Cave Art

November 28, 2014

Tale of Two Horses


Horse is the most influential animal on the development of history. If there are three things that ushered in the dawn of human civilization, certainly they are: the creation of the alphabet, the discovery of the wheel, and the domestication of the horse. As was emphasized by Alfred Weber, the spreading of horse domestication as a mounted animal, and for hauling carriages, was the catalyst for the blooming of what Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age (die Achsenzeit) from the 8th to the 2nd centuries BC.

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Equine Equator

November 28, 2014

Salted Fish and Instant Noodle


The Equine Equator Expedition is undertaken with two horses whose origin can be traced back to the very soil of the equatorial Indonesia. One horse is a KPI (Kuda Pacu Indonesia, or Indonesian Race Horse), a cross-breed between local Sandalwood mares and imported Thoroughbred stallions. The other is a purebred Sandelwood pony whose ancestors came from Sumba Island. These two companions are able to exchange roles as the riding horse and pack animal. By using a modern racing horse and an ‘antique’ local pony, I imagined myself riding an historical vehicle that spatially connecting me to all corners of the earth where the clop of horses hooves can still be heard, an temporally transporting me to the near future of the earth and simultaneously to the late age of prehistoric times when mankind’s ancestors began to lay foundation for their cultures.

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October 3, 2014

A Brief Note on Birds

The essence of Mathematics resides in its freedom
— George Cantor

There seems to be a tighter bond between math and poetry than between man and the mind in his head. Well known poets who have long since dead such as John Keats when he wrote Lamia, or Edgar Allan Poe when he worked on Sonnet — To Science, or Walt Whitman when crafting When I heard the learn’d astronomer, do not seem to have recognized this tight bond. The same goes for those who are living and think that math and poetry are two things that have developed at opposite poles, and because of this cancel each other out. A slightly better view, even though it is still shallow, will say that math and poetry, or literature, are not enemies, but these two things are not on the same level, and it is literature that is superior to, that is more amazing than, math. This second view can also be felt in the fat thick novel of the most famous Japanese contemporary writer, Haruki Murakami.

 1Q84 1

In the first part of his novel IQ84 whose launch was greeted with much fanfare in Europe and America, Murakami wrote the following on mathematics and literature:

Where mathematics was a magnificent imaginary building, the world of story as represented by Dickens was like a deep, magical forest for Tengo. When mathematics stretched infinitely upward toward the heavens, the forest spread out beneath his gaze in silence, its dark, sturdy roots stretching deep into the earth. In the forest there were no maps, no numbered doorways…. Tengo began deliberately to put some distance between himself and the world of mathematics, and instead the forest of story began to exert a stronger pull on his heart… Someday he might be able to decipher the spell. That possibility would gently warm his heart from within.

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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

Imaginary Time,

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.


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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.

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January 11, 2009

This Universe of Mankind?

Human–Made Universe!

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.”[1]

Detail terbalik "Penciptaan Adam" Michelangelo

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January 11, 2009

Supercosmos Re-Creation?

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.


Kurt Gödel and Albert Einstein, 1950. IAS Archives

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?


J. B. S. Haldane, 1941. Photo: Hans Wild/LIFE

“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?

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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.

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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.

La Galigo old manuscript. Photo: Nurhayati Rahman

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).

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