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15 Things You Didn't Know About The Persistence Of Memory

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Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory is the eccentric Spanish painter's most recognizable work. You have probably committed its melting clocks to memory, but you may not know all that went into its making and legacy.

1. The Persistence Of Memory was painted in the midst of a hallucination.

Around the time of the painting’s 1931 creation, Dali perfected his "paranoiac-critical method." The artist would attempt to enter a meditative state of self-induced psychotic hallucinations so that he could make what he called “hand-painted dream photographs.”

Of this unusual routine, he's wrote, “I am the first to be surprised and often terrified by the images I see appear upon my canvas. I register without choice and with all possible exactitude the dictates of my subconscious, my dreams.”

2. It's smaller than you might expect.

The Persistence of Memory is one of Dali's biggest triumphs, but the actual oil on canvas painting measures only 9 1/2” x 13".

3. It made Dali world famous AT 28.

Dali began painting when he was just six years old. As a young man, he flirted with fame, working with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the groundbreaking surrealist shorts Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or. Despite these early rumblings, Dali’s big break didn’t come until he created his signature work—the press and the public went mad for him when The Persistence of Memory appeared at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1932.

4. The Persistence of Memory stayed in New York thanks to an anonymous donor.

After its gallery show, a patron bought the piece and donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in 1934. It’s been a highlight of MoMA's collection for 80 years and counting.

5. By this time Dali was no LONGER A certified surrealist.

At least, he wasn't considered one by the official surrealist society. Though Dali had become the most famous surrealist painter in the world, his fellow surrealists gave him the boot over concerns about Dali’s alleged fascist leanings. At his ousting, Dali declared, "I myself am surrealism."

6. Einstein's work may have been an influence.

The Persistence of Memory has sparked considerable academic debate as scholars interpret the painting. Some critics believe the melting watches in the piece are a response to Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity. As critic Dawn Ades put it, "the soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time."

7. Dali’s EXPLANATION WAS CHEESIER

When asked directly if Einstein's Theory of Relativity was an inspiration, Dali declared his true muse for the deformed clocks was a wheel of Camembert cheese that had melted in the sun. As Dali considered himself and his persona an extension of his work, the seriousness of this response is also up for debate.

8. Its landscape comes from Dali's childhood.

His native Catalonia had a major influence on Dali's works. His family's summer house in the shade of Mount Pani (also known as Mount Panelo) inspired him to integrate its likeness into his paintings again and again, like in View of Cadaqués with Shadow of Mount Pani. In The Persistence of Memory, the shadow of Mount Pani drapes the foreground, while Cape Creus and its craggy coast lie in the background.

9. This painting has a (sort of) sequel.

In 1954, Dali revisited the composition of The Persistence of Memory for The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. Alternately known as The Chromosome of a Highly-coloured Fish's Eye Starting the Harmonious Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the oil on canvas piece is believed to represent Dali's prior work being broken down to its elements, or atoms.

10. Between these two paintings, Dali's personal obsession shifted.

Though the subjects of The Persistence of Memory and The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory are the same, their differences illustrated the shifts that took place between periods of Dali's career. The first painting was created in the midst of his Freudian phase, when Dali was fascinated by the dream analysis pioneered by Sigmund Freud. By the 1950s, when the latter was painted, Dali's dark muse had become the science of the atomic age.

Dali explained this transition, saying, "In the surrealist period, I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world – the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud. I succeeded in doing it. Today the exterior world – that of physics – has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is [theoretical physicist] Dr. Heisenberg."

11. Freud Reciprocated DALI’S ADMIRATION

The father of psychoanalysis was not a fan of the surrealists, who he felt were too conscious of the art they were making and didn't understand his theories. Dali was the exception. When the two met in 1938, Dali was giddily sketching a portrait of his 82-year-old idol when Freud whispered, "That boy looks like a fanatic." The comment delighted Dali, as did Freud's suggestion that his The Metamorphosis of Narcissus would be of value to the study of psychoanalysis. Freud later said, "I've always viewed that the surrealists were 100% fools, but this Spanish young man with the fanatic eyes of a genius made me reconsider that opinion."

12.The Persistence of Memory may be a self-portrait.

The floppy profile at the painting's center might be meant to represent Dali himself, as the artist was fond of self-portraits. Previously painted self-portraits include Self-Portrait in the Studio, Cubist Self-portrait, Self-Portrait with "L' Humanite" and Self-portrait (1921).

13. There were more melting clocks to come.

In the 1970s, Dali revisited his soft timepieces in sculptures like Dance of Time I, II, & III, Nobility of Time, Persistence of Memory, and Profile of Time. He also brought them into lithographs.

14. The Persistence of Memory has aliases.

It's also known as Soft Watches, Droopy Watches, The Persistence of Time, and Melting Clocks.

15. The Painting has become ingrained in pop culture.

The Persistence of Memory has been referenced on television in The Simpsons, Futurama, Hey Arnold, Doctor Who and Sesame Street. Likewise, it's been alluded to in the animated movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action, in the popular comic strip The Far Side, and in videogames like EarthBound and Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced. It was even parodied to mock the NFL’s recent DeflateGate scandal.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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