Sunday, January 30, 2011

Start a Fire

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Fire, 1566

 Milo Manara (b. 1945), Gullivera

 René Magritte, The Return of the Flame, 1943

 Lurid flames sweep San Francisco in William Alexander Coulter’s (1849-1936) panorama of the largest maritime rescue in United States history, where more than thirty-thousand people were taken from the shoreline between Fort Mason and the foot of Lombard Street. Mr. Coulter’s painting depicts the flotilla of rescue vessels ferrying survivors from the burning city to Sausalito.

 Joseph Gandy, Soane's Bank of England as a ruin, 1830

On Christmas Day 1843, Joseph Gandy died in one of the windowless cells of a private asylum in Devon. He was the greatest perspective artist in the history of British architecture - dubbed "The English Piranesi" - and one of the great visionaries of the Romantic movement. No one knows where he is buried. Since the days of surrealism he has been a cult figure.

 Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1968

 Markus M. Krüger, Winter Drama, 2009

 Neo Rauch, Suburb, 2007

 Georges De la Tour, The Penitent Magdalen, 1638

 Start a Fire
The Tiger Lillies - Start a Fire

 Josephine Meckseper
"When a powder tower explodes don't overestimate the significance of the matches." - Ernst Jünger 

 Trop enflammé

 Pierre Winther

 Wilhelm Sasnal, Terrorist Equipment, 2000

 Alex Andreev

 Adolf Dietrich, Schiffsuntergang vor Berlingen, 1935

 Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire Destruction, 1836

 Weegee, Simply Add Boiling Water, 1937

 Thomas Hoepker, View from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Manhattan, 11th September 2001

 kennardphillipps, Photo Op, 2007

 Ed Ruscha, Burning Gas Station, 1966

  Gregory Crewdson, 2001

 Salvador Dalí, Surrealist Gondola above Burning Bicycles, 1937
A drawing (charcoal, watercolor and pastel on paper) for a film project with the Marx Brothers, 1937. 

 Sigmar Polke, The Captain and the Burning Ship, 1973

 George Frederick Watts, Satan, 1847

 Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait in Hell, 1903

 Man Ray, Portrait imaginaire de D. A. F. de Sade, 1938

 Theodore de Bry, Scene of cannibalism, from 'Americae Tertia Pars...', 1592


Nakajima Soyo, The Miyako1 Nenju Gyoji Gajo (Picture Album of Annual Festivals in the Miyako), 1928 

 Marianne von Werefkin, Police sentinel in Vilnius, 1914

 Ludwig Meidner, The Burning City, 1912

 Gerardo Dottori, Burning City, 1926

 Bernhard Klein, Berlin 1943 (Burning City), 1947

 Lee Miller, Women with Fire Masks, Downshire Hill, 1941

 Yves Tanguy, Through Birds, Through Fire and Not Through Glass, 1943

 Alexander Rodtschenko, Fire Escape, 1925

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Planck Apes

L'horrible masse des livres révèle et cache la rivière et ses origines : j'aime à dire que les sources attirent les savants parce qu'elles sont libres de savants ! - Michel Serres, Le Tiers-Instruit

Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues . . . - Jorge Luis Borges, The Library of Babel

Suppose that every public library has to compile a catalog of all its books. The catalog is itself one of the library's books, but while some librarians include it in the catalog for completeness, others leave it out, as being self-evident. Now imagine that all these catalogs are sent to the national library. Some of them include themselves in their listings, others do not. The national librarian compiles two master catalogs - one of all the catalogs that list themselves, and one of all those which don't. The question is now, should these catalogs list themselves? The 'Catalog of all catalogs that list themselves' is no problem. If the librarian doesn't include it in its own listing, it is still a true catalog of those catalogs that do include themselves. If he does include it, it remains a true catalog of those that list themselves. 

However, just as the librarian cannot go wrong with the first master catalog, he is doomed to fail with the second. When it comes to the 'Catalog of all catalogs that don't list themselves', the librarian cannot include it in its own listing, because then it would belong in the other catalog, that of catalogs that do include themselves. However, if the librarian leaves it out, the catalog is incomplete. Either way, it can never be a true catalog of catalogs that do not list themselves. This catalogue problem is a good illustration of the Russell paradox, discovered by Bertrand Russell in 1901, which showed that the set theory of Frege leads to a contradiction, thus causing a deep crisis in the foundation of Mathematics. 

 The Library of Babel (David R Godine edition, 2000). Front cover by Erik Desmazières

Borges's total library concept was the main theme of his widely-read 1941 short story "The Library of Babel", which describes an unimaginably vast library consisting of interlocking hexagonal chambers, together containing every possible volume that could be composed from the letters of the alphabet and some punctuation characters:
The orthographical symbols are twenty-five in number. This finding made it possible, three hundred years ago, to formulate a general theory of the Library and solve satisfactorily the problem which no conjecture had deciphered: the formless and chaotic nature of almost all the books. One which my father saw in a hexagon on circuit fifteen ninety-four was made up of the letters MCV, perversely repeated from the first line to the last. Another (very much consulted in this area) is a mere labyrinth of letters, but the next-to-last page says Oh time thy pyramids. This much is already known: for every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences.”

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, The Librarian, 1566

In a 1939 essay entitled "The Total Library", Borges traced the infinite-monkey concept back to Aristotle's Metaphysics. Explaining the views of Leucippus, who held that the world arose through the random combination of atoms, Aristotle notes that the atoms themselves are homogeneous and their possible arrangements only differ in shape, position and ordering. In On Generation and Corruption, the Greek philosopher compares this to the way that a tragedy and a comedy consist of the same "atoms", i.e., alphabetic characters. Three centuries later, Cicero's De natura deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) argued against the atomist worldview:  
“He who believes this may as well believe that if a great quantity of the one-and-twenty letters, composed either of gold or any other matter, were thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the Annals of Ennius. I doubt whether fortune could make a single verse of them.”
A great quantity of letters . . .

Borges follows the history of this argument through Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Swift, then observes that in his own time, the vocabulary had changed. By 1939, the idiom was "that a half-dozen monkeys provided with typewriters would, in a few eternities, produce all the books in the British Museum." (To which Borges adds, "Strictly speaking, one immortal monkey would suffice.")  Borges then imagines the contents of the Total Library which this enterprise would produce if carried to its fullest extreme: Everything would be in its blind volumes.

Given enough time, would a hypothetical chimpanzee typing at random, as part of its output, produce one of Shakespeare's plays?

Everything: the detailed history of the future, Aeschylus' The Egyptians, the exact number of times that the waters of the Ganges have reflected the flight of a falcon, the secret and true nature of Rome, the encyclopedia Novalis would have constructed, my dreams and half-dreams at dawn on August 14, 1934, the proof of Pierre Fermat's theorem, the complete catalog of the Library, the proof of the inaccuracy of that catalog. Everything: but for every sensible line or accurate fact there would be millions of meaningless cacophonies, verbal farragoes, and babblings. Everything: but all the generations of mankind could pass before the dizzying shelves,shelves that obliterate the day and on which chaos lies, ever reward them with a tolerable page.

Recently, a team of british mathematicians (above) explained the monkey theorem as follows:

“I’m going to divide the universe into Planck-sized regions, and put a monkey in each one. You will ask what the monkey is made of, when nothing can be smaller than the Planck scale, and I will say that it is not made of anything – it is a single, fundamental monkey particle. One in every Planck sized region of space. These regions are very small - there will be nearly as many monkeys inside the space occupied by a single atom as there are atoms in the universe. And there will be monkeys in the spaces not occupied by atoms too. And they will type faster. How fast can a thing happen? Just as there is a shortest possible distance, there is a shortest possible time, and it’s called the Planck time.

Planck Ape

The Planck time is how long it would take you to cover one Planck length if you travelled at the speed of light. My monkeys will type at a rate of one keystroke per Planck time (approx. 5.39 * 10^-44 s). They will type so fast because the energy required to confine a monkey to such a small region will make the monkey extraordinarily hot. You will ask what the typewriter is made of, and I will say it is not separate from the monkey: typing is what a monkey particle does. (I don’t know what happens to the letters that the monkeys type. There is no room for them or anything else, as the cosmos is jampacked with hot monkey particles. But I’m not going to let this stop me.) So, from the Big Bang, with a monkey in every last tiniest unit of space possible, typing at the fastest speed there is, for the entire history of the growing Universe, and do we have a deal?

A Planck Ape contemplating Shakespeare

Yes! The first four lines of the sonnet “SHALL I COMPARE THEE TO A SUMMERS DAY THOU ART MORE LOVELY AND MORE TEMPERATE ROUGH WINDS DO SHAKE THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY AND SUMMERS LEASE HATH ALL TOO SHORT A DATE” will be knocked out somewhere in the cosmos several times a second! This is good! In fact, every few dozen thousand years, it’ll come together with the next word – SOMETIME - to boot. Will we ever get the next two words (SOMETIME TOO)? We might be lucky – there’s something like a one in three chance in the age of the universe.

A couple of Sulawesi Macaque monkeys hard at work not writing Shakespeare


I don't know about you, but I think that's rather impressive. Howevwer, if you want the Complete Works, as the theorem says, you'll have to wait so much longer than a cat's life. The full text of The Library of Babel is here.

For Men Only

Walter Popp, Real, "Russia's School For Bedroom Spies" (1954)

Walter Popp, Men, "Last Man Standing Gets Annabelle Austin" (1959)

 Scott Pike, Climax, "The Deadly Strip" (1960)

 Gil Cohen, For Men Only, "All Night Nurse" (1967) 
Also used in Male as "Sin Date With A Sleep-Over Nurse"

 Mort Künstler, For Men Only (1959)

 Gil Cohen, Male, "Combat Hero Who Survived Korea's Worst Brainwashing (1963)

 Walter Popp, Male, "Italian Nudist Girls Who Knocked Out Germany's Underground Tank Depot" (1959)

 Walter Popp, For Men Only, "The American Prisoner In Russia's Female Convict Colony" (1960)

 Earl Norem, For Men Only, "I Fought Castro's Cutthroat Guerrilla Squad" (1970)

 Mort Künstler, Stag, "The Sergeant Who Decoyed The Nazis' Fraulein Werewoves" (1960)

 Norm Saunders, Adventures, "The Bad One" (1959)

 Norm Saunders, True Adventures, "Sea Kill" (1960)

 Walter Popp, Sportsman, "Give Me Back My Boy" (1955)

 John McDermott, Argosy, "The Big Fish Of Hurricane Pass" (1957)

 Earl Norem, Male, "Surf Pack Assassins" (1967)

 Walter Popp, Stag, "Last 10 Days In the Führer Private Underground Bunker" (1960)

 A-OK For Men, Howell Dodd, 1962
"The Führer gazed at her as if fascinated and leapt toward the huge Celestial Couch of Aryan Motherhood..."

 Mort Künstler, Male, "My Body Is My Fortune" (1964)

 Earl Norem, Male, Stag, "The Blonde Sex Machine" (1970)

 John McDermott, Argosy, "The Last Turning" (1952)

 Gil Cohen, For Men Only, "The Executioner" (1969)

 John McDermott, American Legion, "A Man From Kansas" (1949)