Fear Is Not An Uncommon Reaction


“UPON THE BASEMENT’S completion after Kelley’s death, the first thing Loren did was to cover a wall with Destroy All Monsters artwork. That was followed by a sort of “christening” by Loren and Shaw, who recorded some music in the space, including a demented cover of Andy Williams’s “Lonely Street.” Since then, Loren has mostly invited Kelley’s friends underground, including the artist Paul McCarthy and the band he plays with, Extended Organ, which performed in one of the rooms. “I can’t say it’s inviting,” McCarthy said of the space. “I like it, but it’s not cozy. I don’t think it’s meant to be cozy.” McCarthy was as surprised as anyone by the existence of the basement: “I never knew he was doing it until literally the day of his memorial, and he’s already gone.”

“MOCAD and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts have a strict policy about maintaining the privacy of the basement, in keeping with Kelley’s wishes that “the underground zone will not be open to the public and the works produced there would have to be presented elsewhere, or not at all.” One cannot simply walk into MOCAD and ask to see it. Perhaps one wouldn’t want to. Amy Corle, the curator at the museum who runs the programming for “Mobile Homestead,” had told me that fear is not an uncommon reaction to standing over the hatch that is in what would have been Kelley’s childhood bedroom closet.

“A lot of people think they want to go down,” she said, “and then they look and say, ‘No.’ ”

“This reaction is understandable. A clunky and awkwardly placed ladder leads to a concrete room with another ladder leading farther downward. There is a path at the bottom with more ladders that go up into tunnels that connect to different rooms. Some of these chambers have extremely low ceilings that an adult of average height could not stand up in. Light comes from small fluorescent bulbs in caged fixtures, the kind found in a submarine. One of the tunnels leads to the space where Paul McCarthy played with Extended Organ. It is covered in cheap Halloween decorations. In another room, Loren installed a God’s Oasis sign. Elsewhere, he stored some of Kelley’s ashes.

“The space is both claustrophobic and improbably vast, and panic can set in quickly. Standing there, staring into the dark of one of Kelley’s concrete tunnels, about 40 feet beneath the ground, with only blackness visible ahead, it helps to think of home.”

Text: M.H. Miller, Mike Kelley’s Underground Afterlife, The New York Times.

Image: A digital rendering of “Mobile Homestead,” including both the public section and the house’s underground areas.

Snakes & Trains

Gefter: But how can seeing a false reality be beneficial to an organism’s survival?

Hoffman: There’s a metaphor that’s only been available to us in the past 30 or 40 years, and that’s the desktop interface. Suppose there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not. But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop — it has color, position, and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldn’t possibly be true. That’s an interesting thing. You could not form a true description of the innards of the computer if your entire view of reality was confined to the desktop. And yet the desktop is useful. That blue rectangular icon guides my behavior, and it hides a complex reality that I don’t need to know. That’s the key idea. Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would eat you.

Gefter: So everything we see is one big illusion?

Hoffman: We’ve been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive, so we have to take them seriously. If I see something that I think of as a snake, I don’t pick it up. If I see a train, I don’t step in front of it. I’ve evolved these symbols to keep me alive, so I have to take them seriously. But it’s a logical flaw to think that if we have to take it seriously, we also have to take it literally.

Gefter: If snakes aren’t snakes and trains aren’t trains, what are they?

Hoffman: Snakes and trains, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features. The snake I see is a description created by my sensory system to inform me of the fitness consequences of my actions. Evolution shapes acceptable solutions, not optimal ones. A snake is an acceptable solution to the problem of telling me how to act in a situation. My snakes and trains are my mental representations; your snakes and trains are your mental representations.

Text: Amanda Geftner, The Case Against Reality, The Atlantic. 

Image: Huang Yong Ping, Ressort 2012

Dead Immensity

Deeply Artificial Trees from artBoffin on Vimeo.

“Twenty million years ago Antarctica was beginning to freeze. We’ve investigated, thought and built speculations. What we believe happened was about like this.

“Something came down out of space, a ship. We saw it there in the blue ice, a thing like a submarine without a conning tower or directive vanes. 280 feet long and 45 feet in diameter at its thickest.

“Eh, Van Wall? Space? Yes, but I’ll explain that better later.” McReady’s steady voice went on.

“It came down from space, driven and lifted by forces men haven’t discovered yet, and somehow perhaps something went wrong then it tangled with Earth’s magnetic field. It came south here, out of control probably, circling the magnetic pole. That’s a savage country there, but when Antarctica was still freezing it must have been a thousand times more savage. There must have been blizzard snow, as well as drift, new snow falling as the continent glaciated. The swirl there must have been particularly bad, the wind hurling a solid blanket of white over the lip of that now buried mountain.

“The ship struck solid granite head-on, and cracked up. Not every one of the passengers in it was killed, but the ship must have been ruined, her driving mechanism locked. It tangled with Earth’s field, Norris believes. No thing made by intelligent beings can tangle with the dead immensity of a planet’s natural forces and survive.

“One of its passengers stepped out.”

Text, John W. Campbell, Who Goes There?

Video: Deeply Artificial Trees, Vimeo. “areben.com This artwork represents what it would be like for an AI to watch Bob Ross on LSD (once someone invents digital drugs). It shows some of the unreasonable effectiveness and strange inner workings of deep learning systems. The unique characteristics of the human voice are learned and generated as well as hallucinations of a system trying to find images which are not there.”

Bizarre Features


“According to the team’s modeling, the waves near the point where the asteroid struck would have been approximately 300 metres tall. When they hit the coast they wouldn’t be quite that big, but would still have reached 75 or 80 metres, Costard says.

“The most probable source of the tsunami, the scientists concluded, is a 60-kilometre impact crater located about 1000 kilometres off the putative coast. But it is also possible that the deposits could have been produced by the combined results of two independent impacts, represented by smaller craters closer to the shore.

“The new research also explains bizarre features known as thumbprint terrain, on the seaward ends of some of the tsunami deposits. Composed of curving, concentric ridges 10 to 20 metres high, these look for all the world like the ridges in a fingerprint.

“The explanation, Clifford says, starts with the fact that the tsunami would have come in two pulses. The first would have been produced when the asteroid hit, shoving tremendous amounts of water out of its way. The second would have occurred when water rushed back into the resulting depression from all sides.

“The onrushing water would have crashed together in the centre of the impact depression in a giant splash, then rebounded outward in a second tsunami, even larger than the first.

“And that’s just the beginning of the story. When the first wave, a few minutes ahead of the second, hit the shoreline, part of it would have been reflected back out to sea. There, it would have met the oncoming second wave, where the turbulence would have caused sediment to be dropped in patterns exactly like the enigmatic thumbprint terrains.”

Text: Mars may have experienced a giant tsunamiCosmos Magazine.

Image: The Great Wave Off Kanagawa By Hokusai, Supercoloring version.

“We watched at the eye-machine…”


“According to Lindner, his patient first began experiencing a strange feeling while reading fanciful adventure novels during his youth. “In some weird and inexplicable way I knew that what I was reading was my biography […]. Nothing in these books was unfamiliar to me: I recognized everything… My everyday life began to recede at this point. In fact, it became fiction—and, as it did, the books became my reality.” At the further stage of this “psychosis,” the patient “filled in the spaces” between the written stories with “fantasy ‘recollections.'”

“If, in fact, the man described here is Paul Linebarger (a.k.a. Cordwainer Smith), this strange, distorted sense of reality did little to hinder his success in the more conventional world that you and I inhabit. He earned a Ph.D. in political science at Johns Hopkins, and in his early life he mastered six languages. He served on the faculty of Duke University, advised the military on psychological warfare (and wrote a seminal book on the subject), did work for the CIA, and advised President John F. Kennedy. And those are merely highlights of his terrestrial CV.

“Smith’s science-fiction work was obsessed with grand historical concepts and organizational philosophies, and describes in great detail command structures—in particular what he calls the Instrumentality of Mankind, a galactic governmental framework that recurs again and again in his work—and transformational epochs. A particular fixation of his was his projected future “Rediscovery of Man,” in which a technologically superior race of human beings deliberately renounces its advantages and blandly perfected lives in order to reintroduce risk and uncertainty into the sphere of day-to-day events.

“What an odd change from those all-too-familiar sci-fi books about the future, in which some authoritarian dystopian society is postulated. Here instead Cordwainer Smith envisions a future in which the powers-that-be prefer to embrace a messy, uncontrolled imperfection. In an unusual twist on the typical futurist saga, Smith describes a fierce backlash against the grand achievements of the social engineers—but only because they have succeeded so completely.

“The rulers now decide that they need to return to the less predictable ways of the past. Only 42 people in the entire universe know how to read English, that archaic language of a dead society, and a Common Tongue now allows universal communication, but that is now to be replaced by the reintroduced old languages. A host of other advances—medical, sociological, psychological, economic—are similarly seen as obsolete.

“I myself was the first man to put a postage stamp on a letter, after fourteen thousand years,” announces the narrator Paul in Smith’s short story “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.” “I took Virginia to hear the first piano recital. We watched at the eye-machine when cholera was released in Tasmania, and we saw the Tasmanians dance in the streets, now that they did not have to be protected any more. Everywhere, men and women worked with a wild will to build a more imperfect world. I myself went into a hospital and came out French…”

Text: Ted Gioia, Remembering Cordwainer Smith: Full-Time Sci-Fi Author, Part-Time Earthling, The Atlantic.

Image: Kazuya Akimoto, The Evil Eye, 2010.

Around The Sun


“I myself have dreamed up a structure intermediate between Dyson spheres and planets. Build a ring 93 million miles in radius – one Earth orbit – around the sun. If we have the mass of Jupiter to work with, and if we make it a thousand miles wide, we get a thickness of about a thousand feet for the base. And it has advantages. The Ringworld will be much sturdier than a Dyson sphere. We can spin it on its axis for gravity. A rotation speed of 770 m/s will give us a gravity of one Earth normal. We wouldn’t even need to roof it over. Place walls one thousand miles high at each edge, facing the sun. Very little air will leak over the edges. Lord knows the thing is roomy enough. With three million times the surface area of the Earth, it will be some time before anyone complains of the crowding.”
Text: Larry Niven, Ringworld.
Pics: Aydin Buyuktas, Flatland.

A Hole in the Atmosphere


“Obviously, something […] big hitting the Earth is going to hit with a lot of energy. […] This is the energy one million tons of dynamite would release if it was exploded and is the energy unit used for nuclear explosions. The largest yield of a thermonuclear warhead is around 50–100 megatons. The kinetic energy of the falling object is converted to the explosion when it hits. The 10-kilometer object produces an explosion of 6 × 107 megatons of TNT (equivalent to an earthquake of magnitude 12.4 on the Richter scale). The 1-kilometer object produces a milder explosion of “only” 6 × 104 megatons (equivalent to an earthquake of magnitude 9.4 on the Richter scale).

“On its way to the impact, the asteroid pushes aside the air in front of it creating a hole in the atmosphere. The atmosphere above the impact site is removed for several tens of seconds. Before the surrounding air can rush back in to fill the gap, material from the impact: vaporized asteroid, crustal material, and ocean water (if it lands in the ocean), escapes through the hole and follows a ballistic flight back down. Within two minutes after impact, about 105 cubic kilometers of ejecta (1013 tons) is lofted to about 100 kilometers. If the asteroid hits the ocean, the surrounding water returning over the the hot crater floor is vaporized (a large enough impact will break through to the hot lithosphere and maybe the even hotter asthenosphere), sending more water vapor into the air as well as causing huge steam explosions that greatly compound the effect of the initial impact explosion.

“There will be a crater regardless of where it lands. The diameter of the crater in kilometers is = 0.765 × (energy of impact in megatons TNT). Plugging in the typical impact values, you get a 150-kilometer diameter crater for the 10-kilometer asteroid and a 20-kilometer diameter crater for the 1-kilometer asteroid. The initial blast would also produce shifting of the crust along fault lines.

The oceans cover about 75% of the Earth’s surface, so it is likely the asteroid will hit an ocean. The amount of water in the ocean is nowhere near large enough to “cushion” the asteroid. The asteroid will push the water aside and hit the ocean floor to create a large crater. The water pushed aside will form a huge tidal wave, a tsunami. […] What this means is that a 10-km asteroid hitting any deep point in the Pacific (the largest ocean) produces a megatsunami along the entire Pacific Rim.

“Some values for the height of the tsunami at different distances from the impact site are given in the following table. The heights are given for the two typical asteroids, a 10-kilometer and a 1-kilometer asteroid.

Distance (in km) 10 km asteroid 1 km asteroid
300 1.3 km 42 m
1000 540 m 18 m
3000 250 m 8 m
10000 100 m 3 m

“The steam blasts from the water at the crater site rushing back over the hot crater floor will also produce tsunamis following the initial impact tsunami and crustal shifting as a result of the initial impact would produce other tsunamis—a complex train of tsunamis would be created from the initial impact (something not usually shown in disaster movies).”

Text: Nick Strobel, Effects of an Asteroid Impact on Earth, Astronomynotes.com

Image: “The Chelyabinsk event of 15 Feb. 2013, having an energy equivalent to 500 kilotons of TNT, was the largest well-documented meteor event since the Tunguska event of 1908. Analysis of the Chelyabinsk object’s in-atmosphere trajectory from video records has found that its orbit was similar to the orbit of the 2-km-diameter Near-Earth Asteroid 86039 (1999 NC43).There is a possibility that the Chelyabinsk object was created through a collision between asteroid 86039 and another asteroid. It is also very interesting that the Cheyabinsk Asteroid approached from the Sun’s direction, making it essentially undetectable in telescopes” – Analysis of Chelyabinsk meteor and resultant air burst appears in Nature