Friday, 5 May 2017

Justin Cronin : The City of Mirrors.

The "City of Mirrors" (2016) is the conclusion to Justin Cronin's "Passage" trilogy and as chapter 14 begins, "behind every great hatred is a love story" it introduces the main antagonist, Timothy Flanning, named Subject Zero using a first perspective flow of consciousness narrative. In this narrative Cronin presents Timothy Flanning's experiences of  University, which feature an outsiders view of lives of privilege and in my opinion he gets the character of Lucessi down just right, right down to the toothpaste. My reading tends to be limited but I try to describe parallels to the small amount of classic literature I have read, Justin Cronin spends paragraphs dwelling on individual consciousness and the constitution of crowds and what constitutes life in a comparable way to Victor Hugo when dwelling on the consciousness of individuals and crowds in "Les Miserables" (1862).

There are scenes of the vast scope of consciousness and creeping scenes of horror that to me evoke Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (1897), except they are placed in the sunny daylight of a Texas "western" country town. It has the Bram Stoker's obsession with technology, the source of the protagonists strength and weaknesses, agency through technology and the pragmatic solutions that their technology enables. This is significant because the technology and infrastructure are evidence of the social progress and stagnation of the protagonists communities and how the communities solve their issues, which becomes of strategic importance. The protagonists are the main objects of attention and are shown in the setting of immediately after the conclusion of the second book, "The Twelve" (2012) and two decades later as the protagonists societies evolve, adapt and decay. By this way Chronin seems to dwell on the question, what makes communities function?

His description of a crowd in chapter 72 is particularly vivid and echoes with the experience of the modern world, as it is meant to probably.

"As a body they were a statisticians dream, a perfect representative  sampling of the inhabitants of the Great North American Empire. They came from farms and small towns, faceless suburbs and sprawling metropolises, they were every colour and creed, they lived in trailers, houses, apartments, mansions with views of the sea. In their human states, each had occupied a discrete and private self.
They had hoped, hated, loved, suffered, sung and wept. They had known loss. They had surrounded and comforted theselves with objects. They had driven automobiles. They had walked dogs and pushed children on swings and waited in line at the grocery store.
They had said stupid things. They had kept secrets, nurtured grudges, blown upon the embers of regret. They had worshipped a variety of gods or no god at all.
They had awaked in the night to the sound of rain. They had apologized. They had attended various ceremonies. They had explained the history of themselves to psychologists, priests, lovers and strangers in bars. They had, at unexpected moments, experienced bolts of joy so unalloyed, so untethered to events, that they seemed to come from above, they had longed to be known and sometimes were.".

The cadence and alliteration is just great.

The epilogue is satisfying, although I would have preferred hand drawn instead of  modified photoshop images, as a kind of archaeology, I guess. They give it a sense of ecological cycle and the biblical references and structures are pretty obvious and a nice touch.

In all likelihood, I probably picked up "The Twelve" (2012), the first book I read of the trilogy, the second book in the trilogy, before going back to the first book, "The Passage" (2010), looking for a survival story in an apocalyptic setting, but I've stayed with the trilogy because of the scope, mysticism and psychology. I like it when novels I read surprise me, ah, in pleasant ways? I guess.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Found Lars Bronworth's web page "Finding History". It has a lot of interestings digressions including the source for the European term for the Eastern Roman Empire, "Byzantine". Apparently in  1557 Hieronymus Wolf, situated in then the "Holy Roman Empire" published a history of the medieval Greek world that described the then defunct Eastern Roman Empire as "Byzantine". 

Friday, 31 March 2017

Anthropology Lectures from Robert Sapolski (2011).

14 On the Limbic System
Presented by Robert Sapolski, April 30th 2010. Published February 2011.

Projections dependant on primary sensory apparatus of species, Rhinencephalon of mice, Antonio Damasio "Decarte's Error", James Papez & medial limbic circuit. Ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens and frontal cortex, anteror cingulate part of cortex classified as part of limbic system, impulse control, myelinated in the 20's. Fimbria fornix, medial forebrain bundle.

Example of evolution, Pyramidal system vs extrapyramidal system for independant finger bending.
Tools associated with understanding the limbic system. Issues  of discovery of nuclei vs pathway.
Dopamine stimulating the pursuit of pleasure. Ventral medial hypothalamus, medial preoptic area and gender differences in size. Lateral hypothamus associated with hunger, historically was confused with aggression due to species specific behaviour. Adrenaline Shackhtar experiment on epinephrine role in emotion, epinephrine modulates (increases) the intensity of emotion. Role of autonomic nervous system, biofeedback to limbic system, meditation.

12 On the Endocrine System.
Presented by William Peterson and Tom McFadden, April 2010. Published February 2011.

Sapolski in his lectures keeps talking about Vasopressin in terms of priarie vole neurological signalling, which suggests it may have a role in pair bonding. Wikipedia suggests it has a role in pair bonding, sexual behaviour and maternal responses to stress (as an analgesic). Vasopressin has important functions in homeostasis, regulating blood pressure through artereole contraction and water reabsorbtion by the kidneys, ultimately increasing blood pressure. Focus on hypothalamic, anterior pituary  and adrenal gland axis. Role of corticotropin releasing hormone, cortisol, positive and negative feedback.

13 Advanced Neurology and Endocrinology.
Presented by Sapolski Robert (2010). Published February 2011.

The follow up lecture to 12 on the Endocrine System. Disproving Dales laws, subtle functioning of neurons, wave of excitation from different andretic spins can be blocked and flow shunted, suggests all sorts of regulation of branch points, not simple action potential and release of synaptic. neurotransmitters. Discusses anterior pituitary hormones, presence of neighborhoods within cells in anterior pituitary, multiple hormone release on the basis of cells, "neighborhoods".  Produces different activity profiles for groups of hormones.. Autosynaptic receptors have a book keeping function.

On Language
Presented by Robert Sapolski, May 21st 2010. Published February 2011.

Notes : Language use is lateralized. Broca's area is associated with language creation,  Wernickes area, language comprehension, with impairment get word salad. Arcuate fasciculus, a bundle, set of projections, axons that connects Broca's area with Wernicke's area. Sign language uses the same areas, same cognitive structures as spoken language. Right hemisphere, body posture, tone, facial expression, comprehension. Hand gestures, without visual communication are tied to motoric output through basal ganglia.

Look at ethnology. Attempts at peer influence chimpanzee language acquisition, Donald & Gua, flawed because chimpanzees don't have human vocal anatomy. Afterwards teach sign language, Chimpanzee Washoe acquired 150 signs. Washoe would sign her cognition. First sentence said between two chimpanzees "Tickle me".  Koko the gorilla, reported dreams, gossip, lie. Example of lie, Koko eats an indoor pot plant, is asked "where is the plant?" says "Bill ate the plant", told  "Humans don't eat plants", replies "Some other gorilla".

Herb Terrace (1980), wanted to disprove Noam Chompsy, named chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky. Terrace starts to argue chimpanzee not learning language, asks what are they producing? Nim not using word order, not inventing words, more words in string more meaning associated with it. Utterances not spontaneous. 1983 Terrace vs Penny Patterson. Issue absence of concrete data. Enabling Koko. No word order, not spontaneous. Messy conflict. Takes down field.

Bonobo chimp named Kanzi, doing data analysis, using embedded clauses, if then, logical progression, analogy, spontaneous, mistakes are within semantic categories. Remains only real hope for that field.

The Uniqueness of Humans Class Day Lecture 2009.
Presented by Robert Sapolski, (2009).  Published April 11, 2014

Theories : Aggession, Theory of Mind, The Golden Rule, Empathy, Culture.

Describes dopamine as focusing goal directed behaviour, an anticipation of a reward.

Why should I be nice? Game Theory- Sapolsky's abridged Stanford Behavioural Biology 2.
Presented by Robert Sapolski.  Published December 24th, 2013.
 (Someone's Christmas  Eve was used productively).

Game theory, tit for tat, signal error, trust strategies and Pavlov exploitation. Daniel Ellsberg.
Ethnological examples, vampire bats have a reciprocal altruist system. Ethnology, behaviour of Stickle Back fish and Naked Moles, closest amongst mammals to insect hives, cooperative colonies.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic , 22nd of March 2017, on Frederick Nietzche.

Found it after watching a documentary on Friedrich Nietzsche, by Bettany Hughes, published October 2016. The documentary suggests that one of the reasons Nietzche did not publish a follow up to his books was that he was aware that his books led to conclusions that were problematic, to quote "recognized the flaw in his reasoning" (Hughes 2016). Also details the ways his work was used to legitimate ideological and political objectives of the German National Socialist Party during the 1930's & 1940's.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Documentary & Lectures watched on Youtube.

When does entertainment become education? Well, anyway..

Buster Keaton movies covered by "Every frame a picture".

Buster Keaton is held to be one of the seminal sources of visual comedy, often referenced. His deadpan character, wears early twentieth century clothing that still looks quite modern. The subjects he covers are probably eternal with human nature.

Buster Keaton

Short-Term politics versus Long-Term Returns - Lessons From History.

The speaker Mark Blyth, Published on the 6th September 2016, chaired by Michael Strachan.

A charismatic speaker, Mark Blyth gets asked his opinion on the outcome for the 2016 American Presidential Election. He gives Donald Trump a 60% chance on the basis of the types of narratives and experiences the two major nominees are appealing to.

Notes : Contemporary issue in a Democracy with sustained deflation, there is creditor loss, value of debt goes up, collection goes down, wages go down. Comments about narratives (power of self understanding & narrative, motivation), definitions of a bubble (income streams cannot support asset values, but income streams can be hidden) and the importance of rule of law and asset security. Comments at end with a query about the stability of an authoritarian government (re China) and its reaction to economic issues.

David Harvey Lecture 6: Bad Infinity and the Madness of Economic Reason.

From David Harvey Lecture 6, Published on the 9th of December 2016, part of a series of lectures presented by the Heyman Centre for the Humanities.

David Harvey provides a narrative to interprete contemporary economic crisis (lack of growth), discussing the way debt finance is used to create value, he provides historical analogies. Of course metanarratives should be typically regarded with suspicion but I find his points interesting.

Notes : Discusses the role of China in the 2007- 2008 recession and the question of debt finance creating increased value. He makes transparent analogies of current economic projects with the public works projects of Louis Bonapart and the financial crisis of 1867 -1868. He then makes another analogy to American Post WWII suburbanisation and the integration of different economic areas through highways to illustrate issues associated with absorbing surpluses of labour and capital.

Issue of consumption vs productive consumption. Compound growth in use value has limits. Only money can increase in compound, capital taking money form, expanding at compound rate, producing an excessive degree of inflation. Discusses a need to transform wants, needs and desires that match real lifestyles. Debt needs to be redeemed to avoid financial crisis, thus the creation of a lifestyle that allows the redeeming of debt,  associated with social control. Social control very tightly bound to redemption of debt. Future already foreclosed upon. This is the world in which we must adapt.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

House of Many Doors (2017) was written by Harry Tuffs, with art by Catherine Ung and music by Zach Beever and had received funding from a Kickstarter campaign. By now the initial media attention has died down and moved on to other objects of hype and typically months later I finally got around to playing it after the alpha, various updates and patches. It is heavy in style and involves reading a lot of text, with an experience mechanic that involves writing poetry, which means it is relatively dense in ideas, which is just great. But not necessarily everyone's cup of tea.

Its premise is that The House is a parasite dimension that takes or has other worlds breaking through, to me the name evokes claustrophobia. The setting is able to approach various genre, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, through the lens of the culture of a mystical Victorian England, think deliberately or unconsciously evoking Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland with postmodern cynicism about the contemporary and historical assumptions of the setting. Thus you have scenes where a shell shocked soldier, from a world being invaded by "things from the skies", has had his platoon hit by a missile, somehow wound up in The House and is convinced that he is dead and in hell, is talking to a Victorian era captain of a giant mechanical centipede, and the writing conveys the conventional impressions of the limits of the Victorian mindset.

It took me several attempts to learn the basic mechanics, a kind of centipede game that ratchets up tension and uses a separate tactical combat game for fight sequences, it is easy to die, even on the "Enjoyable" setting (post hoc: by now I've built up the centipede and mastered most of the mechanics). Fortunately the game automatically saves when you reach a city, there were some bugs initially, but the automatic save managed to alleviate my irritation. The map is organized in a grid like pattern with recurring setting appropriate objects with interspersed cities occupying a grid, each city evokes a particular theme, such as City of Knives, City of Masks, Eld Abrahat etc. I am unsure of its relationship to Sunless Seas by Failbetter, which apparently supplied funding, offices and advice, but I suspect the heavy text, foreboding and mystical setting for both may be traced in a lineage to the literary nonsense genre, heavy on symbolism. There is a lot of dark humour in the writing, the music conveys mood, changing the deeper you go into The House and there are auditory sound effects when the characters sanity decreases. I quite like how there is a sense of depth and distance the further from the City of Keys you go, when I was reading Emily Short's blog there were references to  "Fine" and "Smiling" statuses for the sanity indicator, I haven't seen that yet, perhaps that was changed for ease of comprehension.

Because this is a role playing game there is an experience and stat mechanic, each upper deck crew member (a character with a picture) represents a particular skill, you acquire "apprehensions" that you spend to increase the stat represented by each particular upper deck crew member (to the right of the picture). In terms of the narrative, this represents a captain walking around his vessel reminding or assisting his officers to do their job, I have associations with this in my little world. When I initially started playing I kept on trying to find the captain's stat sheet, it is a little different conceptually from the normal character avatar in most RPGs but it kind of gels with a perceived crew narrative. By now there is a wiki which is useful for answering basic questions and finding locations to trade resources.

Yes the Record Keeper is an accountant shark wearing a suit.

The crew of the vessel you have in the combat game occupy particular roles including engineer, medic and gunner, and so far having the medic heal the crew during combat seems to be the best way to heal injury acquired through the narrative as well as combat damage. Both upper deck and lower deck crew members (think red shirts) have their own name in the combat screen, which is a nice touch, and the upper deck crew can be romanced in a limited way, mostly to some comic effect which produces classes of experience, which are represented as objects (there is a joke in the game about how experience can be commodified) which can be used to write poetry or spent to achieve narrative concerns.

Romance as a comedy

I think in a way the writing of poetry in the game may be tied to the gradual processing of experience, which is possibly one of the cognitive benefits of poetry, why people did (or do) it as a form of self expression. But, um, don't worry, I'm not going to start dashing out poetry and inflicting it on people. I was told my attempts were quite dreadful.

Hm, where did I put it? and what rhymes with thesaurus? ...

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Plague by Albert Camus (1947).

It can ostensibly be interpreted as a narrative of an epidemic slowly overtaking the French city of Oran, set in the middle of the twentieth century, the characters describe microscopes and the patients being treated by the lancing of buboes, injections of camphor and a serum, that to me sounds like a vaccine, but the details are sparse. No mention is made of antibiotics, the city enacts a cordon sanitaire and the bacillus causing the plague in my mind is Yersinia pestis.

Much has been written about this novel, the author Albert Camus wrote about the absence of inherent value and meaning and was part of the cultural milieu of Jean-Paul Satre and apparently follows the work of Soren Kierkegaard.

I have read English translations of Jean-Paul Satre but not Soren Kierkegaard, but at the time of reading "The Plague", I was approaching it more from the descriptions of the characters and the social situation, although the indifference of the plaque to human morality is a theme of the novel and the way Albert Camus describes and treats his characters, is consistent with his Absurdist philosophy and I was aware of the interpretive approach that the novel was built on experiences and perceived issues close to the general French experience of the German occupation of France during World War II (Vulliamy, 2015). I would need to read articles on the subject to check the validity of this opinion really.

One issue that gets mentioned is the role of women in the novel, woman characters in the novel tend to be mothers, carers, shopkeepers or as part of a "couple" but are not described as occupying official roles in the society described in the novel. I am not someone who should really have opinions about contemporary French society let alone French society during the twentieth century, but prior to reading this novel I had seen a lot of silver screen movies from the 1930's to 1960's and thus as I was reading this novel I was picturing it in a kind of film noir setting and there wasn't that much dissonance. I suspect that this was because the author wasn't concerned about this issue that we observe from our contemporary perspective and was probably writing in a way consistent for its time and place.

  • Vulliamy, Ed. (2015). Albert Camus' The Plague: a story for our, and all, times. From the 5th of January, The Guardian. @