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A. Makelov

Category Archives: Inspiration

Yossarian lives!

“They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly.
“No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried.
“Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked.
“They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.”
“And what difference does that make?”

Joseph Heller, “Catch 22”

A METAPHORICAL SEARCH ENGINE.

   A METAPHORICAL SEARCH ENGINE.

      A METAPHORICAL SEARCH ENGINE.

It’s not a metaphor for a search engine. Get it? It’s a thing that finds metaphors for you. And it’s called “Yossarian Lives!”. Now how cool is that. I saw this sometime this summer, and recently the alpha’s image search has become operational. I tried it briefly and I have to admit the images it returned were pretty crazy and I could see a meaningful connection to my query in only a couple of them – but still, it was an interesting analogy. I was yossarianlives!ing for “moon” and I got devils. I then realized the shape of their horns resembled that of the moon crescent and was “wow”. Of course, there might have been many other connections I missed, due to the Stephen Fry problem (oh man I love these guys, they like everything I like).

Is the Stephen Fry problem just a convenient excuse? Is the final version going to be much better than the alpha? Are the images returned plain random? The future will show. However, the idea itself is amazing. “Outsourcing our minds”, bla bla bla. Shut up. Nothing (or at least, nothing yet) can outsource your mind, it can only inspire you to think deeper. Yossarian Lives!, if it lives up to its promise, will be a free, automated, non-stop service for blowing people’s minds. Remember the good old hanging around and not thinking about anything, just staring at the emptiness, when suddenly an amazing idea flashes through you mind, and you’re like “OMG THIS IS SO EPIC HOW COULD I NOT SEE THE CONNECTION BEFORE”? No more waiting for it to randomly happen – you just go to Yossarian Lives!, strike a couple of keys and be like “Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow….” for hours. An intellectual bomb. A mind-bender. In terms of a simple metaphor (haha), if the thing works as promised, we’ll have

\frac{\text{Yossarian Lives!}}{\text{hanging around waiting for a flash}}=\frac{\text{taking the roller coaster}}{\text{walking to grandma's house}} \ \ \ (1)

Is (1) good? Is it bad? Is it unnatural? Well, it’s tempting, and it could bring great change to the way people think about the world. And I think this is always good. If you don’t like it you just don’t use it.

Some other arguments the creators bring up (as if (1) is not enough) can be found in this very interesting essay. A great one is the following: search engines nowadays are, by nature, predicting their users and pointing them either to knowledge the majority of other people found useful (like, autocompletion), or to knowledge that is similar to what they searched for before. This may have many obvious advantages, but they come at a price: your knowledge horizon becomes conformist and hard to change. Search engines are trying to kill everyone. So they’re trying to kill you! It’s a pretty unfortunate Catch-22, isn’t it? On the other hand, the more subjective nature of the experience of understanding a metaphor has the potential to turn all this around (and confuse entire nations, I’m guessing, but there’s no other way).

Another reason why I find all this amazing is that this project seems to lie at the intersection of… everything. You notice this post is in almost all categories on my blog, as well as in Meta. Yossarian Lives!’s very heart is an objective process that seeks highly subjective results. The idea relates mathematics with art, determinism and rigorous theoretical ideas with the mind’s inner, sometimes seemingly arbitrary, associations and feelings. All fields of knowledge are basically clustered around these two poles, which often leads to people entirely dedicating themselves to one and forgetting the other, and consequently to lack of communication, understanding, and, I’m pretty sure, many interesting ideas. Well, I believe the poles are much closer than they appear to be to most people, and this project has a great potential to make me more right (:

So, what are you waiting for??? Go ahead and try it!

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Illuminatus!

“[it’s] like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon, wrapped ’round a large gold brick.”

Douglas Adams on …?

A SLICE OF LEMON?! Why not apple. A large gold brick? Why not a large golden… apple. OK, I admit it, he was apparently talking about the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. But he could have as easily been talking about (can you hear the drums?)

Hell yeah. That’s right. The Illuminatus! trilogy. This book is totally crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy in so many ways and on so many levels (and probably even more than that, actually). It contains a shamelessly huge number of references to art/history/whatnot, and the funniest uses of self-reference I’ve ever encountered. It holds a very special place in my library, and also it’s a lot of fun, that’s why I chose it as the first (and hopefully not last) book to be discussed in my blog.

This book is an easy read: right from its first line, “It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton.”, it will push you forward (and maybe pull you back when you finish it? Another inside joke from Math55…) through its dynamic plot, and you’ll be flying over the words, the sometimes absurdly long and complex sentences, the sudden shifts in time and place (and mindset), the infinite loads of irony, the puns, the Goddess(es), the talking porpoises, the playful mood, the underwater… whatever, laughing all the way. And – yay! It’s another sunny and exciting day of your life. You look up at the clear blue sky (no matter if it is clear and blue), infinitely more curious and infinitely more confused than you were when you started reading it. And that is always good. ‘What the hell was that?’, you might be asking yourself. What is left is this subtle feeling of a joke, resting somewhere under the worries of your mind – a small joke? a huge joke? maybe the world is a joke? maybe it was on you? – and it makes you smile mysteriously at everything and everyone you see that day. It makes you feel – or, more accurately, makes you remember that you are – liberated. And indeed, having your brains smashed out by a slice of the Apple of Discord never felt so good.

“Is”, “is.” “is” — the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don’t know what anything “is”; I only know how it seems to me at this moment”
― Robert Anton Wilson

This book is a hard read: you won’t know where you ARE, who the fnord characters ARE, whether what the two paranoid authors ARE scribbling about IS happening for real or not (whatever that means), what exactly IS happening, and all this IS making you mad, IS this some kind of crazy joke, why AM I even reading this?! Why all the weird conspiracy crap?! And fnord what IS the whole point of the story?!! It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I shouldn’t have bought fnord that! I’d better leave it back on the shelf…

You see what might trigger the bad trip. So, simply put: just keep an open mind, and let the book come in.

“The problem with quotes on the Internet is that you can’t always be sure of their authenticity.”

Abraham Lincoln

All Hail Eris! Or not. Whatever you like.

And as coincidence is a major theme of ‘Illuminatus!’, there was a curious coincidence involved in me ordering the book. I had known about it for several years, however I had some money to spend on books, so I ordered this together with one other book that had caught my eye more recenly: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. That’s a weird combination, I thought. Several months later, I found this about ‘Illuminatus!’:

In more recent years, it was complimented in the bibliography to the New Hackers Dictionary as a book that can help readers “understand the hacker mindset.” The Dictionary described it as:

An incredible berserko-surrealist rollercoaster of world-girdling conspiracies, intelligent dolphins, the fall of Atlantis, who really killed JFK, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and the Cosmic Giggle Factor. […] The perfect right-brain companion to Hofstadter‘s Gödel, Escher, Bach.

here, and this about ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach‘:

This book reads like an intellectual Grand Tour of hacker preoccupations. Music, mathematical logic, programming, speculations on the nature of intelligence, biology, and Zen are woven into a brilliant tapestry themed on the concept of encoded self-reference. The perfect left-brain companion to “Illuminatus”.

here. Well, I was just stupefied at how well the Cosmic Coincidence Control Center are doing their job, what can I say.

Dr John Lilly refers to “the crew that never rests” as Cosmic Coincidence Control Center and warns that they pay special attention to those who pay attention to them.

About possible criticism: Yes, I’m aware of all the conspiracy theories mentioned (and developed) in ‘Illuminatus!’ and the ‘Cosmic Trigger’ series. To put it firmly: I don’t care if any of them are true or not. When I read a book, I just read a book and that’s it. I agree that in some parts of ‘Cosmic Trigger’, Wilson might appear a little assertive of such stuff, and I always hate it when someone’s like, ‘OK, see? That’s how it is, that’s the conspiracy, they’re not giving you the truth – but I am!’, but his overall approach is agnostic in nature. And in ‘Illuminatus!’ I didn’t feel any signs of someone being assertive about anything. As I said, it left me even more confused and curious. So if you fell that the book is bad because it’s trying to convince you in some weird New World Order thing, the problem might actually be in your television set.

As to the point of the book (I’ve been successfully procrastinating bringing this scary word up), as far as there is one, well, I can’t tell you what it is. It’s simply because I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. I wasn’t able (for good or for bad) to just finish the last page and say, “Hey, I finally see what all this was about. So cool.” And as author Robert A. Wilson used to read Joyce’s Ulysses each year and find something new in it, I might do the same with ‘Illuminatus!’ (and maybe blog about it? haha!). So, nice job, Mr. Wilson! You should be glad, wherever you are. However, what I feel the point is, right now in this day and in this state of mind, recollecting about the experience I had while reading it a year or so ago, can be roughly summarized as:


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