All posts for the month June, 2002

E-Mail Working Again
Since yesteday evening UK time.

Some holding thoughts …
Binary vs three-layer world. Mind & Matter debates. Mind – Conscious & sub-conscious thinking and behaviours, as well as non-thinking reflex stimulus / response behaviour. Every time I see a binary argument, I suspect a three layer problem – net result is that every layer (having two interfaces) also has three layers, thus infinite onion-skins in every issue. Simple topology, but naturally fractal.

Beware definitions – defining hard boundaries – this and not this. (someone said that ?) Also see my caveat on the “Glossary” page – One of the web dictionaries of philosophy has an ancient quote to the same effect (cannot immediately re-locate ?). (Caveats to texts – never start a presentation with an apology adage ? This is not an apology , or since I’m starting with one, I can’t be selling you anything etc … Double-bluff / games theory etc, where will this end ?)

Not enough words in the English (or any natural) language to reserve hard definitions for each – example – behaviourists would like to define behaviour as meaning only stimulus / response behaviour. Note also conditional statement in Turing machine definition (it works … “provided the problem can be unambiguously defined by a finite set of words” … or words to that effect). One feature of “isms” is that they become “schisms” – divisions divided by defintions which were really only intended to be working definitions against which to apply the chosen logic in the chosen space. From the outside the natural language words look like they’ve been “hi-jacked”. This gets more problematic the more its the meaning of “natural language” we are concerned with – the context becomes the subject content too – tricky one [Post Note – not come across Quine at this point?] – very close to the Catch22 line I keep raising – a circular reference – a bootstrapping problem. (Q – is this also related to the “there is no such thing as a private language” debate ?).

On a similar problem with naming or definition of words representing nouns (tangible or conceptual) – often observe the behaviour that people use the name for a main sub-type which is the same as the common name of it’s parent. It’s a kind of arrogance that the sub-type currently under consideration is somehow all important – often means siblings have trouble resolving their parent from the “main” sibling. In complex, uncertain, situations involving learning by discovery (heuristics) it becomes essential that long-winded precise naming is used until such time as the common ground is firmly established. “Why use one word when a sentence will do ?” – is an adage I’m often heard to utter.

Less is More
Counter intuitive recommendations from Netherlands experience is that fewer traffic priority rules / lane markings/ signals etc make roads and junctions safer. Kids are involved in less road accidents if they are encouraged to play in traffic. Essentially human psychology compensates by adjusting speeds and habits to enable tacit negotiatiation by eye-contact and hence better avoidance of mutually dangerous situations occurs.
(Source BBC Radio 4 Today / Institution of Civil Engineers.)

[Post Note : “Shared Space” in London, Kensington eventually tries out the Dutch idea – with significant success.]

Mechanisation of Mind – Introductory chapter is 95% philosophy and philosophical references from all ages and schools of thought (including Hobbes Leviathan which is a spooky coincidence, given that I came across and read sections of this for the first time only two days ago, see below – my links were from Pirsig, to Melville, to Ahab’s Wife, to Una “the personification of truth” Spencer, to Spenser’s Faerie Queene, thence to Hobbes); First real chapter is “Fascination with Models” (See my thread on metaphor, analogy and model). This looks like a very promising book from an author whose interest and knowledge in the subject is clearly very wide, includes all my hot topics, yet is not obviously trying to sell anyone a strong line of his own choice – managing to remain apparently “objective”.

Secondary reference – Herbert Simon author of “Models of Mind” and “Models of Bounded Rationality” – Economics Nobel prize winner, recently deceased.

Threads of Cybernetics and Cognitive Science
A bit like the problem I had finding links from Kosko to the Fuzzy Logic “mainstream”, I’m finding difficulty cross linking several threads which claim to be the embracing the whole of cybernetics.

The Heylighen / Joslyn / Turchin axis under Principia Cybernetica (see links) does not seem to connect with the bibliography of Dupuy anywhere that I can find yet. (Though I find now that Joslyn includes a link to Kosko, so it’s not all bad news.)

Joslyn also inlcudes links to the Gordon Pask archive where the Guardian obituary by Paul Pangaro includes the line [ … Cybernetics was named in the 1940s as the discipline concerned with information, feedback, identity and purpose. These concerns were independent of whether the system in question was an animal or machine, individual or population ….]

Hobbes’ Leviathan
On organisational behaviour, natural language, and motivation in 1651.
There is absolutely nothing new under the sun.

Leviathan is Hobbes’ term for “commonwealth”, a self-organised “society” of humans acting as one “body” – ie an Organisation or almost literally a “Corporation” [ …. in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body …..]

“Of speech” […. But the most noble and profitable invention of all other was that of speech, consisting of names or appellations, and their connexion; whereby men register their thoughts, recall them when they are past, and also declare them one to another for mutual utility and conversation; without which there had been amongst men neither ….. society, nor contract…]

“Of the interior beginnings of voluntary motions (commonly called passions) and the speeches by which they are expressed.” [There be in animals two sorts of motions peculiar to them: One called vital, …. to which motions there needs no help of imagination: the other is animal motion, otherwise called voluntary motion; as to go, to speak, to move any of our limbs, in such manner as is first fancied in our minds.]

Ahab’s Wife or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
Pub Oct. 1999. 688p. illus. Morrow, $28 (0-688-17187-7).

Ahab’s wife, Una (nee Spencer), named by her mother after the personification of Truth in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, is so vividly portrayed that she seems more real than fictional in Naslund’s fanciful opus. (ref Booklist) “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” This is destined to be remembered as one of the most-recognized first sentences in literature – along with “Call me Ishmael.” Naslund has created an entirely new universe with a transcendent heroine at its center who will be every bit as memorable as Captain Ahab. (ref Reading Group Guides) The result is 668 pages of an interesting tale that focuses squarely on Una Spencer. The narrative traces the young woman?s childhood in Kentucky and her adolescence in Nantucket. Author Naslund has composed her book in a style that emulates Melville?s, with long scenes bearing a quiet dignity. Despite some interesting developments and the occasional appearance of the enigmatic Captain Ahab, Ahab?s Wife demands reading, but disappoints at the end, because it doesn?t seem to have a reason for having been written, other than as a lightweight piece of entertainment. (ref Unit101)

Fiction more real than “reality” – hold that thought (again).

[Post Note : the above was just copied off the page where I found the original reference. Since then, I have read and reviewed the book here, and had the conversation in the comments below.]

Renascence Editions
A (massive) Online Repository of Works Printed in English Between the Years 1477 and 1799
Francis Bacon (Advancement of Learning, et al)
George Berkeley (A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge)
Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan)
Joseph Hall (Charaters of Virtues and Vices)
David Hume (Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding )
Samuel Johnson (The Vanitie of Human Wishes)
John Milton (Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained et al)
Thomas Paine (Age of Reason )
Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations)
Edmund Spenser (The Faerie Queene),
Jonathan Swift (Gullivers Travels, complete)
Thomas Wilson (The Arte of Rhetorique)
and many more.