Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dhalgren

This week I edited the Tuesday Poem blog and posted 'When we watched movie' by Tim Upperton. Pop over and have a read

So I was on Fbook and seeing Chip Delany (see how I call him 'Chip' as if I know him?) I hit Chat and say: "Dear Chip. Was Dhalgren's typography 'co-emergent' with Derrida's experimentation in Glas? I just have to ask! I'm re-reading Dhalgren again. Thank you!" To which he does not reply (and who could blame him? Jeez. Memo to self: only use chat with family.)

I'm re-reading Samuel Delany's still wonderful Dhalgren.  Here's an interesting clip I found on You Tube:



 From Bellona, Destroyer of Cities (after Delany's Dhalgren) adapted and directed by Jay Scheib.

Hey, this is Kid and Mrs RichardsHey!, how many times does 'Hey!' appear in Dhalgren?

The way Kid reads her poem invites a reading of the prose notebook entries at the end of many of the novel's chapters.  These could be read as prose poems--perhaps even the poems of 'Brass Orchids' a collection from which we never read a poem.  I thought that the idea was that we imagined Kid's poem for ourselves.




In the above clip Natalie Thomas plays Mrs Richards. I wish I could have seen this production! I do see Mrs Richards's mania in this routine and something in Thomas's hands, the nervous agitation within the dance, strikes a chord. It's so different from the novel.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Causal Potency of Patterns: Hofstadter

Chapter Three of Hofstadter's I am a Strange Loop is called 'The Causal Potency of Patterns.'

There are quite a few important steps in this chapter. At stake is Hoftstadter's understanding of consciousness.

To develop a model of what happens in the brain we need to distinguish between different levels in reality. To develop this model  he proposes 'The Causal Potency of Collective Phenomena.'

Consider a traffic jam.  You are stuck in a traffic jam.  Why are you stuck?  One answer is that you are stuck because the car in front of you is barely moving.  Seen on this level, it is the car in front which causes the traffic jam!  You could easily be in a situation where you have no other knowledge as to the cause of the traffic jam other than the car you can see before you.

But what if you could step out of the traffic jam and see the situation from some other level?  From such a larger field of view there must be some other reason for the traffic jam other than car in front of you. Perhaps a blizzard or sports event has caused the jam.

The traffic jam metaphor allows us to understand the human brain in which many levels of causality operate.  Enjoying Chopin may not depend on any specific neuron in the brain being activated--such a neuron is only one of a whole community of neurons which is behaving in a way that only becomes clear from another vantage point which has to look beyond the behaviour of individual neurons.

It's not that there's a supernatural force at work; it's rather that what is significant isn't at the level of individual neurons. What counts is their collective behaviour and the explanation of this behaviour may not require a description of the behaviour of individaul neurons at all!

In the same way, when engineers consider the working of a combustion engine they do not worry about the behaviour of individual molecules, they concern themselves with pressure: "This high-level description of what happens is the only level of description that is relevant, because all the microdetails could be changed and exactly the same thing  . . . would happen (41).

Hoftstadter calls this phenomenon 'The Strange Irrelevance of Lower Levels.' If we focus exclusively on lower levels we become reductionist.  To a reductionist there are no boundaries: it's all the interaction of elementary particles.

Hofstadter challenges the explanatory power of the reductionist view with his story of the comet that smashed into Jupiter in 1993.  As the comet approached Jupiter some people on Earth became excited about the event: "There is no doubt that many months before the comet hit Jupiter, certain fender-benders took place on our planet that wouldn't have taken place if the comet hadn't been coming, certain babies were conceived that wouldn't have been conceived otherwise, certain flies were swatted, certain coffee cups were chipped, and so on' (47).  At a epiphenomenal level the comet impacted on our lives.

Concepts cannot be reduced to neurons.  Neurons are at one level--the level of cars in a jam or dominoes in a row arranged in a complex pattern--but concepts occur at a different level.  Concepts involve neurons but cannot be reduced to them.  In fact, concepts, analogies, metaphors operate at their own level. We can explain them without recourse to neurons at all!

I would add, here, that when it comes to the mind you can't see the wood for the trees!




Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Tuesday Poem: At the Four-headed Dog. H. Molloy


At The Four-headed Dog


The familiar Friday night escapade
taxi windows fog as you cross the water
to The Four-headed Dog.

Once in you queue
for the refurbished Victorian loos
wash cracked palms in a porcelain sink

in a stall by the white-tiled wall
a comrade throws up like back
in the days when music on Fridays mattered

like back in the days
when you made your own badges
you clank the blue striped flannel towel

catch a profile in the mirror
framed with twisted golden vines
head for the bottle stacked bar

not even the promise of an aged single malt
prepares you for the shock
as you cross the lounge floor

you and all your friends share the same face.




This poem is from my work in progress 'Moth eats word.' It was first published in Enamel 2.  I wonder about the title. In some versions I have 'At the Three-headed Dog'; this would make more sense as it would more clearly refer to Cerberus.  'The Four-headed Dog' reminds me of Gene Wolfe's wonderful 'The Fifth Head of Cerberus.'  So why 'The Four-headed Dog'? I guess because that's the right title and this poem follows an irrational dream logic.  

More poems at Tuesday Poem

Monday, October 08, 2012

Poetry @ Meow: Koirala, Molloy, Rickerby.



Here's the poster for the upcoming reading at Meow Café on Tuesday October 23 at 7PM. Come here Saradha Koirala, Harvey Molloy (that's me folks) and Helen Rickerby read our new work. The event will be hosted by Tim Jones who will also read a couple of his poems. Please come along. We wont go on for too long.

Charter Schools - things we need to know



Auckland University's Associate Professor of Education Peter O'Connor speaks on Charter Schools. Good on you Peter for creating this video. You can find out more about Peter here.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

I am a Strange Loop (2)

In the second chapter 'This Teetering Bulb of Dread and Dream' Hofstadter refines what it means to think about thinking.  

What do we need to consider when we reflect on thinking?  
We need to consider how the brain works, from amino acids and neurotransmitters, to synapses and neurons, all the way up to the visual cortex and right and left hemispheres.  He calls this 'mentalics'; the 'small-scale phenomena that neurologists traditionally study: how neurotransmitters cross synapses, how cells are wired together, how cell assemblies reverberate in synchrony, and so forth (34).

What else do we need to consider when we reflect on thinking?
We need to consider webs of relationships between concepts: the concept 'dog', the associative link between the concepts 'dog' and 'bark' , the organization of memory, grammar, memes, the 'ego' etc.  He calls this 'thinkodynamics': "thinkodynamics is analogous to thermodynamics; it involves large-scale structures and patterns in the brain, and makes no reference to microscopic events such as neural firings" (34).

Our thoughts and experiences of the world and our lives can be describes in the language of 'thinkodynamics.'  This is because "The pressures of daily life require us, force us, to talk about events at the level on which we directly perceive them." (35)

Our sense of intentionality and free-will occurs at the level of 'thinkodynamics.'  Hofstadter does not feel that a description at the level of complex 'mentalics'--which would at best be difficult--would be satisfactory as it would not correspond to our perception of events and our experiences.


Friday, October 05, 2012

I am a Strange Loop: (1)

I've started to read Douglas Hofstadter's  I am a Strange Loop. Hoftstadter's the author of Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, and is currently the Distinguished Professor of Gognitive Science at Indiana University (where I bet he earns a truckload of money).

I'd thought I'd blog my thoughts and digressions as I read the book. I was struck by how the first chapter, 'On Souls and their Sizes', related to a discussion we'd had in our school Philosophy Club about souls--as a group, our Philosophy Club is reading through Stephen Law's excellent The Philosophy Files.

The book begins with the notion of 'Soul Shards.'  Just as photographs of our loved ones are more than just coloured pixels, so to is Chopin's √ątudes more than just a series of black marks on paper.  Chopin's work produces powerful emotions for millions of listeners.  There is in Chopin's work a little of his soul, that is a little of his essence of what it meant to be Chopin.

This is an intriguing argument and one which I find appealing.  The notion of 'soul' here does not involve a supernatural element.  What counts as 'soul' is here bound to signs and representation. Our soul is connected to the richness and complexity of our interior life.

Hofstadter then jumps to vegetarianism. Like Hoftstadter, I never eat mammals (I haven't since 1984).  However, like Hofstadter I do eat fish and chicken and I don't feel bad about killing mosquitoes. I would, however, feel anxiety about killing a bird or a mammal and I do avoid killing whenever possible.  Why distinguish between a sandfly and a bird?  They have different levels of complex consciousness. In Hofstadter words their souls are different sizes.  Pigs are more conscious than fleas. That's why I don't eat pigs.  My cat, I am sure, has a form of interior life and has complex emotions.
tudes more than just a series of black marks on paper.  Chopin's work produces powerful emotions for millions of listeners.  There is in Chopin's work a little of his soul, that is a little of his essence of what it meant to be Chopin.

This is an intriguing argument and one which I find appealling.  The notion of 'soul' here does not involve a supernatural element.  What counts as 'soul' is here bound to signs and representation. Our soul is connected to the richness and complexity of our interior life.

Hofstadter then jumps to vegetarianism. Like Hoftstadter, I never eat mammals (I haven't since 1984).  However, like Hofstadter I do eat fish and chicken and I don't feel bad about killing mosquitoes. I would, however, feel anxiety about killing a bird or a mammal and i do avoid killing whenever possible.  Why distinguish between a sandfly and a bird?  They have different levels of complex consciousness. In Hofstadter words their souls are different sizes.  Pigs are more conscious than fleas. That's why I don't eat pigs.  My cat, I am sure, has a form of interior life and has complex emotions.



Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Tuesday Poem: 'An Extraordinary Adventure' by V. Mayakovsky


You can read this wild energetic poem 'An Extraordinary Adventure Which Befell Vladimir Mayakovksy In A Summer Cottage' here

More poems at Tuesday Poem.

I'm looking forward to Sue Wootton--I have read all her work.
Does this make me a fan?

Poetry @ The Thistle Inn, Wellington (New Zealand Poetry Society) 
Monday 15 October , 7.30pm The Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Thorndon 
Open to the public - bring a poem to share, or just come to listen. 
Bring a friend! 
The meeting starts with the open mic, and then our Guest Poet is Sue Wootton, from Dunedin. Author of two poetry collections and a children's book, Sue has held Otago University's Robert Burns Residency and is an accomplished poet and reader, as well as being a jolly nice person. 
Entry $5 (NZPS members $3).