Tuesday, March 31, 2015

depression, mass murder and the absurd

 how innocuous he looks (but it's only an appearance)
atRifF

psychiatrist anne skomorowsky from columbia university writing for slate magazine. 
Was Andreas Lubitz depressed? We don’t know; a torn-up doctor’s note and bottles of pills don’t tell us much. Most people who commit suicide suffer from a mental illness, most commonly depression. But calling his actions suicidal is misleading. Lubitz did not die quietly at home. He maliciously engineered a spectacular plane crash and killed 150 people. Suicidal thoughts can be a hallmark of depression, but mass murder is another beast entirely. 
skomorowski separates mass murder and depression at the expense of sparing lubitz from depression. though smoking is not sufficient for lung cancer, smokers keep dying from lung cancer. my point: a depressive person can become a mass murderer if he happens to be andreas lubitz. 

"depression"? here is a provisional definition:
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn't worth living.
the definition seems to mix the symptom with the cause. so, if X is "persistently sad" is X then --necessarily-- depressed? what if a person is depressed without showing sadness? (mental states and behavioral dispositions are often asynchronous).

to complicate matters, take a look at the broad spectrum of possible causes for depression: 
1. Abuse, past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can cause depression later in life.
2. Certain medications.
3. Conflict. Depression in someone who has the biological vulnerability to develop depression may result from personal conflicts or disputes with family members or friends.
4. Death or a loss. Sadness or grief from the death or loss of a loved one.
5. Genetics. A family history of depression may increase the risk.
6. Major events. Even good events such as starting a new job, graduating, or getting married can lead to depression. So can moving, losing a job or income, getting divorced, or retiring.
7. Personal problems. Such as social isolation due to other mental illnesses or being cast out of a family or social group can lead to depression.
8. Serious illnesses. Sometimes depression co-exists with a major illness or is a reaction to the illness.
9. Substance abuse. Nearly 30% of people with substance abuse problems also have major or clinical depression.
major events! (it makes you wonder why psychology is a soft science).

lubitz checks at least #2, #3, #4, #6, #7, making him an optimal candidate.

(update: lubitz exhibited suicidal tendencies)

the elephant in the room is lubitz's responsibility. if depression is severe and  becomes a serious illness, could not one entertain that lubitz actually may not have intended to kill those 150 people on the plane?

a proven serious illness can constitute a minimizing factor in human responsibility. however, the analysis becomes irrelevant from the angle of justice:150 lives demand a reparation margin that lubitz will never pay back.

it is at this point that we come face-to-face with the absurd.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

can "anti-art" be (a form of) art?


i read an interview on 3.am magazine of germanologist frederick beiser. he makes an interesting point for those pursuing aesthetics as a topic of research.

i really like this:
The aporias of the present is that there really is no aesthetic criticism anymore, and that there are really no standards about art. Anything goes, and anything is good or excellent “in its own kind”.
not so much this:
We got here because some aestheticians and philosophers took the avant-garde too seriously, and held that even snow shovels, urinals and soup cans can be works of art. I think that the avant-garde was making all kinds of interesting and valid points; but one it was not making is that these kinds of things are works of art.
much less this:
[...] They were not intended to be works of art but, for all kinds of complicated philosophical social and political reasons, works of anti-art.
there is a lot being said in these two lines above, but i need more info to understand where beiser is coming from. he definitely looks like a good read.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

is tania bruguera cuba's weiwei?


aLfRedO tRifF

more perturbing news concerning performance artist tania brugera:
On Wednesday, March 11, artist Tania Bruguera revealed the existence of a secret media campaign against her orchestrated by Cuba's Culture Ministry with the aid of the regime's intelligence services. The purpose of this campaign, say the artist and her supporters, is to build an “institutional case" against her and brand her a “counterrevolutionary." A criminal charge akin to treason in the U.S., conviction for this crime in Cuba carries a minimum sentence of three years in jail.
is tania freaking out?

she should. she knows how the cuban repressive machine works. at some point a bruguera dossier will appear so as to present her as an "agent" of a foreign power (the US being de rigueur).

the basic document would look like this, only more byzantine. 

the process against bruguera develops within the typical notes of cuba's twisted jurisprudence. in yo tambiénexijo, (bruguera's facebook page) we learn that the cuban ministry of interior has edited a defamatory video of bruguera and handed it (!) to the ministry of culture for internal consumption. 
The video has been presented on separate occasions at the Ministry of Culture, the University of Arts of Cuba, the country's premiere art school, and the Wifredo Lam Center, the headquarters of the Havana Biennial (see Why Is the Havana Biennial Afraid of Tania Bruguera and Is She the Cuban Ai Weiwei?). Chaired by Ruben del Valle, president of the Havana Biennial organizing committee, and Fernando Rojas, Cuba's vice minister of culture, the meetings are invitation-only. Reportedly, both men appear in the video alongside the logo of the state news channel.
what's in the video? nobody knows (which is the point). in the trial, joseph k. never quite understands the nature of the charges imputed against him.
On Wednesday, Bruguera posted a letter on her #YoTambieExijo Facebook page addressed to Vice Minister Rojas asking for access to the video. That access was denied earlier last week when Bruguera visited del Valle's offices, provoking the artist's immediate expulsion from the premises. 
bruguera's letter to the minister of culture, her request was rejected (?)

why would the minister of culture help with the smearing campaign against bruguera, instead of defending her? (my question is deliberately naïve).

i'm trying to make a point: the ministry of culture should've applauded bruguera's whisper for december 30 in havana. after all,  qua cultural event, bruguera's whisper in havana #2 is in synch with performative mass actions defended by raul castro in a recent speech:
I hope to see ... the popular movements and NGOs which fight for nuclear disarmament, ecologists, occupy wall street, los indignados, university students, farmers, syndicates, defenders of immigrants' rights [...]  
ditto: why would the minister of culture help with the smearing campaign against bruguera, instead of defending her?

because the ministry of culture is a proxy of the ministry of interior. 

cuba's government is a two-face: a progressive front for international consumption and a repressive state against its own people.   

side note: many of bruguera's artists friends in the island have simply disappeared (supporting her would automatically risk job security and possible loss of institutional support).

even as bruguera is well-known outside cuba, after her detention and subsequent release, not many voices have come out in her defense, with the exemption of  coco fusco's article for e-flux.  

so, is tania bruguera cuba's weiwei?

let's wait and see.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Evan Thompson's Waking, Dreaming, Being


Antonio Correa Inglesias

How is the self a changing process? How can it express itself in the remembered past or anticipated future? Evan Thompson, a renowned philosopher of mind answers these questions in his new book: Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (November 2014).

The focus of Thomson's work is at the intersection between Western and Eastern culture, i.e, the fields of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and Eastern philosophy. Particularly contemporary Buddhist philosophy in dialogue with Western philosophy and science.

Waking, Dreaming, Being presents an interaction between two levels of understanding: the meaning of self (soul, entity and identity) and the significance of self in contemporary philosophy. It suggests three parallel and irreconcilable differences: one’s epistemological approach of self, the experience of self in Buddhist philosophy and its empirical understanding in science.

Self-process has been the focus of some of the most important works by philosophers such as Hayward, Varela, Watson, Wallece, Damasio and others, working at the intersection between cognitive science and Buddhist philosophy for the last twenty years.

Thompson aims at reconciling these seeming disparate disciplines, which is behind the interdisciplinary idea of Complexity. As we know, Complexity has grown as a field in philosophy over the last twenty years. After being presented with "irreconcilable differences" the reader may come to the conclusion that "contemplative traditions" cannot say anything new today.

Weaving neuroscience, philosophy, and personal narrative to depict these transformations, Thompson’s book adds uncommon depth to life’s deeper questions. Contemplative experience  illuminates scientific findings, and scientific evidence enriches the vast knowledge acquired by contemplation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

bad induction and the loss of faith (in music?)


aLfReDo tRifF

i read oliver rudland's article for standpoint entitled "the loss of faith made music mute."

in the good tradition of english criticism, rudland opens contentiously:
It is a mystery to many people why so few contemporary classical composers seem capable of writing "a good tune". Surely, given the number of students who pursue composition in our universities and conservatoires, and the hugely increased access which technologies such as music-notation software give to prospective composers, we should expect to find at least one or two capable of making a popular impact?
he connects "good tune" and "popular impact" as if comparing popular against classical music, while keeping the latter in a slightly higher conceptual plateau(?)

i wonder, 1- what's the connection between the number of students of composition in our universities and being capable of writing a "good tune" ("good" already bracketed by the author, which screams for further clarification) and 2- is a good tune a sufficient condition for popular impact?

this is what rudland is really after:
Why is it that, with more people than ever engaged in the activity of composing, our culture still seems incapable of fostering a contemporary Verdi or Stravinsky, with the celebrity and popular recognition that such great figures once garnered?
well, pharrell williams is as popular as verdi was in his heyday. and daft punk is as célèbre if not more than stravinsky. in fact, the russian composer was not that popular amongst classical music lovers in early and mid 20th century. regardless, rudland wouldn't accept my analogy if he's looking for a "contemporary" verdi, and pharrell williams is no verdi, though he is, ahem, contemporary.

rudland sees himself uncovering an enigma:
To understand the deficit of successful contemporary classical music, what we need to uncover are the feelings which motivated the artistic instincts of the great composers of the past, but which are now absent in the minds of modern composers... 
no small endeavor to uncover mental states of composers of the past, but let's proceed, what is next? nationalism, a definitely a potent cultural glue.

rudland adds christianity to his recipe. he brings examples from opera, a popular genre of 19th century music (though after mid-19th century opera becomes increasingly elite and more popular genres emerge from the social cauldron, such as vaudeville, "variétés," zarzuela, "wiener operette," etc). if "popular" is an important category, i don't understand how rudland doesn't pursue these finer developments.

going off on a tangent, why is it that nowadays, when critics discuss history, they prefer to bring their own cutlery?

  
next slice? modernism. but first a potage of history, theology and sociology:  
To gain a proper and complete understanding of what we call "classical" music is to appreciate that it was all written within the context of societies which were predominantly Christian in nature, and where celebrations of traditional national attributes were not seen as old-fashioned or backward-looking as they often are today. This all changed, however, in the 1960s, with the old moral authority of Christianity and nationalism brought into question by two World Wars which had slain "half the seed of Europe one by one", and the dawning of the sexual revolution.
the fragment in red above is as nugacious as tap water. yeah, traditions generally subside compared to, "today." the second paragraph (in yellow) takes us for a sky/diver ride. one feels seized by rudland's bombardment of events: two world wars (and, i imagine, all the lots in between), plus the downing of the sexual revolution(?) why not throwing some cool names like marx, freud and elvis into the mix?    
Musical modernism is what was left behind after the feelings which motivated the great classical composers had dissipated.
a poetic sentence (the kind i wished i could come up with if it only was true). the aftertaste betrays a sugary nostalgic ethos.
What you are hearing in the dysfunctional harmony... once natural authority and faith resided. This is what "atonal" music really is: a loss of faith, and this is why anyone who counteracts its dominance is quickly condemned as "naive", in just the same manner as those who continue to hold religious convictions in a scientific age. 
what is "functional" in harmony other than a redundant polyphonic representation within a given music grammar? c'mon, where does western harmony begin? rameau's traité de l'harmonie? the tonary? 

if i listen to webern's 5 geistliche lieder (a sacred song cycle by the most abstract of 12-tone music composers) am i receiving webern's loss of faith?

i find rudland's heavy-handed, reductionist style more entertaining than his actual argument. he tries hard to connect the dots at the expense of killing generalizations like this:
I would be the first to acknowledge the dramatic talents of Alban Berg, the brilliant textural instrumentation of György Ligeti or the accomplished musicianship of Thomas Adès, but what all these composers have in common—despite the stylistic differences and time which separate their work—is that lack of inspiration within the musical material itself which began with Schoenberg and persists to this day.  
i get it. what all the planets in the solar systems have in common (despite their difference in mass, and material composition, etc) is that they rotate around the sun.

the critic doesn't stop:
Things might be about to change, however, and I think I can suggest a few reasons why this might be: popular music has run out of steam. The young know this (several students of mine have testified to its truth); they admit that even the best that is on offer these days—the chilly sounds of Coldplay or the Arctic Monkeys—cannot compete with the energetic exuberance of, say, Abba, and that so much that is pumped out of the radio is now empty commercialism.
can one not say about any time whatsoever that "things might be about to change"?

rudland's inductive rigor: "the young know this." who? "several students of mine."

it's difficult to cogitate as sloppily as this:
This decline, I suspect, relates back to the ongoing liberalisation of societies which began in the 1960s. The overthrowing of Christian chastity and discrediting of nationalism went hand in hand with the rights revolutions, which improved the freedoms of non-white races, homosexuals and women, and these causes were also reflected in popular music: hence, "[It doesn't matter if you're] Black or White" by Michael Jackson, "I want to break free" by Queen, or "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles. 
rudland haphazard thesis doesn't make me lose faith in modern --or contemporary-- music. what he makes me lose faith is in people's inductive competence. is this a generalized trend? i don't rule out the possibility that he's a smart lad who just wrote this piece while listening to schoenberg's moses und aron. in fact, i'm curious to listen to his compositions.

(if it's true what they say that what one lacks in one occupation one plentily makes up for in another, rudland should be a decent composer). i'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

wrestling predictability from the demon's determinist clutches


do you know laplace's demon?

it's a classic determinist presentation by mathematician and physicist pierre simon laplace, in his philosophical essays on probabilities:
We may regard the present state of the Universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the Universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.
let's suggest it as: ∀s ∈U, η su 

i.e., every state "s" in the Universe is necessary (i.e., determined by a set of initial conditions plus the laws of physics). 

a terse conclusion, but there is a problem. theorems apply to mathematical objects*, not to reality. though we have reasons to believe that the universe is structurally mathematical, not all our representations of the the universe are, well, mathematical. for instance, the existence of solutions to some equations that represent physical laws does not imply physical existence (see my previous post).

laplace's demon is incompatible with quantum mechanics. said differently physical phenomena cannot be -completely- reduced to strict deterministic laws. 
_____________

*what is a mathematical object? o is mathematical if it exhibits mathematical properties, i.e., nullity, identity, commutativity, associativity, distributivity, etc.