All posts for the month December, 2002

[via James (Gerry) Gerard-Wolff] by Marianne Jones
My axioms were so clean-hewn,
The joins of ‘thus’ and ‘therefore’ neat
But, I admit
Life would not fit
Between straight lines
And all the cornflowers said was ‘blue,’
All summer long, so blue.
So when the sea came in and with one wave
Threatened to wash my edifice away –
I let it.
Too true – need to work on this dichotomy between the real-world logic and complexity with all it’s emergent semantics and properties and the human rationalisation towards simple syntax and neat rhetorical “logic”. Rational and Logical are becoming overloaded words !

[I have a long standing reference to Wolff’s pages on “SP” and “Compression” on my resources pages – avoided further direct reference due to the politics, but this remains an interesting resource. What does Wolff make of Lomborg, I wonder ? I see Wolff presented recently at the BCS special interest group on AI at Peterhouse Cambridge (10th/12th Dec 2002) – the plot thickens. Wolff makes references to early Pinker and reacts against Chomsky’s “language is too complicated to simulate” stuff.]

Been reading Pinker, Dennett, Rousseau and Rawls in the break. Forming a view of rationalisation as compression (after simple equals powerful idea). Pinker refers to the entire left side (?) of the brain as the “baloney generator” designed to produce convincing sounding “arguments” in difficult situations. Humans have an innate comfort with the “rational” and dislike of the “irrational”, needing rationale to explain experience. Often the rationale may be a gross simplification, simple near-term logic, basic correlation, even an analogy, with little or no true causal connection with the real situation – almost certainly also a mechanism for recording, recalling and reconstructing knowledge in ways that minimise the mental resources needed to do so (Keep it Simple Stupid). Shared (innate) intuitions of folk physics and folk psychology, mean that this is an important mechanism not only for recording and recalling knowledge, but also for sharing and communicating knowledge (with other humans). However important to communication, such rationale must not be confused with scientific reasoning concerning the truth of underlying cause and effect. True for all (apparent, human) “intents and purposes”, but false in any scientific sense of fact.

Still can’t get out of my head the significance of the fact that the evolution of the human brain – optimisation of physical wiring patterns – is way behind the evolution of knowedge in the last 100’s and 1000’s of years and the explosion in information and communication in the last 10’s and 100’s – exactly as one would expect given timescales of genetic evolution reinforced, against alternate mutations, over many generations. Rationalisation is the best (evolved) strategy our little brains currently have (may ever have) for dealing intuitively with an overload of information and mounting complexity of known, potentially true, relationships.

Behavioral Science is not for Sissies. My review of Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate (the above quote from p.121). I believe this will be an important work in my research into understanding knowledge, so much so that I felt the need to post a review even though I’m only half-way through. You get some flavour of the breadth from Pinker’s own quote from Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason [Quote] Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe; the starry heavens above and the moral law within. [Unquote]

Mentioned earlier I’d started reading Dennet. Finished Eco’s Kant and the Platypus – need to review. Also re-started Pinker’s Blank Slate – excellent rail against all or nothing political correctness – just because nurture / culture are big drivers of actual motivations and behaviour why discount innate propensities and capabilities of the human mind (human nature) as setting natural patterns of behaviour, beliefs, preferences, and their evolution. Why does this have to be binary / mutually exclusive argument ? Great stuff on common misunderstandings about proximate and ultimate mechanisms in Darwinian evolution. Reinforcing my view that the apparent ghost in the machine is explainable as a many layered emergent effect of the complex physical brain. Also that competing drivers mean evolutionary progress is a dynamical balance of contractictory effects – found myself extending this same dynamic (and ever changing) balance between “types” in the Jungian / Myers-Briggs sense too. Got me thinking again. [So much so that I’ve barely been able to put the book down – already 200 pages into it – See the next post above.]

The Zen of Programming. Jim Waldo via the Bright Eyed Mr Zen. [Quote] …. all require that the programmer change …. we need to give up a measure of control and accept that we cannot have full knowledge of the systems we are building …. we will know is a minimum set of behaviors …. over time the system will change in ways we could not have foreseen. Just as Socrates found that he was the wisest of men because he knew that he didn’t know anything (as opposed to others, who thought they knew something but were wrong), programmers must come to the realization that their knowledge of systems will be more and more Socratic. Rather than knowing everything, we will know what it is that we do not know …. the result will be more reliable, more flexible and more dynamic than the systems ….[Unquote]

Started reading Daniel Dennet – The Intentional Stance last night. A collection of his essays old and new, as a prelude to his forthcoming book on mind and consciousness. Good read so far and looking like a good introduction to this important writer that I’ve not read so far. Instant reinforcement of motivation or purpose being the prime axis of any model of real knowledge – the main thread I guess. Quote of a quote that caught my eye (in view of the string theory reference below) along the lines of “the dreams that stuff is made of”. Very much from the many a true word camp of ironic aphorisms.

Lifecycle of a Big Idea. Sally Bean via Knowledge Board. Can’t quite get my head round the concept of “Open Space” events in the originating article – sounds just like TQM Brainstroming to me – but this is at least amusing.

Intersting article also from KB – “Generations of Knowledge Management” tries to counteract the “bandwagon” effect of constant re-invention of new generations KM. Good content sources – but the article knocks too much and synthesises too little for me. Anyway at least no-one argues that human interaction is not the key component of knowledge.

Jorn’s Fractal Thicket. Originating in 1993. Made several references to this as an intersting alternative to simple hierarchies, and was led back to it from Jorn’s Knowledge Representation Timeline. Reification, complexity, fractality, physical fundamentals at incredibly fine-grained scale, whilst realities of everyday life very broad brush. Still avoids “chaos” ? Evocative of Seth’s idea of fundamental identity vs real expressivity as conjugate variables in the quantum sense. Jorn’s motivations may be too subversively political for most people, but his core ideas about knowledge are right on the mark [Quote – depoliticised] The weak point [of established thinking in western organisations] is their need to rationalise their acts by sophistries. The radical proposal is to [create a knowledge model] that can unflinchingly put the lie to their rationalisations. [Unquote]. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to agree – the conspiracy is a natural outcome of the rationalisation, not a motive in itself.

Skilled Incompetence Par Excellence. Cringley’s latest is actually a review of the inevitability of P2P, but he uses the story of BP (Anglo-Persian Oil) vs Mellon (Gulf Oil) as an example of how the official encumbent (BP) managed to spin out (and presumably rationally justify it business-wise) failing to find oil in Kuwait for 22 years as a metaphor for what will happen if P2P channel is taken over by “big-media” companies [Check out Bertelsmann]. [Quote] Remember that Kuwait is smaller than Rhode Island, and not only is it sitting atop more than 60 billion barrels of oil, it has places where, for more than 3,000 years, oil has seeped all the way to the surface. Yet Anglo-Persian was able to fulfill its contract with Gulf and keep two oil rigs continually drilling in Kuwait for 22 years without finding oil. To drill this many dry wells required intense concentration on the part of the British drillers. They had to not only be NOT looking for oil, they had to very actively be NOT LOOKING for oil, which is even harder. [Unquote] [See rationalisation thread].