Archive for the Science Category

Page Seventeen IV: Fury Road

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2022 by dcairns

I cannot deny that what I had learned about the Mirocaw Festival did not inspire a trite sense of fate, especially given the involvement of such an important figure from my past as Thoss. It was my first time in my academic career that I knew myself to be better suited than anyone else to discern the true meaning of scattered data, even if I could only attribute this special authority to chance circumstances.

I had been fortunate enough to qualify for scientific training, an invaluable protective device which I planned to eventually turn to my own advantage. In the State’s eyes, I was its property. The State had even decided on the service I would perform to repay the cost of my education. According to the identity card I always carried, I was a researcher at one of the most important political and scientific institutions within the State Central Academy of Science.

In my drugged state this happening did not induce in me the same surfeit of bewilderment and incredulity that would normally, I believe, have been my reaction. Astonished I certainly was. It’s not every day that one’s chess set shows a life of its own, or that the pieces remain so true to their formal nature as laid down by the rules that they move from one position to another without bothering to traverse the spaces between. Not, let me add for the sake of the record, that the pieces showed any carelessness or laziness, or that they took shortcuts. In order to move, say, from Qk4 to Kr4, a castle was required to manifest himself in all the intervening squares to show that he came by a definite route and that the way was unimpeded — because, naturally, in a game of chess there is no ‘between adjacent squares.’

I felt a shiver run over my flesh. Last night, in the wild dark of the storm, this had been a place of gods and destiny, of power driving towards some distant end of which I had been given, from time to time, a glimpse. And I, Merlin, son of Ambrosius, whom men feared as profit and visionary, had been in that night no more than the god’s instrument.

As we drove away from the beauty parlour, I saw what looked like a teenage boy on the front hood of our car, leaning on his arms with his feet up in the air. He stayed there for about five minutes. Even when we turned he stayed on the hood of the car. As we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, he ascended into the air, up against the building, and stayed there until I got out of the car.

With a sigh, I turned the prow of my craft down stream, and with mighty strokes hastened with reckless speed through the dark and tortuous channel until once again I came to the chamber into which flowed the three branches of the river.

Here the terrain was generally steep, with scrubby trees and bushes, bramble patches and rocks of broken concrete. In places there were branches to swing on and small smelly waterfalls that glugged out of the ends of pipes and flowed down muddy gorges to the brook below. But there were also precipitous paths that led to dark leafy bowers where, in summer, one could sense stillness, feel oneself far from civilisation and even hope to see a rabbit. These sylvan glades, so near to home but so different, were awesome and full of magic.

Life has been pretty busy since they put me in charge of page seventeen of the internet. These are seven extracts from seven page seventeens found in seven books I own.

Grimscribe: His Lives and Works by Thomas Ligotti; Cockpit by Jerzy Kosinski; The Exploration of Space by Barrington Bayley, from New Worlds 4 edited by Michael Moorcock; The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart; Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks; The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs; Seeing Things: An Autobiography by Oliver Postgate.

State Dependent Memory

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , on April 5, 2022 by dcairns

Interesting YouTube content. The video isn’t top quality, but underneath it are some interesting musings about CITY LIGHTS’ drunken millionaire character:

“In the film, Charlie Chaplin befriends a millionaire and goes out for a night on the town. The only catch, the millionaire is drunk when meeting Chaplin. The next day, the millionaire has sobered up and when he sees Chaplin, he doesn’t recognize him. Later that same day, the millionaire becomes drunk yet again and when he runs into Chaplin, he remembers him and invites him to a party. This movie illustrates state-dependent memory while under the effect of alcohol.”

Everyone “gets” what’s happening with this gag. Chaplin seems to extrapolate the idea of the blackout drunk in a new direction, one that’s intuitively understandable even if it’s outside most of our experience:

“Because the millionaire is in an altered state during his first meeting with Charlie Chaplin, he cannot remember who he is once he has sobered up. However, upon getting drunk again, the millionaire can recognize Chaplin.”

A good many of us have experienced getting so drunk we couldn’t remember what we did. Or is that just me? Anyway, not since I was a lot younger. The idea of recovering some of our memory next time we’re drunk seems sort of like movie logic, the way a second blow on the head is supposed to restore memory (I think that one is very likely a myth, and possibly a dangerous one if anyone ever took it seriously, which I doubt they did).

“A study completed by Weissenborn and Duka (2000) gives evidence for state-dependent memory and alcohol concerning semantic memory. The results suggest that when the participant was in the same state for encoding and retrieval and the items are remembered semantically, the number of items recalled was higher than when the encoding and retrieval contexts were different.”

It might be that, just as seeing somebody you know slightly outside of their usual context can give us difficulty in recollecting who they are and how we know them, seeing someone we know from a drunken binge outside of that state can make them seem unfamiliar, whereas they’ll be jogged back into our recall if we see them again while we’re plastered. Instead of of the setting providing a useful context, it’s the mindset that helps us out.

“A summary of studies by Donald Goodwin (1995), actually discusses the movie City Lights. Goodwin mentions that he was inspired by the movie to study state-dependent memory.”

I love this. I’m reminded that the Steady State Theory, hypothesizing that the universe has always existed and that the Big Bang is a recurring phenomenon, was partly inspired by a viewing of DEAD OF NIGHT. Are there any other movies that have inspired scientific theories?

“He mentions that there is little in the literature on state-dependent memory, but he believes that it is a true phenomenon, and that Chaplin likely based his depiction of the behavior on personal experience with his drinking buddies.”

I note that Chaplin, the son of an alcoholic father, seems to have had an inbuilt aversion to getting drunk, but that Hollywood in the teens and twenties would certainly have given him plenty of unfettered access to the hi-jinks of the dipsomaniac set. However, I think his portrayal or invention of state-dependent memory is just as likely the creation of his keen narrative mind, extending the situation of the blackout drunk forward in time so as to create a useful running gag. Indeed, after Charlie has been baffled by the millionaire’s schizoid attitude a couple of times, the audience can anticipate the condition recurring and creating more problems for Charlie, so it’s terrific for suspense.

Worth throwing in another useful phrase, “jamais vu,” a favourite of the late Ken Campbell. Deja vu, as we all know, is when we get a sense of familiarity from somewhere we know we’ve never been before. Jamais vu is when we walk into our own home and don’t recognise it.

Thanks to YouTuber ElielAndel for the thoughts.

Are enemies electric?

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2022 by dcairns

Rather enjoyed THE CURRENT WAR. I found a secondhand DVD of it in a charity shop, rather to my surprise. Fiona had been interested in seeing it when it came out here and was on the side of buses. Cumberbatch, of course. And an interesting subject. I discouraged her slightly because I don’t believe in seeing films because of what they’re about or who’s in them. There’s a problem there, in that it leaves very few possible reasons to see anything, unless it’s by a filmmaker you admire, which is what I base most of my choices on. And that disadvantages new or just unfamiliar filmmakers, which is bad. So I know I’m in the wrong here and it’s a little dangerous.

Anyway, I’m glad I’ve seen the film — it’s rather good. Perhaps not great. But maybe? I think the script by Michael Mitnick is terrific and the direction at least consistently interesting. It’s made up of a lot of short scenes, the music tends to run across them, joining them together, and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon films them with a very wide lens and a lot of unconventional movement which is sort of appealing but sort of alienating at the same time. A bit like the more recent Cumberbatch THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN… you sometimes wish the filmmaker would get out of the way and just let you watch stuff. Which is a bit ungenerous because if not for him you wouldn’t see anything.

A busy script plus busy direction — the constant onwards surge feels a little like CASINO, which was sort of overwhelming on first viewing, and somehow seemed more documentary than drama, few really long developed scenes. None of which is bad, just somehow hard to adjust to.

The film is chocka with Brits playing dignified Americans — Michael Shannon’s Westinghouse is the most prominent actual yank. I’m assuming the Brits won their roles by being able to sound vaguely posh. That doesn’t explain Nicholas Hoult as Tesla but he’s very good, certainly more believably Serbian-American than David Bowie in THE PRESTIGE. Tom Holland for some reason plays Samuel Insull as British (he wasn’t, but I guess he’s not well-known enough for that to matter).

I recall the reviews being sort of “this is OK, could be better.” Which surprises me, I’d expect critics to be either infuriated by the style or impressed by it. I’m only 10% infuriated, mostly I like it. I’d like to see more from these guys.

The DVD doesn’t say whether this is the director’s cut, which I would think might mean it probably isn’t. I wonder if that’s better? Certainly, with the baleful influence of Harvey Weinstein removed, I could imagine the possibility of things being better in all sorts of ways.