Filed under: Art, Augmented Reality, Carl Sagan, Connections, movies, NYT, Religion, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Writing stuff | Tags: art, blogging, Carl Sagan, con artist, Galaxy Quest, jim downey, literature, Maria Konnikova, movies, New York Times, religion, science, Science Fiction, space, writing
You should read this: Born to Be Conned. Seriously, it’s a very good examination of the human tendency to construct narratives to explain the world around us, and how that trait can easily be manipulated and used against us. Here’s a good passage, explaining why we’re susceptible to grifters of every sort:
Stories are one of the most powerful forces of persuasion available to us, especially stories that fit in with our view of what the world should be like. Facts can be contested. Stories are far trickier. I can dismiss someone’s logic, but dismissing how I feel is harder.
And the stories the grifter tells aren’t real-world narratives — reality-as-is is dispiriting and boring. They are tales that seem true, but are actually a manipulation of reality. The best confidence artist makes us feel not as if we’re being taken for a ride but as if we are genuinely wonderful human beings who are acting the way wonderful human beings act and getting what we deserve. We like to feel that we are exceptional, and exceptional individuals are not chumps.
The piece also reminds me a lot of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, because of this insight:
Before humans learned how to make tools, how to farm or how to write, they were telling stories with a deeper purpose. The man who caught the beast wasn’t just strong. The spirit of the hunt was smiling. The rivers were plentiful because the river king was benevolent. In society after society, religious belief, in one form or another, has arisen spontaneously. Anything that cannot immediately be explained must be explained all the same, and the explanation often lies in something bigger than oneself.
I don’t mean to pick on religion here, just to point out that this is a very human trait. In fact, I have often wondered whether it is a defining human characteristic, something which could easily set us apart from other intelligent species. It’s fairly easy to imagine how intelligent, sophisticated, technologically-advanced civilizations could be constructed by species which don’t have this human gift for storytelling. You can, after all, have curiosity and scientific inquiry, art and poetry, even narrative and historiography, without having something like literary fiction.* I think that it might be interesting to write a science fiction story/series based on the premise that humans become the storytellers of the galaxy, because of our unique ability to create explanation narratives unrelated to reality.
How very meta.
Filed under: Art, Astronomy, Augmented Reality, Connections, Light pollution, Man Conquers Space, Religion, Science, Science Fiction, Space, Wales | Tags: art, astronomy, augmented reality, blogging, excerpt, jim downey, light pollution, Pennant Melangell, science, Science Fiction, space, St. Cybi's Well, Tanat, Wales, writing
It’s been a couple of months. Let’s have a bit from the current chapter I’m working on.
It was full dark before he passed through Llangynog again, and headed up the Tanat valley. It was just past the first quarter Moon, and the sky was clear and brilliant. One of the things he always loved about visiting Wales was that the light pollution was minimal and he could see the stars almost as well as when he was on a shuttle run. About halfway up the valley to Pennant Melangell he stopped the Rover, shut it off and got out.
He stood there, leaning back against the cold metal and glass, and looked up, letting his eyes adjust. Slowly, more stars emerged, and he was able to trace the passage of several satellites in low orbit. There were plenty that he couldn’t see from the ground, ‘darks’ which were in the service of different intelligence agencies and military forces, but he knew they were there, watching, listening, perhaps even waiting to hunt on command.
And it struck him just how much this echoed something Megan had told him less than three weeks previously: “Look at it with new eyes,” she had said. “Try and see it as the believers see it.”
Was this the same thing?
He could pull out his hand-held, call up the appropriate app, and hold the camera pointed at the sky, and it would show him the satellites his eyes couldn’t see. But to do so would necessarily block his direct vision, his direct experience of the real sky above.
He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jacket to protect them from the cold, and relaxed a little as he leaned against the vehicle. For now, he’d just take in the whole of the now-visible Milky Way as it arced high above.
This image will give you an idea of how dark the skies can be in Mid-Wales:
Filed under: Architecture, Art | Tags: architecture, art, Historic City of Jefferson, Hurst John, jim downey, Martha John, Mid-Century Modern, The State Historical Society of Missouri
This past weekend the organization Historic City of Jefferson hosted their 10th Annual Homes Tour, featuring the historic architectural designs of Hurst John. Prior to the tour of homes, a presentation about the work and aesthetics of Hurst John was made by his daughter, Martha K. John. Martha is herself a registered architect, a member (and former state board director) of the American Institute of Architects, and serves on the Missouri State Board For Architects, Professional Engineers, Professional Land Surveyors and Professional Landscape Architects. She is also my wife of nearly three decades.
Hurst John is widely considered to have been a master of what is now known as Mid-Century Modern design. His homes are highly sought and command a premium in the market. His designs have readily-recognized characteristics. He was known for attention to detail and close supervision of construction. And his papers & architectural plans are collected at The State Historical Society of Missouri.
It was a fun event. Martha’s presentation about her father and his work was informal, relaxed, informative. The displays of Hurst John’s plans and sketches were a glimpse back in time, a chance to see how early consideration of natural lighting and use of recovered materials presaged modern passive solar and recycling efforts. And the tour of the homes was just a delight — it was the first time either Martha or I had ever seen the interior of any of these residences, and it was enjoyable to see how her father’s vision still remained after half a century of use and occasional renovations. I’m going to include a bunch of images from the event ‘below the fold’ under my name. Check it out if you would like to see some of what wasn’t covered in the links above.
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, General Musings | Tags: art, blogging, book conservation, bookbinding, E. Forbes Smiley, honesty, http://narrative.ly, jim downey, maps, Michael Blanding, The Map Thief, trust
Excellent excerpt. You should read the whole thing, but I want to highlight this passage:
Smiley may have missed the X-Acto knife blade that fell from his pocket, but a librarian named Naomi Saito had not. The Beinecke’s librarians make regular sweeps of the room to ensure that materials are handled properly — and to subtly alert patrons they are being watched. As Saito had entered to make her check, she immediately spied the blade on the floor. Few objects could be more disturbing to someone who works in a building full of rare books than a tool that can separate the pages of a book from its binding. Saito picked up the blade in a tissue and walked back out of the room.
This is one of those things which sometimes surprises even me: that I am trusted to work on books which contain maps and other prints which are often quite valuable (or just those items themselves). Oh, I’ve earned that trust, and I and the clients I work with always take steps to document and protect the items I am entrusted with (the details of which I won’t go into, for obvious reasons) for the brief period of time I have them. But still, with my skill set it would be relatively easy for me to lift out the occasional item and leave no trace of it. Such trust — along with the trust that I won’t just screw up in my work and destroy something — is humbling. And a little scary, truth be told.
Filed under: Apollo program, Art, Astronomy, BoingBoing, Carl Sagan, Jupiter, Mars, NASA, Saturn, Science, Space, YouTube | Tags: Alex Gorosh, Apollo, art, astronomy, blogging, BoingBoing, Carl Sagan, Earth, jim downey, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Moon, NASA, Neptune, Saturn, science, solar system, space, Sun, Uranus, Venus, video, www youtube, Wylie Overstreet, Xeni Jardin
That does a better job of getting the real sense of scale than just about anything else I’ve seen. Wonderful.
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, Music, Science, tech, YouTube | Tags: alembic, art, blogging, book conservation, bookbinding, Jethro Tull, jim downey, Legacy Bookbindery, music, science, technology, video, www youtube
Can you recognize what is depicted in these illustrations?
They’re different types of set-ups for using alembics. All taken from a 1563 German language botanical text I started work on this afternoon. The client has asked me to document the conservation work as I go along, so at some point I’ll probably put up a post about the whole process. But for now I just thought I’d share those.
Filed under: Architecture, Art, Augmented Reality, Connections, General Musings, movies, SCA, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: art, blogging, bookbinding, Chrissie Iles, Communion of Dreams, Double Negative, Doug Pray, Grinnell College, jim downey, John Bowsher, LACMA, Legacy Bookbindery, Levitated Mass, Louis Zirkle, Michael Heizer, Moon, movies, Paint the Moon, SCA, Science Fiction, space, St. Cybi's Well, Wikipedia, writing
I finally got around to seeing this the other day, and I have been thinking about it ever since:
* * *
I first heard of Michael Heizer in a sculpture class in college, sometime in the late 1970s. Well, that I remember. It’s entirely possible that I had seen some coverage of his work in the press before then. But my professor got me thinking about how sculpture defined space both by physical presence and absence, and I know that it was then that I became aware of Heizer’s work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but his basic concepts would manifest in my life in many ways, showing up in my interests in martial arts, book design, even writing.
* * *
His ideas are incredibly simple, when you pare it all down to just its physical nature, it’s really quite simple, and you see it again and again in his work. To achieve that degree of simplicity is like, almost the hardest thing in the world to do.
* * *
Not being there when your opponent strikes.
Drawing the eye to the empty space.
Allowing the reader to fill in the suggested, but missing, description.
Each of these engages and enlightens in ways that no amount of force, or color, or detail ever could.
* * *
Micheal Heizer makes you aware of space and your relationship to space and how you move through space,the role of the sky, the role of the land, beyond what you’re looking at. You have to rethink the nature of who you are physically in relation to what you are walking around inside and observing from a distance and up close.
* * *
We’re not always aware of what we do while we’re doing it, or why. Sometimes, the trajectory of a life is determined by little things, subtle things. Even things which are mssing.
* * *
I finally got around to seeing this the other day, and I have been thinking about it ever since:
Shortly after I had conceived of the idea behind Paint the Moon, I knew that it wasn’t actually feasible. But the idea delighted me. And after some thought, I realized why: it was taking the principles of Michael Heizer’s art — of paring down art to the very simplest, physical elements of experience — and going one step further. Remove the physical object altogether, and replace it with pure experience, pure concept. Hence my description of the project as a “collective lyric fantasy”.
You can’t see the artifact of that project at a museum. There is no massive boulder to walk under, or a negative space in the desert to encounter.
But there is the Moon overhead, and the memory of a moment in time.