sábado, 7 de junho de 2014

Why I Write by George Orwell

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight. For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. I had the lonely child's habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. Nevertheless the volume of serious — i.e. seriously intended — writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages. I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. I cannot remember anything about it except that it was about a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’ — a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake's ‘Tiger, Tiger’. At eleven, when the war or 1914-18 broke out, I wrote a patriotic poem which was printed in the local newspaper, as was another, two years later, on the death of Kitchener. From time to time, when I was a bit older, I wrote bad and usually unfinished ‘nature poems’ in the Georgian style. I also attempted a short story which was a ghastly failure. That was the total of the would-be serious work that I actually set down on paper during all those years.

However, throughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary activities. To begin with there was the made-to-order stuff which I produced quickly, easily and without much pleasure to myself. Apart from school work, I wrote vers d'occasion, semi-comic poems which I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed — at fourteen I wrote a whole rhyming play, in imitation of Aristophanes, in about a week — and helped to edit a school magazines, both printed and in manuscript. These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest journalism. But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind: this was the making up of a continuous ‘story’ about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my ‘story’ ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a match-box, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf’, etc. etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.
When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words. The lines from Paradise Lost —
So hee with difficulty and labour hard
Moved on: with difficulty and labour hee.
which do not now seem to me so very wonderful, sent shivers down my backbone; and the spelling ‘hee’ for ‘he’ was an added pleasure. As for the need to describe things, I knew all about it already. So it is clear what kind of books I wanted to write, in so far as I could be said to want to write books at that time. I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their own sound. And in fact my first completed novel, Burmese Days, which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book.

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer's motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:
(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature — taking your ‘nature’ to be the state you have attained when you are first adult — I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision. I remember a little poem that I wrote at that date, expressing my dilemma:
A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;
But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.
And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.
All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.
But girl's bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.
It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.
I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;
And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.
I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn't born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?
The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness. Let me give just one example of the cruder kind of difficulty that arises. My book about the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia, is of course a frankly political book, but in the main it is written with a certain detachment and regard for form. I did try very hard in it to tell the whole truth without violating my literary instincts. But among other things it contains a long chapter, full of newspaper quotations and the like, defending the Trotskyists who were accused of plotting with Franco. Clearly such a chapter, which after a year or two would lose its interest for any ordinary reader, must ruin the book. A critic whom I respect read me a lecture about it. ‘Why did you put in all that stuff?’ he said. ‘You've turned what might have been a good book into journalism.’ What he said was true, but I could not have done otherwise. I happened to know, what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused. If I had not been angry about that I should never have written the book.

In one form or another this problem comes up again. The problem of language is subtler and would take too long to discuss. I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly. In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. Animal Farmwas the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole. I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don't want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.
George Orwell: ‘Why I Write’
First published: Gangrel. — GB, London. — summer 1946.
— ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’. — 1953.
— ‘England Your England and Other Essays’. — 1953.
— ‘The Orwell Reader, Fiction, Essays, and Reportage’ — 1956.
— ‘Collected Essays’. — 1961.
— ‘Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays’. — 1965.
— ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell’. — 1968.

quarta-feira, 7 de maio de 2014

Déjà-vu Karl Marx in the Matrix of History or Walter Benjamin’s "Tiger’s Leap into the Past" Correctly Read.

"Origin is the goal."
Karl Kraus, Worte in Versen, Vol. 1

History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogenous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now. [Jetztzeit].* Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate. It evoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past. Fashion has a flair for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger’s leap into the past. This jump, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class give the commands. The same leap in the open air of history is the dialectical one, which is how Marx understood the revolution.
Theses on the Philosophy of History. Walter Benajmin, 1939

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852

If you die in the matrix you die in real life...

terça-feira, 29 de abril de 2014

Waiting for the Barbarians: The Last Roman Enoch Powell

The lights are growing in the west,
Nor yet the east is black;
The sun goes slower down to rest
And brings the summer back.

I hate the growing light of spring,
I hate the lingering sun,
I hate the sights that only bring
Regret for summers done.
Day in, day out, the sunset sky
Renews the grinding pain
Of springs and summers gone that I
Can never live again;

And when the sun below the sea
The clouds with crimson dyes,
I shrink and turn; for there I see
My life that bleeding lies.

We are told that the economic achievement of the Western countries has been at the expense of the rest of the world and has impoverished them, so that what are called the 'developed' countries owe a duty to hand over tax-produced 'aid' to the governments of the undeveloped countries. It is nonsense—manifest, arrant nonsense; but it is nonsense with which the people of the Western countries, clergy and laity, but clergy especially—have been so deluged and saturated that in the end they feel ashamed of what the brains and energy of Western mankind have done, and sink on their knees to apologise for being civilised and ask to be insulted and humiliated. ("The Enemy Within")

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

by Constantine Cavafy
 Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

The Fall of Rome

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

by W.H. Auden

Time for some real changes!

quarta-feira, 9 de abril de 2014

Morality is Always on the Side of the Machine: Deep Stall over the South Atlantic: The Crash of Air France 447 by John David Ebert

Airbus`s murderous hubris at the botton of the South Atlantic :
"Airbus machines DON´T just fall out of the skies."

Airbus´s sidestick "fly-by.wire"

Boeing´s pneumatic stick shaker stall warning

St. Elmo's fire ghostly illuminates the cockpit, filled with the smell of ozone, as the plane was already flying through a severe thunderstorm system

"Anti World The Cabin as scenario
“Stepping back from the glare of the wreckage in order to gain some perspective on this catastrophe, we now turn to the world of books and discourse in order to remind ourselves of Heidegger’s point that, when a tool breaks, such as a hammer, it becomes suddenly conspicuous, standing out from the contextual background of its web of referentiality. “When a thing in the world around us becomes unusable,” Heidegger states, it becomes conspicuous. The natural course of concern is brought to a halt by this unusability. The continuity of reference and thus the referential totality undergoes a distinctive disturbance which forces us to pause. When a tool is damaged and useless, its defect actually causes it to be present, conspicuous, so that it now forces itself into the foreground of the environing world in an emphatic sense.”
The Age of Catastrophe Disaster and Humanity in Modern Times, p.43 

The Air France crash had been carefully constructed in many other previous incidents in recent years to become the paradigm itself of a systemic failure in the interface man/machine. It is described, as Gérard Arnoux, the head of the French pilots union SPAF, depicts, as a “computer brain stroke”. Let us begin with your Heidegger´s quote above in the chapter on Tenerife, with the "broken hammer" As Heiner Müller once said , morality is always on the side of the machine, because I would like you to start with BEA final report and political compromise between Airbus and its partners, the most concession the Corporation could allow itself and the key word in this report is the alternate regime “Flight Director”, that induced the pilots to a catastrophic chain of errors. They slavishly followed Flight Director pitch-up commands, ignoring 58 stall warnings in a ghostly environment, simply because “Airbus did not just fall from the sky” in Flight Director mode. They cannot, says the industry. When you buy an Airbus ticket, this mantra should be printed on the cover. I invite you, Ebert, to reconstruct, not in a simulator, but in a Pynchon´s entropic environment these tragic three minutes and a half as an eternal return, a symphony and cacophony of death, that opened a new age in the aviation . Without a pneumatic stick shaker, as in all Boeing machines, the pilots would never had a real chance, in this progressive unrealistic scenario as the deep stall swiftly unfolds, to feel, with their own hands, in dual input mode, the violence of the fall.

1. With Air France Flight 447, I think we have to keep in mind that two structural couplings which are normally essential for flying the plane came undone, or uncoupled: the first of those is the seamless fusion that must occur between the pilots and the new and highly automated flight systems. The pilot must nowadays form a "machinic assemblage" with the automated system, such that both pilot and computer are locked into a relationship of "structural coupling." The pilot's consciousness, that is to say, is not self-enclosed but ruptured into the feedback loop in which the plane's central nervous system must become an extension of his own. This is a kind of modern Centauric fusion, not of animal and man, but of man and machine.

But what happened in this case seems to have been the very opposite of the situation with Captain Van Zanten at Tenerife, where the problem was precisely that he was totally fused with the machine to the point that he could take no other data into account. In the case of Flight 447, the structural coupling of human consciousness with the plane's electronic nervous system was disrupted and the pilots were abruptly exiled from the plane's feedback systems. If this theory is correct, it is because of the freezing of external Pitot tubes on the plane that caused the computer to lose the ability to calculate the plane's speed, and without that data, it had a "nervous breakdown" and lost its orientation, immediately shutting down the autopilot and all the plane's automated systems.

But this had the effect of abruptly exiling the consciousness of the pilots from machinic fusion with the plane's nervous system and they suddenly found their own consciousnesses on the "outside" as it were of the plane's internal consciousness and had to abruptly switch to manual flying techniques, but it does not appear that they were able to do this fast enough to avoid the plane's going into a stall.

And that's the second structural coupling that came undone: normally, as you know, planes stay in the air because of the structural coupling between the angle of their wings and the airflow that engages them. But if the plane slows down by as much as a mere 10 knots, the angle of the wing changes and breaks the engagement with the aerodynamic flow over the wings and goes into a stall, which may have happened in this case. The pilots, overwhelmed with data from the shutdown of all the plane's automated systems, could not regain control of the plane quickly enough to avoid the stall, and the plane simply fell into the ocean at that point.

So the situation seems to be the opposite to what happened at Tenerife in which Van Zanten got stuck in his machinic fusion with the aircraft. Here the pilots were suddenly exiled from the plane's interior consciousness and were overwhelmed with too much data coming at them too quickly to process and also maintain the necessary pitch and power to keep the plane in the air.

Relying on automation, it seems, has become a problem for pilots these days, who wind up being poorly trained with regard to manual emergency situations. The automation is a nervous system that can act as a buffer between the pilot and the actual physical body of the plane itself, which further and further distances his consciousness from the necessary structural coupling with the aircraft to control it.

Automation tends to create electronic feedback loops that leave human decision-making out of account. We are creating a global world civilization that is always on "auto-pilot" and has therefore created the danger of rendering humans, with their old-fashioned philosophical free wills, superfluous to the automated functioning of these systems. Leaving the human being, with his Kantian-Schopenhauerian free will out of account, is creating an accident prone civilization in which free will cannot be injected quickly enough to keep up with the speed-of-light decision-making processes of the machines themselves.

Free will, according to Kant, actually injects new causal sequences into the world's otherwise predetermined cause and effect programs, but these machines are attempting to replicate those causal sequences of matter that do not leave room for the sudden injection of fresh causal sequences by the human will. We are slowly and gradually tightening up the civilization to the point that human freedom is now superfluous and there is, consequently, no room for it in the System taken as a whole. We are creating a civilization, in other words, that stands philosophically opposed to all the great antinomies of German Idealism and rejects them as incompatible with the System.
"The sharpest ideology is that reality appeals to its realistic character" (Alexander Kluge), since the German Idealism, since Clausewitz´s absolute concept of pure war. Let us talk about "overthinking" in the context of Frank Schirrmacher´s Thesis (Deputy Chief of FAZ) "Die Auswanderung des Denkens von dem Gehirn" (The Emmigration of the Thought from the Brain) (here is the interview: http://www.carta.info/22535/schirrmacher-kluge-algorithmen-geben-niemals-auf/). Kluge begins the interview with a “thought experiment” at the dawn of the Verdun Battle. No one could hardly suppose at that moment what a powerful and apocalyptic “idea” lies on the horizon, namely the “total war” (as “Materialschlacht”, “the war of materials and elements”), as Ernst Jünger would later immortalize in his writings. He means also, in this new digital world, there are only algorithms at work in a hyperspace, as in the Matrix. Algorithms give never up! They build up what you are, what you feel and what you think. We are not anymore in the realm of the classical thinking subject. Thinking itself becomes an obsolete category in the geometry of this new space, which is real time, there is no way to fix any individual historicity, historical consciousness, only flatness. Which kind of overthinking is at work at the AF 447 cabin in these three and half minutes?

As far as your second question goes, I believe I have actually answered it inadvertently in my answer to your first question, but for the sake of thoroughness, I will reiterate: the kind of thinking that has taken over in the situation with Air France 447 is precisely the dominance of pre-programmed "algorithmic thinking" that leaves no room for the injection of Freedom of the Will in any German Idealistic sense. That Abyss of Freedom which Schelling built his whole philosophy of the subject out of does not exist in the civilization of global algorithms which simply propagate themselves like mathematical viruses and end up paving over the Abgrund, or abyss from out of which Freedom accesses singularities of Thought. The Matrix covers up the abysses of German Idealism, just as it paves over Heidegger's Being, and attempts to substitute pre-programmed thinking and decisions in advance, which leave human autonomy out of account.

Human Freedom has now become a deconstructed relic in the post-metaphysical age, simply tossed aside into the middenheap (as pictured in the robot junk heap in the movie "A.I.") as one more discarded Idea along with all the others of the metaphysical age. The Subject has been hollowed out, and the walls of the newly formed hollow are inscribed with fresh programs that substitute the behaviors and thoughts of the cyborgianized human being in place of the classical philosophical Subject.

It is no longer what "I" think that matters, since the "I" that once formed the ontological basis for the Subject is no longer there and has left behind only a semiotic vacancy; but only what the Machinic Assemblage of Global Civilization thinks FOR me and on my behalf that matters. What I would do in this particular situation (any situation) does not matter, but what I-as-embedded-in-the-Matrix would do is all that counts. Autonomy is now regarded with suspicion and autonomous individuals who question the System, such as whistleblowers like Assange or Snowden, for instance, are regarded as heretics for daring to demonstrate anything remotely like critical thinking.

Unfortunately, I think the pilots on Flight 447 found that when their Matrix-embedded-I's were suddenly expelled from the machinic consciousness, there was no autonomous "I" left there for them to rely upon because there was no protocol for it in their training. They discovered in the matter of just a few seconds that the philosophical "I" that should have served them with autonomous thinking was gone and simply not there for them to use.

Hence, the problem of the elimination of the philosophical "I" in contemporary global civilization is that it can, and often does, lead to catastrophes of this sort in which machinic consciousness, together with its programs, does not match the program of human autonomy, which it has already a priori come to regard as superfluous.

Thank you very much, John David Ebert!

In memory of all the passengers and crew of Air France flight 447


sábado, 29 de março de 2014

Gravitational Waves and Discoveries at the South Pole by Harry Collins

Thanks to Prof. Harry Collins and The University of Chicago Press for granting permission to publish this piece on my homepage.

On March 17, 2014, there was a huge fuss about the discovery of primordial gravitational waves that could tell us something about the Big Bang’s first tiny fraction of a second. Since I have spent most of my academic life studying the sociology of the—so far fruitless—direct search for gravitational waves, I received a lot of emails asking me about whether this was the real thing at last. I had to answer “no.” Let me take this opportunity to explain.
There’s not much sociology here: only an attempt to explain the science that provides the context for my professional studies. I have to point out that I do not represent the gravitational wave detection community, among whom there are many different opinions, including some revealing much more enthusiasm for and engagement with these findings than are expressed here.
The biggest and best-known direct detection devices are two interferometers, each with two four-kilometer arms at right angles. They are located in Washington and Louisiana, and together comprise the American “Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory,” or “LIGO.” The 3-kilometer Italian-French device (“Virgo”), the 600-meter German-British device (“GEO”), and a few others in construction also exist, scattered around the world.  Gravitational waves are often described as ripples in space time; they are incredibly weak. If LIGO finally “sees” a wave, its effect will be to change the relative length of its two arms.  The change in length of a four-kilometer arm will be equivalent to the rise in the water level of one-square-mile Cardiff Bay caused by adding 1/100,000th of a drop. It is a hard science!
Since gravitational waves are so weak, their expected sources are huge events in the heavens, such as the explosion or collision of stars, or anything else that shifts stellar amounts of mass around in an asymmetrical way. The direct search community is split into four groups. The “burst group” looks for ill-defined packets of energy, such as might be emitted by a supernova or maybe an earthquake on a neutron star; the “inspiral group” looks for the well-defined waveforms emitted by binary-star systems at the very end of their life when they  ‘inspiral’ together and coalesce; the “continuous wave group” looks for well-defined long-duration waves emitted by asymmetric pulsars or the like (these waves are specially weak but their effect can be integrated over years); the “stochastic group” looks for random waves coming, from among other places, the Big Bang—this is the gravitational equivalent of the cosmic microwave background. So far, there has been no confirmed detection of any kind, but assuming no one has made a terrible error, there are reasons to hope that with a more sensitive generation of detectors coming on air, binary-star inspirals might begin to be detected a few years from now.

Matters get complicated because there are other ways to detect gravitational waves. Waves can be detected because of their influence on matter, such as the way they change the length of the interferometers’ arms. This is referred to as “direct” detection even though those changes have to be measured by electromagnetic means. But gravitational waves also affect the matter of stars. They have already been detected in this way by Hulse and Taylor—winners of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics—who observed for a decade the slow decay of a widely separated binary system’s orbit, and showed it was consistent with the energy emitted by gravitational waves. Given that this observation concerns changes in the separation of lumps of matter (stars) detected by electromagnetic means, it could be argued that this detection is no more indirect than the potential detections that will be made by the interferometers. Maybe that’s a bit too philosophically cute, but maybe not; it can depend on whether you own a telescope or an interferometer (and that’s sociology). What is certain is that when (if) LIGO and the international network of interferometers start observing, they will be looking in different wavebands than did Hulse and Taylor, and they will be able to see many more of many different kinds of phenomena. The observation of a binary inspiral, or a supernova, or a neutron starquake will take seconds or less, not decades, and there should be many per year once full sensitivity is reached. The true justification for the interferometers is then gravitational astronomy—including our first look into the heart of colliding black holes—with the direct discovery of gravitational waves exciting but not so surprising as it once would have been.
Now, if it is confirmed, BICEP has observed gravitational waves in another indirect way.  The group has inferred their existence from the polarization patterns of electromagnetic waves (the microwave background). Once more there is scope for arguing that this too is no more indirect than the interferometric detections that may one day be made by the stochastic group; for some, what one calls “direct” and “indirect” seems like a matter of taste. What also seems likely is that the interferometers may one day be able to see primordial gravitational waves at different frequencies and with different kinds of resolution from those seen by BICEP—in other words, a combination of both techniques seems likely to give the best information about the first moments of the universe.
The direct detection community is excited by the BICEP result, because apart from its cosmological importance, it shows that the phenomena that they are looking for are there to be found one day. In the same way, they were pleased by the Hulse-Taylor observation, given that at one time there was doubt whether gravitational waves could be detected even in principle. Speaking now purely as my unprofessional self—a citizen with a schoolboy interest in science, but one who is perhaps biased by lengthy contact with these groups—I think building mind bogglingly fine gossamer webs that can capture exquisitely ephemeral waves is more exciting than inferring their existence from the movement of stars or from patterns in the much stronger electromagnetic spectrum. This is because it leads to more than new understanding: it demonstrates unprecedented control over nature and a heroic extension of our means to uncover its secrets.
Harry Collins is the Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology and director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science at Cardiff University, and a fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of numerous books, including Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog: Scientific Discovery and Social Analysis in the Twenty-First CenturyGravity’s Ghost: Scientific Discovery in the Twenty-First Century, and Gravity’s Shadow: The Search for Gravitational Waves.

terça-feira, 18 de março de 2014

The Inflationary Universe: Alan Guth

Inflationary theory itself is a twist on the conventional Big Bang theory. The shortcoming that inflation is intended to fill in is the basic fact that although the Big Bang theory is called the Big Bang theory it is, in fact, not really a theory of a bang at all; it never was.

ALAN GUTH, father in the inflationary theory of the Universe, is Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at MIT; author of The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins.

[ALAN GUTH:] Paul Steinhardt did a very good job of presenting the case for the cyclic universe. I'm going to describe the conventional consensus model upon which he was trying to say that the cyclic model is an improvement. I agree with what Paul said at the end of his talk about comparing these two models; it is yet to be seen which one works. But there are two grounds for comparing them. One is that in both cases the theory needs to be better developed. This is more true for the cyclic model, where one has the issue of what happens when branes collide. The cyclic theory could die when that problem finally gets solved definitively. Secondly, there is, of course, the observational comparison of the gravitational wave predictions of the two models.
A brane is short for membrane, a term that comes out of string theories. String theories began purely as theories of strings, but when people began to study their dynamics more carefully, they discovered that for consistency it was not possible to have a theory which only discussed strings. Whereas a string is a one-dimensional object, the theory also had to include the possibility of membranes of various dimensions to make it consistent, which led to the notion of branes in general. The theory that Paul described in particular involves a four-dimensional space plus one time dimension, which he called the bulk. That four-dimensional space was sandwiched between two branes.
That's not what I'm going to talk about. I want to talk about the conventional inflationary picture, and in particular the great boost that this picture has attained over the past few years by the somewhat shocking revelation of a new form of energy that exists in the universe. This energy, for lack of a better name, is typically called "dark energy."
But let me start the story further back. Inflationary theory itself is a twist on the conventional Big Bang theory. The shortcoming that inflation is intended to overcome is the basic fact that, although the Big Bang theory is called the Big Bang it is in fact not really a theory of a bang at all; it never was. The conventional Big Bang theory, without inflation, was really only a theory of the aftermath of the Bang. It started with all of the matter in the universe already in place, already undergoing rapid expansion, already incredibly hot. There was no explanation of how it got that way. Inflation is an attempt to answer that question, to say what "banged," and what drove the universe into this period of enormous expansion. Inflation does that very wonderfully. It explains not only what caused the universe to expand, but also the origin of essentially all the matter in the universe at the same time. I qualify that with the word "essentially" because in a typical version of the theory inflation needs about a gram's worth of matter to start. So, inflation is not quite a theory of the ultimate beginning, but it is a theory of evolution that explains essentially everything that we see around us, starting from almost nothing.
The basic idea behind inflation is that a repulsive form of gravity caused the universe to expand. General relativity from its inception predicted the possibility of repulsive gravity; in the context of general relativity you basically need a material with a negative pressure to create repulsive gravity. According to general relativity it's not just matter densities or energy densities that create gravitational fields; it's also pressures. A positive pressure creates a normal attractive gravitational field of the kind that we're accustomed to, but a negative pressure would create a repulsive kind of gravity. It also turns out that according to modern particle theories, materials with a negative pressure are easy to construct out of fields which exist according to these theories. By putting together these two ideas — the fact that particle physics gives us states with negative pressures, and that general relativity tells us that those states cause a gravitational repulsion — we reach the origin of the inflationary theory.
By answering the question of what drove the universe into expansion, the inflationary theory can also answer some questions about that expansion that would otherwise be very mysterious. There are two very important properties of our observed universe that were never really explained by the Big Bang theory; they were just part of one's assumptions about the initial conditions. One of them is the uniformity of the universe — the fact that it looks the same everywhere, no matter which way you look, as long as you average over large enough volumes. It's both isotropic, meaning the same in all directions, and homogeneous, meaning the same in all places. The conventional Big Bang theory never really had an explanation for that; it just had to be assumed from the start. The problem is that, although we know that any set of objects will approach a uniform temperature if they are allowed to sit for a long time, the early universe evolved so quickly that there was not enough time for this to happen. To explain, for example, how the universe could have smoothed itself out to achieve the uniformity of temperature that we observe today in the cosmic background radiation, one finds that in the context of the standard Big Bang theory, it would be necessary for energy and information to be transmitted across the universe at about a hundred times the speed of light.
In the inflationary theory this problem goes away completely, because in contrast to the conventional theory it postulates a period of accelerated expansion while this repulsive gravity is taking place. That means that if we follow our universe backwards in time towards the beginning using inflationary theory, we see that it started from something much smaller than you ever could have imagined in the context of conventional cosmology without inflation. While the region that would evolve to become our universe was incredibly small, there was plenty of time for it to reach a uniform temperature, just like a cup of coffee sitting on the table cools down to room temperature. Once this uniformity is established on this tiny scale by normal thermal-equilibrium processes — and I'm talking now about something that's about a billion times smaller than the size of a single proton — inflation can take over, and cause this tiny region to expand rapidly, and to become large enough to encompass the entire visible universe. The inflationary theory not only allows the possibility for the universe to be uniform, but also tells us why it's uniform: It's uniform because it came from something that had time to become uniform, and was then stretched by the process of inflation.
The second peculiar feature of our universe that inflation does a wonderful job of explaining, and for which there never was a prior explanation, is the flatness of the universe — the fact that the geometry of the universe is so close to Euclidean. In the context of relativity, Euclidean geometry is not the norm; it's an oddity. With general relativity, curved space is the generic case. In the case of the universe as a whole, once we assume that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic, then this issue of flatness becomes directly related to the relationship between the mass density and the expansion rate of the universe. A large mass density would cause space to curve into a closed universe in the shape of a ball; if the mass density dominated, the universe would be a closed space with a finite volume and no edge. If a spaceship traveled in what it thought was a straight line for a long enough distance, it would end up back where it started from. In the alternative case, if the expansion dominated, the universe would be geometrically open. Geometrically open spaces have the opposite geometric properties from closed spaces. They're infinite. In a closed space two lines which are parallel will start to converge; in an open space two lines which are parallel will start to diverge. In either case what you see is very different from Euclidean geometry. However, if the mass density is right at the borderline of these two cases, then the geometry is Euclidean, just like we all learned about in high school.
In terms of the evolution of the universe, the fact that the universe is at least approximately flat today requires that the early universe was extraordinarily flat. The universe tends to evolve away from flatness, so even given what we knew ten or twenty years ago — we know much better now that the universe is extraordinarily close to flat — we could have extrapolated backwards and discovered that, for example, at one second after the Big Bang the mass density of the universe must have been equal, to an accuracy of 15 decimal places, to the critical density where it counterbalanced the expansion rate to produce a flat universe. The conventional Big Bang theory gave us no reason to believe that there was any mechanism to require that, but it has to have been that way to explain why the universe looks the way it does today. The conventional Big Bang theory without inflation really only worked if you fed into it initial conditions which were highly finely tuned to make it just right to produce a universe like the one we see. Inflationary theory gets around this flatness problem because inflation changes the way the geometry of the universe evolves with time. Even though the universe always evolves away from flatness at all other periods in the history of the universe, during the inflationary period the universe is actually driven towards flatness incredibly quickly. If you had approximately 10-34 seconds or so of inflation at the beginning of the universe, that's all you need to be able to start out a factor of 105 or 1010 away from being flat. Inflation would then have driven the universe to be flat closely enough to explain what we see today.
There are two primary predictions that come out of inflationary models that appear to be testable today. They have to do (1) with the mass density of the universe, and (2) with the properties of the density non-uniformities. I'd like to say a few words about each of them, one at a time. Let me begin with the question of flatness.
The mechanism that inflation provides that drives the universe towards flatness will in almost all cases overshoot, not giving us a universe that is just nearly flat today, but a universe that's almost exactly flat today. This can be avoided, and people have at times tried to design versions of inflation that avoided it, but these versions of inflation never looked very plausible. You have to arrange for inflation to end at just the right point, where it's almost made the universe flat but not quite. It requires a lot of delicate fine-tuning, but in the days when it looked like the universe was open some people tried to design such models. But they always looked very contrived, and never really caught on.
The generic inflationary model drives the universe to be completely flat, which means that one of the predictions is that today the mass density of the universe should be at the critical value which makes the universe geometrically flat. Until three or four years ago no astronomers believed that. They told us that if you looked at just the visible matter, you would see only about one percent of what you needed to make the universe flat. But they also said that they could offer more than that — there's also dark matter. Dark matter is matter that's inferred to exist because of the gravitational effect that it has on visible matter. It's seen, for example, in the rotation curves of galaxies. When astronomers first measured how fast galaxies rotate, they found they were spinning so fast that if the only matter present was what you saw, galaxies would just fly apart.
To understand the stability of galaxies it was necessary to assume that there was a large amount of dark matter in the galaxy — about five or ten times the amount of visible matter — which was needed just to hold the galaxy together. This problem repeats itself when one talks about the motion of galaxies within clusters of galaxies. The motion of galaxies in clusters is much more random and chaotic than the spiral galaxy, but the same issues arise. You can ask how much mass is needed to hold those clusters of galaxies together, and the answer is that you still need significantly more matter than what you assumed was in the galaxies. Adding all of that together, astronomers came up only to about a third of the critical density. They were pretty well able to guarantee that there wasn't any more than that out there; that was all they could detect. That was bad for the inflationary model, but many of us still had faith that inflation had to be right and that sooner or later the astronomers would come up with something.
And they did, although what they came up with was something very different from the kind of matter that we were talking about previously. Starting in 1998, astronomers have been gathering evidence for the remarkable fact that the universe today appears to be accelerating, not slowing down. As I said at the beginning of this talk, the theory of general relativity allows for that. What's needed is a material with a negative pressure. We are now therefore convinced that our universe must be permeated with a material with negative pressure, which is causing the acceleration that we're now seeing. We don't know what this material is, but we're referring to it as "dark energy." Even without knowing what it is, general relativity by itself allows us to calculate how much mass has to be out there to cause the observed acceleration, and it turns out to be almost exactly equal to two-thirds of the critical density. This is exactly what was missing from the previous calculations! So, if we assume that this dark energy is real, we now have complete agreement between what the astronomers are telling us about the mass density of the universe and what inflation predicts.
The other important prediction that comes out of inflation is becoming even more persuasive than the issue of flatness: namely, the issue of density perturbations. Inflation has what in some ways is a wonderful characteristic — that by stretching everything out (and Paul's model takes advantage of the same effect) you can smooth out any non-uniformities that were present prior to this expansion. Inflation does not depend sensitively on what you assume existed before inflation; everything there just gets washed away by the enormous expansion. For a while, in the early days of developing the inflationary model, we were all very worried that this would lead to a universe that would be absolutely, completely smooth. After a while several physicists began to explore the idea that quantum fluctuations could save us. The universe is fundamentally a quantum mechanical system, so perhaps quantum theory was necessary not just to understand atoms, but also to understand galaxies. It is a rather remarkable idea that an aspect of fundamental physics like quantum theory could have such a broad sweep. The point is that a classical version of inflationary theory would predict a completely uniform density of matter at the end of inflation. According to quantum mechanics, however, everything is probabilistic. There are quantum fluctuations everywhere, which means that in some places the mass density would be slightly higher than average, and in other places it would be slightly lower than average. That's exactly the sort of thing you want to explain the structure of the universe. You can even go ahead and calculate the spectrum of these non-uniformities, which is something that Paul and I both worked on in the early days and had great fun with. The answer that we both came up with was that, in fact, quantum mechanics produces just the right spectrum of non-uniformities.
We really can't predict the overall amplitude — that is, the intensity of these ripples — unless we know more about the fundamental theory. At the present time, we have to take the overall factor that multiplies the predicted intensity of these ripples from observation. But we can predict the spectrum — that is, the complicated pattern of ripples can be viewed as ripples of many different wavelengths lying on top of each other, and we can calculate how the intensity of the ripples varies with their wavelengths. We knew how to do this back in 1982, but recently it has actually become possible for astronomers to see these non-uniformities imprinted on the cosmic background radiation. These were first observed back in 1992 by the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) satellite, but back then they could only see very broad features, since the angular resolution of the satellite was only about seven degrees. Now, they've gotten down to angular resolutions of about a tenth of a degree. These observations of the cosmic background radiation can be used to produce plots of the spectrum of non-uniformities, which are becoming more and more detailed.
The most recent data set was made by an experiment called the Cosmic Background Imager, which released a new set of data in May that is rather spectacular. This graph of the spectrum is rather complicated because these fluctuations are produced during the inflationary era, but then oscillate as the early universe evolves. Thus, what you see is a picture that includes the original spectrum plus all of the oscillations which depend on various properties of the universe. A remarkable thing is that these curves now show five separate peaks, and all five of the peaks show good agreement between theory and observation. You can see that the peaks are in about the right place and have about the right heights, without any ambiguity, and the leading peak is rather well-mapped-out. It's a rather remarkable fit between actual measurements made by astronomers, and a theory based on wild ideas about quantum fluctuations at 10-35 seconds. The data is so far in beautiful agreement with the theory. 
At the present time this inflationary theory, which a few years ago was in significant conflict with observation now works perfectly with our measurements of the mass density and the fluctuations. The evidence for a theory that's either the one that I'm talking about or something very close to it is very, very strong.
I'd just like to close by saying that although I've been using the theory in the singular to talk about inflation I shouldn't, really. It's very important to remember that inflation is really a class of theories. If inflation is right it's by no means the end of our study of the origin of the universe, but still, it's really closer to the beginning. There are many different versions of inflation, and in fact the cyclic model that Paul described could be considered one version. It's a rather novel version since it puts the inflation at a completely different era of the history of the universe, but inflation is still doing many of the same things. There are many versions of inflation that are much closer to the kinds of theories that we were developing in the '80s and '90s, so saying that inflation is right is by no means the end of the story. There's still a lot of flexibility here, and a lot to be learned. And what needs to be learned will involve both the study of cosmology and the study of the underlying particle physics, which is essential to these models.

segunda-feira, 17 de março de 2014

Such a Massive Expansion: Gravitational Waves 10-34 seconds old

(a found poem)

Cosmologists are digging
subtle twist
gravitational wave
the fabric of spacetime

the universe will look a little hotter
The photons will scatter
astronomers to uncover evidence
the big bang
universe expanded
 — inflated — by at least a factor of ...

a theoretical framework
we can’t explain

would have driven such a massive expansion
born from quantum fluctuations
something incredibly fundamental
what was happening when the universe was only 10-34 seconds old

it’s crucial to remain skeptical
distorted by intervening clusters of galaxies

My German translation of "Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy" by Kip S. Thorne Hannover 17.03.2014 A day to remember!