Sunday, September 19, 2010

Crystals, Annealing, and A-Ha Moments

The following two poems require a bit of explanation. 'Local Minima' was a proem (prose-poem) written in early August 2009, in an attempt to draw together problems in annealing algorithms and their relation to new ideas, with the repetitious faults one might encounter in the Tibetan Buddhist wheel of reincarnation. It deals with only two souls, albeit many lives, and one instance of crystallization. 'Local Minima' seemed unfinished at the time, though I performed it twice in 2009, with some random lines from Laurie Anderson's 'Closed Circuit.'

This past spring, I discovered the wonderful work of Liane Gabora and her 'Beer Can Theory of Creativity,' explicitly bringing the concept of simulated annealing into the apparently random process of creative enlightenment. Last week, I had a discussion with the astonishing poet Carolyn Srygley-Moore about the hidden math patterns of Jackson Pollock (which even Pollock himself was unlikely to be consciously aware of), and their relations to the random walk and traveling-salesman problem. She just finished a poem, 'reflections on a conversation with a friend,' which forced me to think about crystallization, melting, parasitic minds and emergent intelligence. Now 'Local Minima' has found its companion, 'Hive Crystals.' The two poems are NP-complete. They're a closed circuit, baby.


My depth of gratitude for Clint Takeda’s simple words was not evident until the evening we leaned against the Knight Rider pinball machine in the long-demolished 15th Street Tavern, our inclined angles almost in parallel to the careening ball finding temporary traps in the pockmarks of David Hasselhoff’s painted face. Isobel was chanting, whispering perhaps, and it suddenly occurred to me the bardo pond looked just like the oscillating trap that those testing mixed-signal integrated circuits call “stuck-at-fault.” The bardo pond felt just like the point at which the energy daemon in a game of simulated annealing becomes “stuck at local minima.” The energy daemon felt just like the last pinball in the round.

Experts in genetic algorithms tell us that the energy required to overcome a local minimum is at least twice that to begin the process of annealing. From the point of view of the pinball, the valley walls are sheer and high, and the pond is cozy, maybe a bit warm for the mountains. There’s beer and brats for the beachfront property. Only that ominous I-70 sign warning truckers they have not reached bottom yet, reminds the pinball it is far from its poky little home, where its mother is no doubt greatly displeased. How does the pinball reach the flippers? In the wheel, the minimum quantum of energy is one lifetime. In pinball, the minimum quantum of energy is tilt. Twice the energy at go would suggest cheating at some point.

Western Missouri in 1842? Serb highlanders in 1942? Maybe the jerky pattern of those whispers is the sound of a record skipping. Call upon the gods of choice, but escaping the local minimum and leaving the canyon is a matter of chance. And the next annealing may not be the karmic destination you were hoping for. Maybe it’s best to sit by the pond in the bright sunshine and wait for the next streetcar to Pleiku.

Loring Wirbel

Aug. 8, 2009

Hive Crystals (for Carolyn)

Time it was the ones with guns
blotted my tears with tales of swarm intelligence, hive minds.
But if the living cell is a parasitic accident
the mitochondria as drone assassins
turn each instance of accidental grace
into the idealized snowflake,
the singularity of honey gone solid.

Emergent intelligence annealed is Jack Frost's friend
Each human hunch absent the need to know a frosted window.
One mind's stumble in an Ice-9 world
where every revelation begins with oops
with Honey Bear bottles in the solid entanglements
begging for a shot in the microwave.
Understanding introduced with a dose of Bisphenol-A.

Emergent intelligence melted, smelted
at a place where the crystallization moment
is lost in a Poisson pattern.
Worker bee's crystals embedded in dance.
Soldier ant's burden is and was weightless.
And the synaptic re-enactment enters the swarm.

Loring Wirbel
Sep. 19, 2010

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