All posts for the month August, 2004

The motto of Paul Saffo, Director for the Institute for the Future. [via Evelyn Rodrigues][via Johnnie Moore]

This is actually the same argument I had with myself about active versus passive flexibility back in the 80’s and the paradox of “the unreasonable man”. No point being so open minded that you believe anything in an ephemeral way, blowing with the wind, so to speak. You should hold opinions, preconceptions you understand, not just cultural schemata, but should actively be prepared to test them against any other view and modify the view held or not, accordingly. Without this there is no coherence, and no evolution or progress either.

I like Johnnie’s blog – looks interesting. His punchline is “I think the best thing to do is show and say more of what you really think, with whatever true vehemence seems fitting to you at the time!” ie Clarifying your opinions is important, how hard you defend them (or not) depends on circumstances. I see Johnnie bought the Cluetrain Manifesto too. Man after my own heart.

Also like Evelyn’s punchline “Agreement is not necessary, thinking for oneself is.”

It’s a few months since I looked at what’s going on in this space, and was prompted today by a cross hit on “non-locality. The BCS-Cybernetics site has this astonishing paper which is actually 4 years old …
[Levels of] chromosome quantum nonlocality as genetic information …

The 1st level is that the organism as a whole ….
The 2nd level is the cellular level ….
The 3rd level is the cellular-nuclear level ….
The 4th level is the molecular level ….
[So far so good ?]

The 5th level is the chromosome-holographic: at this level, a gene has a holographic memory, which is typically distributed, associative, and nonlocal, where the holograms “are read” by electromagnetic and/or acoustic fields … the nonlocality takes on its dualistic material-wave role, as may also be true for the holographic memory of the cerebral cortex.

The 6th level concerns the genome’s quantum nonlocality … Billions of an organism’s cells can [therefore] “know” about each other instantaneously, allowing such a cell set to regulate and coordinate its metabolism and its own functions.

What can I say ? Bear in mind that these people are would-be pragmatists, looking for exploitable Information Technology, not philosophers engaged in academic debate of mind-body dualism at the boundaries of the known world.

Stumbled across this little lot on a cross-search hit on “Maslow’s Holistic Training Template“, which sounded like a 1970’s rock-band for a moment. (Just remembered what it triggered – Roger Ruskin-Spear’s Kinetic Wardrobe, though I actually remember it as Neil Innes, supporting Curved-Air and/or Mott The Hoople, Middlesbrough Town Hall, 1972-ish. Perhaps Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts is closer, or more obviously Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. None of which explains why my head is filled with Roy Wood singing “Goodbye Blackberry Rain”. Nurse, quick, fetch the straight-jacket.)

Anyway, Chaophilosophy or Chaosophy sounds awfully mystical; Dawkins wouldn’t approve, all emergence and convergence. No time to get a feel for the quality of the arguments yet, but some fascinating papers by Frederick Abraham, with all the right ingredients. Some wonderful titles in this collection of papers on Chaos Theory in Psychology. (Karl Pribram in there.)

Chaos is seductive, because it is seductive, and a good story is often “better” than objective truth. Seems to be the theme of my last dozen posts.

Another one of those “the plot thickens” links. Read and blogged about both F.S.C. Northrop (The Meeting of East and West) and Werner Heisenberg (Physics and Philosophy), but didn’t notice the the US edition of the latter (1958 Great Minds series, published by Prometheus) had an introduction by the former. I read the UK Penguin edition of Phsyics and Philosophy, with an intro by Paul Davies, I think.

The Richard Russo piece (*) blogged below, is an excellent read on so many levels, about what really matters in life. Very moving actually. [*Local Copy cached here.]

[QUOTE] The vain hope of middle class parents that their children will go off to college and later be returned to them economically viable but otherwise unchanged … what many parents never quite seem to grasp … sending their kids off to college is a lot like putting them in the witness protection program. If the person who comes out is easily recognizable as the same person who went in, something has gone terribly, dangerously wrong.[UNQUOTE]
Whaddya reckon boys ?

[QUOTE] I have two things to offer today: first, a story, and second, some advice about the rest of your lives. If you’re only able to pay attention to one, listen to the story … I think almost exclusively in narrative … the only reliable advice I have to give is on how to make stories more plausible, more moving, more true … in other words, how to lie better.[UNQUOTE]
Narrative fiction as truth, again.

How not to confuse your day job with your life’s work.
Recall Lilia’s “Day Job” thread[?].[Story Telling][More Chaos]

Anyway, Russo’s is good stuff throughout, majoring on humour, again. Go read. [*Local copy cached here.]

Richard Russo’s Commencement Address (*) – makes you think.
[via clock-watching][*Local copy cached here.]

Eco hit, concerning the book “The Rule of Four”, also from clock-watching. It’s a historical literary mystery story, like Eco’s Rose, but with more of the style of Donna Tartt according to the reviews. The excerpt looks readable. (As an aside, the subject, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, sounds something like the plot of Gilliam’s Brazil; Lowry searching for his beloved in a dream.)

1997 Wired article on Eco.

Science & Society blog by Dermot. Some links to my posts, plus some other intriguing subjects. Worth perusing further.

Think I saw these some months ago, but didn’t spot the potential. Saw this link via Matt Whyndham. Leads to

Not so concerned with the mind-mapping angle – just a matter of visually appealing presentation – but the fact that allows categorisation of linked pages. I wonder if I could use this to categorise my own blog posts as well as linked pages ? I wonder if I can also categorise my categories, by simply having a post for each category ? Must try out.

And via the same Brown Hen link – the Snowflake Metaphor for planning a narrative – common sense, but an interesting metaphor. More worrying is the rest of this guy’s christian writing site. Spookily one of his friends works in Bozeman …. AAAaaaggghhh!!! lets not go there.

Anyway – more grist to the “physicists who got close to the edge” theme. This guy was into string-theoretical physics (for real) , which is one or two up on the original quantum physicists, but like so many he found something hard to explain about real-life philosophy at the boundaries of knowledge. Hopefully religion and/or madness (and/or book-writing) are not the only escape routes.

A main thread of mine is that apparently scientifically justified rationale is often way off the mark when it comes to the truth of any human-scale issue. I blogged last year a debate involving Steve Jones and George Monbiot, on the non-scientific aspects of scientific claims. To have faith in rational scientific argument is of course itself a meme of immense durability, so much so that Pinker talks of the left side of the brain having evolved to become a “baloney-generator” to construct rational arguments even when they may not apply to reality.

Here is an article from the Daily Telegraph of 4th July, about recognition in the world of science that there may be more to scientific truth than logical rationale, and it covers some of the same global science stories as the debate above.
Science Turns to Philosophy in Search for Truth
by Robert Matthews.

According to Wittgenstein, the purpose of philosophy is to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle. For those reluctant to regard themselves as flies, still less ones trapped in bottles, Wittgenstein’s aphorism gives all the excuse needed for lobbing philosophy into a mental box marked “Not Needed on Voyage”.

Having long regarded Wittgenstein an intellectual fraud, it has taken me a long time to recognise the potency of his definition. It began with a growing suspicion that those keen to boss us about are indeed like flies buzzing around in bottles, in the shape of academic departments or the Westminster Village. Only very recently has it occurred to me that philosophers might have something useful to say on the matter.

To judge by a meeting I attended last weekend in Seville, others are beginning to sense the same thing. It was organised jointly by the Group of Policy Advisers to the European Commission and the London School of Economics, with the aim of showing what philosophers could contribute to the vexed question of dealing with risk.

The answer, it soon became clear, was rather a lot. Take the trade disputes that flare-up between America and Europe over the alleged risks posed by some or other product. One such dispute, concerning Europe’s de facto moratorium on approval or marketing of genetically modified (GM) produce, is currently in the lap of the World Trade Organisation and shows no signs of being resolved any time soon.

On the face of it, the way to do so is simple: just call in the scientists, and ask them for an objective view of the evidence. Which seems perfectly reasonable until one considers the issues involved with philosophical rigour.

For example, one of the leading themes of current philosophy is that the notion of objectivity is utterly illusory. This is not some post-modern pose: the subjectivity of scientific knowledge has been proved with mathematical rigour. The upshot of these proofs is that data merely serves to update our pre-existing beliefs, and that its impact on those beliefs depends on such touchy-feely concepts as trust.

There was a time when philosophers would have been content to point all this out, and then sit back with a smug smile. No longer: the speakers at the Seville meeting were keen to offer practical solutions alongside the philosophical insights.

A study by a team led by Dr Erik Millstone of Sussex University showed that trade disputes are ultimately the result of American and European policy-makers unwittingly buzzing round different fly-bottles. In the case of GM products, the Americans focus principally on the commercial risks posed, while the Europeans fret about the risk to human and ecological health.

As such, the scientific data each side wheels out to support their case is irrelevant: as their pre-existing beliefs about what is important are so different, data alone can never bring a consensus. The solution, Dr Millstone and his colleagues suggest, is to ensure that both sides open discussions as soon as there is any hint of potential dispute – and at least agree on the shape and size of the bottle in which both sides should buzz.

Insights from epistemology – the philosophy of knowledge – inveigled their way into many of the discussions at Seville, as did a notorious quote from Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary.

The mathematician Dr Lenny Smith of the LSE and Oxford University pointed out that while Mr Rumsfeld was widely ridiculed for distinguishing between “known knowns”, “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”, scientists and policy makers would do well to follow his example.

While science is often seen as a repository of known knowns, the discovery in the 1960s of phenomena such as chaos revealed the existence of “known unknowns”: measurable but ineluctable limits to the accuracy of, say, weather forecasts. Yet scientists and policy-makers alike have still to come to terms with the equally unavoidable “unknown unknowns” that necessarily dog any attempt to model reality.

According to Dr Smith, the consequences can be seen in the climate change debate, where scientists are routinely forced to deal with policy questions that simply cannot be answered with any real confidence.

Whether we can look forward to European directives being based on the works of Hume rather than the demands of French farmers remains to be seen. I do know that by the end of the meeting I had been compelled to rethink my view of philosophers as the incomprehensible in pursuit of the ineffable.
Transcribed from hard-copy, though I now find the original on-line here. Doh !

Note the positive reference to Rummy’s much ridiculed speech on “known unknowns”, which I recall defending earlier.

Interesting couple of CogSci articles here (on paranormal) including another by Robert Matthews, collected by Joe Lau at the University of Hong Kong, Phil & Cog Sci course.

Inspired by “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”, by Lynn Truss, Jennifer Garret has posted “Eats, Blogs & Leaves“. I have to agree.

Bad punctuation is only the half of it. Spelling, grammar and syntax are all victims of the rapid publishing habit that is blogging. I’m constantly embarassed to discover howlers in my own blog, often many months or years after the event, often as a result of a search hit containing the same innocent typo.

I guess the point of the original article is that this is not just a matter of tolerance of ongoing language evolution in a new genre (like txting, no doubt more extreme), but more a plea for taking communication seriously. When people are memetically programmed to read what they want to hear, and we all are, then meaning transposed by mis-punctuation or other typos, may be far more than subtle nuances.

CEO Blog – Glenn Reid at FiveAcross [via Stuart Henshall]. [Quote] The bathtub was invented in 1842. The telephone was invented in 1876. That means you could have sat in the bathtub for 34 years without the phone ringing. [Unquote] I like that.

Slightly more practically, he says, though in Microsoft knocking mode, [Quote] … projects involve human beings, and as a species we don’t handle complexity very well. We are wired to simplify: vision simplifies what is really there, recognizing patterns; socially we simplify: you’re either Good, or you’re Bad, Guilty or Innocent; intellectually we simplify: the scientific method is based on reducing an experiment down to as few variables as possible so you can “control” for them and measure the one you’re interested in. Humans can support up to 3 simultaneously contradictory thoughts at once, before melting down into indecision and confusion [or hypocrisy ?]. So what happens when you put 400 programmers on one project and try to run it? [Unquote]

Also like his ease of use vs discoverability post.

As I was with Eco’s plot below, I did also mention earlier that I had obtained Nils Brunsson’s “The Organisation of Hypocrisy”. Read only a small part so far …

Interestingly, Brunsson says most people interpreted his first edition as pointing out a hypocrisy that was in need of stamping out in order to improve management of organisations. In fact Brunsson wishes to make clear that his motive is much more pragmatic (and dare I say hypocritical) in that he simply wants to improve understanding of a fact of life that exists, so that people can manage it, exploit it to their advantage. He is making no value judgement about whether hypocrisy is good or bad per se.

Seems self-defeating to me, so I’m going to find this harder to read than I thought, but I’ve started, so I’ll finish.

I’ve blogged a couple of times already that I’ve been reading Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”. Well today on flight CO5 to Houston I completed it.

I said before that the high mediaeval historical content made it difficult to sort fictional characters and events from real. Few of the important doubts (people or artefacts) survive the final carnage (I’ll say no more) so it’s mostly pretty clear by the end.

In many ways it’s a formulaic who-dunnit detective story – Holmes & Watson, Poirot & Hastings, Morse & Lewis. All the usual ingredients – multiple heinous deeds, even more motives and suspects, reversals of fortune snatched from neat conclusions, staged set-pieces involving all the suspects, heavy-handed investigation by the authorities cutting across the hero’s informal sleuthing, wise sleuth whose inexperienced sidekick unwittingly uncovers the key clues, denouement scene with “conversation” to allow explanation of the plot. Of course The Rose is far more than that. A tale of good and evil on a fundamental (philosophical) scale – is there any right and wrong at all; what is truth anyway ?

There’s also a good dose of “follow the money” and “cherchez la femme”, though in the case of mediaeval monks you can read “femme” as any young flesh, novices being more freely available.

Apart from intending to be an educational insight into the machinations of the holy roman church at the time of the inquisitions – the hypocritical paranoia in the name of the infidels and the anti-christ in political pursuit of wealth and power – the book’s main theme is the suppression of doubt by the imposition of faith.

In fact, the suppression of Aristotle’s “Poetics” is at the core, and the idea that humour, jest, irony and rhetoric can contain a good deal more truth than any declarative decree, papal bull being the main target.

(PS – the church conflict between the Germans and the Italians, with the ironic Brits mediating couldn’t help but remind me of my own recent experience of the Dutch / Norwegian / British saga in data standards collaboration, about which I’ll say no more, in order to protect the innocent. Go read it guys, you know who you are.)

Anyway, I hope I haven’t given too much away. A thoroughly recommended read. Top 5, maybe even top 3, of my all-time best reads.

I thought emergence was going to be last year’s word, but it looks like it’s going to arrive this year at last.

It’s been a thread on MoQ Discuss recently and I find this post from Seb Paquet too.

Recipes for success are always doomed, in management just as anywhere else in life. Success is emergent from a process, involving support and tension; it’s not a state in itself. Pure Dynamic Quality in Pirsig’s MoQ terms.

Support and tension ? I’m getting tightrope-walking, falling then flying, I’m getting Douglas Adams, Nietzsche and Pirsig all in one go.

I’m also getting the “immigrant tailors” story as a recipe for success … Nobel prize-winning George Wald quote [after Pinker].

The CIA World Factbook [via McGee’s Musings][via Jack Vinson] (The UK is a “money laundering center” – which is nice. Apparently Northern Ireland doesn’t count as an international territorial dispute – which is also nice. !!)
The US declaration of Independence [via McGee’s Musings][via Jack Vinson]
The Value of Certainty, from Jack. Like it.
Personal Knowledge Management, also from Jack
Play & Humour are the most important forms of work. [from Rebecca Ryan]
Organisation design is about What You Know.