2 January 2017

La Notte e Il Giorno - Michelangelo (1524)

I looked at the date of my last post; September 2013. Over three years have passed since then, what happened ? Well, I met a girl... we got engaged and a few months later we married, we had a baby boy and 18 months later, a baby girl. We moved cities 3 times and after working for 2 years in Jewellery I went back to my banking career...
The four of us Live in Florence now and when I have a little free time I like to visit some of the monuments and museums this beautiful city has to offer. 
Michelangelo's Day and Night sculptures are an allegory (together with his Dawn and Dusk) for Time.
I believe that inspired by this city and by the joy of my beautiful family I will find a little time to write about "time".

10 September 2013

Interview - Giangaetano Patanè

I just went to see the new exhibition of Giangaetano Patanè at the Chiostro del Bramante in Rome. I was particularly moved by a sense of anguish or helplessness emanating from his works of art, in fact I felt this particular exhibition was more mature, something the artist has been nurturing over time and was now ready to reveal.. In the following short interview I asked him to tell us a little about his alchemic quest:
F.Ruspoli: what are the elements within your art?

G.Patanè: my artistic search has two elements; one is a particular type of aestheticism and the second element is Time
F.R.: could you expand on that ?
G.P.: The first is the uncodifiable aestheticism, undefinable and capable of transforming an object into “attractive substance”, the second is a representation of time, sometimes it can take the shape of a face dissolving in the air or it can take the shape of a tree but it’s always there: that eternal conflict between man and the incredible pain of the escaping present. My artistic search stands sustained by these two legs.

The exhibition is programmed to close on the 18th of September so if you are in Rome I strongly recommend you take a moment to see it. The Chiostro del Bramante is by Bar della Pace at Via Arco della Pace, 5 it is open every day from 10am to 8pm.

16 March 2013

Shakespeare on Time


I have written about time in poetry last year in my “Time in Poetry – Haiku”, but after re-watching Ran by Kurosawa and Titus by Taymor (both films are pretty wild interpretations of Shakespearian plays) I came across this verse from Macbeth regarding time:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I liked the idea of time being a succession of meaningless syllables uttered by a passing shadow and was intrigued to discover more of Shakespeare’s vision of time which always seem so linked to fate and the inevitability of death.

I found the following:

...Things without all remedy
Should be without regard: what’s done, is done.

With these words Lady Macbeth tries to reassure her husband and later herself by muttering “What’s done cannot be undone”.
In Othello Shakespeare writes of “the vale of years” not to be confused with the vale of tears though the echo is suggestive. In the 15th century the Vale came to be a metaphor for the span of life between the peaks of birth and death in which we live our careworn lives. "Vale of trouble and woe," "vale of weeping," "vale of misery," and "vale of tears" illustrate typical uses of the word before Shakespeare. Othello's phrase, however, seems intended in a more neutral sense; the "vale of years" is the broad, flat stretch of middle age beyond the slope of youth.

I’d like to conclude with 2 sonnets; XII and LX (like the hours and minutes...)

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

13 March 2013

Different visions of time

There is an incredible variety of ways people perceive the flow of time. Linear time for example is pretty straight forward (no pun intended), it can be seen as a straight line in which time flows forward, but many questions arise with this model; why can we only perceive the present?  is it possible to jump to a different part of this line ? can time flow backwards on this line ?
We often assume the past is behind us and the future lies ahead but recent studies have found that not everyone perceives time in this way. The Aymara people in the Andes for example point in front of them to indicate the past and wave behind to indicate the future. Probably because the past was seen but the future is unseen. The Pormpuaaw people in Australia perceive a timeline running east (past) to west (future) so where they point depends on where they are facing. In China it not uncommon to represent time on a vertical axis with the past above and the future below and for the Yupno people of Papua new Guinea Time flows uphill and is not even linear. The past is downhill towards the mouth of the river and their timeline is anchored in the kinked topographic properties of the river.
In fact the representation of the timeline as a straight line with the years along its axis is quite recent one. Its use only became diffuse in the mid 18th century. So though culture certainly plays an important role in our perception of time I think there is an evolution in the way we perceive time. And this evolution is leading us to a better understanding of what time really is.

6 November 2012

Time in Comics - Lucca Comics 2012


I just returned from a Week End in Lucca where I attended the 2012 edition of Lucca Comics. I am fascinated by the sheer amount of comics you can find but mostly it’s the beautiful setting of the city itself filled with real people dressed as fantasy characters (Cosplay). This year the new comics that grabbed my attention were END by Barbara Canepa and Anna Merli and ABC by Ausonia. Though the stories are different they both contain the possibility of communicating between the world of the living and that of the dead, and since the main character in both is a young girl I immediately thought of Jostein Gaarder’s Through a glass, Darkly. In all these stories there is an attempt to explain the separation of the material and spiritual worlds and a inquiry into death and religion. These stories are very different to the ones dealing with time travel I read as a teenager such as Nathan Never, and Watchmen in which Dr. Manhattan has incredible powers including precognition (explained by Tachyons) but they are all very thought provoking and beautiful.

17 October 2012

Time Travel and Warp Drives by Everett and Roman

Scientists are very interested in time and the possibilities of time travel but are very cautious with how they approach the matter. A recent example was the news in 2011 that Neutrinos could travel faster than light. The Opera group at the Gran Sasso shocked the world with their announcement that contradicted Einstein’s light-speed limit. In March of 2012 when two flaws were found in their calculations, the leader of the science team Antonio Ereditato was made to resign.

The internet and the media are full of pseudo science and sensationalists news, videos discussing machines and alien technologies making it hard to discern between what is scientific and what are imaginative personal theories.

In this book the authors explain that they only interested in measures of time that do not depend on the variations and vagaries of human perceptions. The emphasis is on what modern astronomy and especially modern physics have learned about the subject of time.

The vastness of space is bewildering, the nearest star Proxima Centauri, is about 4 light-years away. With our present technology it would take over 10,000 years to send a probe there. On an even larger scale , the distance across our milky way is 100,000 light-years and our nearby neighbour galaxy, Andromeda, is about 2,000,000 light-years away.  It is no wonder that we should seek “shortcuts” between the stars involving travel faster than the speed of light.

And what about time? Why is the past different from the future? Why can we remember the past and not the future? Is it possible that past and future are “places” that can be visited.

This book examines the possibility of time travel and of space travel exceeding the speed of light from the purely scientific point of view.

Science fiction often mentions warp drives but there is one problem, superluminal travel seems to involve a violation of the known laws of physics, in this case the “light barrier” in Einstein’s special theory of relativity.  Science fiction writers describe “what” technological developments might occur in the future and scientists describe “how” they might actually work. When Carl Sagan was writing “Contact”, later made into a movie with Jodie Foster, he wanted a believable way for his characters to travel across the galaxy through space-time shortcuts. His discussions with his physicist friend Kip Thorne got the latter to develop theories that today allow us to understand “how” a traversable Wormhole might work.

The curiosity and enthusiasm of scientists is why we built particle accelerators at CERN in search of the “god particle”, experiment with entangled particles and explore how we could build a quantum computer. The Nobel prize for physics this year was in fact assigned to two scientists, Haroche and Wineland, who’s work will lead to incredibly accurate optical clocks and are a first step towards the quantum computers (super fast computers that will work with each bit having 3 states as opposed to today’s binary, 1s and 0s computers).

This book is great in telling us what scientists have achieved as far as 2012. I found it to be a very interesting read though the conclusion is a little disappointing, as of today scientists believe no object can travel faster than the speed of light. In fact even the experiments on entangled particles which show that when the spin of one particle is observed the other distant one will be observed to always have the opposite spin, doesn’t  prove superluminal travel. The measurement of one doesn’t cause what happens to the other. When the observers get together and compare notes after the experiment they will find a correlation every time. So no time machines or warp drives yet!

10 October 2012

Time in Painting

I believe artists have their very own way of perceiving time and of representing it through their works of art. The image above is a detail from the magnificent early baroque fresco by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) found in Palazzo Barberini in Rome.  Chronos (the personification of time) is shown devouring his children.

The primordial deities Chronos along  with Ananke (personification of destiny, necessity, and fate) marked the beginning of the cosmos and brought about the creation of the ordered universe.  It seems that Ananke represented a universal principle of natural order, which controlled all fate and circumstance of mortals, and was far beyond the reach of the younger gods whose fates she was sometimes said to control.  Simonides (556-468 BCE) once wrote: "Even the gods don’t fight against ananke"
Tyche on the other hand was the goddess of luck venerated at Itanos in crete and later by Romans as Fortuna. In medieval art she was also depicted as the wheel of fortune or standing on the wheel, presiding over the entire circle of fate.
Norbert Wiener in his book “cybernetics” presents Ananke as the personification of scientific determinism, contrasted with Tyche as the personification of quantum indeterminacy;  "The chance of the quantum theoretician is not the ethical freedom of the Augustinian, and Tyche is as relentless a mistress as Ananke."
Paintings do not need to represent Chonos or time to relate to the subject of time, in fact some paintings can through the use of symbols or “simply” through a sense of aesthetics communicate to us or enlighten us on truths that might be very difficult to express by other means.
Since the 1970’s it is a well accepted fact that artists use the right hemisphere of their brain more while creating their art. Artists are able to switch to a nonverbal, non-temporal, special, intuitive holistic mode. This subject was explored in depth by Betty Edwards in the late 70’s. I have experienced this briefly myself when I’m immersed in my drawings.
In twentieth century art Salvador Dali (1904-1989) comes to my mind. The surrealists were well aware of how Freud used the psychoanalytic device of free association to trace the symbolic meaning of dream imagery to its source in the unconscious, Dali applied the same method to his pictorial imagery.
The above painting “The Persistence of Memory” is a good example of how psychology and spirituality come together aesthetically to represent  Transcendental Time.

From a paper by art critic Martin Reis:
The Church thought of time as eternity, citing Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae where he compares completeness, perfection, and infinity, to God. The deep perspective in Persistence suggests time past, with the viewer deserted and lost in infinity. Interestingly, Salvador ("Saviour") Dali's anti-clerical bias is reflected in his use of Christian and Freudian images in the painting; and as if to emphasize the reality of his hallucinations, his surreal iconography is placed in the landscape of the bay at Port Lligat on the Costa Brava, his home and studio. Although he describes the origin of the soft watches as derived from dreaming of Camembert cheese, Marcel Jean, in his History of Surrealist Painting, says they symbolize impotence: montre not only means "watch" in French, but is also the imperative form of the verb montrer, "to show". A sick child must show his tongue to the doctor, montrer la molle, which sounds the same as la montre molle "soft watch". Usually we think of these bent watches as referring to Einstein's theory in which our world is becoming a spatio-temporal continuum; the world's concept of time and space was certainly changing. The three open and vulnerable watches (past, present, future?) are within orthogonals which point to the top center of the painting (heaven?). According to Freud, menstrual periodicity transforms the concept of time into a feminine symbol, and the fourth watch, closed, hard and impregnable, has been diagnosed as a feminine symbol. Certainly this watch in the foreground is a vital red, while the middle ground watch is softened to orange and the background timepiece is a lifeless gray.
Ants usually suggest putrefaction and decay; the rigid watch is attacked by scavenger ants, indicating the inorganic is becoming organic and vulnerable. However, since the watch is closed and red with life, time is unattainable and the ants attack without success, implying triumph over death and decay via procreation or immortality. In Christian doctrine, ants signify provident man, the one who chooses the true doctrine and rejects heresy. The fly, on the other hand, has long been considered a bearer of pestilence and evil (Lord of the Flies, or Beelzebub, is from Ba al-z' bub, lord + fly, a god of the ancient Philistines, averter of insects). In Christian symbology, the fly symbolizes evil.
The amoeba or fetal image suggests the primordial beginnings of life, and like a lost soul in infinity, is stranded on a barren beach with its life-giving water (holy water?) in the far distance. This fetal image, usually interpreted as a self-portrait, appears in several other paintings, including The Great Masturbator. The soft tongue, similar to the limp watches, is a well known Freudian symbol for the penis; Dali, in his Secret Life of Salvador Dali, makes public his anxieties about sexual dysfunction. Trees, tall and erect, are male, according to Freud; but this tree is scrawny and lifeless. The extending phallic branch, with its post-coital watch, points to rock formations which in actuality are the granite outcroppings above the Bay of Cullero near Dali's home. "Geology has an oppressive melancholy," stated the artist, "this melancholy has its course in the idea that time is working against it." Again, the rock is a symbol of Christian steadfastness, and suggests the antithesis of the biological objects which are subject to the laws of change and disintegration. According to medieval Christian legend, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil withered when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Thus the dead tree in Giotto's Lamentation, della Francesca's Resurrection, and Michelangelo's Fall and Expulsion, all refer to original sin, otherwise known as Freud's Oedipus Complex. The cubes on the left may possibly have some reference to Cubism, although again, they are symbols of stability in Christian iconology. Ants, the fly, yielding watches, fetus, open horizon, all suggest the transitoriness and impersistence of time.”  - Martin Reis, 1991.
On the Time Triangle I would place artists on the Transcendental Time axis on the opposite side of SCIENCE, not because they cannot express scientific knowledge (on the contrary) but because their approach is so radically different. (see the next article for a decription of the triangle).

17 September 2012

Explaining The Triangle

Humans must have concerned themselves with time ever since they have become aware. A time to hunt and a time to sleep, and dream. A time to fear and fight and a time to love. Ancient burial sites and temples tell us we were deeply concerned with death and the afterlife.  Ancient shamans tried to interpret symbols and dreams. I believe religion came about as a way to explain Fear vs. Dreams or Eternity vs. Death. A superior being that transcended time which I have labelled “GOD” at the top of my triangle. Then came early physicists and mathematicians or astronomers who tried to rationalize the world but with their limited knowledge would still rely heavily on mythology. With the first philosophers myth was questioned and room was made for argumentation.  This brought on a whole field of philosophy and later psychology that is concerned with what I labelled “MIND”. This left scientist the freedom to explain the physical world or “SPACE” without the constraints of religion or personal perceptions. These 3 distinct approaches give us a very pure and abstract concept of time.  From these three come three secondary understanding of time. A quest for “Universal” time,  “Transcendental” time or “Empirical” time.  My hope is that we can converge from these into a new and better understanding of what time really is.

15 May 2012

Time in poetry - Haiku

I have been fascinated with haiku for many years. This form of Japanese poetry appeals to my senses. The structure is quite strict; each poem is made of 17 syllables or onji (5-7-5) and tries to depict an impression or an emotion.

In the fields of snow             aoshi aoshi
greenest is the green             wakana wa aoshi
of the new grass                    Yuki no hara               - Konishi Raizan (1653-1716)

Sometimes the emotions they communicate is a sad one like in the two examples below. Both are by Matsu Basho, the first one he wrote just as he left his village for his long tour of Japan; “wondering, sad, if I’d ever return to this cherished village of my childhood. My heart was tight, even if the transitional world is but a dream, my anguish brought me tears.”

The spring is leaving:             yuku haru wa
Birds are crying and tears      tori naki uo no
fill the eyes of the fish           me wa namida            - Matsu Basho (1644-1694)

The second poem he wrote many years later, the subject is a lock of hair from his deceased mother.

If I were to hold it                 te ni toraba
It would melt in my tears       kien namida zo atsuki
Like autumn frost.                 Aki no shimo                - Matsu Basho (1644-1694)

Ah, but do they talk about time ?

Not directly, they are more about a Zen perception of nature, but we can definitely perceive two recurring themes; first a seasonal or cyclical time as opposed to a linear time. In some cases we feel an absence of time a sort of enlightened Zen moment encompassing all time. Second, a spiritual or dream dimension dealing with issues of death and eternity.

Haiku on cyclical time:

In this autumn                        kono aki wa
Why am I so old ?                  nan de toshi yoru
In the clouds, a bird               kumo no tori               - Matsu Basho (1644-1694)

Moonlight:                             shiraume no
The white plum returns          kereki ni modoru
a winter tree                           tsukiyo kana                - Yosa Buson (1715-1783)

returning to see them             kitemireba
in the evening the blossoms   yube no sakura
have become fruits                 mi to narinu                - Yosa Buson (1715-1783)

Haiku on perception and dreams:

Spring rain                             harusame
reflected in bovine eyes         furu to mo shirazu
that do not see it                    ushi no me ni              - Konishi Raizan (1653-1716)

Unseen lark                            furusato no
of my distant home village    mienaku narite
I know you’re singing            naku hibari                 - Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

The butterfly is a recurring theme in haiku and often is an allusion to Chuang Tzu’s dream:

You are the butterfly             Kimi ya cho
and I the dreaming heart       ware ya Sooji ga
of [Chuang Tzu]                    yumegokoro                 - Matsu Basho (1644-1694)

“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly I awaked, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.” Chuang Tzu (4th Century BCE)

Chuang Tzu also wrote the following around the 4th Century BCE:

By and by comes the great awakening, and then we may find out that this life is really an extended dream. Fools think they are awake now, and flatter themselves they know if they are really princes or peasants. Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say you are dreams—I am but a dream myself. This is a paradox. Tomorrow a wise man may come forward to explain it; but that tomorrow will not be until ten thousand generations have gone by.