in social media.
    As a collaboration between computer scientists, psychologists, and statisticians, we are shedding new light on the psychosocial processes that affect health and happiness and exploring the potential for our unobtrusive well-being measures to supplement — and in part replace — expensive survey methods.
    Ultimately, we hope that our insights and analyses will help individuals, organizations, and governments choose actions and policies that are not just in the best economic interest of the people or companies, but which truly improve their well-being.



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    Wildcat     Sat, Dec 21, 2013  Permanent link
    Indeed already an interweb friend : ProsthetciKnowledge (which blog I highly recommend) has reminded me of one of the most interesting MusicTech videos of the year.

    Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield is a man of many firsts. He was the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm, walk in space, and command the International Space Station. Sometimes he's even known to strum a tune.

    His new book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, is out now:http://www.chrishadfield.ca

    "With deference to the genius of David Bowie, here's Space Oddity, recorded on Station. A last glimpse of the World. " (his words while posting on YT)

    watch the video here
     
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