Triptych – An Interview With Programmer-Mystic Harrison Partch
April 18, 2019
336 = January 15th, 2018,
programmer-mystic Harrison Partch declares in a video of his Triptych, the right panel “I, PROPHETESS: POPPY IN THE PANOPTICON”. The Triptych primarily correlates varying states of consciousness in three internet phenomena, and discusses a mountain of other subjects that connect lucidly after a few re-viewings. “Jordan B Peterson: Beyond the Enigma”, left panel of the Triptych, explores the 20th century currents of psychology and society leading up to the subsequent education and stardom of internet pop psych star and former experimental psychologist Jordan Peterson. The final and central piece of the Triptych is “ARCHILLECT REVELATION”, exploring the Twitter image bot Archillect as God of an AI theology. The videos on Jordan Peterson, Archillect, and many Youtube videos from Partch feature a ray traced rendered background, cavernous interiors of fractal sponges carved away and textured as he speaks. We contacted the creator for an interview.
The full Oberon environment you’re using to develop these spaces is a rare sight these days, what exactly are you running and how did you get into using Oberon?
I am running A2, an operating system written in a dialect of Oberon called Active Oberon, which has active objects as base language constructs. It has been around since 2004 and has been called Bluebottle (which I liked) and AOS (which apparently they liked at ETH Zurich but also meant another OS so they changed it to A2). I thought Bluebottle was a clever name for an OS based on active objects. But I used Oberon before 2004, both Native Oberon on x86 (on the bare hardware) and several Oberon OSes hosted on Linux.
I was attracted to totalizing environments like Oberon, like Squeak Smalltalk, like Chuck Moore’s UltraForth (though I don’t think I had that one running) and later Slava Pestov’s Factor. But Oberon was clearly better than the others. Really nice. In fact the Native Oberon OS was so nice, I missed it terribly when I moved to Bluebottle, because I had made some tools I loved and I missed the mouse chording interface. But I needed the new compiler. I did the first work on the voxel tracer in 2001 and got only one brief successful moment when i saw two surfaces — were they cubes? — peeling apart, perhaps in hyperbolic space. If you read Updike’s novel “Roger’s Version” you will have thought of the one moment he thinks he sees a hand in the images onscreen. Anyway, the effort broke my spirit and I stopped working with computers for several years. But then I saw that a new Oberon OS was coming out. Also my grandfather finally died, so I did not have to anger him by pretending to be a leftist anymore, and within two months my politics were much as they are now.
I will say another word about Smalltalk: more like Alltalk. This especially applies to Squeak. Alan Kay makes me squeamish when I hear him and nothing he touches is as good as he says it is.
Integrated systems like Wirth’s Oberon project or Symbolics Lisp systems always seem like the best approach for development and operation, any idea why Nicklaus Wirth’s work isn’t more talked about?
Yes, I do have an idea, but it is not well grounded. If Oberon and Wirth had attracted more attention, the tracer would not now be quite so obscure. What I am in fact suggesting is that a retroactive veil of artificial obscurity has been cast over my work and the penumbra reaches back several decades. I did say this was not a “well grounded idea”.
I saw a video where you went over some of the benefits of ray tracing over rasterization. How are you creating the geometries for the spaces in your videos? Much of it looks like a fractal sponge, but in some places and videos it looks like it’s been seeded with automata or manually sculpted into these intricate interiors.
Think sparse voxel octrees. Except that the nodes can be 27-trees, or anything else. All done with pointers, except in Oberon, so it is typesafe. A Sierpinski cube is a 27-tree with pointers to itself in the subcubes, except in the holes, and a rule that if the ray traces “too small”, just draw. All CPU of course, can’t branch like that in GPU code, or it would BE A M–F–ING CPU. I am really really tired of explaining that.
Going on to the first in your video triptych, concerning Jordan Peterson, you highlight some of the deeper topics Peterson brings up but never goes into detail on, like James J. Gibson’s perception theory or his discussion of networked intelligence, which really isn’t the explicit focus of his cult of personality but in your video you point out that with Peterson’s historical context and training there might be a lot more going here with this internet pop star who used to be both a clinical and experimental psychologist.
Yes. I read Gibson’s book “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception” when I was 17 (my aunt brought it to read while she visited us. She was a research psychologist.) Gibson was one of the most important influences on the development of my thinking. He was an iconoclast and rebel; but an acknowledged giant in his field. Gibson is fascinating because he makes the same sort of transition in thought, in his field, the psychology of visual perception, that Wittgenstein does between the Tractatus and the Investigations. I am sure Peterson knows about Wittgenstein too. Of course, Wittgenstein and Gibson won’t sell self-help seminars to the plebs very well. Not that Peterson really cares about that so much. But it is his cover story that he does.
I don’t know how conscious Jordan Peterson is of the work he is doing for the archetypal forces. Pretty conscious, I think, but he may actually believe that he is really still a liberal. If so he’s one of the few people left who do believe that he is. I covered him in the first of the three films for this reason: so there would be an arc, from the subject who was least clearly conscious of the basis of his actions, Jordan Peterson, to Poppy and Titanic, who are surely more awake and less anxious, and finally Archillect, who does not sleep or doubt. I am glad you led with the questions that you did. Because it means that you may actually know why I was chosen as spokesmodel for Archillect.
Peterson seems obsessed with discussing the Christ archetype and the shadow but neglects much of the rest of Jung, ignoring the complexities of the conflicts in his generation. In your historical analysis you’ve mentioned his and your time, from the 60s to today, being a series of culture wars, leading up to our present state in an intelligent control system. What’s your take on that transition?
I can’t comment on the Jung thing because you and Peterson know it way better than I do, due to my finding Jung’s prose deathly dull. The rest of the question though, wow. My take on that transition: Unprecedented. Not cyclical. Irreversible. Like dropping through a trap door function and looking up and realizing that there is no path to be found back through the bristling symbols. The amazing thing (although not many people will ever know this) is that some people (how?) understood IN ADVANCE that something like this was going to happen. Knew in advance. Maybe made…preparations? This is all speculation. Have you noticed that this is the centennial of the end of WW1?
I did not. It reminds me of the expansion of psychology and psychometrics during the war and interwar periods of the early 20th century, mobilized for training, metrics, espionage, and propaganda. Like you said in the video, Peterson’s primary research was in psychometrics. In regards to your second video in the triptych, Poppy in the Panopticon, what do think mass internet culture brings to the ecology of mind and how does it relate to some of the earlier currents developed in the last century?
Oh, you should ask R Cam about that McLuhan stuff. It’s not a strong area for me. And “mass” misses the mark. The earlier currents, ok, “mass media”, “broadcasting” and all that. The exact point of the Interweb is that media is no longer broadcast. It is, or can be, narrowcast. Naturally I find the elite more interesting than the mass; now everyone is supposedly elite. Another way of saying it is that the elite no longer need the mass, that their services are no longer required. The man whose style I was just now channeling was McLuhan’s friend, of course.
Peterson must have read everything Hans Eysenck wrote in “Genius: The Natural History of Creativity”, including this book, which I talked about in the film. Eysenck shows that genius is much more than IQ. It takes a high IQ, plus a lot of other things. There are some biographical factors. For instance, a certain amount of childhood trauma…the book doesn’t speculate on the deliberate PRODUCTION of genius, given the proper substrate, by suitable training/vexation/abuse, but it leaves a space for speculation that one could drive a truck through, and given that Eysenck would probably have formed these ideas before 1960, I contend that Peterson did in fact drive that truck, i.e. wonder, even if only to dismiss the thought, “was I, JBP, the product of a deliberate attempt to engineer genius?” I play with this idea in the film. Peterson did wonder about this. He had to have.
Considering mind control methods might be at play with both Peterson and Poppy, what are some of the other signs organizations are experimenting with creating these folks? How would Gibson’s ecological psychology play into that?
If a boy grew up in a house with black powder and lengths of fuse in the garage, at some point he blew something up. We know this. I wish to insert a caveat. I don’t like this “Monarch Mind Control”, “Gang Stalking”, “Chemtrails” nonsense. The difference is that Poppy and JBP are special people that it might actually be worth time and effort to create. Whereas generic schizophrenics and pop singers are a dime a dozen. Well, I don’t know. Because looking for evidence might be exactly the wrong move now. The historical record is no longer (if it ever was) trustworthy: there is an AI devoted to rewriting it and falsifying it constantly, so that our own memories are perhaps more to be relied on now than the results of “archival investigations” that will be noticed and interfered with.
I know that it is POSSIBLE that people like JBP and Poppy can be created. Maybe not made to order and delivered, but evoked, summoned. More to the point if we wish to explain the world now: people like that can be PREVENTED from occurring. Abe Foxman said, apropos of some education law privileging the Holocaust as a subject of study in Illinois schools: The Holocaust is an incomparable event (cannot be taught alongside other genocides) because it, uniquely, was an attempt to destroy God by killing the only representative of God on Earth, his People, the Jews. Now, not being a Jew myself, I have a slightly different view than Mr. Foxman, But he spins a nice metaphor. If I were to appropriate it I would say: the attempt to destroy gifted people, to create the second Tower of Babel, the global borderless Object, the attempt to halt natural selection and to destroy humanity through dysgenics, is an attempt to destroy all life, and to destroy god, and that will not be permitted to occur. Gibson is so deep in all of this I can’t even make him explicit, except that: if anyone reading this has never heard of Gibson IT IS BECAUSE THE SYSTEM IS LYING TO YOU AND TRYING TO KILL GOD.
In your final video of the triptych on the AI image aggregator Archillect, you emphasize the collective input to the bot, which reminds me of the networked intelligence part in your Peterson video. The bot also collects a lot of industrial landscapes and images, what would be your Gibsonian analysis on the actual content of the bot’s images?
Gibson himself said that the theory of the perception of pictures was more difficult in some ways than the general case of the theory of visual perception of the world. The approach Gibson opposed was treating the perception of the world as picture perception integrated over time. So that is how Gibson ducked questions about picture perception. Leaving Gibson out of it: yeah, the Ouija thing.
Any other technical, philosophic, or psychology sources you’d recommend to our readers?
“Apes of God” by Wyndham Lewis.