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All posts for the month November, 2004

In an effort to reduce and control the level of spam and junk mail, I’ve activated my newish Google Mail account and changed details on my contact page. Which also gives me a web-mail capability I didn’t previously have.

Be useful if people could start using the new address.

Talking of spam, why not go on the offensive ? “Make Love not Spam” campaign.[Lycos via BBC]

Update 2nd Dec [via BBC] The Lycos anti-spam screensaver is so successful it may constitute a denial of service attack on the spamming organisations. Well done Lycos.

And finally, update 6th Dec [via BBC] Lycos withdraw under criticism for fighting spam with spam.

Listened to Hans Blix speaking last night at the faculty of law in Cambridge. Fairly dry matter-of-fact talk on the history and practice of weapons inspections & treaty verifications as an international law subject, from Victorian exploding bullets and dum-dums, via nuclear test bans and proliferation treaties to … well you know what.

In summary “It is just not possible to prove a negative. You cannot verify intentions. A doctor cannot give you a clean bill of future health. Uncertainty, who gets the benefit of any doubt, is entirely discretionary and political. It’s all If this is …, then that may … So-called facts always need critical thinking to interpret. Few, if any, hard facts.”

What, with Kyoto and world trade treaties, as well as security threats, there will be no shortage of verification work for international lawyers in the foreseeable future. Blix is a Cambridge (Selwyn ?) old-boy, his original tutor was in the audience.

Alex has recordings of all three lectures here [link dead Alex].

[Post Note 27 Aug 2013 – at the time it was Saddam’s “WMD” in Iraq which included chemical weapons. Interesting to hear Blix talking recently on the Syrian case.]

Martin Ryder at the University of Colorado.

Amongst many other gems, this includes this Alan Alda interview with Gerald Edeleman. Has a grand narrative theme like this previous Steve Jones & George Monbiot piece. Also recalled this openness and closure theme from Hilary Lawson. Most of the world of knowledge is actually “open”, probably only 1% is actually definitively described by science, the other 99% being plugged with good stories and convenient working metaphors.

In preparation for following up all the neuroscience pointers to the existence of pre-cognitive “qualia” being processed in the brain (at least I think that’s what’s being pointed at – I may be misunderstanding something) I was updating my link to David Chalmers’ Univeristy of Arizona site, and the expected upcoming consciousness conference, when I noticed he’s moved …. back to Australia. Since August 2004 apparently.

On-line consciousness papers collected by Chalmers.

The hard problem of consciousness is described by David as follows

[QUOTE]If any problem qualifies as the problem of consciousness, it is this one. In this central sense of “consciousness”, an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is conscious if there is something it is like to be in that state. Sometimes terms such as “phenomenal consciousness” and “qualia” are also used here, but I find it more natural to speak of “conscious experience” or simply “experience”. Another useful way to avoid confusion (used by e.g. Newell 1990, Chalmers 1996) is to reserve the term “consciousness” for the phenomena of experience, using the less loaded term “awareness” for the more straightforward phenomena [described earlier]. If such a convention were widely adopted, communication would be much easier; as things stand, those who talk about “consciousness” are frequently talking past each other. The ambiguity of the term “consciousness” is often exploited by both philosophers and scientists writing on the subject.[UNQUOTE]

Found this problem with Zeman, less so with Austin and Edelman.

In explaining “Consciousness, the Hard Problem” David summarises these approaches.

  • deflationary approaches (e.g. Dan Dennett, Pat Churchland),
  • nonreductive analyses (e.g. Colin McGinn, David Hodgson),
  • neuroscience or cognitive science approaches (e.g. Francis Crick & Christof Koch, Bernard Baars),
  • physics-based perspectives (e.g. Stuart Hameroff & Roger Penrose, Henry Stapp),
  • new fundamental ontologies (e.g. Benjamin Libet, Piet Hut & Roger Shepard),
  • phenomenological approaches (e.g. Francisco Varela, Max Velmans).

Closer To Truth entry here.
All In The Mind entry here.

I wonder what will happen to the Arizona Consciousness and Quantum Mind conferences? The next Science of Consciousness conference is in Copenhagen, August 2005.

Apparently such a thing exists and people can do courses on it. [Google cross-hit]. Not heard of it before but, call me cynical, I don’t like the sound of it, sounds doomed to failure of planned objectives, with plenty of solid blame-shifting, Brunsson-hypocritical, arse-covering, “somebody else’s problem” problems.

[Post Note Sept 2010 – I have researched this and can find no clear text on “Rational Comprehensive Planning” by that name. Rational Planning models, Synoptic Planning models, Incremental / Evolutionary Planning models, Individual Rationality, Social Rationality and an unspecified “third mode of rationality”. If anyone commenting could please provide relevant reference links. I stand by my point that “rational comprehensive” as a concept is doomed to fail due to its dependence on a presumed core metaphysics. That is, I still favour an evolutionary view, where planning guides and provides the environment for activities, but does not (cannot) comprehensively plan outcomes on any scale where the planner / manager cannot actually control all the individual activities. “All” being a very large and complex word.

And here we find (Luzzi 2001) “Although it has a myriad of names … It has been identified as the ruling or normal paradigm that governs the practice of modern planning.” Received wisdom, as I said, and “It is in the exportation of the model into the social world of practice that the assumptions prove problematic.” ie great in theory, not so good in practice as anyone would predict starting from a less scientistic metaphysics – the kind of model that requires hypocrisy to make it work.]

Great Books, here at WindsOfChange.

WindsOfChange. motto “Liberty. Discovery. Humanity. Victory.” is a communal blog headed up by Joe Katzman in Toronto. In this interview he points out how 9/11 spurred him into blogging action.
“I was already maintaining a resource site focused on the Internet and business. Then 9/11 hit, and the in-depth geopolitical, military and intel understanding I had put aside for a decade politely kicked down my front door and re-introduced itself. The seriousness of what was to come was immediately clear to me – as was the importance of intelligent, informed discussion on the choices our countries and peoples would have to make”
(NB. Know what he means. See the footnote on every page of my blog.)

Toronto again – nuff said. Interestingly, if you’re interested in that kind of thing, is that Pirsig has a connection with Anapolis, the location of St Johns University, the subject of the Great Books link at the start of this post.

Still reading Austin, [here below], [and here], [and again], [and earlier], [and originally], and finding new items all the time.

More apparent how he is linking deliberately learned meditative states with other altered brain states achieved by other physical and chemical abnormalities.

Two amazing items in one. Looking at the classic view of left- and right-brain caricatures, he points out that there are really only tendencies for certain functions to predominate in one or other half, but that at any time the way each half functions can be distinctly different and asynchronous, due to the special way limited types of cortical and sub-cortical cross communications have evolved between the two halves. This allows each half to have different processing strategies. It is perfectly possibly for one half to be processing holistic conceptual pre-cognitive ideas before assigning individual lingusitic tokens to the concept, then recognised by the other half. Quite possible to “experience” pain, for example, without recognising that it hurts and causes suffering. Both meditative and opiate analgesic effects can be explained by the same physiology.

A key aspect of the Brian Josephson paper I linked to here is that using an object oriented programming metaphor for the brain, is that OO involves processing “classes”, conceptual objects where we have as yet not given any name to the individual experienced. The rose before the name.

Experiencing pain without hurting is the classic bed-of-nails / walk-on-red-hot-coals idea (can’t stop the physical damage of course – flesh punctures and burns). Reminds me of David Lean’s introductory caricature of Ned in Lawrence of Arabia, putting out the match with his finger. “Oh yes it still hurts, the [learned] trick is not minding.”

“Minding” – This is coming together.

Not blogged much recently. Been reading hard.

James Austin’s “Zen And The Brain” (1998)
Gerald Edelman’s “Wider Than The Sky” (2004)
Adam Zeman’s “Consciousness, A User’s Guide” (2002)

Completed the latter two, but still only 60% through Austin’s 840 page tome. All three are state-of-the-art brain-focussed, written by neuroscientists. All aim to get somewhere into explanations of consciousness.

Zeman starts with basics – simple everyday concepts of being awake / asleep, aware / unaware, self-conscious, etc then leads into brain physiology aspects of normal, abnormal and traumatic phenomena of sleep and perception. In fact all three dwell on anatomy, physiology and electro-chemistry of the brain – and drug induced states.

Austin I’ve not yet finished, so I’ve not found any link yet between his independantly described Zen philosophy and teaching and the brain science.

Zeman’s book is relatively unsophisticated philosophically, but after passing gratuitous references to duality and quantum physics, really just leaves a number of open ends about how various perceptual and physiological phenomena leave plenty of doors open. He ends suggesting that inconclusive picture of consciousness and existence itself, may simply reflect limits to human understanding. (Like Edelman he includes numerous references to Nagel’s Bat, though never deeply analysed.)

Edelman (a Nobel Laureate) is different. He moves very quickly beyond brain physiology to his own schematic model of how the brain works (and gives rise to consciusness) – TNGS – the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection. Like Zeman much of his description of brain development in species and in individuals makes use of an “evolutionary” model – neurons are extremely “plastic”. Edeleman specifically disagrees with David Chalmers view of consciousness, whereas Zeman seems to be barking up the same tree – searching to explain qualia – the actual qualities we attribute to perception independant of the mental picture we build with them – need to refine that … later.)

I guess I’ll just have to finish Austin – on my 12 hour flight to China later today.
BTW did I mention I had the pleasure of an MRI scan on a neurone in my leg on Monday last – more than disinterested curiosity. Interesting experence – all that energy and noise at weirdly varying low frequencies ?

But sadly missed, again. 3000 at John Peel’s funeral. I was almost there myself. Can’t help thinking some irony Peel would have appreciated in Liverpool FC Captain Emlyn Hughes death also in the news yesterday and the very hour his own funeral today coinciding with Yasser Arafat’s.

How many times did Peel say “If I died tomorrow, I couldn’t complain.” ?

Peel’s brother Dave made a brief comparison with Diana’s death, but didn’t make any specific comment. Given also Boris Johnson’s troubles last month, daring to suggest Liverpudlians were wallowing in mock grief at the execution of their hostage in Iraq, there’s no denying the “overwhelming response” to Peel’s death was genuine and personal. Emotional, but celebratory – not the mawkish, exaggerated, victim culture of those others. He’ll never walk alone.

It’s quite a struggle to avoid religion, party politics and war in a public blog in today’s climate – but they do cloud points being made, despite their undoubted relevance to life, the universe and everything. I lost it with posters on the MoQ discussion board recently when the number of people starting from positions of “mystical faith in fairy stories” seemed to exceed the rest.

I do find the level of (overt / apparent / declared) Christian faith in the US quite terrifying from this side of the pond. I suspected it was just part of the game the democrats had to play to get air time, whereas the republicans actually seem to believe this crap. This visual joke below [ From GLWebb (Link Removed by request), also via Rivets] seems to support that view. Many a true word.

Alex has a link here to similar humour vs religion angle from The Register.

The real things here. [via Rivets]

[On a more serious note, notice these three F40’s amongst the 27 Ferraris, Maseratis and Lambourghinis desroyed in this Dutch car showroom fire.]