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At the Boardwalk. Paintings Sale!

April 23rd, 2017

My son and his family came down for a day at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk a couple of weeks ago.

The kids frolicking by the water like live Flatland beings, like gothic shadows, so iconic.

I really ate a lot. Like the rat at the county fair in Charlotte’s Web. I got kind of hypnotized by the image of this giant dipped cone. The texture so appealing. Memories of eating these as a boy. I scored one and went down on the beach to eat it alone—I’d just bought ice-cream for the kids and myself a half hour before, and it didn’t seem wise to give the kids even more ice-cream already. But I figured I could handle it.

As always the sinister “Swiss Swings” ride made me uneasy.

It was crowded on the Boardwalk, a Saturday, with the slanting late afternoon sun. Kind of 1930s Coney Island photo look to it.

Great ragged silhouettes of gulls.

I bought rayguns for the kids so we could chase each other around yelling. Especially the little boy. And my wife gave the girls a pair of carrot-handled Easter jumpropes.

“Wild West” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 30” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

My most recent painting is called “Wild West.” After doing four cellular-automata-inspired paintings in a row, it was easy for me to go all the way into abstraction. Daubing away, hour after hour, until the colors all looked right. I made the blue things look a little like legs with feet because I my own leg was sore from bicycling. And then I decided they were blue boots and that, come to think of it, the whole painting has something of a Western theme.

The photo above shows me being in the Wild West recently, that is, in Lone Pine, California, near Mt. Whitney, as part of a road trip to Death Valley. I might get a new painting or two out of that trip.

Meanwhile, I’ve done a lot of paintings lately, and I need to sell some to clear up some space in my house. Check out the images, catalog, and reduced sale prices on my Paintings page!

CAs, Gibson’s Time Travel, Lovecraft, Gleick’s Chaos

April 12th, 2017

I’ve been busy with various projects this month.

As I mentioned before, I put a version of the code for my continuous-valued cellular automata (CA) program Capow on the ultrageek GitHub site.

Here’s a really nice image I made with a CA based on a so-called “activator-inhibitor rule with saturation.” You can see the detailed code for this rule online. And then I made a painting of this image, with things changing, as they do, along the way.

“Soft Zhabo” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

That guy near the top…is that kangaroo, or maybe a turtle with a lumpy head?

And I reread William Gibson’s wonderful novel, The Peripheral. One aspect I particularly admire about the work is how Bill sidesteps the perennial problem of how to have time travel without getting into such nasty paradoxes as these two chestnuts:

Yes and No: You go back in time and kill your past self as a teen. If you die, you don’t, and if you don’t you do.

Closed Causal Loop. You go back in time and give the blueprints of your time machine to your past self, who then builds the time machine that you’re using. So the time machine “invents itself.”

[“Death of the Hippie”, anonymous poster from Haight-Ashbury, 1967, now in “Summer of Love” show at De Young.]

In The Peripheral, someone has a device that sends and receives information, to and from the past. The act of making a connection produces a fork in causality, and the new branch no longer leads to the future that you are living in. The people in that now-forked-off past branch can affect your present, by doing things via the info link that you’ve set up. But they can’t change your branch’s past.

What gives this a nice time-travel aspect is that some of the characters have access to remotely operated “peripherals,” that is, android-like stand-ins. They’re not just emailing or videophoning to the future, they’re operating a robot that they’re (virtually) in. The heroine, Flynn, is from a down-at-the-heels country town in our time—it’s a Hillbilly Elegy type hamlet—and she gets a future peripheral which is very high-tech and well-equipped.

[Crab-like graffito on Ocean Beach.]

Conversely, the reluctant hero, an alkie named Netherton, and from a future version of London, gets a past peripheral which is a low-tech toy called a “Wheelie Boy.” The Wheelie Boy is like the push-toy a toddler might have, remotely operated, with a crude gyro to keep the handle erect, and a camera and a display screen atop the handle. Netherton can roll the Wheelie Boy around and look through the camera. And Flynne and her friends can see Netherton’s expressions on the Wheelie Boy’s display screen. Just one step up from a Face Time iPhone. But Gibson wonderfully conjures up what it would be like to be telepresent in the past.

Here’s a wonderfully touching scene of Netherton in Flynne’s room via Wheelie Boy.

Gloriously pre-posthuman. In a state of nature. … Her room, [with Netherton] rotating the cam as far as he could, was like the interior of some nomadic yurt. Nondescript furniture, tumuli of clothing, printed matter. This actual moment in the past, decades before his birth. A world he’d imagined, but now, somehow, in its reality, unimaginable. … He turned the camera, studying the shabby, shadowy tableau of lost domestic calm.

By the way, speaking of Bill’s “Wheelie Boy,” in the 70s, I drew cartoons about a character called “Wheelie Willie.” Sometimes when I read Gibson, I find odd little synchronicities. Chaotic eddies on the strange attractor that is cyberpunk. I have a old page of my Willie Willie cartoons on my blog.

One more touching line from The Peripheral, Flynne, wearing a high-tech peripheral in the future, sees some images in an antiques store.

“It was like the pictures in a box at a yard sale, nobody remembering who those people were, or even whose family, let alone how they came to be there. It gave her a sense of things falling, down some hole that had no bottom. Whole worlds falling, and maybe hers too.”

How deep a chord that strikes. If you’re of a certain age, you may have had this experience in sorting through a dead parent’s old photos and papers. Their past like decaying leaves on a forest floor.

Anyway, as I think I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working on a novella called “In the Lost City of Leng,” writing it with my old comrade Paul Di Filippo, who is in fact Rhodinsular (that is, from Rhode Island), as was our man H. P. L. We finished writing what is (one hopes) the final version of the story this week and sent it off to an SF magazine. Oh, and did I mention that I turned 71 this month?

Back to Lovecraft. I’ve been going through some of the stories in his collected works. “The Whisperer in Darkness” is a good one. Dig this condensed quote:

Tales of buzzing voices in imitation of human speech which made surprising offers to lone travelers on roads and cart-paths in the deep woods. They whispered at night in the forest with voices like a bee’s that tried to be like the voices of men—a morbid echo winging its way across unimaginable abysses from unimaginable outer hells. I can still hear that feeble, fiendish buzzing as it reached me for the first time. It was like the drone of some loathsome, gigantic insect ponderously shaped into the articulate speech of an alien species, and I am perfectly certain that the organs producing it can have no resemblance to the vocal organs of man, or indeed to those of any of the mammalia.

Cover of Chaos Package

Back in the computer-hacking mode, riding the momentum of having restored CAPOW, I went ahead an posted a new free GitHub release of the source, manual, and executables of a 1991 Autodesk DOS program that was called “James Gleick’s CHAOS: The Software,” inspired by James Gleick and his brilliant book, Chaos: Making a New Science . The software was written by Josh Gordon, John Walker, and me. I wrote most of the algorithms, Walker did some fractal landscapes algorithms, and Josh Gordon did the interface, and much of the implementation of the algorithm code. The CHAOS program had six modules.

One of my favorites was a Mandelbrot Set program, incorporating: quadratic and cubic Julia sets, quadratic and cubic Mandelbrot sets, and a gnarly cubic connectedness map that I went ahead and named the Rudy set.

My other favorite CHAOS module was a Strange Attractors program showing the Lorenz Attractor, the Logistic Map, the Yorke Attractors, and the Henon Attractors.

The notion of strange attractors lies at the heart of chaos theory. Even now, nearly forty years later, the public at large still doesn’t get what chaos is about. You might try and summarize the main ideas like this:

* Although many natural and mathematical systems evolve according to clear mathematical equations, these systems tend not to be predictable.

* One reason for unpredictability is that any slight perturbation of the system is amplified into big changes later on. This is called sensitive dependence on initial conditions or the butterfly effect—stemming from the folkloric notion that our global weather is so sensitive that, say, the flap of a butterfly’s wing in the Amazon might be linked to a thunderstorm in Detroit a week later.

* A less obvious—and more fundamental—point is that many natural systems are inherently chaotic. The system never settles down. It dances among a wide gamut of values. When a natural system seems to wobble about, there often is not any “explanation.” It’s just being chaotic. That’s how the math happens to work.

* Another non-obvious but even more important point is that, even when a system is behaving chaotically, it’s values aren’t fully random. The unpredictable gamut of values tend to cluster into certain patterns. And these patterns are called strange attractors.The Mandelbrot set itself is a strange attractor for a certain simple process, and the images above are strange attractors as well.

The most famous strange attractor is the Lorenz attractor. Shown above is “Fly Lorenz,” a wonderful 1984 film made by some chaotician Germans called the Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film (Göttingen, Germany). Here’s the link, if the embedded video above doesn’t work.

[Frederic Church, “Rainstorm in the Tropics,” 1866, at DeYoung Museum]

Over time, I’ve learned to see strange attractors everywhere. The possible behaviors of the waves at the beach lie upon a large, multidimensional strange attractor that, over the years, I’ve become somewhat familiar with. The surf isn’t random. It’s not like you go out there and see a damp fog in the air instead of an ocean with waves. It’s not true that “anything’s possible.” It’s just that reality is very gnarly.

In his Chaos book, Gleick has a good line about strange attractors—he’s talking about a group of students/researchers who were at UC Santa Cruz in the late 70s and early 80s.

They had a game they would play, sitting at a coffeeshop. They would ask: How far away is the nearest strange attractor? Was it that rattling automobile fender? That flag snapping erratically in a steady breeze? A fluttering leaf? “You don’t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it.

The above image of the “logistic map” illustrates a fifth fact about chaos. In this image, we imagine there being a parameter that is higher as you move from left to right. For each parameter value, the system’s values dances among the one or two or four or eight or zillion values directly above it. Each of those dances is a strange attractor. As the parameter’s value goes up, the strange attractor bifurcate into ever more complicated patterns. And then you hit full-on batshit pseudorandomicity. Mitchelll Feigenbaum discovered that each bifurcation comes about 4.67 times as fast. That’s “Feigenbaum’s contstant.”

* The transition from periodic to chaotic behavior has a universal quality, that is, we see the same kind of “period-doubling transition to chaos” for many types of systems, often with that same Feigenbaum constant involved.

Back to spotting strange attractors, the “Dynamical Systems Collective” at UC Santa Cruz included such now-legendary figures as Robert Shaw, Norman Packard, Jim Crutchfield, and Doyne Farmer. Gleick quotes a good line from Farmer:

“The same thing really drew all of us: the notion that you could have determinism but not really. The idea that all these classical deterministic systems we’d learned about could generate [seeming] randomness was intriguing. We were driven to understand what made that tick. … The idea that an equation could bounce around in an apparently random way—that was pretty exciting. … It seemed like something for nothing, or something out of nothing.”

Speaking of something for nothing, here’s a simulation of the ordinary water waves equation on a surface, which I ran on Capow and it made a really nice chaotic blob.

And here’s a painting inspired by that.

“Soft Zhabo” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I call the painting “Alien Taxi,” because I’m imaging those two odd looking “people” being unsure about whether they should get into it. Winding back to an earlier memory, about fifteen years ago, Sylvia and I spent New Years’ Eve in San Francisco. We went out to the Beach Chalet for midnight, then got a late city bus back to our hotel near Union Square. At one point the bus stopped, and some very wasted guys were at the bus stop, and they got into an agitated discussion with each other as to whether the vehicle in front of them really was in fact a “bus,” or an alien vehicle. After a minute or two, our bus drove on without them. Going to Mars. Or to the year 2017.

Podcast #99. Writing, Art, Photos, Computation

April 3rd, 2017

Feb 28, 2017. Interviewed by Christopher Nichols for his podcast, CG Garage. At Los Gatos Coffee Roasting cafe. Relaxed, hour-long discussion about writing, computers, and art. Press the arrow below to play “Podcast #99. Writing, Art, Photos, Computation.”


And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

“Simply Gödel,” Phenomonology, and Monads

March 17th, 2017

I recently read an advance copy of a great book by my friend Richard Tieszen. It’s called Simply Gödel. It’ll go on sale in mid-April, but you can pre-order now if you like. The book is a remarkable achievement—a handy guide with the impact of a philosophical tome. It’s all here: elegantly lucid discussions of Kurt Gödel’s epochal discoveries, a sympathetic account of the eccentric genius’s life, focused discussions of his encounters with his astonished peers, and a visionary peek into the future of mathematics, philosophy, and the on-rushing specter of robots with minds. A compact masterpiece, brimming with fresh revelations.

I’ll discuss some of my thoughts sparked by Simply Gödel today, adding some of my paintings to the illos, including two new ones.

As I’ve mentioned in my blog posts “Memories of Kurt Gödel” and “Conversations with Kurt Gödel,” in 1972 I had a couple of long talks with Gödel in his office at the Institute for Advanced Study. He made a huge impression on me. It goes almost without saying that he was the most intelligent person I will ever meet. Even though he was, at some lower levels…eccentric.

“The Wanderer,” acrylic on canvas, 24 ” x 18 “, September, 2008

How so? Gödel had very unusual views on the nature of reality. He firmly believed that there are indeed higher levels and higher beings—things like ghosts or demons. Indeed, he felt that a person is in some sense an extradimensional being that might be called a monad, after Leibniz’s use of the word. A monad affects the physical world, but it’s not embedded in the spacetime framework. A bit like a soul.

At less philosophical levels, Gödel could be paranoid. He worried that poison gases emanated from his refrigerator or from his furnace. He worried that strangers might be assassins who planned to kill him. He worried that his food was poisoned—and he preferred not to eat anything unless his long-suffering wife Adele had tasted it first.

But these aspects of the man weren’t apparent when he was talking about mathematics, science, philosophy, and mysticism. To me, he seemed like a man of knowledge and wisdom, profoundly so.

“Origin of Life” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 30” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Shown above is a painting of me talking to Gödel in 1972. Well, actually it’s a painting of an abstract image based on a cellular-automaton screen I recently captured, characterized by having double scrolls known as Zhabotinsky patterns. See my previous post, “Still Seeking the Gnarl,” for more about these CAs. These patterns occur naturally in certain chemical mixtures, and they could have played a role in the origin of life within the primordial soup. So I called it “Origin of Life.” But, who knows, maybe it is me and Gödel. Monads in an extradimensional space of phenomenological impressions. But which one is me?

Gödel was Einstein’s best friend during the physicist’s later years in Princeton. Why? Probably Because Gödel was the one person who could readily understand what Einstein was talking about. And perhaps because both of them had made a priori intellectual discoveries that changed humanity’s way of seeing the world. But Einstein wasn’t above teasing his younger friend. Here’s a quote from Ernst Gabor Strauss, taken from Rebecca Goldstein, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel.

Reading Tieszen’s great Simply Gödel got me thinking about all these things again. If we have souls and telepathy, maybe Gödel is still talking to me. Helping me understand Tieszen’s book, as far as it goes. Something in the book that strikes me as particularly interesting is the notion that, in his later years, Gödel was looking for a way to justify his belief that we have a direct perception or intuition about mathematical objects. He felt we could “see” even such objects as outré as transfinite sets such as the cardinal alef-one, or the continuum of all real numbers between zero and one. You want to know if these two sets have the same size? Focus. Look harder…

Immanuel Kant famously said that the “real” objects around us are so-called noumena, and we know them only at second-hand, that is, via the phenomena given by our senses…sounds, images, touch sensations, smells, etc. And later the philosopher Husserl started talking about phenomenology, which might mean the practice of taking your sense impressions as in some sense external to you as well. Like, rather than blundering around banging our shins on noumena, we’re spacing around in a cloud of phenomena. Husserl isn’t super clear about any of this. He strikes me as something of a bullshitter, never writing one word when twenty will do. But I feel there’s a fertile acorn sprouting beneath his great load of words. With an oak to emerge.

“Topology of the Afterworld,” acrylic on canvas, 40 ” x 30 “, August, 2009.

Trying to imagine being a phenomenologist, I let go of my ordinary stance of being an object among objects. As Husserl would put it, I bracket this mode of thought, that is, put it on hiatus. (There’s even a short Wikipedia article about phenomenological bracketing!)

So I frikkin’ bracket the whole issue of what is reality. I’m a monadic focus point amid phenomena. I’m not watching things, I’m kicking it back a level, I’m experiencing phenomena. It’s like an exercise in mindfulness. Just focus on the flow of sights and sounds and touch and weight and don’t try to interpret them or see them as objects, just take them for what they are…phenomena.

It’s so hard to “keep up” with the onrushing flow sensations, one is continually tempted to dive down into associative chains. But when I can do it for a few minutes, it gets me high, and that is, after all, the end goal of philosophy (at least to this reprobate’s mind). And you can jack up your phenomenological awareness to a “transcendental” level and treat your thoughts as phenomena as well.

Looking at the odd 3/4 moon on the horizon last night, rotten looking, moldy as an overripe cantaloupe that seeps smeely fluid, I advised to Sylvia that we bracket any thought about the Moon’s physical nature, and merely focus on the look of the moldy moon.

I think for the rest of the week I’ll make a habit, of saying I’m bracketing whatever is going on around me at any given time. Kind of a Woody Allen thing to do. He loves joking about higher philosophy.

Speaking of phenomenology, Georg Hegel is my great-great-great-grandfather, and one of his best-known works is Phänomenologie des Geistes, which we call either The Phenomenology of Mind or The Phenomenology of Spirit. Not that, so far as I know, Hegel’s notion of phenomenology has much to do with Husserl’s. I’ve been trying to read this book since I was in high-school, and so far I’ve never gotten beyond the preface. But there is one passage in the preface that I’ve grown to love. Especially the sentence I italicized.

A building is not finished when its foundation is laid; and just as little, is the attainment of a general notion of a whole the whole itself. When we want to see an oak with all its vigour of trunk, its spreading branches, and mass of foliage, we are not satisfied to be shown an acorn instead. In the same way science, the crowning glory of a spiritual world, is not found complete in its initial stages. The beginning of the new spirit is the outcome of a widespread revolution in manifold forms of spiritual culture; it is the reward which comes after a chequered and devious course of development, and after much struggle and effort.

I take this passage to express an idea popularized by Stephen Wolfram in his A New Kind of Science. And this is the notion that, in the realm of computation, we can have incredibly rich and complex patterns that are in fact based on extremely simple little rules. The Mandelbrot set is a classic example of this. And, if you think of biological growth as a type of computation, the tree is indeed the “output” of the tiny acorn program. One of the most interesting places to see small rules making cool patterns is in the world of cellular automata.

“Antarctica” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

This is another recent painting of mine based on cellular automata. The image also dovetails with my ongoing obsession with “At the Mountains of Madness,” which is H. P. Lovecraft’s story about the lost ancient city in Antarctica. You can see the image in that same recent “Still Seeking the Gnarl” post. I think of this painting as an aerial view of the ruined city. Synchronistically, the Capow pattern happened to have a shape like the head of a penguin. Working the phenomena. But maybe that’s possible. Maybe if you get phenomenological enough you can be dancing with the universe, in synch with reality’s higher cosmic patterns.

But if I’m living in some sense to the side of the so-called physical world, then what am I? As I was hinting at above, Gödel seems to want to say that he’s a monad, in Leibniz’s sense of the word. Gabriella Crocco of the university of Aix/Marseille wrote a great 2013 paper about Gödel, Leibniz, and monads, entitled, Gödel, Leibniz and “Russell’s mathematical logic”. The phrase “Russell’s Mathematical Logic,” refers to one of Gödel’s papers.
As another good philosophical resource see my Paris philosopher friend Mark van Atten’s excellent, “Monads and Sets. On Gödel, Leibniz, and the Reflection Principle” from 2009. Mark was my nearly constant companion when I was a visiting scholar in Brussels.

Tieszen’s Simply Gödel further discusses Gödel’s rationalistic Platonism, and gets into the issue of having direct phenomenological perceptions of transfinite sets, which is something which Gödel hinted at in his essay, “What is Cantor’s Continuum Problem,” and which G also discussed with the philosopher Hao Wang, and mentioned when talking to me. One the appealing things about Tieszen’s book (as well as Crocco and van Atten’s papers) is that, as a computer programmer might say about efficient low-level code, they “stay close to the metal.” Meaning that, rather than launching into overly wispy imaginings of what Gödel might have meant to say, these philosophers stick to actual quotes from the man’s published and unpublished papers, the more fragmentary remarks in his archives, and of others’ records of conversations with him. There’s more than enough here to launch the wildest fantasies.

“Thirteen Worlds,” acrylic on canvas. 24″ by 18″. January, 2009.

Getting back to monads, back in 2004, I read the whole of Leibniz’s short book, The Monadology. It’s pretty close to being incomprehensible. It’s way out there. Leibniz seems to say that our universe is an assemblage of “monads” which reflect each other, and each monad has the whole world inside it. Naturally, it struck me that an idea this crazy ought to be used in an SF story. And—here’s the literary surrealist-in-action part—as soon as I thought of that, I immediately thought that each monad should resemble a knobby giraffe. With brindle patches on it. And in 2016, I wrote an SF tale called “The Knobby Giraffe” for Lightspeed magazine.

But I still feel like I’m missing the mark in my conception of monads.

Something more to think about. Anyway, thanks again to Richard Tieszen and Simply Gödel for getting all these wild thoughts churning in my head!

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