Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

January, random

January 1. Thoughts on the measurement of time

First of January. Yesterday people were so unanimously happy to celebrate another rotation of the planet around the sun. But the orbit circle doesn’t have neither beginning nor an end. Since the date is arbitrary, theoretically anyone can launch fireworks at any day to celebrate completion of the circle. And it’s alright because what we know for sure is that one day the orbit will start unwinding under the centrifugal force of a heat death disintegration. The years will become longer, seasons colder, stars more distant. Until nothing can hold together and there’s nothing else to celebrate with fireworks.

On Mercury, one year lasts 88 Earth days, while one day – 176 Earth days. Change of seasons is more frequent than the change of days and nights. The spring lasts shorter than one morning. Since all creatures are conditioned by their environment, what would the native inhabitants of Mercury do? Would they celebrate dusks and dawns more joyfully than the coming of new years? Planning morning coffee as thoroughly as Christmas parties?

It’s the new year, but fortunately there’s no need to start anything anew. Typical new year resolutions: commitment to the gym, proper nutrition, are so arbitrary in the proper hierarchy of priorities. Humans are pathetically corporeal, we’re no more than our tangible brain (and a thin symbolic layer on its top). Surely, the basic task is to at least make this tool functional (minding that a tool can only provide means, while goals lie somewhere else). So, 4 cycles of deep sleep per night to consolidate working memories, 70 min of rigorous physical activity per week to make blood circulate faster. What’s often overlooked though is that the main thing that keeps brain usable is the ceaseless learning. The weirder the subject, the better. Quine and the problem of rigid designators. Lebanese civil war. Symbol grounding. The tenets of Judaism. Perfection.

In defence of cigarettes

Enough with the strive for live, time for the strive for death. Cigarettes: my theory is that cigarettes are great because for a second they make you defy gravity. Earth is the vale of tears, and nothing’s better than not touching this cursed ground for at least a fraction of a moment. ‘Mankind will not remain bound to the earth forever’, says inscription on the grave of Tsiolkovsky. Too bad that the gravity then hits again, double the weight. But this one short moment is priceless. You have to find a right music for it, and measure the song length in such a way that the best part will coincide with the antigravity moment, like when a plane takes off the land. And there’s nothing worse than when someone interrupts it. Can you please take a picture of us? Ugh. Tourist couple fascinated by Prague cityscape in winter. Icy sky, cathedral spires looking like herring bones…

January 3. Life as a pendulum

Disgust and indifference, these are the only two drivers, the only emotions (or the lack thereof) that are driving all activity in the world. Life’s just a pendulum between hating yourself and trying to get out of misery, then reaching the point of acceptance where everything becomes tolerable again just to find that you’re no longer caring. Then descending back down into chaos until the hatred re-emerges.

Nothing’s stable and permanent, there’s no balance, everything’s in flux. Boredom and disgust. Indifference and despair. I’m immune to other, more normal motives of human endeavors. On Saturday: having been gorgeous in this open back dress, 49 kg, not a single gram of extra fat, perfectly smooth skin. None of these facts mattered to me slightest. 

Fast-forward to now: 500g of chocolate, blisters and rashes on inflamed skin. Food as a tool of self-harm. Sugar – an agent of mortido, a method of self-destruction. For a self-execution I would choose: one Milka chocolate bar, two triple-chocolate chip cookies from M&S (600 calories each), half of an Alpenmilch Ritter Sport, a package of Choc Choc biscuits, Milka Tender roulette, bubbly white chocolate, and a package of Polish caramel sticks they sell at the corner store. Find what you love and let it kill you, they say, and I’m blessed because I found a whole bunch of stuff to die for in the chocolate department.

Objectively speaking, body is such a weird thing to have. This vantage point of view at around 160cm above the ground, two interactive tools with 5 instruments of slightly higher precision each. No wonder dualism was always more intuitive to us, immaterial spirits caught in the cells of flesh prison.

January 7. Random social encounters

On to-do list: revise the arguments of Alain de Benoist against Christianity and refutations of classic ontological argument… Life hasn’t prepared me to debate existence of Christian god in a serious way. With the graduates of the goddamned Oxford, who, apart from this, are very eager to discuss epistemology. Hell, is there even any room left for epistemology as a field after Kant and his reconciliation of empiricism and rationalism. Epistemology is yet another sphere that has no other way forward rather than through neuroscience.

On Friday evening, trying to focus on convolutional neural networks and adaptive moment estimation algorithms while listening to a DJ playing techno – in a dark room lit by dim red ceiling lights. The ultimate cyberpunk moment. Artsy people around. Long black coats, bizarre hair. Whole groups of them. Must have met in some art school. I wish to have such company but I’ve never been in art school, and I won’t fit. I’ve chosen my social circle: philosophical alcoholics. Glad to be a member.

The more frequent social interactions are, the clearer it becomes how much the modern society is obsessed with introspection. Navel gazing. Alas, there’s nothing to see there. The best stuff is outside, truth lies outside of human mind. Kant (all paths inevitably lead to Kant) said we have to treat people as ends, but I disagree with it lately. Introspection is futile because people are just means and tools, and our moral duty, even the recipe for happiness, is to find an application for these mental tools that are in our possession. Somewhere out there, in external world. For what’s the use of a hammer without nails, brush without paint, train without rail tracks? ‘Girl, who cares if you look hot in the mirror, you better name three hobbies of yours and explain what FTC does‘.

The most outrageous thing No. 139

On the way home, passing by dozens of Christmas trees abandoned next to the thrash bins. It’s bizarre that no environmental activists are fighting against this cute local tradition that makes every family desire a living tree for Christmas. It’s the 7th of January and trash bins are full of trees, still perfectly green and fluffy. That’s the ultimate definition of unnecessary over-consumption: to kill a living thing just to throw it away without thinking a week later. It didn’t seem so obvious back in Russia where people kept trees at home for at least a whole month. But a week! Justifying it numerically: trees are grown for a purpose, their number is restored next year. There’s no sympathy for things outside of this economic calculation. Perhaps only autistic people can feel a true sympathy for inanimate objects.

January 14. Randomness and chance

Left or right: that’s the most difficult choice to make in life. After leaving the house there’re always two options for a daily walk, weighting on you at the crossroads of the school building. Turning right would lead to a river bank, Letna gardens, the sheer vastness of a river, its dark waters. The faraway districts on distant hills, cathedral spires. The dam and a waterfall at the modernist hydro electric plant. To the left – city, Stromovka park, rail tracks at the slope of a hill, paths along the intricate forging of iron fencing, poison ivy on stone walls, and pines and weird shaped barren trees, further to the emptiness of a water treatment area.

The choice cannot be made in advance. It’s always about the most subtle mood in the tiniest fraction of second. It’s no more predictable than a roll of dice. If you say that determinism is true, what justifies making this choice (blood pressure, atmospheric tides?). Determinists must believe that the roll of dice is not random either, and yet this is what all our models depend on. What would be the functional value of theories based on the opposite arrangement?

Moments parfaits

I think that life should be judged by counting the moments of amazement experienced per week or month. The shock and excitement. While watching White Meadows (2009) by Mohammad Rasoulof. The moment with fairy in the well and people’s woes sealed in jars. The random paragraph from Hannah Arendt. ‘Society of laborers about to be liberated of labor. Society that doesn’t know of higher or more meaningful activities for the sake of which this freedom is deserved to be won’.

Saturday on the water treatment island. Empty as usual. They opened a park but failed to notify anyone about it. So here it is, standing empty (perhaps people are somewhat discouraged by semi-poisonous vapors raising from beneath these artificial hills). Windowless buildings, massive pipes of varying size going into underground spaces, hermetically sealed containers painted blue. Utilitarian bridges for people and aluminum pipes patched with a silver tape. It’s all very liminal. When coupled with Coil in headphones, this makes the moment truly perfect. ‘An ice-piece so as they seem forever fallen. The skin of a snake bred out of the spinal marrow of a man. And batwings. And batwings sing this limnal hymn’.

Listening about the fall of the third dynasty of Ur. Beneficiaries of the dissolution…

In the evening, watching the cat. All living creatures have the same pathetic patterns of behavior. Hiccups, sneezing, yawns, stretching. Thanks god they don’t cough and blow their nose. The ultimate proof that there was no intelligent design. On the opposite, the design seems rather dumb. How can you respect a creature that scratches its head with a back leg?

January 22. Reflections on Oedipus Rex

Spending Sundays talking to mathematicians from Pakistan about Bertrand Russell, Gödel’s theorem, and other paradoxes in math. Later – listening to an orchestra playing Stravinsky’s take on Sophocles’ tragedies.

National Theatre. It’s a shame that I’ve been living in Prague for so long, and only visited it once. Men in thick acetate frame glasses, black suits, and a single pearl earring. Silky handkerchiefs. People applauding for 5 minutes straight. Freakin appreciators of Sophocles. I respect the strive though. It’s better than descending into nihilism, renouncing all high culture as meaningless. In absence of wars, we had to invent more and more intricate arts, games, and rituals to occupy time with. Ikebana, kabuki, shibari, tea ceremonies.

Oedipus Rex. What a weird story: it takes effort to make it even slightly relevant to normal life. What is it about? The curse of fulfilling someone else’s prophecy and a tragic acceptance of it? I also find it difficult to accept when predictions and interpretations of others turn more explanatory than I wished to believe (‘females are only seeking attention’, ‘you’ll give up gym in a few months’, ‘all human behavior is just a drive to be on top of reproduction hierarchy’ and other mean, cynical stuff). Something you suspected subconsciously and finally came to admit. Or maybe it’s about self-knowledge that turns out to be a curse. Being confronted with a choice to either acknowledge it or remain ignorant. ‘Let us ignore the oracles, for they have always lied’. 

Obviously, what Oedipus is famous for is killing his father and marrying his own mother. Apologies for bringing up his atrocious figure, but JP would probably interpret the murder of own father as some sort of a metaphorical step that everyone needs to go through on the way to self-actualization. Killing your idols. As for marrying one’s mother… Well, that one is less controversial because, biologically speaking, both romantic and maternal love in females have the same origin. Stimulating sheep’s ovaries will make her adopt a neighbor’s lamb as her own. Oxytocin makes females tolerate screaming babies. Guess which two things are activated in the process of romantic infatuation…

However, I think Oedipus sort of overreacted. ‘Vile was my begetting, vile was my rule and my marriage’, he shouted – but even Aristotle acknowledged that doing things out of ignorance at least partially rids us from responsibility. It’s futile to blame yourself for not knowing all things, so the only crime Oedipus is liable for is killing a random man on the crossing of three roads – but it doesn’t even matter if it’s a stranger or your own father. Pricking own eyes because of this is a bit too dramatic, with the only excuse that… well, we’re in a plot of a Sophocles’ tragedy.

After that: Rachmaninoff’s Bells. Totally fascinating, a symphony based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe. Starting cheerful and getting darker and darker, until it reaches the state of total terror and despair in the end.

In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
            Leaping higher, higher, higher,
            With a desperate desire,
         And a resolute endeavor

Now—now to sit or never,
       By the side of the pale-faced moon.
            Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
            What a tale their terror tells
                  Of Despair!

January 28. Thinking about temperance

Aristotle named temperance (or: moderation, continence, self-control) as one of 11 moral virtues. Upon reflecting on it: temperance has never been my thing.

Either eating too much or not eating at all. Not drinking alcohol for 4 years and then start drinking every week, supplementing it with nicotine and weed. Do it for several months. Then lose interest again. Socializing too much to become sick and tired of being social. Cut contacts with people for weeks. Turn off notifications on all messengers. Oscillating between indifference and obsession. Finding balance and mean in life has never been my strength.

So maybe it made sense to live in boring Prague for 6 years to become fed up with a dull routine of a middle-class bourgeois lifestyle so much that at one moment the only choice imaginable would be to leave, abruptly and towards some unknown destination. Turn invisible, burn through savings – just to be found years later, somewhere at floating markets of Mekong or the libraries of Buenos Aires. Mean has never been an option.

Speculative theory No. 72. The great unsettlement

I think we’re in this weird period of history when we’ve become no longer bounded to settlements, but not everyone has fully realized it yet. The humankind is still living in the aftermath of agrarian Neolithic revolution of 4,000 BCE, the age of permanent settlements. Just like anything in history, time deems stuff meaningless, and in absence of original motive, the whole project’s getting hollow. So now it’s time to unsettle.

Let’s state it in plain words: life in the first-world Western countries subjects people to corporate slavery, else it’s unaffordable. But there’re plenty of other places in the world that are cheap and fascinating. Cairo and Beirut, Chongqing and Hanoi, Ecuador and Peru, the outskirts of Saint Petersburg, villages of Aljezur. Everything a sane person needs is a Kindle and notes on iPhone, high speed Internet, and an Audible subscription. I’m even ready to sacrifice my wardrobe if it adds extra weight to the lightness of existence (what else a girl needs anyway apart from a few Weekday t-shirts and denim shorts, sneakers, and a couple of & Other Stories jumpers).

And then – there’s this impression that only large urban centers are suitable for living. And when you travel between large cities by rail or by car, all these unknown and sublime places in between – life goes on even in those somehow, yet in completely undisclosed ways. Difficult to reach, unwanted, half-abandoned, with the lack of infrastructure. These are the places that have been unjustly overlooked. Vast expanses and stretches of land where the existence continues, no matter what. Sitting on cliffs, running through fields, lying in grass, the universal human experiences attainable at any point of the 100 million square kilometers of Earth’s vast land (unless covered by ice caps or sand).

Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do to complete the unsettlement project. Nations should become uncoupled from territory, states – turn virtual, people should choose membership in political communities based not on the territory but on political alignment. But give me a few more years to properly ruminate on the topic.

What’s a better compass in life: reason or chance? Graduates of economic faculties and business schools, where have our rationality and strict calculations brought us? To a comfortable life in a boring town of some boring country, lifestyle which is easy and good enough. I’m often jealous of people around who had no rational calculations for live whatsoever. 20-year old journalists who migrate from Moscow to messy Tbilisi and Istanbul as a protest against the war. Students of language faculties going to teach English to kids in Chinese and Korean villages. Those who decide to cross the Norwegian border and seek refuge as sexual minorities fleeing from an oppressive regime. Who randomly end up in Barcelona and Valencia and spend days traveling around natural parks of the country. Sometimes chance is a better guide than reason.

January 29. Marcel Duchamp vs Aristotle

Have you ever considered that ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp are perhaps best interpretable from the perspective of Aristotle? For Aristotle, every object is explained through 4 causes: matter, form, origin, and function. When an object is detached from its function, for example, taken out of context, broken or deformed, what does it become? Clearly it’s not the same thing as before. A bicycle wheel becomes a weird purposeless mechanism of a strange shape when removed from a bicycle. A urinal – an odd-looking chunk of organically-shaped ceramics, almost a space ship in its form.

Last summer I was at the exhibition of Ai Weiwei in Vienna. He loved to deconstruct traditional Chinese furniture, wooden cabinets, chairs and tables, and reassemble them in purposefully strange, dysfunctional forms. The assembly of chairs with their legs posed outwards like spikes of a hedgehog. A multi-dimensional table with its surface positioned on vertical plane. Two stools merged together like Siamese twins in unstable equilibrium. Seemingly familiar objects in dysfunctional arrangements. What do they become? An object with 3 causes, void on the place of 4th only accentuating the weirdness of this whole functional design.

Was offered pea milk for the alternative cappuccino. Holy hell.

Thinking that perhaps the ultimate, most general and universal goal in life is to examine the peculiarities of human condition. The existence in space and time: the multitudes, plurality, living arrangements that come to existence under economic constraints, the effect of time, the way it parts our life flow. Our task is to examine human condition through the multitude of methods, through art, philosophy, and science. Though music and through neurobiology. Through phenomenology and through geological history, and organic chemistry. I’m interested in all manifestations of life. In early morning suburban trains from the outskirts of Moscow. In lives of those who get mortgages for tiny apartments in high-rise buildings in the middle of icy nowhere. In the dusty attics, with stashes of cardboard boxes where no one has moved anything for decades, with a fermentation of dust and morning light slowly ongoing. Life manifests itself in a myriad of weird variants, somber and odd, strange and appealing, and leaving them unobserved or unexamined would be a big omission. 

Perhaps repeating the destiny of 40-year old colleagues is not a necessity, and maybe it’s premature to despair. You don’t have to earn all money in the world, or have a brilliant corporate career – just to rejoice from the 20 seconds of jealousy that your ex-classmates might (or might not) be struck by when scrolling LinkedIn feeds. Living decently and properly with own house and family in a town which is comfortable and good enough is not a universal goal either. I’m not into comfort and balance, I’m incontinent, my mean is balanced through years and months, not hours and days. Dullness and obsession. The eternal pendulum. 

January 30. On human endeavours

But for now: back to the joys of bourgeois lifestyle. In absence of freedom and other things better, seeking a socially-acceptable solace in purchases. Bought another outrageously expensive wool blazer from COS. I think corporate jobs exist just to provide an outlet for wearing fancy blazers. Preferably with goth shoes and wacky socks.

Finally found time to watch Sergey Parajanov, the majestic visuals from Armenia. Proving that artistic culture and outdated social traditions don’t necessarily have to go side by side. You can modernize society and preserve its traditional culture. I think when aliens come to Earth we need to show them the ‘Color of pomegranates’. Armenians dammit, who thought that this would become the hallmark of human cultural heritage you’d want to showcase to alien civilizations.

Shady territory in the utilitarian discourse, but pleasures must surely have a qualitative aspect to them. Pergamon Museum in Berlin is one of the most famous in the world, and yet would anyone be able to truly appreciate it without attending a course of lectures about ancient Mesopotamia or reading a few textbook about Assyrians and Sumerians? Highly doubtful. The stronger effort one applies, the more pleasant the outcome ought to become. Building a house is not pleasant, but the outcome surely is, and when something leads to a good end (telos), it doesn’t necessarily requires the process (genesis, coming-to-be) to be pleasant. Joy from learning is the same.

Anyways, what else Saturday are for if not for reading Greeks, listening to lectures about the history of ancient civilizations, watching best cinema of the world (and occasionally spending hundreds of euros on wool blazers). But truly, just to stay in one place you have to run as fast as you can. In absence of true freedom, trying to feel at least nominally active in the intellectual sphere: striving to read, write, study, and talk to people. From the outside, we must come off as pathetic hipsters hustling for productivity: doing Coursera courses, writing blogs, attending MeetUps, reading non-fiction books, listening to Audible lectures, working on side projects. The realization that death is inevitable (the painful death on a hospital bed, right) doesn’t make me want to go partying (which people traditionally imply after saying this phrase). Instead, it makes me want to move to Hanoi, and to read all books about past and about future, and watch all majestic movies of this world – for dying without watching Tarkovsky, or without reading Philip Dick is an unimaginably sad prospect. Perhaps what we rush to do in light of this dismal fear characterizes our personalities the most.

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