On Silence

Following on my page on Rogues, I have decided to create another page compiling my various posts on silence.

Silence comes into a lot of my posts, sometimes obliquely, sometimes less so. As posted previously I am experimenting with this feature of WordPress.

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Submissions to “Miscellanea: A Transdimensional Library”

I have previously noted that online publications that do me the honour of publishing me tend to go out of existence. Another example was Miscellanea: A Transdimensional Library.

It was only six years ago that Miscellanea was calling for submissions, but there is now little trace of its existence. Yesterday I posted four perhaps cryptic posts here; these were all my submissions to Miscellanea: A Transdimensional Library.

Alas, the Transdimensional Library is no more. This page (scroll down to the 13th July 2012 entry) mentions it:

A new story of mine is now available free online at the website of Eggplant Literary Productions. In fact, “Yggdrasil” is more properly a fragment of a non-existent longer work… As editor Raechel Henderson explains: “Inspired by such fantasy libraries as those found in Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Eggplant Literary Productions presents Miscellanea: A Transdimensional Library. The shelves will be filled with books of the other: books that have never existed and that haven’t been written yet. What I am looking for are excerpts from such books.”

Here’s the Duotrope listing . The Eggplant Literary Productions site is no more, its twitter feed unchanged since July 2014.

For what it’s worth, I will post my four submissions here – one of which, “The Book of Silences”, made the grade:

The Book of Silences, Volumes 1 – 23343
From the introduction to Volume 1

… the editors have found the task of compiling all the silences of recorded history a challenging one. Firstly, we had to set some kind of beginning point for our work. However, we did not to limit our task to this century, or the post war years, or even some remoter start point of early or high modernity. All beginnings are arbitrary, and exclude, and this was to be the first truly inclusive book in existence. The written word has recorded utterances, speeches, debates, thoughts expressed in suspiously neat prose and lofty poetry, thoughts expressed in suspiciously down-to-earth and populist argot, but has not before collected silences. We do not mean contemplated silence, or debated silence, or defined silence. We mean recorded silence. Authors have reflected that silence is an absence; we treat it as a presence. In this book, we record the silences of our texts, from Sumerian cuneiform tablets to blogs and wikis. The first few thousand volumes, of course, only get us some of the way into Classical Antiquity, and work has to be recommenced as archaeology reveals further writings, but our universal history of silence has continued implacable, expanding, perhaps never to be utterly finished but equally never to be utterly abandoned …

Here is The Transfinite Codex. The feedback on this was that it was too self-contained, not a part of a larger work:

The Transfinite Codex

From the Introduction

The Infinite Annex is an annex of this library which consists entirely of infinite stories. The annex, via the use of an innovative filing system, contains an infinity of volumes. Each volume, via the use of innovative printing techniques, contains an infinite story, one with a beginning and then no middle and no end, just continuance. Every story imaginable; romance, adventure, comedies of manners, tragedies of morals. Of course, each infinite story will eventually contain every one of these stories, perhaps with different names, or with the events in a different order.

There is still another story possible, one which does not exist in the Infinite Annex. Take the first line of one story, the second line of another story, the third line of another, the fourth of another, and so on. In this way another infinite story is created, but one which differs from any particular infinite story. Because it has one and only one line in common with each story, it has an infinity of lines that differ from each particular volume. Thus the Transfinite Codex is a single volume which possesses an infinitude beyond the infinitude of the Infinite Annex.

From “A Practical Guide to Time Travel”, also too self-contained… Ironically it was written as a reference to this story….

From page 132 “A Practical Guide to Time Travel” by Brendan McConnell

… What they don’t tell you about time travel is the emotional dislocation. I suppose my voyage, undertaken as it was explicitly for emotional reasons, has allowed me appreciate this most. But my conversations with those who, before and after my voyage, have journeyed purely from a spirit of scientific discovery or confirms my suspicion. The technical challenges – plotting co ordinates to ensure that one lands in a time and place conducive to staying alive – are of course formidable, but surmontable. What many find hardest is the sudden realisation that the past is now not only past but includes what was one’s future, and that loved ones and loved places are no more. Accelerated future-driving has proved a boon to historians and policy makers, and has made many aspects of contemporary life more civilised for us all, time traveller and future native alike. The realisation we have all made that, completely contrary to theoretical predictions and expectations, that while futuredriving is possible, travelling back has not yet been achieved, and that we are stranded in a place more forbidding than any we know, has driven some to the ultimate expression of despair: suicide.

Finally, this extract was indeed from this story. The feedback here was that the concept was interesting but not the execution….

Aphorisms (for an age beyond Aphorisms), Or, Reflections of an obsolete headshrinker

by Bert Gallagher MB BCh BAO MRCPsych

Published in what the author insists be referred to as the Year of Our Lord 2052

(extract)

# 35: Yesterday’s miracle cure is today’s dangerous treatment is tomorrow’s boring routine. Twas ever thus.
# 36: Life without illusions is lifeless.
# 37: When the anthropologists are interested in you, you know you’re on the way out.
# 38: The self is still the self. The self may be an illusion, but it is a true grand illusion..
# 39: When the anthropologists are interested in you, you know you’re on the way out. You also know that you’ll be back
# 40: Illusions that stubbornly persist may not be illusions after all
# 41: No brain scan ever will reveal my essence, my self, my soul.
# 42: When the philosophers are interested in you, you definitely know that you are on the way out.
# 43: Reaching my age has had the great advantage of allowing me no longer to care what it is fashionable or acceptable to think and say.
# 44: When they banned books, they said they wanted to liberate us from the illusions of the self that reading fostered. Little did they realise what illusions they laboured under.
# 45: Being thought an amusing throwback to a vanished age has been the only way I have survived.
# 46: The abolition of the mind was supposed to put me out of business, but business was never better than after they abolished the mind.
# 47: No one really believes they are just a brain.

From “The Book of Silences” Introduction to Volume 1

The Book of Silences, Volumes 1 – 23343

From the introduction to Volume 1

… the editors have found the task of compiling all the silences of recorded history a challenging one. Firstly, we had to set some kind of beginning point for our work. However, we did not to limit our task to this century, or the post war years, or even some remoter start point of early or high modernity. All beginnings are arbitrary, and exclude, and this was to be the first truly inclusive book in existence. The written word has recorded utterances, speeches, debates, thoughts expressed in suspiciously neat prose and lofty poetry, thoughts expressed in suspiciously down-to-earth and populist argot, but has not before collected silences. We do not mean contemplated silence, or debated silence, or defined silence. We mean recorded silence. Authors have reflected that silence is an absence; we treat it as a presence. In this book, we record the silences of our texts, from Sumerian cuneiform tablets to blogs and wikis. The first few thousand volumes, of course, only get us some of the way into Classical Antiquity, and work has to be recommenced as archaeology reveals further writings, but our universal history of silence has continued implacable, expanding, perhaps never to be utterly finished but equally never to be utterly abandoned …

From “A Practical Guide to Time Travel” by Brendan McConnell

From “A Practical Guide to Time Travel” by Brendan McConnell, page 132

… What they don’t tell you about time travel is the emotional dislocation. I suppose my voyage, undertaken as it was explicitly for emotional reasons, has allowed me appreciate this most. But my conversations with those who, before and after my voyage, have journeyed purely from a spirit of scientific discovery or confirms my suspicion. The technical challenges – plotting co ordinates to ensure that one lands in a time and place conducive to staying alive – are of course formidable, but surmontable. What many find hardest is the sudden realisation that the past is now not only past but includes what was one’s future, and that loved ones and loved places are no more. Accelerated future-driving has proved a boon to historians and policy makers, and has made many aspects of contemporary life more civilised for us all, time traveller and future native alike. The realisation we have all made that, completely contrary to theoretical predictions and expectations, that while futuredriving is possible, travelling back has not yet been achieved, and that we are stranded in a place more forbidding than any we know, has driven some to the ultimate expression of despair: suicide.

The end of the list

Every so often, I would come across a random track on Spotify that I wanted to bookmark, so to speak. I tended to add these to the end of a random playlist. Often these tracks would be quite different from the rest of the playlist. Anyway, a while back I put together a playlist made up of the tracks at the end of my playlists. This was supposed to include everything, including tracks added by my wife and children (a more dominant force as time has gone by), although I have been inconsistent about whether to add end-of-list tracks from other people’s Playlists I have followed.

Here is the first, from Sons of the Pioneers to Bryan Ferry:

A few months later I made another of tracks from lists created since the first – from Paolo Nutini (ahem) to Lisa Ekdahl (even more ahem)

And once more, from Philip Glass to Pink Floyd:

And again – from Leos Janacek to Taylor Swift:

And, the other day, from Blossom Dearie to Lost & Found Musical Studios:

What is the point of all this? I would like to say something deep and meaningful, but perhaps random juxtapositions rarely throw up that kind of meaning…

“The secret mimeticism beneath the surface of the assertion of autonomy”

From “God’s Gamble: The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love” by Gil Bailie, here is a passage on “the cul-de-sac of autonomous individualism.” I have been reading a lot of and about Rene Girard lately, and while there are aspects of the mimetic theory that seem simply too wide ranging (reminding me of Karl Popper’s objection to Marxism and Freudianism that they both explained too much, rather than too little), there is a power to this analysis of the superficiality of autonomy and the sheer power of mimetic envy:

The liberationist cast of modern thought has driven moderns and postmoderns into the cul-de-sac of autonomous individualism, where, as Manent asserts: “Men do not have any natural connections.” But there is more, and here the French philosopher is especially percipient: “Just as for Kierkegaard, to be a Christian is to become a Christian, for the modern man conscious of himself, to be an individual means to become an individual, and to become more and more an individual.”

This incessant demand that one become an individual requires not only that he eschew all affiliations or any associations that might limit his spontaneity, but also that he ceaselessly distinguish himself from other individuals whose examples he might otherwise be accused of mimicking. The unremitting pressure to demonstrate one’s independence from the social influence of others causes the self-styled individual to resort to more and more idiosyncratic social gestures in appearance and behavior, all of which will be traceable to a model who is being emulated but whose influence is unacknowledged or camouflaged to prevent both the imitator himself and his observers from recognizing the mimicry underlying his labored pantomime.

The secret mimeticism beneath the surface of the assertion of autonomy drives the process toward ever more desperate gesticulations of authenticity which in fact amount to an open declaration of its opposite. On the social level, the end result is a spiritual alienation from oneself and from a healthy social matrix, an alienation from which relief is often enough sought in crude and ultimately violent forms of social solidarity.

Review of “Life Ascending”, Nick Lane, Eurotimes July 2009

Review of “Life Ascending”, Nick Lane, Eurotimes July 2009

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This fine book on evolution was well reviewed at the time and won the 2010 Royal Society prize for science books. Here is my review from Eurotimes . Or rather this is a draft, and readers will note one paragraph just trails off… I cannot find the final version online or in my email so I am not sure what followed! This review is focused on the ophthalmological aspects of the book, though not to the exclusion of the wider issues :

Life ascending.
Nick Lane

There are ten great inventions of evolution discussed in Nick Lane’s lucid, stimulating book – life’s origin,
DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness, and death. Lane
makes it clear from the outset that invention does not mean a conscious agency purposefully steered the
process, rather he is referring to the ten great innovations that have transformed life that were created
through natural selection. Readers of this journal will have particular interest in the chapter on sight, which
I will therefore focus on in this review, but the whole book is superbly written and extremely enjoyable.

The eye has long been a favourite topic of anti-evolutionists. In 1802, the English utilitarian philosopher William Paley
argued in his Natural Theology that the eye is an organ of such complexity that it is absurd to suppose
that the purposeless blunderings of evolution (evolutionary ideas pre-dated Darwin, of course) could have
produced it. He used the analogy of a blind watchmaker producing a timepiece, which later gave Richard
Dawkins the title of one of his books. Darwin himself is frequently misquoted by creationists and affiliated
persons in this context – he seemed the admit that “To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable
contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for
the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems
… absurd in the highest possible degree.” Darwin went on the write, however, that “if numerous
gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each being useful to its
possessor, can be shown to exist” the problem is solved.

In fact, we now have models of the evolution of the eye that exceed those of other organs in explanatory
power. The Swedish researchers Dans Eric Nilsson and Susanne Pelger have modelled this succession
of steps, which is each generation is taken as one year, requires somewhat less than half a million years.

The eye does seem, at first glance, to pose a problem to evolutionary explanations of its origin. What’s
more the human eye, with its rods and cones located behind an array of nerves and with its blind spot
where the optic nerve leaves the orbit, does not at first, cynical glance to be especially well designed.
Furthermore, the cant charge of anti-evolutionists has been “what use is half an eye?”, and answering the
question of how a retina could have evolved, separate from the rest of the optic apparatus, is at first
glance difficult. “Evolution is cleverer than you are” is a famous dictum of the evolutionary biologist Leslie
Orgel, and Lane goes on to show not only that the eye is well adapted to its purpose, but that (I am not sure what I said subsequently)

His approach begins, entertainingly for readers of this publication, with the observation that “anyone who
has been to a conference of ophthalmologists will appreciate that they fall into two great tribes: those who
work at the front of the eye … and those who work at the back … the two tribes interact reluctantly, and at
times barely seem to speak the same language.” For this divide, ironically, reflects the half-an-eye
distinction and allows us to consider the evolution of both halves of the eye.

For the retinal part of the answer, Lane travels (literarily speaking – it was the marine biologist Cindy Lee
Van Dover who did the actual exploring) to the most hostile and extreme habitat on earth – black-smoker
vents on the deep ocean floor that support an ecosystem of hardy survivors. Among these is the
ironically named eyeless reef shrimp (Rimicaris exoculata), which as a larva has fully formed eyes.
These are not of use to the adult shrimp, so they are reabsorbed and replaced with a literal half an eye
– a naked retina.

Most doctors will remember rhodopsin, perhaps rather dimly. It is the light-sensitive protein at the heart of
the visual process, being involved in photoreceptor synthesis as well as the initial perception of light.
Rhodopsin evolved from an algal ancestor where it is used to calibrate light levels in photosynthesis.
Rhodopsin is used by some bacteria for a form of photosynthesis.
Lane synthesises the evolution of all the aspects of the eye, although one of the ophthalmological tribes
may feel their area of interest is dealt with in slightly less detail than their retinal brethren. The naked
retina was the first step on the journey. As different organisms’ sheets of light-sensitive were arrayed in
different ways, with some recessing into pits which allowed shadows to be cast and therefore an idea of
where light comes from to be assessed, the trade-off between resolving light and light sensitivity began to
tip the balance in favour of lens formation.

Writers in this field must be tired of having to handle the creationist/intelligent design issue. Lane’s book is
not aimed at this debate, although in the footnotes he refers the reader to “The Flagellum Unspun” by
Catholic biochemist Kenneth Miller which attacks the creationist idea of irreducible complexity, as
exemplified by the development of a flagellum. Lane quotes Miller on intelligent design advocates as
double failures, “rejected by science because they do not fit the facts, and having failed religion because
they think too little of God,” and discusses Pope John Paul II’s views of evolution and the mind (made in
the course of his 1996 pronouncement recognising that evolution was more than a hypothesis) with
respect and sensitivity. Lane is clearly that wonderful thing, an enthusiast able to explain and inform
effectively.