Making noise, not getting anywhere.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

infected minds


Richard Dawkins argues that religion is like biological and digital viruses, spreading from mind to mind, epidemically. Unlike science, which Dawkins likens to nonviral software, religion spreads not because people willfully accept its ideas, but because these ideas carry a "Copy Me!" command.

While I like his description of the spread of ideas as an epidemic, and the notion that complexes of ideas, just like complexes of genes, will tend to spread together if they favour each other, I think the fundamental thrust of his argument, which tries to taint religion by likening it to disease, is flawed.

As he readily admits, the phenomenology of the spread of scientific ideas is indistinguishable from that of any other belief system. The difference, Dawkin's argues, is that science adheres to empirical testing, while religion does not. But that alone establishes a perfect symmetry, where the zealot could triumphantly cry "exactly! and that's why religion is superior. Quia absurdum!"

The problem with religion is not that it's an attractive set of mutually enforcing beliefs that spreads through populations of minds - that's true for science, as well. It's that these beliefs claim jurisdiction over empirical matters, when at their very core is a disdain for empirical process.

In short, not the viral form of religion, but its content, is what should bring us in opposition. Its virulence just makes it a more formidable and frustrating enemy.

new bird

pigeon, clueless

When we moved into our Toronto apartment in early december, we found a pigeon had already moved in before. There were two chicks in the "nest", so we decided to let them be. The quotes are there to signify to disparity between the mental image of a bird's nest and the crude heap of birdshit, twigs and dirt that they scrambled together.

We observed the chicks growing up through a window, and it seemed that one of them was a bit stronger than the other. It started pushing the other away when food was served. The size difference grew, and one day we found the smaller one dead and pushed out of the "nest". Which, combined with Tak's story, makes me think that this is a fairly common occurence in urban pigeons.

We removed the dead bird (alas, no burial. Down the chute it went), and let the other one grow up before I went in in protective gear (That smell is something else) and removed the mess.

And if you've ever wondered why there is no pigeon babies anywhere: the young was almost fully grown before it dared the jump off our balcony for the first time. But even though it looked like a real pigeon at that point, it remained fairly clueless, as the above picture shows.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Vremd und Fertraut

home on the grid

Die Anlage amerikanischer Städte lädt ein zu diesem Experiment. Die meisten Strassen folgen einem Gittermuster, zwei treffen sich an den Kreuzungen. Die Stadt und Strecken in ihr zerfallen in identische Blocks.

Oben zu sehen ist der Durchschnitt aus 50 Strassenabschnitten, je gesehen von der Kreuzung aus. Man erkennt Leitungen, Strassenmarkierungen und geparkte Autos als geisterhafte Schatten, die Vegetation verschmilzt im grünen Nebel, die Häuser zu einer dunklen Wand. Zeigt dieser Durchschnitt Essenz oder Verfremdung? Und wie weit ist jene von dieser entfernt? Einen Block?

(Der Titel dieses Posts ist der Titel eines bei Elefanten-Press erschienen Buches)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


In North Berkeley, along Shattuck, stretches the collection of fancy shops, nice restaurants and upscale knickknackeries known as Gourmet Ghetto. On a normal, sunny day, the patrons of the Cheeseboard Collective will populate the grassy median of this busy road, to gobble down their high quality vegetarian organic superpizza. Even the signs they have conquered, to spell their minds.

Just across the street is Chez Panisse, the legendary and legendarily expensive upper crust cafe. Someday I will go there, to their downstairs section, where things are more moderately priced and a tad less glam.

In the meantime, I'll get my lunch at Jimmy Beans in Haas business school, a greasy Cajun chicken sandwich with a bit of Cesar salad. And while I'm in the throng of overdressed nasties waiting for my grub, I'll hear one of them answering the rhetorical howareyou with "Pretty well. Our clients just took us out for lunch to Chez Panisse and served some Champagne. They're pretty cool."

Not that I really think I'm in the wrong business, but am I?


Während ich meine Kreise ziehe, frage ich mich, warum ich sie ziehe. Nicht dass das Umgraben der rindenstückbestreuten Scheibe unberührte Natur zerstörte. Aber seltsam ist es doch, dass der Schaffensimpuls inmitten der vollständig durchgestalteten Campuslandschaft sich eine Nische sucht, der ein persönlicher Stempel aufgedrückt werden kann. Es liesse sich argumentieren, dass der Frühmensch suchte, was er zu formen verstand, und experimentierte, und spielerisch die Kräfte meisterte, die jetzt uralte Farnwälder in quadratkilometergrosse Plastikteppiche verwandeln, und der Gestaltungswille also in der Fähigkeit zur Technologie aufginge.

Aber selbst wenn das stimmte, legten sich doch um den mechanischen Verhaltenskern Schichten von Komplikationen, persönliche Eitelkeit, Trotz gegen die Anonymität, Ąsthetik reiner Formen, Kontraste auf etlichen Abstraktionsebenen, um nur ein paar zu nennen, und zuletzt schliesst sich die Zwiebel aus Motiven zur ganzen Frucht:– und gefällt.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Constructing Reality

It's a widely held belief these days that the world we perceive results as much from objects affecting our sense organs as it does from our brain imposing preformed categories on the sensory input, according to some probabilistic or statistical scheme. So a bunch of completely independent contrast boundaries becomes an outline, because it's unlikely boundary fragments would align if they were not part of some common shape. And once our visual system has connected the lines, the shapes resulting from that trigger yet another inference system, that supposes that anything that looks like a face in all likelihood is one. And thus a robot stares at out you from a collection of 36 image tiles that are not robotlike at all.