There is very little that a person who is seriously and industriously disposed to improve may not obtain from books with more advantage than from a living instructor. Masters and mistresses are very necessary to compensate for want of inclination and exertion; but whoever would arrive at excellence must be self-taught.

Thomas Young, optiks genius and polymath, in a letter to his brother 1798

Who Loves Not Knowledge?

Blaise Pascal, mathematician and philosopher, said The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. He was not talking of love, but of first principles; perception of space, time, motion and number. It is the heart that teaches us the foundations of geometry.

It is just as pointless and absurd for reason to demand proof of first principles from the heart before agreeing to accept them as it would be absurd for the heart to demand an intuition of all the propositions demonstrated by reason before agreeing to accept them.

Baruch Spinoza believed that life was of two kinds; human bondage, or, slavery to our passions, and, human freedom, or, liberation by our intellect. Human beings wrongly believe themselves to be making free, undetermined choices; because we do not know the causes of our choices, we assume they have none. The only true liberation possible for us is to make ourselves conscious of the hidden causes.

For Spinoza, passive emotions, like fear and anger, are generated by external forces; active emotions arise from the mind's understanding of the human condition. Replacement of passive emotions by active ones is the path to liberation. In particular, the passion of fear, including the fear of death. The key to progress is the appreciation of the necessity of all things. Spinoza believed that when we realise the acts of others are determined by nature, we cease to feel hatred. Returning hatred only increases it, but reciprocating it with love vanquishes it. What we need to do is take a 'God's-eye-view' of the whole necessary natural scheme of things, seeing it in the light of eternity.

This and his equation of God as Nature (Deus sive Natura), are close to Eastern philosophical thought. Although ambiguous (and often debated), this 'God' is taken to mean, not some 'incorporeal substance' who directs things from on high, but the whole natural, self-ordering system, whose code we can never fully know. I prefer this idea; is this not relevant now, when we are treating technology as a kind of God who we think we can know and control? Must not this idea of life remain ambiguous and unknowable? I remember something from Dostoïevski, will we not devise eventually a system of perfect order, of perfect paths, that can be consulted at any time, to direct us to right and wrong? And then, will we not still break things, because sometimes, in the light of the consequences, knowing what is best for us and for others, and perhaps for the very fact of this knowledge, we desire to destroy, often the very thing that we love? Perhaps it is this ordering that is our downfall, our hubris to control and 'know' the system. We never can. And is this not more beautiful? Is it perhaps the very essence of this beauty that the experience of the sublime (of knowledge, of understanding) is but a part of the whole, and whole will always remain mysterious?

sang, and blood, she did.

I have just finished a crocheted kardia , based upon these very diagrams. Lymph and blood vessels not yet included, but aorta and arteries, oui. It will lie in wait, corpse in copse, bosomed in barbarous boscage, to wit a forest whose very fibres call chaos.

vongole vouvray aquarelle asleep with Cece and Raphael

7th étage, rue d'alesia, 14éme, Paris, chez Hamméren et Rikkala

Sans Soleil

Chris Marker's Sans Soleil - the film that brought me into the world of beautiful knowledge, perhaps art, but knowledge made beautiful is how I would describe this film.

When I was younger, at boarding school, in banality made costly, I went to Sydney for new years. I stayed for one night at my cousins house, where he lived with his brother. I remember being younger and with our family at Christmas and seeing a lot of hand/ready made sculptures in his room, and other odd but study-able matchings and findings.
When I came back as a sixteen year old, my friend and I limewired a fairly substantial amount of terrible electro music onto his computer to listen to, and did. Afterwards, when she had left, I found a Chris Marker dvd and settled down to watch. It almost completely changed my world. I remember a few years later, after leaving school, living in Italy for a year, and being back in Sydney to study, and being reminded by my still bemused and slightly smug cousin of those banal pulsing electronic beats that I had once found stimulating. Understood.

A study was done on kids who were learning or were in their teenage years of reading, still working out syntax and semantics. Listening to young kids read, you can hear this, pauses at the end of lines even though there are no commas, runnings on when there is a clear break in textual thought. Their brains are full of activity, but the kind where it is desperately trying to keep up. Suddenly it finds that it has said something aloud, or silently trudged through a paragraph, and it does not remember a thing, except the act of reading itself, like driving a road and realising that you cannot remember what was on either side of that road, or whether there were traffic lights that stopped your journey, or what was playing through the speakers or sliding through the window from the outside world, hitting your ears in an unnatural tempo. School children, just for a second, a siren that rushes up, hits an invisible wall and then drops deep out of your time and space.

Childhood is mostly like that, I have found, a confounded space-time, of unrecognisable peaks and troughs, that only later become solid in memory, and perhaps important. I do not remember my own self as a person of sixteen, but other people do. To them, you are a formed picture, that perhaps they modify, but mostly only slightly (that is a nice triplet treble troika). But what I remember is a part of this film; the lost vagrants of Tokyo, longing for a beer, whose incredible luxury would be the bottle of sake that is poured over shrines as an offering to the dead. This reminds me of Barthes Camera Lucida and an idea of the subjective feeling held in a photograph, that can only belong to the person affected by the events/people the photograph is an imprint of. Of course, it is not that simple. But we will return another time, to this.

P.S. those masks are sick

Scale, Speed, Time and Space

I have been reading Virilio on technological speed and the way that it obliterates space and time, and just quickly, Adorno on reflecting on self-reflection and non-identity. I will write more soon on these. In other pensées, BM sent me a link to Dabrowski, a polish intellectual whose idea of Positive Disintegration interests me greatly. I like this idea that one should make use of experiences, and rather than avoiding pain, fear or unhappiness, appreciate that these essential crisis periods are what enable us to reflect and change. On a side note, this is why I like cloudy days and cool days and winter days and why I do not like summer days, hot days, sunny days. There is something endlessly pensive about a grey sky, whether it is that the sun is not garishly bending around you, imposing time, to go, to go, or passed and no longer. One wanders into a greyday fugue, and loses oneself, often, to thoughts of things outside oneself. I do not care for the sunny summer days, that say "frolic, child, frolic, you need not own past and future here". Plus I get sunburnt.

To wit, I think we have a problem of scale. I was talking to AE recently and he tries to look at everything from all its scales; from the atomic, where everything is mostly empty space, perhaps then taking on the perspective of an ant, knowing with supreme sensitivity surface textures and the simplest curves and angles, to us, which one needs not explain, then perhaps a bird, or from space, then the universe, infinite possible worlds, the big bang and the start of time (which AG pointedly noted the other day, is linguistically insubstantial). He thinks that understanding this, at all moments, lets him keep what is instinctively important in all those scales. Geometry, maths, science. Not a mechanistic view, but that strange sublime, that secret feeling of wondrous cognisance, that perhaps for an instant your mind can broach the void, look over into it and see something other than our human scale.
I was listening to David Christian, author of Big History, talk about origin myths, our new scientific one, our old ones, and their places in the world now. One interesting point he makes is that all origin myths are comprised of similar ideas; simplicity, growing complexity, basic physical and moral laws. Ours differs from the others in two respects; that our time scale is almost incomprehensible in a human sense, and, that not everyone in our society knows our origin myth. The point of origin myths was to teach something of scale to children, and to remind adults. It was an integral part of culture, of understanding your place in your world.

What happens when we don't understand scale or are never taught to think about it? I wonder what our world would be like if we all had an understanding of our place in history, that the whole of human existence is but a blip? Would we treat it more carefully, would it be more sacred? There is something that I just heard about, Saturday the 18th of December (and I'm finished for the semester! jee!) that is, the Overview Effect, the experience of astronauts when they look back down upon the Earth from space, seeing the fertile areas, the changing weather, and all this out of the context of ordinary human experience, the quotidian, where one often forgets that there are things more momentous. In a letter to U:

... it is nice to sit back and see everything from outside of the human scale (as in, what is around us, told to us by our eyes, ears, nostrils), and realise that when you breathe or move your hand you are pushing particles of oxygen and carbon dioxide around, that you are changing the electromagnetic field, that you are hearing sine, saw, triangle or square waves (the last ones shouldn't really be called waves, I think there is something singularly curvy about waves), and that outside of that, from a sky or space perspective, to think of the world revolving, the stars that we see being light sent from millions of years ago, that time and space are in fact one thing, that if you happen to see a supernova, the neurons in your eyes are literally being fired by the exposure to real light waves from a time so long ago that we can hardly comprehend it. I sometimes like to think that perhaps there is a supernova dying in a grand explosion right now and that in 300 million years someone will finally see it from Earth and they will be connected to us on the same bizarre time space dimension. Ooh, this just breaks my mind. In a nice way. Have you seen the Eames' Power of Ten? It is pretty rad.

Und so: