Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Calculus of Desire

Deeply iterated Buddhabrot

In the 5th century B.C., Eudoxus of Cnidus, developed the Method of Exhaustion to determine the area of a shape by inscribing the interior with a series of polygons, notably applied by Archimedes to figure the area inside of a circle and the Quadrature of the Parabola. It is considered a precursor to integral Calculus. 
Zeno of Elea proposed the Dichotomy Paradox as an attempt to prove Parmenidian idea of "The One." The argument is familiar: Your hand reaches out for the cup of coffee. At the halfway point, is is 1/2 of the distance to the cup. Then it moves half the distance of this, 1/4. Then half of this, 1/8. And again and again into infinity. Accordingly, you are never quite "touch" the cup of coffee.


Of course, your hand grasps hold of the cup and raises it to your mouth. But the mind, enraptured by Zeno, is still generating a denominator that is forever reaching to infinity.

M.C. Escher, Parade of Ants

In the late 1700s, Leibniz provided a set of rules to work with infinitesimal sums which became the foundation (along with Newton) for modern calculus. In the 19th century, the limit of a function replaced infinitesimals by using real numbers, such as zero or one.

A Koch curve has an infinitely repeating self-similarity

As the hand approaches the cup of coffee, the distance between each object approaches zero. The idea of a number, of a discrete element of abstract thought, wants to insert itself in between - giving birth to Zeno's Dichotomy Paradox. Reductio ad absurdum. The inviolable stillness of the Parmenidian One is experienced as absurd. There are objects in motion through time. Hands reach out to grasp cups of coffee. The beauty is when we allow that everything does become One, through the poetry of the calculus. Thus, the process of abstracting, of generating sets of objects, itself is paradoxical. Cantor's naive sets and Russell's Paradox. Extending to Godel. Self referentiality is the difficult crux:

This statement is false.


The calculus of desire. Of addiction. The relationship between the two. Chasing the Dragon. Trying to get to Zero, to touch the Thing Itself: Ding an Sich. Burning out the pleasure centers, the hardwired "circuitry of the brain" through infinite Methods of Exhaustion. Rising up with the intoxicating smoke, over-saturating the referentiality, trying to get around the tolerance curve, to see what pulses within the Heart of the Fractal Dragon. 

I have heard the bell ringing within, shivered within it's tolling, broken myself down against it's clanging. I have torn the rough rags of language off of the Thing Itself, breaking the gerund "ing" off and holding the ring. Blowing out the brains shivering synaptic structures, ringing ringing ring ring, until there is just the constant sound of being, the flatline tone that resolves into oṃ... 

How all ’s to one thing wrought! 

- Gerard Manley Hopkins, On a piece of music

And what do I have to say? Who am I to add to what is? 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Zoetrope: the hole destroys both being and itself

The other night I woke up from a dream and wrote this down:

dreams by a flickering light
contained within the circle
of the zoetrope


Thoughts have since gathered around these memories and constructed a scene. Imagine this world being contained within the interior of a zoetrope. What we are is a series of fragments, a set of static images, Hume's "bundle of perceptions." However, outside of us, on the exterior of the zoetrope, is a being, a presence,  that perceives our world, through the spinning slits of the device as having connection; the fragmentary, static images now flow in a seamless meaningful sequence. Our world, from that perspective, is a dance. If they were to stop the spinning of the zoetrope, they would see the thousand separate instances of our existence that appear, at best, strange, and, most often, as banal and pointless. Only when the world is in process, when there is a presence of, what might be called, the transcendental perceiver, is there any sense, any meaning, any magic... beauty to what we are.

All that is limited by form, semblance, sound, color is called object. Among them all, man alone is more than an object. Though, like objects, he has form and semblance, He is not limited to form. He is more. He can attain to formlessness. When he is beyond form and semblance, beyond "this" and "that," where is the comparison with another object? Where is the conflict? What can stand in his way? He will rest in his eternal place which is no-place. He will be hidden in his own unfathomable secret. His nature sinks to its root in the One. His vitality, his power hide in secret Tao.
- Chuang Tzu. The Way of Chuang Tzu. Translator/Editor Thomas Merton.

What persists between the slits of the zoetrope, between the thousand separate instants within? There is the Myth of the Persistence of Vision which assumed that the eye is overwhelmed by the speed and number of images. The images accumulate within the organ of sensation, piling up, so to speak, and bleeding over into each other, so our perception of them is of a unity. But this has been shown to be a myth.1, 2 Instead, there is conceptual presence that connects the thousand separate instances into a meaningful flow. This conceptual presence is a transcendental ground upon which meaning is structured. These are the dreams from the interior of the zoetrope. Given that, that the ghosts in the machine are merely dreaming their own meaning, the question becomes: is this enough? Is this castle of memory, harmony and hope enough to stand against the stark brutal and violent reality of the howling world we are within?

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a burning skull, a burning skull howling and screaming around, suffering with the horror of self consciousness and the pain of raw being. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a burning skull, or a burning skull dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a burning skull there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.


The wheel spins and meaning is spun like thread from the dross of the world. A thread soaked in blood and tears, fragments of bone and tissue. This turning churning maw of existence with it difficult and tragic meaning.

There's no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.
- Cormac McCarthy

Between the slits of the zoetrope, there is screaming and fear: the gods are eating the flesh from our living bones.

In the Chorus, which precedes the bringing in of Antigone after she has tossed a handful of earth on her borther's naked body, the praise of human greatness of combined with anxiety: "Many are the wonders and terrors, and nothing is more wonderful and terrible than man." Deina is a wonderful and terrible phenomenon ("miracle"and "wonder" have both these meanings); man is deinotaton, the stranger, the alien and the alienated. Strongest and most ingenious of all creatures, he is "alienated" from the nature he has harnessed; he can also be alienated from the city he has built, he can even be alienated from himself. Hypsipolis and apolis, "high in the city" and "stateless." His fatherland is no man's land. His rapacity is boundless; he can change the future. Only for death has he found no remedy. Martin Heidegger was the first to analyze this anxiety of human existence is the Chorus of Antigone as being part of man's condition:
Everywhere journeying, inexperienced and without issue,he comes to nothingness. Through no flight can he resist the one assault of death, even if he has succeeded in cleverly evading painful sickness.
How close this is to Hamlet's soliloquy:
What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me - (II, ii, 299-304)
If awareness is a "hole in being" in the Sophoclean theatre of cruelty, the hole destroys both being and itself. There is much that is strange, but nothing stranger than man.
- Jan Kott, The Eating of the Gods


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chao hua chih kuan: the pipe which makes fantasies appear

In Volume 4 of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilisation in China, there is a fascinating description:

Another ancestor of the cinematograph was a variety of zoetrope, which may well have originated in China, namely a light canopy hung over a lamp, and bearing vanes at the top so disposed that the ascending convection currents cause it to turn. On the sides of the cylinder there would be thin panes of paper or mica, carrying painted pictures, which, if the canopy spun round fast enough, would give an impression of movement of animals or men. Such devices certainly embodied the principle of a rapid succession of images. In its semi-fabulous account of Chhin Shih Huan Ti's treasury, already quoted, the Hsi Ching Tsa Chi speaks of the sparkling of scales of turning dragons after a lamp was lit. It also describes what must have been a small windmill or air tubine [...]. This was called chao hua chih kuan (the pipe which makes fantasies appear).1

Chen Rong, The Nine Dragons handscroll, 1244.

When you are smoking crack, after a rock or two, there is a build up of resin within the interior of the pipe. Long time users will tell you that it is the result of trying to smoke too large a rock or improper technique. Nevertheless, once the pipe cools, the brown crust forms, impurities or "cut" cooked out. It is the essence of crack. And every user knows that it will provide an amplified and intense experience.

The wire screen, typically made from a torn piece of chore boy, is also generally full of this crack resin. Using a piece of wire ("pokey"), carefully holding the glass pipe with the screen at the bottom, you gently scrape the resin off the sides of the pipe. It falls away from the interior sides of the pipe like brightness falls from the air, collecting on top of the screen. Once the interior has been entirely scraped clean, the pokey is pressed against the bottom of the screen to push it through to the other end, collecting and further concentrating the scrape at the far end of the pipe. The process is called "the scrape" and the "the push." Because it is so potent, many users will tap out a portion of the scrape onto a folded piece of paper to save for later. Smoking the scrape, results in an intense and powerful experience, the closest most will ever get to the Dragon.

It is a pipe dream.

Hall of the Dragon Mist by ~Suirebit

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Whose seeds of death-in-life are burnt

Allegory of Death, Maximilián Pirner, after 1886

He who wanders without a home in this world, leaving behind the desires of this world, and the desires never return - him I call a Brahmin.

He who wanders without a home in this world, leaving behind the feverish thirst for the world, and the fever never returns - him I call a Brahmin.

He who is free from the bondage of men and also from the bondage of the gods: who is free from all things in creation - him I call a Brahmin. 

He who is free from pleasure and pain, who is calm, and whose seeds of death-in-life are burnt, whose heroism has conquered all the inner worlds - him I call a Brahmin.

The Dhammapada, Chapter 26, 415-418 - The Brahmin.
Mascaro translation.

I moved my lips -the Pilot shrieked 
And fell down in a fit; 
The holy Hermit raised his eyes, 
And prayed where he did sit. 

I took the oars: the Pilot’s boy, 
Who now doth crazy go, 
Laughed loud and long, and all the while 
His eyes went to and fro. 
`Ha! ha!’ quoth he, `full plain I see, 
The Devil knows how to row.’ 

And now, all in my own country, 
I stood on the firm land! 
The Hermit stepped forth from the boat, 
And scarcely he could stand. 

 O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man! 
The Hermit crossed his brow. 
`Say quick,’ quoth he `I bid thee say - 
What manner of man art thou?’ 

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched 
With a woeful agony, 
Which forced me to begin my tale; 
And then it left me free. 

Since then, at an uncertain hour, 
That agony returns; 
And till my ghastly tale is told, 
This heart within me burns. 

I pass, like night, from land to land; 
I have strange power of speech; 
That moment that his face I see, 
I know the man that must hear me: 
To him my tale I teach.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Ancient Mariner, Part VII

SCRAPINGS: Notes for an essay

Language is an unfolding riddle. Cadmus sowing the hieroglyphs of the Dragon's Teeth to bring forth  the armed Phoenician men of the Alphabet. Atomic elements of language, energies spun down into phonemes and morphemes: Indo-European mysteries. The Spirit is thus crucified upon the skeleton of the Flesh. The Incarnation of Inspiration. The imprisonment of God's Holy Fire, enthousiazein, into the charnel house of the body. The bondage of Yeats, all of us sailing to Byzantium. Afterwards, literally, the seductions of Time: the relentless habituations and myriad desensitizations of the brain. The key as Eliot's confirmation of the prison in the Waste Land. Every sentence, emotional, literal and judicial, as a Zen koan to be "thought beyond." Law in this world, Justice in the next. A ladder from the Tarot leading up to a cloud. And even if it all is an epiphenomenal joke, a Ghost dreaming of Electric Sheep in the bedrooms of the Machine, there is still the haunting Presence of a Transcendental Ground. Some dark future. A gossamer thread of Hope.

Hope, George Frederic Watts, 1886

At the Tate National Gallery. An allegorical painting by George Frederic Watts: Hope. The blindfolded female figure atop a somber globe, bent down listening to the music of the one remaining string. Gossamer thread. As if the artist has access to my inmost soul. Ecce:

George Frederic Watts, Can These Bones Live? 1897-8


In 1950s Olds and Milner et al. demonstrated that a rat will press a bar in a Skinner box to electrically stimulate "pleasure centers," nucleus accumbens, until they die from exhaustion, forgoing any previous rewards based on food, comfort or even sex with another rat.

When the electrodes were wired so that the rats could stimulate their own brain by pressing a lever, Olds and Milner discovered that they did so almost obsessively—some more than 1,000 times an hour.1
The control exercised over the animal’s behavior by means of this reward is extreme, possibly exceeding that exercised by any other reward previously used in animal experimentation.2

Wanting and Liking

One patient—a 24-year-old homosexual whom Heath was attempting to cure of depression (and of his desire for other men)—was compelled to stimulate his electrodes some 1,500 times over the course of a single, three-hour session. According to Heath, this obsessive self-stimulation gave the subject, patient B-19, “feelings of pleasure, alertness, and warmth (goodwill).” The end of his session was met with vigorous protest.3

From Aristotle to contemporary positive psychology, well-being or happiness has been usefully proposed to consist of at least two ingredients: hedonia and eudaimonia (Aristotle 2009; Seligman et al. 2005). While definitions of these by philosophers and psychologists have varied, most generally agree that hedonia at least corresponds psychologically to a state of pleasure. Thus a particularly important topic for hedonic psychology and affective neuroscience is to understand how pleasure is generated by brain mechanisms so as to contribute to well-being. Fortunately, deciphering hedonia in the brain is a task in which considerable progress has already been made. Eudaimonia by comparison may be more difficult to define philosophically or approach scientifically, but most agree it corresponds to some cognitive and/or moral aspect of a life lived well and not to any mere emotional feeling. We view eudaimonia to mean essentially a life experienced as valuably meaningful and as engaging. Thus, for psychological neuroscience of the future another major goal will be to uncover how such experiences are reflected in patterns of brain activity (Urry et al. 2004).4


Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly—the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape. When we of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never scared in history at material ugliness and hardship; when we put off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the thought of having a child without a bank-account and doomed to manual labour, it is time for thinking men to protest against so unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1900