Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Sum of Human Knowledge

So a person like me, at a time like this, is concerned with a technical issue which relates to a sense we as humans have: sight.

The technical issue is High Definition, or as I would rename it, High Resolution Imaging. This however is a title that verges on issues around scientific photography, why is why I am ambivalent about the choice.

If the biologists are to believed, sight is derived from touch (there will of course one day be a braille version of HD). In smell, molecules cascade against surfaces that are sensitive to them. In sight, photons activate electrical impulses that transfer to a system that ‘makes sense’ of these impulses. Here the proposition is that mind is the sense common to all the other senses: it’s ‘the-making-sense-of’ sense. It’s the ‘common sense’ of all the senses.

But these senses we have are of local origin, local to this planet and this solar system and the physical conditions pertaining to this environment.

If you look at the universe, as far as we understand it, the the premise of the whole thing is based upon massive diffusion, gravity, heat and cooling, then aggregation, then collision and finally massive diffusion once again. It’s a soup.

Sitting on this ball of clod we stare out, using light, the medium of the universal constant as our medium (and what a constant!) and look for any evidence of where there is an absence of this constant. Where it is we know what produces it - where it is not, we hope to gain clues about why it’s there at all.

In that sentence there are many issues: the notion of a constant is what serious magicians call the ring-pass-not. It is something that may not be contravened. C.S. Lewis used this idea in his science fiction trilogy, Out of the SIlent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Loosely, my understanding of the universal constant is that it is mass at full acceleration. I’m simplifying for poetic effect of course. What I mean is, if you took the smallest amount of mass and accelerated it to the speed of light the particle would both weigh the weight of the universe as well as occupy all the space of the universe. That Einstein was a clever fellow and if one believed in the Illuminati, then one might imagine that that’s where he got his information from.

It’s big stuff, really big stuff. I also suspect that mass, space, time, velocity et al are all swop-able as values for consciousness - or rather unconsciousness. The big I am is in a state of amnesia - that’s what manifestation is, a state of necessary amnesia so that the impossible trick of pulling off localised consciousness (i.e. what makes us people) can Hermes-Trismestigus-like be enabled.

Equally ‘seeing’ is part of the trick and as I was told in my interviews with various planet-sized intellects like David Stump (Electronic Cinematographic SFX on Quantum of Solace) and Scott Billups (well, Scott is more like the mischievous norse god Loki, but both have big brains whichever way you characterise them). Naturally I asked people what they thought HD was and framed a set of questions around where it had come from and where it might go but people like Stump and Billups quite rightly countered with a disagreement about the appositeness of the questions about the technology’. They positioned their understanding rather as an enquiry into the sensory system we have.

Many of the issue that are coming up in HD are around verisimilitude, about whether to use Log or Linear or Gamma Curves, or LuT’s or Raw or various systems of generating data from light sensitive sensors - about how that data was generated, about how the eye generates data; about how we can view something that is true to what is in front of the lens and what is behind it. It’s the proverbial minefield if you only have half a grasp.

Lately, at the end of 2008 and bleeding into 2009, many people on the Cinematographers Mailing List have been discussing what all of these terms mean and what they may be cross-translated into for the normal person (i.e. standard Director of Photography or cameraman). There are some bright sparks who have a knack with words and can make plain what each is and how it pertains to the field. So far though, no one has cottoned on to the time honored issue of ‘the touch’. Simply put, you’ve either got it or you aint.

In film you take a reading and exposed and developed the film and took note of the results. Through doing this a few times you developed experience and knew what to expect. You tried various stocks with different responses and learned how to predict the outcome. You became experimental and did things, like under and over exposing, having the film developed for longer or shorter times, avoided elements of development like by passing the bleaching of silver process - you even suggested heating up the developer to the lab - and so on and so forth. Well that process is where we’re at at the moment in electronic cinematography and there are no easy answers. So whether or not you’ve got it or you aint, you aren’t going anywhere without experience which you gather from simply doing it again and again.

Like being able to expose film or a work in the electro-cinematographic realm, I think the universe per se is one big experiment within a set of parameters. Significantly the further you look out in to the dark, you still see galaxy after galaxy, each one of which has as many stars in it as there are grains of sand on the beaches of the earth (and then some). It’s not endless, it’s 14 billion years in terms of distance. Right up to the boundary of the space-time continuum, there are prototype galaxies slightly unformed because at the time of their creation it was all a bit hot and the necessary cooling hadn’t quite happened yet to formulate galaxies with the kind of matter and gravity we’re used to (and remember space extends as far as there is matter, as matter is a key element of time and space - where there is no matter, there is no space).

Within all of this are we. 3rd rock from this particular sun. I always feel that the local gravitational conditions forced this set up and that these conditions, that of having hard bits then gassy bits which are a condition that is at least this galaxy wide.

That temperate planets will originate at this kind of distance relative to a star of this kind, of mass, is part of the equation - bigger mass stars will have a similar effect on their planets but maybe there will not be an earth-like planet - maybe there’s fewer than .01 per cent of these kind of planets in this particular galaxy - but that’s still zillions of places where consciousnesses can originate. Maybe only 0.01 percent of those consciousnesses are self-reflective and so on and so forth - but that’s still many. And if you then look at all the other many zillions - no, god-zillions of galaxies out there you get life, self-conscious life originating out of the huge act of amnesia that is the entire manifestation. Amazing.

And in all of this, there’s a little human with an obsessive-compulsive disorder that makes him interested in how light hitting surfaces, bouncing into bits of glass and finally being represented to organs that are sensitive to these effects. Amazing.

By the way, I like the idea that the scientists now believe that this solar system is the third variant that we have all been part of. Apparently the kind of matter that exists here is the kind that needs to have been smelted more than once. We’ve dissolved and reconstituted and this is the third time (locally). I like that we’re on a spinning spiral of matter, going at around 600,000 miles per hour and that it takes 226,000 years to revolve once. I like the idea that in 2 billion years time we will silently and softly collide with the nearby galaxy of Andromeda, and that there’s so much space in both galaxies that hardly anything will actually touch anything else, but that gravity will spin us and twist us in a huge, eon-like ballet of amalgamation with the aforesaid neighbor. Amazing.