Haarlem to Harlem biking Holland & kissing Nietzsche & Schrödinger to concentrate a stream of negentropy on ourselves by eating food all to feed our collective conscious
Dear Internet, Noordwijkerhout, Netherlands—Sept 29-30, 2013
While we were in Amsterdam, we noticed a nearby town on the map called Haarlem & figured we should go for the name alone, being that we live in the Harlem with one A. In fact, prior to 1665 New York was called New Amsterdam. We've come a long way.
Getting from where we were staying in the boonies of Noordwijkerhout to Amsterdam was no easy matter, requiring multiple busses & trains & waiting in between. But the bikepath network in The Netherlands is amazing, so figured it made more sense to rent bicycles the rest of the time. In fact, the bikepath routes are more comprehensive than the automobile routes.
From Noordwijkerhout to Haarlem was about 25 clicks, following a canal & the train tracks, through the tulip-growing region (though apparently it isn't the season).
Haarlem itself was nothing to write home about. And a far cry from our Harlem. Though there was this old cathedral that was under reconstruction.
From Haarlem we headed toward the coast through some sort of forested park. Hit the coast at Bloemendaal aan Zee & then headed south thru Zaandvort, where we stopped for some sort of curried lobster roll (not bad, considering most of the food here is awful). Between Zaandvort & Noordwijk is a big park that is inaccessible by car, only biketrails. It goes through the scrubby dunes, with access points here & there for the beach.
At one point we parked our bike & slogged over a dune to the beach & there was no one on the beach for as far as we could see. Saw a seal bobbing off shore to far out for our camera to capture.
Also saw a fox, at first from a distance. When we stopped to take its photo, it walked right up to us. Until another biker came along & the fox ran away. The guy said he biked there all the time & this was the first time he'd seen a fox. Guess today was our lucky day.
One night we went to dinner with a dutch friend of ours that lived nearby. Another night the organizers of j's conference took us all (800 people!) out on a canal-boat cruise, so we saw Amsterdam from a different perspective as our last post—from water level at dusk instead of flâneuring the streets on foot.
After the cruise we had a big banquet dinner. Sat at a table with Chedro (5cense regulars) & two Nigerians—one a Yoruba from the south & another a muslim from the north—which made for some interesting dinnertime conversation.
Oh, and one morning we saw j's keynote speech, to a packed atrium of 1000 people or so. After her, some guy named Tristam Stuart gave a talk. He's the author of Waste (not to be confused with Waste by Eugene Marten, which we talked about here). Stuart's talk was specifically on how we could be feeding our food waste to pigs. Makes sense ... & he has good ideas, but he seems to know it.
As an outsider (& ex-information architect, professionally speaking), it's always interesting to see people gather & exchange information. It happens in all disciplines & people get so wrapped up in haggling over the detailed nuances of their fields (in this case agriculture & food systems) that they overlook the over-arching art of displaying & conveying information.
Besides the lectures (& requisite PowerPoint slides), there's the culture of posters, wherein they try to distill a research paper or study onto one poster-sized page that they stand in front of to present. Usually people try to cram as much information as they can onto the poster & sacrifice aesthetic ... 9 out of 10 times the posters look hideous & unsightly. Most scientists could take a cue from Edward Tufte. Of course we are not speaking of our better half j—she is a good presenter & dynamic speaker.
Our last day, j took a few hours off & we rented bikes & rode south, along the coast through the dunes, stopping for lunch in the beachtown of Katwijk aan Zee.
A few months ago we came close to publishing a book of Lance Olsen that he had sent us, but then FC2 decided to do it (so keep your eyes out for it). That book (Theories of Forgetting) was essentially three narratives revolving around Robert Smithson's infamous Spiral Jetty—the book itself ingenuously woven together in a spiral formation.
Nietzsche's Kisses (that FC2 also published, in 2006) is about Nietzsche—not so much about his ideas, but a personal account about the man & his mad quotidian affairs. It was a good meditative book to float in & out of on a plane.
Then we started in on Schrödinger's What is Life? We might've read it before, at least parts of it, but figured it was worth an encore. In a nutshell it's Schrödinger looking at biological life & evolution & consciousness through a quantum physics lens.
Got flagged again leaving Amsterdam. Though not as evasive as last time thru Dublin—frisked, questioned, as they sniffed through our dirty laundry. We asked them (G4S—private security) what the deal was & they said that all they could tell was that we were flagged in their system by our own homeland security. «Had we been to Israel?» They asked. «Cuba?»
When we got to the U.S. we asked our own immigration officers & they said indeed we'd been flagged, but were now cleared. Of course they couldn't tell us more than that. Air Train to detour bus to train to subway home to 125th Street. Harlem with one A. Huis zoet huis.
Finished reading Schrödinger's What is Life? on the ground, or rather 18 floors up, spinning on a bike. This version (with a hideously designed cover of a chicken & egg) is actually more than just the essay What is Life? but also has an essay Mind and Matter & some other autobiographical sketches.
What is Life? is based on a series of lectures Schrödinger gave in Dublin in 1944. Interesting in that he talks about us as large, organized systems of molecules. Sheer quantity is one thing that explains us, as life forms—«Only in the co-operation of an enormously large number of atoms do statistical laws begin to operate and control the behaviour of these assemblées with an accuracy increasing as the number of atoms involved increases.»
He doesn't go so far as using the term self-organizing. Although the likes of Descartes & then Kant talk about self-organization, the concept wasn't fully developed until shortly after What is Life?, in 1947, most notably by Ross Ashby & by this time it was discussed more in conjunction with cybernetics, not thermodynamics. Had Schrödinger written this book a decade later perhaps his ideas would've been more fully developed. Or perhaps his ideas influenced these later cyberneticians, Norbert Weiner et al.
In light of our own The Becoming, interesting in that Schrödinger keeps talking about a '4-dimensional code-script'. We recently mentioned a lot of significances of the number 4, but that our DNA is base-4 we forgot about. Would be interesting to write a whole book using only G, A, T, and C; or some other alphabet with only 4 letters.
Also interesting that Schrödinger (likely under the influence of Heisenberg & his uncertainty principle) speaks not necessarily of the information or properties that we know & are aware of, but of the absence of such things. «Difference of property, to my view, is really the fundamental concept rather than property itself, notwithstanding the apparent linguistic and logical contradiction of this statement.»
The other important factor, in regards to this 4-fold code-script is permanence—that our code remains unchanged for generations, millenniums, eons. Of course through our bookish eyes (that have forsaken making babies for books), we think of the permanence of publishing & the staying power of libris—how to propagate & immortalize ourself not necessarily in this 4-letter coded script, but in a 26-letter alphabet.
Looking at mutations through Schrödinger's quantum point of view is also interesting—we normally think of evolution as a gradual process happening in tiny changes, but nevertheless it is discontinuous. Any change in our genetic code is discrete, just like any change in energy of a molecule. «Their very nature leaves them only a very numerous but discrete series of 'states' to choose from. We usually call them levels or energy levels, because the energy is a very relevant part of the characteristic. But it must be understood that the complete description includes much more than just energy. It is virtually correct to think of a state as meaning a definite configuration of all the corpuscles.»
Schrödinger is of course speaking about our DNA (at an atomic level) but we can't help but to think more generally of language. (See also, our post on Atomism & Bergson, whose Matter and Memory undoubtedly had an influence on Schrödinger (if his Mind and Matter essay (the second part of the book) is not a nod to Bergson, than it's plagiarism).
And to tie discontinuity to the importance of permanence: «Transitions with no threshold interposed between the initial and the final state are entirely uninteresting, and that not only in our biological application [sic]. They have actually nothing to contribute to the chemical stability of the molecule. Why? They have no lasting effect, they remain unnoticed. For, when they occur, they are almost immediately followed by a relapse into the initial state, since nothing prevents their return.» Which is to say, we must make quantum leaps, or risky & radical jumps of faith, not just biologically, but artistically ... if you are concerned with staying power rather than just painting a pretty picture. Perhaps there was a gene mutation that led Pollock to lay his canvas on the ground & use gravity.
But it's a fine line—you can't take too big of a blind leap, across an unbridgeable gap. This permanence & stability arises from the crystalline nature of our life-force. «Individuals which, by mutation, acquire a gene configuration of insufficient stability, will have little chance of seeing their 'ultra-radical', rapidly mutating descendancy survive long. The species will be freed of them and will thus collect stable genes by natural selection.» Which in modern day terms, could perhaps be thought of as crowd-sourcing.
Self-organized, crystalline crowd-sourcing ... perhaps we'll have more to say about that in a future post, in regards to the sequel (2nd of 4 books) to The Becoming, which we refer to as Raft Manifest—an unwritten chapter of which will feature a self-organizing flotilla of tethered rafts to navigate the flooded world (inspired from a dream we had a long time ago)—a flotilla of tethered rafts that behaves like a crystalline lattice of particles connected by springs, wherein the movement of one raft inevitably effects, by pushing & pulling, the movements of the others, in collective behavior. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
It really starts to get interesting when Schrödinger brings entropy into the picture, for life seems to defy all the logic of entropy. Or at least that our order comes at the expense of disorder to the rest of the world. Which brings us full circle to the purpose of our trip, j's meeting on food security. «What then is that precious something contained in our food which keeps us from death? That is easily answered. Every process, event, happening—call it what you will; in a word, everything that is going on in Nature means an increase of the entropy of the part of the world where it is going on. Thus a living organism continually increases its entropy—or, as you may say, produces positive entropy—and thus tends to approach the dangerous state of maximum entropy, which is death. It can only keep aloof from it, i.e. alive, by continually drawing from its environment negative entropy—which is something very positive as we shall immediately see. What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy. Or, to put it less paradoxically, the essential thing in metabolism is that the organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive.»
To more traditional physicists, 'negative entropy' is a ludicrous concept. But if you think of entropy as a measure of disorder, you can think of negative entropy as a measure of order.
And here's a sentence we remember underlining & writing in our journal, back when we used to do this by hand, that then & now we think best gets to the gist of what is life: «An organism's astonishing gift of concentrating a 'stream of order' on itself and thus escaping the decay into atomic chaos—of 'drinking orderliness' from a suitable environment—seems to be connected with the presence of the 'aperiodic solids', the chromosome molecules, which doubtless represent the highest degree of well-ordered association we know of—much higher than the ordinary periodic crystal—in virtue of the individual role every atom and every radical is playing here.» Perhaps worthy of being tattooed on our skin.
For that is admittedly the one aspect of evolution by natural selection that is difficult to explain, and that is the moment when an otherwise random collection of crystalline protein molecules took it upon itself to replicate, to propagate its order. This will to 'survive' goes against the grain of entropy & physics in general (in the absence of life forces). After this quantum leap, the rest of evolution falls naturally into place.
The one stand Schrödinger takes that we'd disagree with is his saying that «consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular.» Though it could just be a matter of semantics. If we can talk about a collective unconscious, why not a collective conscious, that in a sense gets passed along by our genetic code? This could be in fact what you, The Internet, are fast becoming, is an embodiment of humanity's collective consciousness, of which we are doing our meager part here in carving out at least this miniscule domain.
Which leads into the second half of the book, Mind and Matter, which deals more with the intricacies of explaining consciousness. But we've said enough for now...
|>> NEXT: Filing chapter 331: 10 yearz after, hash-slinging & (g)host-reading Bleeding Edge|