The Observer in the Observed

'Message From the Unseen World,' by Roger Marks on Flickr

[Image: “Message From the Unseen World,” by Roger Marks; found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). Click photo to enlarge. The photographer explains: “…this permanent installation is a collaboration between United Visual Artists and poet Nick Drake.  Alan Turing is one of Paddington’s most famous sons. This artwork, Message From the Unseen World, celebrates his groundbreaking work on artificial intelligence. Its outer shell comprises aluminium panels, punctuated with holes. LED lights shine through the holes, forming the words to Drake’s poem. A Turing-inspired algorithm shuffles through the poem, creating new interpretations of the verse.” An excerpt from the poem appears below, as the last entry in today’s post; the entirety can be viewed at the Flickr page.]

From whiskey river:

We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. In some ways, this is getting far afield. I mean, we are—as far as we know —the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious. We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness. We might have come along so that the universe could look at itself. I don’t know that, but we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.

(Mark Strand [source])


There is no less holiness at this time—as you are reading this—than there was on the day the Red Sea parted, or that day in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as Ezekiel was a captive by the river Chebar, when the heavens opened and he saw visions of god. There is no whit less enlightenment under the tree at the end of your street than there was under the Buddha’s bo tree… In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree.

(Annie Dillard [source])

…and (from whiskey river’s commonplace book):

Why do I write?

To satisfy a basic, fundamental need. I think all people have this need. It’s why children like to draw pictures of houses, animals, and Mom; it’s an affirmation of their presence in the corporeal world. You come into life, and life gives you everything your senses can bear: broad currents of animal feeling running alongside the particularity of thought. Sunlight, stars, colors, smells, sounds. Tender things, sweet, temperate things, harsh, freezing, hot, salty things. All the different expressions on people’s faces and in their voices. For years, everything just pours into you, and all you can do is gurgle or scream until finally one day you can sit up and hold your crayon and draw your picture and thus shout back, Yes! I hear! I see! I feel! This is what it’s like! It’s dynamic creation and pure, delighted receptivity happening on the same field, a great call and response.

(Mary Gaitskill [source])

Not from whiskey river:

The Idea of Living

It has its attractions,
chiefly visual: all those

shapes and lines, hunks
of color and light (the way

the gold light falls across
the lawn in early summer,

the iridescent blue floating
on the lake at sunset),

and being alive seems
to be a necessity if you want

to sit in the sun or rub your
toes in the sand at the beach.

You need to be breathing
in order to eat paella and

drink sangria, and making love
is quite impossible without

a body, unless you are one
of those, given — like gold —
to spin in airy thinness forever.

(Joyce Sutphen [source])


Confession of a Bird Watcher

The windows are dressed in feathers where the birds have flown against
then fallen below into the flowers where their bodies lie grounded, still,
slowly disappearing each day until all that is left are their narrow,
prehensile bones.
I have sat at my window now for years and watched a hundred birds
mistake the glass for air and break their necks, wondering what to do,
how else to live among them and keep my view.
Not to mention the sight of them at the feeder in the morning,
especially the cardinal in snow.
What sign to post on the sill that says, “Warning, large glass window.
Fatal if struck. Fly around or above but not away.
There are seeds in the feeder and water in the bath.
I need you, which is to say, I’m sorry for my genius as the creature inside
who attracts you with seeds and watches you die against the window
I’ve built with the knowledge of its danger to you.
With a heart that rejects its reasons in favor of keeping what it wants:
the sight of you, the sight of you.”

(Chard deNiord [source])


Message From the Unseen World

This is Alan speaking
to you who pass by this bridge
in the enchantment of time
under the echoing arch
over the mirror of water
on your way to work or home
and to other places in the infinity
held in the secret dream cave
of your mysterious minds

This is Alan speaking
through this interface with time and space
I am the ghost in the universal machine
the one I dreamed as I lay on the grass
that grew in the green of lost time
of a meadow in Grantchester alone
thinking about whoever I was in love with at the time
and the unchanging truth of numbers
in their beautiful equations
and the enigma of human beings
in their infinite possible configurations —
I was puzzling the problem of the apple
of the knowledge of good and evil —
For on that day you eat of it
you shall surely die
but the winding snake
the only creature coded as a question
looked me in the eye and asked
in his intelligent high voice —

What’s wrong with this picture?
Why do starfish have five arms
and why are they fish not stars?
What connects stars and grains of sand?
What is the secret ciphered in a fir cone?
Why is the heart always on the left?
Natural wonders every child should know…

(Nick Drake [source])

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