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.

Semantic WebLog / Pepperone Postcards – Danny Ayers blogs.
RDF techie (must learn what RSS is / does)
but anyway some key tidbits, not least links to …

Orchard – “Data Manipulation Framework . Sounds familiar. Appears to be DOM grove based”.
See my Manifesto – Orchard, Grove, and Jorn’s Fractal Thicket.
Daniel Rivers-Moore had it right already with Grove-based DOM.

WIKI – Post-it Notes for the Web.

Started – Mechanisation of the Mind – the History of Cognitive Sciences by Dupuy (See below)
Actually only read the 6-page preface so far and looking very promising. Not only do we encounter Poincare’s “dazzling intuitions” and self-organising systems in the first page – (the latter concept apparently pre-dating the intended scope of CogSci / Cybernetics from day#1 in 1976) – but we have a long quote from a Stanford lecture entitled “Beyond the Dualism between Cultured Ignorami and Hidebound Savants” in which he describes the schizophrenia …

between American Neo-Positivism
and French Post-Structuralism

between Hidebound Savants
and Cultured Ignorami (or Foggie Froggies)

between the philosophies of science, mathematics and logic
and the philosophies of the human and social “sciences”

between the analytic, rigorous, democratic, shallow and tedious
and the rich and meaningful on the other

between knowing everything about almost nothing
and knowing almost nothing about everything

between the need for formal models
and his nevertheless deeply held belief that ….
literature is a superior form of knowledge to science.

Wow, all this from a book on cybernetics. I can’t wait.
Must stop gathering and start organising threads of thought.

Bumped in to Michael and friend Gaylon in the Pick last night. Discover Gaylon taught ZAMM at Stanford (or was it Berkeley ?), but strangely didn’t know Lila. Must talk sometime, maybe next week.

Moby Dick turns out to be an excellent conversation piece with waiters, barmen and barflies, most seem to wish they’d read, or to be planning to read it. Few have, but everyone seems to have an opinion.

Need Meta-tagging capability in Blog (Klog) publishing.
Tools for meta-tag “library” selection / creation / management.
Then bingo, self-organising knowledge (well peer-organising anyway)

[Oh yeah, and half an hour ago, England lost to Brazil – life goes on.]

Finished Moby Dick.
If it wasn’t obvious, from the helpful map provided on the route of the Pequod, that the voyage ended in disaster, the final chapters could be quite suspense filled. A bit of a spoiler that. Apart from the late chapters when Ahab, soliloquises (to Starbuck mainly) about his career widow (yes the “Ahab’s Wife”) and his motivations to spend so many years of his life continuously at sea, (and of course the dramatic revelation earlier about the puspose of the mission) I don’t find Ahab and his much quoted “monomania” the main hero / subject of the book. The life and the characters are the story. Ahab is but one.

The competition for the dubloon provides an interesting parable on team motivation. In the initial part of the final chase Ahab (who put up the prize) – claims it over his crew, and creates the aweful anticipation of team demotivation. The second day Ahab changes the rules greatly in favour of the crew individually and as a team, and it shows in the way the entire crew follows his quest to their mutual terminal fate – with only Starbuck silently voicing “give it up now Ahab, for all our sakes”. Moby is not just real, but the real hero.

(Picky details – like the earlier rescue from the wreck in the first foray into the whaling boats, where the crew rescue is easy to miss, in the final fate of the Pequod itself, it is not clear when she sinks what has actually caused her to founder, and finally, the postscript about Ishmael surviving to tell the tale is a somewhat weak afterthought, though poignant in that Queeqeg’s coffin is the liferaft, and in fact only served to remind me that I’d lost any sense of where “I” was in the final scenes.)

Excellent read for so many reasons. Just the language is enough, varied though tough in some passages. The heroic historical adventure is a gripping and involving documentary too. Great stuff.

Irrational Knowledge Value Models in Practice
At a knowledge interest group meeting today I experienced a microcosm of so many of the issues here.

(1) The “General Motors / DeLorean effect” A failure of formal project teams to achieve scope execution and objectives desired and understood by the individual members, despite admissions that each member individually knew the process was wrong. “We’re creating a monster”. Committees of highly competent people often make incompetent decisions – fact.

(2) Recognition that the bits of the group’s activities that do work and represent “value” are those based on mutual trust and communication links between the members, not any formally planned activities / projects.

(3) Recognition that the “intangible” value of the loose / collaborative activities is real, but very difficult if not impossible to reflect in project budget cost-benefit justifications – yet still agree valuable enough for members to continue to work to achieve.

(4) “Darwinian” nature of the current state of development of semantic web ideas – memetic no doubt. Almost random which mutations occur and which find an immediate local environment to prosper, compared to any objective analysis of which ideas are “better” in any broader sense. (Just look at some of the trivial projects which achieve IST funding !)

Conclusion : Knowledge is organic. Processes which create and manage it must be organic too. Models which characterise and value it must recognise this. Objective rationalisation destroys knowledge. (Another one of those inescapable, but unfortunately currently useless, facts – like the emperor’s suit of clothes.)

SWAP – Semantic Web & Peer to Peer
I knew it. The power of peer to peer thinking fits so well with exploiting relationships between ontologies embedded in “knowledge” at each user in a peer to peer network. (Reference from Graham Moore of Empolis. Of course Empolis is part of Bertelsmann group who acquired Napster technologies over a year ago ! Guess what that technology is going to be used for.)
See earlier logs below eg “We Enterprise ?” (3:57 Sunday May 26, 2002) and the Corporate Klogger thread below too ….
Still need a “shared” ontology which is sensitive to the context and behaviour of the peers (individually). Where so much of the semantic is in relationships between peers and their activities, RDF is the obvious candidate for modelling those resource links. (Could RDF type XML Meta-Data actually be arranged so that it grows adapts organically / memetically according to the behaviour / usages of the peers, without a centrally managed ontology for the knowledge – a killer concept.)
Amsterdam Univ Presentation on IST Projects incl SWAP
Amsterdam Uni Knowledge Representation and Reasoning Page
Balearics Technology Innovation abstract on SWAP
Ontoprise SWAP presentation at CNEC

I’m a Klogger apparently. Link from Leon.
I’ve been running this KM-Blog for almost a year now, and now I find someone has just coined the phrase Knowledge Logging, keeping a “K-Log” of knowledge fragments. Link is to an article that exploits Microsoft Sharepoint to capture (say) employee blogs of knowledge with Sharepoint meta-data to capture structure in (say) a coporate knowledge base. Powerful idea, if the taxonomy of meta-tags can handle the true semantics. I’m already on this case. No time to lose.

There is a Kloggers forum too, run by John Robb of Radio Userland in the US
And there is KnowledgeBoard edited by Helen Baxter in the UK

Fact or Fiction ?
Well through Moby Dick now (96/136’ths) and still finding so much on so many levels. The blood-soaked anatomical detail and unctious stench and sensation in the butchery is numbing, and you can see how early reviews met with issues of poor taste ! As I mentioned earlier – one striking aspect is the balance between fact and fiction in the “documentary” account of the whaling industry, Melville’s own experiences and the (presumably) fictional narrative of Ahab, Moby Dick and The Pequod. Researching that aspect, I find, as expected, that there is no shortage of opinion on the matter. Hard to tell where romaticised telling of truth become actual fiction. Seems the apparent documentary aspects (eg in The Affidavit) are indeed essentially true.

OK, OK following a few more Google hits – so clearly this fact vs fiction aspect is a well trodden path (I did say I guesed it would be, didn’t I – see earlier). Seems to be a standard US exam question on US literature. End of that thread, except …. by the way did I forget to mention, I have a family connection with whaling going back three generations on my wife’s side of the family, so I have more than a passing interest. May get some relevant photographs and documents up on the personal pages for those interested, but I digress.

On the other hand, like why did I choose to read it as part of this information modelling research ? …

“Who would have looked for philosophy in whales, or for poetry in blubber. Yet few books which professedly deal in metaphysics, or claim the parentage of the muses, contain as much true philosophy and as much genuine poetry as the tale of the Pequod’s whaling expedition [….] and the graphic representations of human nature in the startling disguises under which it appears on the deck of the Pequod [….] all these things combine to raise The Whale far beyond the level of an ordinary work of fiction. It is not a mere tale of adventures, but a whole philosophy of life, that it unfolds.”

London John Bull, October 25 1851.

(I’d have to agree – and, by the way, it is more greatly absorbing than a “mere adventure” too. Very similar mix of qualities achieved by Pirsig. Ha – qualities ! Of course as i mentioned earlier, the reason I am reading Melville, is the “prodigious comparison” with Pirsig’s ZMM by reviewer George Steiner.)

More Rationally Institutionalised Conspiratorial Motivation
Another link via Jorn from Common Dreams
Mr. Cheney also specialized in getting government contracts for the firm. During his five years as CEO, Halliburton got $2.3 billion in contracts, compared with $1.2 billion in the five years before he took over. Most of the work was done by Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root, the construction firm, thus reinstating a fine old Texas tradition. Brown & Root was Lyndon Johnson’s major money source: It was to LBJ what Enron was to George W.
(Not news, in fact my thread is that there is nothing new under the sun in this line of apparent endemic conspiracy, but this particular example strikes a chord with me personally because of my longstanding relationship with one of B&R’s major competitors. I should explain – the “conspiratorial” references are not part of some conspiracy theory thesis against big business and the establishment – just part of a long series of threads of observation on relevant aspects of human nature – all will become clear.)