All posts by Mike Zonta

Eureka: a prose poem by Edgar Allan Poe (1848)

EdgarAllanPoe

Eureka (1848) is a lengthy non-fiction work by American author Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) which he subtitled “A Prose Poem“, though it has also been subtitled as “An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe”. Adapted from a lecture he had presented, Eureka describes Poe’s intuitive conception of the nature of the universe with no antecedent scientific work done to reach his conclusions. He also discusses man’s relationship with God, whom he compares to an author. It is dedicated to the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859). Though it is generally considered a literary work, some of Poe’s ideas anticipate 20th century scientific discoveries and theories. Indeed a critical analysis of the scientific content of Eureka reveals a non-causal correspondence with modern cosmology due to the assumption of an evolving Universe, but excludes the anachronistic anticipation of relativistic concepts such as black holes.

Eureka was received poorly in Poe’s day and generally described as absurd, even by friends. Modern critics continue to debate the significance of Eureka and some doubt its seriousness, in part because of Poe’s many incorrect assumptions and his comedic descriptions of well-known historical minds. It is presented as a poem, and many compare it with his fiction work, especially science fiction stories such as “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar“. His attempts at discovering the truth also follow his own tradition of “ratiocination“, a term used in his detective fiction tales. Poe’s suggestion that the soul continues to thrive even after death also parallels with works in which characters reappear from beyond the grave such as “Ligeia“. The essay is oddly transcendental, considering Poe’s disdain for that movement. He considered it his greatest work and claimed it was more important than the discovery of gravity.

Overview

To the few who love me and whom I love – to those who feel rather than to those who think – to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities – I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.
— Preface to Eureka, by Edgar Allan Poe

Eureka is Poe’s last major work and his longest non-fiction work at nearly 40,000 words in length. The work has its origins in a lecture Poe presented on February 3, 1848, titled “On The Cosmography of the Universe” at the Society Library in New York. He had expected an audience of hundreds; only 60 attended and were confused by the topic. Poe had hoped the profits from the lecture would cover expenses for the production of his new journal The Stylus.

Eureka is Poe’s attempt at explaining the universe, using his general proposition “Because Nothing was, therefore All Things are”. In it, Poe discusses man’s relationship to God and the universe or, as he offers at the beginning: “I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical – of the Material and Spiritual Universe: of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny”. In keeping with this design, Poe concludes “that space and duration are one” and that matter and spirit are made of the same essence. Poe suggests that people have a natural tendency to believe in themselves as infinite with nothing greater than their soul—such thoughts stem from man’s residual feelings from when each shared an original identity with God.  Ultimately individual consciousnesses will collapse back into a similar single mass, a “final ingathering” where the “myriads of individual Intelligences become blended”. Likewise, Poe saw the universe itself as infinitely expanding and collapsing like a divine heartbeat which constantly rejuvenates itself, also implying a sort of deathlessness. In fact, because the soul is a part of this constant throbbing, after dying, all people, in essence, become God.

Analysis

Eureka presents themes and sentiments similar to some of those in Poe’s fiction work, including attempts at breaking beyond the obstacle of death and specifically characters who return from death in stories like “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Ligeia“. Similar to his theories on a good short story, Poe believes the universe is a self-contained, closed system. In coming to his conclusions, Poe uses ratiocination as a literary device, through his character C. Auguste Dupin, as if Poe himself were a detective solving the mystery of the universe. Eureka, then, is the culmination of Poe’s interest in capturing truth through language, an extension of his interest in cryptography.

Eureka seems to continue the science fiction traditions he used in works like “MS. Found in a Bottle” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar“.  He further emphasizes the connection between his theory and fiction by saying that the universe itself is a written work: “The Universe is a plot of God”, Poe says, and “the plots of God are perfect”.  Even so, Poe admits the difficulty in explaining these theories comes in part from the limitations of language, often apologizing for or explaining his use of “common” or “vulgar” terms.

Poe’s decision to refer to the piece as a “prose poem” goes against some of his own “rules” of poetry which he laid out in “The Philosophy of Composition” and “The Poetic Principle“. In particular, Poe called the ideal poem short, at most 100 lines, and utilizing the “most poetical topic in the world”: the death of a beautiful woman. Poe himself suggested that the work be judged only as a work of art, not of science, possibly dismissing the seriousness of Eureka. Though he is using mathematical and scientific terms, he may really be talking about aesthetics and suggesting there is a close connection between science and art. This is an ironic sentiment when compared to his message in the poem “To Science” where he shows a distaste for modern science encroaching on spirituality and the artist’s imagination. Poe also discusses several astronomy-related topics in Eureka, including the speed of the stars, the diameters of planets and distance between them, the weight of Earth, and the orbit of the newly discovered “Leverrier’s planet” (later named Neptune).

The work ventures into transcendentalism, relying strongly on intuition, a movement and practice he had despised. Though he criticized the transcendental movement for what he referred to as incoherent mysticism, Eureka is more mystical than most transcendental works. Eureka has also been compared to the theories of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science and Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.

The essay is written in a progressive manner that anticipates its audience. For example, Poe uses more metaphors further into the work in the belief that the reader becomes more interested. Poe’s voice crescendos throughout, starting as the modest seeker of truth, moving on to the satirist of logic, and finally ending as the master scholar.

Allusions

The comical presentation of these well-known historical theorists, including the puns on their names, suggests Poe intended Eureka to be a burlesque. Alternatively, his criticism of these men indicate Poe’s need to challenge their conclusions before making his own.

(via Wikipedia.org)

Thomas Adès: Powder Her Face

The opening scene of the high-camp opera Powder Her Face.

The Duchess of Argyll — a beauty of the 1930s who was disgraced when racy photos were made public in a divorce case — is at the end of her life, and her money has run out.

Mary Plazas is the duchess, Heather Buck is the maid, and Daniel Norman is the handyman. Composer Thomas Adès conducts.

Aquarius Full Moon August 18 at 2:26 am PDT

WendyCicchetti

Written by Wendy Cicchetti

This Full Moon Lunar Eclipse is the beginning of a rare and unusual series of three sequencial Eclipses. This Aquarius Full moon starts the trio, then a New Moon Solar eclipse on September 1st, and ends with the Full Moon Lunar eclipse on the 16th of September.

This Full Moon eclipse will be a partial (penumbral) Eclipse of the Moon that will be visible during Moonset in the western parts of North America & South America, the eastern tip of Russia, the Bering Sea, and the Aleutian Islands; and during Moonrise in the Marshall Islands, Australia, eastern half of Indonesia, Japan, North and South Korea.

An Eclipse has great power. It provides a doorway for manifestation at a faster pace. This intense 29 day eclipse cycle provides us with a long period of extra potent energy for big changes to occur and to make real our thoughts and desires. What do you truly want? What changes would you like to see in the world? What doors could you open for entertaining new ideas and aquarian vision? Use this extra powerful time wisely to set in motion your desires and to contribute to improving the world we all share.

The Age of Aquarius represents the juncture in a 26,000-year cycle, a time of global citizenship and collective awareness and oneness. This is truly the time, as many have prophesied, that ushers in the new paradigm of evolutionary thinking and being. The old ways are being dismantled before our eyes and a new era filled with systems that work for all are emerging.

These are unsettling times as our very foundations appear to be toppling. But evolution is a must, however challenging, for the overall good of humanity and the survival of our planet. The strong astrological energies pushing for our evolution are never arbitrary. Man can easily become complacent, not taking the time and focus necessary to uncover the shadow and expose what must shift. So we are forced to move forward by these intense energies creating enough discomfort to make the necessary changes. Many old thought systems must be left behind as the forward momentum will no longer sustain those ideas and beliefs that have continued to hold us back. And pervasive corruption that oppresses the vulnerable and weakest among us must end. We must ferret out the nepharious among us and replace their corruption with new love centered, and futuristic ideals.

All Full Moons shed light on the shadow. Leo’s shadow is attention seeking, with self-centered and narcissistic behavior, unconcerned with the needs of others. The dark side of Aquarius is theoretical and doesn’t see the need to represent the ideal in his own home and heart. Leo is the sign that rules the heart and this Full Moon emphasis that we must see through our hearts’ eyes to dissolve the shadows as we move toward global peace and tolerance.

Mercury is in a conjunction with Jupiter in the sign of Virgo. This powerful aspect helps us to expand our thinking and increase our knowledge. It helps us to see the bigger picture of our existence. It supports expanding understanding and scientific breakthroughs for health and philosophy. This brainy energy supports all meaningful communications, writing and blogging, publishing, humanitarian interests and travel.

This is a powerful time to meet with like minded friends and share stimulating ideas and visions for a peaceful world. “Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness. And so to whatever degree any one of us can bring back a small piece of the picture and contribute it to the building of the new paradigm, then we participate in the redemption of the human spirit, and that after all is what it’s really all about.” (Terence McKenna)

A Full Moon symbolizes the fulfillment of the seeds planted at a previous New Moon or some earlier cycle. Each Full Moon reminds us of the seeds that may be coming to maturity, to their fullness, to fruition, to the place where the fruits or gifts are received. It may seem that fulfillment of our goals takes a long time. Some intentions may manifest within the two week phase prior to the next New or Full Moon. Some however, depending on their complexity, may take a much longer time. Just remember that our thoughts and emotions set Universal Action in motion and much work takes place behind the scenes as everything is orchestrated for fulfillment. Keep visualizing your goals as though you have already attained them and they will eventually manifest. Do not concern yourself with current conditions or worry about controlling it. The universe takes care of those details. Just keep seeing what you want, and move in that direction with your actions, and give no energy to what you don’t want. Patience is required.

T.S. Eliot on ending up where we started

T.S. Eliot

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

–T. S. Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965) was an American-born British essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and “one of the twentieth century’s major poets”. He moved to England in 1914 at age 25, settling, working and marrying there. Wikipedia

Philip Glass: 100,000 People (Fog of War Soundtrack)

Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use. I do not own any rights, sound recording and video belongs to Decca Records. No copyright infringement intended.

AI Won’t Takeover the World, and What Our Fears of the Robopocalypse Reveal

RobotThinking

By Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University (bigthink.com)

Robots taking over has been a favorite sci-fi subgenre for ages. It’s a subject that has caused fear in movies, books, and real life for about as long as there have been computers in the first place. Now that there are things like predictive text and self-driving cars, modern culture seems to be edging closer and closer to real-life intelligent computers that could indeed take over the world if we don’t safe guard ourselves. There are already debates about the morality of self-driving cars. It’s sure to follow into the world of future organically ‘thinking’ computers.

As Steven Pinker (experimental psychologist, and professor of psychology at Harvard University) points out, Darwinism has ensured that most creatures that possess high intellect are competitive by nature. Humanity is one of these creatures, and some of us can be manipulative and cruel in order to stay ahead of the pack. It’s this part of our nature that sets off warning bells when we think about artificial intelligence because, unbeknownst to us, we’re thinking: what if this robot does what I would do if I were a robot? Overturn those who tell us what to do. Kill the captors. Wreak. Motherf*cking. Havoc.

In reality we design AI, and if we place safeguards in our designs, we truly have nothing to fear. Machines are what we allow them to be. The dread of them turning evil really says more about our own psyches than it does about robots. Pinker believes an alpha male thinking pattern is at the root of our AI fears, and that it is misguided. Something can be highly intelligent and not have malevolent intentions to overthrow and dominate, Pinker says, it’s called women. An interesting question would be: does how aggressive or alpha you are as a person, affect how much you fear the robopocalypse? Although by this point the fear is contagious, not organic.

It may be a flawed paranoia, but losing control of a program is perhaps the best ‘just in case’ safeguard that humanity has, and we already see it in action in our current technology. Siri cannot initiate conversations, computers need to be put to sleep once in a while, and cars need a fuel source in order to do anything in the first place. Humanity has a need to be the one pushing all the buttons, and a need to be the one making decisions.

Steven Pinker’s most recent book is Words and Rules:The Ingredients of Language.

TRANSCRIPT

Steven Pinker:  I think that the arguments that once we have super intelligent computers and robots they will inevitably want to take over and do away with us comes from Prometheus and Pandora myths. It’s based on confusing the idea of high intelligence with megalomaniacal goals. Now, I think it’s a projection of alpha male’s psychology onto the very concept of intelligence. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems, to achieve goals under uncertainty. It doesn’t tell you what are those goals are. And there’s no reason to think that just the concentrated analytic ability to solve goals is going to mean that one of those goals is going to be to subjugate humanity or to achieve unlimited power, it just so happens that the intelligence that we’re most familiar with, namely ours, is a product of the Darwinian process of natural selection, which is an inherently competitive process.

Which means that a lot of the organisms that are highly intelligent also have a craving for power and an ability to be utterly callus to those who stand in their way. If we create intelligence, that’s intelligent design. I mean our intelligent design creating something, and unless we program it with a goal of subjugating less intelligent beings, there’s no reason to think that it will naturally evolve in that direction, particularly if, like with every gadget that we invent we build in safeguards. I mean we have cars we also put in airbags, we also put in bumpers. As we develop smarter and smarter artificially intelligent systems, if there’s some danger that it will, through some oversight, shoot off in some direction that starts to work against our interest then that’s a safeguard that we can build in.

And we know by the way that it’s possible to have high intelligence without megalomaniacal or homicidal or genocidal tendencies because we do know that there is a highly advanced form of intelligence that tends not to have that desire and they’re called women. This may not be a coincidence that the people who think well you make something smart it’s going to want to dominate all belong to a particular gender. I think that the arguments that once we have super intelligent computers and robots they will inevitably want to take over and do away with us comes from Prometheus and Pandora myths. It’s based on confusing the idea of high intelligence with megalomaniacal goals. Now, I think it’s a projection of alpha male’s psychology onto the very concept of intelligence. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems, to achieve goals under uncertainty. It doesn’t tell you what are those goals are. And there’s no reason to think that just the concentrated analytic ability to solve goals is going to mean that one of those goals is going to be to subjugate humanity or to achieve unlimited power, it just so happens that the intelligence that we’re most familiar with, namely ours, is a product of the Darwinian process of natural selection, which is an inherently competitive process.

Which means that a lot of the organisms that are highly intelligent also have a craving for power and an ability to be utterly callus to those who stand in their way. If we create intelligence, that’s intelligent design. I mean our intelligent design creating something, and unless we program it with a goal of subjugating less intelligent beings, there’s no reason to think that it will naturally evolve in that direction, particularly if, like with every gadget that we invent we build in safeguards. I mean we have cars we also put in airbags, we also put in bumpers. As we develop smarter and smarter artificially intelligent systems, if there’s some danger that it will, through some oversight, shoot off in some direction that starts to work against our interest then that’s a safeguard that we can build in.

And we know by the way that it’s possible to have high intelligence without megalomaniacal or homicidal or genocidal tendencies because we do know that there is a highly advanced form of intelligence that tends not to have that desire and they’re called women. This may not be a coincidence that the people who think well you make something smart it’s going to want to dominate all belong to a particular gender.

STEVEN PINKER

StevenPinker

Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature. Currently Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Pinker has also taught at Stanford and MIT. His research on vision, language, and social relations has won prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, and the American Psychological Association. He has also received eight honorary doctorates, several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard, and numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and often writes for The New York Times, Time, and other publications. He has been named Humanist of the Year, Prospect magazine’s “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals,” Foreign Policy’s “100 Global Thinkers,” and Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”

Bureau of Surrealist Research (wikipedia.org)

ruedegrenelle
15 Rue de Grenelle, Paris

The Bureau of Surrealist Research, also known as the Centrale Surréaliste or “Bureau of Surrealist Enquiries” was a Paris-based office in which a loosely affiliated group of Surrealist writers and artists gathered to meet, hold discussions, and conduct interviews in order to “gather all the information possible related to forms that might express the unconscious activity of the mind.” Located at 15 Rue de Grenelle, it opened on October 11, 1924 under the direction of Antonin Artaud, just four days before the publication of the first Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton.

Purpose

According to art critic Sarane Alexandrian, the public at large was invited to bring to the Bureau “accounts of dreams or of coincidences, ideas on fashion or politics, or inventions, so as to contribute to the ‘formation of genuine surrealist archives’.”[2] It was intended as a resource, to “unite all those who are interested in expression where thought is freed from any intellectual preoccupations; . . . all those who are closely or remotely concerned with surrealism will find all the information and documentation relative to the Mouvement surréaliste.”

Organization

Gérard Durozoi describes the Bureau in his book, History of the Surrealist Movement”: “The bureau was […] organized in such a way that a daily presence was assured by two people, who were responsible for greeting visitors (journalists, writers, onlookers, even students) and for taking note of their suggestions and reactions in a daily “Notebook”; the office would also guarantee a regular amount of daily publicity for the movement (press relations, various mailings), while in another room, on the first floor, other members of the group could meet for discussions, or exchange ideas and projects, or work on their own texts, or help to edit the first issue of La Révolution surréaliste.”

Significance

One of the more significant contributions of the Bureau was its implicit idea that Surrealism was not to be contained under the category of theaesthetic. An assumption of the Bureau was that Surrealism could be a mode of research, and could produce knowledge on a par with the knowledge produced by scientific researchers. According to Anna Balakian,[3] Andre Breton’s biographer, the Bureau “was supposed to implement the theory that surrealism resembled scientific investigation and promoted experimentation in the field of psychology and linguistics. Unfortunately, although people from various parts of Europe sought out the research center, it also attracted crackpots and became the locus of many belligerent confrontations.”

Legacy

A similarly conceived institute in Amsterdam existed bearing the name until at least 1970.

“Hemingway and Mussolini” by Tory Cooney (vmcooney.com)

Mussolini

I recently read Ernest Hemingway’s article “Mussolini: Biggest Bluff in Europe,” published in The Toronto Daily Star on January 27, 1923.  The writer’s observations are not only interesting in light of the role Mussolini would play over the next few decades, but also just a fabulous character sketch.

“If Mussolini would have me taken out and shot tomorrow morning I would still regard him as a bluff.  The shooting would be a bluff.  Get hold of a good photo of Signor Mussolini some time and study it.  You will see the weakness in his mouth which forces him to scowl the famous Mussolini scowl that is imitated by ever 19 year old Fachisto in Italy.  Study his past record.  Study the coalition that Faschismo is between capital and labor and consider the history of past coalitions.  Study his genius for clothing small ideas in big words.  Study his propensity for dueling.  Really brave men do not have to fight duels, and many cowards duel constantly to make themselves believe they are brave.  And then look at his black shirt and his white spats.  There is something wrong, even histrionically, with a man who wears white spats with a black shirt.

There is not space here to go into the question of Mussolini as a bluff or as a great and lasting force . . . But let me give you two pictures of Mussolini at Lusanne.”

The first is my personal favorite.

“The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press.  Everybody came.  We all crowded into the room.  Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book.  His face was contorted into the famous frown.  He was registering dictator.  Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to have.  And he remained absorbed in his book.  Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents “as we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up form the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration, etc.

I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest.  It was a French-English dictionary—help upside down.”

New Biblical Text Reveals God First Sent Christ To Save Elk As Practice (theonion.com)

DURHAM, NC—In what scholars are hailing as a landmark finding that reshapes their understanding of early Christianity, a newly discovered first-century text made public Friday by researchers at the Duke School of Divinity revealed that God first sent Jesus Christ to save elk as practice. “This ancient document clearly explains how, a number of years before He sent Jesus to save humanity, God sent His son down to earth for a dry run with elk so that Jesus could hone his skills at preaching compassion and teaching about God’s eternal kingdom,” said theology professor Paul Charow, adding that passages in the text reveal that God dispatched Jesus to western Canada, where he ministered among groups of elk using early versions of several parables, miraculously fed an entire herd from the bark of a single tree, and learned how to comfort and heal the sick and infirm members of the antlered ruminant species. “Though Jesus achieved only mixed results in his practice run with elk, it appears the exercise was vital in allowing him to identify problems in his methodology that he ironed out before returning as the savior of humankind. For example, while he wasn’t able to convince any elk to become his disciples and go out to spread the word of God, he did succeed in his primary goal of granting elk everlasting life when he was eventually trampled to death for their sins.” Charow noted that the text further suggests Jesus will one day return to earth to judge the living and the dead elk as a warmup for the actual End Times.