Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Link to My Album on Last.fm

I have 17 tracks on last.fm available to listen streaming, or for free download, all in one place. I took the time to encode them all as nice, 128 kbps 44.1 kHz MP3s. Enjoy!

Free MP3s on Last.fm

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Two New Songs

Fun Key Miner is my attempt at a housey kinda song with the requisite bass and funk samples and all that.

Tree Hunger is a more experimental ambient venture, which I made almost entirely with Forester, a fun and interesting sound program from Leafcutter John.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

New Song - Just Two Guys Remix

Been busy with school/doing stuff when not busy/lazy when not doing stuff. Here's a remix I farted out. Just Two Guys On Acid

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Future of Knowledge is Becomming Clearer

The internet (you may have heard of it - it's a big deal) when it first got going, was predicted to be like TV, but better, as Kevin Kelly says in this speech. It has obviously become something much greater than that, and its future is becoming clearer with recent developments, a few of which I will briefly discuss here.

The power of the internet that we will see in the short future will have something to do with combining the increasingly massive amounts of useful data on the web, such as all of MIT's publications, which were voted last week to be made available for free on the web, and increasingly efficient searching and knowledge synthesis programs, such as Wolfram Alpha, scheduled to open in May. I quote from Stephen Wolfram's blog:

"...what about all the actual knowledge that we as humans have accumulated? A lot of it is now on the web—in billions of pages of text. And with search engines, we can very efficiently search for specific terms and phrases in that text. But we can’t compute from that. And in effect, we can only answer questions that have been literally asked before. We can look things up, but we can’t figure anything new out. So how can we deal with that? Well, some people have thought the way forward must be to somehow automatically understand the natural language that exists on the web. Perhaps getting the web semantically tagged to make that easier. But armed with Mathematica and NKS I realized there’s another way: explicitly implement methods and models, as algorithms, and explicitly curate all data so that it is immediately computable. It’s not easy to do this. Every different kind of method and model—and data—has its own special features and character. But with a mixture of Mathematica and A New Kind of Science automation, and a lot of human experts, I’m happy to say that we’ve gotten a very long way. But, OK. Let’s say we succeed in creating a system that knows a lot, and can figure a lot out. How can we interact with it? The way humans normally communicate is through natural language. And when one’s dealing with the whole spectrum of knowledge, I think that’s the only realistic option for communicating with computers too."

Wolfram Alpha is a search engine that receives questions in the form of natural language, and uses vast amounts of data accumulated from the web to answer them. This is a Knowledge Engine that computes factual answers from the huge, currently unorganized databank that is the internet. And, it works quite well, according to this review article. This combination of scientific data and knowledge generators will be revolutionary. For instance, the evolutionary biologist, John Hawks has a short article on how this technology could make bioinformatics obsolete

Another interesting catalyst is the linked data movement that Tim Berners Lee (the inventor of the world wide web) is starting. His TED talk about the subject is wonderful, but to surmise the concept, linked data is about using the web to connect data, information, and knowledge that wasn't previously linked. It's all about getting raw data out there to be linked to and from to similar or related concepts and ideas, to create a more fluid, integrated, effective and expansive internet.

The future interactive nature of the web "of things" will combine this informative data to actual objects in the real, sensory world that we interact with, using live cameras connected to the internet via mobile phones with image recognition capabilities, to label the world in increasingly minute and precise ways, with informational tags in real time, as I briefly discussed in my post about Photosynth. What is most interesting to me about this future that is becoming more and more clear is that this interactive web of things will not be merely a real time tagging of sensory information, but a real time linking of these quanta of information. In the same way that our brains link all the data that is stored in our memories throughout our lives to connect our sensory inputs in ways that make sense given our past experience, the internet will be using all human knowledge to link our real time sensory data in creative and informative ways.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Knowledge as a Path to Enlightenment

There are as many paths to enlightenment as there are possible ideas. And there are as many descriptions of what enlightenment is as there are people in the world. But although I believe that every person, and every mind is a perfect and flawless construction of a hereditary past and a past of personal experience, I think it is too easy to say that everyone has achieved their own enlightenment. I think that each person has a potential for a unique enlightenment that cannot be exactly similar to another’s version of enlightenment, and I think it is fair to say that many people don’t achieve their own form of enlightenment; they live their lives without every sniffing out their own path toward feeling that they embody their own intrinsic beauty and perfection. This is all to say that my insights into enlightenment do not, necessarily have anything to do with anyone’s enlightenment but my own. Still, I think that finding one’s path has something to do with listening to everyone, but following no one. We don’t exist inside vacuums; we generate our version of reality by synthesizing all other versions of reality that we observe throughout our lives. The pessimistic way of putting this is the way that Audre Lorde put it when he said, “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” I disagree with this. In fact, I think that the exact opposite is closer to reality: There are only new ideas. Each moment, from each individual vantage point, is a never-before experienced interpretation of a universe that is also changing faster than our interpretations of it. Every time we encounter an old idea or observation, we combine it with all of the other old ideas in our long-evolved reference frames, and we thus constantly synthesize uncountable old ideas into new ones. The uniqueness of one’s interpretation may be subtle, but it is, nevertheless, unique. So, consider my ideas on approaching my enlightenment as a cobblestone on your own path towards your own. Perhaps you may even think of my words as a stone that begins to diverge from your own. As Isaac Newton famously put it, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

This is the main reason why I think that knowledge is the key towards enlightenment. Knowledge, of course, can come in any form. I use the word in this essay in its most generic sense, simply as sensory input. The reason, as I outlined above, is that more exposure to the world, more reception of others’ views, means more elements to synthesize into your own global interpretation. Of course, as we develop our reference frames, we are more selective about the ideas and concepts that we allow to contribute to them. We have some idea about which tools we need to complete the construction kits that form our conception of reality. In this sense, the ideas that we dismiss as fallacious or harmful are equally as important as the ideas we accept as wholesome and true, because they help to clarify our path towards our own enlightenment by contrasting our path to other, less productive paths. As I said above, these words may all be recognized as a completely divergent path from your own, but they will still be helpful towards your self-discovery, because the more examples you accumulate of ideas that you don’t resonate with, the more you will be able to recognize ideas that you do resonate with.

So, our worldviews are massive culminations of data we accumulate from the world as we perceive it, and our brains are constantly translating our perceptions into highly detailed representations of the world’s constituent phenomena. Our minds are constantly updating, redefining and rearranging these codified mental representations to create extremely accurate maps. An example of this is that we are surprised when you pick up a can that we thought was full of paint, but turns out to be empty, causing you to almost topple yourself over with your own motion, expecting to meet more resistance to your pull. Our moment to moment, mundane interactions with our world are brimming with highly organized data that we’ve accumulated throughout our lives, such as the average weight of a gallon jug full of paint, and how much force must be exerted, in a certain direction with a specific muscle group, to live it to a specific height. The maps that we use to navigate the familiar areas of our lives, such as a midnight walk down your pitch-black hallway, down the stairs, through the kitchen door and to your fridge, have so much representational data about the physical world that one can close their eyes and almost see and feel every element of it. Our memories are little more abstract and disconnected from the real world than our senses are.

In this sense, we can accurately think of our consciousness as expanding to try and become the world around us by seeking out sensory information, combining them to make increasingly accurate models and maps, and performing profoundly intricate calculations upon this data in order to make specific predictions about how our interactions with the world will effect it. We literally manipulate the elements of our mental world to see what will happen before we manipulate the real world. So it is very important that the descriptions of physical things and the laws they obey are mapped very accurately in our mental copy of the world.

But we don’t only build our mental maps strictly from direct sensory observation. First of all, we reflect upon our observations and arrive at conclusions about our surroundings that are greater than the sum of their parts. We also communicate with others to find out what they have observed and reflected upon, and we add that data to our model. Often times, this data is very counterintuitive, and is extremely hard, if not impossible, to obtain from direct, personal observation and reflection. So we construct our mental worlds through a combination of direct observation, and information that others have gathered from others, which we take upon trust to be accurate. This process of counterintuitive observation and communication has become highly specialized, so that groups of people dedicate themselves towards observing and thinking about very specific phenomena within the universe as precisely and accurately as they can. And lucky for us, those people share that information with others, so that they can also make their mental models more accurate and rich.

This is what makes learning and exploring so enlightening and addicting. Learning information about the universe we live in literally expands the representational world that is coded in our minds. Specifically, learning about the very big and the very small expands our consciousness by expanding the proportions of the mental models that collectively form it. So, for instance, if you become very familiar with the process of photosynthesis, you incorporate that information into the same consciousness that you perceive from, so that you can in a sense see the microscopic processes that are occurring in a plant when you observe it. Or if you are aware of the nuclear reactions that take place in stars, you incorporate that knowledge into your observations when you look directly at the sun. So, we can gain great enlightenment from becoming increasingly familiar with phenomena in the extreme proportions of our universe, because our consciousness stretches to accurately represent this new information, and to understand our position within it.

This is why I have come to consider a life in the pursuit of knowledge as a life that is destined towards profound enlightenment. Another important thing to note is that in trying to understand the nature of the universe we live in on all scales, one is always approaching perfection. This is because whatever the universe is, it is the most perfect thing imaginable. I don’t mean the word “perfect” here in a practical or functional sense. We could imagine more “perfect” versions of many things, in the sense that they could perform the functions that they seemed to have evolved for in a more efficient way. Blood could deliver more oxygen, brains could contain more information, and a peacock’s feathers could be more colorful. The universe is perfect only when considered without motive in mind. Indeed, it has created and contains all existing motives. All of the rubrics for considering functionality and efficiency exist within it. The universe isn’t trying to approach perfection in its evolution. It is us who are trying to approach a full understanding of the perfection that is immortally within and without us, the omnipresent perfection of the universe that we both make and are made of. We are some of the many perfect tools that the universe uses to mold itself into new forms of perfection. Our intentions will never be any other than the universe’s intentions, because we are the universe.

A path towards knowledge will never be disappointing, because we can only approach an understanding the world’s intrinsic beauty, and this beauty itself is changing faster than we will ever be able to keep up with. As Dr. Robert Goddard wrote in a letter to H. G. Wells in 1932, “There can be no thought of finishing, for “aiming at the stars,” both literally and figuratively is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.”

Breaktime from Gangpol & Mit on Vimeo.

Blam from Gangpol & Mit on Vimeo.

Holy green jelly from Gangpol & Mit on Vimeo.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gravity as the Perfect Software System

The discussion of the idea of a computational universe is a religious one as of now, because we don't yet know of a way to prove or disprove it. I realize that to talk about this in such a literal way is to postulate God, but however far we go back, once we realize that time existed before the big bang, we never reach the answer of "why?". As a scientifically minded person, I don't demand this answer, like most religious people do, because I realize that it cannot be answered, and therefore is impractical to ask. But I also don't wish do sweep it under the table, because it is the most important question we can ask, regardless that the only answers we can generate are postulations. This is all, of course, postulation - is the universe a computer?

1. Computation can be viewed as providing a small number of inputs to generate a large number of outputs, such as the fundamental force(s) and energy (although even the separation between these two things might in fact be superficial) generating the complexity that we are today.

2. The universe is a fabric of individual quanta of information, which communicate the nature of themselves to every other part of the universe, and manipulate the performance of these other universal constituents.

3. We see in our modern world a doubly exponential rate of expansion of computational power. We have moved through paradigms of computation, from electromechanical calculators, to relay based computers, to vacuum tubes, to discrete transistors, to integrated circuits, which is where we find ourselves (in the common public) today. The scale that we're moving to now is to nanoscale computation with the same fundamental properties we see in computers now, but with much smaller proportions. Also in successful development is self-assembling computation, using the inherent structure and behavior of things like DNA and other complex molecules to generate computational results (software) and small physical structures (hardware, like cell phones or smiley faces). After that, we will be in the atom and quantum scales. In fact, many great strides have already been made in this field lately. The types of computation that we will be doing in 100,000 years or so, if we project these trends, might look something like the universe we live in.

4. If time is infinite, the probability of life being created in the past who create these profound types of computational devices that we foresee in our own future are also infinite. Of course, I'm talking about a multiverse, or whatever; not simply the universe that we can see within the cosmological horizon of our light sphere. Big bang theory is said to form time as well as matter and energy as we know it, but this is all based on equations that are based within relativity theory. There are a host of quantum principles that would prevent matter from, as the most strict big band theorists say, condensing into an infinitely small point, in which nothing exists, including time. Many cosmologists agree with this, and it is bringing back the old "bounce" theory of a local universe that expands and contracts forever.

5. The only constant we find in the universe around us on all scales is information. Everything contains information that is used to communicate to, and manipulate, everything else. The most straightforward example is DNA, which uses a single language of four letters to create all forms of life that exist on our planet. But this property of information-based manipulation is shared by everything that has mass, and therefor has gravity, as I will discuss later.

6. If the fabric of the universe that we are a participating part of is computational in its most perceivably fundamental nature, then we can never, ever, become aware in a positive way that we are part of a computational system. Even if we find something of a drastically different nature, the only way we could perceive it is if it were of the same nature as us, and we could never know whether or not it is also part of the computer.

Of course, I realize that to postulate a final cause of our existence as the products of previously existing, information-seeking entities results in the logical fallacy of infinite regress, but this is no worse than the situation we find ourselves in now. With infinite time, there will have to be infinite regress in any question with the form, "But how were the creators created?" On some of the grandest scales, I am hooked on Lee Smolin's idea that our universe is a product of many, many generations of other universes that reproduce through black holes, and thereby exist in an environment of natural selection that is created by the tendency for universes that have more progeny, or offspring, to tend to win in selective competition. That is, the universes that create the most black holes tend to continue their line of descent, while the universes that create less black holes due to mutations of their physical laws, have less progeny to continue their "genetic" line, and the landscape becomes overwhelmed by those universes that can create more progeny.

But this still does not give us an answer to "Why?" Why was this chain of evolving universes composed of ingredients that gave rise to something like matter, or physical structure, rather than something else, or nothing at all? This is where the infinite regress comes in - something needs to be the cause of this initial cause, and so on. So, I acknowledge the possibility of conscious creation of physical properties causing this cycle, and the possibility of the conscious creators of those creators. And at those types of scales, science has no ideas, doesn't and shouldn't consider, and even scoffs at, ideas like this. And they should, because there is absolutely no way to know.

So, perhaps the final cause of physical structure and organization is computation itself. Computation, creating more sophisticated computation, and so on, ad infinitum.

Certainly, in our universe, I can imagine no other future than one dominated by conscious beings, who understand how to manipulate their physical environment to increasingly minute degrees. This, I believe, is the cosmic arena of evolution. Forms of life on an individual planet will be eventually dominated by those who can understand and manipulate their environments in the most creative ways. These are the forms of life that reach out into the rest of the universe outside of their planet, and eventually, out of their local solar system. Eventually, these beings interact with each other, communicating and sharing knowledge and resources, creating more and more sentient beings who embody more fundamentally and minutely the informational potential of the universe, and make increasingly wise and powerful choices in their interactions and communications.

When we do approach the ultimate limit of computation, I think that we will be trying to emulate the best software platform we see in the world around us - gravity.

Einstein gives us a picture in which gravity is the shape of space-time produced by the organization of energy in our universe. It can be viewed this way, but another hypothesis is that it is a particle. This is one avenue that people take towards finding a unifying theory of physics between relativity and gravity.

But however we view it, it is clear that, although gravity is taken for granted by most of us, it is truly profound. It communicates infinitely (infinitely, you guys!!!!!!) between everything (you guys!!!!!) all the time, at the fastest possible speed (the speed of light). Everything that has mass communicates this force to everything else that has mass in an unfathomably precise way. This universally attractive force is truly the only real necessity for creating great organization in the universe, on all scales. (Of course, repulsive forces are necessary on small scales, which is what we find in our universe). We know that our universe expanded from an extremely dense point, and that the unimaginably minute inhomogeneities within this early universe were the seeds of gravitational condensation that were the cause of the large-scale structure of our universe.

If we could detect gravity (and the other forces) on the smallest theoretically minute scales, we could note the position, size, shape, and movement of everything in the universe. I cannot stress that this information is being communicated to and from everything that exists, to extreme precision, and that this information results in an extremely precise manipulation of the discreet constituents that receive this information. The universe is the perfect computer because there is absolutely no separation between its hardware and its software (which is the direction that we see computation going down today) and because its most basic platform (the laws of physics) are extremely simple and universally communicative, while resulting in unimaginably complex and cohesive products.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Song to download - Windows and Knots

Windows and Knots

My Ableton is done for; I had to download the trial version to finish this song. So, I must let down my loyal fans across the seas by saying that it will probably be awhile before I post another song. Another thing I might be doing is learning CSound, which is a sound oriented programming language. That may be one of those things that just sits on the shelf for awhile, though. Who knows.

Photosynth, and it's Possibilities

Here is the link, if you can't view the movie.

This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Photosynth examines images for similarities to each other and uses that information to estimate the shape of the subject and the vantage point each photo was taken from. Then, the information is used to recreate the space and use it as a canvas to display and navigate through the photos. Used in conjunction with the vast amount of photographic data on the web, it allows an immersive recreation of the most interesting landmarks and events (there's a great one of Obama's inaugural address on the site). The program is freely available on the site (there's no available Mac software for the creation of Photosynth canvasses, but you can view others. but there is an app for the iPhone). You can just take a bunch of pictures of whatever, upload them, and whalla! Your room is now communicated as a 3d environment that is shared with the rest of the world. Think of all the Google street view image files, low and high flying balloon and plane images, tourist photos on Flickr, all combined into a navigable, virtual landscape. (There's actually a couple cool skyview Photosynths on the main page.)

Another important extension, as Aguera says in the above video, is the huge amount of semantic information attached to image files on the internet, such as tags for image searches, or additional tags or embedded information about the location, subject, etc.

This, in combination with mobile phone devices with cameras, is a huge step towards an approach that some people call augmented reality. A combination of image-matching, GPS coordinates, compass orientation, and an internet full of knowledge about the world are leading more and more to an up-to-date, wiki-style portal of information wherever you are, whether it's getting bus times, product or company info, book reviews, or the types of wires inside the stoplight pole across the street. Right now, it's being pursued through increasingly high-performance mobile devices like iPhone apps, and this new Microsoft device, but even now, there are previews of what it will be like when these type of human-computer interfaces are completely ephemeral. Here is a cool demo of this type of "sixth sense" by Pattie Maes.

I was thinking, though, that this software could be used for even more than all that. With this image recognizing software, which make tons of points on an image and cross-examines them against other images, this could be used to synthesize tons of visual information for many purposes. For instance, with the wealth of high resolution digital images of species on the internet, one could import all of them into a massive Photosynthish compilation, using the software to match phenotypic congruences and arranging them into a more or less continuous morphological line, and simply watch it morph through the line of the just-over-2-million identified species (and many unidentified ones scattered throughout the web). It's been discussed before how the internet and widespread high-res digital photography will aid in skyrocketing our list of known species, reducing the daunting gap between the 2 million known and perhaps 100 million unknown species in the world, bringing back an old school, Linnaen taxonomy of searching and labeling. At the very least, this is a profound art project waiting to happen, if not an invaluable tool for understanding our world in new ways.

In fact, the same could be done for almost every physical structure, giving a fresh perspective, for instance, on the morphology of musical technology over the years, or of medieval armor. This type of technology allows for an invaluable synthesis and cross-reference of visual information of all types. And synthesis is exactly what we need to see more of on the internet, with its hopelessly disconnected and unorganized nodes of information laying strewn about in the most unlikely corners.

Another huge catalyst towards a fully integrated, universally connected consciousness!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Problem With Humans

The problem with humans is that we think we are a problem.

We think we are at odds with the rest of the universe, because we have deep questions, and we feel guilty when we look into the eyes of a deer or a fish, feeling the same kind of guilty nostalgia that an adult feels when looking into the eyes of a baby. We think of the wisdom of an empty mind, the connection of Buddhist oneness, a longing for the immortal rock, the simplicity of its erosion, and its straightforward contribution to the sand of the shores. We wish we had closed the catcher’s mitts of our eyes before they had caught too many sick lies, tossed to us from our perverted culture whose contribution to the world around us amounts to nothing but railroad tracks that we desperately build to lengthen the blind trip of our Freudian train as it hisses out its poisonous fumes on an accelerating route to inevitable doom, breathing in coal and pumping out poison for the lungs of the eternal, angelic deer, rendered still and dumbfounded by our stupid, frantic lights.

But should we feel this way? Is what we are doing wrong? And if it is, what makes it wrong? Is it just because we are different; because we create things that nothing else creates, or think in a different way than anything else does, as far as we know? This certainly can’t be our rubric for guilt-free existence - to do, think and create nothing that doesn’t exist already. If this were the case, DNA should feel guilt for their prolific creation of life, those complex machines who do nothing but destroy and transform their environments solely for the selfish reasons of their own survival, ensuring the continuation of their destructive past. Stars should feel guilt for their creation of complex elements, carrying the burden of responsibility for changing their environment from the pure, old-fashioned universe of hydrogen and trace helium to the universe of complex molecules we see today. In each of these cases, and countless others, we see in the universe, long before humans, a destruction of a previous environment for the creation of a new one.

The obvious argument that we shouldn’t do the same is that we have the ability to make choices about how we interact with our environment, which we have good reason to believe stars and DNA do not. Determinists would say that this is simply not true, that the feeling of choice is only an illusion and that our bodies and communities are merely complex combinations of physical processes, resulting from a cacophony of cause-and-effect, knee-jerk reactions. There is very interesting experimental evidence behind this philosophy. In one experiment, researchers stimulated the subject’s premotor cortex, which is largely responsible for planning muscle movement. This evoked from the subject a conviction that they decided to perform the action. They would even make up reasons for their motivation in doing so. When neurons that directly control muscles were stimulated, however, the subject had the experience of having their bodies controlled unwillingly by an outside force. I’ve heard many arguments for a deterministic philosophy, but I think it is safe to say that no matter how you look at it, our brains and bodies have built into them a certain degree of choice and randomness. Even if it was proven beyond doubt that choice is an illusion, which is a shift of worldview that would require a plethora of evidence and careful consideration, this strikes me as a useless, if not harmful, piece of knowledge, given that we have no stronger subjective experience in our lives than choice. Beyond being a potentially harmful philosophy that seems to only have the function of justifying everything we do, determinism is also depressing. But there is something that we can take from a deterministic worldview before we dismiss it entirely, which is that it takes a step towards equating humans with the rest of the universe.

We know now that we are made of the same stuff that the rest of the universe is made of, that all of the heavy elements in our bodies were fused in stars and supernovas, and that we share a common ancestor with every other living creature on Earth. We don’t know exactly what caused the first forms of replicating molecules to emerge, but we know it had something to do with being a healthy distance away from the sun so its photons could maintain a consistent interaction with the molecules on our planet without causing too much damage to them. There is no evidence, however, that there was some new force that was introduced into the universe when a certain combination of molecules replicated, however successfully. Just as plants and animals are two of many ways to be a living creature, it seems that living and nonliving things are just two ways of being made out of matter. Furthermore, the Big Bang theory indicates that living and nonliving matter share a common ancestor of sorts, before diverging and going down separate paths for separate reasons.

There seems to be no reason to think of ourselves as separate from the rest of the universe. We come from it, exist entirely within it, and are in constant interaction with it, just like everything else. So then, why do we think of ourselves in this way? Why do we put the most value on things that we, as a species, have had the least to do with? Why do we have words like ‘natural’, ‘nature’, ‘wilderness’, ‘technology’, and many others whose meaning strictly delineates our species from the rest of the world? Why is the beaver’s dam allowed into our mental image of a ‘pristine wilderness’, but our dams are not? Do beavers feel the same guilt for building their damns, or woodchucks for cutting down trees, or birds for building nests? Does a wolf ever feel remorse for killing her victim? I think the answer to these last few questions is no. So why do we have these feelings of guilt and remorse for doing these kinds of things?

The obvious difference between these actions I’ve mentioned and their counterparts in the non-human world is a matter of degree. Our dams are huge and excessive, our buildings look nothing like anything else we see on both an aesthetic and a substantial level, we outsource our killing, and do it on a massive scale in an impersonal way, having no connection with the living things that we eat. Most of these things are the result of our population. There has been a feedback loop between the efficiency of specialization that we discovered long ago, and the increase of population it produces. It’s a kind of chicken and egg problem to find out which came first; was it a large population that demanded the efficiency of specialization to keep up with it, or was it the benefits of specialization in a community that created an enormous amount of food and resources, which resulted in a population explosion? Either way, as we find ourselves today, it is a frivolous analogy to make between the cookie cutout houses that we see in our suburbs and the nests we see birds making in trees. No matter how we define the term ‘sustainable’, it’s clear that what birds do is sustainable and what humans do is not sustainable.

Before we judge ourselves so harshly for this fact, we must remember the lesson that we learned from Charles Darwin; we are not the only species that tries to recreate as much as we possibly can in order to increase our genetic influence; this is one behavior that we share with every species on Earth.

I’ve often heard people say that our manipulation of our environment, and our technologies in general, are wrong because we are “playing god”. The truth, I think, is that it would be irresponsible of us to not play god. After all, we are the first species who have, with our wit and originality, succeeded so well in the game of natural selection that we truly are able to control our environment, including every species within it, to an increasingly minute degree, so that they benefit the motives of our species. We are thus the first species to have motives that go beyond the proliferation of our species to include the well-being of all species, because we’ve come to realize that our existence, as well as the existence of all life, depends on the maintenance of a much larger organism; our planet. I think it is safe to say that any species that have found themselves in such a powerful niche would have to make the same transition. And I think it is also safe to say that there are many imaginable ways of occupying the niche at the top of the food chain without having enough powers of reasoning and observation to realize that it is this much larger system is more important than any one system within it. Perhaps, then, the best candidates for the niche that we humans maintain, even in the best imaginable case in terms of maintaining the health of our environment, are a species who have something like a brain, which allows them to conceive of their environment in terms beyond their own survival. It is clear that this unselfish worldview is drastically in contrast to any behavior we’ve seen in any other species up until now. This dramatic shift of behavior is exactly where we find ourselves right now.

But there is another possibility. It’s possible that the bad guys came out on top, and that things would be a lot better had, say, that damn meteor not struck Earth and killed all those species, allowing a future in which the many greats-grandchildren of dinosaurs fill our shoes. Natural selection is completely blind and far from perfect, and it is conceivable that in creating us, evolution created a disease that is slowly and inevitably killing itself off. The rate at which human brains have been growing in the past million years or so is one of the most explosive phenotypic trends we know of. It’s obvious why intelligence was, and continues to be, so strongly selected for, and it’s also easy to see that this particular mutation has absolutely had a greater impact on Earth’s environment than any mutation before it, besides perhaps the evolution of the amazing replicator, DNA itself. On top of intelligence’s obvious advantages for survival, the mutation seems to be creating its own feedback loop by resulting in the creation of technologies and cultures that create environments that specifically select for intelligence, so that intelligence is selected for at a constantly increasing rate. It’s possible that brains simply shouldn’t get this big. The current state of our individual psychologies and the frantic, confused cultures that they create are lines of evidence for this. So, perhaps we are, literally, a disease that is spreading like an infection. This may not be a bad thing, as diseases always seem to have some role in nature. For instance, diseases like cancer and HIV seem to have the emergent function of reducing the ridiculous number of our population. Without medicine, diseases like these and others would probably even be keeping our population at a level that might be thought of as congruous with the rest of the living world, and the resources on Earth. A similar, but more interesting example is a particular kind of fungi, called Cordyceps, which are parasitic fungi. There are many species, each adapted to specific host. Some Cordyceps species are able to affect the behavior of their insect host; Cordyceps unilateralis for instance causes ants to climb a plant and attach there before they die, assuring maximal distribution of the spores from the fruiting body that sprouts out of the dead insect's body. When other ants find the bodies of their friends dead, showing signs of Cordyceps infection, they carry them far away from the colony before the fungus sprouts and releases its spores. The relevance of this example is that the rate of Cordyceps infections seem to increase in proportion to their host species’ population. The result is a regulation of population, and the maintenance of a complex and fragile ecology. Diseases and viruses are concerned with reproduction, just like everyone else, and in doing so, they create their own niche in the environment that is exactly as perfect as everything else. I used to hate spiders as a child, until I heard that if they weren’t around, there would be all sorts of mosquitoes and flies all over the place.

My point is that regardless of how we classify our species and justify our situation, it must be admitted that we are here, that natural processes have given rise to our situation, and that there was no point at which our actions branched off into a separate category of existence, disconnected from the world. What does distinguish us from everything else is that we are the only ones who can change the nature of our influence on our environment. We are alone in our struggle with our own creations; we don’t know how to succeed in our attempts to balance our innate desire for progress and the destruction that progress, as we conceive of it today, results in. Even worse, we don’t even know if success is possible. And even worse than that, we haven’t ever been able to define what success would look like. We have no idea what we want to accomplish, or not accomplish. It certainly isn’t about survival anymore; of this we can be sure. But if not survival, then what? In asking this question, we are asking the big question – “Why?” But we have no idea how to answer this question. The recent discovery of the universal insignificance of our planet, and the discovery that we weren’t simply put here, haphazardly for some inconceivable greater purpose, but rather that we emerged, just like everything else, through complex processes, has us searching for the answer in the stars, hoping to find others like us, asking the same question. But what are we really hoping for in this cosmic union of minds? What we are searching for is cosmic proof of what we already know to be true, but we can’t admit to ourselves just yet - that there can be no simple, elegant answer to this question; that to conceive of some cosmic goal at some finite point in the future that we are progressing towards is an antiquated concept. We are searching for the final nail in the coffin of a religious, purposeful universe. Deep down, we no longer expect from our wise, cosmic elders an answer to our question of “Why?” We want them to laugh at us good-naturedly for even asking such a question, when we’ve already discovered the answer. The reason that we hope to find other intelligent beings is that we want cosmic proof that we are natural. We want to know that life happens, and that intelligence and technology, and everything we find ourselves doing happens, so that we can make our conscience clear, and rid ourselves of our self-imposed guilt.

But we don’t have to be told that we are natural, just like everything else. We already know that this is true; everything points in this direction. It’s time to finally take this knowledge to heart, and cure our own feeling of alienation from our world. This is the only way to go forward from this drastic era. We simply cannot continue on the way we are, with the knowledge we have accumulated about the severity of the damage we are doing to the ecosystem on which we depend. We need to consider ourselves, and the technologies we create, as a fully integrated part of reality, and erase the word, ‘unnatural’ from our vocabularies. I believe this approach will stimulate positive change in virtually every field of human culture. I’ve already mentioned how this will help us progressively move forward in the ecological crisis that we share with the entire living world. I will highlight a few other examples below.

This approach is already at the heart of a major dichotomy in modern philosophy, and metaphysics in particular, that is represented by two general camps – old school and new school. Old school philosophy aims to discover and name the fundamental truth of the world, to cut to the core of all that we perceive, and find the truth behind our perceptions, those processes that guide everything, and are responsible for the illusions that we perceive, and the arbitrary choices we make in life. The recent new school of philosophy has abandoned the possibility of any single perspective or idea ever being able to describe everything, portraying instead a view of a complex and integrated universe in which all things play a descriptive role.
The final consequence of this integrated perspective is a necessary philosophical change that will allow us to be successful in our attempt to go forward as a society with a clear, constructive future in mind. In the most general and important sense, it requires that we change our interpretation of our place in the universe. At the core of our philosophy up until now, we interpret our knowledge of the vastness of our universe as an excuse for nihilism. If everything that we do is arbitrary on a universal scale, then we are justified in doing anything we want without thought or remorse. But an integrated universe gives us a new perspective on this knowledge. After all, we must admit that even though every decision we make is arbitrary, we still make decisions, and any decision requires a choice among many arbitrary paths. Every element that is considered in every path must now be considered of equal qualitative value, and with our knowledge, we can choose the path that produces the most harmony among every element that will be affected by our choice. To paraphrase, this is the difference between a universe in which everything is to be considered unimportant, except humans, and a universe in which everything is to be considered important, including humans. We can no longer afford the hypocrisy of considering ourselves the only important things within a universe with no qualitative meaning.

The same type of transition is happening in the world of physics. Old school, Newtonian physics is a search for fundamental, unchanging laws that exist somewhere behind the things that we perceive. This search for a single, unchanging law that exists eternally, independent from the rest of the universe that it governs, is essentially the search for God. The crisis that modern physics faces of finding a theory to unite the quantum model with the standard model will only be resolved with a drastic change from this classical perspective. Whatever the answer to this question will look like, it will almost surely be a theory that perceives everything, including the parameters of our universal laws, as a product of relations of physical things. This is the direction that physics seems to be heading, from quantum observations and string theory to the heavily postulated Bozons who create fields that give particles their mass. In this relational world, it is impossible to describe anything completely without a description of everything in the universe. This new language of physics might take examples from the language that biologists have begun to use after Darwin’s theory of evolution, in which no organism can be completely described without describing every cell, organ, organism, etc., and their complex relations with each other to create a single being, as well as the history of change that each and every one of the individual elements and their interrelation within any living system has undergone.
This view of a world in which fundamental, eternal laws exist apart from the world that we conceive of as real, causes us to view the physical world as merely a passing, illusory construct, attempting to reach some perfect, Platonic form that it will never quite achieve. This has been reflected in the language of physics since the beginning. After all, it was only natural, when microscopes were first able to see things that the human eye could not, to think of the common macroscopic perspective as not representative of ‘reality’, and it was natural to come to the same conclusion when we first realized that the world we can see with our eyes is only a fragment of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. It is also a habit of many physicists to think of the smoothness of skin, or the density of steel, or the wetness of water, as incongruous with ‘reality’, because even steel mostly consists of space, with huge distances between electrons and their respective atomic nuclei. A very small particle, a neutrino for instance, goes travels through steel with ease, perceiving it perhaps very much like we perceive space, with gaps between its electrons and protons and neutrons and such almost as large as the gaps between our planets. Once we make these realizations, it is all too easy to say that the world as we see it is illusory. But this is silly. We can’t call something a mere false representation of reality every time we see it from some other perspective, or with different tools. Skin may be perceived as smooth, as a spacious gas, or as a mountainous landscape depending on our size. It may be perceived as being an entirely different color by brains that code wavelengths differently. With infrared glasses, we may only see skin as a product of the heat it produces, but to say that any of these perspectives is false or illusory would be ridiculous. We must think of all of these perspectives as merely an incomplete representation of reality. A complete understanding of the skin, or of anything, would come from integrating all of these perspectives into one cohesive whole. Skin is all of the things listed above, not none of them. This false conception is the root of the criticism that people have of studying the brain (or just about anything). Neuroscientists hear this all the time, “Why would you try to reduce the wondrous miracle of consciousness, perception, emotion, experience, memory, and intelligence down to a mere machine? No physical explanation of mental phenomena could account for the wealth and beauty of all human experience.” These people are falling victim to the fallacy that I described above. To claim that in studying the brain (or anything) from a physical perspective, we lose our understanding of the ephemeral beauty of emotion, is to make a false dichotomy. It is nonsense to think that we have to think of the brain either as a mechanism or a source of profound experience. A full understanding of our consciousness will come from a complete description and appreciation of mental phenomena at every level, not the least of which is one of subjective appreciation.

Politics and Social Theory:
Embracing our role as a fully integrated part of reality will be the biggest step away from competitive nationalism, and towards a peaceful, united world. We already see this happening, with the widespread use of connective technologies such as the internet, and all forms of global communication. The largest hurdle to cross will most likely be the unequal distribution of resources that we see currently in our global economy. This will also be the hardest obstacle, because this stratification exists largely because of the large populations in countries whose own local resources cannot support their numbers. This results from the most basic law of population growth; populations increase to match the amount of available food. Without the introduction of foreign resources, the populations of many African countries, for instance, would be drastically lower than we see them today, for the simple reason that there just isn’t that much food in their desert environment. The prolific shipping of food and resources between all areas of the world has increased the populations of areas like these, and created a dependence on foreign resources, which gives countries like America the upper hand in any negotiation. This, I think, is one of the largest reasons for the exploitive state of globalization that we see today. It will be very difficult for the world to find (or desire) a unified economy, but I strongly believe that this is the direction that we are headed in, although I think it would take a great deal of work to create a world without economic stratification amongst various areas.
This future may seem impossible, but the general unified philosophy that is emerging makes it seem at least plausible. And it will surely be impossible unless we dismantle the self-hatred of our species and our technologies, and establish clear, global goals. The only way this will ever happen is by pursuing a general universal philosophy of integration and unification in which we use our expanding body of knowledge about the world to be as sure as we can about the short and long term effects of our actions on everything, and hold ourselves responsible for the consequences of those actions.

“The world will always be here, and it will always be different, more varied, more interesting, more alive, but still always the world in all its complexity and incompleteness. There is nothing behind it, no absolute or platonic world to transcend to. All there is of Nature is what is around us. All there is of Being is relations among real, sensible things. All we have of natural law is a world that has made itself. All we may expect of human law is what we can negotiate among ourselves, and what we take as our responsibility. All we may gain of knowledge must be drawn from what we can see with our own eyes, and what others tell us they have seen with their eyes. All we may expect of justice is compassion. All we may look up to as judges are each other. All that is possible of utopia is what we make with our own hands. Pray let it be enough.” – Lee Smolin

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Universal Theory That Doesn't Have a Name Yet

The second law of thermodynamics, the universal law of increasing entropy, states that the entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium, or complete homogeneity.

Therefore, any system that maintains a heterogeneous state with complex structure must have a frequent flow of energy into and out of itself. We see this kind of variety on every scale in our universe. Even the organizations of the largest structures in it, galaxies, have great variations in density. One possibility as to why this might be is that the universe is indeed an isolated system, and that its entropy will increase in time, approaching a state of equilibrium, and that the great variety of interesting structures that we see increasing over time are simply the result of a chaotic, perhaps one-time event.

But there is another possibility to explain why our universe doesn’t seem to be approaching equilibrium, and that in fact, seems to be doing quite the opposite – achieving a greater and greater amount of complexity. It is simply that our universe isn’t an isolated system, and that it maintains a steady flow of energy with its surroundings. Before we discuss how this might happen, we need to imagine what could be outside our universe to exchange energy with. There is, in my opinion, only one theory regarding this question which both a) fits with everything we already know about the universe, in particular that we see structure, complexity, and beauty in every scale we’ve ever looked at, not to mention similar patterns on all scales and b) answers so many fundamental questions, in particular why the parameters of the universe are so finely tuned so that this amount of complexity results, let alone so that the universe is not simply a gas in equilibrium, which is overwhelmingly more likely if the parameters were chosen randomly. That theory is heralded by Lee Smolin in his book “The Life of the Cosmos,” and it goes something like this:

The fundamental laws of the universe we live in are the result of natural selection, in which the universes that create the most black holes are selected for, because black holes give rise to new ‘universes’ or progeny.

Just as our bodies are the result of a long history of evolution, and our genes 'program' our bodies to behave in a way that is most likely to produce offspring, the universe we live in has parameters that are the result of a history of evolution, and it 'programs' our universe to behave in a way that produces the most offspring, and black holes are its method of reproduction. Lee Smolin does a great job of explaining this theory and backing it up in the aforementioned book, so I will not, but I will say that I expect that it will become commonly accepted. My response when I originally heard it awhile ago, and in finally reading the details later, was much like many scientists’ initial response to Darwin’s original proposal of the theory of evolution: “It’s so obvious. Why didn’t I think of that?”

This theory gives us an answer to the question I posed earlier, which was, if it is necessary for a non-equilibrium system to maintain an exchange of energy with its surroundings to prevent its entropy from increasing to a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, what could our universe possibly be exchanging energy with to maintain its state of non-equilibrium?

With the theory of cosmic evolution, we find ourselves to be quite literally one of very many exploded black holes within another universe, just as all black holes within our universe have exploded in turn into ‘new universes’. So, what could possibly be flowing into and out of a black hole? Not even light can escape a black hole once it reaches its event horizon, which is why we can’t see them or anything that goes on in them. The only thing that seems to be able to leave a black hole is gravity.

The most important and enlightening thing to understand about gravity is that it is the only force that is universally attractive, and has infinite range. Everything that has mass communicates with everything else that has mass over and infinite range through gravity. Right now, the world of physics is in a major crisis, because they have found no way to unite gravity together with electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces in a cohesive theory of quantum gravity. There has, however been great progress recently in the quantum field. The overwhelming trend is the discovery of a great many extremely small particles. The Large Hadron Particle Collider that went online this fall, and then offline shortly there after, hopes to find the theoretically inferred Higgs Bozon which essentially adds mass to elementary particles that find themselves caught in their Higgs Field. If there were no Higgs particles, the electron would have no mass. It would move at the speed of light, like a photon. But if it finds itself surrounded by a gas of Higgs particles, the electron is not able to move so quickly. The electron seems to gain mass because it is moving, not through empty space, but through a muck of Higgs particles. It becomes heavier because when one pushes it, one also pushes all the Higgs particles around it. To the universe, an electron and a neutrino are the same thing, except that one has mass because it finds itself in a field of Higgs particles. The choice is made one way or another by the system itself. When this happens we say that a symmetry of the laws has been spontaneously broken. To see what this means, imagine a pencil balanced on its point. It cannot stay that way long for it is unstable, a little push to one side of the other and it will fall. If it is perfectly balanced, the law of gravity cannot tell us which way it will fall; any way is s good as another. But any small disturbance will break the symmetry, leading to a choice of a more stable, but less symmetric configuration, in which the pencil is lying on its side.

The most important implications of Higgs particles is that even when we look at the smallest, currently theoretical levels, we see something as fundamental as mass being determined by individual entities interacting with their environment. The theory of quantum gravity, I think, most likely will be uncovered with the type of research. I think that as we look closer and closer, we will see the properties of subatomic particles being defined by smaller particles in environments they find themselves in, who themselves gain their properties through environmental interactions, until we realize that the laws of the universe are not separate from the particles they govern; there is no fixed background against which things interact , and all properties that we observe are about relationships. My theory is that all of the attractive forces are the result of extremely small particles, and their attractive force is proportional to their mass. The electromagnetic force, we know, is transmitted by photons. The nuclear forces result from particles which are large enough to interact strongly with the dense environment of atomic nuclei, so that they have a strong effect, but very few of them escape and their effect therefore dissipates quickly, and the gravitational force results from smaller particles which have a much smaller likelihood of interacting with other particles, which is why their effects dissipate after much larger distances, while their effects are weaker. An almost exact analogy can be made to the example of the dense core of a collapsed massive star. The core is too dense for photons to travel far; only neutrinos, which interact very weakly with matter, can get out. Thus, as the star collapses, many neutrinos are created that carry energy out of the core. On their journey out, about 5% of them do interact along the way while the other 95% of them escape the dense environment.

The rest of my argument doesn’t rely on the details of this theory (what details?), but it does rely on gravity having a particle nature. This, at least, is the opinion of almost all scientists. For all other forces that we are aware of (electromagnetic force, weak decay force, strong nuclear force) there have been particles identified that transmit the forces at a quantum level. Of course, when I say particle, I mean one that have a particle-wave duality, just like the others. Perhaps the particle that transmits gravity is not even much further down this chain of interacting particles than the Higgs particles, maybe it’s even around the same size, maybe there are many different types, and maybe it’s only one more step down an infinite line of smaller particles.

If the cells of our bodies did not have a membrane which allows it to control the exchange of energy and materials between it and its environment, diffusion and heat flows would quickly result in a mixing of the matter and energy between the inside and the outside of the cell, killing it. Instead, the cell is able to control exchanges between its interior and exterior to its own advantage, in order to maintain a high level of internal organization. Likewise, our biosphere is kept isolated from the rest of the universe by Earth’s gravitational field, while the atmosphere and ozone layer serve partly to control its exchange of radiation with the outside universe.

Our black hole universe also has a clear boundary between itself and its surroundings. Our universe’s equivalent to the cell membrane, or the Earth’s magnetic field, is its event horizon. The universe ‘cell’ produces its ATP, or energy source in high energy events such as stars, galaxies, and supernovas, which can all be thought of as its organelles. The energy which these structures produce, namely light, cannot achieve the escape velocity of a black hole, and so it is restricted to the volume dictated by the event horizon (again, our cell membrane). And the building blocks it absorbs and emits with its surroundings are gravity particles. It sends these particles out in all directions and receives them from all directions. When it is actively feeding on much larger particles, like matter, it ‘metabolizes’ them by breaking them down into these fundamental building blocks, using its own massive gravitational force, and it uses these building blocks to create its organelles. The reason why gravity particles are such good building blocks is simple. Since gravity is universally attractive, and has infinite range, systems that it holds together do not evolve over time to uniform and unorganized systems. As time goes on, the system separates into different components. One group of stars, for instance, will fall towards the center while others gain energy they lost and move further out. Such systems become increasingly heterogeneous, rather than more homogeneous, over time. A system with gravity as a building block will develop variety, and interesting and beautiful structures. Such a system will also tend to repeat their basic structural patterns on a wide range of scales, exactly like we see in our universe, and consequently in the universes contained in the black holes within our universe, and so on.

*The main premise of my idea, the theory of cosmic natural selection, is not the only thing in this paper that is owed to Lee Smolin. Many explanatory passages are more or less lifted from his book with little change in wording. There are three reasons for this near-plagarism. One – it’s a blog. Two – The man is a fantastic explainer. And 3 - I was in a hurry to just get in writing the main idea that is fleshed out in the last four paragraphs, which is the only truly original part of the paper. The other 2 pages or so were just a scramble, and I’m well aware that it is far from logically acceptable, but I wanted it to be at least conceptually understandable. I recommend wholeheartedly his book, “The Life of the Cosmos”, to hear his convincing arguments for a theory that to many might seem bizarre and unwarranted.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Shortest 50 Song Playlist Ever
This 6 minute mix contains 50 entire, unedited songs from 40 artists. It's the most thrilling, breathtaking experience you'll ever have.

The Shortest 50 Song Playlist Ever

1. King Missile - Introduction 2. Modest Mouse - Horn Intro 3. Capsule - Open 4. The Octopus Project with Black Moth Super Rainbow - It Hurts To Shoot Lasers From Your Fingers, But It's Necessary 5. Ass Slut - You're Gay 6. Man Man - Fishstick Gumbo 7. Dino Felipe - Eh-Eh, Eh 8. Sgure - ShortasmustacheKing 9. Prefuse 73 & The Books - Pagina Uno. Introduccion 10. Karlheinz Stockhausen - Moment 32 8th Time-Window Momente 11. GAEOUDJIPARL - Intro-Til-Gaeoudji-Filmen 12. John Zorn - Hammerhead 13. Fantastic Plastic Machine - I Am Beautiful 14. Basement Jaxx - Petrilude 15. Man Man - Mysteries of the Universe Unraveled 16. Vernon LeNoir - Head Nurse Touch 17. The Olivia Tremor Control - Combinations (2) 18. Death By Chocolate - Lime Green Fitted Blouse 19. Drop the Lime - Do It 20. Secret Mommy - AOL Keyword Party 21. DAT Politics - DAT Politics 22. Keshco - Fingertips 23. Karlheinz Stockhausen - I Schwirrend-Knurrend 24. Karlheinz Stockhausen - II Klatschend-Heulend-Bellend 25. Funkstörung - Play Pause (w/ Enik) 26. The Olivia Tremor Control - The Sky Is a Harpsichord Canvas 27. Mujaji - (Blank) 28. Vernon LeNoir - Snail! Snail! Rocknroll 29. Mouse On Mars - One Day Not Today 30. Kid 606 - Punkshit 31. Food For Animals - NCorrected 32. Blectum from Blechdom - Welcome to the Haus de Snaus 33. Dino Felipe - Molina's Girl 34. SwitchFocus - Smoke (Intro) 35. Aelters - Id'Worldnite 36. Kracfive Vs. After-School Kids - Andre 37. Yukari Fresh - Cat 38. Nurse With Wound - Raymonde Fluffs It 39. Sufjan Stevens - One Last "Whoo-hoo!" For The Pullman 40. Mindless Self Indulgence - J 41. Otto Von Schirach - Lock Groove 4 42. Dick Mills - Major Bloodnok's Stomach 43. Capsule - Q&A 44. Ass Slut - La Lalala 45. Satanicpornocultshop - Interlude-Helo 46. Candie Hank - Interlude 47. Stock, Hausen and Walkman - Untitled 48. Dragibus - Kaptain Kangoroo! 49. Vernon LeNoir - Brave Makumbi 50. Dragibus - Stop!!!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fractal Universe Zoom

*Edit: This uploaded video appears in my preview for this post, but sometimes it doesn't when I view my blog. If you don't see it, you can download it here. About 4 and 1/2 minutes - It's very worth it.*

This video came from The Ultimate Fractal Video Project.

Infinity is a concept that can only be understood conceptually, but it is within us and without us in every moment, forever. The best way to experience it would be to not have a brain, but since anyone on this site most likely has one of those, then the next best way to feel infinity is to watch videos that zoom into fractals. And this is the most profound video I've found so far.

I cut and paste from the site:
'The "Universe" viddies are so named because at a zoom depth of E+26, the original Mandelbrot is expanded to approximately the size of the known observable universe, 10-20 billion lightyears. And E+61 is the ratio of the entire visible universe to the smallest sub-atomic quantum effects. So where does E+89 take you? To the Mother of All Mandelbrot ZooM animations !

This one took 7 months to render on 3 systems, all running 24/7. This is the Deepest Mandelbrot ZooM Animation ever made, and ever likely to be made (without frame interpolation, shortcuts, tricks or cheating). It goes all the way to a final zoom depth of E+89, and uses maximum iterations (2,100,000,000) all the way for maximum detail.'

The one that I posted is a much better video in my opinion. It took 9 months on 4 systems running 24/7, and it goes to E+87

But the larger the screen, the better the experience, and the rendering of this video is very good, so I recommend downloading it.

Also, here's The Simpsons version of the same concept:
Simpsons Universe Opening

Saturday, January 24, 2009


To be sure, there is no such thing as past or future. The universe of interacting elements and dimensions is only concerned with the present, and that is all there is. Past and future are concepts produced by the organization of our brain matter. Memory is a blunt tool used to allow both individual organisms and their interactions with one another to change in the way they behave within their environment, not only between successive generations, as with bacteria or viruses, but within the lifespan of an individual organism. This is not to say that there is no such thing as time, but rather that the coding of images into abstract, representational codes stored in the neurons of the rain is merely another experiment in 'the game' of matter. The 'past' is merely how we perceive abstract pieces of information being coded and decoded within itself. But again, the only thing that is is that very movement of matter and energy in the visceral moment. The now. The unachievable Euclidean point. Unimaginable because, although every fragment of matter in our bodies experiences an infinite amount of them within every moment, we will never catch up to it. As it is, it already is not. When we think of what a moment is, we are experiencing universes collapse and renew within every atom in our brains an infinite amount of times. All of the moments that ever were and ever will be have already passed, died, been born, evolved, multiplied, collapsed, exploded. Experiencing the true moment, the now, the infinitesimal Euclidean Point, sliced out of the endless fabric of time, is to be a perfectly triangulated, no-dimensional point within an infinitely expansive anti-blackhole, because to exist in this ephemeral snapshot is to exist in absolute stillness; no movement; nothing.

New Song - The Many Cheeses of King Jeez Louise III

After a couple months of broken computers, moving, and Ableton problems, I finally got it together again. Here's a new song.

The Many Cheeses of King Jeez Louise III

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cool Bots

Check out these amazing robots!

This one moves in an eerily organic way, with unbelievably fast reaction times. The recovery from the kick 35 seconds in is amazing.

Cute little bot. Doesn't look good for robo-doomsayers, though.
Step 1: Robots throwing miniature rubber duckies into trash bins.
Step 2: Robots uniting to dominate the planet through brute force.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Self-Expression in Music

I've been thinking about music's reputation as an immensely self-expressive and emotionally conveying art form. But raw emotion is far from the only source of musical creation. In live performance, the artist's role is not at all to simply express their self, but to fulfill the expectations of the audience members, to perform as appropriately as possible given the setting. In a performance setting, there is a feedback loop between the audience members, who respond positively when the artist approaches their expectations, and the artist who feels encouraged and compelled to continue in that direction. So there is an illusion of self-expression on the part of the performer, but in reality what is happening is group expression. The group of individuals that is the audience and performer(s) are all working together to find the most agreeable medium of entertainment. One is simply not allowed to perform a spoken word piece at a heavy metal concert, or a freestyle at a square dance.
This group-expression and fulfillment of expectations proliferates beyond the obvious give-and-take relationship of a live audience. For instance, it is easy to see that a group of musicians are collectively expressing something shared, but completely separate from each individual. Each member of the band, ensemble, whatever, is making the most appropriate addition they can, within their ability, to a sound entity that exists outside of them. But what about solo artists? Composers? Solitary electronic artists?
I would argue that music is another specialized branch of knowledge, exactly like science or mathematics, and that any musician is an expert (or amateur) in the field, and like any branch of knowledge, they draw from observations and practices of other experts in the field, and make contributions to the field in the form of subtle variations or small advances. And just as science speciates into biology, geology, astronomy, etc. as the body of knowledge grows and the questions become increasingly specific, music speciates into different scales, instruments, genres, technologies, etc. In this sense, when a guitar player creates a new sound by combining two disparate scales, he or she is no more expressing their self than an engineer who discovers a novel way to make a solar panel more efficient.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not succumbing to pure, cold determinism here, and ignoring the profound emotions that emerge in creative processes. I'm saying two things, to review:
1. The complexity and beauty of music, like all stochastic and evolutionary systems, arises from multiple, interacting influences, not the least of which is cultural pressure. I think most people underestimate the contributing roles of these other influencing systems and overestimate the role of individual ingenuity.
2. The arts aren't the only specializations that develop through profound creativity. Every specialization develops this way in equal degree.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Music Shapes Our Worldview

Music, the art of sound, is perhaps the most truly self-expressive form of art. While visual art was conceived as an attempt to recreate the beauty we find all around us, music finds at its roots an attempt to externalize the self, to give utterance to our internal being. The beat projects the pulse of the heart out into the world. The voice gives utterance to the soul. But to say that music's beauty comes solely from the self would be far from the truth. Since music's beginning, there was a give and take between the external (the world) and the internal (the mind and soul). As one projects one's conception of beauty out into the world, so does one derive one's conception of beauty from the world which one is a part of. But as our sonic landscape is shaped more and more by humans, this give and take relationship becomes increasingly weighted towards the 'give' side of the exchange. The industrial revolution brought with it a cacophony of sounds that were complex, varied, unpredictable, uncontrollable, and loud. And these sounds were everywhere. The sound of machinery and its products became virtually inescapable. Indeed, the majority of the Earth's sound events were human-related, and these sounds had great impact on the musical world. The human ear, so overstimulated with noise, became disenchanted with traditional musical form, and composers had to compete with the noisy world to entertain the modern ear, with its new ruberick for complexity. Early on, this was done by an increased use of dissonant chords and melodies, more focus on percussive instruments, and the use of microtones and non-diatonic scales. But finally, it was the invention of the microphone that allowed sound artists to directly capture complex and beautiful sounds, instead of referencing or emulating them.

In this essay, I intend to demonstrate how music plays a large role in shaping our relationship with our surroundings by influencing our ideas about the physical world we live in, and changing our philosophical perspective of its nature.

Until recently, sound was regarded as musical if, and only if it had an instrumental source. A violin, a voice, or an African drum created 'music'. A rock thrown through a window did not. The creation of recording mediums, especially the microphone, was the most important advance in the history of music. All of the sudden, previously ephemeral auditory experiences could be recreated and relived. Music could be copied almost endlessly and heard by a vastly greater audience, since they didn't have to be present for a live performance to hear it. No longer was there the monstrous creative barrier that restricted performers and composers to pieces that had to be performed live, without the aid of edits, overdubs, multiple takes and other artifacts of post-production. Perhaps most importantly, recording introduced a completely new way of listening to, and creating music. It allowed the capturing and manipulation of any perceivable sound event, and it allowed an audience to listen to these previously 'non-musical' sounds in an environment detached from the audio's physical sources. By giving these sounds a life of their own, independent of their source, listeners were encouraged to concentrate on the complex beauty of previously overlooked sounds.

Humans have evolved to favor the sense of vision to such an extent that sound events basically receive no conscious attention, unless a sound is abnormal or out of context enough to be considered alarming. Listening to recordings of sounds makes us more familiar with the things producing them by allowing us to explore their sonic qualities in depth, without being distracted, if not consumed, by their visual characteristics.

However, when we are listening to sound through the translation of a recording medium, there are several important and interesting observations we must explore before we can say what it is, exactly, that we are becoming familiar with.

1. The microphone hears differently than the human ear. Different frequencies, or combinations of frequencies, are emphasized, while others are deemphasized or lost altogether. Perhaps the most important observation about the nature of the microphone is that, regardless of its sonic loyalty to the recorded object, it is still only representing, not reproducing, the acoustic phenomenon. It is an imperfect intermediary between source and listener, and as such, constitutes a degree of separation between sender and receiver.

2. Recorded sound is not live. It must be stored in some form before it can reach our ears. We do not hear them from the original source. They are dead sounds from the past. The source has become the recording medium, whether it be tape, ones and zeros, or a wax cylinder. Even in the case of listening to a solo electric guitar at a live performance, there are numerous degrees of removal from the instrument and the ear, each one distorting the vibrations of the source: In the most bare-bones setup, the string's vibrations are transcribed by a magnetic pickup into an electric signal, which flows through a wire into a preamp, which drastically raises the amplitude of the signal, then into an amp, which further distorts amplitude and frequency, then the signal is transcribed into back-and-forth movement by a magnetic coil, which in turn moves a speaker, which causes the air to move in the surrounding space, after which numerous things happen to the sound, depending on the dimensions of the room, materials within it, distance between listener and speaker, etc.

3. The most important thing to consider when asking the question 'What are we becoming familiar with when we listen to recorded sound?' is the step that occurs after the sound reaches our ears. In my view, there are three very general steps that occur to sound after it reaches our ears.

The first is what we literally are able to hear, given the physical limitation of the human ear. This includes all of the innumerable psychoacoustic phenomena that occur within the ear, such as our hearing range, or the 'masking effect' that renders us unable to hear the quieter of two frequencies in close proximity sounding simultaneously.

The second is the act of attention, focus, and concentration. The listening ear is constantly shifting specific attention and general concentration on both a conscious and subconscious level simultaneously, and in infinite variety. One moment, I'm concentrating on the texture of a synthesizer amidst a torrent of other sounds in my headphones, while staying attentive to the sound of cars to the left of me as I ride my bike through traffic; another moment, I'm comparing subtle percussive changes between two measures while completely tuning out the loud and spirited debate of a nearby group from my conscious attention.

The third step is one of intellectual thought. Consciously or unconsciously, as we have sensory experience, we are constantly making associations between images, sounds, memories, abstract ideas, smells, words, rules, people, etc. This is a very important and interesting step, and it is the step I will focus on throughout this paper.

I would like to define two basic types of recorded sound; representational and non-representational sound.

Representational sound is recorded with the intention of the listener being able to discern the original, physical source of the sound, and to visualize the sources that are creating the audio. The listener, for instance, is intended to recognize the sound of a guitar, trumpet, snare drum, female voice, animal sounds. A large part of the enjoyment of representational sound is an awareness of the recorded object's history, social status or function. Non-representational sound is recorded with the intention of being experienced purely as abstract sound, without any worldly reference.

To understand how we react to sounds whose source we recognize, (or are intended to), we must first quickly examine the nature of memory.

Imagine coming home to your apartment. You use no cognitive effort to get out the right key, unlock the entry door, turn down the hall, walk up the stairs, turn down the maze of hallways, get out another key, turn the knob, enter, and close and lock the door behind you. You're completely on autopilot, and to some extant, hardly even conscious of your actions. In some cases, you might not even remember doing it upon later reflection. But now imagine that someone has played a trick on you, and the door handle to your apartment is just three inches higher than usual, or that the door was suddenly just 5 pounds heavier than usual, or that there were one extra step on the way up. Any one of these minor changes would immediately make you alert, and probably more confused and dismayed than the situation calls for. This analogy, stolen from Jeff Hawkins' book, On Intelligence, illustrates a basic concept of memory: we tend to be alerted by things out of the ordinary, and these are the things that we remember. The brain's job is to constantly create and update a virtual map of the world we live in so that we can live and thrive. We devote the least attention to the people, places and things that we are most familiar with, because these things have a firm place in our long-term memory, and we can maneuver around them on autopilot. In these situations, the brain is free to devote its energy to something else, like thinking about that novel you've been kicking around. But as soon as something out of the ordinary appears in the situation, we immediately become alert, and our brain catalogues this new anomaly into its long-term memory. The more traumatic, the more deeply we remember. In this way, our brains build a repertoire of surprisingly detailed images and spacial maps.

Every one of our senses is designed to inform us of our physical surroundings by testing events against our previous experiences, our catalogue of previously encountered images. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that there is nothing fundamentally different in the way that the brain processes information from different senses. The brain literally perceives no difference between visual information and auditory information. This has been demonstrated by successfully "switching" sensory input to different parts of the brain that are normally used other senses. This means that auditory events make our brains reference its models of people, places and things just like visual, taste, or olfactory events.

In this sense, the sound of an acoustic guitar is enjoyed not simply because of its timbrel quality. Due to its widespread cultural status, everyone is, to some degree, aware of its general shape and size, and most are somewhat familiar with the process of playing the guitar, and listeners can imagine the player's fingers moving fast and swiftly. So the sound of a guitar is enjoyed largely because of the listener's awe for instrumental virtuosity, among other things. The main observation that I would like to make about representational sound is that it is enjoyed primarily for its reference to our memories, not for its beauty as an abstract sound design.

It would be a redundant truism to say that language is an example of audio that helps us to learn about the world, including the people in it and their emotions. Language's role in shaping our culture and worldview is only debated in terms of degree. I think that music, regardless of intention, has an emergent effect on the brain that is very similar to language. It is strikingly clear how much classical music, for instance, which laid down so many fundamental paths in the language of music, models the tone and cadence of conversation. And with our music drenched culture, there is no doubt of a certain degree of feedback response from music that in turn causes our conversational tone to model current musical trends, creating a sort of symbiotic relationship. Both forms of audio are arranged in a deliberate pattern that changes over time, they both arrive at increasingly less ambiguous references to emotions, locations, objects, situations, etc. as people use them in similar contexts, and their form has many parallels. I would go so far as saying that music is a language very similar to any functional example, but with one fundamental difference: Spoken language has much more strict rules of grammatical organization. Language disallows ambiguity in its references due to its practical function, whereas music, due to its artistic niche, is encouraged to be ambiguous. It is a true generality that music's domain is that of emotion, and language's domain is a perceived reality, but this is only a vague generality, and to say that the roles of the two are mutually exclusive is a false dichotomy. Music derives most of its emotional power by referencing the perceived, "empirical" world in an irrational way.

So, then, what's left for non-representational, or abstract sound? After all, if one accepts that even the most fundamental emotions we experience have their roots in the perceivable world as it is interpreted and stored by our brains, then the entire notion of "abstract" art comes into question. For the sake of the scope of this essay, it must suffice to say that abstract music is created with the intention of making either no reference, or only vague reference, to the empirical world.

I believe that music is inherently an art form that attempts to transcend the empirical world, to become part of the mystical, emotional soul, apart from the physical reality. Music attempts to become 'The Self,' perceived by its owner as a separate dimension. Music constantly changes so that it can keep its place in this ephemeral world, apart from the reality that is maintained by the practical senses, and by language. Music always has to keep up with the brain, because its function is to turn novelty into routine. I think music's history can be viewed as a series of paradigms of detachment from empirical reality, followed by mental habituation; that is, the brain categorizing these departures from reality as distinct, separate entities that become mundane and routine. In response, music finds new departures, and so on. The following is a short list of examples:

1. I think this is demonstrable as early as formal music's beginnings, when musicians were conceiving of ways to separate frequencies into modular tones as a way to transcend the random white noise of natural sounds, and early percussive instruments. Instrumental designing and manufacturing was fueled by a search for a 'pure tone', unfound in the natural world.

2. Jumping ahead to post-industrial times, the 'pure tone,' classical approach to music evoked little response from the modern ear that was now constantly being barraged by complex, mechanical sound. In response, musicians and composers developed an interest in purposefully creating sounds which are unpredictable, and to a certain extent, uncontrollable. Early on, this was done by using dissonant chords and melodies in classical composition, followed by expiremental composers who used microtones (tones inbetween the notes of the traditional 12-note chromatic scale). Others competed with the complexity of modern sound by incorporating more percussion instruments, whose waveforms are close to purely random white noise. Italian futurist, Luigi Russolo took this concept to its end in his treatise, The Art of Noises (1913), in which he describes in complexity what he envisioned in the future of music. Central to this essay are descriptions of future "noise machines" that would emulate the randomness of sounds like clanging, scraping, and shattering with precise guidance by performers.

Later, composer such as Earle Brown and John Cage explored indeterminate composition. These methods could be grouped into two main categories: There are compositional methods that are determinate as to their composition, and indeterminate as to their performance. Using this method, the composer encourages the performers to improvise, following vague guidelines. An example of this technique is Earle Brown's December 1952, a piece whose score is an array of vertical and horizontal lines with varying space and width, instructing the performer to interpret the score visually and translate the graphical information to music. And then there are compositions that are indeterminate as to their composition, and determinate as to their performance, such as John Cage's Music of Changes, a piece for piano for which all compositional choices were made by flipping coins.

3. The invention of recording mediums and the speaker allowed the detachment of real-world sounds from their sources. Pierre Schaeffer called sound that one hears from a speaker without seeing its source acousmatic sound. This term is derived from akousmatikoi, which refers to the pupils of the philosopher Pythagoras who were required to sit in absolute silence while listening to their teacher deliver his lecture from behind a veil or screen so that they could better concentrate on his teachings. This 'acousmatic' listening allowed listeners to actually listen to sounds that they had heard many times, and appreciate their complex beauty. But the speaker in this sense creates a paradox: the sound is quite literally detached from the source object, but it is this detachment that allows the ear to truly listen to the otherwise overlooked sound. So the listener is simultaneously detached and familiarized with the empirical world.

The musical movement to truly create detachment was musique concrète. This musical movement allowed any and all sound events into the musical vocabulary, to be pieced together into a sound collage. As Pierre Schaeffer describes in his writings, traditional music starts as an abstraction, musical notation on paper or other medium, which is then produced into audible music. Musique concrète, on the other hand, strives to start at the "concrete" sounds that emanate from base phenomena and abstract them into a musical composition.

4. But the recorded sounds, although detached and rearranged, still reflected their sources with near exact fidelity (see my discussion on microphones above). To detach complex sounds from their empirical sources even further, early artists who tried to accomplish this generally took two distinct approaches - repetition and manipulation.

No doubt, at some point you've repeated a word or phrase over and over again in your head, or out loud, until it seemed to lose meaning, and become absurd. You repeated it until it began to look at it for what it was: a series of phonemes (the small, independent sounds that are combined to form individual words). This is what early repetitive minimalists tried to achieve in their music. This is detachment through familiarization. Terry Riley achieved this with the sound of violins by performing languid, long strokes on one note in a violin, and later adding first and second harmonics. But I think the best example of this type of repetition is in Steve Reich's "Come Out". The piece starts out with a recorded phrase from a civil rights riot survivor, "to let the bruise blood come out to show them." Reich rerecorded the fragment "come out to show them" on two channels, which are initially played in unison. Gradually, they slip out of sync, and the discrepancy widens and becomes a reverberation. The two voices then split into four, looped continuously, then eight, and continues splitting until the actual words are unintelligible, leaving the listener with only the speech's rhythmic and tonal patterns. This is a 13-minute piece, and what is most interesting to me is that if one listens closely, one hears sounds, words, rhythms, and even entire phrases that are nowhere to be found in the initial recording. The brain always tries to find patterns within stimuli, even if the stimuli are vague and random. This mental phenomenon is called pareidolia. Other examples include hearing messages in records played in reverse, and seeing the face of Jesus in sheet metal.

Manipulation (obviously) is a method that uses technology to manipulate sounds. We become mentally habituated to certain types of manipulations when we hear them over and over again from different sources. We have a firm baseline of what types of sound we should expect from the naturally occurring world, and any departure from that is immediately noticed by our brains. In this sense, the departures from real world sounds become categorized just as individual sounds do. For instance, the difference in sound between a large and small door of the same material slamming has a drastically different sound signature than that of a drastic technological pitch manipulation on a slamming sound. If you've ever played with a Casio keyboard that has a quick record function, and played your burp sounds on different keys, you'll know exactly the difference I'm referring to. I believe that technological manipulation makes us more familiar with the medium used to contort the sound. As I wrote earlier, our brains have a baseline of what sounds normal, and when confronted with variations on this normality, what our brains record are the differences in the sound. One experiment that you can try at home to demonstrate this to yourself is to walk slowly towards a wall with your eyes closed while repeating any word over and over again with the same volume and intonation. You'll be able to tell when you're about to hit the wall because your ears are picking up subtle differences in the amount of time it takes between the original spoken word and its echos. Or think about what a speaking person sounds like through a wall, or what a voice sounds like in a cement room versus a carpeted room. When we hear a person speaking in an echoing cement room, we can imagine what that voice would sound like without echoing and reverberation. These are all examples of our baseline of natural sound. In this sense, when we listen to recorded music, we are becoming familiar with the sound of a microphone, and when we listen to a voice being scratched on a turntable, we are becoming familiar with the sound of a turntable.

5. Electronic music manufacturing technologies, such as synthesizers, which create sounds from the bottom up from pure electronic signals, are an attempt to create sound with no relation whatsoever to any previously heard sounds. This is the ultimate detachment from reality. But again, we see the same habituation in this case. When the public heard the first Buchla synthesizers, or the first Theremins, it truly was a novel, totally synthetic and unworldly sound, completely detached from previous auditory experience. Shortly after, however, with the creation of more and more synthesizers with the same fundamental sounds, they began to be immediately identified and categorized as synthesizers, just like pianos, guitars and trumpets.

Herein lies a core point of this essay: We develop our opinions about the world based on the nature of our experiences with it. When stimuli are presented to us in a negative environment, or if they have a direct negative effect on us, then what do you know, we develop a negative opinion about them, and we treat them thereafter with distrust or hostility. Likewise for positive stimuli. I believe that this subconscious familiarization with technology that we all experience when we hear modern music makes us come to view technology in general as a creative, and potentially positive force that we are in control of, and that we can and will use technology in an actively creative and constructive way.

Of course, with this observation I may be tipping my hand a bit to reveal a personal sacred cow. I think that technology is an increasingly integral part of our world, and that in the near future, it will become progressively more of a universal foundation on our planet. I think that this is an inevitability, and that we have a choice as to how we think of technology in general. We can look at it as a negative, poisonous, 'unnatural' infection on our pure, unwitting planet, in which case this is exactly what our technological progression will be... Or, as I noted above, we can view technology as a positive, constructive force that will reflect our innate creativity. Music is, in my view, the main proponent towards the latter viewpoint, and stands alongside every other art form that embraces technology in a creative way to ensure us that technology is not an evil Frankenstein, or HAL 9000 out on the loose and out of control.

6. The current trend in music to keep its place as a sort of abstract, emotional, language in a separate dimension away from the perceptive universe is to combine instruments, melodic architecture, found sound, words, digital glitches, musical references, multiple cultures, movie clips, pop culture references, etc. in a brain-bending, hodgepodge collage that derives its intensity by making as many connections in the brain as possible. This approach is especially rewarding because it effectively triggers the creative mind by making literal, physical connections between various referential points in the brain's memory storage, resulting in inobvious connections between different things, concepts, activities, cultures, words, etc., which is the basis of novel thought.

This approach to music has invaluable influence on our philosophical worldview. By combining bits of audio from every imaginable source, be they 'natural' or 'unnatural' sounds, human, plant, animal or object sounds from any culture, and synthesizing them into a cohesive whole in which no one source has any qualitative weight over any other, this wealth of random connections within our brains between all of the various symbols in our memory encourages us to transcend our pragmatic, qualitative, language-based approach to the universe and approach a worldview that's closer to the fundamental reality of the oneness and unity of everything in the universe.