Looking for answers that pop through the boundaries of thought

A few thought-provoking ideas, reflections and entertainments from the deep south of Cape Town...

Some serious, some frivolous, some perhaps just ranting - see what you think!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Feminine Computer

Medieval times in Europe were pretty much all about binary code, at least from the point of view of literate monks. Good and evil: saints and sinners, heaven and hell, men (good) and women (bad), mind (good), body (bad), celibacy (good), sex and dancing and other associated activities (bad). Etcetera. In many ways this was terrible: and when we look at it in context, it may just be that this paved the way for the kind of rational either/or thinking that defines the modern Western world, and ultimately… perhaps… leads to the invention of the computer. Computers are machines based around two discrete possibilities – on or off. 0 or 1. Right or wrong. They are, in their whole conception, products of left-brain-style polarity. If quantum physics is based on the strange concept that there are both points and waves in light; then the wave aspect is quite foreign to the computer and its cultural origins. A computer “wave” is made up of discrete pixels.

The computer is rather strange for other reasons too. Silicon, the substance that made the revolution in computing possible, is deeply related to carbon, the basis of organic life. In fact it mimics its chemical structure in all kinds of ways, such that it was long speculated as a possible alternative elemental basis for life on other planets. However, it plays another role entirely in the soil, and in plants, animals and humans; a potentially deadly one. Rudolf Steiner had much to say about silicates, but one image that sticks is his description of silica as a “corpse”. To be sure, there is a lot of other fascinating stuff to be worked with around the elements involved in maintaining life, and the role of carbon in the plastic elements of computing is massive in the hardware. Yet I am struck by this use of this strange, mimicking, “dead” element at the basis of our polarised modern technology.

It is masculine, to define it in a modern way, involving the aspect of the bigger polarity of life that delights in limits and boundaries. 
Oops, here I go defining things too in polarities! Well, there's no harm in playing with polarities. In fact, one of the great hilarities of life is that it's pretty impossible not to. So let's play.
According to this game, what would a feminine computer look like? Clearly this would have to be concerned more with continuity and infinity.

Consider the case of the largest number with a defined name – a googolplex. Not the corporation HQ but the very large number. If a googol is 10 to the power of 100, a googolplex is 10 to the power of a googol. This number is considerably larger than the number of atoms in the known universe. In fact, even writing it is quite a feat. Consider that the processing power of our current computers doubles at present around every two years according to an observation known as Moore’s law. It is in fact currently slowing somewhat so isn’t really a “law”, but let’s use it as a principle for our calculation. According to this, computers are nowhere near being able to write this number yet, but, if processing power hypothetically continues to double every 2 years for the next 400 years, it would then be worth starting to write the number around the year 2400. And once it is finally worth attempting, it would take 4 years to do so, and use up more material than there is matter in our solar system to actually write the number out.

Pretty impressive, right? And still a finite number made up of 1s and 0s. And the infinite possibilities unleashed by a feminine computer operating system would be as far off as ever.

Perhaps the quantum generation of computers will actually look rather different, I hear the geeks respond excitedly. And while they head off to investigate and invent, the Divine Feminine will stand aside and applaud them on with congratulations – and offer up titbits of wisdom they’ll call intuition as they solve these problems en route to Windows ∞.0. Bless them!

But of course the feminine computer already exists. We are all computers created on feminine principles. Organic, using carbon for our intelligent electrical impulse transmissions, working with waves and imprecise movements; continuously changing and flowing with infinite possibility and potential; a holistic, right-brain-style of looking at the world, connected to every other element of life around us instinctively, intuitively, sensually. If we can only get our heads out of those social media silicon messages we might realise the incredible potential our designs have installed for us.

And contained within the feminine, of course, is the masculine. For, as Rilke knew, “the deepest experience of the creator is feminine” – not masculine. This is not the mirror of those medieval monks denying the feminine; it is the One from which the two emerges joyously as a dance of life. While Mani was being crucified for the heretical belief that good and evil both had a place in the manifested world, the East was of course celebrating the yin and yang as equally vital and inter-related; from the fluid interplay of Shiva and Shakti emerges the constantly-changing universe. Baby boys are just baby girls who’ve diversified according to the cosmic game of creating two to play.

So this “masculine” technology we have devised is an aspect of this, a brilliant mirror of our own innate potential and a rich line of enquiry into possibility; and at the same time, in its shadow aspect, technology is a manifestation of our own sense of inadequacy, of needing to create something outside ourselves to solve our problems and entertain our distractable souls.

The genius of the organic world is only just beginning to be understood. As biodynamic and intuitive agriculture teaches us the weird and wonderful intelligence at play on the cosmic computer that is Gaia, we find fungi who munch up deadly toxic plastics, we find carbon promoting charcoal forms that densify soil and attract more rain, we find food substances that drastically alter the spectrum of what we can experience in our consciousness, we find we can communicate with animals after all and that there are forms of language and connection we used to relegate to the world of children’s books. The next unicorn is just around the corner, and it will certainly not be the product of genetic engineering. The wonder of this massive feminine computer (which forms an incredibly beautiful network, that we’re already part of, and which Apple’s ergonomics team would die for), does not need us to develop it; it simply needs us to understand it so we can work and play alongside it. The game, ladies and gentlemen, has indeed begun.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Weskus Journeys

The sight of a massive, pristine sand dune, inland from the Atlantic coast and surrounded by hardy bush, is one surprising sight on the R27 home. Feeling a little bloated from fish coated in a disturbingly yellow batter, and chips which I hope were made from those prize local Sandveld potatoes (hiding beneath the spartan soil), I am bemused by the uncharacteristic grey skies above, which, today, make the whole setting resonate with some cross-dimensional intrusion from an inadequate north European seaside holiday. Perhaps the one I had on my 8th birthday, eating sausages in Belgium in the rain.

If South Africa is the most beautiful country in the world, officially, then the officials probably visited the West Coast/ Weskus in the spring, when a smorgasbord of flowers drown the mixed metaphors of travel writers. At other times of the year, the specialness of the region is a little harder to nose out. And the moonscape close to Koeberg, Africa’s only nuclear power plant, probably needs to be regularly ignored. My daughter reveals that she took this name rather literally in the past, imagining some kind of enclosure for rampant radioactive electricity-generating vegetation. There was a veld fire around here recently, it seems, and the impact on these sandy flatlands is more dramatic than in the mountains: bush cover reduced to charred stumps in the midst of sandbanks. Elsewhere, by contrast, the wind farms of tomorrow are beginning to dart across the low western hills.

Yet there is a precious wildness, when one gets away from Koeberg, or from Saldanha (that dark Satanic mill at the steel-making end of the interminable Sishen train line). Even Velddrif, where we stopped in the Easter takeaway queues for those fish and chips, had its share of gulls eager for the scraps my children threw, while coasting proudly into the windy gusts off the Atlantic, or racing down to the beards of seaweed clutching at the shore. We looked at the ocean and talked of the lives of albatrosses, riding the air in a way so foreign to us landlubbers.

The West Coast has featured rarely in my travels, and perhaps because of this the memories it evoked today were strong ones: riding our way across that bridge over the mouth of the Berg River, here where it emerges so far from larney Franschhoek, spotting the pyramids of salt, and flamingos in the pink pans, like further up in Namibia at Swakopmund. And we pass the game areas: !khwa ttu San heritage park (where I once took 10-year olds on an exciting adventure into Bushman culture);  the West Coast National Park, with its riot of birdlife and wetlands. Close by, camping long ago (before children) with my lovely young wife, we’d gone horse-riding on a beach, an experience she was skilled at, and at which I was a complete novice, taken for a gallop, careering up the other rocky side of the beach, and staying on most likely through the sheer folly of not expecting to do anything else. This tale, today, is recounted to my horse-mad children yet again, for I have been led to a fascination myself with these creatures, who I still know so little but who I can see today in a far richer way than was possible back in the class-bound Britain of my childhood (where horses were for toffs, and that was all you needed to know about them).

That distant trip was in spring, of course. I recall a hike through the floral magic of the National Park, a picnic on some granite rocks; our first grateful taste of “corn thins” together, which somehow were superior to the rice cakes and avo we had previously survived on; and a fat puffadder sitting in the tar road in the heat of the day, while we drove past in her brown Beetle, and I wondered casually if a pofadder might be able to leap through an open window.

Today we return home to the warmer waters of False Bay, where organic coffee is easily available, where yoga classes are two-a-penny (and not railed against by crucifix-trundling coastal preachers), and where English is frequently heard. Even here, however, there is wildlife creaking beneath the smiles, and – thank the gods – those grey skies are bringing some serious rain.