30 December, 2010


 Today a more scientific approach, I hope, to viewing the world. But, I promised a movie so here goes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I just read the summary on imdb and a comment and I think it is the most spoiler-tastic thing I have ever seen there. Of course I don't remember the thing very accurately, maybe that's why my memories of it are so fond.

The story is a romance pure and simple. Boy meets girl, they fall for each other and have some romantic moments together. The remarkable thing about it is that it puts a pin on it: everything has happened before and when their relationship failed they erased each other from their memories. Wow, an interesting idea in a romance who would have thought?

And then, a couple of years later for me, comes the mind-blowing part: this movie is not SF. At least not in its entirety. Specific memories can be erased... Come again?

Due to the subjective nature of memories (I'm sure this hasn't gone by unnoticed, memories tend to be slightly different depending on your frame of mind, on new connections you are now able to make etc) we may have thought they are something inexplainable happening at a higher level due to the interaction of neurons in the brain. At least those were my thoughts... thinking that you just store information and then retrieve it just seems plain wrong, and it is. Though it does have a grain of truth in it in the sense that memories are physical things and not some intellectual abstractions.

This was found out by giving a drug to mice and realizing that they are unable to form new memories. While the drug is in their system, they are physically unable to form memories. Turns out the drug was inhibiting synthesis of proteins, meaning memories are some proteins or their constituents: amino acids (you know that word they abuse in shampoo commercials). Ok, now get ready for the mind-blowing part: when injected with this drug during the act of remembering something, the initial memory disappears as well.

What does this mean? It means that when we remember something we are actually creating the memory anew. It is more of a creative than a retrieval process. It seems to involve three steps, at least this is how I understand it: Find the physical memory, that protein somewhere in your brain, interpret it by reading and triggering a series of electric impulses which form your thoughts on the matter and the actual memory you experience and as you are going write it back in the form of a protein. As the last step is inhibited by the drug the whole memory will be lost afterwards. The changes in memory seem to be on a physical level due to a rearrangement of the connections between neurons, but on a more practical level we can very easily be influenced. For example by someone sharing an experience with us and having very strong views about what they saw. That confidence seems to shake our own and in the process of remembering alter the initial memory so that we think we saw stuff we did not see.

What it also means is that "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind" may not be just cool but a glimpse into the future. Although people do seem to use these discoveries in more useful things like curing people of severe traumas instead of love sickness. But, as seen in my previous post that can lead to severe trauma. At least in Japanese minds. My conclusion on the matter is that I have to see Charlie Kaufman's other stories too, I already love this and Adaptation. Especially Adaptation :)

Reminded of my favorite music album: The Human Equation, by Ayreon. Got me thinking about lyrics from Day Fifteen: Betrayal.
Reason: This memory burns inside
You can't forget, you cannot fight or erase it.
You'll have to tell and set it right
You cannot run, you cannot hide, so face it!

PS. Actually, what I did in this post is hardly more than to sum up a show I heard on Radiolab. They have a lot of cool anecdotes which make these things more interesting and more understandable. I tried to be as short as possible, but give it a listen. It will be worth it.

I think this is the beginning of a section: "What I learned today".

29 December, 2010

Not the feel good movie of the year

To continue on the series of "practice what you preach" and how movies fail miserably at it, here's Never let me go. At the beginning of the movie in the orphanage, or whatever it was called, one of the girls asks: "Who would make up such a horrible story"?  Who indeed? Instead of the poster I'll use a still from the film which pretty much sums it up: bleak.

It may be my own fault, but I set out to watch this movie because I thought it sets a good melancholic mood, you know the kind that makes you feel small and insignificant through showing you something great or leaving you crying your eyes out but with a good feeling inside. This is not like that, it is just demoralizing and sad. Oh, and lifeless.

First up under scrutiny is the SF theme: growing children to be organ donors. This doesn't spoil the movie: they find it out soon enough too. And you kind of do in the first sequence of the movie. Now why was this necessary? Is it supposed to be a metaphor on the brevity of life? Is calling the sun a ball of fire a metaphor or just stupidity in writing? I mean the movie is about relations and the search for love and how ultimately we are alone... That's it, just human relations in a rural environment.

The only part which was any good at all was the one with them teenagers with the touching of issues like sexuality, but then it looses its focus and goes on a wild goose chase. Too bad, it was actually starting to get interesting and intense for a moment.

<SPOILER> As for the ending, well it's similar to Pan's Labyrinth or the Sixth Sense. I mention those movies because they have the same idea of showing you what the end will be at the beginning, bu they do it with style and at the end you are full of emotions that burst and awe while remembering the intro. Here not at all, because nothing in it was interesting enough to make me forget the beginning, when the narration starts. I'll sum up: Tommy and Ruth die and Kathy is left alone. And you know this is going to happen, which is why I don't know why the whole 3rd act wasted my time with the characters trying to get a delay? How am I supposed to give a shit? We just jumped 10 years into the future, do I care if you jump 3 more to the part where they actually die? </SPOILER>

In the final act I already started doing a review in my head as it was too boring to pay attention to and I inevitably compared it to Remains of the Day. You know with the difference that that movie is actually good, probably because Anthony Hopkins can act. But the feeling it conveys is still not that of a cartoon happy bunny family having a pick-nick in a field full of flowers. Imagine my surprise when I found out the books they are based on were written by the same author.

But there is a far better parallel out there (and also Japanese at its core): 5 centimeters per second. From the first line of that movie you find out that that is the speed at which cherry blossoms fall.

This anime succeeds at everything the other movie fails at. It is almost the same with 3 episode of children, teenagers and young adults, but each of them is a masterpiece. The first episode alone has more feeling, more memorable moments, more tension and expectation and more love in 20 minutes than "Never let me go" in its full length. The melancholic part is the second one with touching on shyness and unrequited love in a much more heartfelt manner, while also containing the loneliest moment I can ever remember seeing in a movie. It's all due to the great atmosphere and the stunning visuals. The final episode is about chance and distance and loss and contains a full length music video which is pretty annoying :P

The end has got to be the most depressing I have ever seen. Basically the conclusion is that it doesn't matter if you find love, or are a good person, or do your duty, you will end up alone and an emotional wreck anyway, so you might as well just give up or kill yourself now. And don't consider people who share a great love happy. About how a too great love can destroy your life and what to do about it more in the next post (also about a movie).

28 December, 2010

The Prestige

The theme of today is not following your own advice. To best illustrate it I chose the movie The Prestige which I've recently seen and which had some critical acclaim and a high rating on imdb. Btw. everything following is kind of spoilerish.
Last time with Black Swan we looked at how things are supposed to be made. Now the other side of the coin: this movie fails miserably at everything it sets out to do. The title only leads you on in expecting a great Prestige, the final revelation of a magic act that makes you go "Ahhhh!!!". In fact it is a little more than just another step in the conflict between the 2 magicians of creating an ever greater trick and outsmarting the other, although it is well played and creates some dramatic effect. However the writer himself got outsmarted when creating the "Teleported man" trick because while it does seem amazing the explanation is downright stupid. It is a simple Deus Ex Machina, to be used only by the most lacking of writers. SF really had nothing to do in this story, it would have been much better to just leave an explanation out and keep the people wondering (instead of having them frustrated when badly executed) than just disappointing them. Which brings us to the actual hard point of the discussion. Michael Caine's character if I'm not mistaken explains how you must never let them know how you did it. The moment they find out all magic is gone. This movie explains every... single... fucking... trick (yes, I do mean them in the prostitute sense), the little ones too, the insignificant one with the doves and the other one with doves and so on, with the last explanations being more of a "Get out of jail free" card than an explanation. Which makes me believe that the author is retarded. The movie is well executed, as I can only guess was the book, but at a higher level it fails profoundly. It has just one layer and that one lacks in story, so where is the greatness? Wouldn't it have been better to just let the people enjoy the illusions than to ruin them? Showing pigeons die is gross, not atmosphere building.
Oh did I mention the entire conflict of the movie is based on sheer stupidity? Why did he have to tie a knot that was hard to untie? You have a magic trick, an illusion, make believe... and you have a knot that looks complicated but is fairly simple to untie. So why in God's great name would you actually tie a hard one? Moreover why would the person actually risking to die encourage and tease you? You guessed it, a stupid bitch dies... and the whole story is an ever-growing series of revenges.
The only good thing about this movie is the characterization of the 2 magicians and the acting, with the fact that you don't know which of them is actually going to win being a big plus.

A much better movie, although still kind of stupid, meaning the story is supposed to be a mystery and it is clear what is going to happen about ten minutes in, is the Illusionist.
Don't get me wrong this movie fails too, which is quite unexpected from Edward Norton, but at least it has some magic atmosphere in it (yes this one kind of explains illusions too), which is more appropriate than a SF twist belonging in a simple minded comedy.
For more on failing at what you profess, stay tuned.

26 December, 2010

Black Swan

I have concluded that I don't want to write a blog :)
But I'll put here some random thoughts I'm having on movies I've seen, books I've read and things I've learned.

So on to the subject of the day. What had stricken me as the most interesting movie of the year: Black swan.
This movie has 2 outstanding, almost perfect elements: the poster (it has a bit of "hauntingly beautiful" to it) and the idea. And while the storytelling is not perfect it does deliver and near the ending all it has been builing up bursts in a crescendo of action and emotion. While most of the movie Natalie Portman acts like she is made of wood, you know like in Star Wars, this time it actually fits as she is supposed to be somewhat stiff and just mimicking emotions. However her transformation into the black swan at the end really surprised me and leads me to think she can actually act. And pretty well too.
Now jumping on to the supernatural elements some of them seem very well in place like an unexplained rash and bleeding of fingers, through impressions of seeing a familiar face on the street, to hallucinations while on drugs and an actual transformation into a black swan on stage, some others like hallucinations in the hospital and before the show could have been handled subtler or more masterfully. For example in the cabin as I didn't understand what exactly was happening it ruined immersion and made me not care anymore. Fortunately the beautiful performance follows that rescues and finally manages to create a nearly perfect ending.
However, there is one fault I find in it... the fact that watching the trailer or reading a two-line review basically renders the first hour of the movie useless, it adds surprisingly little:

As the ballet company is ditching their has-been lead ballerina (Winona Ryder, wink) they are looking for a replacement. For the opening show of Swan Lake Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) would make an ideal virginal  white swan, but she lacks the passion of her twin sister, the black swan. Enter Lily, who is a natural but kind of lacks discipline, and the stage is set. Will Nina have what it takes or will getting "friendly" with Lily have other consequences?

Fortunately it didn't get actually boring. Here's the trailer:

<SPOILER> And now for the conclusion. What is really awesome about this movie is how it is a metastory, a Swan Lake itself just transported to modern times. Even the credits at the end credit all the main actors in double roles, and I thought it was wonderful and was really amazed how imdb didn't spoil this one... When you look at the movie it wasn't really the only option for the final act, that's what makes it special </SPOILER>

And giving credit where it's due, below is the review which got me to watch it, and while it does contain some nonsense it is one of his better recommendations, not like the ones involving superhero movies.

02 December, 2010

Meaning of Words

Do you believe in coincidence? At least according to Wikipedia, you should, because they are inevitable. The coincidence was that I just read two completely different texts complaining about the distortion in the meaning of some words.

But let's look at the word coincidence itself.
<GeekAlert> Did I mention I like defining stuff? Hopefully this is the only place where you will see me doing it </GeekAlert>
When approaching the problem etymologically you see that its meaning was of multiple (co) events happening (incidence) at the same time. The only place where it is still being used with a literal meaning is physics ( and there incidence has been translated as falling upon, making it a polysemantic word ). So where did the "unusual" part of every definition come from? My guess is that the meaning got distorted with the passage of time, gaining connotations from the context it was being used in most frequently. Synchronous would be another word to describe more than one event happening at the same (syn) time (chronous). But let's be serious, who uses that (except for geeks obviously)? So a theory of "coincidence" filling up a gap seems rather shaky.

Now whether you went through that boring paragraph or just skipped it, which might be just as well, let me reward you with a funny interlude. Hope you appreciate his humor, if not I'll sum up for you: he is bitching about the misuse of the word "epic", of epic fail fame, until it's not epic anymore, but trivial and thus useless.
When I say epic, I think Lord of the Rings, but that's just me. I guess you could consider the ocean, cosmos and other lengthy written works epic.

Ok, now that we have a little bit of color in place we can get to the serious part. C. S. Lewis talking about the meaning of the word "Christian" (it appears the spell-checker wants me to capitalize it :) so be it). But, sly fox that he is, he graciously avoids this word people are bound to be very opinionated about and goes on to talk about the word gentleman instead. This is done in the introduction to his book Mere Christianity, which I can't readily link to as it's not public domain ( just kidding, I found this link, not sure how long it will be valid for though ). So what is a gentleman? Originally it seems to have meant someone who had a coat of arms (although you may find a lot more detailed information in the usual place), so applying it to someone as a praise would be useless, as there are plenty of adjectives for that, I would favor chivalrous. Furthermore it shifts from saying something about the described to person to saying something about the speaker, namely that you admire him. Nowadays gentleman is often used to mean just man, having lost all its original meaning. So what about Christian? Well it should be used in the way it was meant to: someone who believes in the teachings of the apostles of Christ. nowadays that would be the church (any church will do, denominations are not really important, I am referring to Lewis's "mere" Christianity anyway).

Instead of a conclusion I will admit to having beaten around the bush when my real purpose is just that one phrase about what a Christian is as I plan on writing quite a bit about religion and how it plays nice with science. If you want to know about the meaning of a word just ask Wikipedia or Google ;)

BONUS 1 I know I promised not to just throw in random stuff anymore, but you can see how something called "Words" fits into this post, right? Well, I wanted to recommend this:

Just because the first part of it, about the man without words is good. How good? Well, it touched me in a soft spot in my soul. The same one that was previously tickled by WALL-E, coincidentally himself a non-speaking, yet strangely relatable character.

BONUS 2 Did you notice the link to the Birthday Paradox on wikipedia? If not, you should read about it. It is one of the simplest and most likely to encounter things that will blow your mind, by being completely unintuitive. A year has 365 days so how many people would you need to get into a room so that 2 share the same birthday?  The probability reaches 50% at 23 people, meaning you are more likely to have a collision than not to. And it gets to a staggering 99% with as little as 57 people. Doesn't that kind of make you regret all the math you forgot?

01 December, 2010

A Quiet Place

I thought to myself: I need to start writing. Hence this little thing here, called a blog.
It's funny actually how the idea came to me. I was discussing with my friends how we should be starting an anti-blogger movement to counteract the annoying little voices twittering in our heads the whole day. But that idea seems rather useless, without even considering the petty, sad side of it. So if you can't beat'em, join'em right? So stand back cause here comes the noise, a mash of everything you may find on this blog, hope you enjoy.

So do I think I have something better to say? You're damn right about that. I mean it would be hard not to. Like with everything else 90% of writing is crap. Well then surely this is a good idea. Ummm, maybe not so. The other factor which got me to writing is this little bit of insight: this would just mean creating more noise.
As I see it the problem with noise can be one of two things:

  1. You stop listening. Which is what I would expect most people to do
  2. You start to like it... you know, like the music on MTV or that you hear at the radio or in clubs
Now the biggest problem is to get people to realize that they have a problem. If people don't know they have a problem they're not going to solve it. So why throw more clutter to make clutter go away? Well, because I hope to figure out on the way the means to get people to solve their problem.
Go ahead, watch this video in which Seth Godin talks about clutter:

Now, don't you feel just a tiny bit smarter for having watched that? Doesn't it get you to thinking?
So what I'll be trying to accomplish here is to stimulate thinking, by following Seth's receipe. Get people to start talking about something, give them something worth talking about (more on TED at some later time). The thing is I am trying to go about this from a different angle. Your average Joe Blogger writes about day to day stuff, random thoughts, starts a blogroll where he puts a link to his friends so that his friends put a link to him, so that they can Hi five! each other... well isn't that swell? I on the other hand will be starting by writing for myself, because thoughts encourage other thoughts to form. The idea is to link previously unrelated stuff in your mind, simple thoughts to form ideas, and in the end maybe even a way of looking at life (and I mean a philosophical system, and here you thought that was some complicated shit...).

The thing is we call these connections THINKING. I was wondering why my dog is so stupid, why can't he close the door behind him? I mean he surely knows the concept of door (he opens them when he can and he calls for us to let him out by looking out the door) and he knows about cold too, that's the reason he wanted to get inside in the first place. The problem is he can't connect the two. He literally cannot. Just as mice cannot form the idea left of the blue wall, although they know what blue is and what a wall is, strange thing is humans can't either until they are about 6. I got this revelation about my dog from a pretty cool show which I will be generous enough to share with you:

The point that the people talking there are making is that thoughts first start out not in the mind, but in the channel, in speech. Then you get to talking to yourself, and finally to talking to yourself silently. While social media in general tends to stop at the first, let's try to go a bit further. So if you want to join me on this journey go ahead, I am going to go sit in a corner quietly.

Actually, I was lying. I'll try to do some persuasion work here too. What I suggest is that we learn more. Now if the thought of MORE INFORMATION scares you as much as it does me, remember we are not the first to have these problems. They are just normal manifestations of a sort of revolution. Take the printing press, it scared and annoyed the hell out of the brightest people of that age.
But what can you do? The world is evolving. Due to printing we evolved to a society of readers, now we are evolving to a society of writers (thought it may take a shorter time than a few centuries). Also that may not be exactly what we should be doing.
I don't expect you to buy the book (although if you do, it would be nice if you followed this link so that in couple of years I can buy myself a kebab), I just think these links from amazon are pretty cool :) but you should read the summary from the link above, just for the idea of evolution of societies from an information point of view.
What I am upset about is that while to me blogging seems to be "real writing" it is a part of social media instead. And that makes me shudder. Really? social media?

I call bullshit.

PS. I promise I will not subject you to random jumps of thought anymore. At least, to the best of my ability, I will try.