Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Anniversaries: The Trinity Test

The only surviving colour photo of the Trinity test, 16 July 1945. Image Source: Jack W. Aeby/Life/Wiki.

Oppenheimer's quotation of the Bhagavad Gita regarding the first nuclear test is now legendary: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."  Other observers remarked that there were two suns in the sky.  These are the images associated with the Trinity test, which took place 66 years ago today. Wiki:
In the official report on the test, General Farrell wrote, "The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined..."

News reports quoted a forest ranger 150 miles (240 km) west of the site as saying he saw "a flash of fire followed by an explosion and black smoke." A New Mexican 150 miles (240 km) north said, "The explosion lighted up the sky like the sun." Other reports remarked that windows were rattled and the sound of the explosion could be heard up to 200 miles (320 km) away.

John R. Lugo was flying a U.S. Navy transport at 10,000 feet (3,000 m), 30 miles (48 km) east of Albuquerque, en route to the west coast. "My first impression was ... the sun was coming up in the south. What a ball of fire! It was so bright it lit up the cockpit of the plane." Lugo radioed Albuquerque. He got no explanation for the blast but was told, "Don't fly south."
This image of two suns in the sky made the test a symbolic herald of dualism in our times, a splitting of Millennial consciousness. Considering a nuclear explosion as a terrible 'shadow sun' is a powerful metaphor for the virtual dimensions that now contrast with our reality.  Looking back on Trinity is an eerie reminder of our growing metaphysical quandary, the associated erosion of values, and their replacement with new norms and standards.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 8: The Space Shuttle Generation

Image Source: Chris Bray at Flickr via Yahoo.

A report from Yahoo shows a father and son watching the first Space Shuttle launch - and the last launch, thirty years later:
Thirty years ago, the first space shuttle launched into the stratosphere. Chris Bray and his father Kenneth watched -- and took a picture. Then last Friday, the shuttle Atlantis took its final trip. Again, the Bray men were there. And again, the two snapped a photo to capture the moment. 

The side-by-side photos, which are up on Chris Bray's Flickr photostream, immediately went viral on the Web.

The first shot shows 13-year-old Chris with then 39-year-old dad looking through binoculars at the space shuttle Columbia's first launch on April 12, 1981, from the Kennedy Space Center.

The second snap comes three decades later and recreates the same moment at the last shuttle voyage. The young son is now an adult. His father is now gray-haired.

Chris Bray wrote on his Flickr page of the side-by-side images: "The picture we waited 30 years to complete."
This side-by-side view captures the Generation X experience of growing up through the Technological Revolution in a nutshell.  Previous generations of course remember society before the Tech and Info booms hit full force.  But these explosive developments were not bound up with their collective childhood, adolescence and identity.  As Gen X grew, so did the technological world, and only that generation exactly straddles the time that came before, and the period that followed.

See all my posts on Gen X.

Google Consciousness: The Antisocial Network

Graphic pushing the latest arrival in social networking: Google Plus.

When he sent me a Google Plus invitation last week, my friend C. jubilantly declared that Google has finally hit on a, "Facebook killer, Skype killer, Twitter killer." Everyone is stampeding off Facebook's guerilla marketing ghetto to join the new network. I'm always struck by the intense popular desire for things on the Internet that are practically impossible on the Internet: exclusivity, no ads, peace and quiet - and ironically - individuality through mass conformity.  The herd is running as fast as it can to the newest place on the Web where 'you can just be yourself,' a 'real individual,' again.  One more time!  That's its selling point - it's the anti-Facebook.

I have written about problems with Facebook (here, here and here).  Facebook annoyingly erodes natural memory, reviving acquaintances from decades ago, who under normal circumstances would have faded into obscurity; it attacks privacy behind a smiley face; its highly sophisticated and integrated marketing platforms and harvesters sell private data to God only knows whom; and its info leaks recently came home to the Mother Ship, when Harvard sociologists got into hot water for turning the entire Harvard class of 2009 into unwitting guinea pigs, making them them the unconsulted subjects of a university Facebook study.

Now, we have this shiny alternative. Paul Allen estimates that despite the fact that Google Plus launched on 28 June, is in beta 'field-testing' status, and you can only get into it by invitation, it will have 20 million users by this weekend:
According to independent analysis done by Paul Allen, founder of Ancestry.com, Google's new social network Google Plus will hit 20 million users by this weekend. And he estimates that the current user base has already surpassed the 10 million mark. What's most surprising about Google Plus, however, is how quickly it has grown. The size of the user base has increased by 350% in just 6 days, says Allen.
Six days! Imagine if people mobilized like that to do something good in this world.  The exponential growth of the Internet is hard to grasp.  I was going to wait to put up this post until later this month, but by that point, Google Plus will probably be at 1 billion users and this will be old news.  Some social media strategists think that this rapid network growth will open the doorway to new utopias (see below the jump).

"The Antisocial Network" (12 July 2011) © Jonathan Rosenberg. Image Source: Scenes from a Multiverse.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Against a Mad World

Against a Mad World by BrentonRules

Thanks to my friend J., for sending me this layered experimental hip hop piece.

Geologists Discover Atlantis?

The lost continent off Scotland's coast (map section).  Image Source: I09.

I09 is covering an article just published in Nature Geoscience, about a lost island discovered by geologists after they scanned the seabed off of Scotland.  This continent apparently existed above the waves for a million years before it sank back into the sea.  From the I09 report:
This week, a group of geologists report that they've found a lost continent off the coast of Scotland. 55 million years ago, about 10 million years after dinosaurs died out, a chunk of the seafloor erupted from beneath the water. It created a small continent that existed for at least a million years, covered in dramatic mountains and valleys, and irrigated with streaming rivers. Eventually the landscape sank back beneath the waves, its once-sunny mountains buried beneath 2 kilometers of seabed. ... In Nature Geoscience, Earth scientist Ross A. Hartley and colleagues describe their discovery, and offer some theories about how an entire continent could rise and fall in a million years — a brief moment in geological time. Above, you can see the image they created of part of the continent, including its coastline and a mountain whose slopes were deeply cut by rivers. 

There were eight river tributaries on this lost continent.  The original article is here.

Citation: Ross A. Hartley,  Gareth G. Roberts, Nicky White and Chris Richardson, "Transient convective uplift of an ancient buried landscape." Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo1191, Received Accepted Published online

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Future of Air Travel

Image Sources: Time.

Time magazine recently posted some images on the future of air travel in the Airbus, promising transparent airplanes with all kinds of luxuries:
Flying in 2050 is going to be a real pleasure, the manufacturer says, with a 360-degree panoramic view whenever the "intelligent cabin membrane" is set on transparent, and a virtual golf course on board. Realistic projects, or overactive imaginations? "Engineers dream too," says Charles Champion, Airbus head of development. The Frenchman also points out that some of those dreams are already being implemented and may be launched in as little as 10 years from now. ...

Innovations would by no means stop there. In the "vitalizing zone," for example, the air would be vitamin-enriched, while in the "interaction zone," passengers could enjoy virtual games of golf high up over the clouds, or go shopping and try on the latest fashions in virtual changing cabins. Through the cabin's transparent membrane, passengers would be able to gaze at the mountain peaks below them, and would be given information about the name of each summit and its exact height. State of the art communication with the ground would mean that business people could take part in video conferences at 33,000 feet, and that Mom or Dad could read bed time stories to their kids back home.
This cabin of the future — whose shape was modeled after birds — is part of Airbus's total concept for 2050.

Amazonians Challenge the Universal Time-Space Hypothesis

The Amondawa were first "discovered" by anthropologists in 1986. Image Source: V. da Silva/Sinha/BBC.

In an earlier post, I described the South American Aymara people who think backwards when they conceive of time.  The Telegraph recently reported on the Amondawa people of the Amazon, who apparently have no concept of time. This challenges some of the core theories of linguistics and human psychology, which assume that time is innate to humans, their cultures and societies. In fact, time is not universal. And those who live without it are strangely free:
The Amondawa people who live deep in the Amazonian rainforests of Brazil have no watches or calendars and live their lives to the patterns of day and night and the rainy and dry seasons.

They also have no age – and mark the transition from childhood to adulthood to old age by changing their name.

The team of researchers, led by University of Portsmouth, said that it is the first time they have been able to prove time is not a deeply entrenched universal human concept, as previously thought.

Professor Chris Sinha said: 'We can now say without doubt that there is at least one language and culture which does not have a concept of time as something that can be measured, counted or talked about in the abstract."

"This doesn't mean that the Amondawa are "people outside time", but they live in a world governed by events rather than the passing of time."

Only discovered in 1986, the Amondawa, about 150 strong, continue their traditional way of life, hunting, fishing and farming.

They also have their own language which have a number system but it only goes up to four.

Prof Sinha and his team, including a linguist and anthropologist, spent eight weeks with the Amondawa researching how their language conveys concepts like "next week" or "last year".

There were no words for such concepts, only divisions of day and night and rainy and dry seasons.

They also found nobody in the community had an age.

Instead, they change their names to reflect their life-stage and position within their society.

A little child will give up their name to a newborn sibling and take on a new one.

Prof Sinha said: "We have so many metaphors for time and its passing – we think of time as a 'thing' – we say 'the weekend is nearly gone', 'she's coming up to her exams', 'I haven't got the time', and so on, and we think such statements are objective, but they aren't.

"We've created these metaphors and they have become the way we think. The Amondawa don't talk like this and don't think like this, unless they learn another language.

"For these fortunate people time isn't money, they aren't racing against the clock to complete anything, and nobody is discussing next week or next year; they don't even have words for 'week', 'month' or 'year'. "You could say they enjoy a certain freedom." 
This research was published in Language And Cognition (see the abstract here).  As a result of this research, the research team proposes "a Mediated Mapping Hypothesis, which accords causal importance to the numerical and artefact-based construction of time-based (as opposed to event-based) time interval systems."  In other words, according to a BBC report, the team assumes that the lack of a concept of time comes from a lack of technology to measure time.

The BBC report also reports on other researchers who have criticized these findings.  Another academic comments that these people may in fact experience time in the way we do. However, this similar experience may not reflect in their language, which is how researchers generally peg human apprehension of time in different societies:
These arguments do not convince Pierre Pica, a theoretical linguist at France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), who focuses on a related Amazonian language known as Mundurucu.

"To link number, time, tense, mood and space by a single causal relationship seems to me hopeless, based on the linguistic diversity that I know of," he told BBC News. ...

Small societies like the Amondawa tend to use absolute terms for normal, spatial relations - for example, referring to a particular river location that everyone in the culture will know intimately rather than using generic words for river or riverbank.

These, Dr Pica argued, do not readily lend themselves to being co-opted in the description of time.

"When you have an absolute vocabulary - 'at the water', 'upstream', 'downstream' and so on, you just cannot use it for other domains, you cannot use the mapping hypothesis in this way," he said.

In other words, while the Amondawa may perceive themselves moving through time and spatial arrangements of events in time, the language may not necessarily reflect it in an obvious way.
Citation Information. Language and Cognition. Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 137–169, ISSN (Online) 1866-9859, ISSN (Print) 1866-9808, DOI: 10.1515/LANGCOG.2011.006, /May/2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Dark Matter World

One of the great mysteries of our times is Dark Matter. In various forms, it makes up most of reality, somewhere between 85 and 98 per cent, yet we know almost nothing about it, including the particles of which it is composed, because we can't see it (it neither emits nor scatters light). Scientists assume it exists because they can detect its mass and gravitational pull (see a piece at I09 on Dark Matter here and an explanation from Scientific American here). Now there are speculations that there might have been (might still be?) stars and potentially alternate, unseen galaxies, a coexistent unseen universe, composed of Dark Matter.