Who Painted Hilma af Klint’s Otherworldly Visions?

Susan L. Aberth at Artforum:

In recent years we have heard much about The Five, the spiritualist group of women—af Klint, Cassel, Cornelia Cederberg, Sigrid Hedman, and Mathilda Nilsson—who channeled messages from “higher powers” from 1897 to 1907. A gifted medium, Cassel would eventually come to dominate the group, while af Klint played a more subsidiary role. It was working together outside of this quintet, however, that af Klint and Cassel each began to receive messages from the spirit realms asking for their participation in a “special mission.” The ensuing visual collaboration resulted in numerous preliminary sketches and twenty-seven small oil paintings executed between October 1906 and September 1907; this is the inaugural series of “The Paintings for the Temple” and thus a crucial juncture in the history of abstraction. Titled “Series I” or “The First 26 Small Ones” (the title would be changed later to “Primordial Chaos”), this body of work endeavored to visualize the so-called Akashic records: a supernatural compendium, as elucidated by Theosophy’s cofounder and chief theoretician, Helena Blavatsky, of all universal events and thoughts occurring in the past, present, and future and concerning all life forms. Analyzing the works in Cassel’s notebooks, Martin has convincingly been able to parcel out fourteen works belonging to her in this series and includes two comparisons that illustrate the women’s different styles. Cassel paid greater attention to detail, for example, and her application of paint was more careful and smoother than af Klint’s expressive surfaces, resulting in a deeper saturation of color.

more here.

Mapping Africatown

Nick Tabor and Kern M. Jackson at the Paris Review:

Circa 1969, the writer Albert Murray paid a visit to his hometown on the Alabama Gulf Coast, to report a story for Harper’s. Murray hadn’t lived there since 1935, the year he left for college. During his childhood, elements of heavy industry—sawmills, paper mills, an oil refinery—had always coexisted with wilderness, in the kind of eerily beautiful landscapes that are found only in bayou country. But as an adult, Murray was aghast to see how much industry had encroached. The “fabulous old sawmill-whistle territory, the boy-blue adventure country” of his childhood, he wrote, had been overtaken by a massive paper factory: a “storybook dragon disguised as a wide-sprawling, foul-smelling, smoke-chugging factory.” He imagined that the people who had died during his years away had been “victims of dragon claws.”

When Murray made this visit, he was in his early fifties and and was still at the beginning of his writing career. He hadn’t yet published a book. But over the next several decades, he would go on to write prodigiously, channeling into singular prose his memories of his old neighborhood before the arrival of the dragon.

more here.

Machine learning theory is shedding new light on how to think about the mysterious and ineffable nature of art

Peli Grietzer in Aeon:

Two hundred years ago, the poets and philosophers of the Romantic movement came to an intoxicating thought: art can express the otherwise inexpressible conditions that make everyday sense and experience possible. Art, the Romantics said, is our interface with the real patterns and relations that weave up the world of rational thought and perception. And, although most philosophers and artists today don’t profess to taking this idea very literally, I believe that not much in our current way of caring about literature and music, film and painting, dance and sculpture, works without it. My purpose here is to show that today’s first blushings of a mathematical viewpoint on pattern, mind and (human) world make the Romantic theory of art literally plausible.

Many will find the thought of letting machine learning theory decide the fate of Romantic philosophy sinister or contrarian, if not a category error. To make real sense of the affordances of this encounter – and to learn that a mathematical-empirical account of mind was inside the Romantics all along – we need to start from the beginning.

More here.

Why the Brain’s Connections to the Body Are Crisscrossed

R. Douglas Fields in Quanta:

Dazzling intricacies of brain structure are revealed every day, but one of the most obvious aspects of brain wiring eludes neuroscientists. The nervous system is cross-wired, so that the left side of the brain controls the right half of the body and vice versa. Every doctor relies upon this fact in performing neurological exams, but when I asked my doctor last week why this should be, all I got was a shrug. So I asked Catherine Carr, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. “No good answer,” she replied. I was surprised — such a fundamental aspect of how our brain and body are wired together, and no one knew why?

Nothing that we know of stops the right side of the brain from connecting with the right side of the body. That wiring scheme would seem much simpler and less prone to errors.

More here.

As Sea Levels Rise, Tidal Power Becomes a Moving Target

Doug Johnson in Undark:

In a recent paper, scientists including Danial Khojasteh, a hydrodynamics expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, show how sea level rise could upend the viability of tidal energy in sites around the world, turning presently prime spots into duds.

Khojasteh and his colleagues came to this conclusion after modeling 978 different hypothetical estuaries with varying shapes, tidal ranges, and rates of sea level rise, among other factors. While none of the estuaries were based on real locations, they could “reasonably represent the geometries of many, many estuaries worldwide,” says Khojasteh.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Two poems of Walt Whitman

O Living Always, Always Dying

O living always, always dying!
O the burials of me past and present,
O me while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever;
O me, what I was for years, now dead (I lament not, I am
…… content);
O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn
…… and look at where I cast them,
To pass on (O living! Always living!) and leave the corpses behind.

What Am I After All

What am I after all but a child, pleas’d with the sound of my
…… own name? repeating it over and over;
I stand apart to hear—it never tires me.

To you your name also;
Did you think there was nothing but two or three pronuncia-
…… tions in the sound of your name?

The Power of Trees – out of the woods

Charles Foster in The Guardian:

Elon Musk has offered a prize of $100m for the best carbon capture and sequestration proposal. I can save his committee a lot of time. The money should go to Peter Wohlleben, the German forester whose book The Hidden Life of Trees was the most improbable and encouraging blockbuster of 2015. Wohlleben’s idea is this: leave forests alone. Stop fiddling with them, thinking that we can deal with climate change better than nature. If we fiddle, our Romes will burn.

The Hidden Life argued that trees are social and sensate. The Power of Trees shows that they can be our saviours. But it’s terribly hard to let ourselves be saved. We think we can be the authors of our salvation. We are doers by constitution. Of course, there are things we could and should be doing, but in terms of forestry practice, often what’s billed as part of the solution is part of the problem.

More here.

Is Time Travel Possible?

Sarah Scoles in Scientific American:

In the movies, time travelers typically step inside a machine and—poof—disappear. They then reappear instantaneously among cowboys, knights or dinosaurs. What these films show is basically time teleportation.

Scientists don’t think this conception is likely in the real world, but they also don’t relegate time travel to the crackpot realm. In fact, the laws of physics might allow chronological hopping, but the devil is in the details. Time traveling to the near future is easy: you’re doing it right now at a rate of one second per second, and physicists say that rate can change. According to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, time’s flow depends on how fast you’re moving. The quicker you travel, the slower seconds pass. And according to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravity also affects clocks: the more forceful the gravity nearby, the slower time goes.

More here.

Tiles In Motion

Lawrence Weschler at Wondercabinet:

I won’t go into the history of the tiling problem here—Roberts does her typically clear, concise, and beguiling job in the article in question, well supplemented by an equally captivating account offered by longtime friend of the Cabinet, Margaret Wertheim, in a recent issue of her new substack Science Goddess, which you can find here. I love it that when it came to a breakthrough that had eluded the likes of the eminent Nobel laureate Roger Penrose (Stephen Hawking’s mentor!), who’d gotten stuck several years back one step shy of this ultimate solution, the fellow who turned out to make the decisive leap proved to be a modest, self-effacing cypher and complete nonprofessional outsider by the (near-perfectly anonymous) name of David Smith, who’d then had to seek out a small band of intrepid professionals to frame the discovery in terms a peer-reviewed journal would countenance (at first none of them could quite believe the development either). But that’s how it sometimes (even if almost never) happens. So do yourselves a favor and bone up on the particulars of this magical discovery on your own.

more here.

The Lives and Deaths of Shakespeare’s First Tragic Heroine

Kirsten Tambling at Literary Review:

In 1611, the Somerset-born traveller Thomas Coryat described an Italian architectural novelty: a ‘very pleasant little tarrasse, that jutteth or butteth out from the maine building: the edge whereof is decked with many pretty little turned pillers … to leane over’. England’s introduction to the balcony came over a decade after the first performance of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. When it was staged in the summer of 1596, just before London’s playhouses were closed owing to a resurgence of plague, the exchange now universally known as the ‘balcony scene’ was probably transacted at a window opening onto the backstage ‘tiring house’ of the Shoreditch Theatre. The popular image of Juliet as a bright-eyed teenager in white muslin leaning over a balustrade only began to form a century and a half later, when a balcony first appeared as part of the stage set. By the late 1930s, the museum director Antonio Avena had improvised a ‘tarrasse’ from a marble sarcophagus and retrofitted it to the walls of Via Cappello 23 – putative home of the ‘historical’ Capulets in Verona. Visitors now pose on ‘Juliet’s balcony’ as part of an international pilgrimage that also includes visiting a bronze statue of Shakespeare’s heroine and rubbing her right breast for luck.

more here.

Hanif Kureishi to publish memoir about accident that left him paralysed

Lucy Knight in The Guardian:

The novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi is to publish a memoir about the accident that left him paralysed last year, expanding on the brutally honest material the author has been sharing on social media and online platform Substack, which he continues to dictate from an Italian hospital.

On Boxing Day 2022, the author of The Buddha of Suburbia was rushed to intensive care after a fall in Rome. He later tweeted, via dictation to family, that he may never be able to walk or use a pen again.

“I cannot scratch my nose, make a phone call or feed myself,” he wrote.

Since then his blogposts, The Kureishi Chronicles, and his tweets have shared insights on everything from his health to his recreational drug use. A recent post told of a visit from his schoolfriend David, whom Kureishi revealed he had fancied in his youth.

More here.

Comb jellies have a bizarre nervous system unlike any other animal

Jake Buehler in Science News:

Shimmering, gelatinous comb jellies wouldn’t appear to have much to hide. But their mostly see-through bodies cloak a nervous system unlike that of any other known animal, researchers report in the April 21 Science.

In the nervous systems of everything from anemones to aardvarks, electrical impulses pass between nerve cells, allowing for signals to move from one cell to the next. But the ctenophores’ cobweb of neurons, called a nerve net, is missing these distinct connection spots, or synapses. Instead, the nerve net is fused together, with long, stringy neurons sharing a cell membrane, a new 3-D map of its structure shows.

More here.

The Dao of Using Your Smartphone

Alan Levinovitz in The Hedgehog Review:

Screentime limitsDinner table lockboxesMinimalist devices. There’s no shortage of creative fixes for our broken relationship to smartphones. Consumption is the enemy, restriction is the solution, and new habits are the promised result. The goal? A more productive life, free from useless scrolling and hollow social media.

Unfortunately, this approach has serious drawbacks. Like a traditional diet, it requires endless vigilance and it pathologizes the target of restriction. More importantly, the goal reinforces the same values that tether us to our phones in the first place: productivity and utility.

As a professor of classical Chinese thought who has struggled with my devices, I follow a different approach inspired by Confucianism and Daoism.

More here.

Parrots Video Calling Other Parrots

Schuyler Velasco at Northeastern Global News:

The researchers then observed how the birds used that newfound ability over a three-month period. They wondered: If given the choice, would the birds call each other?

The answer, relayed in delighted squawks and head bobs, was a resounding yes. “Some strong social dynamics started appearing,” Kleinberger says.

Not only did the birds initiate calls freely and seem to understand that a real fellow parrot was on the other end, but caretakers overwhelmingly reported the calls as positive experiences for their parrots. Some caregivers watched their birds learn skills from their video friends, including foraging, new vocalizations and even flying. “She came alive during the calls,” reported one. A few significant findings emerged. The birds engaged in most calls for the maximum allowed time.

more here.

Tuesday Poem

Praise of Learning

Learn the simplest things. For you
whose time has already come
it is never too late!
Learn you’re A B C’s, it is not enough,
but learn them! Do not let it discourage you,
begin! You must know everything!
You must take over the leadership!

Learn, man in the asylum!
Learn, man in prison!
Learn, wife in the kitchen!
Learn, man of sixty!
Seek out the school, you who are homeless!
Sharpen your wits, you who shiver!
Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon.
You must take over the leadership.

Don’t be afraid of asking, brother!
Don’t be won over,
see for yourself!
What you don’t know yourself,
you don’t know.
Add up the reckoning.
It’s you who must pay it.
Put you finger on each item,
ask: how did this get here?
You must take over the leadership.

by Bertolt Brecht
Collected Poems- Bertolt Brecht
Grove Press, 1947

Immunity Is a Matter of Timing

Diana Kwon in Nautilus:

Jane McKeating never expected time to matter much in the liver.

About a decade ago, McKeating was examining medications to use during liver transplantation in patients with chronic hepatitis C infections. Hepatitis C can linger in the body for decades and cause severe liver damage—and in those days, the lack of drugs to combat the viral infection meant that when a patient received a replacement liver, the virus could immediately infect the new organ. McKeating, then a virologist at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and her colleagues wanted to see whether an antiviral drug could stop the virus’ spread and save the new livers.

When the team initially assessed their data, they were stumped. It looked like the drug prevented infection in some patients, but not others—and it wasn’t clear what, exactly, was behind this difference. “We just couldn’t understand what was discriminating between the patients,” says McKeatin, now at the University of Oxford. After much head scratching, they noticed a perplexing pattern: Patients who received their liver transplants in the morning were more likely to be reinfected with the hepatitis C virus than those who had their operations in the afternoon.1 “It turned out it was the time of day when they received the liver transplant,” she says.

More here.

Edmund Phelps’ “My Journeys In Economic Theory”

by Michael Liss

Let us try before we die to make some sense of life. We’re neither pure nor wise nor good; we’ll do the best we know; we’ll build our house and chop our wood and make our garden grow. —From Candide, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Richard Wilbur

On page 184 of Edmund Phelps’ new book, My Journeys In Economic Theory, he tells the story of a lunch party with friends, at which, presumably after the plates were cleared (but not the glasses), the then 80-something-year-old 2006 Nobel Prize winner in Economics belted out “Garden Grow.”

My kingdom for a YouTube of that one. If you wanted to characterize the second part of Ned Phelps’ career, you might very well have started with that bit of Candide and Phelps’ connection to the text of Voltaire’s book. The activity of work is fundamental to human happiness. Work need not define the whole of us, but it should provide challenges, a sense of worth, and an opportunity to participate in community itself. Work has value beyond a paycheck. With work, we create something for ourselves, and, as Phelps convincingly argued in his 2013 book, Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Creates Jobs, Challenge, and Change, each person, in his or her own way, may also contribute to innovation that moves both the economy and society forward.

There is a dual-mindedness to Phelps, an intellectual fluidity, that makes you pay attention. In 2011, I heard him present at the 9th annual conference of Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society. Phelps had co-founded the Center (with Roman Frydman) in 2001. While speaking of the essentialness of work, he added what seemed to be a fairly controversial, if throwaway, comment. I’m paraphrasing here a bit, but the import of what he said was that a government policy that favored the wealthy was not in and of itself bad, if part of the object of the policy was to help foster an atmosphere where any individual could achieve self-realization and growth. Read more »