Yuri Tarnopolsky                                                                                                                          ESSAYS
Essay 40. Through the Dragonfly Eye

animal vision.  metaphor. Soviet system. Soviet life. Industrial growth. art.  Industrial Revolution. evolution.  the new. the eye of Horus. Robin Alott. Eric Weisstein. Stephen Wolfram. Principia Cybernetica. St. Isidore of Seville. Karl Marx. Frederick Engels. Joseph Stalin.  Paul Avery. Dee Finney.

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           Essay 40. Through the Dragonfly Eye
How to make sense of the world we live in? This question periodically arises when the ground under our feet seems cracking and the sky above falling. Such things do not happen every day, but when they do, the storm leaves piles of books on the intellectual shores, most of them empty, like dead shells, but some still closed, full of juice, and waiting for the high tide to be returned to the sea. The storm can be only in our imagination—whether in a vast ocean or just in a glass of water. The books tried to make sense of it.

First of all, we have to look at the world, but how?

Mechanisms of vision can differ greatly. The vertebrates have an eye with a single lens and a large number of light-sensitive cells in the retina, while the insects have compound eyes built of thousands of separate primitive eyes (ommatidia), each with its own lens and a few sensitive cells. Cephalopods (for example, octopus) have an eye  with a rectangular pupil and a system of focusing, actually, identical with that of photo camera, so that the octopus would never need eyeglasses. Doesn't it look a far stretch: world's persistent questions and the eye anatomy of remote species?

The insect eye inspired the following sophisticated metaphor:

The mosaic eye of the dragonfly has 28000 ommatidia, 28000 micro-eyes. Throughout humanity we have thousands of millions of eyes looking out on the single world, the single universe. The integrating processes, which in the insect are the result of the organization of its nervous system, are constituted for humans by the development of language, language as a system for externalizing the contents of each individual's brain and, with the invention of writing, enabling information to be transmitted over time as well as over space.      Robin Alott
Sciences and humanities use the same words but speak different languages. With different religions and tribal cultures, they feebly resist the advancing integration. I believe they can communicate through pictures on sand, body movements, finger signs, and facial expressions, as it is done between linguistic strangers, and  I am not alone.(See APPENDIX 1)

In a mood for another metaphor, I am tempted to say that these Essays are an unfinished map of an archipelago. The names of some major islands are:

Chaos-Order,  Temperature,  Energy, Work,  Space,  Set,  Thing,  Idea, Human,  Science, Art,  Probability,  Pattern,  Evolution, and  Competition.
My metaphor of archipelago is bleak and no match to the brilliant metaphor of  the insect eye. It seems that "archipelago" is just a fancy term for  set (see APPENDIX 2). My metaphor is a pattern formula for anything that consists of several individual but complex objects, the spatial relation of which does not matter.  We can call the table  with  plates and dishes of food an archipelago. What the fancy term adds to the concept of set is the idea of travel: one can travel from island to island, i.e., object to object,  explore each island separately because they are not just points in space, and keep the travel diary. We can do the same with the brunch table.  There is, probably, something else in the very sound and appearance of the Greek word (which means "chief sea" and not islands) that draws irrational word hunters to it, as a web search would show. The geographical metaphor is so trite exactly because of its magic appeal: The Goulag Archipelago...

What else the image of an island invokes is the shore: a one-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface, which is, at a closer look, a two-dimensional stripe, full of movement and change, which equally belongs to land and water. The dinner plate rim is of no interest to the gourmet.

I pick up some of the books and web sites, seemingly with the vital juices that have an aphrodisiacal effect on my imagination. I enjoy finding them by accident, long after the turbulence of time that generated them had subsided and a new tide washed them out of sight. I like the beauty of Everything, which cannot be seen from a narrow crevice of specialization. Art or science—the world is one.

The question about "the world we live in" is nothing but rhetorical because of the pronoun "we." I know only myself and other people may see things differently. What makes sense to me may not make sense to them, and vice versa.

Unlike an academic who is supposed to know all the literature in a certain professional area and around its borders, I am a dreamer walking along the intellectual beach where land and water overlap in a narrow stripe. It is impossible for me to read all the literature because the protagonist of my dreams is Everything. I want not knowledge but understanding, the process and not the result. I have a view of the world that I believe only few other people can have because only a few odd dreamers can be interested in Everything. Moreover, as if to prove the futility of mixing up reality and dreams, I am interested in the future that I will never see.

In order to make sense of the world we live in, we need a paradigm: a familiar and understandable way of  vision that applies to the new situation. Whatever we look at, we first check it with our records: is it new or old? We need to see the new in the light of the old, and as soon as we label it as new and file it in, it becomes old. Next, we need to find the right drawer in the file cabinets of knowledge to place it.

Evolution is the new content of the old drawers (not a good term, but see Essay 32. The Split). This appears to be an irrational twist. The new, by definition, is something that has never existed before. True, but the old drawer for it could be found. If there were no mechanism allowing for understanding the new, the world would be as full of mysteries as it was for an ancient human before the gods were invented. We understand the new by rummaging in our dusty cabinets, but then we put a new file into the same catalog: a new criminal in the same aggravated murder assault drawer in the murder cabinet. The history of major scientific discoveries—and for that matter, any history—is a rich record of how the new hatches from the old.

The secret of the birth of the new is that the new makes one step at a time, and all the steps can be expressed in old terms of the language. Looking back, we see a long jump.

I conclude the first part of my Essays with my latest discovery, which came unexpectedly to myself. It was a sudden change of the vision: I looked through a different ommatidium.

I see the current stage of history as a logical continuation of the transformation of human society into a society where the Things use humans as enzymes for their metabolism. Instead of retelling  Essay 6, On the Yahoos, or Apologia of Samuel Butler, I will share my recent sudden realization: I lived in a prototype of such system for 50 years of my life.

The Soviet System is usually presented as cruel, oppressive, and inhuman, which per se  is not such a rare exception in the world. There are many dictatorships that fit the same pattern. People can adapt to anything, and the Soviet people could be as happy as their American counterparts, and for similar reasons, although on different scales. It was a dull but working system, with free education, health care, state-supported theaters and symphonic orchestras, and libraries that stored a lot of officially denounced knowledge. What was so different and unique about the Soviet system?

The Soviet life was completely subordinated to one overriding goal: production of food, coal, steel, machinery, and weaponry. The entire giant country was a single enterprise or, rather, feudal manor that had no owner. It was managed by an oligarchy, non-hereditary, non-elected, but self-perpetuated, like mafia.

For those who never lived under Communism, it is difficult to imagine that not only the industrial and agricultural production, but also education, ideology, art, TV, and even Communist theory were all tightly assembled into a giant production machine. The fulfillment of government production quotas ("plans") had the absolute priority. The humans were just parts of the mechanism and they were taken care of better than under most dictatorships.

The goal of foreign policy was to ensure security of production. Stalin's terror resulted not only in the elimination of political opposition, but also in creating a huge prison workforce for timber, gold, and construction industry in scarcely populated regions. Happy life was productive life. The sense of life fulfillment was expected to come from meeting the quotas and pledges at the workplace. The meaning of life of a coal miner and a ballerina was to contribute to the growth of production.

I believe that even the liquidation of private property, the most radical evolutionary distinction of Soviet Communism, was aimed at a complete conversion of an individual into a unit of a metabolic web.

On June 25, 1945, at a reception in the Kremlin on the occasion of the victory in WW2,  Stalin proposed a toast to the Soviet people who were “the little screws of the great mechanism of the state.” This idea has never died on the Russian soil. As Dmitri Yudin, the author of the Russian NewsOnLine site, from which I quote Stalin's toast, writes, "I meet every day people whose dream is to become such little screws." See APPENDIX  3.

Most of the space in the standard four-page Soviet newspaper, completely controlled by the state ideologues, was devoted to successes and failures of production. There were no sensations and the Party leader was the only celebrity, although with no access to his private life. There was no advertising, except for the job ads in local newspapers: there was always a lack of hands at the factories. Work was life and life was work. All salaries, however, were fixed. Only a small bonus was allowed for workers.

The Soviet work madness came from Karl Marx, who proclaimed the mode of production to be the prime defining factor of all social life, and, probably, for a good reason. With all my allergy and resentment to Marxism, I cannot argue with that. The main folly of Marx was that private property limited production and needed to be ... what? Marx was very vague on the subject of an alternative. He was firm on the expropriation of capitalists, however.

The mechanism had to be solid, and so any fluidity of society was prevented, including free choice of the place of residence. The Soviet citizens needed a residence permit. It was not given unless there were available dwelling and work. The dwelling  and work were not permitted without residence permit. To avoid work was a crime of parasitism. Joseph Brodsky was trialed and sentenced (the transcript of the trial is very much worth looking into) to exile for that reason.

It was an experiment in realization of the society of Things not just because the production and work quotas were in the absolute focus of   government policy and daily news (the accidents, crime, and natural disasters were not) but because the ideal humans were supposed to exist like the Things they served. The art that did not mobilized the workers to produce more and better was bourgeois. The cities were split into categories of food and goods supply, as different as the landscapes of the jungle and the desert. Poverty was imposed on the people in order to prevent the accumulation of money and, therefore, relative independence of the state. Of course, the people were told that they were the happiest and luckiest on earth, and my impression was that the vast majority were grudgingly satisfied.

The human nature, driven by the brain cells filled with liquid protoplasm and not silicone crystals, was a bad material for a machine controlled by a single hand.

When the money started to accumulate in the pockets of the criminals and  ruling elite, the Soviet system collapsed.

An inquisitive and stubborn youth, growing in such atmosphere and being a voracious reader of books written outside the workers paradise,  I fell under the life long influence of Montaigne and Lucretius who persuaded me of my inborn right to have my own judgment on any subject and on all of them.

Today, in a diametrically opposed world, animated with the same human nature, in spite of all my historical fatalism, it gives me irrational creeps, it gives me creeps to see the familiar specter of society subordinated to the overwhelming goal of growing production. The specter, sublimated from the fire and smoke of the first steel mills of Industrial Revolution, is still haunting the globe, this time in Victoria Secret's lingerie, embraced by all powers of Europe.

"A specter is haunting Europe--the specter of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police spies. " Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.
The ideology of Communism, therefore, was only a derivative of the ideology of production. It is a very unsettling idea.

The Soviet industrial machine was a lousy, inefficient, and bleak prototype of the future, a macabre toy of evolution. Its very poverty, however, was a solution for a scenario of depleted resources of energy.

Heavy, fleshy, vulnerable, gluttonous, hedonistic humans, who need food and water, have no chance in competition with the chips subsisting on solar energy, even if they engage in sex from dawn to dusk, clone themselves by hundreds, and combine it with watching the silicone entertainment. The billions will have to die, like the billions of acorns falling from the oak trees, of hunger, thirst, and war: before the birth.

The Pandora box of industrial growth, to which we owe our freedom, wealth, and comfort, seems to be one of a few (if not the only one) really new, new evolutionary drawers. In fact, it is part of a more general drawer of biological growth. Life is growth through replication and it leads to competition, and competition leads to evolution. A population or a large taxonomic unit (species, genus, family) may survive for a long time because it is not a single organism. A tightly built social mechanism with only one brain, heart, and blood circulation is doomed as any single organism. This is why the single Soviet social organism died, spilling its genes into a pile of rusty but enthusiastic little screws.

As soon as we have one system, its fate is death. Death is the thermodynamic corollary of uniqueness. Anything that exists in one copy, like ourselves, is sentenced to death by the laws of nature. This is why all empires die. This is why death is embedded in the genetic code of anything global and super. I would even predict  that as long as there is one Internet, it will be dying by drowning in the sewage of spam and viruses. This is what private property is about: it keeps society alive by fences and dams. The Internet will split into gated communities and the inner city and the Web will not be free. We already see it happening.

The freedom of choosing a button on a menu is not really freedom, but this is the natural  course of things. The alternative of the natural course of things is the virtual course of things, and the alternative of both of them is the artificial course of things.

But I am carried away. I am slipping into the doom and gloom harangues, which I hate. A fatalist must be cool.

Anyway, how can be the frozen, rigid, oppressed, and poor Soviet Union put side by side with the free, dynamic, fluid, and affluent America?

I would never see my Soviet past in this kind of  light and would never connect it to my present life, if I did not use a different kind of vision:  through the pattern eye. Whether I look at it with pattern eye or the eye of a dragonfly, octopus, or the ( <--  red) Eye of  Horus, I do not see any alternative, however.

As Rip van Winkle, I missed about ten years of modern American history when I came from Russia. The older history was rather well reflected in the Soviet sources, including such episodes as the release of The Godfather: there was a decent review, but not the movie itself.  Instead, I have been watching, fascinated, the next fifteen years of  the New World, from the end of the Reagan era to the advent of Internet, and to the collapse of the technology bubble. I have a strong impression of a massive tectonic change in the American society. It is the offense of corporate ideology on individualism. I have lost a good deal of my belief in the power of individualism.

In the absence of an open frontier, the lonely hero of the westerns becomes a sci-fi rider of nonexistent worlds. Neverteless, I can see that an individual, even with trimmed power, can still survive and find peace of mind in this society, without clinging to a bunch, wearing a secret uniform, and breeding numbers.

While  the power of numbers against the one is growing, what exists in one copy is art. Is that a countercurrent? See APPENDIX  4.

Thank God, I can still end with a question mark:

How to make sense of the world we live in?

I started these Essays as purely personal experiment in the art of poetry. I see them now as an experiment in hot air balloon flying over the Archipelago of Everything.  Pun intended. I have a sense of losing myself and becoming a kind of enzyme, pannomerase. This is why I complete PART  ONE  and take a break.



I repeat here:

   A unique,
 witty, and deep site of J.D.Casnig with a complete 
 course of the language of metaphors and many
 ingenious texts and imaginative tests
 This remarkable site is now under renovation at http://knowgramming.com


The concepts of Set  and Energy are in the very foundation of our understanding of Everything. They deserve separate Essays. For in-depth Set , see   in Stephen Wolfram's wonderful MathWorld, part of Eric Weisstein's ScienceWorld  that remains connected to the real world of non-mathematicians and is, actually, created for them. Like Aristotle (Essay 37, On the Soul), Eric Weisstein and his colleagues call for illustration and metaphor in difficult cases of fundamental ideas, see, for example, the poetic and crystal-clear Manifold (author: Todd Rowland).  Weissteisn's goal is a larger project  "to collect and make available detailed mathematical and scientific information in a way most accessible to lay people." ScienceWorld includes also chemistry, astronomy, and biography.


A great and necessary complementary site is  Principia Cybernetica
It "tries to tackle age-old philosophical questions with the help of the most recent cybernetic theories and technologies."    It includes DICTIONARY.

It looks like another archipelago is taking shape: The Everything Islands. Here are some islands of the Humanity group:

 Perceus Project______Project Gutenberg____

There are much more minor islands and rocks emerging from the water of oblivion. For example: Isidore-of-Seville .

St. Isidore of Seville, ~560-636, was the author of Etymologiae, the early Medieval encyclopedia, surprisingly comprehensive. Here are the contents of eight out of twenty volumes of his amazing work:

            book four, treats of medicine and libraries;
            book five, of law and chronology;
            book nine, of languages, peoples, kingdoms, and official titles;
            book eleven, of man;
            book twelve, of beasts and birds;
            book thirteen, of the world and its parts;
            book sixteen, of stones and metals;
            book twenty, of victuals, domestic and agricultural tools, and furniture.

St. Isidore of Seville is the official candidate for patron of computer users, programmers, and the Internet. 


"Everything" is not a good term, but I cannot find anything else. The best sounding word is Minden: the Hungarian for Everything. Hebrew Olam is not bad either. Is Pannomia (or Pannomy) correctly derived from Greek as the term for the knowledge of Everything? By the way, Pannonia or Pannomia was a Roman province, now Hungary.

3.   From the same Russian source:

On August 16, 1941, Stalin, Zhukov, and other commanders of the Army Headquarters issued Order No 270. The Order implied that "the [Soviet] troops taken prisoners are malicious deserters and their families must be arrested as the families of the deserters who violated the Military Oath and betrayed their Motherland."
The history of Communism is an incredibly shocking record of horror stories. So was the history of the early Industrial Revolution.

The following is a quotation from Frederick Engels' (Karl Marx's friend and co-founder of Marxism) 's The Condition of  the Working Class in England (1845). Chapter 8: Single Branches of Industry.

Lord Ashley repeats the testimony of several  workwomen:

         "M. H., twenty years old, has two children, the youngest a baby that is tended by  the other, a little older. The mother goes to the mill shortly after five o'clock in the  morning, and comes home at eight at night; all day the milk pours from her breasts, so that her clothing drips with it." "H. W. has three children, goes away Monday  morning at five o'clock, and comes back Saturday evening; has so much to do for the  children then that she cannot get to bed before three o'clock in the morning; often  wet through to the skin, and obliged to work in that state." She said: "My breasts have given me the most frightful pain, and I have been dripping wet with milk."
     The use of narcotics to keep the children still is fostered by this infamous system, and has  reached a great extent in the factory districts.

4.  Again, what is art? Anything that is useless but made with love. I am only half-serious. The serious part is that this is why people love art. For the same reason, before the twentieth century, most scientists loved science. People like to make love.

The knowledge of animal vision is narrow science that is of no use for the absolute majority of people. I consider it art, therefore. Here are some interesting love-made sites about vision.

        What animal has a more sophisticated eye, Octopus or Insect?

       What about an insect and a human?  (this is a page in a remarkable, for the travelers of my archipelago, site of Paul Avery).

        What is the Eye of Horus? See the site of  Dee Finney, which is an example of Web art made with love, even if you hate mysticism.

Page created:   2002                                                                                               Revised: 2016

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