Monday, 25 June 2007

Do you dream in colour?

Do you dream in color? asks Mark-Jason Dominus. Interesting question, on which I've already some thoughts.

I'm colour-blind. I see some colours, but the words that are used to describe colours are for me largely arbitrary. Why use two different words, like, green and orange, for the same colour? A consequence of that is a difficulty to verbalize colours, which in turn makes it difficult for me to remember the colour of an object, if nobody told me what word to use to describe it. Without a proper vocabulary to classify them in my brain, I can't remember or percieve fully the colours.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that I dream "in black and white": or, more accurately, that I can't name and remember the colours of the objects that appear in my mind during dreams. Colours are an irrelevant part of my Weltanschauüng.

However, from time to time, I make a dream about a colour. Those are in general very simple dreams, focused on a single object; nothing happens; sometimes I only dream about a colour without an object. (Robert Louis Stevenson, in A Chapter on Dreams, says that he sometimes dreams about a particularly horrible and uncanny hue of brown.) And usually that colour is mauve, or the idea I have about what mauve should look like: a mix between red and blue, which does not exist for me in the real world.

I'm not sure how to explain this. Probably my brain is playing tricks to iself (that is, to me): my eyes are not able to send the signal mauve to the brain, but the brain circuitry is intact and is able to perceive mauve once the eyes are out of the loop. However, that new colour is so strange that it soon overrides all other aspects of the dream it appeared in. I don't have any other explanation (short of the Platonician thesis, that learning is remembering.)

Wednesday, 20 June 2007


I'm happy to announce to the unsuspecting world that I've released to the CPAN a new Perl module, encoding::source. Like I say in the docs, this is like the encoding pragma, but done right. In other words, it allows you to change, on a per-file or per-block basis, the encoding of the string literals in your programs.

That's probably some of the scariest Perl code I've written. Note that it won't run on any released perl. You'll nead bleadperl (or the upcoming 5.9.5) for that. That's because it uses the new support for user-defined lexical pragmas.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Best Doctor quote ever

We're at the end of the universe, right at the edge of knowledge itself, and you're busy... blogging!

The Doctor, in Utopia

Thursday, 14 June 2007

On Olympia

Edouard Manet, while young, once copied Titian's Venus of Urbino, for practice. Later, when he produced one of his most famous and avant-garde paintings, Olympia, he was reminiscent of the old Venetian master: for he based his programmatic female nude on Titian's classical Renaissance Venus, but carefully inverted all the details.

The pose of the nude woman, lying on a bed, looking at the spectator, is the same on the two paintings. However, the Venus has a crouching puppy at her feet, while Olympia has there a cat standing up. Titian's scene has an open, bright background; Manet closed it with a dark curtain. Maidservants are seen on both paintings: Venus has two pale-skinned servants, seen in the background, from behind; the servant of Olympia is dark-skinned, faces the spectator, and is placed in the foreground. The Venus holds flowers; Olympia is about to receive flowers held by her servant. The Venus is in a diurn haze that suits the goddesses; Olympia is in a crude light, evoking a closed place rather than the openness of a Venetian palace.

As I see it, all those inversions are signs employed by Manet to indicate the subject of his painting: down with gods and goddesses, paint the reality. But they also indicate that Manet was seeing himself as part of the tradition, and that he wanted his works to be inserted in a dialogue with the masterpieces of the past. I'd rather be careful not to say too many things about Olympia, since the interpretation of this complex painting is quite difficult, that I will probably change my mind about it a few dozen times in the future, and that I haven't even seen it for real, although I live near the Orsay Museum. Anyway, those inversions are worth being noted.

(On a side note, I remember that Giorgio Vasari reports, in his Lives of Artists, that Michelangelo told him that Titian was a great painter, but that he couldn't draw. The same reproach was made, until late, to Manet...)

Monday, 11 June 2007

On Greek myths

I've read a couple of books on ancient Greeks lately. The first one was a book of Plutarch on the oracles of the Pythia of Delphi. Plutarch, best known as an historian for his Parallel Lives, was also for some time a priest of Apollo, so he gives there some first-hand informations.

The second book was a very interesting essay by Paul Veyne, a contemporary French archaeologist and historian, titled Les Grecs ont-ils cru à leurs mythes? (Have Greeks believed their myths?). It begins by general considerations on the ancient Greek religion, and the place of mythology herein; then it takes a more philosophical turn, in the steps of Michel Foucault, and discusses what the notion of truth means.

One of the things that can be noted about the Greek religion, and that is much apparent through those two books, is that Greeks, like many ancient civilisations, did not have a concept of "faith", which we now in the modern western world tend to consider as a common ground for religions -- probably because we're mostly only familiar with the two big monotheisms, Christianity and Islam. No faith: nobody, in the home country of philosophy, would have considered virtuous or honourable to hold a mandated belief, not meant to be discussed or to be subject to inquiry. Incidentally, nobody was scandalised by the numerous philosophers who were arguing about the trustfulness of the oracles or the existence of the gods.

However, while many Greeks simply did not believe in the gods, and even less in their adventures as told by Homer, Hesiod and all the mythography, it appears that they couldn't imagine that those myths were completely invented, and they tried to explain their existence by several theories: for example, that gods were great kings of the past, later divinised, or that the myths were hiding ancient doctrines hidden under allegories.

So what role did myths play in the Greeks' everyday lives? I think that they were part of the tradition, in the noblest sense of the term: the tradition as the foundation for a culture (and that's why they ought to be respected). The myths, the gods and the heroes were common figures, models for good or bad behaviour, a common language of stories and situations that everyone could refer to. Probably, this profusion of the mythical language, and the freedom with which it was treated, created the ideal ground for all the inventions that were made in Greece: mathematics, geometry, theatre, democracy, philosophy, history, and so on.