Monthly Archives: March 2011

Coming Home & The View Back

I flew back toward Home recently, on an airplane at about 850km/h, at about 8km off the ground.  I’ve found myself in the air a fair bit recently, with that ritualised placelessness made most obvious when flying internationally.  An idea I pondered when first flying from Copenhagen to Wellington in 2007 (after a six month stay) was whether I truly felt that I was going ‘back’ home, or ‘toward’ somewhere ‘next’.  I hoped excitedly it was the latter, but I don’t think it worked like that.  Then I left again.  Now, after two years away from New Zealand, I begin to believe and feel more authentically that I come ‘back’ to Melbourne now, sort of.

So as I sat there hurtling through the sky above the Tasman Sea, I watched Through the Wormhole, a TV-documentary series, cooly narrated by Morgan Freeman.

The episodes I watched covered two subjects that I realised were relevant to my thoughts about Home, and Abroad.  The first revisited the creation of our Home, otherwise known as the Big Bang theory; the second took a stab at the question of life outside Planet Earth, the ultra-Abroad.

 

Coming Home, 250 metres per second.

Home(s) with 11 Dimensions.

The first question raised, scientifically, wondered how stable the current theory of the Big Bang could really be, because it seems very difficult to explain or justify that there simply was Nothing prior to it.  It also raised the likelihood of the Multiverse, where ours might not be the only Home.

“Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.”

-King Lear, Act 1.1

“From nothing comes life”

-Apostle Paul, apparently.

One alternative theory to the Big Bang makes an analogy to an analogue watch, which ticks (the second-hand makes a discreet movement), then pauses, before repeating a discrete movement. In this model, the Big Bang (which in itself, as a massive, unbelievably uniform distribution of energy is not really disputed) occurs at the pause, which mathematically represents a nothingness.  Hence our current Universe is the ticking of a second-hand, to eventually arrive (i can’t remember how far we are through, but maybe passed-half, explaining the Universe’s alleged slowing speed of expansion) at nothingness again, and then Bang Bigly again.  Not too fancy, and sort of understandable.

The second alternative gets a bit trippy, and is only fathomable, maybe, to the three dudes that came up with it. M-Theory which is thoroughly not understandable, incorporates the super-string theory, with its 10-dimensionality, and adds time, to make an 11-dimensional fuckoff theory of how the Universe works.  The authors of this theory propose that membranes exist, called P-branes (mmhm), which are multidimensional objects (it can have 0 to 9 dimensions), which something something something (if I copy in Wikipedia it wont make sense anyway).  If String Theory’s account of the Universe is analogous to a body of water (continuous, fluid, and very messy, but accountable on a micro-level), M-Theory (I think) speculated that the Big Bang was more like a ripple, caused by two of these multi-dimensional P-branes colliding, sending a massive, but dissipating force out from the point of contact (explaining in its own way the slowing speed of the Universe’s expansion).  The animated diagram showed two shaky blobby masses (two Universes I guess) slowly colliding, and bouncing back. They also said these P-branes could be as little as 10cm away from us (meaning the 4-dimensional realm we can fathom), at which point I stopped trying to get it, but went, “hmmmmmm.”

And so I wondered who the other-dimensional being was that might be 10cm away from my lacklustre 4-dimensional cognitive ability, and whether he already knew about me, and could fathom me, and maybe, could ‘see’ me, and my Home.  I was glad we were both at Home (dimensionally speaking), and were wondering about the Other.

At which point, I realised how close theoretical physics is to various spiritual experiences.  It is not hard at all to imagine enlightenment, transcendence, and angels as useful analogies of such multi-dimensional being.  I have considerably little experience in either field of study/practice, so can’t really go deeper into the thought, so will keep it as a (public) thought.

The View Back

The second episode covered the usual base of the search for extra-terrestrial life forms, namely the work of the SETI Institute [Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence] .  Rather than zealous alien hunters, the SETI Institute’s Mission is “to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe” which seems pretty useful and profound.  It also resonated with my thoughts about Place and being-an-Other.

It’s become scientifically well-known that the existence of living organisms as we know them on Earth is the result of a microscopically, unbelievably unlikely chemical coincidence, which is so unlikely that it makes for a pro-God arguing point.  The phenomenally low probability that there is life at all (on Earth in our case) has a few scientists thinking the scary thought that, shit, maybe we are alone. Beautifully, these scientists reassure us that our yearning for knowledge and the study of Life and our Home is only made more precious by this position.

The ways we are looking for life is really what hooked me, particularly when the reverse notion was tabled: if someone was looking for us, would they see us?  Our first radio-waves (with any considerable strength) were sent out around the sixties, at the usual pace of 186,000 m/s.  Unfortunately, these messages have covered only a microscopic distance in astrological terms (about 50cm of 10km) to the nearest Solar System, and only 50cm to the equivalent of Mars in terms of reaching the edge of the known Universe.  That’s a bit disheartening, but when we start photographing space, we are fortunately more effective.

I don’t understand how precisely, but developing from the Doppler Effect (where the appearant frequency of (light/electromagnetic) waves are effected by relative movement and gravity) we are able to map distant solar systems, and even now, their planets, and even their size, gravitational field, and chemical composition of their atmospheres.  Apparently, the most effective way to search for signs of intelligent life is to look for something un-natural, a disturbance in the known laws of physics and chemistry.  Scientists are well aware that they may not be looking for humanoid life (especially when you start thinking about the small fraction of time that our ‘bodies’ have been around on Earth, and the haste with which they are changing with technological extensions/appendages), so what they are actually looking for is a trace.  It might be on the scale of a Solar System, or it might be an atmospheric anomaly.  Then they really flipped me out, by declaring that the best trace of our intelligent life is global warming.  Our strongest astrological beacon is the horrendous trampling of our ecological equilibrium.

It’s a funny one really, right now I don’t know where to go with it.

It does seem to somehow tap sharply at a part of me, a part that wonders about the nature of our dwelling here, on our Home.  I guess I’m just naturally curious what that inter-dimensional dude might be thinking, whether he’s on the next P-brane, or in the same Universe, wandering what the atmospheric anomaly might mean, if anything.

x

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Infostructures

Freerange Press is proud to release the first of its academic publications.   Increasing energy costs (Guardian Article today saying Britain needs to prepare for 70s style oil shocks) are putting massive pressure on our existing transport systems. This combined with ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives is creating new dynamic opportunities in public transport. INFOSTRUCTURE presents the vision of interactive and responsive urban public transport environments where new forms of communication and information access are enabled through an overlay of urban digital media technologies.

Featuring research and projects undertaken by master students in architecture at the University of Technology, Sydney and Bachelor students in design computing at the University of Sydney, the book explores the augmentation of existing public transport environments with urban digital media technologies, to set in motion a transformation from infrastructure to ‘infostructure(s).’

Precedent based research and technology investigations underpin the twenty featured student projects, that address a nexus of space, urban media, sensor and mobile phone technology. The research presented in this book is a foundation for a series of future infostructure projects.

Only $25 online. Please go to the Freerange Shop for purchasing details.

The authors of this book combine several years of experience in designing for public transport environments and in urban computing.

  • Nicole Gardner is an architect with project experience in infrastructure planning and design and is currently teaching and lecturing at the University of Technology, Sydney.
  • Dr. M. Hank Haeusler has researched, taught and designed media facades and information architecture and has written and published several books on media architecture. He is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney.
  • Dr. Martin Tomitsch has a background in informatics and interaction design. His work has been published in international conferences on human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Sydney.
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The Quake

As history uncurls her fingers from Christchurch, the stories of loss, survival, and the stupid blunt force of an indifferent planet emerge from the dust.  For those of us with friends and family in Christchurch, the test of our support is not of the past 6 days, but in the coming days, weeks, and months when the adrenaline will fade and the long slow and tedious task of re constructing lives will begin.

While the pain is individual and the stories unique to Christchurch the pattern is universal and the suffering is the same shared recently by communities around the world, from government murders in Egypt, deadly floods in Queensland, civil unrest in Libya, floods in Pakistan, droughts in China and Nth Korea, and bombs in Iraq, the list goes on.

With this in mind I’ve been impressed by the surprising humanizing role of technology in the last few weeks.  Most of the time these devices and interfaces that now consume our lives seem to take us away from the nature, loved ones, and things we really appreciate.  The frustrations to technologies that not only consume our working and relaxing hours, but are also increasingly providing mundane fodder for our conversations.  It is great then to see some truly mobilizing potential with these ubiquitous technologies.

  • Within hours of the Christchurch Earthquake google had worked with a number of organizations on a very effective missing persons interface Google Missing Person List.
  • Within days, Habitat for humanity had started a very easy to use website for both offering accommodation and finding help for places to stay at the Habitat Shelter Website.
  • A international group of volunteers called Crisescampnz has produced the beautifully designed massive collaboration site titled the Christchurch Recovery Map,
  • The Canterbury University Students Association showed the value of Student Unions with their fantastic Student Volunteer Army.

These are just four of the many responses to the Earthquake we’ve seen in the past week, they illustrate that these new technologies offer not only a speediness of set up and communication not previously possible, but also a radical repositioning of the role of the citizen.  These new technologies are becoming critical tools in what might as well be called the democracies we live in, and its a good reminder that democracy isn’t about voting every three years, its ability to engage with issues of governance as a free citizen.

Internationally we are seeing profound change in the middle east, and here too democratic forces and technology are meeting.  The global advocacy and activist group Avaaz has been enabling internet satellite into parts of Libya and Bahrain so that people there can keep up with important international news.  AVAAZ Satellite delivery. This fantastic sign from Egypt suggests we are seeing the growth of a global activist movement.  Egypt supporting America.

My last comment on the Christchurch earthquake is to realize the important work that has been going on in Nz for the past 50 years that has minimized the effects of last tuesday.  The force on buildings was TWICE what the building code asked for, so its impressive that so few collapsed.  In addition to this the rescue response sounds like it has been extraordinarily well co-ordinated given the desperate circumstances.  Brian Rudman of the Herald states

“as a small bunch of people, spread across a geologically challenged group of remote islands, we New Zealanders actually don’t do such a bad job of looking after ourselves.  Unknown to most of us, we do have structures on which to fall back in times of emergency – like Civil Defence, which had its origins after the Napier disaster and got a pat on the back from the head of the British urban rescue team, who said this was the best-organised rescue effort he’d attended, through which local communities have joined together to assist each other in moments of need.

So hats off to not just the men and women working on the ground, but to the 100’s of planner, bureaucrats and politicians who have prepared funds and expertise for disasters like this.  Here’s to long term planning, long may it continue.

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