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A Day in the Life

I just had a wonderful experience. I was at a showing of Koyaanisqatsi, and the director, Godfrey Reggio, had come to say a few words before the show. (I've also had the honor of seeing the movie with the music played live by Philip Glass and his orchestra.)

Naturally the words stirred up many interesting ideas in my mind. Most of them I recognized as ideas I'd thought about before, but that was nothing new, given how my thoughts go round and round. What was new was, not only had I thought about them, I'd written about them! So, my plan of self-representation was actually working!

Of course there were new angles and twists on the ideas, as always, but I was satisfied that what I'd written was close enough.

So, what were these ideas?

The reason the movie didn't have words, he said, was that he was trying to communicate something that language wasn't capable of expressing. That's the kind of thing I was talking about in Epiphanies.

On second thought, I decided I disagreed. The problem isn't that language lacks the words, it's that most people lack the words. So, if you will, the problem is one of education. I have the words: he was trying to show that we, the people of the technological world, are part of a superorganism, namely, Metaman.

That last statement is not just my own interpretation. He talked at some length about what he meant, and what I said is a reasonable summary of it in my own words. The only thing I'm leaving out is the implication that being part of a superorganism is a bad thing.

I remember a couple of things he said almost verbatim. One was, “if our technology stopped today, everyone in this room would die”. I see that as a more forceful statement of the loaf-of-bread idea that I mentioned in Superorganisms.

Another was, “as a young monk, I learned to stare at things until they seemed strange”. That is exactly the feeling I was trying to describe at the end of Objectivity, when I was talking about trees. (And of course I also like to imagine being a monk.)

The movie itself stirred up some ideas, too.

Objectivity is more important here than that last comment suggests. The whole way the movie communicates is to give you objectivity and then let you draw your own conclusions. How do you give someone objectivity? Why, by looking at things from a distance, or from above, or at a different scale; or by looking at them with time-lapse photography, at a different scale of time.

The events of September 11 give a whole new meaning to the building demolition sequences … which is too bad, because now the old meaning is lost.

I always love seeing the aerial and time-lapse views of traffic. I know I was interested in traffic before I saw the movie for the first time, but the movie just makes it so obvious that there is collective behavior. There was even one sequence that showed a quasiparticle, in this case, a perfect stationary spot of congestion in moving traffic.

There were several little things that reminded me of The Matrix. The best, I think, was one of the automobile assembly line sequences, where a huge welding unit swung down, and all the little arms waved and sparks flew. The schematics of the various silicon wafers were also nice.

By coincidence, earlier in the day I'd been on a tour at the Celestial Seasonings plant here in Boulder, and seen many lovely and intricate machines at work. There were several production lines there, just like in the movie (Koyaanisqatsi).

Finally, speaking of The Matrix, it's funny that Reggio's point about dependence on technology was echoed by the councillor in The Matrix Reloaded.

After the fact, I thought of a few other things.

There's at least one other movie that consists of images set to music: Fantasia. I can't believe I never made that connection before!

The seemingly inexorable sequence of images reminds me of the Macroscope signal.


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@ October (2003)