Patterns and nodal points

“Speaking of nodal points in history, of some emerging pattern in the texture of things. Of everything changing. Laney is a sport, a mutant, the accidental product of covert clinical trials of a drug that induced something oddly akin to psychic abilities in a small percentage of test subjects. But Laney isn’t psychic in any non-rational sense; rather he is able, through the organic changes wrought long ago by 5-SB, this drug, to somehow perceive change emerging from vast flows of data.”

All Tomorrow’s Parties (William Gibson)

Patterns (and nodal points) in “vast flows of data” is a recurring theme in Gibson’s stories, going back to a time before the Big Data we hear so much about these days. If we had all the data (whatever that might mean) and the horsepower to process it, could we know where we are and, perhaps, where we’re headed? As I said to the cute TSA agent, search me. A few passing references to the Tao (in the book above) suggests that Gibson sees this ocean of data as something we live in, that we are part of, waves we can ride but not steer.

We think we can see the patterns but it’s just the motion of change we feel.

“In constant motion we no longer notice the motion. […] We are constantly surprised by things that have been happening for 20 years or longer. […] Sometimes we didn’t see what was becoming because we didn’t want it to happen that way.” (Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable)

Tough Guys

After repeated (and increasingly severe) purges of my library, I’m down to a couple of medium-size bookcases. A few hundred books at most. To keep a spot a book has to be one I can read over and over. Mostly crime fiction with a recurring character(s). In no particular order:

  • Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly)
  • Lucas Davenport (John Sandford)
  • John Corey (Nelson DeMille)
  • Matt Scudder (Lawrence Block)
  • Travis McGee (John D. MacDonald)

That would be my starting bench but there’s some good folks on the bench:

  • “Mac” McCorkle and Michael Paillo (Ross Thomas)
  • Artie Wu and Quincy Durant (Ross Thomas)
  • Spenser & Hawk (Robert B. Parker)
  • Almost any protagonist in an Elmore Leonard novel

Footnote: I do NOT count any novel published after the author’s death (written by someone else). Don’t read them, don’t count them. Sacrilege.

Reflecting on the characters above, I’m reminded that I like a ruthless streak in my protagonists. In one of the Matthew Scudder novels, some guy jumped Scudder in an ally with the intention of killing him. While the bad guy was unconscious, Matt positioned his leg on a curb and fucked up his knee so the guy would never walk right again. Almost too painful to read.

Review: Wrong Side of Goodbye

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-12-08-18-pm“Each of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books has a way of referring to earlier ones in the series, as when his latest, “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” brings up something about a plastic surgeon. That surgeon figured in “The Crossing,” one of the series’s better recent installments. And it came out only a year ago. Still, I had to look it up, because the characters aren’t what make Mr. Connelly’s books worthwhile. The classic mystery plotting and streamlined storytelling are what render him so readable.”

Review of latest Harry Bosch novel (Wrong Side of Goodbye)


Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Wikipediaflow: “In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow—a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.”

My buddy Henry has been praising this book for years and I finally got around to reading it.

The Tao of Zen: Emptying

taoofzenIn The Tao of Zen, author Ray Grigg devotes 170 pages to tracing the historical roots of Buddhism, Taoism and Zen. I find it tough sledding every time. The rest of the book explores the philosophical similarities between Taosim and Zen. Chapters on: Wordlessness, Selflessness, Softness, Oneness, Emptiness, Nothingness, Balance, Paradox, Non-doing, Spontaneity, Ordinariness, Playfulness, Suchness.

After three readings, my copy of this book has so many underlines, margin notes and highlighter, it’s getting hard to read. Here are few ideas from the final chapter:

In Taoism and Zen, suchness is accommodated by emptying. This is the process of clearing away the attitudes, the judgements, the roles, and all the conditioned patterns of thinking and feeling that shape ordinary experience. This means no questions, no answers, no explanations, no justifications, no rationalizations, no utilitarianism. It also means no moralizing, no personifying, no empathizing.

“Our existence is nothing but a succession of moments perceived through the senses.” — Jean Jacques Rousseau

(In Taoism and Zen) self is a soft and flexible persona worn for the practical purpose of identification. This was Alan Watts’ point when he said that he was not really Alan Watts, he was only called Alan Watts.

“I don’t have faith. I have experience.” — Joseph Campbell

The Way of Taoism and Zen comes of itself. “It” happens when “It” is ready.

The Cobweb

thecobweb“On the eve of Operation Desert Storm, the murder of an Arab exchange student at a local university puts Iowa deputy sheriff Clyde Banks on a collision course with both the CIA and Saddam Hussein. It seems the students are Iraqis conducting agricultural research on biological weapons in his midwestern town.” (Goodreads)

I really enjoyed this book. I tried the other book he co-authored with J. Frederick George (Interface) but couldn’t get past some of the long, wordy passages. This story really worked for me and I can highly recommend the book.

Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything

Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, by James Gleick (1999)

Most of us suffer some degree of “hurry sickness,” a malady that has launched us into the “epoch of the nanosecond,” a need-everything-yesterday sphere dominated by cell phones, computers, faxes, and remote controls. Yet for all the hours, minutes, and even seconds being saved, we’re still filling our days to the point that we have no time for such basic human activities as eating, sex, and relating to our families. Written with fresh insight and thorough research, Faster is a wise and witty look at a harried world not likely to slow down anytime soon. (Goodreads)

The obvious question was: how relevant is a book — written seventeen years ago — about how everything in our lives is accelerating? The author clearly understood the book would be dated before he completed it. Can only hope he write a follow-up (More Faster?). Here are a few bit that got some highlighter:

The Otis Elevator Company estimates that its cars raise and lower the equivalent of the planet’s whole population every nine days.

The fastest passenger elevators, mostly in Japan, travel at more than thirty feet per second. The record holder in the late 1990’s was a special Mitsubishi elevator in a sightseeing tower in Yokohama: more than forty feet per second, a good climb rate for an airplane.

Anger at elevators rises within seconds, experience show. A good waiting time is in the neighborhood of fifteen seconds. Sometime around forty second, people start to get visibly upset. […] Door dwell (how long we’ll wait for door to close) tends to be set at two to four seconds.

(Cigarettes and shots of whiskey) are additives for our engines. We take them to modify the working of what we now quite consciously think of as the human machine.

It was only in the machine age that people became aware of speed as a quality that could be measured, computed, and adjusted.

Reading on-line becomes another form of channel-flipping.

(In 1984) Only eighty thousand fax machines were sold nationwide. Just three years later, in 1987, virtually every American law firm had a fax machine, and within two more years, realtors and takeout restaurants and hardware stores had jumped on the train. Businesses and individual consumers bought two million fax machines in the United States in 1989.

Future anthropologists will find our pottery but not our E-mail.

The Age of Scrutiny

“In the 1700s, politics was all about ideas. But Jefferson came up with all the good ideas. In the 1800s, it was all about character. But no one will ever have as much character as Lincoln and Lee. For much of the 1900s it was about charisma. But we no longer trust charisma because Hitler used it to kill Jews and JFK used it to get laid and send us to Vietnam.”

“We are (now) in the Age of Scrutiny. A public figure must withstand the scrutiny of the media,” Ogle said. “The President is the ultimate public figure and must stand up under ultimate scrutiny; he is like a man stretched out on a rack in the public square in some medieval shithole of a town, undergoing the rigors of the Inquisition. Like the medieval trial by ordeal, the Age of Scrutiny sneers at rational inquiry and debate, and presumes that mere oaths and protestations are deceptions and lies. The only way to discover the real truth is by the rite of the ordeal, which exposes the subject to such inhuman strain that any defect in his character will cause him to crack wide open, like a flawed diamond.”

Interface by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George (1994)

Time Travel: A History (James Gleick)

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-12-01-53-pm“From the acclaimed author of The Information and Chaos, here is a mind-bending exploration of time travel: its subversive origins, its evolution in literature and science, and its influence on understanding time itself.”

Sleeping into the future is what we do every night.

“Man can do what he will, but he cannot will what he wills.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

“People living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.” — Albert Einstein’s message in the time capsule buried at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

We know that complete certainty must always elude us. We know that for certain.

“Time and space are modes by which we think, and not conditions in which we live.” — Albert Einstein

“I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything.” — Richard Feynman

What is time? Things change, and time is how we keep track.

Schopenhauer asserted that life and dreams are pages from the same book. To read them in their proper order is to live, but to browse among them is to dream.

No one can really explain how memories are formed and retrieved. Nor can anyone explain away Proust’s paradoxical contention: that the past cannot truly be recovered by searching our memories, by interrogating them, by rewinding the film or reaching back into the drawer; rather, that the essence of the past, when it comes to us at all,comes unbidden.

If you ever see yourself coming out of a time machine, run the other way as fast as you can. Nothing good can come from meeting yourself. — Charles Yu

We experience childhood one way when we’re living it and another way when we relive it in memory.

But if memory is the action of recollection, the act of remembrance, then it implies an ability to hold in the mind two constructs, one representing the present and another representing the past, and to compare them, one against the other. How did we learn to distinguish memory from experience?

Our conscious brains invent the concept of time over and over again, inferring it from memory and extrapolating from change. And time is indispensable to our awareness of self. […] You order the slices of your life. You edit the film even as it records.

“There were buttons and switches everywhere—buttons to call for food, for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature, and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.” — The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster

Why do we need time travel, when we already travel through space so far and fast? For history. For mystery. For nostalgia. For hope. To examine our potential and explore our memories. To counter regret for the life we lived, the only life, one dimension, beginning to end.

“We know it all now, with our thoughts travelling at the speed of tweet. We are time travelers into our own future. We are Time Lords.” — Ali Smith

If we confuse the real world with our many virtual worlds, it’s because so much of the real world is virtual.

Time’s winged chariot isn’t taking us anywhere good. […] The past, in which we did not exist, is bearable, but the future, in which we will not exist, troubles us more.

“We perceive time only because we know we have to die.” — Heidegger