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All posts for the month April, 2004

We’re all children in the long run. Only just noticed a post by Mitch Ratcliffe, from over a year ago in response to one of my “Nothing new under the sun” threads, quoting William Barrett and Ortega y Gasset.

[Quote] One can find all sorts of tools for dealing with new problems in history, if only you let go of the conceit that you’re inventing everything. I tell my kids this all the time, when they are banging their heads against experience that is easily borrowed and improved upon. We’d do well to recognize we are all children in the long run. Better than just being dead, because it leaves your whole life in front of you and millennia of history to parent you through it all. [Unquote]

Well said.

Knowledge Dialogue. Lilia posts, and several other people pick-up on Lilia’s recent post on “Questions Powering Knowledge”. No doubt about that. Just look at the popularity of FAQ’s as a substitute for more planned communication.

A question is (generally on the face of it) an indication of someone wanting to know something. As Jack Vinson notes (quoting Denham Grey) questions come in all shapes and sizes. The problem with this list of categories is that it is a bit one-dimensional as ontologies go. In fact many different aspects of questions are being categorized. Who’s asking who, with what kinds of objectives, and using what strategies & processes. In fact 9 times out of 10 gaining knowledge in the form of a direct response to the question posed is not the main motive, or not even part of the motive, notice.

Lilia also concludes “KM is about motivation to learn”. Well OK, but for me this still begs the question about the motive in the learning itself. It’s about making or influencing a decision to achieve something else. Learning for it’s own sake – to simply have more knowledge as a resource as the outcome, is rarely the sole objective.

The Q&A process, and dialogue more generally, is definitely where knowledge is created, though gaining the A to the Q is only (a small) part of it. Secondly, classifying people’s motives in Q&A / Dialogue is really back to what makes people tick generally – anthropology, Maslow, Hertzberg, Heylighen, Pirsig, etc. An (evolutionary) ontology of life, the universe and everything.

Lilia also links to Andy at Croeso. Must follow-up the Shell EP connection – a customer in my day job.

At last …. blogged about this over a year ago, when BBC Radio 4 “Today” reported on a Dutch experiment to do away with traffic signs and road markings, and just leave the drivers to it. Sounds irrational, but it’s proven that there are less accidents and more courtesy, because the humans have to use eye-contact and body-language to work out priorities and safe manouvres.

Well yesterday it was announced that such a scheme was going to be adopted in an experiment in the UK that included a busy zone passing a school, where many “traffic calming” measures had previously been tried – doing away with speed-bumps, chicanes, cameras, speed limits, and in fact all road signs and white lines – the lot. (The Thursday Today link is ephemeral – I’ve downloaded the interview and will upload a link – needs Real Player.)

Less is more – you better believe it.
Irrational (subject-involving, non-objective, non-scientific rationale) is better than rational, for any complex evolved system involving humans. That’s MoQ.

We humans are not rational, we are “post-rationalising” for reasons of comfort – Argyris Theory I Model in Use, etc… Wake up from that meme dream (Blackmore) …. need I go on ?

(Our current bee-in-bonnet is new white lines appearing all over multi-lane roundabouts – how does any traffic planner believe these can possibly help anyone, except cover his own arse, and his employer’s arse, in the event of an incident ?)

Classical Physics Cannot Explain Consciousness. Blindingly obvious when you see this straightforward opening quote from Henry Stapp. [Quote] Classical mechanics arose from the banishment of consciousness from our conception of the physical universe. Hence it should not be surprising to find that the readmission of consciousness requires going beyond that theory. [Unquote]

Taken from his 1995 paper “Why Classical Mechanics Cannot Naturally Accommodate Consciousness but Quantum Mechanics Can” of which copies reside in many www locations. This QEDCorp version has editorial input from Jack Sarfatti.

A bit of a brain dump after following the new Adler link from Jorn in the previous post. All old ground, but suggesting Pirsig missed aspects of McKeon as the “Chairman” in ZMM.

Richard Peter McKeon (1900 – 1985) Columbia – Woodbridge & Dewey AB’20, AM’20, PhD’22, Sorbonne, Columbia’25, Hutchins – Chicago’35, Dean’36-’48, Ideas & Methods 211 (Room Cobb 112 first floor corner), Retd’74, (Bibliography)

Mortimer J Adler (1902 – 2001) – Columbia PhD’22(approx), Chicago’30 Law’31 (Great Books / Synopticon ’52)

Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899 – 1977) Yale AB’21, LLB’25, Law Dean’27, Chicago President’29-’51, (World constitution – post Hiroshima)

Charles Hartshorne (1897 – 2000) Chicago’28-’55

In the polarizing battles surrounding the general-education movement at Chicago, McKeon was often stereotyped as a Great Books advocate, an Ancient (vs. the progressive Moderns), and a strict Aristotelian who analyzed texts based on the requirements laid down in the Poetics. His schematism made it possible to appreciate the philosophy of the past without taking sides.

Common themes – The Great Books, Liberal Education, Ford Foundation, Encyclopeadia Brittanica.

Frederick J E Woodbridge
John Dewey
George Anastaplo
Richard Rorty – McKeon AM’49, AB’52
Robert Pirsig – Minneapolis BA’50, MA’58, Chicago McKeon Ideas&Methods’61
Doug Mitchell – McKeon AB’65 (book)
Zahava McKeon (his wife) – McKeon PhD’74
David Owen – McKeon AM’66, AB’80, PhD’84
Milton S Mayer (1908 – 1986) – McKeon
Robert Coover – McKeon AM’65
Susan Sontag – McKeon AB’51
Paul Goodman – Mckeon PhD’54
Paul Rabinov – Mckeon AM’65, AB’67, PhD’70
Wayne C Booth – McKeon AM’57, PhD’50
Morman McLean – McKeon Phd’40
William McNeill – Mckeon AB’38, AM’39 (Book – Hutchin’s University)
Richard Buchanan – McKeon AB’68, PhD’73

With thanks to Andrew Chrucky’s “In Search of the Real University of Chicago” for the many direct and secondary links.

Robert Maynard …. both Hutchins & Pirsig – spooky.

“Our erroneous notion of progress,” Hutchins writes, “has thrown the classics and the liberal arts out of the curriculum, overemphasized the empirical sciences, and made education the servant of any contemporary movements in society, no matter how superficial.” Consequently, a student who entered the university would find a “vast number of departments and professional schools all anxious to give him the latest information about a tremendous variety of subjects, some important, some trivial, some indifferent. He would find that democracy, liberalism, and academic freedom meant that all these subjects and fractions of subjects must be regarded as equally valuable. It would not be democratic to hint that Scandinavian was not as significant as law or that methods of lumbering was not as fundamental as astronomy. He would find a complete and thoroughgoing disorder.” Hutchins advocates at the collegiate level “a course of study consisting of the greatest books of the western world and the arts of reading, writing, thinking, and speaking, together with mathematics, the best exemplar of the processes of human reason.

That’s a plea for values in my book, shared with Adler and KcKeon I’d guess. Can’t see Pirsig would disagree ?

Mortimer Adler dropped out of school at 14 years of age and went to work as a secretary and copy boy at the New York Sun, hoping to become a journalist. After a year, he took night classes at Columbia University to improve his writing. A biography Pirsig would recognise !

Jorn is Posting Again. Same e-mail and same links to RobotWisdom. Came across this Mortimer Adler reference in a recent post of his. Jorn’s weblog at Robot Wisdom is still untouched since October 2003. He’s back posting (since Jan 2004 it seems) and on his ontology for human life quest again.

An interesting aspect is this quote … Since Adler’s day (1952– pre-Double-Helix), advances in biology have made more practical what I call an ‘etymogeny’ (cf etymology), a sorting of concepts in the order they evolved in nature: http://www.robotwisdom.com/ai/etymogeny.html.

This is very close to Pirsig’s levels of value, and he and Adler were on opposite sides of the Chicago divide. This looks like a very important connection. Must resurrect my “Circle of Life” metaphorical image again soon.

ANKOS Reviews. When Stephen Wolfram’s book came out, I tried to read it and read many reviews as part of that unsatisfactory attempt. I noticed, browsing Ray Girvan’s “Apothecary” site that he had done a serious review of ANKOS, and provides interesting links, to a site full of ANKOS reviews and a site with a “Crackpot Index” for grading scientific papers that claim groundbreaking content.

In the excitement of receiving the Pirsig materials on my return from a week away over Easter, I forgot how much reading I’d got through.

Joyce’s “Ulysses” I finished at last. I can see why it’s such an important work artistically and stylistically, and why it benefits from serious analysis and detective work, but I don’t get the major relevance to philosophy and epistemology I’m afraid. Genius close to madness again. Still reading the copious end-notes and the various reference materials linked from Jorn’s site. Read a couple of stories from “The Dubliners” – the book happened to be in the small collection at the house (converted mill at Yearle) that we stayed in. Still expect I’ll give “Finnegans Wake” a shot in the near future.

Also read Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. He clearly admits it’s the direct result of his own reading of a clutch of popular science books of the last ten years or so, so if you’ve already read a fair share of them you’ll find little new except Bryson’s readable style and disarming humour, and a useful reading list if any of the areas sparks your interest. Ultimately a little too earnest “save the world from extinction” for my liking. As a history of almost everything – its very much skewed to the sciences at the exclusion of ideas and arts (Physics, Cosmology, Geology, Human Evolution mainly.) Also read a major part of “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, very much a popular history of Darwin and Evolution as far as I got – readable but nothing new. I’ll still be giving Bryson’s “Mother Tongue” a try.

How did I miss this ? The 2004 Science of Consciousness, Tucson conference at the University of Arizona is this coming week ! That’s what happens when you’re too busy with your day job.

Pinker, Dennett and Blackmore as keynote speakers. (No Stapp or Josephson this year, which is a pity, but probably an indication that the subject matter has already moved into the superstar league. Different conference in fact – Science of Consciousness even years, Quantum Mind odd years.)

Agents of Change. Another one from Daniel Quinn [Ishmael Quote] Each of us must become an agent of change within the range of our own influence, and it doesn’t matter how great that range is. If you can’t reach a hundred (Ishmael’s suggested number), then reach ten, and if you can’t reach ten, then reach one, because you never know — that one may reach a million! [Unquote].

Two points – (a) change is about hearts and minds (Memetics), not facts and regulations, and (b) some change agents seem more effective than others, (Tipping Point et al again), but even a single individual mind changed is part of the process.

Ishmael – still not actually read Daniel Quinn’s book(s), even though they have been on my reading list for almost three years. Browsed lots of the Ishmael Community on-line resources in that tme, and feel I know the messages already. Why is it that this apparent common sense has to take on such an earnest religious flavour – probably explains why I’ve still not dived into the books yet. Perhaps my Scylla and Charybdis are common sense and religion, rather than scientific fundamenatlism and pseudoscience ? [the latter after James Willis]

These recent threads are coming together in my new role. A novel piece of development that has suffered the deaf ears of sceptics and comfortable conservatives may at last see the light of day as the opponents die off (metaphorically speaking) in an ongoing re-organisation. I can but hope.

No matter how good, an idea needs a nurturing environment to gain a foothold, flourish and prosper.
The downside risk is more worrying; in the wrong environment, bad ideas get the same advantage.
See the memetics / tipping point posts recently below.

I’ve several times indicated my human generations view of the major industrial cycles of innovation (Kondratiev Waves), and I suspect I’ve seen this quote from Max Planck before [Quote] …. innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. . . . What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning. [Unquote] [Ishmael Community]

Stop Pandering to Scientists. From Ray Girvan [Apothecary] In Guardian Life, there’s a pertinent article, Stop pandering to the ‘experts’, in which Professor Steven Rose argues that we need a mainstream press far more critical of science stories: “Investigative journalism is just as necessary here as anywhere else … The media have a tendency to treat ‘science’ as monolithic, speaking with one voice, when doubt, uncertainty and the clash of competing paradigms are the stuff of scientific advance. What is needed from our scientific communicators is to take courage, get critical, and do not be overawed by authority.”