Monday, March 27, 2006


30 year old race car driver Paul Dana was killed today. I don't follow racing like I used to. I was a fan of Formula racing until 1994 when Aryton Senna, my favourite driver died in a race on May 1st. A few weeks before on April 8 Kurt Cobain was found dead in his house in Seattle. Senna was 34 and Cobain was 27. Both of them were at the very pinnacle of their chosen arts and both of them seemed capable of more great things.

I was teaching an introductory Philosophy class that spring at the suburban campus of the University and I recall the typical brutally cold Great Lakes winter. The term was just about done. It was perhaps the first really bright warm day of the year which made even more cruel the news to come. I was driving to get some lunch when I heard of Cobain's death on the car radio. The first thing that came out of my mouth were the words "you fucking idiot!"... said not with malice but with the realization of the great waste of a life. I am of the opinion that anyone in a suicidal tailspin with some perspective would realize that it is not really as bad as it might seem.

A few years before these deaths I was in such a state when it seemed futile and painful to carry on. The curious thing is that I decided then that instead of ever contemplating taking my own life I would instead feel free and unafraid to pursue such dangerous activities as mountain-climbing and race-car driving. I wonder if the Aryton Sennas of the world have made a similar pact with their inhibitions. I wonder if the Kurt Cobains of the world are perhaps in a similar nihilistic death spiral facilitated by their high risk lifestyles.

If you look at the results listing of a car race you will note that after the numeric ordering of the leaders there are a number of entries at the bottom of the list with the leters "DNF" beside their names for "Did Not Finish". Paul Dana, Aryton Senna as well as Kurt Cobain and any other young person who takes their own life are all DNF in more ways than one.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Chasing Amy's Blog

Jake to Universe

My friend read one of my recent blog entries. Over dinner he commented that he had never come across the word "limning" before seeing it in the title of my entry. Duh. Where ya been? It was the word of the day on on February 2, 2001.

I did a search for other blogs that used the word "limn". I came across several but I started reading one written by a charming girl from California. It's almost heartbreaking to come across people like her. Where were girls like her when I was a younger man?

They were probably sitting next to me in French class but there would have been no way for me to know. Maybe that girl in my French class maintained a diary, scribbled her poems within it... made observations, confessions and declarations that I would have found charming and fascinating. But unless I happened to find that well-worn and colourful testament to her love for words I would probably never know about that side of her.

I know that blogs aren't necessarily diaries but through them we are given access to the personal world of friends and strangers to an extent that we could never have dreamed possible only a decade ago. So I found myself checking each day to see whether Amy had updated her blog. I was curious how she was doing in Ithaca and whether she would decide to choose Cornell over Berkeley. To my disappointment she didn't submit an entry for over a week.

Isn't it odd that you can follow the life of another person without their knowing? Maybe I should send her this link. That would mean that I'm not technically being a stalker right?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Mathematicians, Philosophers, Filmmakers

Jake to Universe

It's journalistically irresponsible for me to comment on a story I only skimmed over this morning... but I'm not a journalist.

A Mathematician recently won a science prize that is slightly more monied than the Nobel. It is given out by a mutual fund company owner. The winner expounds what appears basically to be the original intelligent design theories as set out by some mediaeval and renaissance philosophers. What's somewhat risive is that these theories are celebrated as being brilliant and original when they are really Philosophy 101 material that freshman get to ponder anew each September.

The gist of the stance can be spelled out in the following three points:

1. The Universe is so impressively complex that it must have been designed.
2. Since the Universe had a beginning and could not create itself, it must have had an outside cause.
3. The Universe is perfectly suited to spring forth Human life so it must have been designed to generate Human life.

The last point is the Goldilocks approach - Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. It considers that if the galactic or planetary or environmental situations had been even modestly different than they had been in the past then Human life would not have been possible. Therefore the conclusion is drawn that there is some inherent intentional design.

There are many many ways to poke holes in these arguments but that is not my intent here. I'm not sure what my intent is here except to bitch about Mathematicians who engage in amateur Philosophy and are rewarded for their unoriginal efforts. I don't recall a Philosopher lately receiving a prize for his ideas about how the the length of the radius of a circle is related to its circumference. These ideas are of course known to freshman Mathematicians to be fascinating but hardly groundbreaking.

I'm reminded of a conversation I overheard on a train from Montreal to Toronto many years ago. An unlikely couple of people seemed to hit it off in the seats across the aisle. A stylish and beautiful young woman in her late twenties was being enthusiastically engaged by a chubby geeky teenaged boy. He looked like he clearly needed to spend less time in front of the Playstation and more time grooming. The first Matrix movie had been released that year to great success. The young man began to discuss this movie at length, whether she wanted to hear about it or not. It was hard to tell if she was just being polite or was genuinely as fascinated as she claimed to be by the conversation.

He began to "blow her mind" by the notions presented in the film. That you might actually be living in a virtual world would be near impossible to determine if you had been trapped there from birth. Your entire body or perhaps just your brain might actually be stored in some vat and you might be fed the contents of your experiences without your knowledge. They both marveled at how brilliant the entire notion was and how brilliant the Wachowski brothers were for coming up with such a mind blower.

Those notions are of course brilliant and mind blowing but sadly they are not the product of these talented filmmakers. Descartes five hundred years ago and Plato two thousand years before him wrote of such things. It's sad how little recognition these philosophers receive and how limited a historical sense we seem to have outside of our specialties.

I wish that Mathematicians, Philosophers and Filmmakers knew more about the respective histories and developments of each other's fields of knowledge. Of course, this has probably become by now, just another lament about the lack of exposure to a quality liberal education in our North American culture.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Limning a House

My architect friend Paul opened an exhibition this evening. Two artists from Berlin were invited to join Paul and his friend David to present and discuss their respective partnered works. Paul and David had created a multi-media project 10 years ago by slowly deconstructing a dilapidated and condemned house. They filmed and photographed the project as they cut out pieces of the walls and floors eventually causing one half of the house to fall into the other. The two Berlin artists were sent photos of a local Toronto office building and they used these to create a virtual exploding, fragmenting or splintering of the building running in an animated loop.

The two projects ostensibly meet at the nexus of the concept of deconstruction. Derrida was of course mentioned and discussed by the panel and audience. Deconstruction is a parasitic act in that it requires something constructed upon which one can perform the act. Most art is of course considered to be of a creative and constructive nature, requiring no such beginning point. In this sense it seems that only the Canadian project was a deconstruction since the virtual rendering was not an unraveling of anything at all but a creation from start to finish.

Can the physical unbuilding of a house be considered an act of deconstruction in the Derridean sense? Only metaphorically it seems and only as a way of limning the way in which something can be laid bare and brought closer to its so-called essense by peeling away its surface layers and breaking it into pieces. The whole is often said to be greater than its constituent parts but these projects highlight the possibility that something can be invested with even more value in the process of its unravelling. The surprising perspectives afforded by each cut of a wall or ceiling help to bring forth or un-cover the being of the house. These hidden aspects are revealed and released from the constancy of the seemingly soldified being of the house.

Through this process of unbuilding we can catch glimpses of what it is essentially to be a house. By removing a piece of the roof we are brought face to face with one of the essences of a house: that of shelter. Partially collapsing a room results in one wall remaining 8 feet high while the oppsosite wall shrinks and disappears. What does this inform us about the intended functionality or purposes of spaces?

This unbuilding house works as a form of performance art for those who happen upon the project during its progress. The person who randomly happens upon the house in one of its progressively slanting states is treated to a delightfully disorienting image. The neighbours have a different experience. They can follow the process over a more protracted timeframe. As the house is slowly moved closer to oblivion the passerby acknowledges more fully the existence of the house. Ironically they come to acknowledge its existence as it is moving through the process of ceasing to exist. What may have been mostly unnoticed by the neighbours over the years comes startlingly to the forefront as they pass by each day to note a new development in it's demise.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Blood, Fire, Water

Jake to Universe

Blood, fire, water. You have 15 minutes. Begin.

Steve skillfully slides the contents of the frying pan to one end and tosses it into the air. The diced onions and zucchini slide with ease as a single wave and rise up to a crest as they flow out of the pan and into the air. The wave curves back onto itself and crashes back into the pan where it is brought to meet the airborne flow. The onions are starting to caramelize nicely. Sizzling, some of them are richly brown or burnt. The zucchini was just added, releasing their invested moisture into the mix and making the sea harder to launch into the air. Then small plum tomatoes - blood red, short cylinders - not possessing much flesh. The larger tomatoes are meatier. They are added to the mix to give the sauce more substance while the smaller tomatoes are there for colour and taste.

He begins the motion that gives birth to another tsunami. This time red, brown and green, like a fresh grave which has been churned by torrents and hurricane winds. Briefly thrown up high then crashing down again. From this jumble the parts are now reformed where they began their journey. Flesh and grass uprooted, it's too heavy and comes crashing unto itself with additional force.

A splinter splash from this wave lands on the web of skin between Steve's thumb and forefinger and he jerks his hand back before even feeling the stinging of his skin. He had been admiring his skills to this point but now finds himself cursing his bravado. The kitchen is where he can relax and reflect but this is proving to be a most unrelaxing evening. The afflicted skin is firey red as blood rushes to heal the scorched thin membrane. The faucet nearby is turned on and he puts his hand underneath to ease the pain. He stares ahead and thinks of Susan.

It would take a thousand Niagaras to wash away the pain.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Human Virus

Jake to Universe

Helen's comments on the Exophilosophy posting started me thinking.

There is an old tradition of considering the Earth to be a living entity in its own right (Mother Nature, Gaia etc.) This seems perfectly reasonable to me. Within this perspective it is true that Humans would seem to be a type of virus or perhaps parasite. It is a micro-organism within a larger system that feeds off of that host. This is not a very flattering portrayal of humanity but it may not be as bad as it seems.

It is true that such microrganisms may in fact feed off of the host to such an extent that it may end up killing it. A virus that kills will not be as successful as one that doesn't kill since the less lethal one will have a greater chance of passing on its DNA and sending forth its progeny to other hosts if it can hang around long enough.

So we the Human Virus need to realize that we cannot hope to continue to procreate successfully if we kill our host. I believe that our selfish genes will eventually bring us to realize this on a larger scale. So perhaps we may survive long enough to one day infect another host (settle on another planet) and also not kill that one.

We have perhaps been too harsh on the Viral form of life. They have the same bad rep as the so-called weed. Why would one prefer the green grass to the yellow dandelion? The dandelion is just trying to be fruitful and multiply... just like the green grass, also like the virus and parasite and very much like humans.