Saturday, November 17, 2018

Life As An Information Storage System

How do you define what is alive and what is not alive? Why is a planet full of life is different from a planet without life? I think that the answers are about order and chaos, and life sides with order.

Life is fundamentally a system of information organisation and storage. A living person is a closed system of information storage and utilisation, used to bring order to a disordered system. To die is to terminally lose information cohesion, liberating this to the next shell domain of information, for example, civilisation, which itself is more ordered than nature, which we could define as a life bearing but human-free domain, which is more ordered than lifeless nature, such as a planet without life.

The key definition of life is an information storage and processing entity with the ability to increase the order of a disordered system.

This definition of life and death has several implications.

On the surface, it removes the contemporary definitions of the need to metabolise or replicate, but on further analysis, this can still apply: for example a filing cabinet can store information but does not order its surroundings, and so could not be considered alive. Reproduction could be seen as an extension of the utility to order the universe, and is thus compatible with this definition. Taking in food helps maintain the informational integrity of the body vs. not taking food.

Plants and bacteria store and pass on information, and can order their environment, but humans can order a system more effectively.

Machines which can self-order the world should be considered alive. At time of writing, machines are usually tools for humans, but computers can self-order small pockets of information: for example ordering computer files. Small robots could order cubes upon a table, or mow a lawn. A ruler, as a converse example, cannot; despite aiding humans to order things, making a ruler a tool rather than alive.

We have varying control over what we are capable of ordering, and this defines how alive we are. Humans can almost control all things, as a species, and almost all humans have some influence over the rest of the species. It is perhaps this that makes humans the paragon of living things.

Errors and omissions frankly probable. This is one of several musings on life the universe and everything listed in the Writing and Essays section of

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Blue Carpet (or The Hotel Carpet Blues)

I'm working in music at the moment, assembling a new album of experimental works, the best of the things I've created for my old radio show, ArtsLab, and some things I've made for ArtSwarm. I'm remaking (or at least touching up) almost all of the tracks. There are a few that won't make it onto the album because I don't think they are good enough, or were simply one-off recordings that were put together without keeping any of the source material. I'm putting some on SoundCloud, and here is one called "Blue Carpet", or the Hotel Carpet Blues. It was a song about carpets. The comedy is unpinned by reality and metaphor. This is the magic of creativity.

Blue Carpet (or The Hotel Carpet Blues)

I'm threadbare, pulled thin trodden like the mud on my skin Walked on and ignored and covered in dust my yellowing fibres resembling rust

I'm flaky, snaky, falling apart the weave on my soul chokes the wool in my heart I'm holding together as dust My skin is a colourless crust

I'm a hotel carpet, in a cheap Parisian backstreet I'm choking on the nothing and the cigarette friends that I meet well, they meet me, they fall on my face and get crushed in its the closest to love I get these days

I'm a hotel carpet, yellowy beigey putrid Yes why not drag your rotten luggage over me

Walked on and ignored covered in rust my yellowing fibres resembling dust

Rug! Rug! Rug!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Infinite Beam Problem

I was struck by a simple thought yesterday that has profound implications.

I shine a laser beam up in my house. It hits the ceiling and the light is scattered, absorbed for later gentle scattering, and reflected back to my eyes. The existence of the beam is validated and the loss of the energy from the laser is equated with the energy perceived by my eyes and otherwise in the room and universe.

I shine a laser beam up in a cathedral. The beam travels further with the same result. I go outside and shine the beam up at the moon. The beam hits the surface of the moon and the same effects occur.

I shine a laser up into deep space. The beam might hit a star or dust cloud or planet, but what if the beam misses those things and keeps travelling to the end of the universe? In that case the beam would never hit anything, and so reflect nothing. The beam would not be detected by the universe, the existence of the beam would not be validated except by the loss of energy from the laser, which could only equate to a permanent net energy loss from the universe.

This must happen with the light from stars all of the time. What is wrong here?

If we were that tip of the beam, flying away with instant time and insight, what would we feel like, moving for infinite time? Could we exist as this temporally and spatially infinite object?

Let us explore some solutions.

1. The beam continues to travel for a long time, waiting until an inevitable day when it impacts something and validates the existence of the beam, settling the energy imbalance debt. The downside with this hypothesis is that a beam shining out at the edge of the universe is unlikely to ever impact anything.

2. The beam bends back towards the universe and then collides with an object. This would equate to a closed universe. This would be a neat solution to the problem. Does this match the current universe? Is there any observational evidence of our universe to support this?

3. A 'quantum' option. The beam continues for infinity but does not exist. The firing of the beam can be validated by the loss of energy in the laser emitter but this is balanced by an energy gain in all of the universe on average, a radiating but non-localised field which contains the energy. This spreads in all directions equally.

If the beam hits a distant object, like my ceiling, the field will instantly vanish, coalesced into the beam alone. How would this coalescence occur at longer ranges, because it seems that the information about the beam hitting the ceiling is instantly transmitted from the ceiling to all points of the field, ordering the field to collapse and jump to the ceiling.

If the beam continues forever into distant space, this field must itself impact into objects and at some point return its energy because if not, it would be the same as not existing, so the field itself must be able to liberate energy too.

4. Perhaps our concept of a laser of a perfectly straight beam is flawed. Over a short distance this is true, but as ranges grow, the scattering effect of a laser grows, until, at the scales of an infinite universe it behaves more like a point light, shining in all directions rather than a straight beam, so perhaps our problem does not exist. This does not solve the problem however, for like the light of a distant star, at least some component of the beam could still head out towards the endless boundary of the universe, and be lost.

5. Even when flying away, the beam constitutes part of the universe and so is not lost, even if it remains forever undetectable. Its energy remains in the universe, but it can never interact with anything and so is useless. The information about it is permanently lost. In this case, the net energy in the universe would remain equal but the net information would decrease over time.

This rate of this loss could be calculated, as the light shone from the outer edge of a rim of stars at the boundaries of the universe would be lost, and the energy shone into the universe would not, although, like playing Snooker on a boundless table, all of the information would be lost at some point.

This would seem to be a logical validation of the concept of entropy, but it also has problems. If the information about the existence of something is permanently lost, is this not the same as its energy being permanently lost, because it is the same as the thing itself being permanently lost?

Perhaps so, and perhaps then the net energy in the universe must decrease too. Net existence must decrease over time. We are all born and we all die. It seems reasonable that this applies to the universe itself, however much we might hope for something infinite or immortal.

Errors and omissions frankly probable. This is one of several musings on life the universe and everything listed in the Writing and Essays section of

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Conscious And The Unconscious Mind

This is an edited extract from my book 21st Century Surrealism, a book which examines lots of areas of creativity, from the problems artists can face to things relating to surrealism such as the unconscious and the philosophy of mind.

When thinking, we are only aware of a tiny fragment of thought at once; one thing, like a word on a page in a sentence. We have a memory of the sentence so far, and so can discern something about the information flow of our minds, and we might be preparing on some level for the up-and-coming words. In another part of our heads we have a sense of free thought, a feeling that we can dart to a new sentence if desired.

In a busy day we have several mental books to hand, several books of thoughts within reach, at our mental fingertips. We can grab these books at will, and turn our thinking towards them.

Most of the writing, filing, and sorting of the books in our minds happens beyond our conscious awareness, as though an invisible librarian is constantly ordering the vast catalogue of our knowledge. If you consider that you can read one word of one sentence each day; this fleeting thing we call conscious thinking, and then consider all of what you actually know, then it becomes obvious that the great majority of the ordering process; to write, to file, and store that vast library of our knowledge, must happen in the shadowed background of our minds.

This filing process takes place constantly; well, perhaps it does, it is beyond our awareness, so by definition we cannot ever tell. At the very least, every memory must be recorded, that's what memory means. Every recollection of a memory is recorded too; we don't remember what we don't recall. Do unrecalled memories exist? Yes, but only if and when we recall them. We can't say that they certainly exist when we don't recall them; in that circumstance they are identical to not being there at all. This principle of bringing into existence by observation seems to reflect a quantum-mechanical principle that something exists to the extent it is perceived.

It is clear that our experience of being conscious involves a sense of our own thoughts and memories, not just the sensory experiences of the outside world.

Consider every sense you have; sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, and how active each sense is at each minute of the day, and how many memories of each sense must be created. It is only then that you can consider the enormity of the work that the human brain must complete, and all without your tiny fragment of experience of the now that we call consciousness.

The word 'unconscious' has been used over and over again, and even in today's English it can refer to people who look asleep, or are sedated, as well as thoughts that we are not aware of. Here, I define it as those thoughts, those automatic and indirectable actions of the invisible librarian.

If unconscious thoughts are indirectable and not subject to our control, are they creative? Isn't creativity the ability to assess and choose something consciously?

There are degrees of awareness and freedom to control. Is control necessary for creativity? Perhaps one of the main benefits of unconscious creation is that is it not directly controlled, although we can't tell if unconscious thoughts are controlled or not, because, well, they are unconscious, and beyond the gaze of our mental senses. Can we have free will without awareness of it?

No. Free will is the sensation and feeling of being in control, and little else. The river of our thoughts flows. If we are unable to see the river and have no awareness of any control over its direction, then the point seems moot. The path of our unconscious thoughts surely flows in some direction, but if we are not aware of that direction, then any secret ways in which we are changing its path are, perhaps, unimportant; but only perhaps. We might have some influence over an unseen process, but merely be unable to predict or determine any outcome. This might be like a blind man prodding the driver of a coach and horses. He might be able to influence the journey, but know little else about it.

Control or intelligence aren't always useful for creativity, and perhaps the element of chance, or the very lack of willpower, is what is beneficial to the artist. A machine can be creative in this way, even an object with no intelligence at all. Drop a glass cup; its fragments form a pattern. Some curatorial control is necessary to filter what is a meaningful pattern, and what is not, but the cup itself constituted an important new source of information.

Apart from its capacity for a spontaneity untrammelled by will, the unconscious can be more inventive than our conscious minds because it has access to a vast panoply of source information, far larger than the surface pages that our daily minds flick though. There are levels to our thoughts, with immediate thoughts and memories occupying our immediate times, those things which skim lightly over the hot surface of our boiling star minds. Then there are slightly more distant thoughts that take slightly longer to reach, then more distant thoughts and memories, and more, deeper and deeper. The deep thoughts are too far away for us to think with fast enough to be of daily use.

Perhaps what we know as conscious awareness and control is simply a matter of access speed. If so, then those with more agile brains would literally be more conscious; they would have direct, fast access to more knowledge.

Errors and omissions frankly probable. This is one of several musings on life the universe and everything listed in the Writing and Essays section of

Sunday, July 08, 2018

ArtsLab Subjects

As a reference guide, I thought I'd list the complete subjects for my RedShift Radio programme, ArtsLab

Series 2

0 Experimentation (26 October 2016)
1 New
2 Old
3 Leaves
4 Zodiac
5 Lines
6 The Sun
7 Cycles of Time
8 Birth
9 Blue
10 Mountains
11 Words
12 Dinosaurs
13 Love
14 Gateways
15 Ancestors
16 The Moon
17 Sweden
18 Mystery
19 Furniture
20 Chemistry
21 Descendants
22 Tuesday
23 Space
24 Insects
25 The Letter D
26 Borders
27 Trees
28 Crystals
29 Cars
30 God
31 Computers
32 Birds
33 The Dark Ages
34 Medicine
35 Africa
36 Codes
37 Mirrors
38 Film Noir
39 Tokyo
40 Underground
41 Fruit
42 Modern Philosophers
43 Memory
44 Chess
45 Money
46 Snow
47 Carpets
48 Time
49 Police

50 ArtsLab: The Opera: I, Leviathan Part 1
51 ArtsLab: The Opera: I, Leviathan Part 2

Series 3

1 Open Theme (8 January 2018)
2 War
3 Soil
4 Dawn
5 Spirals
6 The Planet Mars
7 Fish
8 Hunger
9 Australia
10 Pink
11 The Number Six
12 Endings & Beginnings (simultaneous broadcast with the first ArtSwarm)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


In the absence of others, we must talk to different parts of our self to exist. Existence is dependent on detection, communication. An object isolated from the universe cannot exist, who could detect it? Only component entities can exist independently. Perhaps, when alone, this self communication spirals down, losing integrity, security, accuracy, and so over time we fade into nothingness.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Art Swarm

Well, my new video show went live last week, ArtSwarm, which is the logical continuation of the ArtsLab radio show I've been doing at RedShift Radio for past few years (as regular blog readers would have noticed!)

Producing a radio show for the past two years has been a really interesting experience, and great fun. The key skill for working on the radio is probably multi-tasking. I never really assumed that anyone was listening. The figures were small, typically under 10. I remain amazed at how my radio peers acted as though they were broadcasting to the nation or the world, rather than to a small room of (mostly) people that they knew anyway, or often broadcasting to nobody at all. Most listeners listened later, streaming the show at their leisure, which is the current trend in media. There is something to be said for live broadcasting, it certainly is more edgy and exciting than pre-recording, where things can be edited. The training of presenting a live show is very good for confidence because of this; it stops you worrying about making mistakes, and gives you the freedom to just do it. This is why successful presenters of all sorts often start in radio; it's the paragon of media training.

As most people listen later, I thought it would be good to aim for that, and to boost inclusivity wanted to make something that would allow people to share things, so the format for the second year of ArtsLab was to simply broadcast things that people have made. It became a sort of tutorial on how to create things in a hurry. Lots of the results were bizarre, often rough and ready, but, wow, often inventive and inspiring and pushing boundaries. The things I've heard on ArtsLab have certainly crept into my music, and my last album Cycles & Shadows, which was largely piano with spoken word, is so different from my former music due to this. The album I'm working on now will continue this trend into avant-garde pop, and a further step away from the Jarre and computer-game sound that dominated my earlier years.

All good things come from contrast and opposites and my rejection of the automated for the human is a great source of creative energy for me; my painting itself was a rejection of computer graphics.

Anyway, ArtSwarm, conversely, embraces video. It seems a logical step up to create an inclusive video show; a show where people make things to a theme each fortnight, then we all see what everyone has done. When I started painting, this very format made me paint. It was great training, and I'm sure that many good and exciting videos will get made due to ArtSwarm, the combination of pressure due to time, the guidance of a theme, but also, freedom without censorship (well, no quality judgements, it merely has to be YouTube legal).

I had hoped that ArtSwarm would be less work than ArtsLab to produce, which was about 2 days per week. Being fortnightly, it should be (and I'll save the 4 mile walk there and back - but that was as much a health benefit as a chore).

Ramble over. Onward to great things! Show number two is coming soooon. Here is the ArtSwarm YouTube channel:

Monday, March 26, 2018

ArtsLab S3 Ep.12: Endings & Beginnings

ArtsLab produced and presented by Mark Sheeky
Series 3 Episode 12: Endings & Beginnings
Broadcast Monday 26 March 2018, 2pm to 3pm GMT.
This was the final ArtsLab programme.

ArtsLab content is typically original, created by artists and poets for each episode.

Mark Sheeky, Beginnings
Deborah Edgeley, Glimpse
Claire Bassi, Winter Campaign/Speak and Spell
Lavinia Murray, Leviathanarama
Steven Goodwin, Great Beginnings
Andrew Williams, Ouroborus
Michael Murray, John Paston Writes Home
Mark Sheeky, Trees Die To Become Pencils
Andrew Williams, Endings and Beginnings
Trixi Field, The Meres: Night Hunters
Scott Walker, Light
Rebecca Cherrington, New Year
The Shaggs, That Little Sports Car
Peggy Zeitlin, Spin Spider Spin
Mark Sheeky, Endings
Richard Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra

All past ArtsLab programmes can be listened to here:

You can listen live during the broadcast on: