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I also have an idea box where I store all kind of food for thoughts that I will flesh out here later (or never if they’re not fertile or original enough, since I want to explore new ideas and not reinvent the wheel).
This is ultimately a blog, so feel free to keep scrolling for updates in reverse chronological order. Oh and also there’s my CV somewhere too.
I like to write a little something to remember each milestone in the evolution of my thinking. Today I want to commemorate my reading of Alex Mazey’s Sad Boy Aesthetics. I’m an avid fan of Baudrillard, so when I saw Alex’s essay on Genshin Impact and Baudrillard, it immediately spoke to my heart.
Previously, on Baudrillard
Let me try to give a short simplified summary of the whole deal, but considering how Baudrillard theories are important and relevant nowadays, I invite you to expand with your own research! Please forgive me for the lack of rigor and loose terminology ^^
The TLDR is that neoliberal capitalism co-opts everything (and in particular, rebellious movements), and turns it into profitable commodities (i.e. Che Guevara T-shirts). In this way, it loses its depth and subversive meaning. In the end, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy (a simulacrum) and nothing is real and meaningful (think of the whole post-truth era thing).
Nothing is sacred anymore, everything is for sale. Meaningful/holy things are tokenized into marketable commodities. This culminates in an era of replica and images, where appearances are all that matters. Baudrillard seems to conclude that this loss of depth (i.e. aestheticization) may be the worst part of this process, in a famous line that Alex quoted somewhere:
“It is often said that the West’s great undertaking is the commercialization of the whole world, the hitching of the fate of everything to the fate of the commodity. That great undertaking will turn out rather to have been the aestheticization of the whole world — its cosmopolitan spectacularization, its transformation into images, its semiological organization”.
That’s the core of Alex’s essay on Genshin, by the way, as Genshin’s world offers a pale defanged copy (simulacrum) of all the cultures of the real world that inspires it (european for Mondstadt, chinese for Liyue, japanese for Inazuma…).
This should come as no surprise tbh, since Genshin is the product of a company founded out of love for the Japanese contemporary culture, which is a true post-modern powerhouse of turning sacred into simulated commodities. Forget giant robots fighting biblical concepts, the common rage nowadays is to gamble your money to get a chance of getting a digital representation of some God turned singer idol… It doesn’t get more Baudrillard than this.
But playing Genshin, I couldn’t help but notice that no matter how simulated your objects are, you cannot help but carry around an ideology. Like a good old american settler, the protagonist of the game goes over the world, literally destabilizing political institutions everywhere through the usual western-way-of-life-individualistic-feel-good-you-can-succeed-if-you-believe-disney story. So while it is true that nothing is sacred anymore and everything is up for negotiation, it seems that there is one thing that remains a holy absolute: the aestheticization process itself.
There’s no fighting this relentless march, it cannot be defanged. That being said, it’s another beast altogether: it’s not a sacred that comes from belief, but rather an ad hoc empirical conclusion. Is a God that continues its work regardless of belief still a god?
The invincibility of the phagocyting process of neoliberal capitalism is enough to make anyone despair. It does seem that there is no practical way out. What can you even do to escape an all-encompassing cancerous system?
That’s where Sad Boy Aesthetics comes in. I confess I bought it because seeing the meme aesthetics, combined with “sad boy”, Baudrillard and Wittgenstein intrigued me. I found out by reading it that it was actually a commentary on emo rap, of which I know next to nothing about. But Alex’s pretty thorough analysis taught me a lot, and in particular I noticed for the first time the political dimension of the emo movement.
Emo is about, let’s face it, whining. But maybe the “antidote” to the commodification of everything can be found precisely in the sincerity of the expression of self suffering. Especially if you know that nobody really wants to hear emo poems. Maybe in a world where nothing actually matters, a serious honest expression of feelings, devoid of irony and mercantilization, could be the one authentic act to transcend the omnipresent commodification, cringy as it may be. Dare I call it art? Could its lack of political engagement constitute precisely the strongest engagement there is?
Of course an easy counterargument would be that emo can and has been co-opted by the system and turned into yet another profit machine. But I do find that perspective intriguing. And most emo poetry probably just ended up in the oblivion of the depths of the web anyway.
Lust tint my world
This blog is all about making original weird parallels, and Alex got to the one between Baudrillard and Genshin first, so I want to submit to you the case of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The songs are on my playlist fairly frequently, so when I last listened to Rose tint my world (which I usually don’t like that much), I started connecting this trail of thoughts to the ending (and the message) of the famous cross-media experience.
In this big explosion of joy where everyone gets fulfillment after their tribulations, Rocky admits that “Now the only thing I’ve come to trust Is an orgasmic rush of lust“. It echoes Janet’s point about Frank that “His lust is so sincere“. In a chaotic world, Frank’s sincere lust is the beacon that guides everyone to enlightenment.
The RHPS is basically the story of how this authenticity comes to transcend Frank and Janet’s static system of beliefs. Maybe one of the reasons for its lasting success is this celebration of authenticity.
I don’t have much more to say about this but it feels like I should talk more about the movie so let’s indulge a good old fashion BS-commentary:
It’s obvious that Brad and Janett represent “stuck up normies”. But going further, it’s nice to see that they too are basically imperialistic invaders trying to commodify and use Frank into a marketable utility (“Can we use your phone?“). Note that one of the first thing that happen to them is they get stripped: all appearances, tokens and commodities removed.
Meanwhile Frank, like a sexy Baudrillard trying to get our attention, literally creates simulacra, copies over copies of men. He shows us the dangers and pitfalls of the simulacrum cycle: Eddie and then Rocky are less and less human. This process removes the heart of our humanity! We become nothing more than… dare I say flesh, meat, food!
The whole structure of the film itself draws attention to Baudrillard theories: self-references, opening song, the narrator… It simulates the codes of a B movie very consciously. This could be seen as a critique of the lack of depth of formulaic movies the industry is moving towards. At the late night picture show, nowadays, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy of a marvel.
The theme of nostalgia and time passing (Time Warp) through the movie shows us how much worse off and impoverished society is by this trend. Sacred symbols and rituals have lost their meaning and disappeared: Whatever happened to saturday night? Whatever happened to Fay Way? This is highlighted by the very conclusion of the show, whose very grammatical structure is destroyed by this relentless force, leaving us lost in time, lost in space, and meaning….
Maybe the most important lesson is that Frank’s solution to escape the market’s grip comes at a high price: he has to live as an outcast, shunned both by American and Transylvanian society. Really, “it’s not easy having a good time“.
The market for self expression and authenticity
Now this isn’t the be-all-end-all of this reflection. I do appreciate the political (system-defying) dimension of authenticity, and how it could take different forms, be it suffering in emo poetry or lust in the Rocky Horror. But it must also be noticed that authenticity (not coincidentally) is also more and more at the core of the commodification process itself. Gigantic booming industries like Twitch, YouTube or Instagram are running on the promise (or rather appearance) of authentic parasocial relationships.
It’s a fine line to thread between embracing your true self authentically like RHPS recommends, and self-expression through overconsumption like capitalism encourages and requires. I guess what this means is that we need to be wary and careful. Though I guess, ultimately, a truly sincere self-expression is probably completely blind and unconscious of this tradeoff xD. So be yourself like nobody is watching. Maybe it will still serve neoliberal capitalism’s tentacular interests. They’re impossible to destroy. But maybe there’s no better way to fuck capitalism than through authentic uncalculated acts of love.
Hi! I have a lot of other things to do so as procrastination I suppose I did a little analysis. I’m learning Japanese by watching raw anime and writing down what I don’t know, so I have a pretty great dataset of what anime did I find actually hard vs easy. For best experience, I’d like to watch them by increasing level of difficulty, but it’s hard to figure out the difficulty before actually watching
I had looked at a glance at using subtitles files to do that: the idea was that the bigger the subtitles files, the more text and therefore difficult text there would be, and therefore the hardest it would be to understand. But a quick glance seemed to show no correlation between subs size and difficulty.
So today I thought it wouldnt be too hard to write a little script that goes over subtitles in a folder, remove all junk boilerplate and count the kanjis. The script is here. The upside of this is that I can remove the .srt or .ass boilerplate, but also look at the text to see if it has difficult kanjis.
Without further ado, this is the average kanji distribution per subtitle file for 10 anime annotated with my expert ground truth:
And on a log scale:
So… this doesnt look very helpful. The result of this analysis is a complete failure. JLPT kanji level doesn’t correlate with anime difficulty. But maybe I can pick myself a list of kanjis that are correlated with difficult anime (like military vocabulary, this always gets me). I guess ideally I’d assign a weight to each kanji by machine learning but this requires more effort that im willing to do. If you know a dead easy way to do that, though, I’m interested
The thing about masterpieces in art is that you can keep going into them and get new things all the time. And Puella Magi Madoka Magica is definitely one of these works.
Just let Madoka die already
The current diffusion of Magia Record (part 2 at the time of writing), in addition to reminding us that Shaft can still create some really beautiful animationdespite pretty much everybody having left the company, is not without its lot of controversies.
After all, it’s a pale copy of a copy, an adaptation of a spinoff mobile game (a mere simulacrum if you wanna get Baudrillard about it). No wonder that people are calling “cash grab”. The original inspiration for this article was the “Let Madoka Die Already” plea from OTAQUEST.
Indeed, it’s pretty fair to lament that the Madoka franchise keeps getting exploited for profit. After sequel movies that the writers hadn’t planned (which ended up pretty interesting, still, in their own deconstructive ways), the franchise has grown into a pretty lucrative trademark of pachinkos and gatcha mobile games (financial cooptation doesn’t get less subtle than that).
And now the writers are called back for a new movie on the horizon. I understand how it can seem bleak. It’s like Madoka is trapped in an endless cycle of exploitation, getting more and more extracted out of her without any hope of escape… Oh wait…
Do you want to make a contract
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that, but this development opened my eyes to the fact that the show is a pretty perfect analogy for capitalism. Take Kyuubey. He provides a service in exchange for a price, all tied up in a neat little contract. Of course, he hunts for where he can make the biggest profit (get the most entropy), and to that end, he fulfills optimally the demand (he realizes wishes).
As a good free market would, it fills demand and extracts surplus value out of the transaction wherever it can be found. Just like capitalism, he will fulfil any and all demand! It’s ironic that his extraction is saving the universe while ours is killing the planet, but that’s beyond the point. Seen through that lens, the show has a lot to offer as areas of reflections!
Let’s start at the very beginning. The main series is basically a story of marketing. At first, everything’s just fine and everyone is happy. But this won’t stand for Kyuubey, who notices the prospect of immense profit in Madoka. He therefore does the only rational thing: he dedicates his whole energy to try to tempt Madoka into wanting more.
Being content is the enemy of capitalism. If you’re not purchasing, you’re dead weight. With his injunction to consume, and his relentless campaign for Madoka to make a wish, Kyuubey creates a demand where there was none before. His harassment is as intense as the many notifications fighting over your attention you receive on your phone every day. Can you spot examples of artificially manufactured demand in the real world? Jeez, I wonder…
And the lesson here is that he eventually wears her down. Marketing really works, you guys. There’s other things really on point here, like the importance of the social aspect in marketing for instance (all your friends are doing it, why don’t you?). In the end, even the fucking messiah cannot resist the power of advertisement. I guess that means be careful and forgiving?
Be careful what you wish for
A point that really interests me here is the content of the wish. Kyuubey is incredibly honest about what he delivers. In fact, more honest than most current companies and advertisements. He gives you what you want, what he promised, the content of your wish. Isn’t that pretty much the motto of capitalism?
Where Madoka excels is specifically at showcasing the dark side of this. There’s no trick in the wishes, they’re executed verbatim. But it turns out that we’re pretty bad at knowing what we want and what the consequences of our desires might be. It’s also uncommon for our desires to actually be what we wish we would/could want (extrapolated volition). What we want is rarely what we really really want, and certainly not what we need. This gap is the core of the alignment problem of the market btw…
Nowhere is that clearer than in the series, where all the wishes, when carried out, pretty much cause more suffering and destruction than good. Maybe your overconsuming hedonistic lifestyle just causes you depression down the line…
This is closely tied to the problem of imperfect information. Maybe we’d make better choices if we knew exactly how we feel in detail, or how things would turn out. But here’s the thing: this doesn’t make you consume, rather the opposite. So the market’s incentives are to push you in the other direction. It’s in its interest to mislead you as much as it can get away with. Information gap is a source of surplus value to be harvested. It’s a little bit what Kyuubey gathers, in a way.
A lot of people are (ofc unfairly) mad at Kyuubey because they feel like the “real price” is hidden. Admittedly, deception can help the market derive more value. But it’s not necessary: there’s inherent computational limitations. The real price cannot be known. It’s impossible to understand all the complexities and ramifications of the market’s behavior. Just try to track down the ultimate moral cost of your latest purchase.
Maybe the girls in the show don’t realize that the contract is “too good to be true”, that their consumption cultivates a system where children are continuously sacrificed. But we can wonder what would change if they did. When Madoka makes her choice, she’s fully aware of the implications… We know full well that our system is killing the planet and causing terrible consequences. When you buy an iPhone, on some level you know there’s blood on your hands. But we are remarkably willing to act as if we didn’t and persevere in a doomed system. Zizek has a lot to say about this better than I could 🙂
Privatize the magical girl sector already
It could be said that Kyuubey is a good example of objectivism: pushing the liberal market to its logical conclusion and being as exploitative as he can get away with. The magical girl contracts are as honest as the ones in Bioshock (i.e. showing clearly the need for any sort of legislation better than I could ^^).
“Cows, pigs, and chickens have a much higher rate of survival in captivity, more than they would in the wild. So you see, the relationship is mutually beneficial for both parties.”
Now I don’t want to go too deep into that subject because as the Ayn Rand foundation so cutely puts it themselves, they just want to be selfish, whereas Kyuubey actually wants to save the universe, so that’s kind of the opposite and the similarity stops short. I guess in the end Kyuubey is closer to Adam Smith…
Magical girl flexibilization
Another interesting point is that the battle of the magical girls against the witches happens entirely unbeknownst to the population. The magical girls are the only ones aware of this cycle of suffering. As soon as they learn about it, they are doomed to suffer from this knowledge. They have to live everyday knowing how bad things are out there. Awareness of the system brings nothing but despair and suffering. You can’t escape or destroy it. No wonder why reflections about the inescapability of capitalist realism often end up in suicide…
Paradoxically, as if to further mock this powerlessness, capitalism and the magical girl system both heavily emphasis individuality. This is a weight the girls have to carry largely alone. Nobody, not even each other, can absolve them from the individual responsibility of their choice. The system even puts them in competition with each other in war of everyone against everyone (see Kyouko). This radical individualism pushes the view that the system is morally neutral.
As Mark Fisher points out, making mental health an individual responsibility/pathology distracts and negates its systemic components and roots. How else can you react when the system simultaneously screams at you that you’re responsible for everything but that everything is irremediably bad?
Like in the world of magical girls, the ones who confront the system all end up in the darkness. They might rebel at first, but their idealistic children’s souls (gems) get corrupted by the system and end up cynical. There’s no better metaphor for it than the transformation of a hopeful magical girl into a bitter crony witch. Should I count the number of people who were activists in their early years and ended up bitter and disillusioned?
The politics of walpurgis
Maybe Madoka can help us make sense of our situation. For starters, it may be very straightforward, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that in the two shows, just like in real life, oppressive systems are powered first and foremost by fear. The menace of Walpurgis night forces Madoka’s hand, the cruel fate of the witches provides the impetus for Magius in Magia record. I wonder what’s on TV tonight…
Can the show help us figure out what to do when you’re stuck in a toxic and seemingly invincible system? As with any good ideological system, it really seems that there’s no way out…
The Hegelian perspective often showcased in Ikuhara work is to transcend the system, through love and compassion. But Madoka shows that things are not as easy…
For starters, “follow your heart” is pretty much the core of capitalist ideology. Kyuubey realizes the wish dearest to your heart. You fight to protect your loved ones… Love has already been co opted by the system and made into one of its strongest pillars (what better engine to spark consumption? You’re not gonna be the one who doesn’t give them a present for their birthday, you monster?).
But it goes deeper than that in the show. Every time love is on the table, it ends up counter productive. The love of Homura for Madoka condemns her and creates a mountain out of a molehill. Sayaka’s love drives her straight to despair… Could it be mirroring thedangers of empathy, which push you into emotional reactive thinking and make you lose sight of the bigger picture? You can’t take down an ideological behemoth with narrow thinking. But can you take it down at all?
When Madoka wishes for the end of the exploitative system, another system, perhaps less barbaric but still, takes its place. We already know that Magius’ efforts won’t succeed, since they take place before the end of the series. No matter how smart or outside the box you are, it seems that some systems of oppression just cannot be toppled.
I love it when art and reality mingle. The exploitation in real life of the Madoka brand mirroring the exploitation of the character in universe is like candy to me. But maybe what it shows us is that like Madoka, who will surely wane and be replaced by another brand, the end of any bad system is another bad system. But maybe this one could be slightly less bad… And through an infinity of efforts and iterations, we may yet drag ourselves out of the labyrinth of the witches…
It is the height of summer. I’m still struggling with learning Japanese, slow and steady, probably forever… But I’m also learning a lot about language learning itself, and it’s no secret that repetition is an important part of the process. And what better example to study than Haruhi Suzumiya’s Endless Eight (for people who don’t know, it’s a series of 8 episode displaying more or less the same events and it’s one of the greatest piece of art in anime history).
When I study Japanese, I write down how many new words I encounter, and how much of the dialog I understand for each episode (one per day). The structure of Endless Eight is a great source to showcase how much repetition helps with understanding.
As an extra datapoint, I’ve also revisited the same episode (6th, so that it’s in the “middle”) to see how much the learning sticks/how fast I forget after a week, month, 3 and 6 months (of continuous unrelated learning practice).
I don’t think this is solid enough to conclude anything, but it displays nicely how repetition yields diminishing return with stronger benefits at the start and how learning fades but a core does stick. I don’t think I was trying to get anything else out of this other than a pretty graph xD
Lately I’ve been reading things I wrote a long long time ago, and I came across this little bit that I thought was really fun so I thought I’d upload it. It’s from long ago so it’s in french, sry
Grand Livre de Pa Pandir, Partie 3, Chapitre 7, Séquence 13, Verset 19, Alinea 29, Sous-chapitre 23, Section 17, Petit-tiret 11. Parabole des deux frères.
Il était à cette époque bénie un souverain pieux qui avait deux fils, Abraham et Théodore. Le hasard voulut que leurs femmes portent leurs enfants en même temps, et qu’elles donnent naissance à un héritier le même jour. Comme il n’était pas rare à cette époque, toutes deux moururent en donnant la vie. Le fils d’Abraham se nommait Isaac, celui de Théodore s’appelait Ismael. Ce curieux hasard provoquait des querelles pour la succession au trône. Chaque frère revendiquait la couronne pour son propre fils.
A cette époque, l’influence de Pa Pandir semblait diminuer parmi les hommes. Ceux-ci commençaient à s’égarer dans le péché et le vice. La corruption gagnait leurs coeurs. Pa Pandir, se désolant des luttes pour la direction du Royaume, confia à un ange la tache d’aller trouver les deux frères. Il s’adressa à eux en ces mots.
« Humains, votre Dieu tout puissant est déçu de votre comportement pitoyable. Il semble que la foi se fasse rare dans votre empire décadent. Craignez, mortels, le courroux du Dieu unique ! Si la foi brûle en votre coeur pur, si vous êtes encore assez pieux, ces saintes paroles sauront vous toucher. Pour prouver votre foi, Pa Pandir exige que vous sacrifiez chacun votre unique descendant, en haut de la colline. »
« Nous vous en supplions, prenez-nous à leur place… » s’écrièrent-ils, bouleversés.
« Pa Pandir a parlé… »
Sur ces mots, l’ange laissa les deux frères à leurs sombres pensées. Ils étaient tout deux très attachés à leurs uniques fils, et il était pour eux hors de question de les sacrifier. Ils devaient faire face à un cruel dilemme. Tout deux pleurèrent de désespoir, ne sachant comment agir. On leur retirait la chose la plus précieuse qu’ils avaient, tout ce qu’ils leur restait de leurs défuntes épouses.
Ils passèrent toute la soirée en privé avec leurs enfants, réfléchissant à ce cruel coup du sort. Le lendemain matin, ils avaient tout deux fait leur choix. Ils montèrent tout deux sur la colline. Abraham portait dans ses bras son fils Isaac, mais Théodore avait subtilisé un nourrisson à une famille du peuple, espérant que le subterfuge marcherait. Bien entendu, il prétendit être triste, pendant que son frère gravissait en larmes le tertre. Chaque pas était plus douloureux pour lui.
Ils arrivèrent sur les lieux du sacrifice. Abraham serra une dernière fois son fils dans ses bras, tandis que son frère embrassait l’enfant d’une autre famille. Les cris des nourrissons se répercutèrent en écho, et l’on entendit bientôt plus que ça. Théodore prit conscience qu’il serait tout de même difficile de tuer un être innocent, si pur, même s’il n’était pas de son sang. Ce pauvre enfant se verrait retirer la vie avant même d’en avoir joui. Mais Pa Pandir était formel.
Quelques instants plus tard, les deux frères poussaient un cri commun de douleur alors que le sang de leurs nourrissons rougissait l’herbe sous leurs pieds. Un ange leur apparut et leur parla en ces mots :
« Abraham, ton coeur est pur. Toi qui croyait avoir sacrifié ton fils, soit soulagé car il n’est pas mort. Tu n’as sacrifié qu’un enfant de paysan. Sois béni, et rentre vite chez toi, ton héritier t’y attend. »
« Quant à toi, Théodore, tu as cru qu’un si vil subterfuge pourrait duper Pa Pandir ? Tu étais persuadé avoir tué un enfant du peuple, et préservé le tien ? Et bien, pleure maintenant, car c’est ta chair en lambeaux que tu tiens dans les mains. »
Abraham, criant de joie, dévala la colline, tandis que son frère poussa un hurlement de désespoir et s’effondra sur le sol. Isaac fut le successeur du Roi, et le saint Royaume retrouva la paix et la grâce. Les regards s’étaient tournés vers une seconde fresque, qui représentait les deux nourrissons éventrés sur le sol herbeux, Théodore qui pleurait à leur chevet, et Abraham qui partait en sautant de joie. Un ange lui adressait un sourire bienveillant.
Mes chers frères, les voies de Pa Pandir sont impénétrables. Certains doivent périr, d’autres vivent. Des choix difficiles doivent êtres faits. Mais ne quittez jamais votre foi. Rappelez-vous que c’est elle qui vous guidera vers le droit chemin. C’est elle qui vous amènera dans la grâce de Pa Pandir. Ne doutez pas, et vous trouverez la lumière.
Did you know its actually super easy to make gifs from videos in python? Long story short I’m making gifs now. I’ll share the script as soon as I can be bothered to do it in a way that hides my tumblr API keys, because I auto-upload them to tumblr.
If you like LINE stickers but hate proprietary platforms that dont have webapps, this is for you. This is a chrome extension I use to suggest stickers as I type, based on a dataset I curate for myself (therefore highly customizable). I’ve dusted off the code a bit so you should be able to use it if you want, at:
So I wanted to apply to a few art competitions, and the Wells Art Contemporary drew my attention because of its amazing setting (the Wells Cathedral). This is a dream place for any kind of conceptual art because you’re already working with centuries of connotations and expectations that you get from the get go as your raw material.
The bit about the art manifesto
I will do a proper manifesto later, but I wanted to jolt down the technical process I’m going through here. The basic concept is a reflection around the ontology of reality. Once upon a time, people looked at gods not only for source of morality, but as the ontological entity that imbued life with meaning and in some way warranted the consistency and order of the world.
With the “death of god” heralded by Nietzsche, humans lost all of this. At first glance, you may worry about the loss of absolute moral values, but it goes far deeper than that: it’s the loss of ontological structure. No wonder that analyses tie the totalitarism movements of the 20th century as a reaction to this.
Nowadays, the thing that took the place of God as source of ontological structure seems to be the economy, which organizes pretty much all of life in an increasingly globalized world. Furthermore, its efficient decentralized decision mechanism are truly a sight of wonder, whose complexity aggregates all the wisdom of mankind. Yet, it cannot be comprehended in its entirety by a single person, elevating it to a mystical position of unfathomability.
These are the many deep parallels I wanted to explore with the “Thoughts and prayers” project by establishing a “Church of Neoliberal Capitalist Realism”. In this art project, it was important for me to have it be a participatory living piece, engaging the viewers on their own terms, literally reaching into their daily lives. It was important for me that the art piece blends in innocuously and almost unconsciously with the fabric of the spectators lives, much like religion did in other time periods.
This is why I ended up publishing the project as a facebook and twitter pages, because that’s where people actually direct their attention, time, and interactions (much like they did with churches and prayers). In fact, this social network aspect adds a whole dimension to the project centered around the shallowness, speed, and outrage-focus of these platforms, which is probably why I’ll end up submitting a QR code to this image to the exhibition.
The bit about machine learning
But enough about the pretentious artsy considerations: the reason why I wanted to write this article down was to cement somewhere some of the technical challenges and solutions I faced. The piece really came to life when I decided to try to use Machine Learning (GPT-2) to merge the Bible and Marx’s Capital. On the final pages, I’ve decided to split the AI generated text by presenting it as scriptures (i.e. numbered) as opposed to what I’d write myself.
You may remember that I quite enjoy using GPT to produce new content in a specific style, which is what gave me the idea in the first place. But the main challenge was that GPT does not deal very well with heterogeneous training sets. In particular, the Bible and Marx’s Capital have very little words in common, so the output would often be one or the other (you can think of them as distinct connected components in the semantic graph).
The way I solved this was to build a bridge myself between these two corpora. I took the Bible and applied a bunch of word substitutions to bring its language closer to the one from the Capital. I worked with the most frequent words of both texts in priority, but I also threw in some terms that seemed important to the current economic context. The substitution would not always make perfect sense, but the fact that it all goes into GPT to be regurgitated later makes these mistakes pretty irrelevant (GPT can correct some, but anyway the output of GPT is always pretty trashy).
I do very little modifications to the output of machine learning (it is, after all, the holy word), and even when it comes out vaguely nonsensical I guess it serves as a nice reflection of the nonsensical commands the technocratic economy sometimes dictates to humans.
And that’s how you get the main content of those publication feed. I’ve automated it so that it keeps posting regularly, and made the twitter randomly follow a few users who tweet about market efficiency, in order to bring the gospel to its most fervent zealots. It seems like a natural step ^^
Anyway this was all good fun but now I need to figure out how I’m going to turn that into an installation proposal for museums. Cheers.
Technology, and AI in particular, are at the core of our hopeful prospects to manage and recover from the current climate crisis. But it is ultimately just a tool that is in the hand of humankind. This social art exhibition is the perfect moment to remember that our New Greening will have to be for everyone and by everyone. For even if there are macro forces at play, they are inextricably tied to individual responsibility.
This interactive experience, hosted at http://yo252yo.com:9090/, showcases this interplay of forces with an aesthetic inspired by Conway’s Game of Life. This infinitely blooming virtual tree is sensitive to its environment: the more demand (eyeballs) placed on it, the darker the surroundings, and it may even wither. Are you ready to sacrifice your chance at the spectacle so that others may see it? Can the crowd find an equilibrium to allow for a lasting responsible growth?
For someone interested in cognitive sciences, I do a lot less observation/experimentation on my cat than I probably should, do be honest. For my defense, all low hanging fruits of deep philosophical insights gained with pets have probably been picked. But lately I’ve had an idea, and I thought it was well worth a little writeup to mashup everything going on in my brain xD.
Like any pet owner, I find myself doing a bit of training (don’t go on that table, don’t fight, don’t meow too loud, etc…), and mostly failing because cats are notoriously resilient to training. But I can’t help wonder what their experience feels like.
It is pretty clear that they have a concept of “what I’m doing is wrong”, judging by they behavior when they notice that they are being watched, or by how sneaky they are acting to bypass these rules. So my conclusion is that they may be incapable of counterfactual reasoning (i.e. “if I don’t do that, I won’t get punished”).
I suspect that, more simply, they cannot do causal reasoning (i.e. “if I do X, Y will happen”). And if that’s the case, I’m wondering if we could reframe it as “they do not perceive time“. If they live in the here and now, they might be completely unable to conceive of such a thing as “the future”. Maybe they don’t see time as a line like we do, maybe all they see is a dot.
Can you tell where I’m going with this? I was wondering if cats live in some kind of version of Flatland, the amazing book about the tribulations of a 2 dimensional square who visits a one dimension space, a zero dimension point, and a third dimension space (highly recommend it, though it does lack in cats). What would the Flatland equivalent of time dimensions be?
We may be pretty good at living in the 1 dimension line of time. Like Mr Square we can kinda imagine what it would be like to live in lower dimensions and take this imaginary trip to FlatCatLand. But like Mr Square’s adventures, this begs the question: what would it even be like if there were higher dimensions? Can we intuit it in any reasonable way? Is there a TimeCube looking down on us and making fun of our limited sight and how we’re stuck in FlatTimeLine?
How our intuitions distorted our view of time
Maybe the reason it hits me right now is because I have been binge watching the amazing science channel Science4All on YouTube (sorry it’s in french :(() which helped me understand a lot better general relativity. I won’t explain it here because I’d do a much worse job of course. But I do want to talk about the difference between general relativity and more traditional Newtonian physics.
Indeed, Newtonian physics is a pretty great model, and it works really well under a lot of circumstances. I believe it’s even a strict subset of general relativity. The main difference, as far as I see it, lies in the conception of time. Newtonian physics rely on a universal uniform time axis. General relativity showed that this is not how the world actually works. So we should expect Newtonian physics to work fairly well whenever time behaves quite uniformly, and to break down when it fluctuates.
This also explains why we were stuck so long with a Newtonian conception of the world: it’s because of my nemesis, Anthropocentrism. Of course we’d love Newton’s conception, it fits so well what we experience and intuit in our little selves living their daily lives in our FlatTimeLine where time does not fluctuate too much.
But fortunately some genii noticed that this conception didn’t quite fit what we were observing in a few edge cases. They went back to the drawing board. They shut down their anthropocentric intuition, and looked at the bigger picture. And like Mr Square they got to peek at a world where time was a completely different dimension, along which one could have much more complex motion than previously anticipated.
To be perfectly fair it’s not completely like Flatland since time is kinda already a dimension in Newtonian physics, but come on, they were focused on objects moving through a 3D space with a universal clock, not objects in a 4D space.
I don’t know about you, but seeing history stuck for centuries in a 3D conception of a space that was actually 4D because of close-mindedness really makes me wonder: what other dimensions have I overlooked? What if our 4D general relativity is just a simpler case of what’s really going on? After all, it seems that we’re already observing a few edge cases where the model doesn’t quite fit… rings a bell?
So how many dimensions are we living in
I’m not a genius, nor a physicist. I expect that quite a few people had this train of thoughts before me. As far as I can understand, there is open questions about the possibility of extra dimensions (Kaluza–Klein theory??) and this unexplained corner cases (with LKK particles??). Alternatively, this whole process helped me take string theory and its crazy number of dimensions a bit more seriously (even though apparently string theory is more of a family of models than a precise model?).
I am, however, trained in Computer Science. And as such I have to admit that computationally speaking, we’re clearly living in more than 4 dimensions. A given point has a spatial position and a temporal position, but doesn’t it also have a color, a temperature, etc etc… If you program the universe into a computer, you’d have to specify more than 4 pieces of information to describe a given elementary point of the universe.
The hard part is sorting out through everything we can and can’t feel, and see what are elementary dimensions and what are not. Temperature, for instance, is some sort of particle agitation. That happens in time and space, it’s not a new dimension. Electromagnetism, on the other end, AFAIK, doesn’t reduce to the 4 spacetime dimensions. I’d tend to think it’s a pretty good candidate (i.e. a particle has a position in time, in space, and a charge).
It’s a bit related to a question I wonder often about: how many informational pathways are there to transmit a signal around us? Touch (including taste and smell), sound, light, radio, wifi, etc… are all different spectral bands of either particle motion in space or electromagnetic waves (a specter of specters, if you will). What am I missing here? Help me complete this picture and count all the dimensions!
Multiple dimensions in time
Coming back to time, we can try to take a step up and imagine that time is no longer a simple 1D line, but a 2D plan. You’d get our canonical time line, but other possible time lines. In other words, you get some sort of multiverse. Maybe it’s as simple as considering potential futures.
Maybe there are other representations, though. One possible way is what I do to fall asleep: I imagine my consciousness leaving the timeline we’re in and wandering through this imaginary dimension in order to find a way to reach the timeline in which my dream happens (because it seems to happen in a 4D spacetime of its own). I guess you could also use imagination and the suspension of disbelief to travel to fictional timelines.
I’m honestly not sure if imagination should count as an extra dimension. I guess that would be kinda cool, and could be tied to the fact that semantics/information as a whole seems like it may be be a completely other dimension. Not to mention panpsychistconceptions of the universe. But this is getting a bit speculative, I’m really uninformed about the physical basis of information. This was mostly an aside to plug my own short story, none of these strike me as great candidates for elementary dimensions.
The Q word
Another thing missing is of course the other side of contemporary physics, the one looming over this article that I’ve been avoiding since the beginning, the one whose name has been misused so much that it’s sheer mention makes me cringe. Quantum physics.
Like most people, I know even less about it. I assume it’s not completely crazy to think it might help with all the multiverse or information dimension stuff mentioned above. But I just want to briefly touch on why I think it’s less relevant than it appears at first glance.
You’d tend to think that there might be a few dimensions hidden in there. After all, there’s this whole mysterious collapse from potential states (i.e. a dimensional space of possibilities) to a finite observation. All the potential states do seem to form an extra dimension not captured by the 4 canonical ones.
There’s nothing mystical about this, though. I suspect quantum physics is a lot more like normal physics than people think, except instead of manipulating a definite point (i.e. number) you manipulate a distribution (i.e. a line). After all if there was randomness or magic involved, how would we be able to manipulate qbits deterministically?
That leaves us with at least 5 dimensions accounted for (3 space, 1 time, 1 quantum/electromagnetic), whatever the hell information may be, and of course everything I missed! I’m counting on you to help me figure out what these may be. I guess I’ll update this list if I ever learn more. In any case, I’d like to make sure that we’ve exerted the full capacity of reflection and perception of our little human brain, before I accidentally jump on the metaphysical table of an extra-dimensional wrathful time-cube god.