Communion Of Dreams


Just take all the money …

… that Ridley Scott was going to spend on making a bad sequel to Blade Runner and give it to the director of this brilliant and funny little short, and see what he comes up with. I mean, no matter what, even if he just wastes it all on bad booze and worse food, and doesn’t make another movie for the rest of his life, we’d *still* come out ahead.

Seriously. Have a good laugh:

 

Jim Downey

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Nooooooooooooooo!

This news: Harrison Ford To Star In ‘Blade Runner 2’

strikes me as a supremely bad idea, exactly for this reason:

Moreover, Alien was just the first of many films. Blade Runner—based on Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep—is a stand-alone film, and one shrouded in mystery. It’s one of those films that could be talked about forever without ever reaching a solid conclusion about its meaning or its murky ending. That’s part of what makes it a classic.

Sheesh, Ridley, just leave well enough alone for a change.

 

Jim Downey



That’s … disturbing.

Sometimes the future just plain creeps me out. Like when watching this:

Certainly isn’t a Nexus 6, that’s for damned sure.

 

Jim Downey

Via MeFi.



“Memories, you’re talking about memories.”

Wow:

I am staggered by this thing: a 35-minute “paraphrasing” of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 12,597 animated watercolor paintings. It’s beautiful and insane—who would do this? A really big Blade Runner fan, I guess.

That fan is Swedish artist Anders Ramsell, who hand-painted each of the thousands of 1.5 by 3 cm paintings that make up the film, then synced them up to audio from the movie. The results are moody, and dreamily gorgeous.

Judge for yourself:

 

For me, this presentation/interpretation works, because it fits so perfectly with the theme and style of the movie. Very impressive.

 

Jim Downey

 



“You remember the spider that lived in a bush outside your window? Orange body, green legs.”

Of late, as I have been slowly getting over the rather nasty bout of parainfluenza I mentioned previously, shedding the more annoying and disgusting symptoms, I’ve also come to realize that just now I am pulling out of the depressive trough of one of my long-term bipolar cycles.  It wasn’t a particularly bad trough, and was somewhat mitigated by the success of the Kickstarter back in the fall. Nonetheless, it was there, as I can see in hindsight.

I am frequently struck just how much of our life doesn’t make sense until seen from a distance. Just recently I was surprised at the revelation of *why* the failure of Her Final Year to be more successful bothered me as much as it did: it was because I had seen the book as being a way to create something positive (for the world) out of the experience of being a long-term care provider. To have the book only reach a limited audience was, in my mind, saying that our roles as care-givers didn’t matter.

Which isn’t true, of course, but that was the emotional reality which I had been dealing with. The “narrative truth”, if you will. A term I borrow from a very interesting meditation by Oliver Sacks at the New York Review of Books website titled Speak, Memory. From the article:

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.

Let me repeat one bit of that: “Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves.”

I think this is at the very heart of why fiction has such power, and appeal. I also think that it explains the well-documented phenomenon of people believing things which are clearly and demonstratively false, if their facts come from a trusted source.

Little surprise that writers of fiction are aware of this very human trait, and have explored it in all manner of ways. I have a note here on my desk, a scrawl written on a scrap of paper some months ago as I was thinking through character motivations in St. Cybi’s Well, which says simply: “We take our truths from the people we trust.”

And here’s another example, from one of my favorite movies, exploring a favorite theme of Philip K. Dick’s:

 

That theme? The nature of reality.  And this is how the Sacks essay closes:

Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.

In other words, that reality is a shared construct. A Communion of Dreams, if you will.

Time for me to get back to work.

 

Jim Downey



Daisy, Daisy …

One of the things I’ve been a little bit surprised by has been just how many people have volunteered to me (or in reviews) just how much they like the ‘Experts’ in Communion of Dreams, and in particular how much of a favorite character Seth becomes to them in the course of the novel.

I don’t mean I’m surprised by how much people like the Experts, and particularly Seth. Hell, I intended the Experts to be likeable. I mean that this is something which people find remarkable enough to, well, remark on it.

That’s because humans tend to anthropomorphize just about everything. Our pets. Our cars. Our tools. Even nature. It’s one of the basic ways that we make sense of the world, as can be seen in religious and spiritual beliefs.  Long before Siri there was HAL, and inasmuch as Communion of Dreams is an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey I knew that Seth would resonate as a ‘real person’.*

So this morning I was amused to hear a story on NPR about how giving computers/robots more human characteristics tends to cause humans to develop a greater sense of empathy and socialization with them. Amused, but not surprised. From the article:

Many people have studied machine-human relations, and at this point it’s clear that without realizing it, we often treat the machines around us like social beings.

Consider the work of Stanford professor Clifford Nass. In 1996, he arranged a series of experiments testing whether people observe the rule of reciprocity with machines.

* * *

What the study demonstrated was that people do in fact obey the rule of reciprocity when it comes to computers. When the first computer was helpful to people, they helped it way more on the boring task than the other computer in the room. They reciprocated.

* * *

“The relationship is profoundly social,” he says. “The human brain is built so that when given the slightest hint that something is even vaguely social, or vaguely human — in this case, it was just answering questions; it didn’t have a face on the screen, it didn’t have a voice — but given the slightest hint of humanness, people will respond with an enormous array of social responses including, in this case, reciprocating and retaliating.”

 

On the NPR website version of the story there’s also this delightful video showing what happens when a robot with cat/human characteristics begs a research subject to not switch it off:

 

Interesting. But again, unsurprising. Consider the whole sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey when HAL is shut down — a powerful and poignant part of the movie. And referenced at the end of the video above.

Lastly, I laughed out loud once the story was over on NPR, and the transitional bit of music started up. Why? Because it was an instrumental work by the artist Vangelis, composed as the Love Theme from the movie Blade Runner.

Hilarious.

 

Jim Downey

*And for those who have read the book, consider what the role of Chu Ling’s devas are relative to Seth … 😉  We’ll see more of this reference in St. Cybi’s Well.



Italy, 2012: An unexpected introduction.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”

That may seem to be an odd choice to kick off a series of travelogs about my recent trip to Italy. The focus of the trip, after all, was on Classical Antiquity – specifically, “The Italy of Caesar and Vergil.” So what does a fictional character from 2019 have to do with it?

Well, me, not to put too fine a point on it.

Context is everything. While I had always kinda-sorta wanted to see Italy, it wasn’t a high priority for me. Other trips always took precedent. I figured I’d get around to seeing Italy sometime, or if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be a big deal. After all, while I knew the general history of that part of Europe, and even more than the average amount about Rome (and the Romans), neither was of particular interest. It didn’t play a part in my fiction. It wasn’t pertinent to my life. So I thought.

I was wrong. Hopefully, these travelogs will convey how.

* * * * * * *

An old and dear friend is an expert on Classical Antiquity. His name’s Steve Tuck. Associate Professor of Classics. Published author. DVD star. He’s one of those guys that gets called up when NPR needs a sound bite/expert on something in his field.

And for years he’s told me about the various classes and tour groups he’s taken to Italy. They always sounded like fun, if somewhat outside my own scope.

Well, just a couple of weeks before he was supposed to take another group over this summer, he dropped me a note. There was an unexpected opening in his tour – was I interested in filling in?

Sure. What the hell. It’d be a chance for me to get a out of my routine. Push the boundaries of my comfort zone a bit. Spend time with a good friend who I don’t see often enough. And maybe even learn something.

The tour was actually designed as a workshop for High School Latin teachers, and would help them be prepared for changes to the A.P. criteria going into effect. Part of most days the group would be in class, going over the scholarly material. And the site visits would all be tied to said material. While the rest of the group was in class, I’d have time to explore on my own, do some writing (note-taking), play tourist. When we went to sites, I’d get the same expert guide instruction as everyone else.

So, it was 24 Latin teachers, me and two other non-teachers (one the spouse of a teacher, one the mother of one), my friend and his Co-Director for the trip, a woman who is herself a Latin teacher but who also has extensive knowledge of the area/material and conducted the classroom sessions. 29 of us. Good number. Prime number.

* * * * * * *

Getting to Rome was pretty much routine international travel. Which is to say mildly annoying and took too long. I can’t wait until the TSA allows the use of transporter technology. (You did know that we actually have transporter technology, right? Yeah. They’re just trying to figure out how they can still get to hassle us about the size of our water bottles before they let us use it.)

I arrived in Rome early on July 11th. Going through Passport Control and Customs amounted to little more than blithely showing my passport to the bored agent who glanced at it an waived me on. Seriously, I stepped past the checkpoint and looked around for the Customs station. There was none. Or rather, there was off to the side, but the guys there were too busy talking and literally didn’t even look up at me when I paused to consider if I needed to take my luggage to them. Hell, everyone else was just walking past me and into the main concourse, so I figured I should as well.

It was about 9:00 AM. It was hot & humid in the airport. The first two ATMs I passed weren’t working. People seemed to be less harried than you usually find. Certainly, the uniformed staff were. But whenever I stopped and asked a question, they were happy to help, and pointed me on my way.

This, I found, pretty much summed up Italy.

Except Naples. I’ll get to that later.

* * * * * * *

The express train from the airport to the main station in Rome proper took about a half hour. It cost $14 (actually, 11 Euros, but I’m just going to use $ equivalents since I have a $ key on my keyboard and it will avoid confusion). The seats were comfortable, half the train was empty, and again there was no Air Conditioning.

Air Conditioning isn’t a big thing in Italy. This was something of a theme for the whole trip.

The train station was big. Hectic. Every variety of human, and most of our various languages being spoken. But the signage out to the bus stands was pretty clear, so I made my way through the crowds and went outside.

No buses. Taxis. But no buses.

There were supposed to be buses. I went back inside, looked at the signage. Yup. There were supposed to be buses. There was construction beyond the taxis, but no buses.

The only train station employees were all in windows with long lines of people waiting to talk to them. I decided that I could solve this problem on my own.

I went out the side of the station. Still no buses. But there across the street I saw an ATM (called a bancomat in Italy) in the side of a building. I walked over to it. It wasn’t working. There was another one further down, which was.

I decided that I’d just keep going, do a circle around the train station. The construction in the front of the building was still there. But on the other side of it, well-hidden from the station entrance, I found buses. Yay!

* * * * * * *

My friend Steve responded to my text message letting him know I was in town. Said he’d meet me at the bus stop. He did.

It was a fairly short walk over to our hotel, right in the heart of downtown. Steve showed me our room – in the “annex.” Up about 47 flights of steps. All lovely marble, mind. But still.

But still, it was charming. About halfway up we came out on a little outdoor landing where more permanent residents had their little rooftop gardens.

hotel landing

Rooftop gardens are very big in Rome.

* * * * * * *

After dropping off my bag, getting a little cleaned up from having been traveling the better part of a day, we went out. We met Steve’s co-director, Amy Leonard, and had a little lunch before stomping off across the city. Steve and Amy still had to do some checking on things before starting the tour stuff the next day.

You might think that most of this stuff could be done in advance. That information about museum opening times and whatnot would all be available online. And it is available online. You just can’t trust it.

This was one of the key things I learned about Italy: the randomness of how things work. You can take nothing for granted. Places which are supposed to be open certain hours seldom actually are. Shows/galleries which are supposed to be in place frequently aren’t. Things which are supposed to be available “just ran out.” Things that are supposed to work, don’t. You get more-or-less used to this pretty quickly, and learn to be relaxed about it, staying flexible about anything and everything.

So Steve and Amy had to do a lot of checking stuff to see what was actually there, what would actually work. And I tagged along for the walk.

* * * * * * *

Yeah, walk. The things we needed to see were all within walking distance. Well, walking distance if you’re used to walking a lot. I thought I was. I walk about 1.5 miles every morning. Briskly. Up and down hills. So when Steve and Amy said that things were within walking distance, I just grinned and said “sure.”

I’m an idiot.

Well, no, not for saying that I’d be able/willing to walk that much. For making a last-minute decision to wear some decent but lightweight Nike walking shoes on the trip, rather than the heftier hiking boots I usually walk in.

See, downtown Rome is paved with cobblestones. Oh, not all of it – there are some main roads which are concrete and whatnot. But the vast majority of places where you walk is cobblestones. My feet were aching and bruised before we were halfway done.

* * * * * * *

Well, what did I see?

This:

Roman Forum

And a lot more like it.

* * * * * * *

When they were mostly done checking to make sure that their plans would work, we paused. All along the way Steve (mostly – occasionally Amy would chime in) would point out this or that notable structure. He didn’t go into detail with me, as all of this stuff was on the agenda for a complete explanation with the entire group, and there was no need to thrash over it all now.

But we paused on the east edge of the archeological site of the Forum. There was a raised platform about ten meters square.

“That’s where the original Colossus was” said Steve. I think he added something about it having been replaced by Nero with a statue of himself, which was subsequently torn down.

In the background was the Colosseum.

I looked around. Between all the walking, the jet-lag, and the quick intro into Rome, I was stunned. I looked back at Steve. At Amy. “I don’t know if you guys can still appreciate this, since you’re used to it, but this . . . this is . . . incredible. Just the scale of it. I mean, I have seen all of these things in images and documentaries all my life. But in person . . . they’re just overwhelming. You don’t really get a sense of how big, how grand, these things are.”

* * * * * * *

On the way back from the reconnoiter we stopped at Mad Jack’s Irish Pub for a beer.

I was still stunned. Still reeling from the size of the structures. From the scale of everything. From the deep history of the place.

I was used to seeing castles in northern Europe. Stuff six or seven hundred years old.

Where I had breakfast for the next three days was in the basement of the hotel. Or, more accurately, in part of the entry way to the Pompei Theatre, which was over 2,000 years old.

Sorta puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Jim Downey