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Daniel Rourke (M, 38)
London, UK
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All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
- Georges Bataille
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    Polytopia
    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

    The Total Library
    Text that redefines...

    Start your own revolution
    Catching up with the future. All major institutions in the world today are grappling to come to terms with the internet. The entertainment...

    What happened to nature?
    How to stay in touch with our biological origins in a world devoid of nature? The majestic nature that once inspired poets, painters and...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    This essay was originally published on my site: MachineMachine.net

    In two short essays – written in 1933 – Walter Benjamin argues that primitive language emerged in magical correspondence with the world. The faculty we all exhibit in childhood play, to impersonate and imitate people and things loses its determining power as language gradually takes over from our “non-sensuous” connection with reality. In a break from Saussurian linguistics, Benjamin decries the loss of this “mimetic faculty”, as it becomes further replaced by the “archive of non-sensuous correspondences” we know as writing.

    To put it in simpler terms... Where once we read the world, the stars or the entrails of a sacrificed animal, now we read the signs enabled and captured by written language.

    From Benjamin’s The Doctrine of the Similar:

    “So speed, the swiftness in reading or writing which can scarcely be separated from this process, would then become... the effort or gift of letting the mind participate in that measure of time in which similarities flash up fleetingly out of the stream of things only in order to become immediately engulfed again.”

    The GIF – standing for Graphical Interchange Format – has been around since 1987. Their early popularity was based, in part, on their ability to load in time with a web-page. In the days of poor bandwidth and dial-up connections this meant that at least part of a GIF image would appear before the user’s connection broke, or – more significantly – the user could see enough of the image for it to make sense. In the mid 90s avid web hackers managed to crack the code of GIFs and use this ‘partial loading’ mechanism to encode animations within a single GIF file. Thus the era of personal web pages saturated with looping animations of spinning hamsters was born.

    Brought on – ironically – by their obsolescence the GIF has become the medium of choice for web artists, propagating their particular net-aesthetic through this free, open and kitschy medium. GIFs inhabit the space between convenience and abundance, where an apparent breakdown in communication can stimulate new modes of expressing non-sensuous similarities in the internet world.

    Sites like dump.fm, 4chan and ytmnd revel in the GIF’s ability to quickly correspond to the world. GIFs can be broken into their constituent frames, compressed and corrupted on purpose and made to act as archives for viral events travelling the web. A playground of correspondences that at first reflected language and the wider world, in time has looked increasingly inward. As language and writing find themselves pulled through and energised by the semiotic sludge of the broken, corrupted and iconic animated GIF Benjamin’s sensitivity to similitude continues to echo its magical significance.

    GIFs take a variety of forms, some of which I will try to classify here:

    GIF Type I: Classic


    Small in size and made up of few frames, this is where animated GIFs began. Corresponding to single words or concepts such as ‘smile’, ‘alien’ or ‘flying pink unicorn’.

    GIF Type II: Frame Capture




    Frame grab or video capture GIFs pay homage to well known scenes in pop culture. But as the ‘art’ of animated GIFs grew the frame capture began to stand for something isolated from context. This leap is, for me, the first point at which GIFs begin to co-ordinate their own realm of correspondence. An ocean of viral videos turned into a self-serving visual language, looping back on itself ad infinitum.

    GIF Type III: Art


    Leaking then directly into the third category, we have the Art GIF. Much larger in resolution and aware of their heritage in cinema, these GIFs are acutely refined in their choice of framing.

    GIF Type IV: Glitch


    A badly encoded or compressed GIF can result in odd, strangely beautiful phenomena, and with a little skill and coding ability these glitches can be enhanced to enormous proportions. Glitch GIFs break the boundaries of another non-sensuous realm: that of computer code. A significant magical order Benjamin was little capable of predicting.

    GIF Type V: Mash-Up


    Lastly, and perhaps most prolific, is the mash-up GIF. These GIFs are comprised of a combination of all the previous forms. The mash-up is THE most inner-looking species of GIF. It is possible to track the cultural development of some of these. Often though, the source of any original correspondence becomes completely lost in the play of images.

    other types:

    sci-tech/educational, geometric/texture, 3D renders, 8 bit inspired


    Here again, I think Benjamin’s essay can help us:

    “Language is the highest application of the mimetic faculty: a medium into which the earlier perceptive capabilities for recognising the similar had entered without residue, so that it is now language which represents the medium in which objects meet and enter into relationship with each other...”

    In other words, what these images MEAN I can’t tell you in words. But perhaps by showing you other GIFs I might go some way to helping you understand them.


     
    This paper was originally delivered at Birkbeck's, Flash Symposium, 24th May 2011
    It was also published on my website: MachineMachine.net

    GIFs sourced from...

    dump.fm: ryder, timb, ucnv / tumblr: iwdrm, maxcapacity / web: ryder ripps

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    Before the printed book there was the book as relic, the book as idol to knowledge. Those who could read dictated to the masses who could not. Books were material conduits to hidden, immaterial territories, placed out of reach of the proletariat – atop the holy pulpit or concealed within the labyrinthine catacombs of the private library – books were of the other, were unreachable.

    For a long time the book’s inaccessibility is what granted it an authority. Instances from the stream of time were made real once admitted to the pages of the book. The performed biblical enumeration was a creative act, forging the words of the Priest into a material truth which the audience could almost reach out and touch, almost but not quite. As Susan Stewart notes:

    “The book stands in tension with history, a tension reproduced in the microcosm of the book itself, where reading takes place in time across marks which have been made in space.” – On Longing, Page 22 – Duke University Press, 1993

    History was true, it had form because it was manifest in the pages of the book. This belief in the formative capacity of the book created a culture of desire. It was thus inevitable that the book, once given a symbolic new life by the ink of the printing press, would find its way into the hands of the masses.

    In time written language became the omnipresent signifier of freedom, of knowledge. The authority of the book was shifted to the word itself. If one could read, one had the authority only previously wielded by the few. Reading was a powerful gesture of self-realisation. The authority was now one’s own. This self resolving revolution came at a time of even greater existential resistance in the West. Martin Luther had placed the power of religion in the hands of the individual. Continental art was developing a fascination with the Earthly human not seen since the time of Aristotle. The book still had encoded within it the authority of the word, only now it was the individual who carried the means to crack that code. Access to the highest of truths was not a privilege, but a right. David Lodge:

    “Phenomena such as memory, the association of ideas in the mind, the causes of emotions and the individual’s sense of self, became of central importance to the speculative thinkers and writers of narrative literature alike... The silence and privacy of the reading experience afforded by books mimicked the silent privacy of individual consciousness.” – Consciousness and the Novel, Page 40 – Penguin Books, 2003

    The contents of the book became equivalent with the contents of consciousness. Words affected an inner space, twisted an internal narrative, were dictated by a clock that ticked in the mind of the reader. Books began to evolve. The novel is probably the most important of the forms which transpired. Its tendency to focus in on the mind or actions of a single individual gave readership an empathetic union with what was read. Where previously truth had been a feature of the world which stories reflected, now truth was an author’s prerogative. Stories in books were self-contained realities able to control the minds of their readers. Suddenly the authors of books were the bringers of authority, of authenticity. But not everyone agreed.

    Books were now seen as having such power over the individual that they could be banned, burned en-mass, wiped from history. All the major political, psychological and intellectual upheavals of the 20th Century came with their associated book, whether actively chosen or emerging in retrospect. And with the power of retrospect many claimed that books had foretold the World Wars, the rise (and fall) of Communism, the death of history, the death of the author - even the death of the book itself. Books from the past were re-examined via new theories, new technologies of the intellect. Marxist, Freudian, Post Modern... In a world where the individual ruled, books had become the ultimate artefacts of history. A new code emerged, one which an everyday reader would not necessarily understand. A book could not merely be read anymore, it must be examined under the most explicit of conditions in order to tease apart the infinite tangles of culture that had accumulated within it. In the latter half of the 20th Century a new view began to consume the academic establishment, that truth was a misnomer.

    Since that time many arguments have been fought over where true authenticity lies, and how to mediate the multiplicities that the book encompasses. In the past ten years or so it is the masses that have been given the privilege. The internet binds us together and explodes readership. For the first time in history the act of reading can be considered a truly communal experience. Web-entities such as Wikipedia and Blogger have allowed information and knowledge to authenticate itself. Cultural evolution can occur at the click of an 'edit' link, and if it doesn’t exist in the pages of Wikipedia, well, then it isn’t worth noting.

    But what now of the book? That tome of knowledge, of history, of somewhat questionable self-located truths? Once again the book is emerging as an idol, only this time to itself. As mass produced information slowly moves from the printed page to the computer screen, to hand-held digital-ink devices, so the value of the printed word will transmogrify. Books will re-assume an identity that revolves around their individuality rather than ours. Artists books, self-published limited prints, historically significant palimpsests – these are the books we will come to register our faith in. Books will no longer represent a simulacrum of the idea they encompass – as in the mass-produced paperback – instead they will act as archaeological signifiers to otherwise un-locatable pasts. The internet contains buried beneath its surface a copy of its previous selves. Browsing the ‘history’ section of any Wikipedia article is like projecting your perspective back a few edits. Take time to navigate through The Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine and pristine, perfect versions of internet history will find their way into the archived menus of your internet browser. The data we perceive in books is very different. Each copy of a book is different, it has a history beyond the content it attempts to justify. My copy of Gravity’s Rainbow is a microcosm of the journeys I have taken it on/it has taken me on. Particles splashed onto it from a Croatian sea shore, specks of my sandwich from Venice airport, pencil scribbles and every single word they circle in an order I defined as I sat and took in some of the words, misread others, allowed other still to fall through the sieve of my conscious mind into the unconscious well beneath.

    And books can be re-read in ways as yet inconceivable for the internet. Take The Archimedes Palimpsest for instance, a text of significance for its archaeological value as well as for the fresh insight it gives scholars into the mind and works of the ancient mathematician. Contained within its multiple, physical layers are histories that scientists have had to design new technological means to access. Shine a laser onto the calcified pages and beneath each a multi-verse of forms emerge, each layer needing to be decoded separately, each signifier spanning off into infinite possible meanings beyond. Books are crucial to our understanding of our place in time and space, because they are fundamentally composed of time and space. They carry with them the history of thought, of physical presence and of psychological evolution that created them, moved them forward and now sends them explosively back into their own pasts. To understand ourselves we need to understand our pasts, to understand our pasts we need to examine the artefacts we carry with us, which carry us forwards:

    Michael Shanks: A lot of people think that archaeology—archaeologists—discover the past. And that's only a tiny bit true. I think it's more accurate to say that they work on what remains. That may sometimes involve, absolutely, coming across stuff from the past—maybe a trilobite fossil, or a piece of Roman pottery... but the key thing about archaeology is that it works on what's left. And that makes of all of us, really, a kind of archaeologist. We're all archaeologists now, working on what's left of the past.

    ... as we explore this stuff, we figure out how to bring it forward, first into the present, through our interpretation of it...

    Lynn Hershmann Leeson: Exactly. Revitalize the past, inserting it into the present, which gives direction to its future.

    Michael Shanks: Yeah. Displacement is another key feature of this archaeological sensibility. What happens when old stuff—remains—are shirted into new associations...

    And, actually, this is what archaeological science has always offered—accounts of everyday life with which we can all identify and yet find uncanny. It may simply be a thumbprint upon an ancient pot that connects an inconsequential past moment with the present; it may be the evidence of the lives of those who built a place like Stonehenge. It is the archaeological focus on the everyday that many people find fascinating.

    Lynn Hershmann Leeson: Because these are the relics of ourselves.”

    – Archaeologist Michael Shanks in discussion with artist Lynn Hershman Leeson : Extract taken from Seed Magazine, October 2007


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    A couple of days ago I laid out a handful of perspectives in Part I of a Manifesto for the Forthcoming.

    Here is the follow-up to my philosophical manifesto for Space Collective:

    Part II

    Mythologies are More Powerful Than 'Truths':

    The human brain is a narrative machine. We compose our story of selfhood from the insistent, subjective tirade of experience; we order the activities and moralities of our tribe, our nation, our creed within grand narratives we call Religions. We do not just tell stories, we are stories, myths of perception strung out by narrative arcs which dip and peak as the events of our lives dip and peak.

    The ability to find meaning in that which is abstract tends from a similar inherent capacity. For millennia humans projected the universe as one domineered by unseen agents, whether the ancestors who played tricks on the townsfolk, or the God Thor who cast thunder from the heavens. These myths came into existence because they were explanatory, and they persisted for so long because we used them to realise the world around us. At the base of every myth is a natural or moral agency, dictated by physical laws and evolutionary processes we were inherently incapable of understanding. Because myths are explanatory in the form of a story, a narrative, then we remember them, we use language to pass them on and distort them over time, our brains run the codes of myth like an ancient computer algorithm which helps a coherent universe pop up on the surface of our conscious minds.

    Science is new. It explains things by reason, by experiment and by trial and error (often subjectively governed) judgement. The enlightenment may very well have brought into being a manner of thought which comes closer to 'truth' than any before it, but the scientific rationalism which emerged does not come naturally to our intellects. To see the world rationally is to overcome the innate narrative drive of the human brain. It is not difficult to find examples of our egocentric, innate understanding of the world:

    • Newtonian physics sees all things as in motion until otherwise acted upon: human caprice sees stationary objects that need acting upon in order to achieve motion.


    • Einsteinian physics sees time and dimension as being relative to the position and motion of an object: human caprice sees time and space as precisely identical from all perspectives.


    • Darwinian biology sees all organic entities as emergent from a process of blind chance, overseen by NO agent and dependant on nothing more than the most basic laws of physics and chemistry: human caprice sees humanity as a domineering force which can control its universe - from the same reasoning it also posits a higher agency than itself to explain its own existence.

    One of the main problems facing the scientific community of today is that the general populous finds no 'meaning' in its enterprise. There is, and never has been, a drive from the rational community to order their percepts in terms of narratives or myths. In fact, according to what I have just said, it may very well be impossible to do such a thing - science is about truth, not about meaning and most especially not about narrative meaning. It might very well be against rational enterprise to compose myth and/or narrative from reason.

    The current stand-off in America between the religiously inclined and the scientifically enabled is a result of this contradiction. If science, rationalism and 'Utopian Singularity Thinking' is ever to make a mark on the masses it MUST reorder itself into narrative forms which innate human capacities can find palatable. The Grand Narratives of Religion, in all their dangerous naivety (see here for more on this), have hold over the populace because they work with the human faculties of narrative and mythology. Ironically it is because of our evolution that the Theory of Evolution is unacceptable to so many minds.

    This MUST change if rational science is to persist.

    In short, any Forthcoming movement to which Space Collective ascribes, needs to develop a new kind of forward-looking narrative shaped mythology.

    Language Enfolds All:

    (Please read Wildcat's thoughtful post on Language as a prelude to this section)

    The reality we live in is one of meaning and perception. Metaphor is the ever shrinking event horizon within which lies the blackness of human comprehension.

    The language you speak can greatly affect the kind of world you perceive. For instance...

    Words in French, German and Spanish have a gender, that is they have either a male of female suffix. In English this seems peculiar, as all words appear to us neutral, but in words having a gender acute variations in the perceptions of native speakers of different languages emerge, thus:

    To test how this affects the way people think, she presented Spanish and German-speaking volunteers with nouns that happened to have opposite genders in their native tongues. "Key", for instance, is feminine in Spanish and masculine in German, and "bridge" is masculine in Spanish and feminine in German. Boroditsky asked the volunteers to come up with adjectives - in English - to describe these items. German speakers described keys as "awkward", "worn", "jagged" and "serrated", while Spanish speakers saw them as "little", "lovely", "magic" and "intricate". To Germans, bridges were "awesome", "beautiful", "fragile" and "elegant", whereas Spanish speakers considered them "big", "dangerous", "solid", "strong" and "sturdy"." - link

    Further still, the kind of language you speak can alter the very causality you perceive in the world around you, thus:

    ...the Algonquian family of languages.... have a wide variety of verb forms, while they lack the notion of dividing the world into categories of objects, such as "fish", "trees" or "birds".

    Take, for example, the phrase in the Montagnais language, Hipiskapigoka iagusit. In a 1729 dictionary, this was translated as "the magician/sorceror sings a sick man". According to Alan Ford, an expert in the Algonquian languages at the University of Montreal, Canada, this deeply distorts the nature of the thinking processes of the Montagnais people, for the translator had tried to transform a verb-based concept into a European language dominated by nouns and object categories. Rather than there being a medicine person who is doing something to a sick patient, there is an activity of singing, a process. In this world view, songs are alive, singing is going on, and within the process is a medicine person and a sick man.

    The world view of Algonquian speakers is of flux and change, of objects emerging and folding back into the flux of the world. There is not the same sense of fixed identity - even a person's name will change during their life. They believe that objects will vanish into this flux unless renewed by periodic rituals or the pipe smoked at sunrise in the sun dance ceremony of the Lakota and Blackfoot. - link

    It is as if different languages emerged from, or manifest, completely different realities. Could it be the case that in order to comprehend the universe better we must learn to accept all the realities these languages convey? Perhaps the ultimate language would be a conglomeration of all currently spoken (and even extinct) world languages - perspective is above perception...


    More on this Manifesto to come very soon....
    In the meantime, please click embedded links for more reading
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    Infinity defies absolute definition. Perception of the infinite, for anything other than a mind which is itself infinitely composed, is an oxymoron. And yet, in historical conceptions of the infinite, or at least the imperceptibly extended, can be found abstract tools by which to better comprehend the very nature of thought, and thus reality itself.

    The idea of infinity can lead you to grasp the mind of God.

    Let me show you:

    In Islamic tradition:

    When Mahomet was transported to heaven, he says: I saw there an angel, the most gigantic of all created beings. It had 70,000 heads, each had 70,000 faces, each face had 70,000 mouths, each mouth had 70,000 tongues, and each tongue spoke 70,000 languages; all were employed in singing God's praises.

    This would make more than 31,000 trillion languages, and nearly five billion mouths. - link

    In Hindu tradition:
    A kalpa consists of a period of 1,728,000 solar years called Adi Sandhi, followed by 14 manvantaras and Sandhi Kalas...

    Thus a day of Brahma, kalpa, is of duration: 4.32 billion solar years.

    Two kalpas constitute a day and night of Brahma; the life cycle of Brahma is one hundred years of Brahma, or 311 trillion years. We are currently in the 51st year of the present Brahma and so about 155 trillion years have elapsed since He took over as Brahma. - link

    I find these mythologies fascinating because of the way they manipulate the schema of infinity (or the excruciatingly large) to evoke a sense of awe. What is telling here, and in more familiar concepts such as the omnipotent, omniscient Judaeo-Christian God, is how the human mind absolves itself from ever accessing these infinities whilst at the same time invoking that sense of awe as reason to believe in the infinite:

    By the name God I understand a substance that is infinite (eternal, immutable,) independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself and everything else, if anything else does exist, have been created. Now all these characteristics are such that the more diligently I attend to them, the less do they appear capable of proceeding from me alone; hence, ... we must conclude that God necessarily exists.

    - Rene Descartes, Meditations

    The logical error here rests on the premise that Descartes is capable of attaining access to 'God's perfect form'. The very idea of infinity, or breadth therein contained, is nothing but a schematic simulacrum of the true form of infinity. The mind IS NOT capable of perceiving the infinite, yet I think in conjunction with semiotics a clearer path to infinity can be reached.

    In this perceived moment, itself a composite whole made of an infinite number of infinitesimal components, there is the potential in your consciousness for an infinite number of conciliations to occur. The universe of form is, in mind, schematic and transitory. It is the method by which form is assimilated into mental schema which manifests the universe so true. The infinite universe infinitely schematised:

    [An] aspect of consciousness I wish to mention here is modeled upon a behavioral process common to most mammals. It really springs from simple recognition, where a slightly ambiguous perceived object is made to conform to some previously learned schema, an automatic process sometimes called assimilation. We assimilate a new stimulus into our conception or schema about it, even though it is slightly different. Since we never from moment to moment see or hear or touch things in exactly the same way, this process of assimilation into previous experience is going on all the time as we perceive our world. We are putting things together in recognizable objects on the basis of the previously learned schemes we have of them...

    - Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness...

    In this conception of consciously formed reality finite limits on the nature of our schema halt the further assimilation of external stimulus. Thus all subjective representations of the objective universe can only ever go part of the way to attaining a true tautology of semblance. In a universe of varying types of consciousness, as evolved in the various central nervous systems on this planet, this problem of semblance can be some way overcome. Distinct consciousnesses will form different schema to represent the same stimulus. The universe is better realised in many consciousnesses, of which perhaps an infinite variety have the capacity to exist:

    Consciousness is "a holistic emergent property of the interaction of neurons which has the power to be self-reflective and ascertain its own awareness"

    - Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness

    I am still left wondering about true infinity, at least that which consciousness can attain. What would be the nature of a stimulus which had the capacity to assimilate an endless variety of schema? Or alternatively, is there such thing as a mental construct, a concept, which has no limit to the stimulus it can assimilate? Perhaps the mind of God is capable in its imagined brevity to perceive every objective truth from an infinity of angles. In fact, this need necessarily be the case for any infinitely capable being, such as God. To this kind of consciousness even the proverbial dog shit you carry around on your shoes has an infinite number of ways it can be perceived.

    Further still, I was lead into thought on matters of entropy (not least because of this forum post). The black-hole is nature's favourite point of infinity. All data in the universe, once subsumed by the awesome gravity of the black-hole, would come to be represented at a singular point of infinitesimal breadth; a singularity. The mind of God may be such an entity, for in its infinite density of assimilative capacity the only form it could take is that of a singularity.

    Not only is a black-hole, and now perhaps the mind of God, a singularity of infinite density, so too was the very universe we now reside in at the momentary point when nothing became everything: the big-bang:

    If the singularity at the centre of a black hole lies in the future, representing a final state, the singularity of a white hole lies in the past, as a beginning, as in the big bang. So if our universe is a white hole, the big question is: is there a black hole universe on the other side of the big bang?

    - Mikio Kaku, Parallel Worlds

    Or perhaps (to assimilate both mine and Kaku's concepts into one, infinitely schematised entity) the mind of God itself exists on the other side of this universe. A mind so dense in assimilatory power that all concepts, all datum, all matter and entropically governed consciousness converge at a point only to be spewed majesically out the other side, into this reality.

    The conscious mind is a schematic canvas on which subjective reality is being painted by the infinite, yet unattainable, idea of God. The cyclical power of assimilation, of consciousness, or self-reflexion should not be overlooked, because in the evolved mind of all conscious beings everywhere the idea of infinity, and the God-Simulacrum therein made prisoner, reorders reality such that it can reflect upon itself. Infinity is coming to perceive itself through us. All minds are infinite, my schema tell me so...

    (This article was originally posted on my site, The Huge Entity)

    See also:

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