Archive for the Science Category

Old Queen Who?

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2022 by dcairns

“I mourn the safe and motherly middle-class queen, who held the nation warm under the folds of her big, hideous Scotch-plaid shawl and whose duration had been so extraordinarily convenient and beneficent. I felt her death much more than I should have expected; she was a sustaining symbol — the wild waters are upon us now.”

Henry James on the death of Queen Victoria, quoted in Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck, which I am currently enjoying. And I’m sure it seems like that to a lot of people now. I like the “big, hideous shawl” line too.

I read Larson’s The Devil in the White City when it first came out — I think I may have actually bought it in an airport en route to New York for the first time? Seems apt — Larson writes airport histories, you might say. But I mean that as a compliment, somehow. Anyway I read that and enjoyed it and then forgot to keep an eye on the author, with the happy result that I now have about seven of his books to read. I’ve hoovered up The Splendid and the Vile (the Blitz) and managed to draw upon it when writing abut THE GREAT DICTATOR; I’ve also enjoyed Dead Wake (the Lusitania) and Isaac’s Storm (the Galveston hurricane disaster of 1900). There’s usually a small film connection to keep me happy: one of the witnesses to the destruction of Galveston was a small boy named King Vidor.

I recall being bewildered that Leonardo DiCaprio was buying the rights to Devil in the White City — the book doesn’t contain a lot of what you’d call dramatic scenes, though it’s a very dramatic, exciting read. I feel like LDC got bamboozled into buying an unfilmable book, though now, finally, the thing seems to be moving towards production as a miniseries. That work tells in parallel the stories of the murderer HH Holmes and the creation of the Chicago World Fair of 1894. My current read, Thunderstruck, has a similar structure, following Marconi’s development of wireless, and Dr. Crippen’s less salutary life, destined to collide with the Italian inventor’s creation.

In other news — we’re going to the pictures! This has become a somewhat irregular event. The occasion is JAWS in 3D IMAX. I’m excited by the IMAX, a little nervous about the 3D. I haven’t seen any fake 3D movies, I’ve refused to. Although GRAVITY is sort of a fake 3D movie and I love that. What I mean is I haven’t seen any movies not originally designed to be seen in 3D. But I love 3D. I’ve just paused Wim Wenders’ PINA, on flat DVD. I’m a little cross that Edinburgh Filmhouse never deigned to screen that one, to my knowledge, in three dimensions. They invested in the chargeable electric glasses system, then decided their audience didn’t like 3D and stopped using it. Tsk. I thought *I* was their audience! I’m crazy about the third dimension, I practically live there.

PINA is very enjoyable so far — I love the dancing. The filming is fine. Editing less so. But I wish I could see the missing dimension.

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.