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Feb
20th
Wed
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The unread and the unreadable

“The librarian in Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities only scans titles and tables of contents: his library symbolises the impossibility of reading everything today. The proliferation of lists of novels that you must, allegedly, have perused in your lifetime, reflects this problem while compounding it. On a recent visit to a high street bookshop, I ogled a well-stacked display table devoted to “great” novels “you always meant to read”. We measure out our lives with unread books, as well as coffee spoons. (…)

The problem, as Kierkegaard observed, is that “more and more becomes possible” when “nothing becomes actual”. Literature was a blank canvas that increasingly dreamed of remaining blank. “The most beautiful and perfect book in the world,” according to Ulises Carrión, “is a book with only blank pages.” Such books had featured in eastern legends for centuries (echoed by the blank map in “The Hunting of the Snark" or the blank scroll in Kung Fu Panda), but they only really appeared on bookshelves in the 20th century. They come in the wake of Rimbaud's decision to stop writing, the silence of Lord Chandos; they are contemporaneous with the Dada suicides, Wittgenstein's coda to the Tractatus, the white paintings of Malevich and Rauschenberg, as well as John Cage's 4′33″. (…)

This very same faith prompts Borges to claim that “for a book to exist, it is sufficient that it be possible” and George Steiner to sense that “A book unwritten is more than a void.” (…) [T]he literary is what can never be taken as read.” “
Jan
5th
Thu
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“People sometimes act as though owning books you haven’t read constitutes a charade or pretense, but for me, there’s a lovely mystery and pregnancy about a book that hasn’t given itself over to you yet—sometimes I’m the most inspired by imagining what the contents of an unread book might be.” “
Jonathan Lethem, American novelist, essayist and short story writer, cited in Writers and Their Books: Inside Famous Authors’ Personal Libraries, The Atlantic, Dec 21, 2011  (Illustration)
Dec
30th
Fri
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There was a time in the ancient world - a very long time - in which the central cultural problem must have seemed an inexhaustible outpouring of books. Where to put them all? How to organize them on the groaning shelves? How to hold the profusion of knowledge in one’s head? The loss of this plenitude would have been virtually inconceivable to anyone living in its midst.

Then, not all at once but with the cumulative force of a mass extinction, the whole enterprise came to an end. What looked stable turned out to be fragile, and what had seemed for all time was only for the time being.
Stephen Greenblatt, literary critic, theorist and scholar, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.
Aug
3rd
Wed
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My cousin Helen, who is in her 90s now, was in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. She and a bunch of the girls in the ghetto had to do sewing each day. And if you were found with a book, it was an automatic death penalty. She had gotten hold of a copy of Gone With the Wind, and she would take three or four hours out of her sleeping time each night to read. And then, during the hour or so when they were sewing the next day, she would tell them all the story. These girls were risking certain death for a story. And when she told me that story herself, it actually made what I do feel more important. Because giving people stories is not a luxury. It’s actually one of the things that you live and die for.
Neil Gaiman, English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films (tnx crmerry)
Jun
23rd
Thu
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Kevin Kelly: ‘We are moving from the culture of the book to the culture of booking’
"Imagine a future where instead of lending someone a book, you lend them your bookmarks. Where your notes, annotations and references are synchronized across platforms and applications. Where your bookmarks belong to you, and a record of every book you read is saved and stored securely, no matter how or where you read it."

— James Bridle, who is developing Open Bookmarks

Viewing a book as a process rather than artifact. (…)

We are moving from the culture of the book to the culture of booking. Our focus is no longer on the book, the noun, but on booking, the verb — on that continuous process of thinking, writing, editing, writing, sharing, editing, screening, writing, screening, sharing, thinking, writing — and so on that incidentally throws off books. Books, even ebooks, are by-products of the booking process. (…)

Booking produces relationships. Booking is a process that connects readers, authors, characters, ideas, and stories into complex webs. There will be a million ways to weave these relationships.”

Kevin Kelly, writer, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, Post-Artifact Booking, The Technium, 19 June 2011
Apr
20th
Wed
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The sad, beautiful fact that (…) statistically speaking, you will die having missed almost everything.
Linda Holmes, entertainment and pop-culture journalist, The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything, NPR, Apr 18, 2011.
Feb
17th
Thu
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Adam Gopnik on The Information and How the Internet gets inside us


“A series of books explaining why books no longer matter is a paradox that Chesterton would have found implausible, yet there they are, and they come in the typical flavors: the eulogistic, the alarmed, the sober, and the gleeful. When the electric toaster was invented, there were, no doubt, books that said that the toaster would open up horizons for breakfast undreamed of in the days of burning bread over an open flame; books that told you that the toaster would bring an end to the days of creative breakfast, since our children, growing up with uniformly sliced bread, made to fit a single opening, would never know what a loaf of their own was like; and books that told you that sometimes the toaster would make breakfast better and sometimes it would make breakfast worse, and that the cost for finding this out would be the price of the book you’d just bought.

All three kinds appear among the new books about the Internet: call them the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers. The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment. One’s hopes rest with the Never-Betters; one’s head with the Ever-Wasers; and one’s heart? Well, twenty or so books in, one’s heart tends to move toward the Better-Nevers, and then bounce back toward someplace that looks more like home. (…)

The Internet may make for more freedom a hundred years from now, but there’s no historical law that says it has to.

Many of the more knowing Never-Betters turn for cheer not to messy history and mixed-up politics but to psychology—to the actual expansion of our minds. The argument, advanced in Andy Clark’s “Supersizing the Mind” and in Robert K. Logan’s “The Sixth Language,” begins with the claim that cognition is not a little processing program that takes place inside your head, Robby the Robot style. It is a constant flow of information, memory, plans, and physical movements, in which as much thinking goes on out there as in here. If television produced the global village, the Internet produces the global psyche: everyone keyed in like a neuron, so that to the eyes of a watching Martian we are really part of a single planetary brain. Contraptions don’t change consciousness; contraptions are part of consciousness. We may not act better than we used to, but we sure think differently than we did. (…)

Jerry Seinfeld said that the public library was everyone’s pathetic friend, giving up its books at a casual request and asking you only to please return them in a month or so. Google is really the world’s Thurber wife: smiling patiently and smugly as she explains what the difference is between eulogy and elegy and what the best route is to that little diner outside Hackensack. The new age is one in which we have a know-it-all spouse at our fingertips. (…)

One of the things that John Brockman’s collection on the Internet and the mind illustrates is that when people struggle to describe the state that the Internet puts them in they arrive at a remarkably familiar picture of disassociation and fragmentation. Life was once whole, continuous, stable; now it is fragmented, multi-part, shimmering around us, unstable and impossible to fix. The world becomes Keats’s “waking dream,” as the writer Kevin Kelly puts it.

The odd thing is that this complaint, though deeply felt by our contemporary Better-Nevers, is identical to Baudelaire’s perception about modern Paris in 1855, or Walter Benjamin’s about Berlin in 1930, or Marshall McLuhan’s in the face of three-channel television (and Canadian television, at that) in 1965. When department stores had Christmas windows with clockwork puppets, the world was going to pieces; when the city streets were filled with horse-drawn carriages running by bright-colored posters, you could no longer tell the real from the simulated; when people were listening to shellac 78s and looking at color newspaper supplements, the world had become a kaleidoscope of disassociated imagery; and when the broadcast air was filled with droning black-and-white images of men in suits reading news, all of life had become indistinguishable from your fantasies of it. It was Marx, not Steve Jobs, who said that the character of modern life is that everything falls apart. (…)


Against the cartoon history of Shirky or Tooby, Ann Blair argues that the sense of “information overload” was not the consequence of Gutenberg but already in place before printing began. She wants us to resist “trying to reduce the complex causal nexus behind the transition from Renaissance to Enlightenment to the impact of a technology or any particular set of ideas.” Anyway, the crucial revolution was not of print but of paper: “During the later Middle Ages a staggering growth in the production of manuscripts, facilitated by the use of paper, accompanied a great expansion of readers outside the monastic and scholastic contexts.” For that matter, our minds were altered less by books than by index slips. Activities that seem quite twenty-first century, she shows, began when people cut and pasted from one manuscript to another; made aggregated news in compendiums; passed around précis. “Early modern finding devices” were forced into existence: lists of authorities, lists of headings. (…)

There is, for instance, a simple, spooky sense in which the Internet is just a loud and unlimited library in which we now live—as if one went to sleep every night in the college stacks, surrounded by pamphlets and polemics and possibilities. There is the sociology section, the science section, old sheet music and menus, and you can go to the periodicals room anytime and read old issues of the New Statesman. (And you can whisper loudly to a friend in the next carrel to get the hockey scores.) To see that that is so is at least to drain some of the melodrama from the subject. It is odd and new to be living in the library; but there isn’t anything odd and new about the library.

Yet surely having something wrapped right around your mind is different from having your mind wrapped tightly around something. What we live in is not the age of the extended mind but the age of the inverted self. The things that have usually lived in the darker recesses or mad corners of our mind—sexual obsessions and conspiracy theories, paranoid fixations and fetishes—are now out there: you click once and you can read about the Kennedy autopsy or the Nazi salute or hog-tied Swedish flight attendants. But things that were once external and subject to the social rules of caution and embarrassment—above all, our interactions with other people—are now easily internalized, made to feel like mere workings of the id left on its own. (…)

A social network is crucially different from a social circle, since the function of a social circle is to curb our appetites and of a network to extend them. Everything once inside is outside, a click away; much that used to be outside is inside, experienced in solitude. And so the peacefulness, the serenity that we feel away from the Internet, and which all the Better-Nevers rightly testify to, has less to do with being no longer harried by others than with being less oppressed by the force of your own inner life. Shut off your computer, and your self stops raging quite as much or quite as loud. (…)

Perhaps the instrument of the new connected age was already in place in fantasy. For the Internet screen has always been like the palantír in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”—the “seeing stone” that lets the wizards see the entire world. Its gift is great; the wizard can see it all. Its risk is real: evil things will register more vividly than the great mass of dull good. The peril isn’t that users lose their knowledge of the world. It’s that they can lose all sense of proportion. You can come to think that the armies of Mordor are not just vast and scary, which they are, but limitless and undefeatable, which they aren’t.

Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them. Our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those. Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn’t really about the quality of the bread or how it’s sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It’s all about the butter." "
Adam Gopnik, The Information. How the Internet Gets Inside Us, The New Yorker, Feb 14, 2011.  See also: Ann Blair, Information overload, the early years, The Boston Globe, November 28, 2010 (1st illustration: berfrois, 2nd illustr.: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Nov
30th
Tue
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Bernard Stiegle on transindividuation

For Stiegler, the concept of “transindividuation” is one that does not rest with the individuated “I” or with the interindividuated “We,” but is the process of co-individuation within a preindividuated milieu and in which both the “I” and the “We” are transformed through one another. Transindividuation, then, is the basis for all social transformation and is therefore a way of addressing what happens within education. (…)

“My thought was much influenced by the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon, who was an important thinker of individuation. Simondon says that if you want to understand the individual, you need to inscribe the individual in a process of which he is only a phase. As such, the individual has no interests. The individual is only an aspect, or phase of a process, but the process is what is important. So what is this process? It is the process of individuation, that is of transformation, and for Simondon, everything is a caught up in and brought into a process of individuation. For example, the passages of life are a process of individuation, but “technics” are also processes of individuations.

Now we ourselves, as humans, are a type of individuation that is very specific, as our individuation is not only a vital individuation, that is, an individuation of the living organism, of life, but an individuation of the psyche as well, so it is operating as both conscious and unconscious processes. And Simondon says that the individuation of the psyche is always already an individuation of a group of psyches, because a psyche is never alone. It always operates in relation to another psyche. At the limit itself, himself, or herself, a psyche in this situation is a very specific doubling of oneself in narcissism and a type of dialectical relationship to oneself. But this situation of dialogism in the psyche is an interiorization of a primordial situation in which, if you follow the arguments of Freud or Winnicott, you are in a dialectic relationship with other psyches, such as that of your mother or your father. This individuation, for example, is omnipresent and continuous. When you are reading a book, you individuate yourself by reading this book because reading a book is to be transformed by the book. If you are not transformed by the book, you are not reading the book—you believe that you are reading. You may believe that you are, but you are not.

IR: So reading a book is a short-circuit.

BS: It can be a short-circuit if you believe you are reading a book and you don’t in fact read it. It is a long circuit if you individuate yourself by reading the book, if you are in the process of individuating yourself. Now the theory of Wolfgang Iser—the theorist of the school of Konstanz—is that a book is a process of individuation, a book doesn’t exist as such. What exists as a book is the community of the reader. And this is extremely interesting. Because it says in fact that a book is a power of individuation, but not individuation as such. It is the circuit created, the long circuit created by the readers, which is the individuation of the book. And it is not only the case for the book. It is the case for every artwork or other forms of creative work in the humanities. Now, when you are individuating yourself with somebody—for example, we are now in discussion and in speaking, I am individuating myself. But in listening to me, you are individuating yourself through my discourse. You can individuate through my discourse by adherence with my discourse, but it’s also equally possible to individuate oneself by its contradiction, its negation.” “
— A conversation between the philosopher Bernard Stiegle and cultural theorist Irit Rogoff in Transindividuation, Journal e-flux 2010.
Jun
15th
Tue
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Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. Public libraries depend on voluntary contributions. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.
Carl Sagan, Cosmos, Random House, New York, 1980, p. 282.
May
10th
Mon
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What would happen if the printed book had just been invented in a high-tech world in which people had never done their reading from anything but computer screens?



“The unquestionable advantages of the computer would not be threatened by this new product but the people, who so love to compare apples with pears, would be quite bowled over by this ultra-modern invention: after years spent chained to the screen they would suddenly have something they could open like a window or a door – a machine you can physically enter!

For the first time knowledge would be combined with a sense of touch and gravity – this new invention allows you to experience the most incredible sensations, reading becomes a physical experience. And after experiencing knowledge only as a bundle of connections, as a system of interacting networks, suddenly here is individuality: every book is an independent personality, which cannot be taken apart or added to at will. And how relaxing these new reading appliances are, their operating systems never needs updating – the only thing that changes over the course of time is the message that they contain, which is always open to new interpretations.” “
Juan Villoro, Mexican writer and journalist cited in Metro Nature, originally from adn CULTURA (an Argentinian culture magazine) about the “future of books.” (kindly pointed about by reader David Christensen, and translated via SignandSight.com). See also: ☞ Nicholas Carr on Books That Are Never Done Being Written
Jun
6th
Sat
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Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright (1547-1616)
May
20th
Wed
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What really knocks me out is a good book, that when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.
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"… it’s better for you to restrain your impatience and wait to open the book at home. Now. Yes, you are in your room, calm; you open the book to page one, no, to the last page, first you want to see how long it is. It’s not too long, fortunately. Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered; we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears. We can rediscover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded, a period that lasted no more than a hundred years.

You turn the book over in your hands…”

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Nicholas Carr on what the internet is doing to our brains?

Reading, explains Maryanne Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains. Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. The variations extend across many regions of the brain, including those that govern such essential cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works. (…)

The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level. (…)

It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive. The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. (…)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.”

But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. (…) The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. (…)

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).” “
Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains, The Atlantic, July/August 2008. See also: Does Google Make Us Stupid? by Janna Quitney Anderson, Elon University, and Lee Rainie, Pew Internet & American Life Project