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All posts for the month June, 2004

Now got through Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Gottlieb’s book – by far the bulk. The remainder up to 1650 is packed into relatively few pages – as many others have mentioned (see note below). Gottlieb is very defensive of his Greek heros, and to be fair, I’ve learned a lot – makes a change from all those books that just seem to re-inforce what by now seems blindingly obvious – but that’s another story.

Actually, and predictably I guess, the post-socratic blind turn is not actually due to Plato and Aristotle themselves, but due to the way their ideas were picked-up and exploited. It’s memetic latching again isn’t it. The church latched conveniently onto the arguments for divine purposeful cause behind the workings of the world, natural science latched onto logic, cos it’s black and white – easy to understand metaphors and easy to apply to objective argument and proof. Holistic questions of balance and values ? Plato and particularly Aristotle had Socratic wisdom too – but much too difficult to apply. Let’s just ignore that stuff for a millenium or two.

Note : Gottlieb himself comments on the fact he has only 100 pages covering 550 to 1550 AD, and points out that this is quite common and unsurprising in histories of Western Philosophy – he cites Hegel in particular.

Am I right ?
Just bought Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” on the strength of Gottlieb’s Aristotle.

This 12th International Conference at the Huntsville University, Alabama has an interesting range of subjects, and a Peircean theme based in the HUA Computer Sciences department. eg This year’s invited speakers will be
Jeff Heflin, USA (the semantic web)
John Sowa, USA (conceptual graphs)
Rudolf Wille, Germany (formal concept analysis and concept graphs)
Frithjof Dau, Germany (existential graphs)
Kelly Parker, USA (American pragmatism)
Terrence Deacon, USA (biological anthropology and linguistics)

Note John Sowa in there. Interesting person whose path has crossed with my interests several times – SUO & KIF for example. Didn’t notice he was a graduate of VUB, where Heylighen and Joslyn are based. I notice Cliff Joslyn is also speaking at this event.

John Sowa’s book on “Knowledge Representation” looks comprehensive, but expensive. His paper on Architectures for Intelligent Systems is an interesting read in my current day-job context. The notation sparked a memory of Garth Kemmerling’s summary of the syllogisms.

Interesting new site in the area of Cognitive Science – picked-up from Google.Groups.AI forum. Not much content yet, but shows promise.

FN4 is the social barrier to acceptance of robots in the human environment, coined by Wired’s Bruce Sterling – begs the question what FN’s 1, 2 & 3 are, but one can guess – the absence of ethics is the FN4 bottom line. The usual AI problem, decision making with (human) values.

Still making my way through Gottlieb’s book (see previous blog). Not much new since Democritus and Socrates I reckon – call me dismissive – but I still see the last 2500 years as the “post socratic blind-alley of western civilisation” thanks to Plato and particularly Aristotle, with help from the Romans and Christianity.

Easy to create a philosophical web-timeline from Gottlieb’s book, to compare / contrast and indeed supplement the DoPoM Timeline of Philosophy, part of Garth Kemmerling’s Philosophy Pages.

MAJOR ISSUE with Gottlieb’s book is it’s subtitle should really be “the history of western philosophy ….” There’s only the odd reference to hindus & buddhists, and no chapters where these are the subject matter. As well as a sequel, from the renaissance to the present time, it clearly needs a parallel volume to cover the eastern threads too.

Met one Alex Lennon last night (in the Pickerell, where else). He has his own personal www.embeddedsoftware.co.uk website and works for Organix in Cambridge.

He spotted I was reading Anthony Gottlieb’s “The Dream of Reason – a History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance” [QUOTE] Already a classic in its first year of publication, this landmark study of Western thought … supplant[s] all others, even the immensely successful History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. [UNQUOTE] says A. C. Grayling. (Gottlieb, executive editor of the Economist amongst other things, is penning a follow-up volume completing the story up to the present day.) Excellent so far, succinct, pithy and easy to read – on Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, the pre-Socratics – looking forward to the rest of it.

What our discussion in the Pickerell did not reveal is that Alex has an inspiration, in common with me, in Robert Pirsig’s ZMM, revealed on his web site.

This year is 30 years since Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was published. To mark the event ….

Fritz Schabmuller and Gregor Schleicher are doing the ZMM route (on Harley’s) to raise money for charities (Medicin sans Frontieres & The White Ring). They leave Ingolstadt on 1st July then starting in Chicago they are doing the whole route from Minneapolis arriving San Francisco 29th July. Their web site includes a daily blog.

Mark Richardson, motoring journalist with the Toronto Star, is also doing the trip, as a sabbatical writing project, departing Minneapolis 19th July, to arrive San Francisco by the 30th.

I wish them all luck. Gary Wegner’s route map. My route map.
If you’re on their route look out for them and give ‘em a wave.

The Demystification of Management Systems Science. Seems an apt title. Spookily I just came across this PhD course material presented at Helsinki University of Technology, in a cross-search hit on Pirsig, the day after coming back from a meeting / conference at the HUT in Espoo. An interesting paper by David Hawk at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Been reading his “What is Life” (1944) and “Mind and Matter” (1958), together with his own autobiographical sketches. Marvellous stuff. These physicists who first came into contact with quantum physics, were clearly all deeply affected by the strange view of “reality” it presented and how this related to human scale everyday reality. Einstein famously struggled with “god playing dice”. Heisenberg too I’ve read and found the same philosophical and moving experience. Stops you in your tracks.

“What is Life” is a very interesting discourse on genetics and evolution – the Lamarckian metaphor, despite the clear Darwinian causality – and the relationship between quantum scale physics and DNA biochemistry – fascinating. Life and crystals as negative entropy or free energy. Roger Penrose provides a glowing introduction of this theorectical physicist’s contribution to molecular biology.

“Mind and Matter” goes further into the subject / object divide in scientific reality – and leads straight into the Vedic Upanishads and Eastern “mystical” “holistic” views being much closer to the quantum world view. He’s no cod philosopher either – he draws on Spinoza, Descartes, Schopenauer, Kant et al, and rails against the Greek legacy in western culture, whilst still naturally defending its correct position in science itself.

(Didn’t notice if Fritjof Capra and Michael Talbot cited Schroedinger – must check that out. I wonder if that erstwhile budding molecular biologist Robert Pirsig ever read Schroedinger. Intriguing.)

Sohail InayatullahPaper written in 2001, not long after 9/11 (during Afghanistan but before Iraq) by Sohail Inayatullah editor of New Renaissance. Wonderfully optimistic view of “emergent” and “transcendent” world order likely to arise from common ground amongst creative intellectuals in both the west and muslim / non-west.

That shared common ground being a sustainable, earth-centred, ecological perspective. ie not so much east meets west, but (mystic) east and (rationally scientific) west meet Gaia. I wonder.

I get lots of my post ideas from cross-search-hits – people looking for subjects not really covered by my site, but with some words in common as far as Google’s indexing is concerned.

Well this site “Strip Mining for Whimsy” blogged it’s own cross-hit.

As I do, Joshua has spotted a hit with an item of interest despite the fact that most hits are literally about strip mining in his case. The common metaphor is the real link.

Following on from the Frizzy Logic link in the previous post but one about metaphor, I browsed queen-B’s links to all sorts of interesting linguisitic blogs and resources – via Language Hat en-route naturally. She has an excellent FrizzyLinks page.

World Wide Words site by Michael Quinion on the actual and apochryphal etymologies of English expressions, both common-place and obsure.

Also the Online Etymology Dictionary.

What am I doing wrong ? I have MS VM 3810, Firewall and Virus Scanning as well as Anti-Spyware from McAfee and Lavasoft, all updated today. All seem to detect and clean out CoolWebSearch, but nothing stops it re-appearing only minutes later and hijacking my browser. The fu**ing ba**ards. Of course, the cowards don’t put contact details on their lousy pages either. Grrrr.

Graham Horton’s Quotations Page. Quotations pages are a bit of a cliche, there are so many of them (and what would we do without Einstein), but this one I thought had so many applicable to novelty and discovery, scientific or otherwise, that I had to link. Herewith a sample, of those most apt …

Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority. Thomas Huxley

If we had had more time for discussing we probably would’ve made a great many more mistakes. Leon Trotsky

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds. John Maynard Keynes

It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious. Alfred North Whitehead

To say that a man is made up of certain chemical elements is a satisfactory description only for those who intend to use him as a fertilizer. Hermann Joseph Muller

There ain’t no rules around here! We’re trying to accomplish something! Thomas Alva Edison

Some things need to be believed to be seen. Guy Kawasaki

The physicist’s greatest tool is his wastebasket. Albert Einstein

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? Albert Einstein

Very few people do anything creative after the age of thirty-five. The reason is that very few people do anything creative before the age of thirty-five. Joel Hildebrand

It was, no doubt, partially because of Fourier’s very disregard for rigor that he was able to take conceptual steps which were inherently impossible to men of more critical genius. Rudoph E. Langer

A man with a new idea is a crank until he succeeds. Mark Twain

Science is everything we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else. David Knuth

And many more ….

I’ve just finished reading Fitjof Capra’s “Hidden Connections” – it’s just a bit too earnest on the “eco-warrior” front. Too anti-global-business and anti-global-capital-markets, too doom and gloom for me. Call me a wimp, but for me “revolution” is an unfortunate consequence when someone’s misguided command and control management or government model omits “evolution” or backs it into an impossible corner.

Let’s encourage evolution, not incite revolution I say.

That said, he does collect together many sources (outside his own spehere of Tao Physics) demonstrating that, everywhere from the way DNA communicates within the biosystem of cell structures, to the players in the globally communicating capital markets, or the society participating in the global comms village, what matters is the interconnected system nature of things rather than the “cogs” themselves. So much is emergent from this complexity / chaotic systems theory view of the whole, rather than being in any way causally related to any of the activities of particular cogs or nodes in the system.

Genes have had their ephemeral 15 minutes of fame. They alone explain very little, whatever the early hype of the success of the human genome project.

This is exactly, and I mean exactly, the same TBL / Dan Brickley point in the previous post, about characterising the arcs (connections), and merely identification of the nodes (objects / players), in the semantic web model.

I took delight in discovering some time ago that the “semantic web” was coined by Michel Foucault (“Les Mots Et Les Choses” 1966, aka “The Order of Things” to distinguish it from Quine’s “Word and Object”) many years before Tim Berners-Lee came along. Not that I have anything against Sir TBL – it’s just part of my interminable “nothing new under the sun” thread, whereby I keep finding evidence of no-brainers in the archaeology of knowledge management. (I’m currently reading Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge purely by coincidence).

In other words “Knowledge IS a Semantic Web”. That’s what it is, not just what someone, anyone calls it or characterises it.

Another link I unearthed today, re-reading Dan Brickley’s 2001 Semantic Web presentation (on RDF and all that), is Sir TBL’s original 1989 CERN Proposal for his “mesh” of information – the word “web” appears a couple of times, and the word semantic not at all. He coined “world-wide-web” later when first coding his ideas in 1990.

The facts that jumped out at me …. I’ve been involved in exploitation of associative information modelling since before web technology existed …. it has been amazing to see the convergence of the W3C technology with the ideas in general. The first key is “identification” (Namespaces & URI’s et al), the next is “overlapping vocabularies and meta-data conventions” and the third is relationships or more precisely “types of relationships”. The other mind-blowing point, given the “evolutionary schema frameworks” idea I’m currently working with, is this summary from Dan,

The common model:
why use ‘nodes and arcs’? :
[An associative model with identification of the nodes
and typing of the arcs.]

- arbitrarily extensible (just add more connections)
- we can decentralise control using URIs
- we can disagree about node and link types, yet still share infrastructure (syntax, databases, editors)
- URIs create a market for data merging, aggregation, annotation and filtering services

Spot on Dan. It’s the decentralised control and the “market” for services, which gives rise to “emergence” and evolution – the opportunity for change in an environment which is both nurturing and competitive.