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All posts for the month September, 2002

I’ve made made countless references to Maslow ever since I noticed that Pirsig’s levels of “value” (absolute quality or goodness) appeared to mirror it and recently since Foucault seemed to reinforce this impression. I always warmed to Maslow since pre-MBA management training days so I thought I’d better check out how good my memory was with a Google search. As usual I have unashamedly rolled several different theories together in my head – better to build and synthesise than to discard one theory in favour of another. Quite frankly IMHO, Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs can be (and often is) re-stated in words and varying levels of granularity that make Hertzberg’s (binary) Motivators and Hygiene Factors, McGregor’s (binary) Theories X and Y, and Ouchi’s Theory Z all just special cases of Maslow’s more general case. Most criticisms of Maslow can similarly be countered by judicious choice of words, and by remembering to treat his pyramid as an analytical framework, rather than some prescriptive methodology. These theories come predominantly from “management science” domains, but Pirsig and Foucault seem to say they represent something pretty fundamental about human social organisation and values – or even, dare I say, of any higher order intelligent beings natural or artificial.

Bearing in mind my original declaration of consciously viewing information and knowledge from a “human intent” perspective, then perhaps it becomes apparent why I see these drivers as one fundamental part of any knowledge model.

The Apothecary’s Drawer. Interesting mixed culture / science / history / writing blog from Ray Girvan (Link via Seb) with main site home pages containing many interesting (and classified) links. Picked up a link from there to Kuro5hin – “Technology and Culture from the Trenches” a lo-noise bulletin board with democratic moderation.

[Post Note - I'd forgotten until I re-looked recently that Ray's tag line was actually "an eclectic and sceptical look at topics near the triple point of science, arts, and culture".]

Finished Foucault – ultimately unsatisfactory despite 80% good content. Conclusions as incomprehensible as the penultimate chapter on Man. Did Foucault get tired towards the end, or his translator, or his editor (or was it just me) ?

Discovered publishers note about the mysterious translation of the title – sure enough, the publisher suggested The Order of Things precisely to distinguish it from other works in English with the titles “Words and Things / Objects” (See Quine below)

Umberto Eco’s little joke in his title “Foucault’s Pendulum” is of course responsible for the confusion between Michel Foucault and the Pendulum. (See the 10 most elegant experiments blog earlier)

[Note that psybertron seems to have got into search engines and directory listings at last - so more direct google hits etc, rather than re-directs from the old weblog archives. That, plus the increasing number of reciprocal links, probably responsible for the rising hit rate. I'll have to watch my P's&Q's.]

Seb’s Open Reasearch. Another interesting blog – seen some time ago, now added to the sidebar. Picked-up this quote / link:
The O’Reilly Network has posted a transcript of Lawrence Lessig’s keynote speech on copyright at the Open Source Convention in late July. His four theses:
[Quote]
+ Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
+ The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
+ Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
+ Ours is less and less a free society.
[Unquote]
Pirsig’s levels explicitly in here, though not acknowledged – ie base / older level enables higher/ future level , but must not constrain it, however the other side of the deal is that the more developed level mustn’t undermine the lower, until it has re-built a foundation – kind of credible “respect your elders” adage. Dupuy also said about AI / Cybernetics “reflective contemplation is essential to progress”, not because one should feel constrained by it, but because it provides many possible bases on which to build, and many more allies than enemies. Little is thought that has not been thought before – who said that ?

Confucious “Study the past, if you would divine the future.”

Stepford Citizen Syndrome. (From BuzzFlash via Adam Curry). Many a true word, but really an example of how “cultural rationalisation” manifests itself like some kind of evil conspiracy, yet each individual would probably claim – “but I’m different.” Argyris again.

[Post Note - spookily my recorded impression of Perth, WA is Stepford Wives meets Bournemouth ... now I recall why.]

Cycorp – Dimensions of Context Space. Reference to Doug Lenat’s paper (via Seth). If one accepts “context” as the space in which information represented by relationships is organised and characterised, then this Cyc stuff has a lot in common with the EPISTLE work I’ve mentioned before. Also like EPISTLE Atomic Templates and Seth’s Mentographs, includes the idea that information comes as “atoms” which may be indivisible in terms of their communication, but have internal structure which together with context defines their semantics. I see a total convergence of thoughts here, in that the description of “information” is reduced in all cases to characterisation of relationships and the directed pattern of their linking, even if I’m uncomfortable with the choice of “context” to describe this set. (Lenat’s context – Figure 1 – in fact seems to represent what I alluded to as the communication chain in my manifesto, originally brought to my attention by Guarino.)

Lenat’s paper goes further, in that it suggests (defines) 12 dimensions for characterising these “contexts”. The basic spatio-temporal-extent (EPISTLE) idea is there as both points and periods in both time and n-Dimensional space (four of the dimensions). Most of the remaining 8 are very much around human intent, which is very encouraging, but I see no convincing argument offered as to why this particular breakdown is significant, though examples given demonstrate it’s utility. Pleased also to see “granularity” as an explicit dimension – my current spin is one of “fractality” – something like necessary levels of granularity linked to complexity of the context.

I ought to explain why I don’t feel bound to respond scientifically to the 12 dimensional breakdown from the perspective of attempting to challenge any specific inadequacies. There may in fact not be any, but that is not my point. Taxonomies / ontologies also can be very useful and flexible, so much so that many people would still not question significant limits to their utility for organising information / knowledge. I am more concerned at present to establish if there are any fundamental bases on which such ontologies (even ontologies of context – because that’s all they are) should be constructed – before re-addressing any pragmatic limits to implementation.

Lenat’s 12 dimensions do indeed however look like the shape of things to be expected. No argument there.

[Note to self - must get into the habit of creating little discusions like the above as "quickies" - a la Jorn - so that they take up less space in the Blog itself.]

Another milestone. Most are Google search hits, amazing number of searches for Jostein Gaarder (Sophie’s World) and Friedrich Durrenmatt (Die Physiker) – both of which figure in my references, but not as significant contributions to the main threads. Increasing number of recognisable regular visitors. Thanks peeps.
[Thanks to gimbo too for the reciprocal sidebar link.]
[And thanks also to Leonid for his link.]

“It’s like receiving a threat from a post-modernist gangster, who makes you an offer you can’t understand.” – Charlie Stross (via Jeff Vogel, via Jacob Haller, via “kibology”, via Jorn). [Link omitted intentionally. I've not ventured into kibology yet, whatever that is, but the time may yet come.]

Seriously though, I re-read most of Joe Powell’s “Postmodernism” last night, much more enlightening having now read Foucault. I can see Derrida (“Of Grammatology”) being next, followed closely by Deleuze and Guattari (“Forget Foucault” and “Rhizome”). Interestingly although the deconstructionists seemed to turn against Foucault – they look like a logical progression to me – all that’s missing is something to re-construct with !

Foucault’s archaeological journey makes a big thing of the much neeeded demise of “tables” in organising knowledge going foward. (Ref Bacon’s tables, Linnaeus’ classical taxonomies, and Roussel’s operating table – grids in “space” in which to organise things.) The others simply go one step further and attack any kind of tree / hierarchy / ontology – hence rhizome. Of course Foucault himself had already suggested the web analogy in his “Semantic Web” earlier in the discourse. What a great deal of fuss about not a lot – No need to diasgree with, or denounce one “ism” before adopting another, so much better to build on relationships. Who needs binary opposites ? (Quantum computing again ?)

It is pretty credible that whilst ontologies (trees / taxonomies) are useful they are in no way fundamental in themselves. Rhizomes, Fractal Thickets (Jorn) and Groves are closer to the truth, but clearly the cross-linking of relationships on multiple levels of intent in a web is even closer. – Question is, is there anything fundamental about the “levels” to choose, and any fundamental order in these ? Enter Pirsig again, and Maslow and Foucault, and Cuvier. A FRACTAL WEB in fact too – scale factoring in fractals must bear some relationship to the levels chosen.

How not to get behind in the 21st century. Interesting summary from Leonid Ototsky of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works (via Danny’s Blog) of technical directions in e-style information integration. Not surprisingly Leonid makes reference to his adopting the EPISTLE information model, as well as numerous references to his recently deceased inspiration – Stafford Beer. More interesting in this context are his references to Norbert Wiener?s ?Cybernetics and Society” and to Principia Cybernetica (See sidebar).

Interestingly too, is the machine translation of Leonid’s “IT Strategy for a New Century” paper, hosted by the SUO (Standard Upper Ontology) project. This group organised uder IEEE, is already linked on my resources page, where I had previously seen them as thrashing around from first principles somewhat – worth a second look.

What a tangled web we weave. [Must communicate with Leonid / SUO.]

Struggled with the penultimate chapter of Foucault – He name drops every philosopher since 18C that I’ve heard of (except Wittgenstein), but I don’t get what this chapter is about – the concept of Man. Fortunately the final chapter on Human Sciences is much clearer – the balance between science and anthropology / behaviour / subjectivity. I keep finding evocations of Pirsig / Lila.

From NYT via Adam Curry. The 10 most elegant experimental demonstrations as voted by physicists. Chronologically …
Eratosthenes’ measurement of the Earth’s circumference. (7th)
Galileo’s objects falling with constant gravitational acceleration. (2nd)
Galileo’s balls rolling down inclined planes also under gravity. (8th)
Newton’s decomposition of sunlight with a prism. (4th)
Cavendish’s weighing the Earth / measuring gravitational constant. (6th)
Young’s interference experiment showing light as waves. (5th)
Foucault’s pendulum demonstrating Earths rotation. (10th)
Millikan’s oil-drop measurement of electron charge. (3rd)
Rutherford’s discovery of the nucleus by alpha bombardment. (9th)
Claus Jönsson diffraction of electrons behaving as waves. (1st)

[Actually, this is just an excuse to post a mention of Jean-Bernard Léon Foucault as distinct from Michel Foucault in response to people constantly asking me "Is that Foucault as in Foucault's Pendulum ?" Well now we know. That and the fact that Claus Jönsson remains an obscure individual despite executing what is considered to be the most elegant experimental scientific proof ever, predicted with some certainty by so many more famous theoretical physicists than himself, Einstein included. A message in that ? Stick to the theory perhaps.]

Almost finished Foucault’s The Order of Things. The powerful chapter on Labour, Life and Language attempts to build fundamental levels of existence based on processes of creation and change (as opposed to being and exchange) in contrast to models based on taxonomies of representation. Labour – Ricardo building fundamental value on Adam Smith, arriving at Marx and Nietzsche, Life – Cuvier building a hierarchy of levels of classification around Lamarck and Jusseau where form is fundamentally subservient to function; Language – Bopp building a process view around Schlegel and Grimm where language is defined by its history of (ongoing) development not frozen in written form, and by the activities, events and processes willed by it’s users, not objects described or represented.

Moby Dick reared his head in the Cuvier / Lamarck analysis, where the anatomical features of cetaceans are related to the fundamental aspects of mammals – something on which Melville dwells at deep and gory length.

Multiple, fundamental “levels” – a common thread in Pirsig, Maslow, Post-Modernism and now specifically Foucault.

Bumped into Michael in the Pick – my first night there in weeks, probably his last in months, and when I mentioned I’d been to the Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta the week before last, he revealed that his father had developed and exploited a radio / radar based probe for surveying tar sand deposits in Alberta in the 70′s.

Michael also revealed that he’d experienced the Kobe earthquake, been physically knocked about personally and seen quite harrowing scenes of destruction, human as well as property, as fires burned for days whilst he was effectively trapped. Unsurprisingly then, the 4.8 Richter scale earthquake we’d experienced in the UK on Sunday night held more than passing interest for him. In fact Michael had been awoken / disturbed by the quake in the night and, recalling the fear and horror of the previous event, had suffered a traumatic Monday.

Michael also indicated distaste for the Foucault I was reading, and the French Post-Modernists in general. I know what he means about the de-constructionist analytical froth, with little attempt to re-construct anything substantial, but I have to say I think he’s wrong about Foucault. In fact one of the main threads of my thesis is that apparently tangible facts of life are constructed from much less tangible interactions on many levels.

It was Michael who first drew my attention to Jung / Synchronicity / I Ching, the evening we met, when I was reading Melville’s Moby Dick, moments after he’d been recommending to one of his students, standing on the pavement outside the Pick, that he really should read something other than Jane Austen, like Melville for instance ! On another occasion, finding me reading Pirsig (Lila, as opposed to ZAMM), the person he was with that night had been teaching Pirsig to students at Berkley. On the face of it Michael and I now have no evident plans to be in the same place at the same time in future, but synchronicity (or some less mystical quantum non-locality) will no doubt prevail in our decision making once again. Good luck with the move Michael, including re-housing the second largest personal library in Cambridge (after Pepys apparently) – housed in Magdelen, just across the road from ….. the Pick, where else ?