Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Shadow of What Was Lost. By James Islington.

Currently (18.6) reading a fantasy written by an Australian Author, James Islington's "The Shadow of What Was Lost", all in capital letters according to the book cover, the first book of a trilogy. I picked it up because of the marketing features, the evocative title, the art work on the cover, a party of adventurers silhouetted by an orange sun and its description as an "action packed fantasy" by something called BookBag. And I ask you, when as something called BookBag ever been wrong?  It is pleasant escapist fantasy, with enough detail to be light reading and not ponderous. I am over three quarters through and it has some fantasy tropes that are reminiscent of Game of Thrones and The Witcher, which I am not complaining about because those tropes are pleasantly synthesized and gradually developed, or introduced. It is a low magic setting, post an antimage war, where the mages lost and you probably already know where the story is heading by now.

The characters are likable, their descriptions are sufficient to the point you could draw them in "Crash Course" lego men detail, and the protagonists who start off as young people leaving a school, more or less act to explore and demonstrate the geology, politics and underlying science of the setting. Its not going to change your world view or anything, but if you're tired of reading about Pug in Raymond E Feist's Riftworld Saga, well the first book of this trilogy is a pleasant read, contemporary read.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

CiXin Liu's "Deaths End" 死神永生

I have been reading CiXin Liu's "Deaths End", the third book in a science fiction trilogy "The Three Body Problem" translated by Ken Liu from Mandarin. It was originally published by Chongqing Publishing Group in Chongqing, China as  死神永生 in 2010 and according to the blurb on the cover and first page, the author has won numerous awards and the translators short story "The Paper Menagerie" has won a Hugo award, among other awards.

The major setting of the story is that an alien invasion (the Trisolarians) have been fought off and a detente has been reached, with descriptions of cultural change as the story progresses. I have to say, I initially found the protagonists difficult to visualize but overtime derived a sense of the main characters, some more amusing than others. It is a science fiction setting big in scope and ideas that are more shown  than described in theory, he has scenes where people in meetings record alternatives to problems, listing the pro's and con's and it is interesting the type of choices the various groups make. Because this is the third book in the novel, there is a history to the setting and some of the more peripheral characters were major characters in the presceding novels.

The technology of the setting, because this is science fiction, describes gravity wave antenna weapons, hibernation chambers, sub light speed drives and has early on an example of a primitive technology that through sacrifice inspired by romantic ideals is able to achieve objectives beyond the technical capabilities of the milieu. For the human characters deep space vessels are few and far between, the product of massive investment and as the novel progresses there is a sense of economies of scale in the different societies shown.

The universe of the “The Three Body Problem” trilogy is a hostile place where civilizations that achieve an advanced technological capability without the caution of hiding their galactic footprint are quickly exterminated, “cleansed” by more technologically advanced predatory civilizations. Thus aware advanced civilizations tend to hide themselves, creating many “dark zones”, the political theory of the book describes this setting as a “dark forest” scenario.

The differences in the humans and aliens described are tied to major plot points of the novel, the differences are shown instead of described, although that phrase does become problematic in the medium of a novel. It dwells on the necessity of taking a real politic approach to arising situation despite changing values associated with cultural change. There is a kind of literary analysis shown in the book that has interesting ideas. It would be interesting to subject the scenarios and ideas in the novel to a kind of cross cultural comparison, in the same way that 1950’s and 1960’s science fiction and horror movies tend to be seen as reflecting the fears of the public to cold war political events.

Perhaps this is an easy and inconsiderate approach to take, but as one of the points the novel makes, we are products of our time. 

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.