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From an interview with Hari Kunzru in The Observer

“I’m interested in the unknown and the unknowable and the role they have in our understanding,” says Kunzru. And perhaps how irrationalism and faith thrive in such conditions. Throughout he seems to be arguing that the quest for meaning is a human projection on to the void. In a novelistic echo of the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, Kunzru suggests that religion – especially Christianity – is best understood as a projection of human longing.

Cue intriguing gnostic confabulation. From the entry on The Holographic Principle on wikipedia

In a larger and more speculative sense, the theory suggests that the entire universe can be seen as a two-dimensional information structure “painted” on the cosmological horizon, such that the three dimensions we observe are only an effective description at macroscopic scales and at low energies.

Which might make one think of The Barbelith. One of the central characters in Hari’s novel is a ‘contactee’ called ‘Schmidt’

“Kunzru’s almost self-defeatingly ambitious fourth novel is about the human quest for transcendence – not just encountering big-brained Venusians, but the hope of finding a thing that sometimes goes by the name of God.”

Deserts and the ‘immense’ feature in “Gods Without Men” – In the interview, Hari talks about the role of the desert and vision-quests. That we’ve tended to find ourselves there looking for things painted on the cosmological horizon.

Which physics seems to think might just be us.

But, before we get carried away Dr. Jonathan Miller reminds

“The cosmos is a deeply dangerous thing to think about – into it, vacant minds expand…”

And I’m reminded again, of a Giles Foden article from 2002 about the links between Al-Qaida and Asimov’s Foundation. In it, Foden quotes Kunzru’s fellow Wired UK 1.0 alumnus Oliver Morton, in turn quoting Gaston Bachelard:

…the space opera sub-genre of science fiction offers the possibility of a massive expansion of self-mythologising will-to-power. In a 1999 New Yorker article on galactic empires, Oliver Morton beamed up French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, author of The Poetics of Space, to explain all this: “Immensity is a philosophical category of daydream. Daydream undoubtedly feeds on all kinds of sights, but through a sort of natural inclination, it contemplates grandeur. And this contemplation produces an attitude that is so special, an inner state that is so unlike any other, that the daydream transports the dreamer outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity.”

Back to the interview, and following on themes from Curtis’ “Machines of Loving Grace”:

“In the middle of all these storylines, Kunzru finds a way of working in the financial meltdown as Jaz’s Wall Street wheeler dealing goes hideously awry. Kunzru is torn about speculative finance, finding it intellectually thrilling and socially disgusting. “I think how the high priests of abstraction work is fascinating. I’m really interested, for instance, in a postwar Wall Street speculator called WD Gann who used astrological techniques. The idea of predicting and controlling is quixotic. It’s all about the will to believe.”

Especially when confronted with the immense…

From “What Technology Wants” by Kevin Kelly:

Listen to the technology, Carver Mead says. What do the curves say? Imagine it is 1965. You’ve seen the curves Gordon Moore discovered. What if you believed the story they were trying to tell us: that each year, as sure as winter follows summer and as day follows night, computers would get half again better, and half again smaller, and half again cheaper, year after year, and that in 5 decades they would be 30 million times more powerful than they were then. (This is what happened.) If you were sure of that in 1965, or even mostly persuaded, what good fortune you could have harvested! You would have needed no other prophecies, no other predictions, no other details to optimize the coming benefits. As a society, if we just believed that single trajectory of Moore’s, and none other, we would have educated differently, invested differently, prepared more wisely to grasp the amazing powers it would sprout.

30 million times more capable. This is what happened. Worth remembering.

Geeta Dayal’s book on in the 33.3 series is a bit slight, and doesn’t really go into the depth one would want about the record, but it is full of lovely Eno quotes, which is mainly what I dwelt on.

Page 3:

“Over the years, Eno has generally preferred to make records that exist On Land, not in space. Instead of propelling us into far-flung galaxies, his music coaxes us to reconsider our everyday surroundings”

Page 6

“”I was thinking about escaping,” Eno recalled to Ian McDonald in the NME two years after making the album, in 1977. “I read a science fiction story a long time ago where these people are exploring space and they finally find this habitable planet – and it turns out to be identical to Earth in every detail. And I thought that was the supreme irony: that they’d originally left to find something better and arrived in the end – which was actually the same place. Which is how I feel about myself. I’m always trying to project myself at a tangent and always seem eventually to arrive back at the same place. It’s a loop.
You can’t actually escape.”

Page 11 (lyrics to “The Seven Deadly Finns”)

Although variety is the spice of life
A steady rhythm is the source
Simplicity is the crucial thing
Systematically of course
(work it all out like Norbert Weiner)

Page 15 (on Roy Ascott‘s leadership of Ipswich Art College)

“We were set project that we could not understand, criticised on bases that we did not even recognise as relevant”

Page 23, Artist Judy Nylon

“Sometimes not having enough money is good, because you don’t end up throwing a million dollars at a five-cent idea.”

Page 27, from Stafford Beer‘s “The brain of the firm

“instead of trying to specify it in full detail, you specify it only somewhat. You then ride on the dynamics of the system in the direction you want to go.”

Page 31

“Everyone thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head – they somehow formed in his head – and all he had to do was write them down, and they would kind of be manifest to the world. But what I think is so interesting, and what would really be a lesson that everybody should learn, is that things come out of nothing. Things evolve out of nothing. You know, that the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest. And then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. And I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives that that’s how things work.

If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted – they have these wonderful things in their head but you’re not one of them, you’re just a normal sort of person, you could never do anything like that – then you live a different kind of life. You could have another kind of like, where you say, well, I know that things come from nothing very much and start from unpromising beginnings. And I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something.”

Page 48

Eno’s playfulness in the studio was key. “My quick guide to Captain Eno: play, instinct/intuition, good taste,” wrote Robert Fripp in an e-mail. “Eno demonstrated his intelligence by concentrating his interests away from live work; and his work persists, and continues to have influence. The key to Brian, from my view, is his sense of play. I only know one other person (a musician) who engages with play to the same extent as Brian. Although Eno is considered an intellectual, and clearly he has more than sufficient wit, it’s Brian’s instinctive and intuitive choices that impress me. Instinct puts us in the moment, intellect is slower”

Page 50

Eno mixed it up in the studio at around the time of Another Green World in other ways. “Sometimes you’d be into something really intense, you’d be working on a piece of music and discussing it, and then he’d say ‘Anybody want some cake?'” said Percy Jones. “Eno would pull out a cake and he cut up slices of cake, and everyone would eat some cake, and then we’d forget about all the creative process!”

Really, really enjoyed this. First of KSR’s books I’ve read – arrived on my radar as I was finishing my talk on Time, and it’s a lovely meditation on time, science and humanity. Recommended.

Galileo’s Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson)
– Highlight Loc. 1497-1502 | Added on Tuesday, January 05, 2010, 08:33 AM

“Materials and power available are terrifically advanced compared to your time. And there is a principle called redundancy at the criticalities, do you know this term? Replacement systems are available in case of failures. Bad things still sometimes happen. But there you are. They do anywhere.’ ‘But on Earth,’ Galileo objected, ‘on Earth, in the open air, the things you make don’t have to work for you to survive.’ ‘Don’t they? Your clothing, your language, your weapons? They all have to work for you to stay alive, right? We are poor forked worms in this world. Only our technologies, and our teamwork, allow us to survive.’”

Galileo’s Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson)
– Highlight Loc. 2182 | Added on Thursday, January 07, 2010, 11:24 PM

“analepsis”

Galileo’s Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson)
– Highlight Loc. 3535-38 | Added on Thursday, January 21, 2010, 08:48 AM

“Humans sensed only a small part of reality. They were as worms in the earth, comfortable and warm. If God had not given them reason, they would not by their senses know even a minim of the whole. As it was, however, by the cumulative work of thousands of people, humanity had slowly and painfully built a picture of the cosmos beyond what they could see; and then had found ways to use that knowledge, and move around in the cosmos.”

Galileo’s Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson)
– Highlight Loc. 3676-82 | Added on Thursday, January 21, 2010, 08:49 AM

The present is a three-way interference pattern.’ ‘Like chips of sunlight on water. Lots of them at once, or almost at once.’ ‘Yes, potential moments, that wink into being when the three waves peak. The vector nature of the manifold also accounts for many of the temporal effects we experience, like entropy, action at a distance, temporal waves and their resonance and interference effects, and of course quantum entanglement and bilocation, which you yourself are experiencing because of the technology that was developed to move epileptically. In terms of what we sense, fluctuations in this manifold also account for most of our dreams, as well as less common sensations like involuntary memory, foresight, déjà vu, presque vu, jamais vu, nostalgia, precognition, Ruckgriffe, Schwanung, paralipomenon, mystical union with the eternal or the One, and so on.’

Galileo’s Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson)
– Highlight Loc. 4853-57 | Added on Sunday, January 31, 2010, 11:07 PM

“Really there was nothing but asynchronous anachronism. Time was a manifold full of exclusions and resurrections, fragments and the spaces between fragments, eclipses and epilepsies, isotopies all superposed on each other and interweaving in an anarchic vibrating tapestry, and since to relive it at one point was not to relive it at another, the whole was unreadable, permanently beyond the mind. The present was a laminate event, and obviously the isotopies could detach from each other, slightly or greatly. He was caught in a mere splinter of the whole, no matter how entangled with the rest of it.”

Galileo’s Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson)
– Highlight Loc. 4870-72 | Added on Sunday, January 31, 2010, 11:17 PM

But in the garden he would sit still, and think. It was possible, there, to collapse all the potentialities to a single present. This moment had a long duration. Such a blessing; he could feel it in his body, in the sun and air and earth sustaining him. Blue sky overhead-it was the part of the rainbow that was always visible, stretching all the way across the dome of sky.

Galileo’s Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson)
– Highlight Loc. 8926-40 | Added on Tuesday, March 09, 2010, 09:59 AM

“Reality is always partly a creation of the observing consciousness. So I’ve said what I like; and I knew him well enough to think I got it mostly right. I know he was like us, always looking out for himself; and unlike us, in that he acted, while we often lack the courage to act. I wrote this for Hera, but no matter what time you are in when you read it, I’m sure that the history you tell yourself is still a tale of mangled potentiality, of unnecessary misery. That’s just the way it is. In all times people are greatly lacking in courage. But sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they keep trying. This too is history. We are all history-the hopes of people in the past, the past of some future people-known to them, judged by them, changed by them as they use us. So the story keeps changing, all of it. This too I’ve seen, and so I persist. I hope without hope. At some point the inclined plane can bottom out and the ball begin to rise. That’s what science is trying to do. So far it hasn’t worked, the story has been ugly, stupid, shameful, sure; but that can change. It can always change. Because understand: once I saw Galileo burned at the stake; then I saw him squeak his way clear. You have to imagine how that feels. It makes you have to try. And so when sometimes you feel strange, when a pang tugs you or it seems like the moment has already happened-or when you look up in the sky and are surprised by the sight of bright Jupiter between clouds, and everything suddenly seems stuffed with a vast significance-consider that some other person somewhere is entangled with you in time, and is trying to give some push to the situation, some little help to make things better. Then put your shoulder to whatever wheel you have at hand, whatever moment you’re in, and push too! Push like Galileo pushed! And together we may crab sideways toward the good.”

Scan20002.jpg

Recently, I wrote a guest post for the science-fiction blog io9.com, for their feature on “Future Metro”, entitled “The city is a battlesuit for surviving the future”.

It referred to a talk I’d given at Webstock covering similar territory – and both the talk and the post featured images from the Usbourne book “The World of the Future: Future Cities” by Kenneth Gatland and David Jefferis.

Tom Coates shared those images with me as we reminisced about the book – and the influence it had on us during our formative years.

Many other people of my generation have remarked on it and other books in the series looking at future engineering and technology as being early inspirations.

Imagine my surprise when one of the authors of this ur-object showed up in the comments of my io9 piece – and my dismay as he – very politely – complained about a lack of credit.

David – my apologies.

It was remiss of me not to credit the image, and also not to fully acknowledge the impact your book had on me when I was young. Thank you very much for your work, and thank you for taking the time to comment on my writing. I hope posting this helps make up for that.

David is still writing on science, engineering and technology – and running a couple of sites that are still right up my street: Starcruzer and Scale Model News – the latter with childhood hero and total mind-gangster Mat Irvine!

Irvine used to create special effects for Dr Who and Blakes’ 7, then come on Saturday morning kids tv shows to tell you how you could do exactly the same with your pocket money that afternoon.

He was an early DIY/Maker culture hero – but that’s for another blog post…


Kenfig Nature Reserve, originally uploaded by moleitau.

“‘Culture!’ Vergil said, peering around the kitchen wall at me. I said good-bye and hung up the phone. ‘They’re always swimming in that bath of information. Contributing to it. It’s a kind of gestalt thing, whatever. The hierarchy is absolute. They send tailored phages after cells that don’t interact properly. Viruses specified to individuals or groups. No escape. One gets pierced by the virus, the cell blebs outward, it explodes and dissolves. But it’s not a dictatorship, I think they effectively have more freedom than in a democracy. I mean, they vary so differently from individual to individual. Does that make sense? They vary in different ways than we do.'”

Blood Music, Greg Bear.

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