January 16, 2010
The Genesis 2.0 Project
Maria Spiropulu, a Greek-born Cal Tech–affiliated physicist who wears scuffed jeans and sneakers without laces (and used to be in a band called Drug Sniffing Dogs), radiates confidence about imminent breakthroughs. When I say that her experiment, C.M.S., is “simulating the conditions” at the beginning of the universe, she emphatically corrects me. “No—we’re re-creating those conditions. We will find out the fundamental nature of how the universe is created.” And even the relatively tentative, low-key Gianotti has little doubt that what they’re about to discover will rank with “Copernicus, Einstein, quantum mechanics. I do expect a revolution.”
Read all here in VANITY FAIR (January 2010)
June 26, 2009
11 Dimensional Space, etc.
Of fictive Knowledge & fictious Reality
Science, according to Ernst Cassirer, “is the last step in man’s mental development and may be regarded as the highest and the most characteristic attainment of human culture …” In modern world there is no other power equals to scientific thinking. Science is held to be “the summit and consummation of all our human activities, the last chapter in the history of mankind and the most important subject of a philosophy of man.”
This essay, to some extent, is about the state of the art of scientific knowledge, especially natural sciences, at the cross of the 2nd and the 3rd millennium. It is also a reflection on the nature of science and the nature of natural cosmos whose temptation will make science more than just the summit and consummation of all our human activities and the most important subject of a philosophy of man; scientific knowledge will be the most important subject of philosophy of universe, if one does exist. Through the dialectic between fictive knowledge and fictious reality, science will force humanity eventually to create, or at least to replicate, a physical universe.
I deliberately choose an old and almost forgotten word “fictious” to be juxtaposed with “fictive” not merely for literary reason (syllable and alliteration) but mainly for epistemological one: to persistently remember something easily sink into oblivion that scientific knowledge, from a certain point of view, is essentially a kind of fiction, a poem to be more precise, a mighty one lives its life in the grandest poem imaginable, the Great Universe.
“The scientific theorist is not to be envied. For Nature, or more precisely experiment, is an exorable and not very friendly judge of his work. It never says “Yes” to a theory. In the most favorable cases it says “Maybe,” and in the great majority of cases simply “No.””
— Entry into memory book for Professor Kammerling-Onnes, November 11, 1922; quoted in Dukas and Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, the Human Side, p.18.
An incomprehensible nature is an unbearable and therefore an inhabitable nature. Older than any era long lost from human memory, this law has been governing the evolution down to the sustainability of living beings in their interactions with the harsh and ever randomly changing nature. The first contemplating human, must had understood that even in its most tranquil state, the magnificent nature spread itself out in immensely complex phenomenon. The first information to human experience must have been really complex, even largely chaotic.
March 28, 2009
Susan Sontag, et al.:
Image ─ Time
If fine art were literature, and painting were poetry, then photography were language. Because of, among others, its unprecedented power to immortalize and multiply any image, not only the one that can be spontaneously perceived by human naked eyes, photography is definitely not a mere form of art; it extends beyond art. “Photography is a medium with which art is created.” Susan Sontag elaborated this idea in her book, On Photography (OP, 1976). The assertion that photography—and, of course, cinema—is a language had occurred previously in, for example, Andre Bazin’s work. By focusing her attention mainly on photography and suspending its connection with cinema, Sontag strengthened the assertion and developed it further. In OP, a slim book that stands as one of “the most original and important works on photography,” Sontag even calls photography as a meta-art: a medium to create art and at the same time the highest aspiration of art. In the 19th century Walter Pater dictated that all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music; that is to achieve a match between form and content, to entirely dissolve the distinction between the two. Sontag, in the 20th century, revised Pater’s dictum and emphasized that all art aspires to the condition of photography instead. Along with its capability to live like music that is to make its medium as its very content, photography is also essentially democratic in terms that practically anyone can make it—in the same breath it offers revolutionary energy annihilating the discrimination between ugly art and beautiful one.
January 11, 2009
This Universe of Mankind?
In every “real” encounter with science and technology, one will always experience a kind of revolution. In Indonesian literary history, very few writers are well versed in exposing the dramatics of the encounter, and the impact that leads to the birth of a new awareness: an era unimaginable before. Among the few is Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a victim of the New Order regime and the most famous Indonesian prose writer in the 20th Century. In the second page of This Earth of Mankind, the first book of ‘Buru Quartet,’ Pramoedya presents Minke’s confession, the protagonist, that, “I was still very young, just the age of a corn plant, yet I had already experienced modern learning and science: They had bestowed upon me a blessing whose beauty was beyond description.”
January 11, 2009
Employing the evolution-given brain, humanity has succeeded so far in accumulating extraordinary amount of knowledge, including that of the natural universe. But that abundant pile is always haunted by epistemological anxiety regarding the truth, the consistency, and the completeness of the knowledge.
Along with its assertion that the Platonic mathematical universe can never be reduced into a finite set of symbols and a bounded group of axioms, Gödel Theorem shows that a consistent knowledge is incomplete and a complete knowledge is inconsistent. For any consistent formal, recursively enumerable theory that proves basic arithmetical truths, an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory, can be constructed. That is, any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both simultaneously consistent and complete.
How can humanity be rested assured of the accumulative knowledge on universe’s birth, when the incredibly vast distance of space and time makes it impossible for humanity to directly witness the birth of the universe?
“Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” — Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927), p. 286, J. B. S. Haldane.
How can human race complete the knowledge of the universe and all within, being aware of the impossibility of gaining complete knowledge of an object for one who is entrapped inside of it, while realizing the improbability of going outside of the universe he lives in?
October 6, 2008
The Word: the Sword and the World
“HERO” Part 2
There are movies which, like other artistic masterworks, never fail to overwhelm us and make us temporarily forget this world in order to rediscover it again and again shining with new rainbow. Every time we spend minutes watching these movies, they spread their forms and contents open and wide, offering a new set of glittering diamonds previously hidden within their overlooked foldings. Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002) belongs to such cinematic masterworks. Its power will leave us almost speechless and we could only take deep breath—and got suspended—while savoring the succession of scenes presented like a string of bewitching visual art gems. Hero offers a stack of spectacular panoramic layers and dreamlike landscapes taken with wide angel shots, irresistibly seducing the spectator not to dissolve into the nature but to absorb the nature fusing into oneself.
Hero is a work of calligraphy where “profundity depends on perception.” It is also a tranquil transparent lake containing blue heaven whose mirror-like surface could be tapped by different palms and swords and echoing different tunes and messages.
September 22, 2008
La Galigo, Odyssey, Buendia Family
Sawerigading in the Buginese epic purportedly by I La Galigo, and Odysseus in the Greek epic ascribed to Homer — they do not merely ride the waves blazing the world around. They both weave a universe, constructed on the scale of human understanding.
Comprised of around 3000, 000 verse lines in an archaic esoteric Buginese language with various framed stories, La Galigo, or Sureq (manuscript) Galigo, is one of the biggest literary works in the world. And certainly with the one-thousand-years-old Kyrgizstan epic, Manas, and with the 120 volumes Chinese novel, The Red Room Fantasy (Hung Lou Meng) ‘by’ Cao Xueqin and Gao E written in Manchu Dynasty Era in Mid 18th century, Sureq Galigo is one of the longest classical manuscripts ever made by human.
If judged merely by the verses count, Sureq Galigo outnumbers the grandest India subcontinent epic commonly regarded as the longest in the world: Mahabharata. Yet length does not necessarily imply the prowess of a writing, except probably the stamina of its composer(s).
September 15, 2008
Heaven and Earth
This narrative essay imagines the encounter of a statesman from Gowa-Tallo Kingdom with the West. He was open-minded and very enthusiastic to Renaissance ideas and scientific mode of inquiry, which came to Gowa-Tallo or Macassar (South Sulawesi, Indonesia) successively following the teaching of Islam, brought by the Sumatran, and Christian by the Portuguese. He lived in one of the most exciting periods in intellectual history: the first half of seventeenth century. The encounter truly gave him deep understanding of how the existing way of life and codes of conduct inherited from the wise native ancestors would not be sufficient and helpful to cope the incoming waves of change, the advancing huge hungry powers from Europe willing to destroy each other and to sacrifice anything for spice and other commodities. This piece is based on the academic works of Anthony Reid (1999), Denys Lombard (1990) and Sagimun MD (1992); its earlier version was published in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 3, Number 2, 2002.
That very day, I Mangngadaccinna Daeng I Ba’le’ Sultan Mahmud, more renowned by his title of nobility, Karaeng Pattingalloang (KP) was standing upright. He was embracing the sea breeze and the ruffling waves of Macassar Strait. I imagined that next to the Prime Minister of Gowa Sultanate were standing under the sun of February 1651, his son-in-law: I Mallombassi, later to become Sultan Hasanuddin, and KP’s own son Karaeng Karungrung, later to become the next Prime Minister, deeply digesting a book on his hands. Several of tubarani (warriors) from the Tallo Palace and Fort Sombapou were also present, some were mixing in the crowd of many origins such as Macassar (Gowa), Bugis, Malacca, Java, Campo, Johor, Minang, Pattani, India, China, Portuguese, Spain, Denmark, France and England.
September 14, 2008
Engineers of Nation
Some experts call Walter Benjamin’s 1000-plus page magnum opus The Arcades Project (Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard, 1999) quite simply one of the greatest 20th century efforts to comprehend “History”. Some even call this thick tome the greatest endeavour of all studies into one of the most fundamental perceptions in 2500 years of world development: a perception arising from awareness of the way the relationship between limited humanity and unlimited time dictates human life. This perception has become extremely influential in shaping world reality over the past three centuries.
Inspired by various sources, particularly Marcel Proust and Martin Heidegger, Rudolf Mrázek does something similar to Benjamin. Mrázek, an expert on modern Southeast Asian history who was born in the Czech Republic and later moved to America, achieves this in his latest book, currently being translated into Indonesian, Engineers of Happy Land: Technology and Nationalism in a Colony (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).
September 13, 2008
What We Don’t Understand
Makes Us Scared
Knowledge System and Human Culture
One of the most important lessons at the turn of the millennium is that alongside all kinds of differences that strike our senses, people — West or East, white or brown — truly have many similarities. Human differences are caused by their radical similarities: the thorns and flowers of that difference blossom because the basic roots of similarity — the urge to live and thrive, to sense and make sense of the world — must respond to different contexts. Once these diverse contexts are altered and made the same, then the similarities that lie in the anthropological bases of human communities become clearly visible.
On June 26, 2000, the completion of the first phase of human genetic mapping was announced simultaneously at six points on the planet Earth hemisphere: Washington DC, London, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and Beijing. The Genetic map clearly shed some light on interconnections of the whole living beings: brotherhood between human species with the rest of creatures on Earth. From the map we know that humans have 51% in common with the genetic makeup of yeast, and 98% in common with chimps. As for the color difference in skin, hair, eye and other physical attributes used to distinguish human and taken as essentials in human history, they are caused by minute genomic differences of only 0.2 per cent. There are indeed too many natural likenesses among humanity compared to their differences. Nature contributes only a tiny drop to the ocean of human external skin-thinned differences which in history so often become excuses for many ethnic cleansing and holy wars.