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Baudrillard Simulacra and Simulation 1981 book

According to Baudrillard, Simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original. While, Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. “Simulacres et Simulation” is a 1981 philosophical treatise by Jean Baudrillard seeking to interrogate the relationship among reality, symbols, and society:

[…] Simulacra and Simulation is most known for its discussion of symbols, signs, and how they relate to contemporaneity (simultaneous existences). Baudrillard claims that our current society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience is of a simulation of reality. Moreover, these simulacra are not merely mediations of reality, nor even deceptive mediations of reality; they are not based in a reality nor do they hide a reality, they simply hide that anything like reality is relevant to our current understanding of our lives. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the significations and symbolism of culture and media that construct perceived reality, the acquired understanding by which our lives and shared existence is and are rendered legible; Baudrillard believed that society has become so saturated with these simulacra and our lives so saturated with the constructs of society that all meaning was being rendered meaningless by being infinitely mutable. Baudrillard called this phenomenon the “precession of simulacra”. […] (from Wikipedia)

Simulacra and Simulation” is definitely one of my best summer holiday readings I had this year. There are several connections to areas like Collective Intelligence and Perception, even Self-Organization as the dynamic and entangled use of symbols and signals, are recurrent on all these areas. Questions like the territory (cultural habitats) and metamorphose are also aborded. The book is an interesting source of new questions and thinking about our digital society, for people working on related areas such as Digital Media, Computer Simulation, Information Theory, Information and Entropy, Augmented Reality, Social Computation and related paradigms. I have read it in English for free [PDF] from a Georgetown Univ. link, here.

A Pedro Cruz experimentation with soft bodies using toxi’s verlet springs. The data refers to the evolution of the top four maritime empires (Portugal, Britain, Spain and France) of the XIX and XX centuries by land extension. The visual emphasis was on their decline. Each circular shape tends to retain an area that’s directly proportional to the extent of the occupied territory on a specific year. At crucial, critical times in history, his visualization approach then follows a cell mitosis like split. Historical data came from Wikipedia. More on his project.

Animated picture – The Icelandic Volcanic ash dispersing a giant plume over Europe at 10m/s (April 14-18, 2010). [NERI – National Environment Research Institute – Denmark, link] (via @PattersonClark)

“… dicen que los últimos deseos de Islandia eran que desparramen sus cenizas por Europa“, Martin Varsavsky (@martinvars via @fernand0), establishing an indirect and ironic association with the current Volcano status, and the recent Icelandic economic collapse and bankruptcy.

Ashes will be here to stay among us for a while. Maybe during several weeks, or entire months. The surrounding  ice at the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano crater will simple catalyse and reinforce the whole  ash plume effect, not diminished it.  Have you ever tried to cease a camp fire with water?! Besides, Katla, a much bigger Volcano, is just on the neighbourhood. But instead, looking back at the present camp fire you may ask why ashes are travelling East, not West. Unfortunately, due to the Coriolis effect, while Earth spins, the winds move to the right in the Northern Hemisphere, and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere, so Europe is the target, instead of the North Atlantic sea, a air travel nightmare outcome travelling East 10 meters at each second, by far with major economic consequences. People crowded into chaotic Airports, will be recurrent. On the other hand, if the Poniente SW winds keep blowing into the Iberian peninsula as they are in the last days as typical above the Tropic of Cancer  specially over this region, here’s my rule of thumb: Barajas Airport [MAD] in Madrid will soon be a major world hub for air traffic. Possibly along with Lisbon,  they will be the unique safe air travel entries for the old Continent, and the singular gateways to arrive in South America, Africa,  the Indian subcontinent, Asia and United States. That is: A whole continent connected to the rest of a massive networked world via a unique critical node.

Fig. – Ash Cloud – Projected relative concentration levels / April 18, 8 p.m. E.D.T. (A list of European airports that have been affected by a cloud of ash from the erupting volcano in Iceland). (New York Times – Source: Jørgen Brandt, Senior Scientist, National Environmental Research Institute at Aarhus University, Denmark)

As – on one side – more ashes will pop-up from the ice Eyja Island (Iceland), and – on the other side – an increasing economic and social pressure for opening possibilities to establish a communication with the rest of the world will be a requirement, a dilemma will rise and surge in the upcoming times: shall we flight or not?  A  pure dilemma between safety and fluidity. I defend the later, but not at  any cost. Naturally, airline companies are suffering a lot. Some estimate that this air ban is costing airlines a reported £150 million a day. And probably the first sign of this dilemma appeared today, when some European airliners pressured EU countries for opening their airspaces, alleging they were doing safety tests in the middle of the ash, thus trying to transfer -one of these days- their own risks onto a whole  pack of air travellers.  According to them, everything was OK on their tests (was it? – well, hell not, according to the credulous holy mighty Pope). While the Portuguese President is travelling by bus, and Pope by train, next, they will probably try to profit from the initial social frustration upon the natural phenomena and people’s legitimise need and urgency for fluidity, in order to open airspace. Instead, working on the field, for long they should have adopted insurance policies, in order to protect their normal airliner activity against airborne peak cases like these. A phenomena, with which, they are well acquainted.

Science, once again, could be crucial. If we cannot avoid the ash cloud, we could still try to dribble it – on a daily basis. And by “we”, I mean people and airliner companies. Simulated tracking models will be part of the answer. Namely, Volcanic ash tracking models. I leave you with a 2002 scientific paper [1], critical for the current times (PDF file link below). If you are facing  the  “shall we flight or not?” dilemma, then, do not miss at least the whole introduction. It starts with “Volcanic ash floating and travelling is a great concern to airline pilots”. Among other things, historic cases might pop-up your head as a revelation.

Oh, … and if you are also still wondering as I did, what the word Eyjafjallajökull means, here is a clue. Indeed, it’s quite simple. We just need to divide it, at the right place, up into 3 Icelandic common words: “Eyja” is the Icelandic word for island. “Fjalla” means mountain. And finally, “Jökull” is glacier. Though, don’t ask me for their pronunciation.

[1] H.L. Tanaka, Kazumi Yamamoto; “Numeric Simulation of Volcanic Plume dispersal from Usu Volcano on Japan in 31 March 2000 using PUFF model”, Earth Planets Space Journal, 54, pp. 743-752, 2002. (PDF)

photo – Lightning visible in the plume of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland on April 17, 2010. Image of Astronomer Snaevarr Gudmundsson. (source: Universe Today).

Video – Awesome choice by Tim Burton. It fits him like a glove. Here is the official Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland teaser trailer (just uploaded yesterday). Alice in Wonderland is directed by visionary director Tim Burton, of everything from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure to Beetlejuice to Batman to Edward Scissor hands to Mars Attacks to Sleepy Hollow to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Sweeney Todd most recently. This is based on Lewis Carroll’s beloved series of books that were first published in 1865. Disney is bringing Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to both digital 3D and 2D theaters everywhere on March 5th, 2010 early next year (more). Finally, just one personal thought. Soon, Tim Burton’s will stand for cinema, as what Jules Verne represented in literature.

In 1973, under several ongoing works on Co-Evolution and Evolutionary theory, L. van Alen proposed a new hypothesis: the Red Queen effect [1]. According to him, several different species will migth propably undergo and submit themselves to a continuous re-adapation [2,3], being it genetic or synaptic, only to end themselves at the point they started. A kind of arms races between species [4], potentially leading to specialization, as well as evolutionary Punctuated equilibria [5,6].

Van Alen chose the name “Red Queen” in allusion to the romance “Alice in Wonderland”, from Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) published in 1865. Over this country (Wonderland) it was usual to run as quick as you could, just to end yourself at the same place. The dialogs between Alice and the Red Queen are sintomatic:

[…] ‘Now! Now!’ cried the Queen. ‘Faster! Faster!’ And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy. The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly, ‘You may rest a little, now. Alice looked round her in great surprise. ‘Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!’ ‘Of course it is,’ said the Queen. ‘What would you have it?’. ‘Well, in our country, said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.’ ‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, I see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!‘ […]

Meanwhile, since 2007 (even much earlier!) I have taken Alice into my own arms. In fact, she is not heavy at all. If you feel you should keep running, some should, have a read on “Co-Cognition, Neural Ensembles and Self-Organization“, extended abstract for a seminar talk at ISR – Institute for Systems and Robotics, Technical Univ. of Lisbon (IST), May 31, 2007. Written at Granada University, Spain, 29 May 2007.

[1] van Alen, L. (1973), “A New Evolutionary Law“, Evolutionary Theory, 1, pp. 1-30.
[2] Cliff D., Miller G.F. (1995), “Tracking the Red Queen: Measurements of Adaptive Progress in Co-Evolutionary Simulations“, in F. Moran, A. Moreno, J.J. Merelo and P. Cachon (editors) Advances in Artificial Life: Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL95). Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence 929, Springer- Verlag, pp.200-218.
[3] Cliff D., Miller G.F. (1996), “Co-Evolution of Pursuit and Evasion II: Simulation Methods and Results“. In P. Maes et al. (Eds.), From Animals to Animats IV, Procs. of the Fourth Int. Conf. on Simulation of Adaptive Behaviour, MIT Press, pp. 506-515.
[4] Dawkins R., Krebs J.R. (1979), “Arms Races between and within Species“. In Procs. of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences, nº. 205, pp. 489-511.
[5] Eldredge, N., Gould, S. J., “Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phyletic gradualism“. In: Models In Paleobiology (Ed. by T. J. M. Schopf), 1972.
[6] Gould, S. J., & Eldredge, N., “Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered“. Paleobiology, 3, 115-151, 1977.

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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