Monthly Archives: August 2005


After reading about Bradley’s running exploits, I’ve decided to try to get back into it. They don’t call it “Druid Hills” for nothing. Maybe for the “Druid,” part. I haven’t yet found out about that. But anyway, I’ve gone running four times since last Friday:

  • On the beach in St. Augustine (180 minutes)
  • Hilly neighborhood (160 minutes)
  • ” (220 minutes)
  • ” (240 minutes)

These results are accurate within one order of magnitude, I think. Didn’t have a watch with me. Also generally try to walk the Speckled Hound for 600 or so minutes each day. Must get in the habit of returning to architecturally distinctive gym.

Primer’s Time

Shane Carruth’s Primer, budgeted at $7,000, is the most intelligent time-travel film I’ve ever seen (including La Jetée.) Though I can’t claim to be a time travel film scholar like Chuck Tryon, I think he’s come to a similar conclusion. It remains vaguely obscene to compare it to The Matrix or Memento, as some of the understandably puzzled reviewers have done. Before getting into just what’s so good about it, consider the following thought-experiment: at what order of magnitude increase in budget could the film not have been made?

  • $70,000–this level might have improved some of the cinematography and hastened the editing without compromising the film overly.
  • $700,000–here, investor anxiety might have begun to affect how the film would have turned out. I can’t imagine how Carruth could have gotten this kind of money from anyone for his project. It remains faintly miraculous that the film was ever made and distributed. (I should note that the $7,000 figure could not include a market-value estimate of Carruth’s two years of editing labor. This may not matter.)
  • $7,000,000–at this point, still virtually nothing in film budget terms, Primer would have been unrecognizable. Casting the Wilson brothers as leads wouldn’t have helped at all. And the professional technique available at this level, however basic, would have been corrupting.

Shot in 2001, Primer (I was going to write “captures the logic of invention in this unusually late capitalismistic moment,” but that doesn’t quite do it), explores the origin of the desire to invent. It shows invention more realistically and teaches us how to follow the engineer through society more aptly than any film I can remember. The two principals are named Aaron and Abe. You probably can’t help but suspect some of the old teleological suspension of the ethical in Abe and Aaron’s manufactured omniscience and the resulting paradoxes, but it’s just a smear. Nothing is laid on thick. And they dress just like I did when I worked at the nuclear power plant. No costume designer in the world could have found such sublime ties. And how subtle it is. You can trace the history of their friendship by observing how they throw a football. Note that Abe (the actor, David Sullivan, played football at Baylor, perhaps during the William Dembski era) is casually athletic while Aaron is uncoordinated. Perhaps in compensation, he’s more intellectually dominant and ambitious, a problem when it’s turned inward.

The film’s partial explanation of what’s happening spatio-temporally relies on the parabola, and I’m not yet willing to attempt to explicate it in more detail. The etymological connection of “parabola” with “parable,” particularly in reference to the allusion I noted above, is hard to avoid, however. If you can constrain the cycle, you have the power of the cycle. Carruth explicitly invokes recursion and strange loops in interviews (and perhaps also in the instructive director’s commentary). Historical inertia is easily disturbed. I can’t decide to what extent the film’s logic recognizes this. If, as I think, Primer is primarily about world-creation, then historical inertia is the main problem. The ever-growing boxes, which increase both the nesting potential and the length of the cycle, thus increase the user’s sub-temporal domain (and his avatars). Is the final scene meant to be in Africa, perhaps?

I know this is confusing as all hell if you haven’t seen the film (and perhaps if you have). But give it a try.

[Cross-posted at the Valve]

Noted Items

From Videodrome and the library, here are some noted items:


Rented both Sin City and Primer. Am interested in renting The Machinist and Sea Lab 2021 Season Three. May write review of Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again for the Valve.


  • Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation. Full of ideas, this one.
  • Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice. Think about use of hieroglyph in contemporary design.
  • Agamben, “Walter Benjamin and the Demonic: Happiness and Historical Redemption.” Potentialities.
  • Williams, George Hunston. The Radical Reformation. Some light background reading.
  • Gabor, Dennis. Inventing the Future. Futurist with accomplishments.
  • Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces. Have somehow not yet read this, I discovered.

Moral Hazard, Risk, and Teleological Ethics

Malcolm Gladwell has an angry article in the New Yorker about the American health care system. Like many graduate students I knew, I didn’t have health insurance in graduate school because it wasn’t provided or subvented and thus couldn’t be afforded. After severely spraining my ankle playing football, I laid off the contact sports for the rest of my stay in Florida. If, like someone on my blogroll, I had broken a wrist or arm, I would not have had to ask the doctor to put an Ace bandage on it–as in Gladwell’s account–because I could have borrowed the money from a bank or the government. Anything much more serious than that, however, I’d rather not think about. I do have insurance now for the first time since my freshman year as an undergraduate, and I’m grateful.

Gladwell’s article discusses how the concept of “moral hazard” affects debates about social insurance in the U.S. Curious to learn more about the history of it, I did some preliminary searching and came across an article by John Hayes in an 1895 number of the Quarterly Journal of Economics. (See my citeulike link for full bibliographic information.) Hayes’s article only mentions it in passing, but he does suggest that “ethical progress removes more and more moral hazard” (449). “Ethical progess,” you might be thinking, “where did Hayes ever get such a strange notion?” In a chapter of my dissertation, I consider Olaf Stapledon’s PhD dissertation published as A Modern Theory of Ethics, and its soi disant teleological ethics, and examine its influence upon his Last and First Men and its intellectual heritage in the work of Samuel Alexander, Lloyd Morgan, and other emergent evolutionists. (Another book, I’m currently reading, Panpsychism in the West, has a chapter on these thinkers.)

I’ve come to grow interested in how contemporary transhumanists have completely abandoned or modified beyond recognition any notion of “ethical progress”–how they got from there to here. I’m presenting a paper on this topic at the upcoming SLSA conference in Chicago in November and will post more details about the argument later.

CFP: Literature and the Cognitive Sciences

For distribution and future reference:

Literature and the Cognitive Sciences

University of Connecticut, Storrs

April 6-9, 2006

Plenary Speakers:

*Richard Gerrig*, Stony Brook University

*Patrick Colm Hogan*, University of Connecticut

*Elaine Scarry*, Harvard University

“Literature and the Cognitive Sciences,” the first conference of its
kind, will feature new work being done at the multiple (and
proliferating) contact points between literary studies and the sciences
of mind and brain. The conference seeks to present a broadly
representative array of approaches, theoretical as well as empirical,
general as well as attuned to specific literary topics and fields. In
addition to literary scholars and theorists, we encourage paper
proposals from researchers in psychology, linguistics, the
neurosciences, anthropology, and philosophy of mind.

Topics and special fields represented will include (but are not limited
to) cognitive poetics, conceptual integration (“blending”) theory,
psycholinguistics and literature, cognitive cultural studies, “theory of
mind” theories and literary characters/texts/readers, neuroscientific
and cognitive investigations of reader response, cognitive rhetoric,
literary universals, cognitive narratology, evolutionary literary
theory, cognitive historicism, cognitive studies of theater and
performance, mental imagery and the literary imagination, literature and
the neuroscience of emotion, literary theory and the embodied mind.

Conference Organizer: F. Elizabeth Hart, University of Connecticut, Storrs

Program Coordinator: Alan Richardson, Boston College

Send 200-300 word proposals to Alan Richardson by email only:

Can Faint Praise Be Unintentional?

The Road to Reality is the lifetime statement of a devoted thinker who has defied the mainstream and can cast powerful if unusual light on a canon of familiar thoughts. I was reminded of Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Both are big books that at turns amaze and infuriate many readers.

Well, can it?

Penrose deserves better than this.

Two Items, One Surprising, about Creationism

Though I’ve decided to teach a differently themed writing class this fall, I follow intermittently the debates about contemporary creationism. There are two stories in the Times today about it: one by Jodi Wilgoren, mentioned that the Gates foundation donates to the creationist Discovery Institute, which was mildly surprising. A charitable assumption might be that they also are involved in some type of philanthropy–though it’d have to be rather extensive to make up for advocating lying to children as a matter of public policy–but the article didn’t mention any details about that. Less surprising is Bill Frist’s conclusion that the biological education of the less affluent in this country should be subverted.

Complaint about Social Bookmarking; Interesting Book; Why I Am Waiting on Something Available for a Macintosh, Does This Not Subvert the Natural Order?

Neither nor have allowed me to register for their services. I don’t expect I’m missing something. I just never get to where I’m able to add the bookmarklet. None dare call it treason.

Via Grand Text Auto, I found Florian Cramer’s Word Made Flesh, a book that seems to touch upon several of my more obscure research interests at the moment. Perhaps I’ll have a chance to post more about it later.

Reading, as I sometimes do, Andrew Plotkin’s site, I came across his review of Rhem 2, which convinced me to download the demo. Said demo intrigued me, to say the least, and I immediately ordered the game on Amazon. That was August 1st. It still hasn’t shipped, and it’s been available for convenient download on the Mac since July I’m guessing. What manner of madness is this?

One of These Days

Fairly soon, I’m going to redesign this pitiful-looking blog and add some new “content” and “features.” You just wait and see.

One of the things I plan to do is to update the blogroll over there. The venerable site, former home of the long-lamented Journal of Advanced Stuff, now hosts a blog by Bradley Dilger, for example. Reading about his running adventures either makes me want to resume my own personal running or take a nap.

There is also a large tree leaning against another tree right above my bedroom at the moment.

I just purchased Nonsense by Susan Stewart, The Fantastic in Literature by Eric Rabkin, and An Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure by S. Chandrasekhar.

I’m thinking of using a Network/Fragment theme in my writing class in the Fall. I’m going to start with Heraclitus and end with Duncan Watts. Or at least that’s the idea.