Throwback

Laker Girls - Courtesy of Sports IllustratedDuring last night's Lakers-Celtics matchup, Los Angeles wore old school, short shorts for the first half of the game. According to ESPN, Kobe Bryant wasn't thrilled with the nostalgic uniform change:

"I don't know what it feels like to wear a thong, but I imagine it feels something like what we had on in the first half," he said with a grin. "I felt violated. I felt naked. It's one thing to see films with guys wearing those things. … I'd rather stay warm, man."

On European-ness

I remember sometime during the last NBA season being startled to hear a TV announcer refer to Manu Ginobili as a "prototypical European" basketball player. Why did this come as a surprise? Ginobili is Argentinian.

So you can imagine my double disbelief when the announcer in tonight's Milwaukee Bucks-Cleveland Cavaliers matchup describe Yi Jianlian as a "prototypical European" basketball player. Yi is from China!

Two scenarios present themselves: one, these announcers really have no idea that Argentina and China are not part of Europe; or two, for the rapidly globalizing sport of basketball and the (Trans)National Basketball Association with its production of American spectacle, "European" has come to be a synonym for "non-American".

Both are problematic, the latter perhaps more so.

Dinosaurs, Metaphysics and the Religion of Science

Once upon a time, dinosaurs roamed the world. Terrifying creatures, large and small, quick and lumbering, an entire epoch dedicated to their rule over the natural order of things. Then, in what seems like the blink of an eye over an infinite unfolding of time, they were gone.

Wolfgang Schirmacher asks: "Does it not grossly exaggerate the importance of the modern age if we put it under the microscope like this?" Perhaps. But when we retroactively apply to all of history the principles of Western metaphysics — which find their apotheosis in the modern age — it most certainly becomes exaggerated.

Returning to the dinosaurs: We use Latin names to classify creatures imagined from ossiferous remnants that existed long before language ever did. In the specific case of Tyrannosaurus rex, we map a hierarchical political system onto the terrifying animal and declare it King. Perhaps most importantly, we read the entire story of the dinosaurs through a linear filter of evolution, with the occasional emergent event thrown in for seasoning. Though we don't quite know what happened to the dinosaurs, we presume they died because they were too slow to adapt to some fundamental change and today we use the term "dinosaur" pejoratively to describe someone equally slow to adapt. Survival of the fittest. Speed rules supreme.

Courtesy of The Animatrix

But since we are already exaggerating the importance of the modern age in retroactively "understanding" the dinosaurs as objects, might we not inquire after their subjective mental state as well? In other words, did the dinosaurs know their reign was coming to an end? It depends, one supposes, on how you believe the dinosaurs met their demise. If it was, in fact, an asteroid that caused extinction, then of course they would have had no idea as to what hit them. If it was something more gradual that reduced resources, slowly extincting each species, then perhaps they had an inkling.

The question seems relevant since we, Homo sapiens, are now also getting an inkling.

For a long time an awareness of our own mortality and fear of our own death has animated our daily existence in the West. But it is only recently that our individual fear has grown exponentially into a collective panic as we begin to perceive the outlines of our own species extinction, a perception being brought sharply into focus as we sit through a series of apocalyptic Hollywood thrillers while consuming the sundry output of patented pharmacopoeia.

Courtesy of The Animatrix

Now that we can foresee the end — the end of life, the end of the species, the end of metaphysics — we might wonder: What comes next? If, on the one hand, we follow the logic of evolution that has served us so well in our retroactive analysis of history then it seems as if in our extinction we will cede our place in the order of things to organisms, such as viruses, that adapt more quickly than we do (an ironic end in the age of biological warfare). On the other hand, intertwined with this evolutionary logic is the emergent event. The techno enthusiasts look forward to the Singularity, that moment when our technological extensions of ourselves accelerate to the point at which we cease to be human and instead become "posthuman". But what is this Singularity, and what is the posthumanity that lies beyond?

The answer is, we don't know.

The theologians of scientific inquiry have suggested several different ways in which the Singularity/posthumanity might occur, which may generally be described as either the development of superintelligent human brains (bio- and genetic engineering, direct brain-computer interfaces, mind uploading) or non-human artificial intelligence (computer-based AI that we have "given birth" to, but which evolves beyond on its own). The common thread uniting them is that posthuman beings will be technologically advanced far beyond our possible comprehension as humans, much as we must be to the pre-human primates that came before us. In other words, our understanding of posthumanity requires an act of faith.

While science has killed the idea of (a Western) God and His promise of an eternal afterlife in Heaven, has it not also offered its own replacement? If Heaven emerges to alleviate the individual fear of death, can we not suggest that the Singularity and posthumanism emerge to alleviate the social fear of species extinction?

Courtesy of The Animatrix

Though we are not certain about the extinction of dinosaurs and the potential awareness of their own demise, we might consider a more contemporary example. Since the last Ice Age mammals such as the mastodon (Mammut americanum) occasionally became trapped in tar pits such as those found at La Brea. One can imagine the terror as they slowly sunk to their deaths, sometimes watching others sink around them at the same time. Like these animals, we can foresee our own demise but might be too stuck in the metaphysical tar to extricate ourselves. And in the Singularity and posthumanism we see how the end of metaphysics expresses itself: a new lie as existential necessity, post-metaphysics as the religion of science.

Vectors

Subway Baseball

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media:

"Just where to begin to examine the transformation of American attitudes since TV is a most arbitrary affair, as can be seen in a change so great as the abrupt decline of baseball. The removal of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles was a portent in itself. Baseball moved West in an attempt to retain an audience after TV struck. The characteristic mode of the baseball game is that it features one-thing-at-a-time. It is a lineal, expansive game which, like golf, is perfectly adapted to the outlook of an individualist and inner-directed society. Timing and waiting are of the essence, with the entire field in suspense waiting upon the performance of a single player. By contrast, football, basketball, and ice hockey are games in which many events occur simultaneously, with the entire team involved at the same time. With the advent of TV, such isolation of the individual performance as occurs in baseball became unacceptable. Interest in baseball declined, and its stars, quite as much as movie stars, found that fame had some very cramping dimensions. Baseball had been, like the movies, a hot medium featuring individual virtuosity and stellar performers. The real ball fan is a store of statistical information about previous explosions of batters and pitchers in numerous games. Nothing could indicate more clearly the peculiar satisfaction provided by a game that belonged to the industrial metropolis of ceaselessly exploding populations, stocks and bonds, and production and sales records. Baseball belonged to the age of the first onset of the hot press and the movie medium. It will always remain a symbol of the era of the hot mommas, jazz babies, of sheiks and shebas, of vamps and gold-diggers and the fast buck. Baseball, in a word, is a hot game that got cooled off in the new TV climate, as did most of the hot politicians and hot issues of the earlier decade" (p. 284).

(Thanks for the postcard Jean-Christophe!)

Hello to Beijing

a compilation of time,
or a thought
Courtesy of VANOC 2010