All posts for the month February, 2005

Too soon to write on Perth, except very mild, even chilly yesterday, and everything closed early on Sunday. More later.

Catching up on Melbourne … excuse my indulgent diary …

Never did mention the bird-life. Even first day in Victoria Garden … Magpie Lark, Magpie and various other Crow species, not to mention various Gull and Waterfowl species not seen in Europe, plus the ubiquitous Moorhen. Familiar sparrows. Large slim thrush-sized brown / grey with white wing flashes and distinctive yellow eye and beak, and several fly-catcher / wagtail types. Long-tailed wren. Kookaburra, at least three different red-green Parakeet species, plus large raucus Cockatoos. Several different soaring kite / buzzard type birds of prey. Must buy a book to get all their names right. Could easily get into twitching in a place like this.

Read 6 or 7 chapters of Sue Blackmore’s Introduction to Consciousness. Actually written as a teaching text-book, and in a very simply worded style. We’d noticed earlier that she’s been rubbing shoulders in recent years with everyone who is anyone in the philosophy and science of mind arena, so I’ve already read just about everything she refers to. What is good about the no-messing matter-of-fact style is that she easily confirms views I’d already formed – like Dennett I do not believe in qualia, and therefore disagree with Chalmers. I see a big problem with the words “exist” and “entity” in so many things I’ve read. No wonder dualism stuck, just another false dichotomy. Need to write that up.

Re-developed / developing south-bank and docklands areas.

Trams. The “hook turn” for drivers. For right turn over tram lines, pull left, indicate right and wait for gap in traffic-light phase. Which reminds me, traffic lights and roundabouts everywhere, and rules / instructions and enforcement cameras.

Took hire car (out past the Doncaster office) up the Yarra valley, through “wineries” (vineyards), up scenic roads through sub-tropical forest jungle of mainly eucalypts and tree-ferns of many different varieties, eventually up to the skyline drive of the Eildon Lake park. Making too slow-winding progress to continue eastward drive through mountains to the east coast and back to Melbourne (in under three days anyway, according to friendly biker in Marysville !). So, took quick freeway route back west round city via Geelong, past the old oil refinery, and the coastal route through Torquay and Anglesea (a mix of surfing beaches and rugged coastline) eventually to Lorne. Ate there in the Greek fish retaurant on the end of the pier. Spiros (really !) the proprieter apolopgised for shouting at his staff, then proceeded to explain his life story starting with growing-up in a place called Nidri on an island called Lefkas / Lefkada, which I’d obviously never heard, had I ? Well actually, been there, got the T-shirt … no, really I do. Small world.

Last night in Melbourne, took in the showcase final night of the Australian Music Week unsigned-bands event. None of the bands that’d previously impressed me made it to the final so far as I could see (Sin City, Sojourn mentioned earlier)

Charlie & Silo, both bands of girl goths, the former very young, raw, theatrical, with a diminutive ballsy lead guitarist whose style impressed, the latter more sophisticated, arrogant, tall Chrissie Hynde look-a-like lead. Both interesting, and would improve with production and rehearsal.

Gut & Love Addicts, both bands of gentlemen of a certain age. The former, Buster Bloodvessel / Iranian-comic (Omid Djalili) cross meets Motorhead, the latter fronted by croaky-blues singer whose combined age-plus-tabs-smoked-per-day easily exceeded 125, proved you can keep a bluesy groove going with just a couple of deadened strings just as well as 16 crashing in overdriven unison.

Animal Simpson & The High Stakes reputation preceeded them from earlier nights, and I got to see this time. The former a drum / guitar two-piece dominated by Jeb’s virtuosity, but not interesting enough for me except on his slide-guitar opus. The High Stakes stole the show for me and just about everyone else, including other bands in the audience (Tommy and Barbie included). Such energy and so accomplished and tight with it. Real rock’n’roll, clearly pollished by time together on the road. Bought a copy of their demo CD.

Sadly, the professional, practiced delivery and audience response of neither Sin City, nor The High Stakes took the prizes. The judges (understandably) were looking for creative, novelty and sophistication to represent Australia to a future world. Moscow Schoolboy were certainly different. Leading red-head lady in Laura Ashley with tuneless guitar licks and dirges, just didn’t do it for me. Creative, different certainly, but is it rock and roll ?

On the plane over to Perth, listened to The High Stakes CD … Tommy and Barbie (of Sin City) behind me, by coincidence … and the lady in the seat next to me teaching marketing in the Australian wine industry, gave me a few names and labels to look out for. Damn, wish I’d been taking notes.

Obit – the beat-generation guy that gave Kerouac his roll of teletype paper on which he wrote “On The Road” in one continuous stream …. name …

I blogged several times before about holochory (holography) being closely related to the idea that the world is fundamentally information behind all those things we might think of as particles, waves and forces. (Particularly compelling thought if you ever wonder about communication bypassing the world we conceive as “physical” – ie paranormal stuff, but not half as daft if you think of quantum non-locality and entanglement – everything, everywhere, all at the same time.)

Even after expressing wonderment at the possibility of that very point, just a year or so ago, I remember noticing in a re-read of Michael Talbot’s “Mysticism and the New Physics” from years earlier (1976/81), that he already mentions the fundamantal nature of holography, suggesting, in about as real a sense as it is possible to suggest such a thing, that the world we see really is a hologram.

What I didn’t spot until reading this cross-hit link from The Irate Scotsman (Matt Gemmell) that Michael Talbot had also written “The Holographic Universe” (1991). Matt also picks up on the William Blake quote “to see the world in a grain of sand” – an allusion I recognise from earlier forays into this space, I’m sure.

Actually Matt’s ongoing blog looks extremely intelligent and interesting all round from my Psybertron prespective. And whole new set of linked people in the blogroll. More reading to do ! (A feeling Matt seems to share – too much to read, too much to write, too little time.) Young Matt’s “about” page suggests he’s no shrinking violet (!) but his “belief creates” adage is a nice terse abreviation of “some things have to be believed to be seen”. Can’t help thinking that brain is wasted on “scrolling pie menus”.

With inspiration taken from David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, last December, Dave Pollard outlined a simple methodology for organising and prioritising tasks. Particularly liked the recognition that frequently procrastinated tasks on the old to do list, hide dependent tasks, better exposed like mini projects in their own right. Difficult task = Assembly of several easier ones.

As I say, it’s not rocket science but simple methods are always helpful.

Is the medium really the message ? Need to separate the politics and content of “free” publishing from the technology used.

This might show two things – (a) this kind of censorship and repressive punishment happens, and the blogosphere simply helps make it more publicly apparent. (b) Repressive authorities may choose to repress the freedom of the blogging medium irrespective of the actual message.

I’ve not read the “offending” blog (see here too), so I have no new opinion on the politics of the content. We already know authoritarian cleric regimes suppress anti-authoritarian criticism – that’s why they’re authoritarian, that’s what Amnesty International has always been about isn’t it.

Yes, condemn repression, but let’s not confuse blogging with a cause, the subject, the target. (Too late of course, just another toxic meme out there.)

Some of you will have spotted I did some research on live music before coming to Oz. Both Perth (where I’m headed) and Melbourne (where I am now).

But neither “The Green Room” (Elizabeth and Flinders) nor “Australianmusicweek” hit my radar. The final event is not until Saturday, and I didn’t even see the band (“The High Stakes”) that won tonight’s heat. Nor, by all accounts, did I even see the band with the best musician (Guitarist, Jeb, of “Animal Simpson”)

I did see “Sin City” and “Sojourn”. Chalk and Cheese. My white sneakers were the only non-black attire in the place, apart from Sojourn lead’s boy-scout neck-chief. If I had a pound for each Lou Reed inspired T-shirt. You get the idea. (Reminds me of Keith Allen doing “Perfect Day” every time.)

Last first. Sojourn’s complexity of structure (and hair cuts) reminded me of The Cooper Temple Clause. Worthy, clever, accomplished rock, and very good entertainment, Sojourn are local Melbourne boys apparently.

Sin City on the other hand – were 100% cliche, but also 110% professional at their RnR craft. Goth hair, facials – eyes, lips & teeth, identikit fans, skull’n’crossbones motifs, bare-chested bassist (you know who), the most contrived stage monikers ever, lead guitar who needn’t have exerted himself beyond the crash riffs, lead chick (goth, natch, loved the leopard-skin handbag atop the Marshall, nice touch), almost-thirty-something, finger-less lace gloves, external corset & suspender-belt, simulated mike and stand sex, audience-participation-with-tongues, the works – married to the absolutely truly amazing drummer that is Tommy Gunn (one of those monikers). All four ex-Perth apparently, where I’m headed next. Add 5% humour and they could be …. As the pomme organiser said – you may not have won, but don’t take it too seriously and don’t ever stop what you’re doing.

It’s only rock and roll, but it’s vital.
It’s such a perfect day.
I’m glad I spent it with you.

Anyway, as you can see … broadband connection in the Duxton Hotel in Melbourne, means blogging OK from Oz today …

Finished Searle’s “Mind” and started “Bennett & Hacker” on the plane – see coupla blogs ago. Early days – first principles from Aristotle – a bit too destructively analytic so far. Dualism goes away if we stop referring to brain or mind and simply say “people” – no, sorry, doesn’t do it for me, yet. Word games so far.

Robot Wisdom has fresh posts 22nd Feb 2005 !!!

What prompted the return ? Hunter S Thomson’s demise ? International Blog Action Day ? This amazing space-pic of Central Park ? Who knows, but it’s the usual mix and sources. Welcome back Jorn – after more than a year off-line.

Actually, the clue must be in his first new link, to “Rigorous Intuition” … what must be the ultimate conspiracy theory blog – everything from state sponsored terrorism to JFK theories – all the more scary for being well written by Canadian Jeff Wells. Perspicuous Jorn calls it. Unlike cock-up, conspiracy requires competence, I find. Makes Michael Moore look tame. Great collection of links to other writers too, but you have been warned – go there at your peril.

(Notice several other blogs spotted Jorn’s reposting within minutes, took me a day to spot it, though I did stumble into it first hand, it has to be said.)

Just in time for a little light reading on the long flight Amazon UK delivered this morning two books I ordered only on Saturday morning – ordinary letter post delivery too.

Susan Blackmore’s “Consciousness – An Introduction”, plus Bennett & Hacker’s “Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience”. The former from the author of “Meme Machine”, the latter got rave UK reviews – has an intriguing reversed title in the current climate of neuroscience claims for theories of consciousness – hope it’s not too heavy going.

Off to Oz this evening UK time, to Melbourne initially, then Perth. No idea when I’ll next get a connection – hopefully in one of the hotels.

Actually tomorrow is the “Free Mojtaba and Arash Day“. Don’t know enough about the circumstances of the individual Iranian bloggers to comment, but I guess I support blogging in principle, so happy to lend a voice.

What I don’t need is a “Bloggers Bill of Rights” or a “Committee to Protect Bloggers”. Free speech is always done in the context of prevailing governmental and business organisations – bloggers deserve no special priviledges.

Link from Christian Hauk to a Grauniad article, in response to my previous post about the blind guy hearing in colour.

(BTW, you need to link all your non-blog stuff to your new blog site, Christian)

I’ve been following a thread of many posts based on reading about what neurological and psychological abnormalities tell us about the reality of normal perception and consciousness. This Richard Johnson article about an autistic / epileptic savant adds to that thread. Unlike Kim Peak, the original Rain Man, Daniel Tammet can explain how he (believes he) executes his mental feats. Very interesting.

Rather than a bat, how about a ventriloquist’s dummy ? Steve Jones in todays UK Daily Telegraph writes on the opposite effect to the seeing through hearing post earlier. Using “Educating Archie”, successful ventiloquism on the radio, he is discussing the importance of visual clues in voice communication. Hearing through seeing. (See also all the Sacks posts earlier on perception abnormailities.)

Actually I believe the Archie example is more subtle and important than that. Archie worked because people already had “visual” schemata of a ventriloquist with his dummy, and could surely relate the audible timing, tone, body movement noise to the visual image in their heads – and believe Archie was a dummy. There’s more to spoken communication than sound, AND there’s more to audible communication than words – ask a bat.

Interesting story from Sheffield University study [via BBC] about people who can manipulate and apperently understand the semantics of mathematical (arithmetic)expressions but not other simple natural (english) language expressions.

Unless you have an axe to grind, not sure that actually says language comes after mathematics. Both cases are linguistic, just different languages ?

Following a search hit I find a source that links many of mine ….

Pirsig and VUB/Heilighen, (Einstein Meets Magritte) with Josephson (explaining the paranormal with open minded science) with Dennett, Searle and Chalmers (PoM / Consciousness) in the Journal of Consciousness Studies.

A paper in the 1995 JCS reviewing the 1995 Einstein Meets Magritte conference.

Both a bit pricey ? Let me think about this.

(Almost looks like the 1995 “Einstein Meets Magritte” conference intiative was a direct pre-cursor to the later multi-disciplined “Science of Consciousness” conferences. – I had just assumed some coincidence of content, but I think not. Interestingly the title of the 2004 JCS article here, about the Tucson conferences, was “Ten Years On”, and this JCS editorial talks about working on the Tucson agenda in 1993. Interesting read. – Oh well, so much for causality.)

Talking of Magritte, he seems to link several other threads of mine too. Foucault’s review of “Ceci n’est pas un pipe” (This is not a pipe) by Magritte, Oliver Sacks front cover “Ceci est ma femme” (The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat) in the style of Magritte. “Le Grand Guerre” on the cover of Searle’s “Mind – A Brief Introduction”

And talking of Searle, I’m now almost finished. After my impatient initial view, I have to say this is 100% common sense and pragmatic view of consciousness and mind.

Sorry to keep going on about it but there really is some great convergence here for the taking, if people are prepared to synthesise debate constructively, rather than analyse arguments destructively. Careful with that razor Occam, or that knife Aristotle, or that axe Eugene.

(PS also picked-up a search hit linking Donald Schon with Positivism. Come back to that later.)

I remember as an MBA student studying absenteeism, turnover and stress – the fundamental difference between people being ill and being off-sick – being ill in any minor or major way is a medical issue, being off-sick from paid employment is a matter of individual choice. And vice versa, being ill may be significantly related to the stress of choosing to go to work. In both cases, look for the (human) reason, not the symptoms.

I recalled this when I heard a story on BBC Radio 4’s Home Truths this week about a schoolboy feigning illness to avoid a day at school that held some specific fear of trouble, and the ploy getting out of hand as the individual found himself being prepped for surgery in hospital after playing parents and doctors along with his symptoms.

Actually the recollection became a flood when I saw Michael Jackson’s latest stunt.

Man hears in colour, or “sees” with the sound of music. [report via BBC]. Another variation on the Neuroscience explanations of consciousness – see earlier blogs on Sacks, Zeman and others.

I stand corrected that it is not quite what Nagel’s bat was about. He was being general about the concept of “being like” something as an indication of being conscious, but surely the point of choosing a bat, rather than a giraffe, is because a bat perceives its world, even spatial geometry, topology, motion and texture (colour) through sound. Psychlogically, it surely sees a picture of the world illuminated with sound, in pretty much the identical way that we see the world by the light of … light.

Q. What’s it like to swim if you’re a giraffe ?
A. Problematic, unstable, fatal in fact once out of standing depth. Imagine if your buoyant thorax was so far from your dense head. Bit tricky keeping head above water I think you’ll find.

Now with Skype – both Voice and Text free over IP
(see sidebar)

We recently had
SkypeOut to call any phone line from within Skype, not just on-line Skype users

We now have
SMS to Skype from any SMS device (for the cost of a UK SMS call)
(And with SkypeOut, a return call from your PC is one click away)

And soon
Skype to SMS is on its way, and
Phone to Skype is in the pipeline

Thanks to Robin Good for the link and instructions.

Intelligent Design as an alternative to Darwinian Evolution rumbles on in school curriculum debates in the US. Those stickers keep turning up in biology textbooks.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it simply referred to “The Theory of Darwinian Evolution”, and let people infer the pejorative tone of the word “theory”, but no, for the hard-of-thinking they kindly include the phrase “it’s a theory, not a fact”

With that, an appeal to balance says any old “theory” has equal rights to a hearing.

Err, no. There are no facts or theories. Another false dichotomy. What there is, is empirical evidence [sic fact] and explanation [sic theory]. The “best” explanation is not a matter of logic, it’s a matter of quality, including subjective fit and consistency as well as “objective” evidence. The test is credibility, not proof. That quality has subjective, collaborative and democratic aspects, not purely objective, competitive and logical, just like evolution itself in fact, in its broadest sense.

Another case of mysticism appealing to logical argument and science falling for it yet again. The Catch-22 of logical positivism or objective fundamentalism wins again. We need to shift the rules of argument. In this case the Catch-22 is a double-bind; the rules themselves are “evolution”.