Semiotechnician

Jan 162013
 

A thing may be the icon of an idea, but that thing is always its own meaning.

An architectural design is the Nth order schematic of an architect’s concept. The building itself is the first order model.

What does a book mean? A summary is a schematic; a dissertation, a ramified accretion of interpretations. But the meaning of the book is exactly what it contains.

A woman asks the vendor what a certain exotic fruit tastes like. He cuts it open, hands it to her, and says, “like this.”

Nov 062012
 

I receive each new emission from the Right as I would a faceful of jism from a deranged orc stroking his diseased member and howling, “Respeck mah authoritah!”

Meanwhile the Left has descended past parody into a cannibalistic snakepit, viciously prosecuting ever more baroque and paranoid variants of Thought Crime.

My contempt for the one is boundless, my betrayal by the other unforgivable.

My every interest exposes me to moral hazard. My ideology is suspect, my thoughts impure. My opinions are unhygienic, my attitude poor.

I will not be judged by you. I do not assent, I will not conform, I do not care.

 

Jun 222012
 

Recently, a so-called ‘atheist blogger’ of whom I had never heard announced her conversion to Catholicism. Normally this would concern me not at all – the world is full of fools, after all, and what’s one more? And in fact, my current interest will taper off fairly quickly as I watch her Think Very Hard about it all and rationalize what I think she even knows is far more about feeding something in her gut than moving the furniture in her head.

Being, it seems, the intellectually geeky (and possibly mathematically inclined) sort, she presented as one model of her conversion the idea of local maxima in a thought-space defined by philosophic coherence – the idea being, I think, that one should be able to discern fundamental correlations between the features of those maxima and jump, one to the other, without a complete sense of cognitive dissonance.

It’s a clever model. But I think it’s upside down.

In information networks – which can be knowledge networks, which can themselves be models of philosophic systems – the coherence of a system is the inverse of its entropy, and is found in its local minima. The more complete and parsimonious are the connections between nodes (things, data, postulates), the less variant the strengths of those connections, the less disordered is the system.

And when the entropy is at a local minimum, knowledge has become certainty. The model stiffens. Noise has been eliminated and all that’s left is the fixed pattern.

When you’re certain of the patterns, reason becomes ideology. You see this among the newly zealous and the firmly convinced. Their arguments are rituals, not persuasions. The condition of rational purity, of complete philosophical consistency, is the death of living thought and morality.

I cannot live that way. Whenever I find myself falling into an anti-entropic well of this sort, something seems to propel me upward, outward, toward contradiction and chaos and uncertainty. The noise is essential to my life, to how I see my humanity.

Entropy eventually wins, and I like to be on the winning side.

 

Jun 082012
 

Lunge headlong from branch to limb, cling to each until it cracks.

No plan to this life, no map for this canopy.

Just the swing and grasp and gaze in ever-fresh fear and wonder, until I know that some day the next leap will be into nothing.

Jun 012012
 

Mesphistopheles on a gondola, drifting slowly on black water toward you, wine velvet draping into night behind. Stopping, he steps forward and smiles. His gaze draws your eyes into his, casting down to his palm on which lie three candles, lit and melting. The palm closes, the eyes and smile deepen, and the hand unfolds to show the dark and shining jewels he has made you in promise of anything and everything.

IĀ  remember this, and only this, from something seen once long ago and never since.

May 242012
 

Every time I look at a mushroom I’m aware that the knowledge that I can eat it – knowledge which I can only take for granted in the case of those brown flecked caps and stems enticingly stacked before me in the market – memorializes the act of a potential victim… perhaps a crippled, aged and expendable member of the tribe, perhaps a particularly courageous or foolhardy alchemist, perhaps just a very hungry farmer caught in the rain far from his fields and herds who didn’t die when they ate this one, whose breathing didn’t lurch to a halt as he doubled over from pain like an iron claw pulling his guts out through his throat, black agony racing up his nerves like acid to shroud his mind, shocked, terrified, pleading and finally silent.

May 182012
 
wwc200

There is rarity, certainly. And encryption and access control. But nothing so esoteric that it cannot be realized. All the grimoires are in print, and corporate email is a hack away.

We need not mourn the burning of the library of Alexandria because we have far surpassed it and, while ephemeral in some ways, the information is so well distributed as to be presumably indestructible. But electronic memory decays if not constantly refreshed. So too does the substrate of our distributed electric memory, where fickleness and technology change obsolete entire media. It is a paradox: Yes, I can read the Dead Sea Scrolls online. But can I still read anything written in WordPerfect?

With the rarest and most bizarre texts scanned and stored, the most esoteric knowledge in the information age is knowledge about information itself. Hacking is as close as we have to a modern magical tradition. And next to content creation, the most important task for the wired mind is content curation.

The fact is that, cranky anti-hipsterism aside, it actually is curation, which is not only “an act performed by people with PhDs in art history.” The “New Aesthetic“, after all (which isn’t so new), isn’t au courant by way of the Guggenheim, but because of the thousands of twittering thumbs of the nerd horde at SXSW.

We rely on some curators for certain kinds of feed: Laughing Squid, Brainpickings, even the self-consciously trivial Gawker flotilla. But we also make ever more use of our own curatorial technologies: not just our blogs and twitter accounts butĀ Pinboard, Pinterest, Gimmebar, Tumblr and even (for those whom code is content) Sourceforge.

We determine what is kept and elaborated on, and what is discarded and allowed to decay. And by using these filters, not only of our direct choice but of our selected curators (and so making metachoices), we determine what shapes us. Our information diet is almost as much of our experience as any sensory data, and arguably has deeper effects on our psyche. We think of ourselves as pragmatic, as grounded in the real. But everything you think you know about anything not in the range of your senses comes through media, not experience. What you accept as true is dependent on what media you accept as reliable.

We are as librarians, and might as well get good at it.

May 182012
 

Is the new mask any truer to the real face?

Of course not. But this is a medium, not an intimacy, and even in realspace we clothe our bodies and voices. Everything is drag, baby… Friday Casual no less than a magician’s robes.

The world is of meaning. When we say “the world” we almost never mean the sphere of rocks and water but the noosphere, the world of our awareness of the world and each other. And in such a world, omens, invocations and augury meet symbols, art and speculation to argue angels and architecture over crisps and a pint.

It’s a terrifying conversation. I think I should take notes.