Dunhuang at the Himalayas

Absurd name aside, the Dunhuang — Song of Living Beings exhibition at the Shanghai Himalayas Museum is superb. Even those who’ve been to Dunhuang will appreciate it.


Just as an art of the replica show, it’s jaw-dropping (and it isn’t just that, remotely).

The modern artworks included in the show mostly make little difference, with a few exceptions. They’re simply, and inevitably, overwhelmed by the Mogao Caves material.


“Getting rid of your brain sounds like a bad idea.”

It says a lot about the cosmos that evolution seems to disagree.

The oldest known fossil with a complex brain is about 520 million years old. This was a time when life became much more abundant and diverse, often referred to as the Cambrian explosion. […] Discovered in China, the animal looked like a woodlouse with claws. It seems to have had an elaborate brain-like structure consisting of a fore-, mid- and hind-brain, all of which had specialised neural circuits. […] This suggests that complex brains were in place as early as 520 million years ago. But they may not have stayed.


Quick links (#25)

Nervous eyes on Chinese growth (and beyond). China’s rising tech businesses. Some China politics realism from Peter Hessler [ADDED: *ahem*].

Full text of the SOTU address (you shouldn’t have any difficulty understanding it). Computational (mainstream) politics (1, 2, 3). Digital populism.

The Left is lining up for its next cream-pie in the face (1, 2, 3, 4).

Andreessen visits the secular stagnation arguments (with copious links). QE and currency war. The meaning of student debt.

SpaceX, where rocketry meets the Internet. Musk and the hyperloop. Neural Turing Machines. Drone packs. Printed mansions. The coming adventure robots.

A brain-computer comparison. Two-way Radio Communication with the Brain (excerpt, 1975). CS22: The History and Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence (+ readings links). AI and angelology. Lego worm.

Paul Ennis on big data and mass surveillance. In defense of encryption. Social disintegration games (plus slides).

A response to Noys on accelerationism. A report on the Wolfendale wars.

So if you’re going to think most everyone is wrong anyway, why bother thinking they’re wrong in the old way, the way possessing the preposterously long track record of theoretical failure?”

Hidden planets of the outer solar system.

Nietzsche in Walmart. Stefan Beck on Houellebecq. Jon Ronson interviews Adam Curtis. AAF 2015 conference schedule. Opened X-files. El futuro post-intencional. Quantum techno-capitalism. Qliphothic dirt. Hating on Wes Anderson. Weekly Dark Matter bombardment (1, 2, 3, 4).

Quick links (#15)

Chinese economic wobbles are still fraying nerves. Domestic confidence in China is likely to depend on the real estate market. Some intriguing micro-responses are already evident.

China building islands — beyond the narrow geopolitics, it surely counts as an important innovation when territory becomes constructible. (This is very vaguely relevant.)

Sinocism predictions for 2014.

Simon Leys: An appreciation (by Francesco Sisci).

Taking the Dow Jones Industrial Average as a proxy, and measuring against something solid, it’s not difficult to see where we are on the wave:


Long-term decline models aside, technological innovation tends to accelerate in the trough. Places to look for that happening in the present cycle include blockchain innovation; e-commerce, wearable tech; quantum computing; VR; game-based Internet ecologies; consumer biotech; commercial drones; 3D printing; and — perhaps a little further outspace.

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Ayache Links

There’s a scruffy interchange with Elie Ayache taking place in this comment thread (conducted on the side of Ayache with impeccable grace). Reaching a state of minimal competence in this conversation is not going to be easy. In case others are inspired to scale the same daunting intellectual cliffs, I’ve rounded up some preliminary links.

The main archive of his writings is here.

On Elie Ayache’s main work, The Blank Swan, EA himself refers to two reviews, in the NYT, and The Hindu. (The former is suggestive of complete incomprehension, the latter makes a more convincing impression of at least tenuous understanding.)

‘The Medium of Contingency’, a philosophical essay in which Ayache outlines his basic thesis, can be found here.

Two discussion threads engaging Ayache’s work (here, and here). Ayache participates in the former as “numbersix”.

Ayache’s work is the place where Speculative Realism (especially Meillassoux) intersects with economic reality. From an alternative perspective, it is an extreme ‘radicalization’ of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s critique of Gaussian market modeling.

In describing The Blank Swan, Ayache summarizes its argument as “… placing price before probability and absolute contingency before possibility.” Construed in more literary-philosophical terms, this amounts to “… a reconstruction of the market of contingent claims in the realm of writing and difference instead of identity and delimitation of states.”

This blog holds applied Bayesian (subjective probabilistic) inference to be the unsurpassable scheme for capitalistic rationality, or risk-processing, in general, as most lucidly evidenced in financial speculation. When Ayache claims to have exceeded such thinking, to arrive at a practical (and even algorithmic) grasp of absolute contingency, UF‘s initial response can only be highly skeptical. Currently such reservations are being sustained only as primitive ‘priors’. In other words, this intellectual innovation looks, obscurely, like a very bad bet.

Wolfendale v. Urban Future

Pete Wolfendale has a version here. There were some threading issues, so this is the Urban Future version:

[Not “causally” but “casually”.]

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On #Accelerate (#2c)

A (quick) digression on speed

Acceleration, as Accelerationism employs it, is a concept abstracted from physics. In this philosophical (and socio-historical) sense, it preserves its mathematical definition (consolidated by the differential calculus) as higher derivatives of speed, with continued reference to time (change in the rate of change), but with re-application from passage through space to the growth of a determinable variable. The theoretical integrity of accelerationism, therefore, rests upon a rigorous abstraction from and of space, in which the dimension of change — as graphed against time — is mapped onto an alternative, quantifiable object. The implicit complicity of this ‘object’ with the process of abstraction itself will ultimately translate into explicit theoretical complications.

The flight into abstraction is theoretically snarled by reflexive tangles. Comparable difficulties arise on the side of the flight ‘out’ of space, primarily because the coincidence of intelligibility and spatiality tends rather to thicken than dissolve with each further increment of abstraction, propelling intelligence into phase-spaces, probability-spaces, Cyberspace, and deterritorialization. Space is released from its ‘original’ concreteness into the purity of the intuitive medium, while acquiring active intelligibility as display space, within which concepts become sensible. There is no more archaic, or more contemporary, illustration than the intuition of time through space, as demonstrated by the entire history of horology, the time-line, time dimensionalization, and graphed dynamics. Space sticks to measure on its path into abstraction, and even leads it there.

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Chunjie in Phnom Penh

… is pretty quiet so far (10pm). Phnom Penh, however, is an amazing city, and evidently going places. The funky affluence in some parts far exceeded expectations, and the river-confluence geography is an extraordinary treasure (reminiscent of Chongqing). The whole family even got their feet nibbled by gently carnivorous fish, but that’s another story …

If fireworks start exploding later, I’ll let you know.

Have a productive Year of the Horse everyone.


Views from the Shanghai Tower

Some stunning images from local photographer Blackhaven have been selected by James Griffiths at Shanghaiist, presenting Lujiazui as it has never been seen before. Super-tall towers are objects and platforms of spectacle. It’s probably futile to argue about which aspect of urban visual reconstruction matters more.

ADDED: From Jacob Rubin’s excellent essay on the Burj Khalifa:

Still, a building like the Burj exerts a magnetic pull, much of which derives from the prospect of its view. Such is the question posed by a tower: is it made to be looked at or out of? “Vista,” as a word, has come to have it both ways, denoting not just the view itself but the perch that affords it, as if the latter attained the status of lookout simply by purveying one. When one gazes upon the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building, this is literally what one is looking at: a view of a view, a vision of a vision, and that distinct, dread-soaked awe known to any passerby must derive, at least in part, from imagining the view from up there. Like the face of a visionary, these buildings draw much of their power from what they look upon.