Revelation Space

roving-mars-1

“The depiction of filmic space in recent years is marked by the possibilities of digital technology to create new worlds and new visions, and yet this creation is accomplished in a predetermined way. While sometimes taking a leap into space, we do so in a way that is both breathtaking and familiar. Consider the remarkable opening shot of Contact [1997], a film that is somewhere between 2001 and Star Wars in its combination of metaphysics and childhood fantasy.

“Digital technology can change the actual in ways impossible for earlier technologies: Whether building upon images of objects from our own reality or starting from scratch, computer graphics and animation have the capacity to bring us into space that resemble the interior spaces of the mind. This realization informs the opening shot of Contact: Begining with discordant and random radio noises, giving us a brief history lesson of recent years, the camera pulls away from an image of the Earth to recede into the space and silence of our solar system, the Milky Way, and other galaxies – only to conclude in the eye of a young girl, Ellie Arroway, who will grow up to be an astronomer and the film’s heroine.

“As Ron Mangid notes, the images of the journey through space are poetic recreations of the digitized images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Unlike other space journeys […] which visualise a forward movement and penetration into space, this one gives us the perspective of receding itno space, of viewing the universe as it rushes past us, ultimately to create the sense of the universe terminating in the girl’s mind. These 5,000 frames create a prolonged three-minute shot that appears to verify [the] thesis that in the midst of new technology and new spatial visions on the screen, filmic space is still under the control of the eyes and the mind of the viewer, a point underscored by the recognisable quattrocentro perspectives that structures the entire shot.”

Space and Beyond: The Frontier Theme in Science Fiction, by Gary Westfahl, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. P 74.

The Empire Never Ended

We reproduce our past not as memory, but as action. We act it out. Acting it out is, for some of us, our most vivid way of remembering.

gladiator

“There is a certain warning Freud imparted to humankind about our behaviour that is Delphic in its ambiguity. Fatalists love this warning beacuse it proves that humans are little more than what Pavlov supposed. Optimists usually don’t read a lot of psychoanalytic theory so they may not have the opportunity to discover the political hope that Freud’s warning confirms. To paraphrase Freud it asserts that: ‘We reproduce our past not as memory, but as action. We act it out. Acting it out is, for some of us, our most vivid way of remembering.'”

Neuromancer: the uncanny as decor. Jeanne Randolph, in The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture. Bruce Grenville ed, Vancouver Art Gallery. Published by arsenal pulp press, 2001. P220.

Glimpses of The Uncanny Valley

“Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori is not exactly a household name—but, for the speculative fiction community at least, he could prove to be an important one. The reason why can be summed up in a simple, strangely elegant phrase that translates into English as “the uncanny valley”.

“Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori is not exactly a household name—but, for the speculative fiction community at least, he could prove to be an important one. The reason why can be summed up in a simple, strangely elegant phrase that translates into English as “the uncanny valley”.

“Though originally intended to provide an insight into human psychological reaction to robotic design, the concept expressed by this phrase is equally applicable to interactions with nearly any nonhuman entity. Stated simply, the idea is that if one were to plot emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement, the curve is not a sure, steady upward trend. Instead, there is a peak shortly before one reaches a completely human “look” . . . but then a deep chasm plunges below neutrality into a strongly negative response before rebounding to a second peak where resemblance to humanity is complete.

“This chasm—the uncanny valley of Doctor Mori’s thesis—represents the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off-kilter to seem eerie or disquieting. The first peak, moreover, is where that same individual would see something that is human enough to arouse some empathy, yet at the same time is clearly enough not human to avoid the sense of wrongness. The slope leading up to this first peak is a province of relative emotional detachment—affection, perhaps, but rarely more than that.

uncanny-valley-1jpg

“The figure [in the] diagrams this curve of emotional response, plotting it (from top to bottom) first against how closely an entity’s motion resembles human movement, then against physical resemblance to human appearance, and last against a synthesis of the two. It is significant to note, judging from the relative depth of the curves, that Dr. Mori apparently considers motion more important than simple appearance, though he stresses that both are affected at least as much by subtle nuances as by more striking factors.

“The conclusion drawn by the good doctor is that designers of robots or prosthetics should not strive overly hard to duplicate human appearance, lest some seemingly minor flaw drop the hapless android or cyborg into the uncanny valley—a fate to be dreaded by all concerned. He maintains instead that a prosthesis or a robot should be visibly artificial, but smart and stylish in appearance, placing it somewhere near the top of the first peak. This ethos, incidentally, can be seen clearly in a great many science fiction and fantasy manga and animé stories.

“The same factors that inspired Doctor Mori to research and describe the uncanny valley and the rest of the curve to which it belongs are of immediate concern to any creator of fantasy or science fiction. Aside from the readily apparent potential for careful tailoring of a character’s or species’ “look and feel” to evoke a specific reaction from the audience, there are some perhaps surprising possibilities and consequences…”

Glimpses – The Uncanny Valley

You Are Here

“Geocaching was invented in May 2000, within days of the US Government switching off the security restrictions on global positioning systems that limited the accuracy of civilian receivers. A Portland computer consultant, Dave Ulmer, posted a message online that he had hidden a plastic bucket with software, videos, books, food, money and a slingshot in the woods near Portland, says the author of Geocaching For Dummies, Joel McNamara. “He used his GPS receiver to record the latitude and longitude and encouraged others to try to find it,” McNamara says.”

“Geocaching is “a high-tech treasure hunt for adults” – at least, that is the most succinct explanation enthusiasts can offer. A striking mix of the latest network technologies, unregulated gaming and muddy-boots bushwalking, it’s an activity that didn’t exist nine years ago. Now there are about 1 million cachers who participate worldwide, an estimated 13,000 of them in Australia. More get hooked all the time.

“Cachers refer to the wider public – the uninitiated hordes ignorant of their secret missions – as “muggles”, after the non-magic folk in the Harry Potter books. A cache that has been disturbed or trashed is said to have been “muggled”.

“Science writer Darren Osborne, who has been geocaching since mid-2003, says: “When I started, it was very much a clandestine activity. There are a number of people who do like the secrecy of geocaching and want to keep it that way but as more and more people find out about it, it becomes a bit harder to retain that secret squirrel, Get Smart stuff.”

“It’s not really about the treasure hidden inside the caches – typically trinkets from $2 shops or small toys. It’s about finding it. Caches are not buried but they are concealed – in tree trunks, under benches, under stones, sometimes even in fence posts or landmarks.

[…]

“Geocaching was invented in May 2000, within days of the US Government switching off the security restrictions on global positioning systems that limited the accuracy of civilian receivers. A Portland computer consultant, Dave Ulmer, posted a message online that he had hidden a plastic bucket with software, videos, books, food, money and a slingshot in the woods near Portland, says the author of Geocaching For Dummies, Joel McNamara. “He used his GPS receiver to record the latitude and longitude and encouraged others to try to find it,” McNamara says.”

Adult Hide and Seek, The Sydney Morning Herald

Las Ruinas

“Large ruins like this one produce the elemental sublimity of size; here the artist’s vantage point makes clear that the ruin dwarfs the spectator…”

dayaftertomorrow1

“[The ruin]… embodies a very popular form of the sublime that by the 1780s had become a new European aesthetic category — the picturesque. Ruins provide several different forms of sublimity: First, large ruins like this one produce the elemental sublimity of size; here the artist’s vantage point makes clear that the ruin dwarfs the spectator. Second, the fact that time overwhelms the works of man makes time, like space, the source of grandeur. Third, this same fact provides the occasion for a wide spectrum of literary and philosophical applications ranging from political satire of empires to devout ruminations of divine power and, particularly in the last decades of the eighteenth century, enjoying the gentle melancholy of loss…”

The Sublime Ruin

All is full of love

Bjork, robots… the uncanny.

“Modern concepts of the uncanny can be traced back to two major essays: Wilhelm Jentsch’s, ‘On the Psychology of the Uncanny’ (1906), and Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ (1919). 1919 also saw the release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Rutherford’s discovery of the proton, the first episode of the constantly re-animated ‘Itchy and Scratchy’(according to the internal history of ‘The Simpsons’) and the Theremin invented by its namesake, making it a good year all round. The ‘uncanny’ derives from the German unheimlich, loosely seen as meaning ‘un homely’. There are many readings and interpretations of the term, but many centre upon the concept of the animation of apparently inanimate objects, and can be applied to technologies including the animated image, the dislocated and disembodied voice when using a mobile phone, and the ‘uncanny valley’ of cybernetic automata.

“However, a base characteristic of the uncanny as argued by both Freud and Jentsch is that it occurs when animate and inanimate objects become confused, when objects behave in a way which imitate life, and thus blur the cultural, psychological and material boundaries between life and death, leading to what Jentsch called ‘Intellectual Uncertainty’- that things appear not to be what they are, and as such our reasoning may need re-structuring to make sense of the phenomenon.

“The simplest and most universal example of this is the reanimation of the dead; ghosts, zombies, poltergeist activity and communication from the ‘other side’ all form part of the psychology of the relationship that the living have towards the dead, and towards their own death. A corpse creates feelings of the uncanny as it is life-like (for it was once alive), and reminds the viewer of his or her own approaching death, the animate imagining the inanimate, and the possibility that the inanimate could be animated again.”

Technology and The Uncanny

Subliming Out

There may be no sublime – at least, we can’t say or know there is without contradicting the very idea of the sublime. All we can do is make things that have come to represent the sublime or that remind us of what the sublime is supposed to be.

glenn-brown-1

“Many writers and artists were once of the opinion that the sublime was impossible to grasp; but that didn’t stop them from writing and discussing it intensely for over a century. The sublime was seen as rooted in intense passions like horror, fear, or terror in the face of objects, events, or spaces that were vast, infinite, powerful, massive, mysterious, or deadly. Things like the vastness of nature, the power of storms or avalanches, untamed wilderness, the open sea, epic battles, even God, were all seen as sublime.

“The problem of the sublime was eventually linked to more general philosophical and artistic problems of grappling with the known and the unknowable, the imaginable and the unimaginable, the representable and the unrepresentable.

“In principle the sublime cannot be described or depicted. If the sublime could actually be experienced by simply gazing into a painting, the relationship of the sublime to the painting would be a figurative one at best: the painting is some kind of feeble substitute for this profound experience. Of course, the other possibility is that all paintings and writings and pronouncements about the sublime – including its ungraspable nature – are self-contradictory. There may be no sublime – at least, we can’t say or know there is without contradicting the very idea of the sublime. All we can do is make things that have come to represent the sublime or that remind us of what the sublime is supposed to be. We are left with what many scholars refer to as a “visual rhetoric” of the sublime – a mediated visual language that stands between us and “all that.”

The Beautiful Unknowable