Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

Archive for October, 2009

Web Flatunauts and Electronic Tribbles

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Calm FL crop

Quiet has been reigning in my head lately. I can concentrate on my tasks, my mood is the best since I recovered from my operation (as long as I ignore the fibromyalgia that resulted from the shock to my system) and I even have occasional chunks of time for original writing.

This is the result of neither Modafinil nor meditation but of something much simpler: I walked away from electronic forums. Facebook’s gone, Yahoo and Google discussion groups are gone except one, RSS feeds are gone. I’m tracking two blogs that interest me and an artist friend’s works through Livejournal. But I’ve essentially left the Second Life building.

noiseWhen I belonged to several forums, my head resembled a gull rookery, awash with noise, random peckings and guano. Facebook was by far the worst offender, even after I ruthlessly pruned my friends list to a quarter of its size. And trying to reason with loud ill-informed semi-illiterates on scientific or political threads got tedious, sort of like having to handle teenagers who seriously think they’re the first and only ones to discover — nay, invent — sex.

Don’t misunderstand me, the Internet is a great resource for quick (though often unreliable) references and images. It’s also a decent medium for keeping in touch with distant friends. But its forums, unless they exercise draconian moderation, encourage problematic aspects of human nature and culture: evanescent trivia; hysterical narcissism and mob swarming; regurgitation of undigested skimmings. Lacking the nuances of body language and required to be soundbite-long, most Internet exchanges rank low as meaningful communication, to say nothing of depth or wit.

By disconnecting, I pulled free from the constant white noise that turns into a black hole of distraction. Of course, I annulled some of the beneficent effects of Internet quiet by writing a series of articles for a high-visibility venue — especially the most recent one, which dealt with the impossibility of immortality, uploading in particular. The article got slashdotted and was also highlighted in one of the blogs I still track, with the predictable outcome: it attractedTantrum many thoughtful, thought-provoking comments;  it also attracted commenters who objected strenuously to the article without having read it. Some brandished Star Trek, The Matrix and Kurzweil’s Singularity at me as science textbooks (or gospels, take your pick).

I’m tempted to collect the latter (with meta-comments added) in an anthology titled Uppity Biologist Deflates Nerds’ Wet Dreams with Wetware. Alas, ars longa, vita brevis. I’ll have to delegate this to my uploaded mindclone,  while I continue to struggle with the very real problem of dementia in the lab.  But, most importantly, quiet still reigns in in my head.

Another Double Hit!

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

CylonAs a companion piece to Calvin’s excellent Caprica review, my article about mind uploading (and other proposed methods of individual immortality, feasible and otherwise) just appeared in H+ Magazine: Ghost in the Shell: Why Our Brains Will Never Live in the Matrix

There will be a third article, then we’ll see if they’re game for more!  My thanks to the wonderful editor-in-chief of H+ Magazine, R.U. Sirius of Mondo 2000 fame.

Time TravelersUpdate 1: They say good things come in threes.  When I got home tonight, I found a surprise package: Jack McDevitt’s just-released novel, Time Travelers Never Die.  It contains a dedication, an acknowledgment “for acting as a guide and translator at Alexandria” and there is an Andreadis fellowship in that universe — for linguists, I think.  Thanks to Jack for inviting me to share his exciting journey.  I’m eager to read the book… and wonder: what will the third good thing be?

Update 2: The H+ article was slashdotted.  The funniest comment there was “Shhh.  Nobody tell Kurzweil!”  And the Andreadis fellowship in Time Travelers is for classical studies.  Very fittingly, its first recipient is named Aspasia Kephalas.  The former name is a nod to the Miletian courtesan partner of Pericles, famed for her intelligence and learning; the latter is street-Greek for “Brainiac”.

Candles in the Wind

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Voices50 Voices of Disbelief (editors Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk, publishers Wiley-Blackwell) just went on sale in most countries today and will be coming out in the US next month.  One essay in it is by yours truly, titled “Evolutionary Noise, Not Signal from Above”.

The anthology got two positive reviews so far  from Kirkus and Library Journal, but I’m sure that will change!  My thanks to Russ for inviting me to contribute.