What is real Reality? AI might tell us

Last year I went to the National Gallery in London to see Francisco Goya’s exhibition. I did enjoy the painter’s mastery on giving human character to his portraits by balancing the relationship between the background, often solid colour, and the subject. Goya doesn’t draw a border between the two; he blurs the boundary so that the subject emerges from the background. Such simple operation gives a sense of the character’s personality; the balance of colours – and chiaroscuro – that gradually progress from the background to the the face and the body returns to me (the interpreter) the experience of the subjects’s personality.

Current research on AI is moving towards giving machines a sense of space, by teaching them what is space (as we do). Through Deep Learning machines are growing the sense of reality. They are developing a form of knowledge that is capable of understanding objects in real space, by means of image pixelation. In this article from MIT Technology Review it is described how machines are capable to detect physical objects via digital images; pixelation is the language they employ. The differential between the background and the given object is indeed in the focus of attention. On the opposite of the poetic skill Goya used to give a sense of the subject’s personality, the understanding of “border” is the key element used to teach machines space. The intention is to teach machines to “see”, and I suppose think, like us. Digital image pixelation is the vehicle that machines use to understand the real as we do.

What is the real?

Quoting Slavoj Žižek’s:Every field of “reality” is always-ready enframed, seen through an invisible frame. The parallax is not symmetrical, composed of two incompatible perspectives of the same X: there is an irreducible asymmetry between the two perspectives, a minimal reflexive twist. We do have two perspectives, we have a perspecive and what eludes it, and the other perspectives fills in this void of what we could not see from the first perspective“.

In other words we, human, don’t see things as our eyes do. There is a gap in between that constructs our sense of the real. As quoted from Žižek, there is a void in between that we fill with our imagination. Imagination is a form of expectation of the real, which is linked to our past experience that, in our mind, has been stored in the form of memory.

How can such a random and complex fluctuation be translated to a machine? What we call “real” is nonetheless a specific frame of our perception, which doesn’t make any distinction between digital and physical, as everything gets stored in our mind in the form of experience. It kinds of makes me think back to the Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which machines desperately need pictures to be acknowledged as humans.

 

Žižek, Slavoj (2006), The Parallax View, Cambridge MA: MIT Press

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On the Illusion of Truth and Plato’s Cave

Truth is something that any one of us thinks to know.

Of course we know which is the truth of our everyday reality. It somehow accomplishes our sense of expectation or, at least, it comes very close to it.

In the BIG history that we experience everyday we look for a comfortable truth, which helps to understand what happens around us. As Plato describes through “The Cave” allegory and Slavoj Žižek points out, our “truth” is coated with a good glossy layer of ideology that really helps us on bridging the void of reality, which we can’t really grasp when displayed as raw.

At two years distance from the “Snowden” case, the storm looks quieter, also because our attention has moved to another bigger problem we are trying to cope with, when speaking about freedom of speech and professing multiplicity of credos and ideas in order to coexist, in our diversity, under the same roof.

Neverthless after watching at ICA Laura Poitras’s “Citezenfour“, my own sense of reality has been reevaluating the state of things. At the beginning I thought the movie was about the “celebration” of Edward Snowden and his capability of taking a big breath and revealing us what NSA has been weaving for us under the “symbol” of “national security”.

After watching the end I changed my mind. I am not sure yet who is the audience of the movie, whether us – well done, I felt like Neo taking the red pill – or the Security-entitled-people-I-dont-fxxxxxx-care-about-your-privacy.

A quote from the movie says that what we call PRIVACY is what our ancestors died for not long time ago: FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

What does really worry me is that data, hence metadata, collection moulds a kind of society where you can drink 1000 kinds of different milks, eat 2000 kinds of breakfast cereals but think in ONE single way. As there are no effective laws that protect people like Snowden and ourselves (the movie makes a good point of it) we give out, for no return, the structural articulation of our thoughts, i.e. our forma mentis.

Snowden again makes another good point. As we know that it works in this way we refrain on searching for specific key words because we know we’ll be given a “particular attention”. As consequence we limit our “freedom of speech”. We limit ourselves on making a new apparatus of thinking; new ideas are no longer on the menu of civilisation.

The system is so intricate that it feels like we are all wire connected to the same router, which packages words and thought for us, when we believe to live a free world, which we need to “export”.

Here the ends of the movie makes me feel a bit relieved, when it portrays the after Snowden: other people are trying to fight the Internet Colonialism where nations are  replaced by lawless private corporations.

Whether you agree or not I hope you do watch the movie and spend sometime to think about which might be the new democracy that can bring us back to express our ideas in the contemporary agora. Don’t let it go

Freedom

In this short video for “The Guardian” Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek analyses the concept of freedom from multiple point of views: politics, economy, society and technology.

What is freedom for us? Is it the possibility to choose milk flavoured with strawberry, banana, cinnamon, chocolate,vanilla, cherry, mango, ginger, etc…??

Is it a freedom of choice?

Well in a society where “Likes” are monitorised to regulate what you might “Like” next, which nevertheless creates a loop, can freedom be really the possibility of choice? Can freedom be related and linked to the consumeristic everyday life?

From this point Žižek makes a sharp point; the comparison between freedom with love, i.e. the act of falling for someone, which entails a continuous negotiation to create a certain degree of compatibility with our partner’s life, makes a good example of freedom.

According to Žižek freedom is not the possibility to live in a consistent anarchic state, where we are “free” to do exactly what our mind tells us, but to understand the surrounding and negotiate with it.

Freedom is based on a certain degree of entropy, which makes us adjust to any current conditions.

This specific skill makes us free, i.e. we are able to find our own “freedom” within any kind of event that our life might give to us.

The Void of the Real

In these days I’ve been lucky enough to see Malevich’s “Black and White” at Tate Modern and Turner’s last paintings at Tate Britain. The lucky coincidence made my mind travel through a common theme that both artists have dealt with: the void.

Nevertheless the value that each artist assigns to the void is at the antipodes. Whether Malevich expresses the impossibility to capture the real, so that beyond the white frame there is nothing, Turner uses the void of representation to translate the metaphysical value of the real. This is something that transcends the phenomenal and reaches the noumenal – borrowing Immanuel Kant’s terms.

In other words both artists are coping with the unknown form of the real, which is something that any of us – borrowing again Kant and Slavoj Žižek‘s insights- can grasps, so that we fill it with our imagination.

Imagination and fantasy are instruments we employ to reify the real, i.e. to give it a form that somehow we can understand. Malevich gave a black formless square, Turner assigned a metaphysical aspect, driven by a different cultural and religious context.

To deal with the void is like passing a threshold where certainties are gone; we cannot hide from ourselves anymore and those questions and riddles that oppress our minds fall on us.

By flipping what I have told at the beginning of the post, did I look for those artists? I do feel the void is haunting me and I cannot avoid to deal with it.. I am wondering around my thoughts looking for possible solutions, but unfortunately I can’t feel the same energy to translate such unsettling sense and get it out of myself through a new “form”, whather it might mean.

To be honest looking at those works puts myself in the right track, whatever the track is. Looking forward to acknowledging it.

Mystic realities

In 1935 Carlo Belli urged to look at the real mystically, i.e. to look at the real beyond its phenomenal appearance for is noumenal content.

Our lives are designed so that perception loops around quick sights. Thoughts, social communication and dwellings are limited to the realm of the ‘Few Words’. This ‘processed’  reality lays on the pivotal value of axioms, or ideals by which we read the real.

Ideals are mirrors of the self, which pre package in small bags pieces of the real so that we can easily swallow it without too much effort.

Slavoj Žižek is capable of giving us a great picture of this ‘processed real’ through his pop vision,

which unfolds and unravel the mesh to give us the possibility to gain a mystical look.

Will be performance the Other glasses by which we break ideals?