Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Flock of the Dodos: Written and Directed by Randy Olson, Scientist Gone Film-maker, THE WEEK IN REVIEW

There is nothing like the sense of "completion" and coming together. How so? I was missing two sheets of paper last week: one sheet describing the Green Screen project and grading, the other sheet describing the weekly "reading logs" in which the undergrads of the course must critique the readings from the "green book." That was subliminally bothering me, to a point that I called Cheryl Chen last Wednesday asking her what those sheets were about. I usually don't like bugging people. I even dropped by Scott Bull's office to get Cheryl's number. Subliminal haunting number ONE, solved. Subliminal haunting number TWO: that being getting 596 units with Dr. Walker for the course. It had been a long discourse, which lasted for over a week. It started last Wednesday, never ended, and finally resolved yesterday during office hours, and after the Inconvenient Truth. At one point, Dr. Walker asked to deal with it tomorrow, and I told her that it would be nice if I could sleep better tonight (finally, today I received the add code from Melanie Miners), and so we took care of things then. One way or another, I am responsible for 12 pages of traditional "scholarly" writing (I'm not used to being it called "scholarly," moreso "scientific"), and basically "scholarly" writing in the social sciences and the humanities takes in the form of my essays from Miss Flory back in the 7th grade (flashback to my A+ for aggrandizing her frequently pooping toucan bird). That was the first time Miss Flory recognized that I had the ability to write. And we were in good terms for the rest of the year (despite the B+ first "trimester"). So, the point is: you have a central thesis. Then you dissect the thesis into several supporting subtheses (say, three points), and then which each subthesis, you have several lines of evidence to back up the statement (e.g. three forms of evidence to back up the statement), so in science we would collect masses and masses of numbers and data points to support our hypo-theses and our predictions (subtheses), but I guess in social sciences, it's only 3-5 lines of evidence. I shrug my shoulders. Why is it this way? Don't ask. It simply is. Dr. Walker didn't want all my projects to be "free-associative" (inventing new writing structures, creating new theories without citing lots of papers), but I told Dr. Walker that my writing in Question Reality is based on casual conversations with scientists. I cite them through "interview" just like Al Gore. Not necessarily through literature. Well, 12-pages of a longer essay it shall be. I'll be a bit more rigorously citational in twelve pages.

I guess "scholarly" is defined as play the hyper-association game with peer-reviewed, highly cited references. Compare "what you think" with what "everyone else thinks." And that's how things build.... But it's soo slow, this process. And my mind makes up things sooo FAST... I told Dr. Walker that I have two phases: I belch out creatively and invent my own structures. Then I calm down and take my creative belches and adopt them to whatever writing structure that needs to be adopted to.

Subliminal haunting number THREE: meeting and connecting with the Green Screen participants of the Goleta Beach project. I mean, I have been stressed out since the beginning of school, ever since I found out that I missed out on the Green Screen party/gathering because I wasn't informed by email. Yuck. But today was good. I finally met several players in the film around 11am Wednesday morning at the digital editing lab. Some familiar faces: Nicole Star---ski (sorry, don't remember), Ryan Bowles (editing guru). And the key new players I was able to meet was "el heffe" of the project--Lauren Wilson--who has a most agreeable, open, welcoming, supportive personality and pro-active attitude, I am already motivated and excited to work with her and the project--and Alexios Monopolis (mispelled?)--the "greekislander" email that Vic picked up a month ago. I finally broke ice with Alexios toward the end of the meeting and told him that I was the one who sent him an odd-ball email over a month ago about his situation in grad school with Bren, because I'm trying to transfer. Alexios is very athletic, and based his attire, I take it he was a soccer player for Dartmouth college. He speaks fast and in a hyper tone (but he may be hyper because he just came from the big Jacksonhole-Wyoming International Wildlife Film Festival). And he has a New Englandish hybrid accent such that it tremendously reminds me of Kuba (I think he's still at Harvard). I am glad he said he would be able to meet with me. I found out he's doing a "double" MFA in arts and a Bren Ph.D, which is gnarly shxt (in a good way), though he's right handed, which is cool. So I'm relieved, because he can send me in the right direction of things. It's rare enough to find a scientist who is also superb in art.

There is a comical, scripted movie going on about the development of Gaviota Coast, and I wanted to applaud the writer (Steven Ray Morris) for his good work (though he is missing key elements, such as the shifting baseline effect in development, a.k.a. "creeping development"), but since I initiated script writing and helped contribute to the script and already did a Goleta Beach photoshoot, what can I say? I'm pretty deeply "rooted" in this project, and the best part is I found out today that there are lots of things unresolved (such as stylistic effects, e.g. tripod or hand-held) and a little bit of a slow start in general. So, there's still lots of flexibility in terms of how the movie can look like, and what can be done.

So, anyhoo. Three stressful subliminalities now delt with. Those things are done, but as usual, I'm in a huge rabbit hole, so as soon as I elminate some stresses, more stresses creep or crash back into the "top of the line" of priorities of my pre-frontal cortex.

Okay, as for this week, what's happening? What happened. I will say briefly, I was a bit "understimulated" and depressed on Monday and Tuesday, because Monday Dr. Walker went over a lecture that was review for me from Blue Horizons: "Define Documentary." I chose not to participate because over the summer I had a huge mouth about it. But what I did tell Dr. Walker (on the second time around) that I am creating this "Matrix" of parameters, called "photoshopping the definition of documentary," where to "classify" a movie as a documentary or moreso fiction, that you have to manipulate "where along the gradient" does the movie lie in terms of a particular element. E.g. Was the movie free-filming, staged, or scripted? (from highest degree of freedom to highest degree of constraint) E.g. Were the people "real" and "in situ" or were they "actors"? E.g. Was it the "real setting" or was it an "animated simulation"? And most importantly, "was the film-maker's goal to portray Reality or Fiction?" or "Reality with a more specific message?" And then you have to look through all the factors and all gradients, and then do a PCA analysis (principle components analysis) to assess the degree of realism and degree of fictionalism the movie held, and then see whether it's good to label a movie as "documentary." Because I think the existing 3-part classification of documentary (as opposed to WHAT OTHER classifications? "I can only know what a documentary is, given that I know what a documentary cannot be.") Monday was also good because I bonded with the "Back Invaders" of class--those students who occupy the plentiful open space of the back of class--most importantly Sean and Aimee. We can cover each other's xsses just in case we miss class.

Tuesday is the day I talked with Dr. Walker before and after class, in addition to watching the Inconvenient Truth for the THIRD TIME. Somehow I didn't shoot myself. I started to feel sad in class, simply because I am in a classroom and not experiencing anything in the outdoors to bring into class. So starting up with some shooting for Goleta Beach is cheering me up A LOT, so I can bring real-world experience to a class loaded with information. I am not going to talk about Inconvenient Truth right now, because I could rattle on about that movie for quite a while... not to mention that a whole bunch of science-media programs are blossoming all over the country due to this movie, including Blue Horizons. I owe Al Gore my respects. I hope one day I can meet him in person and shake his had--say thanks for opening doors for me in my education that would have otherwise NOT existed.

LEAVE OFF FOR A LATER TIME. A RANTING ABOUT AL GORE AND AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. One tidbit that struck me in class today: Al Gore has two generations of politicians in his family. Davis Guggenheim has two generations of documentary film-makers in his family. Al Gore Senior knew Guggenheim Senior, so I guess maybe Al Gore Junior and Davis Guggenheim were little kids playing together. Just like how Ray, Bub, and I have three generations of California ecology. I think such multi-generational effects creates a level of how to carry on the legacy of your parents, in addition to "how to break outside the box" of your parents. Al Gore went from politician to scientist side. And Vic is going from scientist side to treating human policy as science... So in traditional definitions, Vic is going toward a political realm with a very twisted perception of what policy is: a scientific experiment with humans being the guinea pigs inside the ratbox.

Well, today in class Dr. Walker went over An Inconvenient Truth, and a few terms (e.g. "self-reflexivity" and "interactivity") that describe techniques used to make the movie "successful." I honestly don't know what the term "romantic" means when they say this movie IS romantic. Honestly, everything from Hollywood IS romanticized. (In the back of my head, I hope Al Gore comes to UCSB or Santa Barbara sometime soon. The best part about Santa Barbara is that when you invite a guest speaker out here, it's VERY HARD to decline because even if they could pass another guest-talk, you can't exactly pass up a Santa Barbara utopia of climate and environment and people. Same with Dr. Steven Pinker.) Hmmm. I feel awkward calling Al Gore "Honorable." What kind of intro is that? I would rather just call him Dr. Gore, though he may not have a Ph.D., he very well deserves one.

In terms of the knowledge regimes of "film studies professors," I am slowly figuring out "what they know and what they don't know," and where I fit in, and am extending. For example, today when Dr. Walker discussed An Inconvenient Truth, she barely touched on the science, except for saying that it was highly visual and aesthetic (for me, was like an "art showcase for science" an art installation that I would love to do, and am planning to). She made note that she is not in the position to critique the science (where I fit in), but then went to look at techniques of movie-making. She focused on style, not content. So, then, Dr. Walker and Dr. Szaloky keep referring to Kant's essay on "aesthetics, beauty, sublime" (three frequently used words) in addition to a new philosophy essay by a female British philosopher who wrote a book called "what is nature" and explores the defintions and origins of these definitions and viewpoints. Separatist "versus" as man versus nature, or Integrist man as a part of and interacting with nature (honestly, the word "nature" and "culture" is SO bad it's like worse than cus words like fxck and bxtch, I feel like spitting every time I use those words). I went to Dr. Szaloky after class to ask her what her definition of aesthetics/beauty/sublime were, just to refresh and clarify. And I realized at that moment, to screw what Kant thinks. What matters in this course is "what Dr. Szaloky thinks what Kant thinks," because ultimately I have to communicate with the profs, not some dead guy who has his writing kept around and referred to by people to this day. So, in the eyes of Dr. Szaloky (I still probably am getting this wrong), she thinks that Kant thinks that there is this realm of "aesthetics" of a human's response to his or her environment. Under the umbrella of "aesthetics" there is "beauty" and "beautiful," which an object in one's environment can be tagged if one's pleasure center is stimulated just by its present (so, you are at this point emotionally stimulated but no rational thought). Beauty is a pleasure-center stimulation of the object itself with no further development. An object becomes "sublime" if that object (whether present or becoming a state of "abstract concept") becomes dissociated from the tangible reality of the object of "beauty" and the human mind creates this fractal branching network of intellectual thought and imagination and "trance enlightenment" all revolving around that object itself. But sublime is all a construct in the human mind, but beauty refers to a primitive mammalian pleasure center response to the object itself. It's almost as if Kant literally dissected these these two neurological programs in our minds. Good job, dude. You probably didn't even have to physically dissect a human brain to figure it out. Just enough self-introspection can do it :-). So, there, I think I understand.
This is a later add-in. When I was 11 year old, I stared at the paintings of Christian Riese Lassen. I enjoyed them for the sake of "beauty" itself, for I was a stupid kid back then who knew jack about the ocean and marine life. I developed a pleasure-center association with his images without extrapolating beyond that. I had close to no cerebral cortex development at that point. But now, I have constructed the ideas of "evolution of art" such that I have established a level of neurological association and construction beyond this primal pleasure-center stimulation of Lassen art. That, I do believe, in terms of extrapolating beyond the tangible entity into abstract concepts in my mind, and association with grander viewpoints... I guess over time I have transformed Lassen's art in my mind from "beauty" to "sublime." So... this is how I understand these terms now... This was entered November 23, 2007.

But you see. Here I go. I am analyzing dead guys' philosophical essays and I am teasing apart their own neurobiology of enlightenment. When you analyze a movie and just go based on the notion of aesthetics, sublime, those assumptions to me are SHALLOW, as shallow as Hollywood itself. It's surface value judgement, to me at least. So, as I told Dr. Walker before. We can't just stop at aesthetics, beauty, sublime. We, or at least I--as a biologist with a huge streak of evolutionary psychology personality in me--we as biologists have to ask why do certain images or elements of our environment come off as "aesthetic" as opposed to other elements as "repulsive. What is the biological basis of perception of human attraction and repulsion towards elements of one's environment? What elements of composition of an image that the human mind has "hyperfocus" over other elements of the environment? So... digging deeper in the biological realm of things...

I couldn't wait for the QandA component of Inconvenient Truth. I think the course is skewed towards consuming knowledge than equal feedback and exchange of ideas. It's like 5 hours of lecture and movies, and only a 15 minute question-answer session where students get to voice their thoughts... That is a bit skewed. Many people were cool with the movie, and the most imporant thing is that Al Gore "broke outside the box" for scientists, because he is a politician deeply tied with science in his experiences. A point that I made in class is that Al Gore was so eloquent and clear and very selective with his choice of words, and there was a lack of confusion in anything presented--WHY? BECAUSE AL GORE NEVER USED THE WORDS NATURE OR CULTURE! He talked about humans and environments. Bingo. Vic's type of talk.

And the other most dangerous component of global warming is that it is a DANGEROUS BLAME-ALL ECOLOGICAL GHOST due to the level of "intangibility" of climate, in addition to its ENVIRONMENTAL RELIGION properties, where it's a HYPERASSOCIATION PIGEONHOLE where you can blame nearly everything on global warming, which then masks and distorts thorough regional analysis of issues, which may be related to OTHER MORE RELEVANT ISSUES other than global warming (e.g. development patterns, erosion, landslide patterns, fire ecology), and then global warming taints politics because it is a MONOPOLIZED AGENDA for university research funding, so scientists purposely go through this association game of their pet pea hypothesis with global warming simply to APPLY and GET funding. Science becomes tainted because people are CHASING GRANT FUNDING and not making associations in pursuit of TRUTH. Hence my thesis "what's the point?" because science is the pursuit of individual truth under consensus and trial of others, and this pursuit of truth is now being so skewed and tainted by the bureacracy surrounded by science.

There are several other problems coming to think about it, but such is the quibbling of a scientist who has worn this scientist hat since she was a little twirp, playing in the hallways of UC Riverside's Earth Science Department. You have to take a step back, and remember that few people experience the lifestyle of a scientist, and that all this they are exposed to is all new and shocking and convincing to them. And it's beside the point for all science to be true and accurate because science undergoes constant change and revision, so the moment Al Gore gives a talk... is the moment that some of the work he presents is already out of date.

Due to the large size of the class, everytime there is a lecture with QandA, I make a point to ask AT LEAST ONE QUESTION, and say something that is INSIGHTFUL and challenging. So, at one point, there was a guy in the back of class who said that everything made sense in the movies except for Al Gore's griping after losing the elections in 2000 to George Bush. "There was a level of disconnect." And after that, my hand shot up close to the speed of light because (1) I had something to say and (2) it was unique, thouhtful, and challenging. I was the second to last person to talk, and finally I was called on (I'm in the back, remember?). I talked very confidently and loudly, not exactly in these words (but you'll get the gist): "I'm responding to the commentary on how there is a level of disconnect between the entire movie and Al Gore's presentation of his failure in being elected in 2000." Here are the points below:

This blog remains unfinished....

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