Sunday, January 29, 2006

Looking from the train

Ok, I know it's a bridge and a boat, but the train is arriving in the text.
Tomorrow, Monday, I'm off to Paris then to the centre of France for a week of teaching, though if I can I shall put something deeply French from there on here.
Which reminds me that from the RER train from the airport to the centre of Paris, I can see the hospital where I became an accidental Zombie. It has a windsock flying: you know, one of those tubular kite things that shows wind direction, so that helicopters can land on the roof: Parisian motorists rarely give way for an ambulance's flashing blue light, often saying "They're just late for their lunch", which used to make me laugh until I was in one.
Also (I know you're dying to know this) one passes the old Meccano factory - like Erector Set if you're American - where many of the pieces I possess were made. I have about 30 kilos in a huge wooden box. I'm not into making models of the Eiffel tower etc., but I sometimes make sort of abstract sculptures from Meccano - very Zombie activity.
Sorry this was so boring; it could have been worse, you could have been here while I TOLD you all the above.
But, if you have been, thanks for looking...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

More on Zombie, then 'Pataphysics

The p-Zombie is a philosophical construct mainly attributed to David Chalmers, and used by times in debates about consciousness studies, to which your blogger has occasionally contributed. Briefly, the argument I think goes like this:
Imagine an entity indistinguishably different from a human being. It looks like one, walks and talks like one, reacts like one - there is no way of telling it's not a human. But it's not, it's a Zombie, without "qualia" or real human consciousness. The argument, to simplify, says that if you can imagine such a being, then you accept that the essence of human consciousness, perhaps the mind or "soul", is NOT a product of the biological machine, but something else.
The argument is supposed to undermine those of us (but then I would say that, being a Zombie) who would argue that there is no mystery, no "soul"-like thing, no mind-body split. Or rather, that the way in which consciousness, awareness, mind, emerges from the biological, chemical being, is already enough of a mystery, and very beautiful.
Really, in keeping with certain critics of this argument ("It's so bad, it's not even wrong...") what I should really do is to assert that:

(a) This argument is true, and
(b) I am a Zombie.

For I would argue that in a useful way (useful for art, artificial intelligence, relationships and so on) it's possible to assert that we are all Zombies, just, you know... pretending. Bear in mind that such Zombies are quite capable of reflecting on their Zombie/Human status.
Then let us pretend well, as if we really meant it.

'Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, and is to metaphysics what metaphysics is to physics. The Paris-based College de 'Pataphysique, in which I have the honour to hold the Chair of Catachemistry and Computational Metallurgy, is more or less like Freemasons on LSD, though with far, far more bureaucracy, consisting in an all-embracing, devious network of sub-committees, and quite a lot of wining and dining. It is, however, a deeply serious institution, and numbers or has numbered many illustrious avantgardists, scientists, philosophers and writers amongst its members, from Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Queneau, Boris Vian, Max Ernst, Eugene Ionesco and Georges Perec to the Marx Brothers, Dario Fo, Fernando Arrabal, Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard. It is also the umbrella organisation not only of OuLiPo, the Potential Literature Workshop, but also of OuPeinPo for art, and various other "OuXPo" in the realms of comic strips, music, cuisine, crime fiction and so on.
OuPeinPo, of which I am a member, exists to offer ways of using constraints in art to other artists and the general public. We don't, as a group, make art per se, but rather illustrate the methods, constraints and systems we discover, invent or celebrate.
The question then arises, where can you find or how can you make neutral, value-free images etc., to be the raw material for these processes? The answer is to assert, as we do, that all the images we use were originally the result of Zombie endeavour, and hence have no real qualities inherent in them. You can read into them what you yourself like, but that's just your choice - the actual work had none.

It is possible to assert that all art, of any kind, in any field, is Zombie.

More later. And, if you have been, thanks for looking.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What is Zombie? What is 'Pataphysics?

"And they said unto him, Whereof may we speak, that thereof we need not remain silent?
And he replied, When you know what to say, and when the man become the woman and the woman the man, and the father the daughter and the mother the son, and the outer shell the inner core, and vice versa, then shall ye enter into a place not unadjacent to the kingdom of heaven. And they were speechless."

From the (apocryphal) gospel according to St. B.

Apart from the eponymous cocktail and musicians etc., there are three kinds of Zombie: the Hollywood (more correctly the Pittsburgh) version; the "real" Voodoo/Vaudun Zombie, poor buggers, and the philosophical construct: the p-Zombie. The reeking, living dead are almost certainly amongst us, in one form or another. I should know since I became a Zombie about 6 years ago in the Lariboisiere (sorry for the absence of accent) Hospital in Paris.

More later, off for lunch. Toasted ham and organic Red Leicester cheese on good sunflower seed bread, a fine salad with nut, olive and pumpkin seed oil dressing followed by many lychees.

Well... and dinner too.

Anyway: more later about how I became a Zombie. But for now, let us be amazed that from the Zombie films, especially those of the 1930s and 1940s, there has actually been a back-adoption of certain made-up aspects of the Zombie/Voodoo rites and rituals into the religion itself - or so I am led to believe. That "real" Zombies exist is, though contentious, rather probable. There was a BBC documentary (Last of the Medicine Men, Benedict Allen, BBC, 2000) which culminated in a Zombie being presented to the camera. On the other hand, they know that we expect Zombies. There have even been cases of tourists buying a Zombie by mistake.

In fact, they are slaves. Poor, uneducated people are given a potion containing a cocktail of drugs, and fall into a coma. They are buried, but later dug up and, after the administration of an antidote, I suppose also containing hallucinogens, are in a more or less aware but damaged state. They are told that they are now Zombies, and what is more believe this. Then they work on the Bokor, or priest's, farm, as slaves. The traditional Zombie bandage round the head and jaw is suppose to keep the latter closed, so that the P'tit Bon Ange - the little good angel - shall not escape.

As I said, this is contentious, and may possibly be based on misunderstandings and myth, but I tend to believe it.

One of the poisons used is tetrodotoxin, the same agent that causes painful paralysis and a terrible death in a few hundred Japanese every year, from eating the naughty bits of the Fugu or Puffer Fish. It is worth noting that the genome of the puffer fish is so close to that of humans, having most of the same genes but far less "junk" DNA, that it is the subject of massive study...

It is thus a tragedy - it was for me - and perhaps an actionable failing, that the French health care system sees fit to use the Puffer fish instead of the usual balloon in a process called ichthioangioplasty, whereby a blocked artery feeding the heart is opened again. Usually, a tube is inserted into an artery in the thigh, and is manipulated under X-ray guidance into the required spot, when a small balloon is inflated, pressing the blockage back against the artery wall. It is true that the process is not risk free, but surely hardly less so than the "bio" or "natural" alternative, involving the insertion of a tiny Puffer fish which, receiving at the crucial moment a small voltage on its tail, suddenly inflates (used to scare enemies when under threat) and thus unblocks the artery.

For there is a small but real chance of toxin release, about as close to the heart as it is possible to get. In my case, the hospital and health authorities have denied even using this process, and it is still subject to a legal investigation. However, although I cannot comment on the actual details, what is sure is that although in all respects I am like a human - that is, there is no objective test in science, psychology or epiphenomenology that may distinguish me as a Zombie - I am now part of what Derrida was referring to when he said that "In between the true and the false, there is always the undead, the Zombie." The Situationists too talked about the mass of the non-living. Neither dead nor alive, neither true nor false, one nor zero if you like, the Zombie is entirely without qualia - that is, it has no feelings. But you cannot tell.

Present me with a glass of armagnac, I will appreciate its colour, its taste and smell. I may ask for a second glass, hold it to the light and comment on its age. Burn my finger with a match and I will yell, and blister. Yet I have no real feelings. I can cry, real tears too, yet don't "really" mean it. How unlike a real human.

Would you hurt me, knowing this? Would you torture a computer, a robot, that screamed and begged for mercy? Shame on you.

To be continued. And in case you have been, thanks for looking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Here we go.

This blog will evolve towards a kind of research (or disaster) whose goal is a better understanding of a mixture of some or all of the following:
Art, Science, Psychology (especially the cognitive flavour), Zombie, Artificial Intelligence, Writing, Pataphysics, OuLiPo, OuPeinPo, Cooking, Food, Love and Technology.

The context of this research might be
characterised as funny, art-oriented, creative, sexy, emotionally satisfying, politically justifiable and very marginally world-changing. Let's not be modest here, there's not time.

I work, teach and try to be innovative in the above fields. Sometimes I'll put up bits of texts, images and so on, either from myself or people I find interesting and of whom you perhaps haven't heard before.

Here are some things, people and so on that I like:

Kindness, humour, creativity, Art & Language, Leonard Cohen, Georges Perec, sea-food, Thomas Pynchon, red wine, salted peanuts, France, Berlin, animals...

And some things I don't appreciate:

Opportunism, torture, hypocrisy, prissiness, the use of power to abuse those weaker than oneself, nationalism, Bush etc., stuff pretending to be art or literature and so on that is meretricious crap, fundamentalism, the British "newspaper" the Sun - well anything Murdoch really... You get the drift.

It is quite likely that you'll see typos and spelling mistakes, homophones and so on. I also note that the French cedilla accent beneath a C comes out as �, and even the Mac three dots, hereto approximated by three full stops... is transmogrified into É

Goodness knows what it does with other accented letters such as Ž, �, ‡, �, š and so on. Yes, I thought so. Sorry about that.

And in case you have been, thanks for looking.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...