Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cultural Philosophy in Physics (and other stuff I pretend to know)

(I've been recently intoxicated by the show River Monsters -- and subsequently have been looking at 'forms of men' with this weird, evolutionary lens. The following is a vomitous outpouring of some of those disjointed, mangled thoughts. Enjoy if you can)

\mathbf{F} = {\mathrm{d}\mathbf{p} \over \mathrm{d}t} = {\mathrm{d}(m \mathbf{v}) \over \mathrm{d}t}Jack (or is it Edward?) knows the world. He understands all of its component parts. His earth is one which is wholly depicted by the laws of Newtonian physics. Everything is proper, if all the particles and components are accounted for. That is what Jack specializes in: knowing all the pieces of the puzzle.

 It would be a fascinating psychological study to see what type of people empathize with George Clooney's character in The American. How many people live their lives as such: as people that calculate the cost of every move, the exposure of every moment, the accuracy of every word? In our culture, in our time, I would reckon that not many people have the discipline to run through life's maze in such a fashion. And more to the point, most people instinctually understand that Newton was wrong.

 W = \int_C \mathbf{F}(\mathbf{r}) \cdot \mathrm{d}\mathbf{r} \, .

Newton was wrong. The world isn't born from the whims of Sir Isaac's discovered laws. No. That would make all too much sense.

Take, for instance, the recent tragedy in Arizona. A crazed gunmen. Bullets in the head. People dead. We can try all we want to put the pieces of the puzzle together. We can try all day long to make a rational case for why this horrific event came to pass. We will try in vain. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. I don't think Clooney's American Jack every understood this. He needed to understand that absence can fill in gaps. His own silence still affects him; still adds unknowable attributes to his soul.

Perhaps Ol' Jack is a beast of a former time. He belongs in the era of large celestial bodies. He belongs to the enlightenment. He belongs to solid things; things you can feel in your hand. His enemies should be small pox, TB, and the Nazis. He can't live in this era. This new place of unknowns, intangibles, and imaginary numbers.

Welcome in, Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen paradox (EPR). You're a beast of a reality. In comes quantum mechanics, cats that are simultaneously dead and alive (did I hear resurrection?), and unimaginably small subatomic particles. Jack is a goner in this world. Do you know why? Perhaps in trying to sum up the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle my pal Freddy Reidenschneider from The Man Who Wasn't There said it best when he proclaimed in a court of law, "The more you look, the less you know." Einstein and his fellow twentieth century cronies proved that the rules of the game are far more mysterious and soulful than the Newton's of the world would have you believe.

Quantum mechanics and the like, dear listener, helped introduce us to a scary reality: the marrow of knowledge can't be known. As it turns out, Newtonian physics only works as an approximation of deeper quantum rules; rules we still can't decipher. Rules beyond us.

Remember! the modern man, our American Jack, is not a man that cannot adapt, by no means! He is the very prototype of adaptation. He is a million plus years of slow, sobering transformative lessons. He is the ancient crocodile. He is the vicious killer. He is the great shark. The nearly unbreakable adversary. His instinct and diligence has given him an impeccable threshold for longsuffering and perseverance. Let me be straight: his time has past, but he will kill you before he himself is undone. Kamikaze: as a last stand.

American Jack can adapt because he is a product of orderly evolution. He is birthed from the ideals of Darwin, Voltaire, and Locke. Again I repeat, do not underestimate such a creature. This being said, like the Death Star in Star Wars, there is a definite chink in the armor. Adaptation is not the same as Annihilation. The new war is won by those who can destroy all that is unwanted... even those things which are presumed needed. The winner destroys constantly destroys his own creation, so as to live to rebuild. And rebuild ever more obliquely.

If my words are now transferring no meaning, remember that that is okay. Meaning is now secondary.

Nevertheless, to aid my sense of expression, I will call upon the sea cucumber. 
Click here!! to see a younger version of me play with a sea cucumber on camera. 
Bad Accent free of charge.

In order to evade being devoured by the many pitfalls of the world, the sea cucumber, when fearing an attack, literally vomits out ALL of its internal organs. Perhaps you will ask: how does that make any sense? Well, I don't really think it does. But it works. Somehow the cucumber is then able to absorb minerals and other happening particles in order to rebuild its internal organs. That's what I mean by Annihilation zapping Adaptation. Jack can't adapt to such self-mutilation. How do you conquer an enemy that can cease to be?

George Clooney plays another character in another film in which he knows the ways of the new world. From the opening monologue, brilliantly delivered by the expert thespian Tom Wilkinson:

Two weeks ago I came out of the building, okay, I'm running across Sixth Avenue, there's a car waiting, I got exactly 38 minutes to get to the airport and I'm dictating. There's this, this panicked associate sprinting along beside me, scribbling in a notepad, and suddenly she starts screaming, and I realize we're standing in the middle of the street, the light's changed, there's this wall of traffic, serious traffic speeding towards us, and I... I-I freeze, I can't move, and I'm suddenly consumed with the overwhelming sensation that I'm covered with some sort of film. It's in my hair, my face... it's like a glaze... like a... a coating, and... at first I thought, oh my god, I know what this is, this is some sort of amniotic - embryonic - fluid. I'm drenched in afterbirth, I've-I've breached the chrysalis, I've been reborn. But then the traffic, the stampede, the cars, the trucks, the horns, the screaming and I'm thinking no-no-no-no, reset, this is not rebirth, this is some kind of giddy illusion of renewal that happens in the final moment before death. And then I realize no-no-no, this is completely wrong because I look back at the building and I had the most stunning moment of clarity. I... I... I... I realized Michael, that I had emerged not from the doors of Kenner, Bach, and Ledeen, not through the portals of our vast and powerful law firm, but from the asshole of an organism whose sole function is to excrete the... the-the-the poison, the ammo, the defoliant necessary for other, larger, more powerful organisms to destroy the miracle of humanity. And that I had been coated in this patina of shit for the best part of my life. The stench of it and the stain of it would in all likelihood take the rest of my life to undo. And you know what I did? I took a deep cleansing breath and I set that notion aside. I tabled it. I said to myself as clear as this may be, as potent a feeling as this is, as true a thing as I believe that I have witnessed today, it must wait. It must stand the test of time. And Michael, the time is now. 

Michael Clayton is told this rant, and his job is to somehow provide a fix. He's just heard a jarring rambling of a man who's afraid his soul has been dirtied by the very corporation he works for -- and now Michael must fix this. The American Jack could never know how to deal with such lunacy. Such psychosis. It isn't rational. It's just human. Michael Clayton, as some sort of new American, has the tools to work out what appears to be magic from chaos. He can do it, and he does...

But to what end? 

Characters like Michael always survive. Of course they do. Nothing can kill something that daily guts itself. But is he happy? What is the cost of survival in this barren wasteland of pandemic postmodern culture?

Near the final moments of The American, Jack pounds his fists against his steering wheel. It is the most extroverted display of emotion we have ever seen from him, and yet it still comes from a place of silence. Of angry acceptance. He has been mastered by his surroundings. It is sad. It is unwanted. But it is also expected. The lion cannot remain pride leader forever. He will age, and a new beast will come and overcome him. Jack inevitably will be overcome. At least, for him, he knows who he is. He knows what is being beaten inside him.

When Michael Clayton, the janitor of postmodern motion, fixes yet another unforeseeable debacle, is it Michael who claims victory? His body perhaps can relish a win, but what of his inner being? How can you ever enjoy life when there is no eternal 'you-ness' to enjoy it?

That last lines of Michael Clayton:

Taxi Driver: So what are we doin'? 
Michael Clayton: Give me fifty dollars worth. Just drive.

Some victory, eh?

Personally, my sympathy lies with the character that tries even when failure is inevitable. Sidenote: Okay, lend me some grace here, I am not speaking theologically, for I know: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God... Ephesians 2:8 -- glory be to God. R.P. McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest comes immediately to mind.

But I tried, didn't I? Dammit, at least I did that.

There seems to be some glory in that defeat, no?

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