Tuesday, August 23, 2011

lazy poetry (or) stone becomes sand (a poem)

we pass so many u-haul trucks
on our darkened streets
that I am filled with an overwhelming sense
of the constant ending and starting of the universe

it is the feeling of having such a strong emotion with no name
that the stale sunset's wake overcomes us and everything is poetry

u-haul trucks line the dark streets of my alma mater
separating students from the roads that brought them there

cycles cycles
and poetry no more has to rhyme
than rocks thrown through windows
are required to have notes
to explain themselves
star trek

"oowoop" are you okay?
I just made a strange sound
and I am concerned that everything is poetry
or something might not be

seen through windows
hands take bowls from cabinets
hands put bowls into cabinets
and the cabinets are not the same
but love for them remains


Daniel Quinn

Really? This won awards and stuff? Maybe it was new to people when it came out. To me it seemed like a semi-interesting fleshing out of Jared M. Diamond's The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. Ishmael even came out five years after that paper. Huh.

First, it's a bit of a stretch to call Ishmael a novel, or even fiction. It's a dialogue giving some philosophical ideas. I think we can call them philosophical ideas. It presents a philosophy anyway, or an interpretation of the world.

Of course dialogues like this have a long tradition. Plato and all that, you know. It was interesting to me, while reading, to think about my ideas on writing and reading and fiction and so on. It seems to me that there may be two more-or-less linked parallel axes, something like this:

fun to read --------------------------------------------- not fun to read
not explicit in message ------------------------------ explicit in message

So, for example, a textbook is explicit in its content and not fun to read (speaking broadly, or in possibilities). A romance novel is not explicit in message, or may not even have a conscious message, but may be fun to read. Fiction generally has only a masked message, may even be explicitly meant to have no message (as in The Lord of the Rings) but I believe it is impossible to have no message. The reader's brain is not the same after reading. Kurt Vonnegut, I think, has typically wonderful messages in his writing, explicit or not, and yet his stuff is a lot of fun to read. Same with Douglas Adams. This I call being a skilled writer. Dialogues are not so boring to read as plain exposition, but neither are they terribly demanding of writing skills. So there are my ideas on that, quickly.

The content of the book: this gorilla is telling a guy about how, in a nutshell, the human race went wrong at agriculture, as in the Diamond piece (link above). Some pains are taken to point out that the problem is not exactly agriculture per sé - there were some farming Native Americans, etc. - but the world-view that we need to expand production and control the earth, rather than living in harmony with it, letting natural conditions govern things like human population.

This is all done with mythological/religious language, so that the "takers" (aka "civilization") are said to believe that the gods gave them the earth, but there were problems, so they took knowledge of good and evil (an interpretation of the Bible's Genesis is one of the most interesting parts of the book, and maybe the only addition to Diamond's much shorter essay - the interpretation seems at least reasonable, if not iron-clad) and took control of the earth to keep all their people alive and the population increasing. The "leavers" (aka "primitive people" and/or "hunter-gatherers") believe that they are of the earth, in the sense that all plants and animals are. They are said to be happier and continuously evolving, whereas takers subvert natural processes, have stopped evolving, and will necessarily destroy the earth completely if they don't go back to "leaver" ways immediately.

It is an interesting thing to think about, especially if you haven't yet. I don't see how I'm going to give up my iPhone though. Maybe I've missed the point.

Meta Math! The Quest for Omega

Meta Math! : the quest for omega
Gregory Chaitin

So, I've been carrying around this book for maybe three or four years now. Carried it to Korea. Carried it back to the US. Finally read it this summer! Whoo!

It's pretty okay. I think the author and I would get along philosophically, in terms of liking ideas more than writing proofs. Because proofs are boring. And hard. But he would probably still write more proofs than me. Memorable moment from the book: when he just mentions "casually" that he wrote a Diophantine equation that evaluates LISP expressions - to the tune of 200 pages and 20,000 variables. HOLY CRAP, MAN!

In the introduction, he dismisses people who get all worked up about Gödel. In the sense that Gödel didn't destroy math - he actually made it cooler. So I liked Gregory Chaitin from the introduction. The heck with you, people who think Gödel wrote a proof of god or something weird like that.

Oh - I also liked him on page nine, where he says "math is a free creation of the human mind" - which is a fully reasonable thing to say. I wish people would just agree with me and Chaitin.

Another interesting thing: Chaitin is very much concerned with whether the universe is continuous or discrete. ME TOO. At least, when I sat down to try to make a simulation of the universe, it quickly occurred to me that you kind of have to make that choice in your design: is the universe going to be continuous or discrete? And it sort of seems that either way, it's going to be ridiculous. If it's continuous, you have issues with floating-point implementation in your simulation and also the possibility of way too much stuff in way too little space (well, if you have point particles; and if you don't have point particles, I think you have some issues there too). And a discrete universe just seems weird. Oh BTW! Chaitin seems to be friends with Wolfram! They don't perfectly agree about things, but Meta Math does reference Wolfram and A New Kind of Science multiple times.

Chaitin is even anti-Real number! I guess I'm also anti-Real number, in the same sense that I'm anti-unicorn; I can appreciate Real number math, and I can appreciate unicorn stories, but that doesn't mean that they suddenly become existent/real in the usual sense. Also I can't think of a unicorn story that I appreciate all that much, just at the moment, but I maintain that it is theoretically possible.

What else? He goes into some proofs of the infinitude of primes that I hadn't seen before but that are really cool and have cool connections to other math. So that was fun.

Problem with the writing: I think Chaitin is trying to be a little too Gödel, Escher, Bach - and can't pull it off. In a chapter called "Intermezzo" he includes "The Parable of the Rose" - but the parable doesn't connect as perfectly with the real material of the book as would really be nice. It's just not the perfect metaphor he wishes he had. Cool story, but it seems like he's misreading it.

So what's omega? He barely deals with this himself, because he's just so weird, and omega is so weird. Omega is the probability that a random computer program will halt. Meaning a random collection of ones and zeroes (or whatever) of random length. So omega depends on the computer language or computer (or whatever) and is devilishly difficult to work out. This is kind of neat, and shows Chaitin's sort of incompleteness / minimum complexity ideas, but it isn't a number you're likely to need on your calculator or anything.

Fun book! Felt like I was continuing my reading from when I was just finishing my MAT!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I discovered a poem (a poem)

I discovered a poem
of such great beauty
I was moved to tears
and overwrought for days

I am convinced that this poem
comes directly from God's anthology
so perfect is its every line
it could be no other way

Having found such a poem
is a kind of heavy burden
having carved it from the rock
perhaps they'll name it after me

Language Separates Us, or "♡" (a poem)

They say scent is tightly linked to memory
and they say it with words
is it any wonder

On a road home the manure smell is heavy
with that of freshly cut grass
from cows so wealthy

The process of language in and language out
does not digest reality
while the nose is subconscious

I looked her in the eye, her right to my left
and felt certain she knew
what I saw

Those eyes were etched and buried deep
with inexpressible conviction
solidarity and solitude

As every song I hear I sing
begets a meaning just for me
contradictory and comforting

Language separates us from other animals, they say
like skyscrapers and spiders and Twitter and orangutans
language holds us apart

Artist's Statement (a poem)

Words emerge
because they have nowhere else to go
because something must be said
because nothing can be
Words emerge