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Fishy Fish Things
22 January 2011
 
Fish is a funny word.  If you say it often enough it starts to lose its meaning.  Fish are funny things too.  There is something about fish:  the way their scales make their faces look almost like machines.  They appear, by human facial standards, to look emotionless.  Maybe that is why they seem easier to kill than a pig.  Not that I recommend killing pigs.
 
In general most people don't think a lot about fish.  But the subject of fish is unfathomable.  For example did you know that the increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased the acidity of the oceans by 30% so far and that it causes poor little fish like Nemo (yes Clown fish) to become suicidal!
 
Strangely the Ancient Romans used to use a fish sauce to spice up their sweet deserts but there are far more "sweet" fish available today.  You can buy chocolate sardines in a tin from the Chocolate Trading Company and candy shrimps from Handy Candy.
 
Historically fish frequently feature symbolically in the bible like the feeding of the five thousand where Jesus starts off with five loaves of bread a two fish.  Fish are important to Christians and recently there has been a revival of the use of the Ichthys fish or Icthus fish which can frequently be observed stuck on cars nowadays.  There are many symbolic uses of the fish and there's an explanation of some at seiyaku.com on their page titled Meaning of the Christian Fish Symbol
 
Years ago I came across a saying attributed to the elusive Vique called Vique's Law which states "A man without religion is like a fish without a bicycle."  Why a fish?  Because fish are versatile devices for philosophical illustrations.  There is also a song called The Fish Needs A BikeThe Fish Needs A Bike by Blurt.  On the subject of fish songs there is a priceless banal surreal music video from 1979 by Barnes and Barnes called "Fish Heads" and you can purchase the album with it on called VoobahaVoobaha as a 2006 remix from Amazon.  Then there is Trout Mask ReplicaTrout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band which includes the immortal line "A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous" and it includes a reference to a goldfish floating upside down and bloating in "Bill's Corpse".  There is also the line "When the fish head broke the window rubber eye erect and precisely detailed" in the track "Old Fart at Play".  Then of course there is The Residents.  What have they got to do with fish?  Well they did an album of sorts called Kettles of Fish on the Outskirts of TownKettles of Fish on the Outskirts of Town but more significantly they answer the question on their FAQ page "Why are the people who do The Residents obsessed with being anonymous?" with the ponderously philosophical "They aren't.  It is other people who seem to be uncomfortable with their privacy.  Say you have a tank of goldfish.  Say you have given each goldfish a name.  A stranger wanders into your house and sees your tank of goldfish and wants to know who they are.  Considering that he is a stranger, you tell him it is a tank of goldfish."  I couldn't recommend their albums Third Reich 'n' RollThird Reich 'n' Roll and the Commercial AlbumCommercial Album highly enough but it is not your kind of music so I wouldn't bother looking into it.  How do I know that?  Well it is a sort of probabilistic statement.  Much like most of the "facts" that we assert as truth.  It is far less likely to be true than that fish live in water but is more likely to be true than that you don't like marmite.
 
Fish are often used as philosophical illustrations.  For example: "What does a fish know of a Masters Degree course at Loughborough University on the semiotics of cinema?"
 
It may seem, at first glance, a little surreal.  The answer might appear to be  obvious but in a sort of Socratic kind of way it is the process of thinking about the question which can give rise to important and even profound insights.
 
So it is a "reality" kind of question really.  Humanity appears not to understand reality and it is something they need to come to grips with if they are to fulfil their destiny.  Whilst they continue to revel in their egocentric self delusion that they are a self aware, conscious and intelligent life form they miss the point that they are in an evolutionary process towards that end and they are not there yet.  They cannot do it alone either.
 
Humans might know what a university is but a fish simply has no understanding of the concept of a university.  The nearest thing to that is that they understand what solid objects are.  Like coral reefs and other bigger fish.  A university is usually a solid object like a building but it doesn't have to be.  But by virtue of the fact that it is called a university conjures up the idea of learning.  Learning is something fish might do but they are unlikely to have a conceptual model representing the process.  Humans do.
 
Then there is the subject content.  The semiotics of cinema.  Cinema is another one of those "fuzzy round the edges" things.  They can be buildings but that is not what is being referred to here.  Cinema here is the whole subject of audio-visual recording and playback as a form of communication and creativity.  The semiotics of cinema are the various mechanisms by which the act of communication works.
 
How do we understand a film?  Ordinarily one watches a film and interprets it without giving much thought to "how" it was understood.  For example a film sequence which oscillates between a car travelling from left to right intercut with a similar car travelling from right to left might lead the viewer to begin to expect a collision.  The same set of visual sequences intercut but with the "right to left" film reversed to become "left to right" might be interpreted as illustrating the car going a long way.  In the first sequence the two cars are interpreted as being in the same time slot and different cars.  The second sequence suggests it is the same car over an extended time period and that there is a jump in time to a future point illustrating the car is "still" travelling to the right.  These kinds of things are often interpreted completely unconsciously.
 
If a modern film like the brilliant Disney animation HerculesHercules were seen by someone 100 years previous to its creation and with no previous experience of watching film it is unlikely they could make much sense of it.  Andreas Deja, the supervising animator, sighted Gerald Scarfe's animation in Pink Floyd's The WallThe Wall as being influential in his development of the style and techniques used in Hercules.  Without being  acculturated to modern animation techniques the film would be hardly readable.  Many years ago there was a problem with a certain beetle eating crops and the local farmers were given a slide show so that they could identify the beetle.  No beetles were found and this was a mystery as there were lots about.  It turned out that the farmers were looking for a giant beetle because the slide showed an enlarged picture.  The semiotics of cinema!
 
Now it's the conceptualisation of reality that is being raised here.  How do humans do it?  What is it about and what is the relationship between it and the assumed "reality" out there?
 
Go to a foreign land where you don't speak the language and all that you hear is other humans making arbitrary sounding noises.  But what is happening is that they are communicating ideas and the content is very real and significant.  What is required is the initial set of communal paradigms and the meaning in a language to refer to them.  It is fairly easy when explained like this to get the picture that a large part of the model in humans' minds is precisely that: a model.  It is not reality.  When you see another human and hear them you model their "reality" inside your head.  Although the process is on a very different kind of scale the fact is that the light and the sound are varying oscillations in the otherwise patterned light and sound waves.  Your ears and your eyes interpret the differences in the incoming stuff to render the idea of a whole object called a human.  All this happens entirely outside of a human's conscious awareness.  In short "reality" is the "real"-ization of the fluctuations being detected.  Reality is an imposition we place on the changing sensations we experience.  That is not to suggest that what is "out there" is not in some way real but rather to emphasize that our comprehension of it is the relevance it has for us.
 
So as the density of humanity increases and the population explodes the experience of "reality" is increasingly that of the interpreted, processed and regurgitated reality forming in people's minds.  With politics, science and commercialism being such powerful forces the perceived reality is becoming detached from the original reality of rocks, weather and food.  We are simulating a world which powerful forces want us to believe we live in.  The simulation is called the simulacrum and the famous and recently deceased French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote a treatise entitled "Simulacra and Simulation" which opens with the quote from Ecclesiastes: "The simulacrum is never what hides the truth - it is truth that hides the fact that there is none. The simulacrum is true."  His treatise is definitely worth a read and some have suggested that the masterful film The MatrixThe Matrix was inspired by this work.
 

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