All posts for the month September, 2004

Not been in the Pick much in recent weeks, but went in last night intending to continue reading Midgley’s “Myths We Live By”, and ended up spending the whole evening in deep conversation with another interesting punter.

Ex boat-builder, putative journalist, everything from simplistic rationale missing age old issues to world politics, taking in Pirsig, Asimov, the county of Essex, collective consciousness, the contrast between top-flight and lower league football, command and control management, potential big-brother censorship of the web, unlearning generations and Colonel Qadhafi’s Little Green Book.

Where to start ?

The Mindful Universe by Henry Stapp, from the quantum physics edge of consciousness.

[Quote] It is often claimed that science stands mute on questions of values: that science can help us to achieve what we value once our priorities are fixed, but can play no role in fixing these weightings. That claim is certainly incorrect: science plays a key role in these matters. For what we value depends on what we believe, and what we believe is increasingly determined by science …. according to the revised notion, physical reality behaves more like spatially encoded information that governs tendencies for experiential events to occur, than like anything resembling material substance …. it was precisely the absence of any notion of experiential-type realities in classical physics, or of any job for them to do, or of any possibility for them to do anything not already done by the tiny mechanical elements, that has been the bane of philosophy for three hundred years. …. it is the revised understanding of the basic nature of human beings, and of the causal role of their consciousness in the unfolding of reality, that is, I believe, the most exciting thing about the new physics, and probably, in the final analysis, the most important contribution of science to the well-being of our species. [Unquote]

Quantum consciousness for non-physicists. Worth a read.

My earliest link to Stapp. Just before I first read Pirsig.

Suw Charman’s Headshift blog post and comment thread seems to have become the focus for fallout from BlogWalk4.

Quote from Julian Elve
I mostly agree with the view that “it” is about the soft issues and not the technology but that is a little bit countered by my experience that unless the technology hurdle is very very low then it becomes a great hook for people to hang their other issues on.

I think this is the essence … technology and communication hurdles are at an alltime low – almost by definition they get lower over time anyway. It’s like the “draining the swamp” metaphor, as the level comes down, the real underlying anthropological issues are exposed. Any “new” technology like blogging, initially raises a learning curve barrier, but as soon as that is overcome, the underlying issues are exposed even more quickly, because so many of the other ubiquitous web technologies have already largely drained the swamp.

As Julian says, think of the latest technology “thing” as the hook on which the (real) human issues are hung – was ever thus, will ever be so.

Reading Mary Midgley’s “Myths We Live By” at the moment, having originally picked up on a review of it way back here.

Easy read, starts promising – mainly against misplaced narrow (physical) scientific views being adopted in human scale situations, and plenty of arguments against dualism and Descartes naturally. Tendency to return to “people are people”, with many aspects, no fundamental view. OK, but what next ?

She takes a very narrow “atomist” view of memetics, and a very literal view of Darwinian evolution, and proceeds to trash widespread adoption of these two fashionable viewpoints for explaining any and all human development. None too convincing for me; she seems to choose very narrow definitions when it suits her argument. She’s no fan of Dawkins, but then neither am I.

OK, so memes are not “fundamental” particles of culture, but then neither are genes quite as fundamentally distinct as recent science would have us believe. (She focusses on the discredited linguistic “phoneme” origin of the word, rather than the “gene” metaphor for some reason. She dimsisses Susan Blackmore, having Buddhist tendencies, as clearly unsound.) But memes are useful components to model with. OK, so the human world is not literally built of memes in any simple additive sense, they are assemblies with topological arrangements and relationships in time. Memes themselves compound, overlap and decompose into components, and yes some of the components may be indistinct and conceptual.

Similarly the evolution metaphor, she’s hung up on the narrow chance survival of the fittest view, with a very narrow view of “fit”, which should really be taken to mean fit with the environment. OK so in human affairs, there is a large human intentional and contingent element to the “chance” of survival and reproduction, with some control over the delivery and the environment. If you take the environment and agents into account, it still forms a very useful model. I think Midgley is perhaps missing her own argument. There may be nothing fundamental / metaphysical about memes and evolution, but who’s looking for that anyway ? They form a useful predictive and explanatory model, provided you hang all the relevant issues on them, and don’t take too narrow a view.

Her main theme is preaching against simplistic all-explaining views; things generally being more complex than that. OK, I’m with her there. I’m only half-way through; I’m hoping later on I’ll find she has something to say about complexity and the emergence of simple metaphors.

I also feel “Gaia” coming on ? I’ll be back.

Just updated my link to David Lavery‘s Owen Barfield site a couple of days ago.

Today Robert Pirsig himself recommended David Lavery’s “Evil Genius” site via Ant McWatt on the MoQ Discussion Board.

Who is Joanna Climacus ? Real or fiction ?
(Or is it Johanna Climacus – both spellings on the site ? The former in the page text, the latter in the button & book-cover graphics)

A fictional lady buying her stairway to heaven ?

Here is St John Climacus of the “Ladder to Perfection” (or Stairway to Heaven)
Here is Joanna (Polish ?) – “Room of my Own” blogger recommending Climacus.
All other “Joanna Climacus” hits are on Lavery’s site.
No “Johanna Climacus” hits indexed anywhere.

Intriguing plot – at first brief glance – travelling back in time to terminate Descartes and rid the world of mind-matter duality, and more besides ? The Name of the Rose approached from the 24th rather than 14th century ?

(Thread on MoQ-Discuss debating whether or not Johanna Climacus is the female nom-de-plume of David Lavery. No substitute for reading it and drawing your own conclusions. Anyway, one piece of education, Kierkegaard used Johannes Climacus as his own pseudonym / character.)

John Udell quoting Ray Ozzie about what we must all recognise as situation normal these days; Having better (more flexible) tools on our domestic PC than on an IT Dept controlled work PC, and the flexibility of being able to transfer results between machines via USB Memory Drives. We all do it.

Planning & control are anathema to progress. [See here][and here][and ...]

Jeremy Bentham came up yesterday. Louise led us through University College past the Jeremy Bentham room, past where his mummified body or “Auto-Icon” is generaly displayed [here's why], but alas it was not there. See also [BenthamLinks][BenthamWorksOnLine]

Bentham (a contemporary of Blake, blogged below) coined “utilitarianism” as used by J.S.Mill, later evolved into “pragmatism”.

[Mopsos][via ScaleFree] Anu was hooked by this quote “Ultimately, the economics of knowledge have something to do with the economics of love.”

What’s lurve got to do with it ? Well it’s the extreme end of implicit trust, and we all know trust is the number one item in information at the moment. Top level of the W3C model, FOAF and the bozo-bit to name a few examples. Without it there is no knowledge worth sharing.

Mentioned in the previous post that I’d been at BlogWalk yesterday in Bloomsbury, based in the Old Crown on New Oxford Street. Many thanks to Johnnie Moore and Lilia Effimova for organising and facilitating the stimulating day.

Attendees were for me all first time meetings.
Lilia Efimova (Mathemagenic)
Johnnie Moore (JohnnieMoore)
Ed Mitchell (KnowledgeBoard)
Chris MaCrae (ValueTrue)
Riccardo Cambiassi (CodeWitch)
Mark Brady (Mark Brady)
Julian Elve (Synesthesia)
Lloyd Davis (Perfect Path)
Paul Graham
Louise Ferguson (City of Bits)
Martin Roell (Das E-Business)
Anu Gupta (ScaleFree)
Suw Charman (Choc’n’Vodka)(HeadShift)
Omar Green (Savaje)
Desiree Gosby (Savaje)
David Wilcox (Designing Civil Society)

Topic was blogging as Social Software in Organisations – Inside the Firewall. Led to much business debate about internal vs external communication – where is the boundary, is it clear, or fuzzy, or variable ? The issues were all business & social communication, independent of the blogging medium, everything from formal external announcements & press-releases to whilstle-blowing leakage, taking in internal community building and need-to-know issues. Some thoughts in my previous post.

Highlight of the day was that Lloyd and Louise knew the Bloomsbury area of London well and walked us around, taking in the British Museum, Russel Square, London University Senate, University College and Bedford Square. Lots of “Bloomsbury Group” blue-plaques. Very much the same “Fitzrovia” educational patch used by INFED.

Another minor personal highlight was re-acquaintance with the Princess Louise for lunch. Dark (Victorian ?) ceramics and mirrors still survive over 100% of the walls and ceiling, and so too the enormous marble and iron urinals.

Almost finished reading Bronowski’s “Man Without a Mask”, about the life and works of William Blake, and was struck, by this summary …

“We find [Blake's life] eccentric, only if we miss it’s context, which is made by his writings and his times together [American and French and Industrial revolutions] … the context of a man who gave his mind to speaking in a public world.”

Also this succinct summary of the significance of freedom and empowerment, and that social (industrial, political) institutions should be means to that end, not means of control and restriction.

“Blake believed society had no ends. Like his [Satanic Mills] it is a means become master …. The good remains an end to which society gives means, but which man must know and make.”

This last phrase is in fact exactly Pirsig’s MoQ view of the social and intellectual levels of Quality [Good]. Lower layers support (act as hygiene) to those above, but do not direct or control [Maslow] Individual man must know and make.

Interesting given yesterday’s BlogWalk in London [walking around Bloomsbury], that a striking conclusion by David Wilcox, was that discussing blogging as social software within organisations seemed simply to raise all the issues of society and organisation, independent of blogging as the technological means, and that in itself was a valid reason for blogging as a subject and a tool. Linked posts as index cards again. How true. Nothing new under the sun again.

Those issues of society and organisation I’ve seen previously summarised by Quinn & Cameron as the classic paradoxical aspects of management – empowerment vs control, centralisation vs decentralisation, discretion vs direction, open-communication vs secrecy, and so on. Johnnie Moore mentioned a company whose elightened operational guidelines was simply a single statement that “Each member of staff should exercise their best judgement”.