Der Name ist gefälscht, ich habe nie Hölderlin geheissen.
the poet Hölderlin upon seeing an edition of his own poetry
The namesake of this page is German 18th century poet Friedrich Hölderlin. While it is almost impossible to translate poetry, I wanted to share with you these two translations of his poems. They are among the best I could find and I like them almost as much as the original.
This is my first attempt at a blog-style web page format - please bare with me...
What do I have in mind with this page? Not sure yet - I guess this may turn out to be a collection of loosely connected thoughts and ideas, prompted by whatever I read or think about, whatever pops up in my head, and which would otherwise have been lost, had I not typed it on this page - ideally, over time this may develop into something in the spirit of Howard Bloom's Omnologist Manifesto.
Ok, so this isn't really a blog: the entries aren't dated and I mostly write them from top to bottom (and occasionally edit old ones). But I seem to be comfortable with this format, so this is how it is going to be. Also, you may have noticed that my HTML style is kind of minimalistic. I guess I don't want to procrastinate even more by thinking about fancy formatting tricks...
DISCLAIMER: I will be writing about various subject areas I am not an expert on and some of it may even be somewhat tongue-in-cheek (whatever pops up in my head). It is for you, dear reader, to make up your mind whether any of this makes sense. Read at your own risk!
This is to inform all Hölderlin lovers of planet Earth
that, as of Friday, January, 14th 2005, a copy of the poem
Hyperions Schicksalslied rests on the surface of
Saturn's moon Titan,
the most distant celestial body on which humankind has yet left it's mark.
Background: Before the launch of the
Cassini-Huygens space probe on October, 15th 1997, the
European Space Agency (ESA) asked the
public to submit short messages which were to be
copied onto a CD, to be carried to the surface of Titan by the Huygens
I submitted Hyperions Schicksalslied as one of 80,000
messages (nr. 4532) that were sent in. The last line of the poem,
Jahr lang ins Ungewisse hinab, seems to be particularly fitting, given
Huygens' long and perilous journey.
Your host name: ec2-54-161-40-41.compute-1.amazonaws.com; your browser and OS: CCBot/2.0 (http://commoncrawl.org/faq/).
Hey, it's a long time since I last posted here. For now, I just want to report that I set up an openID script on my Web server which allows me to log into various Web sites and blogs using my Hoelder1in identity. So, no more anonymous commenting in blogs... ;-)
I don't seem to be able to get this poem out of my head. I first encountered the famous part (From too much love of living, From hope and fear set free...) in one of Stanislaw Lem's books (His Master`s Voice, German title: Die Stimme des Herrn) where he quotes it in the final chapter. Speaking of Lem and poetry, the Steven Soderbergh movie Solaris comes to mind where the lead character (played by George Clooney) quotes from this poem. Oh well, two poems about death - not sure what got me into this mood. To end this post on a less somber note, here is yet another poem which plays a central role in a work of science fiction (in Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams). Could I revive within me Her symphony and song are the lines that most stuck in my head.
Another poem I am very fond of righ now is
Day by Rainer Maria Rilke, which perhaps should be read
des Lebens/Half of Life
- both of these poems seem to express a very similar mood. My thanks go to
Cybertron Flower for
reminding me of this one. Also, since the choice of books, I am currently
reading, is influenced a great deal by Cybertron Flower's blog/favorite
author list, I thought I might als well share with you
my list of books, I have
read (English and German; books, I am currently reading are listed
at the top).
I seem to be talking a lot about poetry these days - time to get back
to some left brain stuff! But before I do that, one last bit about poetry:
I already linked to two of Hölderlin's poems
(Da ich ein Knabe war/In my boyhood days,
Hälfte des Lebens/Half of Life) at the very top of this page
and wanted to provide links to a couple more
which I like.
It is amazing that a love poem (An Diotima) speaks of nothing but nature.
The numerous Diotima poems, as well as his novel Hyperion were inspired by
the love of his life, Susette Borkenstein Gontard (English/German).
Seventeen of her very touching
she wrote to Hölderlin, as well as one of
letters to her were preserved.
The picture on the left shows a graffito which at some time was
sprayed onto the river embankment, very close to where Hölderlin,
after the untimely death of his Diotima,
had spent the second half of his life in insanity, saying: Hölderlin wasn't mad!
in the dialect of the area.
A tapestry of memories and thoughts and emotions, millions of voices murmuring: it is said that writers can achieve immortality through their works. The offspring of their creativity dwells in many brains, prospers and grows, mixes with a stream of stories and characters and ideas, flowing from generation to generation, ever extending, never ending. But can't the same thing also be said of readers? The artist of many ages, striving for truth and perfection ... the lover seeking eternity in loving eyes ... the peasant's life full of hardship, their longings never to be fulfilled ... the countless lives, like sand in the wind, yearning for their niche of meaning and happiness ... the cherished moments we look back to, saying was this all? ... even the bitterness and desperation of ultimate failure and loss - all inhabiting the reader's mind, shared by thousands of brains, young ones discovering new worlds, old ones, having to let go of memories and dreams. I want to be all of those - a single life just isn't enough. I am all of those!
Like Cornelius Agrippa, I am god, I am hero, I am philosopher, I am demon and I am world, which is a tedious way of saying that I do not exist.
-Jorge Luis Borges, The Immortal
A good friend (who is able to read the Russian original) has suggested
that I should read Chekhov's stories. I just started to read a few of
them (in German translations) and it is dawning upon me that there is a
whole universe waiting to be discovered! So, I felt like sharing this link with whoever
reads this, providing (in chronological order by publication date)
English translations of 201 stories
written by Anton
Pavlovich Chekhov. The photo on the left shows the already acclaimed
writer at age 29, when he already had written many of his now
famous stories. Enjoy!
I herewith solemnly promise to read Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. All of it! All of 4,200 pages (the length of my edition of the German translation)! I probably will not read all the seven parts in one go. My current idea is to alternate them with the four volumes of Uwe Johnson's Jahrestage. Aus dem Leben der Gesine Cresspahl (Anniversaries. From the Life of Gesine Cresspahl). Another 1,900 pages and another promise. Fulfilling both these promises will probably take me well into 2009. And there are the many Chekhov stories I haven't yet read, of course. Which feels good, as I now know at least one part of what will happen in the next several months. So one might say that Remembrance of Things Past is not just about the past but also about the future (like all worthwhile things). Anyway, so far I only read the first part (Combray) of Swann's Way which is only some 5% of the total. I was already hooked after the first 10 pages, where young Marcel describes how he wakes up, in more detail than I ever had consciously thought about waking up. Which is amazing. And of course he goes on to describe many specific memories and things he thought about in his childhood with the same level of detail. Oh, and how I love those long sentences. They are the longest (at least in the German translation) I ever encountered in any book. And it it is somehow a stretch of my working memory to still remember the beginning of a sentence once I have reached it's end. So I need my full concentration and I re-read many sentences and it is somehow slow going - but I love it! The computer person in me calculated that all of Remembrance amounts to less than 10 MByte! Which makes me wonder about my estimate that a true mindfile would require at least something like 1 GByte. One of the reasons I decided to read Remembrance was Ben Goertzel's The Hidden Pattern where he discusses it in the context of his AI work. I can almost physically feel how the web of small observations and thoughts which make up Remembrance - which could for example be stored and manipulated in a huge (or even not so huge) database - gives each memory, each bit of conscious thought, the color and meaning which make us alive. Oh, and did I mention that the full text of the English translation of Remembrance is available on the Web?
Having had a specific reason to think about dorm rooms (I lived in one for several years while I was a physics student) and how to decorate them with personal things, I seem to need around me to make me feel at home in a new place, I decided to share this list of quotes (as part of my personal Remembrance of Things Past), many of which were typed on white cardboard with my old OLYMPIA Report de Luxe typewriter when I was in my early twenties (yes, there were no PCs at that time ;) to decorate my dormitory room. If you saw the movie Em@il for you (with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks), then you also have seen that particular model typewriter (actually two of them ;). Re-reading those quotes, it is amazing to see in which ways my thinking evolved over the years and to what extent it stayed the same - I guess, I simply got older....
Following a suggestion by one of the (few) readers of this page, it is now possible to leave comments. Additionally, Hoelder1in can now be reached on jabber (hoelder1in at jabber dot org). Since those two means of communication are probably enough to get in touch with me, I removed the old aol contact address which, at any rate, was only checked at rather long intervals.
Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome. -Dr. Samuel Johnson
Two links I hope to check out at some time in the future, when I run out of more urgent things to do (so maybe never): the New England Complex Systems Institute and some of the work of Andrey Korotayev.
Have a look at this cartoon representation of the socalled
- the standard tool astrophysicists use to classify stars and
to follow their paths from cradle to grave.
This funny Japanese cartoon obviously depicts the analogies between
the lives of stars and us poor humans who don't have millions of years
to play out our lives. Since I only possess an old photocopy of it,
the source of which is unknown to me, and I also can't find it on the Web,
I would appreciate if anyone who has seen this before and knows anything
about its origin could drop me a note. All I can say for sure is that
it originated in Japan in the 1970s or earlier.
Also, since I am unable to read the Japanese, a translation into English
would be highly welcome. Thanks, your help is
Since I now read a good part of the second chapter (Swann in Love) of the first volume of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, I felt like sharing some of my initial thoughts and observations - probably nothing too original but I want to say things in my own words. This chapter is about Swann's love for Odette, about the events through which he came to love her (a specific piece of music plays an important part), and also, later, about his jealousy. I find it absolutely amazing how Proust dissects Swann's motivations and emotions, how he cuts through to the inner machinery of the human psyche, with nothing but his own introspection and observations at his disposal. I wonder to what extent his insights are borne out by modern psychology (of which I am not too well informed). As I said, nothing special, just some first observations. Expect more as I read further.
This was bound to happen: last night someone spammed my new comments page full of BS. So I enabled the CAPTCHA function on the comments page (you will have to type in a short string to prove your humanness). A more fun CAPTCHA might have been this one (which I am sure the likely commenters on this page would not have had any troubles with ;).
Due to my recent exposure to the livejournal culture, I learned of a somewhat non-standard use of the word meme which, however, seems to be related to the author I am currently reading (Marcel Proust). So, without further ado, here is the mother of all memes which, in all likelihood, is where the meme meme originated. ;) Feel free to use it on your blog or Web page (please leave a comment, so I will know about it). For the German speakers, there is also this page (see my next post for an English version) where one can post one's answers to the Proust Questionnaire, based on the famous F.A.Z. Fragebogen (something similar appeared in the Zeit-Magazin for many years).
This may not be everyone's idea how to spend (waste?) a sunny day of one's summer vacation. But after having seen a German Web form for submitting answers to the famous Proust Questionnaire (see the link in my previous post), I created a similar English language page. My new Proust Questionnaire Web page lists all of the questions from two questionnaires Proust filled out at age 13 and 20, respectively. It gives both Proust's original answers and it allows you to enter your own which will then be displayed on a Web page. Let me know if you encounter any problems with the page (I haven't yet done very extensive testing). Have fun!
I spent some more time working on the Proust Questionnaire page: there is now the random answer page where each reload will display a random question and answer (it is kind of addictive to click on that page ;) and I created separate pages for each of the 35 questions which display all submitted answers in context. This brings back the phrase A tapestry of memories and thoughts and emotions... which I already used twice in previous posts. It seems to me that these pages will be a way to create such a tapestry in almost a literal sense. I envision a time when there will be hundreds or even thousands of answers to each question. Wouldn't it be great to display these on huge poster-sized printouts, say in the form of a triptych, showing the answers to such questions as What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?, What is your idea of earthly happiness?, and How would you like to die? on three facing panels? I see this almost as a work of art, created from the thoughts and wishes of hundreds or thousands of participants. At the present rate it will take several years to collect enough answers for something like that, but this is ok - I really want this to be a long term project. Thanks to all who contributed so far! I hope there will be many, many more.
This is to let you know that the personality type of yours truly, Hoelder1in, is either INTP or INTJ. The first result was obtained by having the Typealyzer web service analyze the writing style of the text on hoelder1in.org and the second one is the result of me taking a test provided at humanmetrics.com. In terms of percent, the test results were Introverted: 89%, iNtuitive: 88%, Thinking: 50%, Judging: 22%, close to the J/P border line. This is also mostly in agreement with my self-assessment. Oh well. I guess, it's a mixed bag. So, would I want a different personality type if I could choose one? Probably not...
Another multiple choice test and another multi-dimensional space to locate
myself in. I just hope I won't get addicted to these kinds of tests.
This is already the second time I took the
Political Compass test
to determine my location in a
two-dimensional political coordinate grid (economic left/right vs. social
libertarian/authoritarian). The results at the left (for those interested
in numbers: economic left/right: -1.25,
social libertarian/authoritarian: -6.72) are essentially unchanged from
a year ago, giving some credence to the test.
According to the
Political Compass Web site,
the historical figure, closest to my position in the coordinate grid is
British born intellectual, revolutionary, and inventor,
who participated in both the American and French revolution. Interesting!
Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it. -Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man
No falsehood is so fatal as that which is made an article of faith. -Thomas Paine
Since a couple of days this page is now php-enabled, which among other things, allows me to send a special welcome to return visitors. ;) Well, to those who permit persistent cookies, at any rate.
It recently occurred to me that the first woman/girl to ever leave a lasting impression on me was a girl from the neighborhood (whose name I have forgotten) who came over to our house to read stories to me, at a time when I couldn't yet read myself. Boy, was I impressed that she already could read! I don't remember any of the stories, but there is this one moment, when after finishing a story, she would turn the book around and clap it shut in front of me and I can still feel the air from between the pages on my face, holding this strange promise of worlds to be discovered...
Another update on my Proust Questionnaire project: There is now an image gallery, showing the photos participants uploaded with their answers; I want this to become a patchwork or quilt over time, stitched together from hundreds of images, each one pointing to a participant's Proust Questionnaire answers - a quilt of faces to accompany the tapestry of memories and thoughts and emotions I talked about in a previous post. So, keep uploading those images...
The parting year would be marked above recent precedent if it had witnessed nothing more than the beginning of the end of the banking system under which the country has lived for a half century.
-The New York Times
Sounds familiar? It's worth noting, though, that the above quote appeared in the New York Times of December 31st, 1914; there is nothing new under the sun...
I donated 42 Euros to buskampagne.de, today. ;) This is the German counterpart of the famous London Atheist Bus Campaign which has spawned similar campaigns in a number of European and North-American cities. Here is one candidate slogan (the one I voted for), considered for display on buses in Berlin, Cologne, and Munich - well yes, don't panic: life is good without supernatural beliefs.
Somewhat related, I also signed a petition to the German parliament to rename Ascension Day, one of Germany's many religious, national holidays, to Evolution Day. Click on Charles Darwin on the left to sign the petition (so far supported by some 5000 participants) or watch this nice video of old, bearded Charley, telling us that we are all children of the evolution. Have fun!
Evolutionary Humanism also happens to be the title of an essay by Julian Huxley, published in his 1957 book New Bottles for New Wine, alongside another one of his essays which famously coined the term transhumanism - though I must say that some of his views, particularly those related to eugenics, sound rather hair-raising and unacceptable by today's standards. I am pretty sure that I read one of his books sometime back in my youth when I worked myself through our school library. Another book I remember from that library is Jacques Monod's Chance and Necessity. There was this quote from Monod's book which impressed me a great deal at the time and which I still know by heart (will try to find a good English translation):
Der alte Bund ist zerbrochen; der Mensch weiß endlich, daß er in der teilnahmslosen Unermesslichkeit des Universum allein ist, aus dem er zufällig hervortrat. Nicht nur sein Los, auch seine Pflicht steht nirgendwo geschrieben. Es ist an ihm, zwischen dem Reich und der Finsternis zu wählen.
So, you wanted to know what makes this Hoelder1in person tick? Here is your chance to find out - though I am afraid the resolution isn't quite good enough to show the actual gears and levers... ;)
Contemplating the unspectacular gray matter inside my scull (and the fact that it now appeared as a paperback) got me to order Thomas Metzinger's book Being No One (one page précis) in which he explains why "nobody ever had or was a self". Cool stuff! Incidentally, Thomas Metzinger is also listed as a member of the scientific advisory council of the Giordano Bruno Foundation which I mentioned a bit further up.
There is also this related article, titled Self Awareness: The Last Frontier, by V.S. Ramachandran which recently appeared on edge.org, as well as his previous edge contributions on mirror neurons, one of which I already briefly mentioned on this site (follow the links on his bio page).
I decided to buy more fair trade products - for the moment mostly tea (GEPA green Ceylon tea; bags and open) and perhaps occasionally some chocolate or wine. From the point of view of human dignity, this is probably one of the preferential ways to help those who were unfortunate enough to have been born on the poorer half of the planet. Or more precisely, it is a (small) attempt to counteract some of the ongoing economic exploitation. And I am also thinking about participating in one of those microcredit programs once more...
Also, Hoelder1in now has an amazon wishlist! So far, with only a few entries and I am not really sure yet, how I am going to use it. Let's see...
Hey, it's actually the same person who somehow influenced me to do both of these things... :D
Two updates on my books page: there are now page numbers in the currently reading section, showing how far I read in each book (will be updated every couple of days or so) and I am rating the books on a scale from 1 to 5 in the read in previous months section ...now where did I get that idea from? :D (hint: see previous entry ;)
Hey, this is cool: hoelder1in.org was quoted in a real physics journal (Dominik Strazalka, Acta Physica Polonica B, Vol. 40 (2009), p. 41-47). My paper (Modeling Moore's Law: Two Models of Faster than Exponential Growth) was quoted alongside such other authors as Heinz von Foerster, Ilya Prigogine, Hans Moravec, and Ray Kurzweil. Incidentally, one of the plots of my paper also made it into the Redshift slide set (slide 3 of 47) by Sun Microsystems CTO Greg Papadopoulos.
Speaking of Moore's Law, I wanted to show you the
first and also the oldest computing
device I ever used (and still own). It is a Brunsviga model 13ZK mechanical
calculator, built between 1925 and 1950 (s/n 216,698) , and I used it (alongside a
slide rule) in my teens up until the mid seventies at which point I switched to an
electronic calculator. Its computing speed is approximately 0.00000001 MIPS, about one trillionth (10^-12) of the speed of the
computer which serves you this page.
photos of this particular model are available on the wonderful
Web site. Two other calculating machines shown there are also very well
known to me, the
Divisumma 24 and the Olivetti
Summa Prima 20 both of which my mother used in our home in the sixties and early seventies, working
as an accountant. Now, what makes me a bit dizzy is whether computing speeds
will increase by another factor of a trillion in the next couple of
As of yesterday, I am an offical supporter of the German Pirate Party (international Web site)! The recent successes of the Swedish Pirate Party were all over the media, of course (at least in Europe), when they managed to win a seat in the European Parliament. While their German counterpart attracted a similar number of votes in the European elections, this wasn't quite enough to win a seat for their candidate. Moving on from there, they require several thousand listed supporters (of which I am now one) to appear on the ballot in the fall national elections in each of Germany's 16 states. They are currently mainly focused on their core issues, copyright and patent law, open access, and privacy rights, though, while all of these are important and worth fighting for, they were also criticized, I think justly, for being a narrowly focused, single issue party. But I see this as just a starting point and as growing pains, perhaps similarly to the origins of the green movement in the eighties, on the way to become a full-fledged political party, addressing all the issues of an ever more virtualized and net-centered world. From its beginnings, a quarter century ago, the net has been seen by many as a grass-roots movement which carried the hope to give netizens a voice to participate in a new kind of global democracy. Sadly, the hope and enthusiasm of the early days has come under threat from commercial interests, big companies, and lately from governments. With my signature to be listed as a supporter, and with my vote in the upcoming elections, I want to help bring back some of that enthusiasm... :)
Related link: Lars Gustafssons's blog, These are Crucial Freedoms (interview with PiratPartiet leader), Charles Stross: False Positives and the Database State, Frank Schirrmacher: Die Revolution der Piraten
am now the proud owner of an original Japanese woodblock print (click
on the cutout on the left to see the full print;
200 DPI version for printing - feel free to
use this in any way you like).
While my knowledge of Japanese art, culture, and history,
embarrassingly, is almost non-existent, I somehow fell in love with this
particular print when clicking through the pages of the fuijarts.com Web site
(fuijarts page about
this print). The name of the artist is Yoshiiku (1833 - 1904) and
I am amazed how much he is able to convey about this group of people,
despite the cartoon like style, through just his attention to their
arrangement and body posture. All of these figures, they almost speak to me -
one could dream up their life's story for each of them. Just look
at the two ladies on the left who still
seem a bit uneasy about joining the group, looking
for support in each other, or the
gentleman beneath, somewhat longingly peering over to the couple,
facing away from the group, who only have eyes for each other.
Then, there is the lady in the center who, turning her back to a group of men,
looks over her shoulder, perhaps trying to attract their attention, while the
men, ignoring her, seem mainly interested in the newcomers on the left.
It may be an over-interpretation, but one could say the
theme of the print is our desire for company and
companionship, and our need for closeness and at the same time our
fear of too much of it.
As I said, I don't
really know anything about nineteenth century Japan, but from just looking
at the print, it must have been a refined and very mature society and it
would be interesting to study the differences to nineteenth century Europe.
I also like the pastel colors and the richness of the dresses. If only I
could read the Japanese text, though it gives the print a touch of
mysteriousness that I can't.
I can't believe it! I never was affiliated to any political party or
supported one in an election campaign, and here I am, having a
Pirate Party sticker on my car.
And it even has the right color: orange, the official party color.
I hope it will attract some attention when the car is parked on campus all
So, I posted in the Pirate Party
forum! Since the Pirate Party is so new, it is no wonder that
often the question is asked how the party fits into the traditional
political spectrum. Well, it doesn't: while the party always is on the side of
freedom and civil rights, it doesn't (yet) take a position with respect
to the economic left/right. Nevertheless, its members and
supporters each have
their political preferences. To get a handle on those, I collected
Political Compass poll results
more than 20 45 participants in
the Pirate Party forum and displayed them in context with
the german mainstream
parties. The red dot, marked Pirates, in the figure on the left (click
on the figure for a larger version) corresponds to the median of the
results and the orange box marks the 80% range along each coordinate.
It is herewith confirmed that my political opinions (see previous Political
Compass post, above) are within pirate territory! Interestingly, the
political views of one frequent visitor of this page almost coincide with
the lower left corner of the orange rectangle. ;) So far, the figure
I posted in the
Pirates forum sparked some nice discussions there...
Hoelder1in now has an account at the new p2p microlending platform united prosperity. This is different from others like it (such as kiva) in that participants don't supply money directly to the recipient but just guarantee the credit (they provide collateral) paid out by a local bank, the advantage being that this multiplies the beneficial effect of the contribution, allowing to help more recipients than in the case of other p2p microcredit platforms (there are also other advantages). So far, I only put in a mostly symbolic amount but I intend to increase that over time. My first contribution goes to a group of women in India who, among other things, want to buy additional sewing machines to be able to hire more people and to not have to work in shifts anymore. In addition to the actual financial transaction, it's also nice that this establishes a kind of emotional link between individuals in the industrialized and developing world.
Oh, and my fair trade tea is close to running out. ;) Need to order some more. P2P lending, fair trade, I guess all of this, and also participating in local politics (yes, Piratenpartei, again ^^), are small ways to steer things in a direction which will not lead us into one of those dystopian futures which literature has in store for us. So, if reading and thinking about those undesirable futures makes me do some of these things, then I think literature can change the world, after all. And if not literature, then maybe it is just empathy and our mirror neurons (which I keep coming back to ^^) steering us into that desirable direction.
Vittana is another microfinance startup, aiming to apply p2p microlending to funding the education of students in developing countries through student loans (a kind of kiva for students). Headquartered in Seattle, the driving force behind Vittana seems to be a former developer at amazon. The project didn't yet reach its operational phase, and at this stage, their Web site doesn't provide the background info, I'd like to see to feel comfortable supporting it. But it's definitely an intriguing idea! For the time being, this entry is mainly to remind me to keep track of how the project develops.
Create meaning or die trying. -Kushal Chakrabarti, Vittana co-founder & CEO
See this brief video of Kushal, explaining his vision of what he wants Vittana to accomplish. I find it amazing how young he still is (in his mid twenties or so). He seems to have some background in science (computational genomics), though none in (micro-)finance or developing world issues (cv) - I just hope this won't be a problem for making Vittana a success. But however that may turn out, I do love his motto!
The Chromatics: Doppler Shifting, what a fun way to demonstrate that science isn't just a left brain thing (thanks pax!). More songs at astrocapella.com: Sun Song, Wolf 359, Cosmic Radio Show, High Energy Groove, Swift Song. Enjoy!
Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion. -Richard Feynman
It's one year, today, since the Proust Questionnaire page went online! The page is now prominently listed on Google (just after Wikipedia and Vanity Fair ^^), it received 10870 page hits, and 468 participants submitted answers. I hope to keep the page up for years and decades to come, collecting answers from thousands of participants to make this an ever growing repository of hopes and fears and dreams...
A few years ago, I was in Buenos Aires for a meeting, and took advantage of a dull day to walk over to the old National Library and see where Borges had worked. When I got in, I asked the guard at the desk about Borges. He offered to get somebody who spoke English to help me; and in a few minutes, a very nice lady showed up and escorted me to the very office on the second floor where Borges had worked. "You can even go in, and sit in his chair," she said. I opened the door, and the man in the chair said, "What are you doing here, Andy?" It was Helmut Abt, the editor of the Astrophysical Journal. Of course, he had made exactly the same pilgrimage as I, and had arrived a few minutes earlier. The library itself is a huge octagonal room three stories high; obviously the model for one cell of the Infinite Library in one of his stories.
The preface to The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, A Fundamental Exposition by Hugh Everett, III, with papers by J. A. Wheeler, B. S. DeWitt, et. al., edited by Bryce S. DeWitt and Neill Graham, 1973 includes these two quotes:
... a picture, incomplete yet not false, of the universe as Ts'ui Pen conceived it to be. Differing from Newton and Schopenhauer, ... [he] did not think of time as absolute and uniform. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times. This web of time -- the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries -- embraces every possibility. We do not exist in most of them. In some you exist and not I, while in others I do, and you do not, and in yet others both of us exist. In this one, in which chance has favored me, you have come to my gate. In another, you, crossing the garden, have found me dead. In yet another, I say these very same words, but am an error, a phantom. -Jorge Luis Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths
Actualities seem to float in a wider sea of possibilities from out of which they were chosen; and somewhere, indeterminism says, such possibilities exist, and form a part of the truth. -William James
Axaxaxas mlö (quoted from The Library of Babel) might well be seen as Borges' response to the nagging life, the universe and everything question. If the universe shows us it's uncaring grin, laughing at our pointless search for meaning, let's laugh back at it in an act of self-defense - there isn't really much more we can do. It may be a matter of personal taste whether we prefer Douglas Adam's exuberance or the more subtle irony of Borges. And lest I am accused of contradicting myself, it's the search for meaning which is pointless - creating it isn't.
Tlön and Lambertians: is it just me who sees more than one analogy between the inhabitants of Tlön from Borges' story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius and the Lambertians of Greg Egan's novel Permutation City? And why can't I find on the Web a single comprehensive discussion of either of those works in the context of radical constructivism while the connection seems so obvious (I guess, Borges' story could be read as a witty rebuke of that perspective)?
Amazon (UK) on Greg Egan's story collection Axiomatic: Egan delivers shocking body-blows to received ideas in thought-experiment stories that like Jorge Luis Borges's philosophical squibs are booby-trapped with terrible truths and paradoxes.
The idea that we only exist in each others' dreams which Borges describes in his Circular Ruins story reminds me a lot of what I wrote back in 2005 on this site: our concept of self may be modeled by how we see others - we exist by mirroring us in each other and would cease to exist (as self-aware human beings) if we were permanently alone. Kaspar Hauser would not be a conscious human being.
eachother - these two words are properly separated, but do they not just call out to be one and whole? we are together with eachother, not apart from each other. together they should be! -youme
Being no one: Reading such stories as Pierre Menard or The Babylon Lottery from Borges' Ficciones, as well as some from the El Aleph story collection, I can't help but think of the view on personal identity and the self which modern cognitive and neuro-science has given us.
So, why is it that the world-view of Borges' Ficciones (specifically the first part, published in 1941) is so in line with the one held by many scientists at the beginning of the 21st century, knowing that Borges, though widely-read, never showed any particular interest in science and drew many of his insights from Christian and Jewish mysticism?
Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.
-Jorge Luis Borges, Biografía de Tadeo Isidoro Cruz
...and reading Borges seems as good a way as any to find that out.
I probably read most of Stanislaw Lem's stories and novels, I could get my hands on, back when I was a physics student - I am not sure how it is today but his books essentially were required reading among physics students in those days. So, I was more than a bit amazed to learn, decades later, after somewhat belatedly discovering Borges' stories, that many of Lem's books may have been influenced by Borges' Ficciones, the most obvious ones being Perfect Vacuum and Memoirs found in a Bathtub. And the manifestations created by the Solarian ocean from the station-dwellers' dreams seem to be almost directly taken from Borges' Circular Ruins story. In retrospect, a lot of the style and spirit of Lem's books seem somewhat reminiscent of Borges. One obituary on the Web describes Lem as a bizarre admixture of Borges, Schopenhauer, and Bertrand Russell ...deserving a place next to Dante, Borges, and Stapledon in the pantheon of pure imagination, while in his own words, Lem comments (quoted from his insightful but also rather harsh essay Unitas Oppositorum, The Prose of Jorge Luis Borges): ...I have been trying for years to enter the territory in which the Argentinian's best work was created, although I went by quite another road. Therefore his work is very close to me and Borges's best stories are constructed as tightly as mathematical proofs, but also: In the beginning he was a librarian and he remained one, although the most brilliant manifestation of one. He had to search in libraries for sources of inspiration, and he restricted himself wholly to cultural-mythical sources.. Will reread some Lem, I guess.
So, what is it that makes for an excellent writer (the ones I tend to assign 5/5 points on my books list)? Not being a writer myself and not having read by far as much as I would like to have, perhaps I am not even entitled to say. But reviewing the last couple of authors, I'd place in that category, it's probably something like the following: being a good observer (which also includes introspection), combined with creativity and imagination, having excellent mastery of the language, and at the same time asking deep questions, about reality, what it means to be human, perhaps a desire to move, change, or in any way affect the reader, though I am not so sure about that last one. I also want there to be an inner bond of empathy between the author and their characters and since reading is a bit like dreaming, I'd like a book or story to have a dreamlike, almost visceral intensity. Will have to check what I read in the future against those criteria.
seems to do it, so, here is my PUB (Pile of Unread Books - well ok, it's not
actually a pile ^^). Click on the image for a larger version to read the
titles and authors. About 80% of those are books I bought in the
last year - the remainder being books I owned for some time but haven't
yet read; the one by Chekhov (Drei Schwestern) is just a placeholder
for several volumes of his stories waiting to be read. I guess, I should say
that there are many more unread books in my bookshelves - but these are the
ones I actually intend to read, at least for now...
And now on to 1001 questionnaires, filled with thoughts and hopes and dreams...
Here is a link to my profile page (last update: Oct. 19) in the pirate party wiki which contains some political ideas of mine (in German). Feel free to convince me otherwise if you think I am on the wrong track with what I wrote there - none of this is cast in stone.
Ben Goertzel's Cosmist Manifesto:
Pursuing joy, growth and freedom for oneself and all others - ongoingly, actively seeking to better understand the universe in its multiple aspects, from a variety of perspectives - taking nothing as axiomatic and accepting all ideas, beliefs and habits as open to revision based on thought, dialogue and experience
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
I shot the photo on the left about two years ago in the woods close to
where I grew up (click on the photo for a larger version).
Everything you do touches the world and can have an impact on someone else, potentially causing a chain reaction of little cultural changes that add up to something big. -Liane Gabora
Ein Leben lang nichts als lesen, das hätte meine Wünsche erfüllt; ich wusste es schon mit sieben Jahren. Die Beschaffenheit der Welt ist schmerzhaft und ungeeignet; ich glaube nicht, dass sich daran etwas ändern lässt. Wirklich, ein mit Lesen ausgefülltes Leben hätte mir besser gepasst. Ein solches Leben war mir nicht vergönnt.
-Michel Houellebecq, Ausweitung der Kampfzone
Though I don't think this would work - without real emotions directed at
real people, without a world kicking back, how could little Michel ever have
understood what is written in those books...
It seems to me that way too few people celebrate their 10,000th birthday (I missed mine). So, to do my part to popularize the celebration of decimal birthdays, here is a script that will calculate the date on which you or your friends will turn 10,000 - or 20,000 for that matter, if like me, you already missed your 10,000th birthday:
On the left, you see the inside of the computer which serves you
this page. And no, it is certainly not powerful enough to be able to
dream. But who is to say what the inner life of its descendants a
couple of decades into the future will be like? Having watched the movie
(the 2007 final cut)
over the weekend and spending some time empathizing with those soon to be
"retired" replicants, got me to think of the famous "three blows", dealt on the
inflated view humankind used to hold of its role in the universe:
Copernicus, Darwin, and
well at least as a placeholder for the
notion that minds are really just ...algorithms, and perhaps not even as
complex ones as we would like to believe. While the concept has been
around for centuries, at least in some cultures
(think Golem), just as the
Darwinian "blow", it didn't really sink in, in most of us
(myself included). And it opens up a whole gamut of philosophical questions
in need of re-evaluation, some of which I touched upon on this
site. Specifically, the movie Blade Runner deals with the question
of personal identity and memory. All of the Rachael replicant's
childhood memories, and in fact everything she remembers from before her
incept date, turn out not to be her own but those of her
manufacturer Tyrell's niece, artificially inserted into her recently
created mind. So, should her incept date be regarded as her
date of birth or is she in fact Tyrell's niece? I tend to believe
that it is
the latter, though, this is not the view taken in the movie. This philosophical
quandary pretty much sums up my obsession with memory which is
also reflected in my choice of recently read books. So, is a part of me
Marcel of Proust's In Search of Lost Time
or Gesine Cresspahl of Johnson's Jahrestage, having
read those books? Or speaking with Jorge Luis Borges, like Cornelius
Agrippa, I am god, I am hero, I am philosopher, I am demon and I am world,
which is a tedious way of saying that "I" do not exist.
Reading up on Blade Runner, I learned that a lot of its
aestetics and the world it is set in, as well as parts of the
plot can be traced to the 1927 silent movie
the same probably can be said of the cyberpunk
genre in general.
Luckily, the copyright of Metropolis already expired - so, meet the amazing Maschinenmensch of Metropolis.
Some of the appeal the movie has for me may
derive from the fact that for a couple of years my office was very close
to where it originally was shot and I often drove by the
studio area which had an over-lifesized copy of the
Machinenmensch on display, facing a busy
intersection leading to the studio main entrance.
I am looking forward to soon seeing the movie, including the recently
re-discovered missing scenes.
Anyone around who still remembers Max Headroom? Discovered the first three episodes of the 1987 TV series on youtube last night. Well, what should I say, computer networks, a computer generated personality (Max Headroom, of course), and a nerdy whiz kid, all set in some dystopian, near-future mega-city, and as far as I can tell the first instance when all of these things made it into mainstream TV (to be fair, Max Headroom originated already two years earlier in the British TV movie Twenty Minutes into the Future which explains why part of the cast are British). Incidentally, 1987 is also the year when Star Trek TNG was first shown, introducing another android (Data) and virtual reality (the holodeck) into mainstream culture. And on the personal level, I lived in the US at that time and it's also the year I wrote my first email and discovered the Unix universe (including such cool things as Usenet).
Max Headroom isn't the only character of the TV show named after him whose name you might encounter on a US traffic sign, Ped Xing being the equally creatively named CEO of Zik-Zak corporation, eternally scheming to take over TV station Channel 23.
Even further back, there is the 1973 two-part TV movie Welt am Draht (World on a Wire) which German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder made of the novel Simulacron Three by Daniel Galouye (also published under the title Counterfeit World), exploring such concepts as computer generated beings and the simulation argument. I recently learned that the 1999 movie The Thirteenth Floor is a kind of remake of Welt am Draht, based on the same novel (will have to see that movie). Sadly, neither Welt am Draht nor the Max Headroom TV series have ever been published on DVD (but an almost complete version of Welt am Draht can be found on youtube).
UPDATE: a restored version of Welt am Draht was shown at the 2010 Berlinale film festival which will shortly also be available on DVD.
What's that? - It's a book. - Well, what's that? - It's a non-volatile storage medium. It's very rare. You should have one.
Dialog from Max Headroom TV series (Blank Reg in episode three, season one)
...at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a "posthuman" stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.
A cosmological counterargument (sort of) can be found here.
My God - it's full of stars!
Book titles, once symbols of a boundless future, now crystallized into memories and regrets, staring at me through jet-black window panes, a January day's cold creeping up on my soul. Dreaming myself away onto distant worlds where multiple suns melt my sorrows into happiness and hope...
Inspired by my New Year's Day's mood and this blog post.
Perhaps fitting the somewhat dark or at least ambivalent mood of the previous entry, I recently was reminded of this quote:
...there is much to be gained for both living and dying from a vital bond to matters beyond our daily needs.
It's from the dedication page of the proceedings of a conference I attended and it has a rather sad background: a young post-doc participated in the conference while already terminally ill and in fact he died before the conference proceedings appeared which subsequently were dedicated to him. I only learned of his illness after his death and I enjoyed the conference a lot, both for the subject area and the people who attended.
One more movie related entry: so I saw The Thirteenth Floor! It's actually pretty close to both the 1973 German TV production Welt am Draht/World on a Wire (from which it takes some of the style in which it is shot) and to Daniel Galouye's book, keeping most of the characters, as well as their names. I'd say, it's easily the most logical (well, apart from one or two glitches) and most realistic (in terms of at least potential technical feasibility) of the several virtual reality movies done around the turn of the century, some of the others being The Matrix (humans used as batteries, come on) and EXistenZ, as well as the Spanish movie Abre los Ojos/Open Your Eyes (which I haven't yet seen) and its US remake Vanilla Sky.
While some seem to say The Thirteenth Floor is hard to understand, it certainly isn't if one knows either Welt am Draht or Daniel Galouye's book. In fact, I would have preferred a bit more mysteriousness and the movie might have benefitted from removing some of the explicit hints and explanatory scenes (say, Hannon Fuller's murder scene), leaving it to the audience to connect the points. Since the significance of some of the key scenes only becomes apparent in retrospect, it's at any rate the kind of movie which benefits from seeing it multiple times.
According to Wikipedia, the movie, produced by Roland Emmerich, wasn't a success financially and I can think of a couple of reasons for that. For one, it is kind of pensive and subdued with only a limited number of action scenes and I also wonder whether the German accent of the otherwise great actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, playing Hannon Fuller, has helped it in the US.
Speaking of the actors, it's one of the strong points of the movie that it gives some of them a chance to show their talent by playing two (in one case three) vastly different personalities in the different levels of reality. All three of them (Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D'Onofrio) were absolutely marvelous at that, though I probably was most impressed by Gretchen Mol as both supermarket register girl and Fuller's mysterious daughter.
If you got interested and don't mind spoilers, this page takes you through the main scenes (the movie trailer of course is available on the Web).
It was about time to revisit the Web page of an old friend - well, figuratively speaking: as those who read the older parts of this blog know, Greg Egan happens to be one of my all time favorite SciFi authors, perhaps only to be compared with Stanisław Lem. There will be Zendegi (amazon link), a new novel to look forward to, coming out in September, and I finally made up my mind to read the only remaining two of his novels, I don't yet know (Teranesia and Quarantine, placed them on my amazon list for now). There also are two new online stories, Dark Integers and Glory, which I haven't yet read. And I definitely need to reread Incandescence, his most recent novel - I am sure I missed a whole lot of details when reading it the first time, back in 2008.
I added a photo to my 2008 entry on Anton Pavlovich Chekhov whose 150th birthday is celebrated these days. I am amazed how young he still was (and looked) when he wrote many of his great stories...
Hm, I guess, the photo reminds me of someone I know who is about the same age. ;)
So, I finally saw the Watchmen movie, some twelve months after having read the comic book. It actually was a positive surprise, not having expected too much from the movie. Well, it's probably because I am not really a comics person, that only after seeing the movie, I started to think about all the references and layers of meaning it contains. I also liked the opening scenes of the movie, not included in the book, which emphasize the alternate history aspect and the commentary on US politics. I guess, the incredibly funny scene from an alternate reality McLaughlin Groupx show is a highlight in that respect. But I also must say that I haven't seen that much explicit violence and blood in a movie in a long time, if ever (I don't really need to see arms being sawed off). According to Wikipedia, there is an Ultimate Cut version of the movie, released on DVD/Blu-ray, which also includes, as an animated feature, the Tales of the Black Freighter story line from the book, omitted from the version shown in theaters. Will have to look out for that. And I guess I will have another look at the book...
I have this crazy idea to make another Web site like the Proust Questionnaire one, only this time the questions to be answered would be those popularized by the Edge Foundation, which in recent years were widely covered by the mainstream press. I followed and thought about the edge.org annual question since the first one in 1998 and enjoyed to read the often thought provoking answers (which, starting from 2005, are also available in book form). I guess, it's fair to say that the spirit and the things I write about on this site have been influenced quite a bit by edge and it's authors. If it wouldn't sound so pathetic, I could respond to this year's question by saying: edge (and hence the Internet) has changed the way I think. But I always regretted that the edge Web site doesn't offer the possibility of reader feedback. While we may read the answers by the elite circle of edge.org contributers, there isn't really an opportunity for people like you and me to answer and discuss those same questions. Hence the idea for the Web site. One difference to the Proust Questionnaire page would be that answers from anywhere between a single sentence and full essay length would be welcomed. Well, I have no idea whether something like this would work and at any rate, I don't have the time for another Web project. So anyway, here are the fourteen edge.org annual questions, so far. Click on any of the questions to read a brief paragraph setting up the question and to go to the answers.
2010: How is the Internet changing the way you think?
2009: What will change everything?
2008: What have you changed your mind about? Why?
2007: What are you optimistic about?
2006: What is your dangerous idea?
2005: What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?
2004: What's your law?
2003: What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world,
and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them? -GWB
2002: What's your question?
2001: What now?
and: What questions have disappeared?
2000: What is today's most important unreported story?
1999: What is the most important invention in the past two thousand years? ...and why?
1998: What question are you asking yourself?
This is an act of desperation: since, one month into the new year, I still didn't manage to bring my excess weight from the holiday season back in line, I decided to publish on this page my weight and intended weight loss over the next couple of months. The target range is 66 - 69 kg, corresponding to a BMI of 22 - 23, and I intend to get there by loosing between 0.5 and 1 kg per week. I just hope, having this out in the open is enough of an incentive to get some disciplin into my eating habits...
What a wonderful and sad and optimistic song and how amazing that it was created specifically for a 1970s children's animated film.
I just started reading Yevgeni Zamyatin's We - precursor and main influence of both Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave, New World, as well as of a whole genre of 20th century dystopian literature! It definitely is a fine piece of literature, even apart from its specific content, deserving to be more widely known. I just hope it will be "rediscovered" at some point, perhaps in 2021, in time for its 100th anniversary. While the book has its specific historic context, its main theme - people being turned into numbers, controlled by an all-knowing state - certainly won't go away anytime soon.
It turned out that, even before reading the book, I knew parts of the plot as well as some names (or rather numbers) of the main characters from a half forgotten film which I didn't connect to the author or title of the book at the time. I still remember specific scenes, all those glass apartments which occasionally would draw their blinds, and also the tragic end. Some googling turned up that We indeed was made into a movie for German TV, back in 1981. I'd love to see the movie again which, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be available on DVD. From the comments on the Web by those few still remembering it, it looks like I was not the only one greatly impressed by it.
Sometime last year, I mentioned a non-profit called vittana, providing micro-loans to students in developing countries. At the time, I still had concerns whether I wanted to lend money through vittana because their Web site didn't provide all that much background information. Since then, the situation has improved quite a bit (blog with commenting function, extended faq, etc.), and further improvements seem to be on the way. So, I now have an account with vittana and I am supporting these students.
Oh, and I just learned on their Web site that vittana is an Indian word for seed...
I somehow felt like playing around with my
camera (tiny digicam). So, be warned, there may be more photos like the one on
the left coming up on this page. This one was made in the early morning, me
not quite awake and my eyes not yet focused, sitting at my desk, sipping a
huge mug of green tea. So, the graininess is kind of on purpose because this is
how I see things at that time of day. I guess one might say, I am in my
impressionist phase in the moment. And no, the clutter on the photo is not
arranged, this is how my desk looks most of the time.
I always had this idea to catalogue my CD collection, but because of lack
of time, I doubt it will ever happen. In the meantime,
here are photos which
at least document what I have. About 90% of it is classical music but there
are also two audio books (Büchner's Lenz and Christa Wolf's Kein Ort, Nirgens).
This was bound to happen: so, I got myself a new camera. ;) It's still a pretty small pocket camera but with a bigger, less noisy sensor chip and a larger aperture lens. It's simply amazing how much clearer the photos are as compared to my old one. So, from now on, all my photos on this page will be done with the new Canon S90. Click on each image for a larger version (about 500 kB in size). I am also toying with the idea to create a photos-only companion page to this one (well, perhaps in another universe where I have lots of time ^^)...
Biking season opened (click on the image on the left for a wallpaper sized version). It's a Montague folding mountain bike, btw., which I own since 2007 (watch this nice video on their Web site, showing how it folds).
Some cities and places I visited/stayed/lived/worked at (in roughly chronological order): L V W V V V W V V S V S S S L V W V L W V V L W V V L S V V V V S V V L S V W V S S S S S V V L W V V V V V V V S S S S S (will add more here over time)
Zeiss Ikon Contina IIa - a great piece of mechanical engineering and the camera I grew up with...
Hundreds of shades of green on a warm spring day...
Unfortunately, I can't also show you the smell of rain on a warm spring day, nor some of the other things I would not want to miss. I shot the photos when biking along almost forgotten paths, reminiscing about days long gone by. It's kind of a consolation that nothing much seems to have changed there - other than that my current bike is much better suited for cycling up and down all those hills. ;)
mal auf deutsch - sage gleich warum: Wer schon mal ein bisschen auf dieser Seite herumgestöbert hat,
wird sich ja nicht wundern, dass ich ein glühender Anhänger des
bin! Und da musste ich natürlich gleich zur Tat schreiten, als ich von einer
Freundin erfuhr, dass
man bei 3Dsupply ein Spaghettimonster t-Shirt geschenkt
bekommen kann, wenn man von seinem Blog einen Link auf selbiges t-Shirt setzt - o.k. es ist also so eine
Art Werbebanner, wovon meine Seite bisher ja verschont geblieben ist, aber für ein schickes
Spaghettimonster-Shirt mache ich schon mal eine Ausnahme. Ach ja, und die haben natürlich noch jede Menge
andere coole Shirts - ich musste mir doch glatt überlegen, ob ich nicht lieber eins mit
Piratenpartei-Logo nehmen soll. Ok,
ist also der Link zum 3Dsupply-Shirt (oder ihr klickt direkt rechts auf das Shirt), Na Leute, zufrieden? Dann mal her mit dem Shirt... :D
If all goes well, I will soon be the owner of a tiny piece of wind turbine!
More precisely, I will be owning something like 3% of a modern, state of
the art wind turbine, pretty much like the one shown on the left. My share of
peak power production will be about 70 kW which, given sufficiently
strong winds, should amount to some 180 MWh of electricity generated each year.
With more than half of Germany's electricity still being produced from various
kinds of fossil fuels, this corresponds to approximately 100 tons of saved
or 10 times my annual CO2 footprint.
Well, in addition to buying myself absolution from my
CO2 sins, this is of course also meant as
an investment. But I am afraid it will take something like 12 to 15 years
till I will know for sure whether this will work out
financially. Oh, and my piece of wind turbine is located somewhere
in the north-east of Germany, approximately half-way between Berlin and
the Baltic Sea. The photo on the left (made by me) shows the wind turbine on
the Müllberg north of Munich which is in fact slightly smaller than the
ones I will be owning a part of.
I wanted to show you a photo of my great-grandparents (the parents of my grandfather on my mothers side) and their family (my granduncles). The photo (click to enlarge) was taken in 1890 when my great-grandfather was about my current age and his wife was in her mid thirties (though one would not believe it, given the terrible hair style which seems to have been prevalent among married women of that time). My great-grandfather died of a heart attack six years later at which point he had fathered three more children, whom my great-grandmother then was left to feed and raise without the benefit of a father and a regular income (another photo of the family was taken about two years after my great-grandfather's death). Besides my grandfather (who, being the youngest one of the eight children, did not have any memories of his father), I still have vage childhood memories of two of his siblings, and looking at all those young faces, I can't help but see a hint of family resemblence. My great-grandfather worked as spinning master for a local spinning and weaving company and I can't stop being amazed how proud and self-confident he looks into the camera.
Even more interestingly, I recently learned that my great-grandfather had a brother (his second son, presumably the one sitting in the chair in front, was named after his uncle) who emigrated to the US as a young man and, together with his brother-in-law (who, as their wives, were immigrants from Germany), founded a quite successful brewery business there (the beer label on the right is from 1910; the brand was in use till 1941). My great-granduncle died in 1885, just nine years after founding the brewery, at which point the business was continued by his brother-in-law, keeping the original name. He was survived by his wife by more than 30 years and this is where the story starts getting connected to me: shortly before her death in 1917, my great-grandaunt, who still owned interests in the brewery at that time, having no children of her own, willed a considerable part of her cash and stocks to the German relatives (in addition to supporting orphanages, nursing homes, and hospitals, both in the US and in Germany). My grandfather (her nephew) later used the small sum of the inheritance which fell to him to build the house in which, decades later, I was born and grew up in. I was quite close to my grandfather in my childhood (he died in 1975, hundred years after his uncle had founded the brewery) which perhaps explains my interest to learn more about this branch of the family - I'd say, most of my other relatives are actually rather boring.
My mother seems to believe that the two women, Maria and Katherina, her grandmother and grandaunt, must have envied each other, the one who was childless the other because of her children, and the one who was struggling to feed and clothe them her rich American relative for her money (I am not sure I agree with my mother in that respect). And there is the open question whether my great-grandaunt might perhaps have supported her German relatives after the death of her late husband's brother. I tend to believe that there is some likelihood for that. It is in any case sad that so little is known about the two women's lives which I am sure contained their share of human drama and I hope also some happiness in between. Essentially all I know about my great-grandaunt derives from her death certificate and her will, both of which can be found on the Web. There are no photographs and no letters. I am not sure it is a consolation that, in all likelihood, their descendants of today will leave a richer trace on the Web (such as this blog) to be investigated by those who come after them...
Wouldn't it be great if I could travel back in
time and slip myself into my great-grandaunt Katherina's skull, say in the 1850s or thereabouts,
when, together with her parents and her older sister, she
sets foot on that strange new land, which is to become her home?
Just imagine all the strange and great and terrible things,
she is about to witness as I fast-forward through her life: there is the
young lady in her twenties at the time of the
American Civil War and a married woman of 31 when the
transcontinental railroad line gets linked up -
with her sister and their two husbands, they start the brewery business.
I see her reading The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, Mark Twain's
new book (she is in her forties now), and a little later: her first encounter
with a new invention called the telephone; just 30 miles from where she lives,
with double digit growth,
City's population passes the one million mark, while far away, across the
ocean, another woman
drives a car across the German countryside. Then her husband dies!
Much later, she is a respected widow in her sixties; just possibly,
some of the people peering into the camera on the photo above (click to
see the full photo) might be customers of the brewery she still owns
interests in. Finally, her closing years and
It's two years today since the Proust Questionnaire page went online and exactly today the thousandth participant answered the questionnaire – what a nice coincidence!
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