The Lighting of my Fire

Dominque Appia's Le Palais

I wrote about my Grandfather in (Dominique Appia…).  He and his paintings have strongly influenced how I see.  They have been like seeds of meaning, and are in all stages of development, from seed, to sapling, to fruiting, to withering.  Not to say that I am completely encompassed by his paintings (I would hope).  They point to the world outside themselves (moreover, they have always been part of the world).  (Can there be a biosphere (disconnected from the outside)?  Are not biospheres equivalent to living bodies with flatlined brains being kept alive by machines for years?  Or museums?  Useful in their way, of course.)

I have looked at his paintings my whole life, and honestly, until the last 5 years, I never thought about what they meant.  And even now, the connections between my representations of his paintings and linguistic expression is tenuous.  I always looked at them openly, without judgement or analysis, like a child learning to speak as a natural way of coming to terms with his environment.  But it wasn’t painting or drawing that I picked up.

It was wizardry.  Which is really psychological in nature.  Consider that, since the mind and body are one (an axiom of mine [this is a crude expression of: consciousness is directly coexistant with the energy and structure of the body {complementarity of structure and function, which is the principle that function is dependent on structure and that the form of a structure relates to its function <our bodies distill ever finer resonances, which explode in through out our living being _consider yoga_>}]), psychological efficacy (value [motivation {will}]) translates through the body into real world efficacy.  But I’m not talking about the magic of the engineers.  Nor that of politicians.  I’m speaking of the magic of life (which is both organic and inorganic, energetic and material), which includes the others, but in a wholistic glance.

Jung‘s mysterium coniunctionis in play.  Jung’s insight, so far as I’ve penetrated, is that what alchemy meant to the Self in psychological terms was actually the driving force behind the research, not what both presently and also historically was popularly considered to be the purpose, namely, becoming rich or enriching lords through transforming lead into gold, or becoming immortal, or whatever.  What really happened, IOW, was matter became a rorschach medium (like dreams).  Chemistry, so little understood at that time, was prime real estate for psychological projections, what, with all those amazing transformations of malleable forms (and also, I imagine, the poor handling of all sorts of exotic [in-]organic material, probably led to more than a few cases of loosened or poisoned minds, amenable to plastic association).  He’s also saying that it is a natural tendency of our psychology to attempt to unite the opposites, but also to see in terms of opposites (that then need uniting).

What?  Does my clarity shimmer between depth and inscrutability?  Dig it (with the shovel of your mind): how do you get inanimate parts to animate?  3 to 1, 3 parts in agreement and one part in conflict.  This’ll stir things up, get the dynamo turning, start the whirlpool whirling, set the AI self-inventing (1) itself (mutating?) past its representations of its limitations (3-a) in relation to the immensity of its representations of the world out there (3-b) in relation to its greatest maintainable representation of self (3-c).  At least, that’s the spirit of Europe.  Maybe China’d try 1 to 1 with their yin and yang.  The proportions of the two may not matter much to the basic enterprise of animation.

The key, if you will, is to have a lock.  Something to turn you in turn.

Dominique Appia (My Grandfather in Geneva)

Dominique Appia

Today I want to write about my grandfather in Geneva (I have two grandfathers, one in Geneva, Switzerland and one in Tucson, Arizona [about whom I will dedicate another post [he keeps the batteries going {in fact, I’ll write about my grandmothers too <4 posts, total>}]).

My grandfather in Geneva paints.  He also loves to speak and to write.  And he likes good food, and to travel.  And he likes humanity, history, language, psychology, architecture, art, music, wine, women, Gitanes and probably a whole lot of other things that I haven’t had the chance to share with him.  He likes life.  While that may be a simplistic characterization, it well sums up my understanding of him.  His influence upon me is immense.  I am a different person with different influences, as well, but in subtle and obvious ways, I am an evolution of his character (in a different time and place [culture]).

If one were to view human personalities as consisting of some finite number of characterizable versions (let’s say 23, for the sake of concreteness [chromosomes]), and one were also to say that which was dominant in a person was passed through genetic-environmental codetermination… well, let’s just say that my grandfather in Geneva’s personality is the 1 of 23 that I inherited.  The 1 of 23 that, like fish in a river, swam through my parents’ DNA and slithered through time into me. (But I have another majority vote, too [do we all have two majority votes?])  And we slip through time, carrying the flame (read here too, for further embedded resonances).

My grandfather paints.  That is what I have known him to do since I have known him.  This is perhaps my favorite painting, although I include another favorite right after.

Dominique Appia's painting Enter the secret and the danger

I see many things in here.  Psychological things.  Personal things.  Archetypal things.  Also, family things.  Sometimes I think this painting…  An arrangement of meanings most something.  The title: Enter the Secret and the Danger (Entre le Secret et le Danger).  I don’t know that I should really discuss it.  I’ll decide.

Between the Gaps(Gasps) in Memory (Entre les trous de la memoire):

Dominque Appia's painting "between the gaps in memory"

This one certainly speaks to me, too.  It uses the language of our family.  At least it speaks that way to me.

Check out: (the website was created by my Mom and this is hers) for more paintings.

I will give a brief biography.  A fuller biography is in order, and I will begin work immediately.  Consider this the first outline.

My grandfather was born 1926.  He remembers World War 2 in Switzerland.  Switzerland was neutral, but not unaffected.  Food was rationed and at night windows were covered so that buildings did not provide targets to bombers.  We’re talking Geneva, which is like 16 kilometers from the French border.  After the war there was a economic surge.  Architects were in great demand.  My grandfather had not gone to school for architecture, nor had he really architected before.  But he walked in for an interview and got the job and learned on the job.  What he did know how to do was paint.  To think geometrically.

Dominique Appia's painting la lecon de perspective  qui est au bout du fil (The lesson in perspective is on the line)

Perhaps he would have pursued painting as a career from the start, but when he was in his teens and he asked an influential person what he thought of his art, the man said ‘non‘, or some such:  he discouraged.

Dominque Appia's Un Papillon Sur L'epale

So my grandfather was an architect for many years, and eventually taught architecture, too.  But in the mid sixties he had what is crudely known as a midlife crisis. He began to paint again.  And he never stopped.  He paints to this day.  He is married to Anne Mathil for 30 years.  He has three daughters and four grandchildren and one brother.

His daughter who is my mother moved to America in the 70s, had me in the 80s, and moved back to Switzerland in the 00s.

My grandfather has a very intimate relation with European culture.  He speaks of Napolean as if he’d almost seen him marching down the avenue.  I can’t remember everything that he has said, but it has all been abstracted into the perception of a really super deep relation to a cultural essence.  He knows Europe.  Has lain with her and fought her and does so to this day.  He helps satisfy her desires and define them.

Dominque Appia's painting Interior of the Sea

There is so much more to his life.  To me it is like a vast mystery.  Yet, I understand it too.  It is second nature to me.  Perhaps, with my grandfather, it is less what he did than how he lived.  It is thus for all of us, finally.  He lives the good life.

His being radiates across the ocean.  Europe radiates across the ocean.  Through him I have encountered a beingness that I would not likely have encountered.  That few encounter over the long term, the time required to exert the most subtle influences.  What I mean is that my grandfather has shown me the possibility of deeply relating to a living cultural seed that one also helps to plant as part of loving it.

Dominique Appia's painting Les Temps des Gares

He has shown me the side of intellectuality that loves.  I mean this in terms of emotional love.  The feeling of it.  A kind of love that I can achieve, too.  A kind of love that is natural to me.  A free-spirited love.  (When I get home from this trip I will include more paintings, and words, and perhaps this shall grow into a real biography)

What leaks through his paintings into me is the complicated, abstract, magical juxtaposition of a few understandable elements.  This characterizes my writing (I imagine).  I don’t build too elaborate of constructions.  There are usually 3-4-5 elements, sometimes 2, rarely 1.  They work in concert, often meeting for the first time.  Their true awareness of their changing context.  Like good travelers between cultures who never engender enough friction to erupt to the surface (at least that much of humanity is grasped).

If you look deeply, into each of the paintings above, there is a crisis at work.  In fact, it is often operating directly at the surface.  But it does not disturb anyone.  It is seamless within its context.  My grandfather’s paintings are very psychological, in my opinion.  Of course, I have heard this growing up, too.  That he is appreciated among some psychologists or psychiatrists, or both.  But I can feel it for myself, too.  I see these as the products of a mature modern human being.

Ingersoll’s Vow

Ingersoll’s Vow

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural–that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world–not even in infinite space. I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live to my own ideal–free to live for myself and those I loved–free to use all my faculties, all my senses–free to spread imagination’s wings–free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope–free to judge and determine for myself–free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past–free from popes and priests–free from all the “called” and “set apart”–free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies–free from the fear of eternal pain–free from the winged monsters of the night–free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought–no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings–no chains for my limbs–no lashes for my back–no fires for my flesh–no master’s frown or threat–no following another’s steps- -no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.

And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain–for the freedom of labor and thought–to those who fell in the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains–to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs–to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn–to those by fire consumed–to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.

Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899)

Magritte’s Second Resonance

In Stepping Away I spoke of there being other resonances to Magritte’s painting in the context of thought I’d been building.  That’s all the primer you’ll get from me.  If you can’t remember or you didn’t know in the first place, click the link and check it out.  In this post I want to get into a resonance that resonates with me of that painting in that context of thought.

Magritte entitles his painting “The Human Condition”.  He seems, to me, to mean that the essence of what he is communicating through the painting also is true of the human being (sometimes it’s helpful to be really explicit).  But we can’t forget that Magritte was always aware of the fact that his painting would be observed by a subject(ivity).  So what he is communicating through the painting does not exist only within the painting, or between the painting and the painter, as with a traditional landscape, portrait, or even more allegorical representations.  Magritte’s meaning only truly lives between an observer and the visual impression formed by some copy (including the original painting itself) of a core meaning that was already being re presented when the painter painted it.  Like a camera focused upon a mirror, thought spirals inward through re presented content.

How else can you really point to this phenomenon?  It’s almost like you have to pull the viewer in, and then, once they’re in there, point to them in there and say, see what we are?  Do you have a good way of expressing this thought pattern (Uroborus, reamalgamerging, Godel, Escher, Bach)?  Check out:

Godel Escher Bach By Douglas Hofstadter (Tangled Hierarchies, Strange Loops…)

Can you track the inexorable steps of this pattern through the symbols of the mind of man upon the palimpsest surface of our planet?

Stepping Away

This is a simple post (actually it’s ramified through multiple edits [can you detect the seams?]) on the efficacy of occasionally stepping away from stumping problems (particularly in regards to programming, but more generally, in regards to any arena of challenges).

I have often experienced the following:

I’m trying to fix a problem or perhaps many embedded problems.  I’ve spent hours debugging, stepping through code, following dead ends, identifying likely problem-nourishing conditions,  et cetera.  Still doesn’t work.  I can point in the problem’s direction, but I can’t pick its seat out of the crowd.  Frustrated, I step away for five minutes, come back to sit at my desk, and solve the problem forthwith.

This illustrates the value of stepping away.

What’s happening here?  Is this magic?  “Sometimes the quantum spin flippety-widgets.”  No.  I’ve made up a pretty good story about what is going on.  I’ll share it with you.

There are different kinds of problems and different kinds of solutions.  Some are more directly achieved by stepping away from in order to approach.

I have found that math and programming share the same spirit.  I think it is a misconception to think that a person must be good at math to be a good programmer (contrary to common expectations).  However, without contradiction, I also think that math and programming, at the level of doing, are merely variations of a single principle.  Doing mathematics involves applying (studied) algorithms (for both the student and the researcher).  Either algorithms of reasoning or algorithms of symbolic manipulation or whatever.  The same is true of programming.  My version of doing either of these activities involves using tools of reasoning to arrive at quantitative (testable) conclusions, often by way of a constantly evolving toolbox of reusable patterns (I mean: our IDE and lisp macros and keyboard shortcuts, discarded code and refactoring tools, are all as much part of the essence of programming as is language {c#, javascript, c, ruby, etc} and design and reasoning patterns {How to Solve It by Polya, An Introduction to the Theory of Numbers Hardy, etc}.  We use these patterns of behavior to arrive at both an understanding of the problem and a working, maintainable, realization of a solution]).

One thing I learned from mathematics is that being good at math, in fact being good at almost any pursuit involving building out complicating logic, involves having a good short term memory (there are exceptions?).  In order to make progress with highly interrelated, self-supporting data and metadata (like the sort involved in real world problems) the data must be kept in easy reach of the reasoning that is using it to bootstrap conclusions that weren’t there before.  Abstraction, for instance, creates new facts through a process of identifying similarities between other facts.  In order to do that, the facts, first of all, must be there.  {TODO: examples <this TODO: is an example>}

our reasoning must perform the function of magrittes canvas in front of a real window

Magritte’s painting is title “The Human Condition” and it depicts (to me), in bon mot fashion (tee-hee, it’s a painting), how my expression of wanting to include examples of how abstraction requires facts is itself an example of abstraction requiring facts.  It also suggests some pretty far out resonances and abstractions to the main thread of thought of this post.  I’d love for readers to comment on which resonances resonate most with them.

Keeping all this data in mind is highly connected to the “zone” or the flow, sought and loved dearly by programmers and all others who’ve experienced it, alike.  To be interrupted when in the zone is often to lose the carefully built house of cards of temporary reasonings stored in short term memory (short term memory is a process not a thing, like RAM).  As previously observed, this data is not only measurements of stuff out there, for instance, it is also internal (meta)reflections on the abstract interrelationships of the data in mind.  So what does this say about stepping away?  Aren’t we disrupting our house of cards of contextual data.  Aren’t we setting ourselves back?

Definitely.  Sometimes this is precisely in the direction of the solution.  Sometimes we’re not only going in the wrong direction, but we’re in the wrong region and any roads we find thereabouts aren’t going to bring us anywhere nearer.  By getting up and walking around, the data we’ve collected will shrivel into dust in the wind.  The longer we stay away from our desk (or whatever, you know what I mean) the more the edges of the previous context will erode (graph theory).

How long you stay away is important.  You don’t want to stay away too long because you’ll lose too much.  You don’t want to stay away for too short a time because you won’t have backed out of the wrong turns you’d already made.  Maybe it’s not even time to step away just yet, sometimes the solution rests just a little further along the way.  Imagine always stepping away just before you abstracted the data away.  It is better to abstract the data than to let it disappear.

It’s an art of the problem solver to know just how long to stay away and when to take that vacation.  You have to have some sort of internal sense of how much of your RAM (that’s a metaphor) is filled up with contextual data, and how quickly it is going away.   It helps to realize something of what is going on internally, in neuronal terms (even if it’s just a simple story with almost no relation to how things actually work):  Little connections are forming between neurons and if they aren’t strengthened repeatedly through being activated in the course of brainwork then eventually they will be so nebulous as to be unreachable (except maybe through hypnosis?  I find it very difficult to believe that the brain can store all information permanently… information explodes exponentially).   Once these little pathways are unreachable you’re forced to approach those aspects of the problem freshly.

I find that there are still meta-reflections stuck around that help me navigate right to the source of the problem.

How can a forest be occluded for all the trees?  Isn’t that just another saying that doesn’t make any sense when you think about it.  If you take away the trees, so goes the forest.  But there is a point to the statement if you consider someone not noticing that there is a forest in front of them because they’ve positioned themselves so close to a couple trees that they can’t see anything beyond them.  The forest was occluded by some of the trees.  Get those trees out of the way.  And even if you’ve never moved a tree before, I’m going to guess that you’ll agree with me when I say that moving oneself is easier than moving a tree (unless you’re stuck in a bear trap, or something, but I still argue that moving yourself would be easier than moving the tree {unless the bear trap is secured to the tree, then, in order to move yourself, you’ll pretty much have to do something with the tree anyway <but I don’t know what to do if it’s secured to a boulder |figure out how to survive on what’s around you|>}]).

PS> By the way, the very next day (today [the day I’m writing this]) I worked on something for 20 minutes, got a coffee, came back, solved it.  Bam.  No fan fair.  I only realized it later.  Then I remembered it again to edit this post.  It happens all the time… (“perhaps you’re setting it up, blind fool!” [“perhaps I take advantage of patterns that work, and work around them])

American Biopsy

There’s a lot of concern over the economy these days.  Some people’ve lost their jobs and’ve even had to live out of their own cars and some’ve even had to ask for, slash, accept handouts.  It’s been a terrible time, and we Americans have really learned some deep lessons about hunkering down.  Whew!  Just picture our entitled and ample buttocks looking around embarrassedly for a Wall Street crony with his political pony to set the ponderous weight of our own indecisions upon.

And the national deficit is worrying, too.  We’re going to add another one-thousand pallets of bundles of one-billion one-$-bills to the (09/22/12) fifteen-thousand pallets of bundles of one-billion one-$-bills that we already owe (…to bodies downrange our F-35s… [who’s not?]).  It’s pretty shocking.  I would guess that all that points to some serious inflation on the horizon.  What was that?  Oh, I forgot.  Moving on… we definitely don’t have our seventh generation in mind.  We only barely seem to have ourselves in mind (a few myopic souls looking out for number one).

But, you know what I think?  I think that our (America’s [Americans’]) ten trillion $$ debt is far more manageable than another debt we owe that can’t be paid.  Sure, we’ve tried writing it off again and again, but,… it seems to lurk in the dark… corners of our psyche.  You know what I mean?  No!?

You know this land we live on is stolen, right?  The land we slime our (pizza n’ barbecue) greased fingers over to build convenient Walgreens (ever easier access to our prescriptions!!!) and Walmarts (cures our other needs) for our disgustingly unhealthy (statistically speaking) bodies, was not, originally, ours to do with as we pleased.

indian north america

But what does that mean?  Obscured by the abstractions of property law, eminent domain, manifest destiny, and legalistic concepts of ownership, perhaps nothing at all.  But lets drop our (Reichian) (societal) character armor for just one blog post and look at what was.  By was, I mean, the physical reality of it.  By it I mean, America’s birth.  Let’s study this biopsy of America.  Let’s imagine what it would be if it was right now.  Could Americans still do what Americans had done, and under that self-same document, the Constitution of the United States of America, too?  How would it be interpreted if the America of today did what it did 150 years before today?  The Native Americans wouldn’t change.  Only our media coverage would change.  And the brutality of our childrenhood.

I understand.  It wasn’t you or me.  It couldn’t have been.  I’m only 31 and you’re… this happened 100s of years ago.

Nevertheless, to begin with, there was the North American Continent (nah, I’m not goin’ all the way back to Pangea [let alone Pangea’s Himalayan heart {or that source’s subterranean heart, for that matter}]).  And it came to pass that the surface of the Earth was covered in more water at the solid phase of material continuum than currently obtains.  Some people (we don’t know how many) walked across (a) bridge(s) of land exposed by the lower sea volume, from the place they were born (their Good Earth).  They then spread south and east, from sea to shining sea, exploiting plentiful game and other nutritious circumstances.  And so they lived, engaged in the typical human wonder and tragedy.  They warred and loved.  And they pissed on many a landmark.

Meanwhile, the ice melted and the bridge(s) sank and many years went by whilst efficacious artificial bridges existed, not.  Many more trees and boulders and mountains and shorelines were pissed upon.  More love made and blood spilt.

All this time, artificial bridges were being perfected.  And then one day they were good enough.  And the people versed in their unfurling set out upon the seas unknowing.

More warring happened, and some loving too, even.  ‘Course, we upped the ante during the fight.  We arrived with swords and horses and we mopped things up with gattling guns and railroad trains.  Congratulations!!!  I mean it.  It’s such a triumph.  Inspiration for years to come…

Problem is, there’s a problem with all that.  Seems like our justification for living here is that we were more powerful then and we don’t agree with those sorts of conquests now (but, we’re also more powerful now too [accidentally, it aint necessary {purposively, we worked hard to get here <and it’s probably true that we’re working even harder to stay here>}]).

And we all know that what that really means is that we have no right to be here at all.  Not a substantial right.  Not a right that doesn’t blow away in the wind of the next claim to come along.  Not a right that can stand without F-35s and materials science.

You wanna know the sad thing?  America is among the best countries in the world.  Now, I haven’t lived in them all, but what I’m getting at is: there are no hidden pockets of humanity that are free of Humanity’s taint.  The absurdity of Americans and Muslims and European and Japanese and Chinese and Indian and Russian and all the other assholes who hate each other is precisely that we are all complete ASSHOLES.  Not a one of the races or cultures or ideologies or corporations who gesticulate and posture in the global theater can be excepted.  Even the Tibetans have amongst themselves their own lowlifes.  It’s not even only a condition of humankind.  There are lowlife animals.

To make a very long and sad story short, GIGO.  Gigo our politics.  Gigo our wealthy.  Gigo our proletariat.  Gigo our land.  Gigo our bodies.  Gigo ourselves.

But then, we know, too, that there is another side to America.  The freedom.  The good that sees us through these gloomy nights of the American soul when such memories seek us out and scream their shrill logic.

Lowlifes are the shadows of highlifes.  In America, in “Native America” (amongst Native Americans), in Europe, in China, all over the Earth, there are exemplary human beings.  People who truly work towards (the) health (of their region).  Then, also scattered about, are those who work against (the) health (of their region).

The knee jerk reaction might be to see these unhealthy vectors as such and to condemn them.  In fact, that has been, time immemorial, the knee jerk reaction of lowlifes.  It’s like a test of lowlifelyhood.  Hindlike foresight recognizes things like cancer and autism to be the likely engines of traditional evolution (and perhaps tucked within their nature is the(an) engine of modern evolution???).  We shouldn’t characterize people suffering from such ailments as being sick, so much as being SO fed up with responding inappropriately to an unexpected environment that they are doing something about it.  It may not be the right thing, but it’s something.

And so we’ve seen into the human taint (as I’m characterizing it today [9/22/12]).  The convenience of quick action to the excuse that we can’t be held responsible for the consequences of our actions because we were just trying to get a breath of air, to survive.

No organism can be expected, according to modern law, to allow it’s last breath unchallenged.  You might allow that it is absurd to call it a taint since it is endemic to all life, but we respond with quick decisions are an ultimate problem for all life.

America’s biopsy shows: an attempt to overcome (human [life] nature) in inappropriate and uncoordinated ways have proliferated with hardly creative oversight nor analytic planning.  Cancerous.  Still, no blame.  Within the diseased nodule, under the microscope, were observed transcendent factors.  The cancerous mass may yet be home to solutional angles of our ultimate problem.

chippewa civilization

Let’s see where this goes of its own accord…

…but what to do with how vigorously it defends its pet football’s yardage?