we all pray to something or another

 

I have a friend that I've known since I was in middle school -- I probably knew him before then, but other memories like playing Homeless Bears with my sister (an activity that dictated wandering around like bears, pretending that we were homeless. We were very literal in our naming of activities) has clouded them. Let's call him Mr. Max to hide his identity: MM for short. The thing about MM is that he has the uncanny ability to get me into an argument about what on the surface can be a very mundane topic. A vision: high school Tolo. Tolo, for those uninitiated or being from the East coast (this is not a dig at East coasters, I think the term, however, is a regional one), is a school dance where boys (soon to be men) invite girls (soon to be women) to dinner and a dance. A vision within a vision: MM and me sitting on a deck outside a house, after having picked up our dates, alone, arguing over whether drug testing in the work place should be enforced (side note article here). (A vision within a vision, within a vision: this particular Tolo did not end with either of our dates being even remotely pleased or having a good time. Everyone ordered only appetizers for dinner and I think we asked for the check immediately. We then proceeded to sit in near silence. It was, in fact, one of the more awkward experiences of my life, somehow becoming more awkward in adulthood as I realize how little I grasped the full crushing awkwardness of it during the time; I was probably playing with my silverware the entire time trying to figure out why the number of tines on a fork were decided as they were (this you can read about, of course, at you leisure here).) If I remember correctly he was for it and I was against it. I don't remember our points to back up our positions. What I do remember, in what was one of many (and I mean MANY. I have debated the following with MM at various junctures of my life: The validity of knowledge bases coming from reductionism, the proper placement of a togo coffee lid in relationship to the cup, generalizations versus specifics when creating lines of reasoning, pornography preferences and their meaning, whether people who enjoyed the Waking Life were stupid, the purpose/point of dedicating ones self to something) arguments, is that MM had put in the time to form an opinion WITH FOUNDATION on all of these topics. For instance with the placement of the coffee cup lid -- and I agree with him on this one -- he was quite adamant that the drinking hole be on the opposite side from the cup seam. This was to avoid the very small occurrence of a drop of coffee slipping between the lid and cup due to the space the seam created. 

I would hope that everyone would be as lucky as me to have someone like MM in their life. Because between arguments about brown versus white eggs in grocery stores, there were obviously (see list above) questions that had a weight that mattered to me. Here are a couple things that thinking about MM bring to mind and I just feel like writing about them:

Our Binary Selfs

It strikes me how often arguments can have two very distinct positions. Sides as they are. And not just arguments, but most thinking that we do tends to be along the lines of negative/positive, front/back, for/against. It's as if we have a massive coin collection of our ideas, showing the face that we align with. I think one of the reasons that MM could always draw me into a debate about most anything (see: the rise of fixie bikes) is that he didn't really collect coins. Instead of a binary thought process it was like we were in this huge lake slapping the water to form this wave that perfectly supported something inside our heads. And who doesn't like slapping water? I think as humans we are predisposed to break things apart and categorize. To sort and chop up. (Oh, you magnificent brain!). This saves energy for your brain by making life a bit of a Choose Your Own Adventure game, where you reach what you perceive as crossroads and choose between left or right. Heads or tails. One thing that my debates with MM taught me (see: proper ways to cook an egg and whether an One Eyed Egyptian Special is a valid technique.) is that seeing only crossroads is making shortcuts. Not that shortcuts are all bad, but realizing that you are taking them is important. Our brains are made to save energy by creating defaults for us to fall back on, but we can choose to look at all our interactions past the default.

The Joy of Disagreement

MM could make me really want to punch him in the face sometimes. That calmness: almost impersonal. But then there was this piece of me that one day saw what was happening; saw The Operation. Because good argument is like an autopsy of a murder victim (I don't know why that just popped in my head as the analogy, but it does bring to mind some article I was reading about actors who specialize in playing dead people due to the rise of TV crime dramas in the US), where each participant gets to make conjecture and check against the available information spread out before them (The Body in the case of my analogy). I think finding people who you disagree with often, but can approach the argument in this fashion -- not attacking personally or standing behind rhetoric -- are some of the most worthwhile people to spend time with discussing ideas.

That's all I have to say about that right now. And pay attention next time you put togo lids on your coffee: there really is a right way to do it.

that is SO funny

 

In Thai, the number "5" is pronounced "ha". After the 10th or so text message of getting the response "555555", I finally had to assume it wasn't just some mistake like typing a "1" instead of an exclamation mark. Up to that point I just assumed the 5 key was shared by some common Thai character that was missing the proper shift to have itself heard.

the sometimes annoying serial property of my pockets

When leaving my residence I have to use an electronic keycard to exit the lobby. This means that upon locking my apartment door behind me, I have to go to to the elevator, push the proper keys to call it and tell it where to go ("first floor please", I usually say under my breath. It's not actually voice operational, but ever since reading The Intuitionist a while back, I can't help but see the time in elevators as being somewhat detached from my current timeline. Meaning that the possible outcomes while in an elevator are unbounded.), and then walk to the electronic pad to tap my key to exit the building. What agitates me on every expedition from my apartment is where to put my keys while waiting to reach the lobby. In my one pocket I have my wallet, in the other an iPod and spare change. Throwing my key in the iPod side causes a tangle with the headphones that I don't really appreciate, and throwing it on the wallet side can cause it to be tucked in between various folds -- almost as if my wallet has become a particularly heavy subject of a Lucian Freud painting -- requiring removing everything from that pocket in order to rescue my key. As a small side note about the iPod/Change pocket: my change in general is usually an unhelpful tag-a-long to my iPod pocket, spilling out when not needed, and remaining hidden when bills are not the type of money needed. Change is basically the friend that offers advice to watch out for a puddle after already stepping in it, or staying silent on the bus as you accidentally pass your usual stop. 

Let me be the first to acknowledge that merely holding my keys in my hand for the journey to the lobby is an option. But it makes me feel like I'm on a date and being forced to hold a drink for a partner that has decided their trip to the bathroom also requires countless social niceties on both legs of their journey. 

To the bigger point of all this!

This made me start thinking about things that are in parallel versus things that are in serial. I mean this in a pretty loose way, but, for example, with my pockets they are pretty serial: dump some things in the left pocket until it's full and useless, then move on to the other pocket and dump some things. There's no simple modification of my pockets that allow them to take on a new role. I mean this in a very serious way. Take for example a Murphy bed. In a room with a Murphy bed, I can literally have a dance party where people would not have the sensation of being in what is essentially my bedroom. The room acts in parallel. This is a stupid example, but if you think about the idea in a more subtle way it allows for two different ways to approach how we interact with a created stimulus and more importantly how we create objects (art, buildings, roads, etc) for others. We can either choose to create serial objects -- those objects that step someone through the experience of using it -- or parallel objects -- objects that take someones expectations and offers a facet of itself to that experience. I don't necessarily think one is better than the other, but I think we often think in a serial manner to what we create. Take a painting that is made using a very structured technique: it is only reasonable that as a viewer I will approach this in a serial fashion; my brain will fall in line with what it sees as part of the foundation of the object.

Oh. And the picture that goes with this is because I've been reading a lot about the possible proof to the ABC conjecture and this whole loose serial/parellel idea struck me like addition and multiplication where there seems like there should be this deeper connection between the two if I could just look at it the right way.

an object is the master of its domain

Objects become like leaders if they capture the imagination of a scene. This requires a particular contrast in the scene between the object and its environment; an environment that sets the object above what is in most ways typical for it. It belongs but it doesn't; the subtleness is a gentle swedish massage on ones brain. Take a bathtub for instance: we can make it mystical in appearance by perhaps filling it with marbles and setting it among wheat grass in a perfectly still and open plain. Contrast is in the eye of the beholder. Contrast is the compliment to the majority of a perspective. Making the perfect contrast is creating the perfect complimentary sub-perspective. Add the complimentary sub-perspective and the rest together and there is perfect unity; a nothingness with depth and energy, bounding along like kangaroos made of pure color. Red, or green, or blue; whatever your color preference is. The perspective of expectation with the perspective of an object forced from its default place: this is perfect contrast.

   

oh satellites, bring me salvation

 

This is the view from the balcony of my room. As you can see, there are a couple of skyscrapers and a couple of satellite dishes present. I've found that satellite dishes add a certain dimensionality to landscape scenes. It's like an optical illusion of a cube, where my brain flips between seeing the cube inside-out or rightside-in; if I stare out at a landscape long enough -- a landscape that contains a certain threshold of satellites -- I either see a set of geometric structures stacking together into the urban scene, or a multitude of satellite dishes perched around like hopeless butterflies (or maybe pheasants or some bird that runs instead of flying to evade attackers). It is one or the other, but never both. In optical illusions our brain is trying to battle itself to create a norm from given visual stimulus. It is clear, if this is true, that satellite dishes must cause a battle of some sorts in my brain under some circumstances.

that's one way to do it

 

I read this short story once about a man who eats a bunch of blue paint to try and commit suicide. His wife (girlfriend?) divorces (leaves?) him after she sees what he has done. I don't know if it's obvious, but I don't remember much about this story. I think it was part of a short story collection in which there is another story (maybe) about a highway and a diner. What's strange about both of those stories is that they still pop into my head today, yet I have no recollection what the point of them was. The story about eating paint pops into my head whenever I see ultramarine blue paint in stores (I'm not sure in the story if he ever makes a point of discussing the exact shade of blue, which makes me a bit baffled why ultramarine is my trigger AND it makes me think that this was a missed opportunity in the stories narrative), and it dawns on me that I would never commit suicide by paint, but I guess if I did I'd use a lighter blue; probably something more along the lines of a brandeis blue. And I'd definitely use an acrylic; oils are bad for you, don't you know? As for the story about the highway (maybe a truck stop is in it?), it makes me think of this diner that was a half hour away from where I grew up as a kid. It sat along a stretch of road that sold a lot of RV's and cars; tucked away next to some gas station it was curled up in neon and breakfast specials. I always drove by, but never went in. For some reason I always felt (do feel) connected to this diner, as if it's had a significant part of my life. When I consciously know it has had nothing to do with my life.

 

with so much insight, this is all becoming fantastically unclear

 

Persepctive is built from a collection of data. Points of light, previous observations, wants, assumptions; it's a finite set, though. A few things in this lobe of the brain, a few others in that. And from this place we can turn around and think about how we would rather perceive our environment. We can think about how it would be interesting if ones perspective where forced to see things in a slightly different way. We have names for these people: artists, philosophers, mathemticians, architects, etc. People who at their core are meant to alter perspective. (Which I guess could cause a long parenthetical about how the alteration of perspective are moments of being drawn closer to Truth). What I've been hung up on is how a shift of perspective can be thought of as analgous to altering elements of a data set. A pinch more fear, adding a color receptor (which I guess is already something that's in 15% of the female population?... quadchromatic eyeballs or something), taking away a spacial dimension. In other words altering elements, removing elements, or adding elements. Say you bounce around altering your data set. Hacking away, forcing changes in perspective. What eventually happens with the set you started with? All that you once saw is now a shadow of itself; the elements (or maybe they can be thought of like vectors) required to add up to a specific perspective are gone. This leads to the question: How do we create shortcuts for others to end up with our dataset? I think this is what cultural objects are for. Little decoder rings for a data set.

that was entirely expected (a new new essays on human understanding).

 

The brain is said to be the creator of visions of our expectations. Our senses -- ears, eyes, and whatnot -- kick in to moderate those expectations. We watch waterfalls for long enough and everything looks like it is crawling uphill; stationary or not. I think it's called the Waterfall Effect, or something like that, where our motion detecting neurons get put into a sort of loop watching moving water for a while, so once we look away from a large moving field (water or otherwise, but something uniform), we only see things as moving. This overlap where everything does not seem as it is (i.e. where the majority of observers would indicate that all is stationary) is just the brain being pulled back, not to reality, but in line with a set of electronic pulses coming from our eyeballs. And that's the part that really sticks in my head: the part where our senses are at best backseat drivers and at worst movie goers yelling at the screen. 

It makes me wonder a bit about aesthetics and what we feel good about seeing/experiencing. It would seem that that which is most pleasant to see/hear/taste/touch/smell is what our brain expects -- our senses perfectly confirm and amplify that which was expected. Like two waves briefly overlapping while traveling in the same direction. It's as if a beautiful experience is when the brain is expecting a dollop of red paint, and we instead treat it to a room bathed in cadmium. The creativity that touches on this or creates this experience -- the creativity that pulls out a masterful painting, writes a piece of prose that seems to be drawn from somewhere on the first few pages of our instruction manual -- is something that reaches past our senses. In other words: part of creativity is touching on that which was never meant to be perceived by the senses.