'It's not rocket science,' I tell a colleague of mine, after having exposed some thought on why culture plays a significant role in the connection between technology and the arts. Culture makes that connection: artifacts are not just artifacts, they create discourse and this discourse is contingent on cultural manifestations, I furthermore say. And then I say something complicated about the self-reflexive paradox inherent in the observer/observed system of relations. One can observe a system without immediately becoming aware of the fact that one is already part of that system. Once that awareness occurs, however, the problem of legitimation begins: who rules over what or what rules over whom? How does one explain what one is doing in a system that ultimately constitutes one? While I try to aim for some precision, I decide that precision has never been my strong point, so I merely say it again: 'still, it's not rocket science.'

I can be extremely precise in certain circumstances and if need be, but my inclination has always tilted towards the obscure. I blame it on language. Unlike the language of a computer, however advanced - which operates with simple terms such as 0 and 1 - natural languages give us the possibility to pun, play, and pester our interlocutors with puns, plays, and other paronomastic palimpsesting.

I think of inheritance. My father was a rocket scientist. He worked in Communist Romania for the military at a unit where they designed rockets and missiles. He was a mathematician there until he died at the age of 39. My mother, au contraire, knew nothing about rockets, set theory, or number theory, but she was good at counting. I have never seen anybody count as fast as she did. She was arithmetic incarnated. This pissed my father off, of course. He kept wondering how someone could be so good without any formal training. He didn't believe in genius, and she didn't mind. They loved each other. Interestingly enough the only person who could challenge my mother was in fact my father's own sister, who was also good at counting. Fast too. This amused my father, even though it was still my mother who would win. My mother was a winner in other competitions too. Like the ones that involve measuring space and distance. When my mother would say, 'yes, we can fit the cupboard in there, as there's just enough space, about 73 cm,' she was always right. I have never seen anybody be able to measure distance and space with such precision and accuracy. Not once was she wrong. We were all amused when she would take people's bets. It meant chocolate for us on the incredulous' account.

What I inherited is a love of precision, which yet I cannot master, and a sense for space, which yet I am afraid of. Although I can also measure distance better than most people I know, I am never as precise as my mother used to be. Alas, she is also dead. One of my top favourite entertainment time is watching 3D movies about the cosmos at some Planetarium, yet it is never the case that I don't get the vertigo. I want to grasp infinity but cannot. In another dimension I fancy being Georg Cantor married to my mother. What attracts me to Cantor's mathematics is his discussion of the concepts of countable and uncountable infinities. Cantor's theory exhibits the proof of countability of the positive rationals and the proof that (0,1) is uncountable. However, my understanding of what's going on in mathematics at that level is reduced to a vague sense that there is something essential to the important concept of one-to-one correspondence. I translate that into my own pocket science: while I cannot count either like my mother or like my father, I can stand on my head like they never could. Granted, there is a genetic relation between my head and theirs, and since they could count, I take that to mean that their heads are therefore countable. Mine I prefer to think of as uncountable. This makes me feel like a cosmopolitan Alice - if not in wonderland, then still in some rational integer.

Alice folded her hands, and began: -
'You are old, Father William,' the young man said,
'And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head -
Do you think, at your age, it is right?'
'In my youth,' Father William replied to his son,
'I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.'


Camryn said…
Your command of numbers, space and pieces is eclipsed only by your great talent w/words. Honestly, another terrific entry that leaves me full, and wanting more.

You and your stories are a shooting star in this constellation of European cosmopolites. America's finest could learn a thing or 2.

Keep it up, C. I like hearing about your parents.

Yours, exponentially
Stuart Noble said…
"Cantor's theory exhibits...that (0,1) is uncountable."

Re-reading DeLillo's "Cosmopolis."
I find the idea of uncountable 0's and 1's quite interesting. I read DeLillo's subtext here as 0's and 1's (digitization) are unobservable and ultimately "uncontrollable."

The idea is that the digitization of capital and everything else creates an "uncountable environment."

"That wants you to believe there are foreseeable trends and forces. When in fact it's all random phenomena. You apply mathematics and other disciplines, yes. But in the end you're dealing with a system that's out of control. Hysteria at high speeds, day to day, minute to minute. People in free societies don't have to fear the pathology of the state. We create our own frenzy, our own mass convulsions, driven by thinking machines that we have no final authority over. The frenzy is barely noticeable most of the time. It's simply how we live." (85)

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