The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

Many people are familiar with Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory. It is one of the iconic images of the twentieth century.

The Persistence of Memory, 1931
The Persistence of Memory (1931), by Salvador Dalí

However, his follow-up work, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, is less widely known.

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory
The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1954), by Salvador Dalí

It is a vision of the same place—but this time, the land has been filled by water, and the objects, which are now able to freely float, are breaking up into their atomic parts. Even the tree has begun to disintegrate.

The more you look at this painting, the more mind-blowing it becomes.

The Daily Stumble #1: Slow Time

I’m starting a series where I take the 5th Stumble of the day and write a blog post about it. Why the 5th one? I don’t know, why not?

Today’s 5th stumble is: 20 Things that Are Way Better in Slow Motion – [link], from the site BuzzFeed.

Note: I’m going to take a screenshot of every page I stumble for this series, just in case the link breaks in the future. This way, someone reading my blog can still see what I am referring to.

This random stumble is very coincidental, considering my last blog post was about Light in Slow Motion. What are the chances?

Anyways, the site itself has a variety of interesting events happening in slow motion: the popping of popcorn, the impact of a bullet, the lighting of a match, and the hitting of a drum. But the most epic one on this site is definitely the lightning strike:

That just looks insane. When we look at things in slow motion, we see shapes and patterns that are otherwise never observe. We discover physical phenomena that seem impossible to our natural human-time intuition.

At this scale, things happen at time scales so short that that particles zap in and out of existence in billionths of a second. In just a blink of an eye, entire universes of particles have appeared and disappeared, entire realities created and destroyed.

Of course, even one billionth of a second is an eternity compared to events that are predicted to have occurred at the onset of the Big Bang. Such events occurred at 10^-34 of a second, or 0.0000000000000000000000000000000001 second.

It is indeed interesting to watch man-made objects such as bullets and golf balls in slow motion. But it is far more fascinating to watch nature, whether it is lightning, atomic collisions, and even light itself, move in slow time.

The list for The Daily Stumble series is found here.

No Surprise that Zuckerberg is TIME’s Person of the Year 2010

Just take a look at the numbers:

  • 2004 – 1 million
  • 2005 – 5.5 million
  • 2006 – 12 million
  • 2007 – 50 million
  • 2008 – 150 million
  • 2009 – 350 million
  • 2010 – 550 million, nearly 600 million

These are the numbers of Facebook users at the end of each year.

It wasn’t any one year of growth in particular that made Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg the Person of the Year 2010. If not for the political and economic concerns and recession in the previous years, Zuckerberg might have received the title sooner. (Last year, for example, the Person of the Year was Ben Bernanke.)

Perhaps there’s something magical about the number of 500 million users, which Facebook passed in July 2010. But if anything, 2009 was the year of social networking. In 2009, the more-than-doubling jump from 150 million to 350 million meant that the number of Facebook users had surpassed the population of the United States.

When I compiled the Legacy of 2009 post last year, the only coherent trends I could find were tech trends, specifically those with social networking. Some quotes, all from 2009:

  • Doug Gross: “This [2009] was the year that online social media exploded.”
  • John D. Sutter: “Engineers didn’t make huge improvements to technology in 2009. The year’s big tech names — Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon — all existed before January. Instead, this is the year technology changed us.” (emphasis added)
  • Sutter, again: “We could have done any of these things in 2008. But we embraced in unprecedented numbers a digital-centered life in 2009.”
  • Pete Cashmore: “One factor that’s dramatically different at the end of this decade versus the beginning: Ubiquitous connectivity.”

It seems that Sutter’s point about technology changing us strikes an even stronger chord in 2010 than in 2009. If 2009 was the beginning of a new society of mass social networks, then 2010 was the year in which we began to really surround our lives with them.

TIME this year is honoring not only a person, but a technology. And not just one technology, but many. Cyberspace in 2010 is a lot different than it was in 2000. In the meantime were the rise of blogging (and later, micro-blogging), Web 2.0, mass file-sharing, Youtube, and of course social networking sites. In the last 10 years, the only other Person of the Year relating to technology is Bill Gates, who shared the title with his wife and the U2 singer Bono in 2005. They were all recognized, however, not for technology, but for philanthropic virtues. (Not that philanthropy is unimportant.)

It is about time that TIME looked around and noticed, “Oh, society has changed!” By naming Mark Zuckerberg as the Person of the Year, TIME has honored not only one person in one year, but also, through him, the vastly consequential online technologies of the decade.

Time Quotes


The Persistence of Memory, 1931
The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dalí


A few thought-provoking quotations relating to time:

Ah! the clock is always slow; it is later than you think.

Robert W. Service (1874-1958)

Alcohol, hashish, prussic acid, strychnine are weak dilutions. The surest poison is time.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

But meanwhile it is flying, irretrievable time is flying.

Virgil (70-19 BC)

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

I believe that nothing that exists can be temporal, and that therefore time is unreal.

John McTaggart (1866-1925)

HAMM: What time is it? CLOV: The same as usual.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them.

Dion Boucicault (1820-1890)

Time the devourer of everything.

Ovid (43 BC-17 AD)

Hofstadter’s Law

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

(And it has right now a Wikipedia page that directly links to itself. Even the “Recursion” page does not do this.)

Hofstadter’s Law is a self-referential (or recursive) statement coined by Douglas Hofstadter in his magnum opus Gödel, Escher, Bach. It is a statement about time-taking projects, which seem to take more time than expected, even when the expected time is adjusted for delays.

Hostadter includes this at the end of a chapter on recursion, and particularly on a topic in which he shows how chess is analyzed recursively. He then recounts how programmers once (in the mid 1900s) thought chess could be mastered by a computer within ten years, but ten years later, it was still not even close to mastered, and it would seem to take even longer than ten years still!

Here is my illustration of Hofstadter’s Law:

Hofstadter's Law

The subtlety is of course that the graph is self referential. That is, Hofstadter’s Law as in the title of the graph refers to the last bar, “Actual Time.” At first you might expect that Hofstadter’s Law is present only in the fourth bar, but it is really the fifth bar that is Hofstadter’s Law. In fact, the “Actual Time” would be the “Worst Case Estimate, Taking Into Account Hofstadter’s Law” Taking Into Account Hofstadter’s Law. This leads to an infinite regress, as now the “Actual Time” is the new “Worst Case Estimate, Taking Into Account Hofstadter’s Law.”

The Persistence of Memory

This is a very unusual type of post for me as I’m normally the math/science person, not the artistic one. But without further ado, here is Dalí’s famous time painting.

The Persistence of Memory, 1931
The Persistence of Memory, 1931, Salvador Dalí

The image you see above is one of the iconic symbols of the 20th century. When I first saw it, in an art class back in elementary school, I thought it was stupid and just like all other paintings. But within the last couple years I’ve experienced a shift, not necessarily away from the sciences, but towards a real fascination with the humanities and arts. Philosophy is extremely important to me, and I see a lot of it in this work. (On the other hand, I’m not even going to try to run a real artistic analysis of the painting; I think that would be missing the big picture.)

What is so special about this work? My opinion: This painting epitomizes the human struggle with time. Not necessarily against time—rather, of time. Dalí realized that we had lived too long in a world in which time was an absolute definer, a Newtonian clockwork that controlled us with two rigid, always-moving hands. In this painting, time, represented by the deformed clocks, is no longer a straight issue: it bends, curves, and is hung in meaningless places. There is a contrast between things of human design, i.e. the clocks and rectangular objects on the left, and things of natural design, i.e. the tree stump, the mountains, the sky. The objects of the first group are futile in the picture; the objects in the latter group are hopeful (for a lack of a better word, which I cannot think of).

Also interesting is why the title is “The Persistence of Memory” when it seems to deal with time. The obvious explanation is of course that memory becomes confused, uncertain, nonsensical over time. But moreover, I see the painting as a play on time itself, the philosophical entity behind time, rather than its outer appearance. Thus, the content and form of the painting work together and build on each other, much like the electric and magnetic fields in an electromagnetic wave. Okay, bad analogy for liberal arts majors, but physicists, you should understand.

Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion
Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion, 1954, Salvador Dalí

This one is dazzling.

The Most Common Lie on Census

This certainly goes with my earlier post US Census 2010 Win. A friend of mine, NOT the same one who answered “HUMAN,” took a snapshot of an article by Robert Grove on the April 2010 edition of TIME magazine.


I thought this was ironic, given that the “Win” image has 170,000 views at the moment. The full article from TIME can be found here.

For the sake of reference, here’s the “Win” image: