First Binge of 2023: Severance

Severance Season 1

I was looking for a good series to binge after White Lotus and someone at my gym suggested Severance. I got a real “Lost” vibe from the show right from the start, some behind-the-scenes mysterious group controlling both the characters and us, the viewers – a common trope in contemporary drama. What are these employees doing? What is really happening? The Jim Carry movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was top of mind as well: how removing individual memories unravels the consistency that is the hallmark of the Self.

First off, as someone who appreciates cinematography, some of the location shots were pretty spectacular, the parking lot and the building interior were quite beautiful, allowing the architecture of the public spaces freedom as opposed to the claustrophobic spaces of the offices and the hallways that the workers inhabit. Like that hallway to the break room that John Turturo paints, the tightness of the working space is palpable.

I didn’t know that Ben Stiller directed but I noted he directed most of the first season. The characters unfold through the story until each revelation adjusts your understanding of what is “really” going on: whether cleaning the ocean, a more mundane experiment by a ego fueled billionaire, anonymizing state sanctioned killing, or some other mysterious earth saving initiatives (that was one of the connections that I had with the cultish Dharma Initiative on Lost), I am sure that we won’t ever know.

And malicious because of the hidden aspect of the work. Much like how the Milgram shock experiments showed the corporate banality of evil expressed by Hannah Arendt, hiding what each individual does, even to themselves, allows evil. Abstracting humans into data is bad enough.

I also didn’t know that Christopher Walken was in this so a big surprise when he entered the frame. His work at Lumen is as bizarre as the others and his presence adds even more weight to each scene that he inhabits.

What is up with that brother in law? Why do I get the impression that he is more behind this cult then we are led to believe? He reminds me of Patrick Swayze’s character in Donnie Darko. And why do I keep thinking about his explanation for the three beds in the kids room and its connection with the process of severance itself?

Not a lot of traffic about this show on Reddit but I did learn that they started filming season 2 a few months back so I eagerly anticipate its launch. The Guardian has a good season 1 wrap up from February 2022 here.

More ChatGPT: learning about how to learn about er, learning.

Or how I am spending too much time on ChatGPT. ChatGPT is now being incorporated into the Bing Search engine BTW.

And forget about the hand wringing about teachers being underpaid to read computer generated text or the oft-repeated end of the humanities, most dangerously, this will make it easier for people to write malware.

In terms of data literacy, literacy is literacy, right? So I asked ChatGPT to give me a simplified overview of what it does when a user types text into its interface. As an aside, I have been testing it with gibberish much akin to the Turkish thriller Hot Skull (see another post): communication (ergo civilization) depends on iterative translation of understandable context and content – the Chomskean reference in the first episode of the show, I assume.

As you can see below from ChatGPT’s response it is straight forward semantic analysis but this semiology is, to me, not the same as that for humans: machine semiotics ≠ human semiotics. But how is it different is what I am most interested by. Can machine dynamic semantics be trained solely using iterative utterance pairs? What can I learn about human learning from learning about machine learning trying to mimic human learning. Am I caught in a cyclical redundancy error?

When I receive a user's input, here is a more detailed explanation of the process I go through:
For example, I know that verbs are often used to describe actions or states of being, while nouns are used to name people, places, or things. Adjectives are used to describe nouns, and adverbs are used to describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.
1. Tokenization: The first step is to split the input into individual words and punctuation marks, a process called tokenization. This allows me to analyze the input at the word level.
2. Part-of-speech tagging: Next, I assign a part of speech (such as noun, verb, adjective, etc.) to each word in the input, based on its definition and its role in the sentence.
3. Dependency parsing: I then analyze the relationships between the words in the input, taking into account their grammatical roles and the structure of the sentence. This allows me to understand the meaning of the sentence as a whole.
4. Sense disambiguation: If a word has multiple meanings, I use the context of the sentence and the rest of the input to determine which meaning is most appropriate.
5. Entity recognition: I also try to identify any named entities (proper nouns) in the input, such as people, places, and organizations.
6. Response generation: With all of this information, I can then use my knowledge and understanding of language to generate an appropriate response. This might involve looking up information, using my pre-defined responses to similar inputs, or using my understanding of the user's intentions to formulate a response.
In order to determine the role that a word is playing in a sentence (also known as its part of speech), I use my understanding of grammar and the relationships between words.
By analyzing the relationships between words in a sentence and their definitions, I can determine the part of speech of each word and understand the overall meaning of the sentence.

I followed up with a question about what item 4 was, which seems a key step in its assignation. How does it connect content with context?

Sense disambiguation is the process of identifying the correct meaning of a word in a given context. Words can often have multiple meanings, and it's important to choose the right one in order to understand the intended meaning of a sentence.
For example, the word "bass" can be a noun referring to a type of fish, or it can be a noun referring to a low-frequency sound or a range of notes in music. In order to disambiguate the sense of the word, it's necessary to consider the context in which it is used. If the word appears in a sentence about music, it is more likely to refer to a range of notes, while if it appears in a sentence about fishing, it is more likely to refer to a type of fish.
There are a number of techniques that I can use to disambiguate the sense of a word, including analyzing the surrounding words and phrases, considering the overall topic of the conversation, and using my general knowledge about the world. By using these techniques, I can choose the most appropriate meaning for a word and better understand the intended meaning of the sentence.

ChatGPT miscellany

I asked ChatGPT is come up with the plot for a cop buddy movie between a person (me) and an AI program. While not going to win points for originality, I am really intrigued by the two “mishaps and misadventures”, i.e. fire alarm and the vending machine.

I’m also interested that I didn’t provide the name or gender of the AI but I wonder if the word “sassy” would have been used if the name chosen wasn’t a “feminine” name. This may be an example of learned bias being reinforced.

The movie follows the adventures of two unlikely partners: a bumbling police detective named Michael and a sassy artificial intelligence named Alice. When Michael is assigned to a high-profile case involving a string of robberies, he is paired with Alice, a newly developed AI designed to assist with investigations.
At first, Michael is skeptical of Alice's capabilities and unwilling to trust a machine to help with his work. But as they team up to track down the perpetrators, Michael starts to see that Alice is more than just a machine - she is a valuable partner with her own unique skills and insights.
As they work together to solve the case, Michael and Alice encounter a series of hilarious mishaps and misadventures, including accidentally setting off the building's fire alarm while trying to hack into a computer, and getting into a heated argument with a vending machine over the price of a snack.
Despite the challenges they face, Michael and Alice always manage to come out on top thanks to their combined wit and determination. In the end, they successfully crack the case and bring the perpetrators to justice, becoming the most unlikely crime-solving duo in the city. As they celebrate their victory, Michael realizes that he has learned to appreciate and trust Alice's unique abilities, and the two vow to continue working together to keep the city safe and laughing.

Pranayama and Meditation resources – One

Each time I practice I look to one or more of the following thoughts – what do I confront? What do I transform? What do I integrate or innovate? I always like to have a clearly stated intention when I begin.

I intend to assemble here and in subsequent posts, accessible objects that I use in my daily ritual.

I begin each day during brahma muhurta, one hour and thirty-six minutes before the rise of the sun. This is the penultimate muhurta, a period of 48 minutes – 1/30th of a day. Sunrise in Ottawa today was at 7:38.

I will digress that this word muhurta in Sanskrit is made up of two sounds that refers to the immediate and to how this immediacy functions as an ordering – a perpetual now found in thinkers familiar in the Western tradition from Heraclitus to Nietzsche to Latour.

I will order my bed and brush my teeth before I begin my wake-up routine of pranayama and meditation. I was told a long time ago that monks always start with ordering their space in preparation for practice which makes a lot of sense to me even though I am no monk. And while my meditation always begins during brahma muhurta, my pranayama may end after sunrise.

My goto app in the morning for meditation is Oak. I dont use it any other time except for my morning routine. It is a habit. Its free and does exactly what I needed it to do when I started this ritual when I was at home during the pandemic. It show my progress (good for motivation since I easily depreciate my accomplishments) and has both breathing and mediation timers including box breathing. I dont’ use it for Tummo sessions which I will describe in another post.

Oak is pretty basic but a nice GUI and breathing shouldn’t be anything but basic anyway. IOS only. I did pay for the course and it was worth the 2 bucks I paid, if, for nothing else, as an offering to initiate my ritual.

My current streak. Its on my old phone too so I always bring it with me when I travel since even though the app is on my new devices, my streak record is only on this phone and I cannot break the chain!*
*Breaking the chain refers to Jerry Seinfeld's rule about being successful at things - using a visual indication - in his case a calendar where he puts a big X each day he writes jokes. By having a visual cue, it was much easier for me pay attention to creating rituals and habits. It is ritual, according to Oscar Wilde, that is the origin of religion and, for us moderns, the basis of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy too. 

I was using pillows on the floor or a chair and decided to upgrade my meditation setup during the pandemic. Again, like breathing, this should be simple. I started on a chair and laying down. And even my zabuton from Half Moon, while comfortable, isnt perfect but all you really do just need to sit. Or lie down. Pretty simple. Don’t buy anything, all you need is your breath.

I still enjoy and watch this series : 7 Days to Mindfulness with Kirat Randhawa. I appreciate her calm demeanour in this series along with some guidance on topics such as finding your centre and how clarity and curiosity work in the meditation process and its use in day to day life when I am not in mediation. I also watch Netflix’s Headspace Guide to Mediation which was very accessbile and enjoyable. It was a great beginner resource for me when I initially found it, a perpetual beginner.

I come back to these teachings once in a while and find new things in them, each time! Next up, my pranayama practice and books!

Links for the week of December 12, 2022

A lot of people are talking about the new algorithmic “chat bot” that will, according to some, herald the end of the humanities as we know them. And while I have found some super interesting things that the chat-bot can do with “simple” prompts, it is quite interesting to reverse engineer some things that you might take for granted. More to come on this as I tinker.

The link that I will suggest is that StackOverFlow has added a new, temporary, policy directly about the use of Chat GPT stating that, among other things, the requirement for citations and the ability of the community to judge how accurate the answer responded to the query posted is core to this action. It is this latter part that is most interesting to me: persons with subject matter expertise may interpret the initial question (stimulus) and suggest what the requestor really wanted to know with this line of inquiry. See Metaphoric and Metonymic knowledge by Roman Jacobson and his influence on Lacan and Barthes. Chomsky too, for a delicious connection with Hot Skull below.

And while I tend to avoid Canadian politics, I will suggest that the fact that Canadian business people actively sought and received public COVID aid and then didn’t spend it for its intended purpose of employment is pretty fucked up. I appreciate this type of reporting from Jacobin.

I finished two television series this week, both well worth the time. The first is Mike White’s White Lotus, season 2. Review on Jacobin here that I found after reading above mentioned article about corruption. White Lotus is filled with lots of great characters and the scenery in Sicily was awesome with Mount Aetna in the background as in my screenshot below. I am excited for season 3. And hope to see more of Jack from Essex who, like the son in Season One, remains hopeful although broken. Will Greg make an appearance in season 3? Portia? I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival!

As I explained to a colleague, what I loved the most about White Lotus was that the initial episode (the beginning) was the end of the story but I was constantly amazed at how things that I assumed were true as the story progressed only appeared that way because of how I initially interpreted key scenes from that first episode. Great storytelling that showed many of my own biases and affectations with various herrings strewn about. It certainly kept me entertained.

And TIL that the writer, Mike White, was on the US reality tv show Survivor.

The White Lotus Season 2 – Mount Aetna spewing lava

The second series is Hot Skull from Netflix Turkey. I loved the back drop of Istanbul. A virus spread by speech that drives people into confusion and stupor? Certainly intriguing. It was in the first or second episode where they mention Noam Chomsky and fitting this pandemic along with an ambitious leader exploiting the crises for his own self aggrandizement is a recipe for success.

Hot Skull

News from the Net – Last Week of November

I spend a lot of time online, as many do. Even this website is mostly just used for my own purposes, the WordPress front to this site is a vanitas project that I mostly used while I travelled but who travels anymore. I still code in the background but have been struggling to make posting a habit.

To that end, perhaps I will add links to stories that I enjoyed reading. I told myself that this was a great way to collect data on what I am paying attention to. That was enough to motivate me. I think. I’ll start tagging posts too that will help me create metrics for the data collection exercise.

First up, China. I have many unpublished writings on the geopolitics of China and Ukraine, mostly related to the historiography of Diplomatic History. My draft folder is replete with stories about the decline of empire but as I incorporate more and more history back into my “Cold War” reading list, I realize how important writers such as Odd Arne Westad are still changing my thinking about these issues as much as Melvyn Leffler did in grad school.

This Wired article about the protests in China is the most important piece from this week. COVID mobility restrictions is increasingly oppressive in many areas as officials struggle to immunize this vast population. Couple this with the inability of Xi to take full advantage of the transition of Hong Kong and the death of Jiang Zemin, and it is no wonder that the ghosts of Tiananmen are on the mind. Funerals and earthquakes tend to be external events that motivate social change in China.

The vector to technology and the Great Firewall of China is important. PRC have loosened mobility restrictions in Guangdong province but doing this may fuel discontent in other regions as they learn of this. Can central authorities maintain message control in the light of this “white paper” revolution?

This book on Basquiat is the book release of the week (I type this like it is a thing), but art history remains central to my reading and how I spend (too much of) my time. I am working on an article on Philip Guston and one thing that I am constantly reminded of in his late work is the street graffiti of New York. And while Basquiat is normally seen through the eyes of Warhol, Guston may be more appropriate in an asemic, object oriented, perspective. I’ll write more when I get this book. It will go on the list.

So two links for this week. More to come.


I settle my body like a tree stump.

I hold my arm like the branch of a withered tree; out of the vastness of heaven and earth, the multitude of the myriad things, I am only aware of cicada wings.

I don’t wander or waver, and I would not take all the myriad things in exchange for the wings of the cicada.

How could it be that I’d fail to succeed?

What did I learn from Bruno Latour?

Eda Kranakis told me, years ago, that Bruno Latour was someone worth paying attention to. When I read of his death yesterday I thought about what my interaction with Latour brings me, each time that I engage his thought. His pragmatism is what initially attracted me but the more I read, the less I understood. But the more I paid attention to what he was saying as I was reading it, the more I realized that I was really nothing more than an actor in a network.

I decided to re-read one of his books or one of his essays and while I first thought of We Were Never Modern, I opened On the Cult of the Factish Gods as, for me, this represents the late Latour at his finest: balancing on the edge of truth and madness, religion and heresy, ruminations on the fate of Frankenstein’s “monster”.

(Perhaps if I hadn’t just finished reading Frankenstein then I would be using a different analogy but here we are. I should re-write this in a few weeks since I just started an early version of what would later be known as Dracula by Bram Stoker, unknown outside of Iceland where it was translated and published called Makt myrkranna – Powers of Darkness – but I digress. Back to Latour.)

I put monster in quotation marks because it isn’t ever named as such in the book written two centuries ago. It is called a monster by (sighted) humans. The being that herr Frankenstein assembled was reviled because the sight of it sent humans mad and its existence threatened the species. It was an important point, I think, that the blind man accepts the being because of its expressions of culture, known to the fallen aristocrat. Vision and light, “seeing” and “knowing”.

Dare I say perspectival light, a “modern” light? A type of light created by, among others, Pierro della Francesca. The desiring lux of Dante.

Reviled and shunned because of human sight and an existential threat that these beings would replace humans as supposed by its creator, this living assemblage of dead parts was paradoxical, the source of madness for those that beheld it or contemplated it. In human light, perspectival lux, this being is a monster but human culture and literature was accessible and powerful to this Being. Paradise Lost and other works of literature also “created” this being as did the hostility it faced from most humans. These cultural products fulfilled their stated “human” purpose of “humanizing” but why then deny humanity to this being? What makes it monstrous? If nothing else, it is pitiable because it has only the desires of humans. But, again, back to Latour.

For Latour’s flat ontology all things are objects, much like in Graham Harman’s Object Oriented Ontology (noting that they themselves thought that they had divergent opinions on some core issues). The point is that just because Frankenstein looks and acts like a human to some, it doesn’t make it so. Just like a never helpful bot on a website, powered by “artificial intelligence”.

So what does make a human human? Is a human a hyper object that defies categories? This isn’t just about a nominalist debate, it is a clear challenge to Kantian categories of identity that would hold that objects are because of what they do or what they are made of. Latour says that it is what objects are assembled with, networked to.

Shelly ruminates on the fact that the being can and does learn to desire the things that humans do, or say that they do, with his eyes: he sees the interaction of the family and he reads Paradise Lost. Vision, ergo, lux is the core of this cosmogony. But it is human vision that the monster doesn’t have. Human vision, a human way of seeing, is the thing that the being cannot have and the one element that causes so much grief to it: if it saw itself as humans did, it would destroy itself as it initially intends. Instead, it crusades to the arctic desert knowing its vision can see truth, just a different one from the Others. And knowing that its existence is within its control. A funeral pyre is its noble decision when it chooses.

The arctic, for the being, is a spiritual sanctuary and punishment as it is for humans, much as it is represented in Renaissance literature and imagery: challenging clarity and perspective. Even in the early 19th century the arctic was felt as aporia, anti-perspective, unknown. Contingency exists between subject, object, and image in this geography.

Why does Frankenstein’s monster want to interact with the world the way that it does? All the things that the monster both sees and understands about humanity from observation or study comes to naught because of the irrational fears of “humanity”. Each time it wants only what it sees, what it reads to be desired, nothing more. It is frustrated by sighted humans at every turn. It just wants to be a producer and consumer, why else does he demand a spouse? Why else does he kill with his hands?

But it is irrational for this “transhumanist” being, pace Haraway because this ontology is denied for an immortal being. These are human things, these desires that it seeks. Once you think that you grasp them, like the light of faint stars, they disappear, or you disappear. Like the lights of the stars that you see your entire life, stars that haven’t existed for millennia.

These objects can only appear in your peripheral, mediated and translated, consumed. They are protean since you can only measure them in time with human tools of a perspectival ontology, you cannot see them clearly in both space and time because of the mortal coil. You will be frozen and destroyed. Humans are or are not.

Human paradise cannot accept this fundamental change to its architecture, its ontology denies this change into permanence. A ribozymic vine is an existential threat to seeded plants. The short life of humans is what gives meaning and explains its desire. The God Proteus is denied access to Eden. A Heraclitean life was in living, and that was only for mortals. Achilles rages when Patroclus sheds his mortal coil.

This human desire, this type of seeing, of consumption, is a mode of modern translation like Benjamin’s Arcades: an exchange, a pehnomenology. It is modernism if it is defined as transactional. It is an unchanging desire to desire: one cannot deny the arrow of Cupid – struck by Narcissus. It’s intoxication, like that of the vine. The poison of Bacchus and Loki.

No wonder God denied access to only this tempting thing. It was temptation itself! Desire for permanence.

The only acceptable change for mortals is redemption or reformation in the realm of the Gods, active or passive, never the middle voice, never immortality. This is the nature of Bruno Latour’s factish as it is the nature of the fetish: they exist-ish. Time is denied to the immortal. Humans are suffused with existence in time.

Much as Tristan Garcia revives the notion of Dantean love in his philosophy of being or the role of allure and desire to poet Charles Olson and Charles Baudelaire, this is both transformational and informational, it reveals its multitude in its singularity through its denial of history and time.

This is the form of religious talk I think that Latour wanted us to rehabituate ourselves to.

// edit – i hadn’t considered Latour in connection with the philosophy of Zhuangzhi!

The work of the artist in a digital age?

Just thinking out loud.

The digital age means that even the tools of Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction are not representations of reality. For Benjamin, reality has a sense of being the present, an aura of presentness.

The role of the audience or the spectator, like in the Parisian arcades (proto Consumer), becomes part of the assemblage through bracketing.

Bracketing is like purchasing an object in capitalism- an act of consumption. They are transactional but is this Deleuzian?

The bracket of the arcaded city mirrors the bracket of the arcaded nation – the closing of the frontier heralded by Frederick Jackson Turner.

Immersive digital forms are not assemblages of photographs; rather they historical objects that are aesthetically curated – they can be bracketed.