All posts for the month October, 2004

From Piers Young at Monkey Magic, Reading The Mathematical Theory of Communication by Warren Weaver and Claude Shannon.

Actually several good spots from Piers. Like this set of “shit ideas” from gapingvoid, also via Monkey Magic.

And this “relationship” is the message is the medium take on McLuhan, from this Harvard Business School paper – a variation on the earlier “What’s lurve got to do with it ?“.

I was travelling outside the UK yesterday when I heard of John Peel’s death. Part of the furniture of British culture for my lifetime I was shocked to find a collegue who had never heard of him.

He will live on in those early Radio 1 Sounds of the 70’s broadcasts and recorded sessions, and the bands and tunes he introduced me to. Also in that even earlier image of him as a Liverpool Echo journalist who just happened to be in Dallas in 1963, captured on film in the footage of the Jack Ruby shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, right through to the regular habit of the past decade of lying in bed on a Saturday morning to catch Radio 4 Home Truths. Made it acceptable too, to have a passion for football, which included loyal support of one team, Liverpool, but equally transferrable to the team of his adopted Suffolk home, Ipswich. A true gent, one of very few.

Correction – actually JP was at one of the Lee Harvey Oswald press conferences in the same police station a day or so before the shooting by Jack Ruby, and appears in the background of some film / photos. He wasn’t actually there at the time time of the shooting. Memory playing tricks.

Caught an item on breakfast TV worth noting, “Lost Worlds: What have we lost and Where did it go?”, book by Michael Bywater. About tracing cultural change through listing the things we miss that are no more – a bit like John Major’s look back at things like old ladies cycling to mass on misty Sunday mornings, warm beer and cricket on the village green. In danger of being pure nostalgia, but the serious point being that the things we miss (however distorted by rose tinted spectacles and hindsight) must have had some significance, if we notice their passing. So far so good.

The bombshell was the author’s response to which single item did he see the passing of as most significant. “Judgement”, he said. “We’re no longer allowed to make value judgements about what is right or wrong, good or bad”, he clarified.

There we have it. Objectivity has all but destroyed quality, maybe even, dare I say, morality. It’s politically incorrect to be caught expressing value judgements, not corroborated by “scientific” evidence (or religious doctrine – same thing.)

Favorite line from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, thus far [according to Long Story, Short Pier]:

?Well, I suppose one ought not to employ a magician and then complain that he does not behave like other people,? said Wellington.

Doesn?t hurt, I suppose, that it?s Stephen Fry?s Wellington I?m seeing in my head.

Don’t know about Sephen Fry, but “I am that man” – the (hopeful) magician that is.

Some thoughts reading Herrigel, still mid Dr Austin. Nothing new, just recognisable significance. (Kingston on-line to the rescue.)

Basic stuff – Koans – learning documented Koans, learning documented answers to documented Koans, learning aproaches / concepts applicable to documented Koans, are all irrelevant; this is a meta-meta-meta-meta- … -meta-problem. (I did say this year’s word might be meta ?)

Why breathing ? Breathing is special – sub-conscious, natural min and max limits (physiological need reflex, physical lung capacity, generally subconscious (even deep sleeping) act, but normally conscious of actual (when “conscious”), and consciously do-able / controllable. More a matter of self-attention than consciousness per se. (What else is like breathing ? – thinking itself for sure, definitely not heartbeat, definitey not basic digestive tract / internal organ function reflexes, without specific training, walking ? falling off a log ? Not much really – pretty special case. What else in non-higher intelligent beings / life-forms.) But what about gut feel ?

Teacher / Pupil – not just (passively) enabling / permitting self-discovery, but leading (with implicit trust / respect) to way of discovery, and discovery iself. Leading a horse to water is not enough. Pupil must “submit” even if self-awareness is eventual goal. Explaining “concept”, or concept grasped in words is not even close. Contrary to “liberal” fashion. Preparation is major part of any task (see 90% below), see Pirsig’s ZMM.

Knowing the moment – chaos ? – predicting snow falling from laden leaf ? Letting go the drawn string is more a matter of understanding the balance of forces and controlling / permitting the equilibrium to occur. Like squeezing a trigger, ever more gently as the “tipping” point is reached.

Learning Paradox – “He who has to walk 100 miles should reckon 90 (miles) as half the journey”. 90% of efort is learning to “loose the arrow”, but still leaves 50% learning how to hit a target – with assurance (in your sleep). Learning (how to consciously execute) the knack / trick, is fraud, not the point ? (In a journey of 100 miles, the distance – 100 miles – is only half the journey – or, if you like, a journey is more than a distance.)

Eeek, it’s a week since I’ve posted. Actually, I’ve had a cold, and found myself sleeping whenever I had the opportunity, so that might account for letting things slip. Been continuing to read Austin’s “Zen and the Brain”, which has ben getting a bit technical brain-physiology-biochemistry-wise, and a bit detailed on the teaching and practice of Zen.

As a result of the latter, I’ve resurrected Eugen Herrigel’s “Zen in the Art of Archery” which, although brief, I read none-too-thoroughly first time around. Like D T Suzuki, Herrigel seems de-rigoeur background. Already noticing details I’d missed. The focus on breathing, the straight-arm / clamped-thumb grip, to name a couple.

Talking of brain activity reminds me of Adam Zeman’s talk on the scientific basis for consciuousness at Cambridge Crosstalk Society in June 2003, in collaboration with the Cambridge Centre for Quantum Computation. [Summary here, half-way down.] He also has a book published, which was the basis of his talk. Seem to remember his stuff was more up-to-date / comprehensive in terms of scans with colour maps to document levels of consciousness. Austin’s book is mostly textual in describing this stuff.

Following up the link to Gerald Edeleman, I find a reference to Richard Feynman’s “Meta-Wondering” – I wonder why I wonder why I ….. wonder why I wonder. Nice concept.

You’ll like these Alex. Saw these demonstrated at FIATECH yesterday. Really neat. Aimed a ultra-low power distributed network architectures for control systems, but the neatest aspect is their individual awareness of relationships to other motes. By negotiation they organise their own network topology. Reminded me of our smart templates approach to self-knowing packets of XML.(Can’t help thinking of the AI / A-Life connotations.)

Obvious “toy” potential – “They’ll be in the shops for Christmas”.

And there’s more from Dr Austin. Taking emergent as high and fundamental as low, he talks of higher level emergent properties having causal effects on the underlying structures, such that the emergent properties are “causal realities”. As in Pirsig’s levels of static quality, the high can control the lower, but the lower must only ever support, never constrain, the higher. Never forget your roots.

Dr Austin again. “Sperry takes over where William James left off. Neurosciences have rejected reductionism and mechanistic determinism on the one hand, and dualisms on the other…. higher level interactions [of the] brain are presumed to be reducible [only in principle] in terms of fundamental physics. How does it help us to know about quarks, molecules and the brain’s high water content ? We have personal quirks which go beyond our quarks …. Interactions of a [complex] system, always much more than the sum of their parts …. our brain develops new emergent properties.” Whahaay, ‘ere we go. See Brian Josephson below.

Who was it said something like “To know about a man’s make up in terms of his chemistry is only of interest if you intend to make fertiliser out of his body” ? Blogged somewhere ealier.

“Thinking with meat” [after Terry Bisson]. Getting there.

The plot thickens further …

I’m now reading Dr Austin’s “Zen and the Brain”. Not surprisngly for a real US medic he spends a fair amount of time apologising for his mystic tendencies and acknowledging christian religious sensibilities, before he dares launch us into his Zen treatise. (I suspect 2/3 of this 800 page tome is down to such political correctness.)

Plenty of homage to Herrigel and Suzuki in laying down the history of modern Zen foundations. Not a single reference to Pirsig – oh well. But a positive citation for a certain Father Andrew Greeley. A Catholic PhD Sociologist of some note apparently, and the very same Andrew M Greeley of the National Opinion Research Center who slammed Pirsig in 1975 for his “bigotry”.

(I just sent Pirsig a question about that reaction a couple of days ago – weird.)

Just finished Kerouac on BA2027. Aren’t west-bound transatlantic flights a great place to read – 90% of the book in the one sitting. I guess I need to understand a little of the circumstances under which it was written – one drug induced sitting ? – published 1955 about 1947 to 1949 period in which the author refers to writing and successfully publishing a first work.

The music and the locations are seductive; the drink, drugs, driving and women plain wild. A great east-west anthroplogical thread in there – the fellahin cultures, the Tao. (We know Pirsig was influenced by Kerouac. He would have read on-the-road immediately prior to his “teaching quality” episodes.)

What did Sal and Dean mean, headed for Times Square in 1948 driving through the tunnel from Jersey, by “We are a bunch of Arabs going to blow up New York” ? Intriguing.

At Web2.0 Brewster Kahle pointed out that most books are out of print most of the time and only a tiny proportion are available on bookshop shelves. Scanning the 26 million volumes in the US Library of Congress, the world’s biggest library, would cost only $260m (146m). The scanned images would take up about a terabyte of space and cost about $60,000 (33,000) to store. Instead of needing a huge building to hold them, the entire library could fit on a single shelf. [via BBC News]

Brown and Duguid’s “Social Life of Information” (2000) I now notice was preceeded by a Xerox PARC paper of theirs called “Social Life of Documents” (1995), which I now also notice includes good old fashioned books. [Ref Univ Western Ontario Philosophy reading list]. In fact it seems to be a plea to remember that books / documents differ from electronic data in more than just physical forms of delivery mechanism. (Must read the paper further.)

Bought Kerouac some time ago; as the seminal beat-generation road story, it seemed de-rigoeur to have read it, since it forms part of the backdrop to Pirsig. Anyway I’m well into it at last. (Thinking out loud – Plenty of parallels with Pirsig’s mid-west already, though Pirsig’s timing does not overlap – his back-packing days were before Kerouac, Kerouac’s on-the-road days were Pirsig’s given-up / middle-age period, and of course the ZMM trip itself was another 10 years later ? Massive tributes to Hemmingway. And lines from Hendrix songs, 10 years ahead of their time, so is this where Hendrix got the lines ? – too much confusion, kiss the sky, weird.)

Yesterday bought Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” and a mighty tome called “Zen and the Brain” by Dr James Austin – quite technical (and current apparently) in terms of brain physiology, as well “states of consciousness”, including those altered by meditation and/or drugs.