All posts for the month March, 2005

Just spent a week, over Easter weekend, playing tourists around Perth – mostly local to Perth, but got as far north as The Pinnacles – an alien landscape worth seeing – John Forrest Park – a pre-historic forest-scape worth seeing – plus the usual winery boat trip, fish’n’chips at Fremantle fisherman’s wharf, plus wildlife park … daily weather maximum went from 42C / Sunny to 18C / Rainy inside the week …

Anyway the reason to blog ? … whilst at the Aquarium of WA at Hillary’s Marina, we witnessed a member of staff describing the “creator’s design” of a leafy sea-horse to assembled visitors. The irony was Robbie had Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in his backpack. It was all we could do to stand gob-smacked. Terrifying.

Strangely, reminiscing about Devo (Are We Not Men / Wiggly World) the other day with some colleagues, I recalled seeing Mark Mothersbaugh’s name as creator behind US 30-somethings / family life / kids cartoon (Rugrats? ).

Anyway, saw on TV a couple of nights ago the film “The Royal Tenenbaums”. What a gem I’d passed over previously. Excellent dysfunctional family drama – weirdly funny on so many levels with Gene Hackman, Angelica Houston, Bill Murray and others. The point is that the music soundtrack – original and selected, was by Mark Mothersbaugh, with Rob Casale as part of the band of musicians. Only spotted that in the closing credits, but no doubt the eclectic sounds had added to the weird experience.

I guess the film got recent airtime, because the same director’s (Wes Anderson?) opus, “The Life Aquatic” is just out or due for release. Bill Murray stars, with others from the previous cast in a story inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s underwater adventures ?!?! If the trailers and the Tenenbaum’s are anything to go by should be interesting and entertaining.

I’ve started David Deutsch’s “Fabric of Reality”. From his quantum information work, and his acknowledgements to others like Artur Eckert (sp?) I was execting a dive straight into “here’s why the world is realy made of quantum information” thesis. In fact the introduction is quite refreshing. A review of the philosophy of science and of philosophy itself. An ecouraging draw-back from the brink of logical positivism whereby everything (of any real world value) is predictable by logical derivation (induction) from empirical evidence. Predicting outcomes by formulae based on hypothesis and experiment, is merely the method of science, not its scope or purpose.

He believes a unifying theory of everything can explain and understand what is currently understood, but only what is understood; it can never presume to explain that which is not yet understood. ie in his original metaphor – it’s possible for a single brain to understand everything (that is understood). Fair enough.

Dwelling on science as the explanation for everything in the world, neither holistic nor analytically reductionist, but by generalisation being able to explain and hence understand everything, brings in very early the concept that general underlying explanations may be truly valid even if they are practically useless for predictions through the emergent layers of complexity above.

Very promising. Part of my thesis is that there is no metaphysics. Physics as the most fundamental of the sciences is the place to look for the most general model of the world, underlying chemistry, biology and the rest of the “ologies”.

John Z DeLorean, is an unlikely hero, given his brushes with fraud and drug-dealing, but I often find myself quoting from his (ghost-written) eye-opening “On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors” – particularly “Committees of moral men can and often do make immoral decisions.” – in relation to my high- / low-quality organisational decision-making thesis.

(Still not got domestic internet access yet, here in Perth, so limited on blogging time at the moment.)

Managed to spend two late afternoons on the beach this weekend, and finished Sue Blackmore’s Meme Machine. I have to say I’m still a fan of Sue’s writing, but I’m glad I didn’t read her best-seller first. (Intriguing for me is that Sue’s writing projects parallel in real-time my own amateur research – I didn’t realise this, her most popular acclaimed book, was so recent – 1999.)

I buy the entire story about memes being independent replicators, unleashed, and increasingly significant as comms become ubiquitous at the speed of light. ie the dog is no longer (never was) on a leash, but it is now in the driving seat, and furthermore has no longer any tendencies to favour hunter-gatherer / sexual-reproduction / mating-game genetic traits, hence the dog could just as well well be a bitch. That I buy.

What I don’t buy is her depressing conclusion that we humans are powerless. I’m (surprisingly) with the hyper-rational Dawkins on this one – we are a species that can take control of evolution – genetic and memetic. Sue unfortunately comes down on the side of the idea that our “self” is a an illusion and free-will non-existent. I think she falls for her own anthropomorphic selfish-meme metaphor. It can no more be a matter of “it’s all in the memes” any more than it could ever have been true to say either “it’s all in the genes” or “it’s god’s will” – life’s complicated enough, without trying to reduce it to a single issue.

Her last chapter is at least contradictory, if not hypocritical. How can she talk as if she and other intelligent humans have meme-recognition strategies, and yet memes are in control over humanity ? (I’ve read Dennett’s Intentional Stance, but I’m going to have to read his Darwin / Consciousness / Memetic stuff in the original.) The illusory self stuff is a cop-out I feel. It’s complicated and in looking for simple (scientific) black and white evidence all we find is metaphor – so what ? – that’s true of 100% of reality (Come in Lakoff, your final call.) That doesn’t mean the conscious self is merely illusion – only a metaphor – any more than any other reality we talk about. Talk is the clue.

(Oddly, she doen’t make much of her Zen views of self and unity-with-reality in this context. Interesting to note that she includes Francis Heylighen in her web-list of significant people in memetics. What a tangled web.)

I see why in her bio-pen-picture she was described as previously being a researcher into paranormal phenomena, but that she is now a total sceptic. Alien-abductions and meeting-my-maker-at-the-end-of-a-near-death-tunnel type whacky stuff is clearly memetic – undisprovable myths to explain the mysterious. But I hope she’s not cut herself off from the idea of non-local / non-causal communication channels out there in the ether – physics explains everything, but physics is not yet itself fully explicable in my book.

(Marsha, I see why Sue is sceptical of mysterious agent explanations of scary events, like near-death-experiences, and sleep-paralysis-fears – aren’t we all – but she is not sceptical about the existence of those “paranormal” phenomena – she just prefers a 100% memetic explanation – as I say, in going 100%, she just goes too far.)

She is equally dismissive of Hameroff and Penrose – cellular micro-tubules governing quantum coherence – quoting the Churchlands again – “about as much use a pixie dust in explaining consciousness”. I don’t think Sue (or any other modern philosophical writer I’ve seen) has actually got to grips with understanding the weirdness of new phyiscs – a real pity, so close. When will I get the time to write on this ?

David Deutsch’s “Fabric of Reality” next.

Jorn used to use Google as a meme-watch, and I’ve noticed I’m doing the same with Google and other search hits on my site, reported by Site Meter.

One that sticks out – “Criticisms of Maslow”. I’ve never had a hit by anyone looking for Abraham Maslow that did not also include the word “criticism” in the search string. Yes the guy focussed on a kind of intellectual middle-class in his work, but his analyses and thinking were pretty sound IMHO. His layering model is very Zen.