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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 (name escapes me).

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 (name ?) latest 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.

Still not got internet access domestically back in Perth, but hopefully will have within the week.

Watched the sun go down on the beach yesterday whilst reading Meme Machine. As I blogged previously Sue Blackmore is very, very good, and having finished her “Consciousness, An Introduction” I’m now reading her best seller – one that I’ve referred to and quoted indirectly many times, but never previously read.

Really excellent. Again, if I’d read it sooner, she’d have saved me a long journey through modern philosophers of mind. Huge list of references, racked-up whilst being laid-up with illness. Reassuring to find I’ve already covered a fair proportion of them myself – must actually read Dennett’s main best-sellers – Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained – though I suspect Sue has done me a good job in summarising their main thrust.

Gist – she talks about memes not generally being high-fidelity replicators with only exceptional mutations, unlike genes. Some phrases and neologisms may be repeated verbatim (but we’re talking language here) but most memes replicate the general idea – the gist, the essence – but with constant unwitting variations in subtlety of the concept understood or intended.

Unleashed – memes as truly independent replicators, ie not dependent on genes in the long-run, not simply an expension of genetic evolution. I think that’s correct – they’re not independent in the sense that memetic and genetic evolution can and do affect each other, but neither is led by the other. Clearly if brains die out, memes will fall on hard times, but equally memes can control the environment in which brains evolve. Remembering that the “selfishness” of replication intent is an anthropomorphic metaphor, it nevertheless suggests an uneasy alliance between competing drives.

My view – in a physicalist sense memes came after genes but before religious memeplexes – For individual memes, selfish intent may be only a metaphor, but for widely held beliefs, collective conscious intent, can be no less real and any more metaphorical than individual human intent. This implies human intent (individual and collective) can choose the path it wishes to steer memetic (even genetic) evolution – this is why human (high-level) consciousness is so special – we have been unleashed on the hitherto unsuspecting world – our consciousness can have objectives, even if it doesn’t necessarily understand or control the mechanisms sufficiently to succeed in realising its intent. Spooky. probably means, as Dennett already suggested apparently, that memes ARE consciousness itself – the thoughts are doing the thinking.

Linguistics – the subjective symbolic framing of concepts “out there” – can it ever be anything but metaphorical ? Come in Lakoff, you’re time is right.

Sue really is a good writer. So easy to read and with a smile too.

… on the way back to Syndey and Perth.

Finished Sue Blackmore’s book. Excellent. Predictably positive review of Buddhism in the final chapter – the continuum avoiding duality. She quotes Dennett – it’s the thoughts that “do” the thinking, there is no other “I”. Mentions all the usual Zen suspects, inlcuding Wilber, but not Pirsig.

Didn’t get any internet time in NZ unfortunately, just circumstances.(Wonder if my new domestic broadband modem will have turned up when I get back to Perth ?)

… airport …

Still reading Sue Blackmore’s Introduction to Consciousness – gets better all the time. So matter of fact, easy and witty. Just done the chapters on “alternate” states of mind – inlcuding drug induced (again) – she quotes James Austin on Zen parallel’s – but I love the down to earth “whilst stoned”, “the equivalent of 3 or 4 tabs of acid” and descriptions of her own experiences.

Still finding the paranormal vs science dichotomy too narrow and limiting – must get to the bottom of her recent scepticism.

… next stop Aukland, NZ.

Barely blogged since I’ve been in Perth, not least because I’m without broadband outside the office since moving into an apartment in Claremont. So just some routine diary stuff for now.

Perth is generally quiet – churches and church schools everywhere might be a clue – no casual pub cluture – feast and famine, teenagers packed in like sardines getting legless on Friday and Saturday, few sad old gits at other times. Millie was welder from Chelsea – long story for another time maybe. Don’t lean on me man, cos I can’t afford the ticket, back from sunday school city ? A fair percentage of restaurants and other commercial properties apparently closed down as well as closed.

Still amazed at the bird-life, with new perspective from my 8th floor balcony – too many to mention, must get a guide-book. Fish too, the waters around the jetty just down the road in Pepermint Bay / Melville Water simply teeming.

Metro-City closed (due to some gangland drugs incident ?) so George Thorogood played in The Lookout in Scarborough at the weekend. He never changes, and his kinda crowd appreciates that. No sign where Joe Satriani will be playing week after next – but I assume my ticket will remain valid.

Apart from Scarborough / Brighton Beach (which put on a great sunset display on Sunday) I explored other coastal areas north as far as Joondalup, back down to Sorrento and Hillary’s marina. The properties along that strip ! Not just the front row either – the ancient sand-dune line means several rows back the properties command sea views.

In the other direction, I went further south. Looked at downtown Fremantle and the docks – two large container ships leaving and arriving, practically filling the harbour mouth, and the endless stream of pleasure boat traffic to remind you this is not just any old industrial port. Freo has plenty of character – old-colonial, plus tourism. South of there to Rockingham and Safety Bay includes industrial Kwinana, but plenty more beach life. Futher on still south of Mandurah, and practically on to Bunbury the costal scenery, with the lakes and river inland behind the dune line too, truly spectacular in places. Plenty of evidence of efforts to develop housing property all along this stretch – “A beach at the end of every street” goes the tag line. Need to keep your eyes peeled to avoid running into road-kill the size of full grown ‘roo. Inland route on the way back, less spectacular mix of bush and agriculture (and alumina refineries).

Got my bearings anyway – it was a few days before I noticed my usually certain sense of direction was failing me – because I was in the southern hemisphere, with the sun going the “wrong” way across the northern sky. And seen the Southern Cross at last, and Orion on his head.

The commute to work certainly reveals the waterside attractions of the place. No wonder so many people choose to cycle, despite the heat and humidity.

That’s a quote from George Dyson’s piece for The Edge “The Godel-to-Google Net” in response to a question from playwright Richard Foreman whether wide access to all information, all culturaly inherited knowledge, into the one “computerised” medium can support creativity without fallibility. Or are we doomed to become “Pancake People”, wide but shallow.

As you know I’m stil reading and enjoying Sue Blackmore’s “Introduction to Consciousness”. I’ve just read a chapter where she is speculating about whether human brains with two-way links to the content of the www eventually become one extended consciousness or remain distinct individual minds.

One of my long running issues has been the error in assuming simple deterministic models of everything, with simple binary either / or choices. Many of my counters to the endless “definitions” of consciousness is that people are looking for too simple models, conflating mind, consciousness and intellience, and are inevitable disappointed when a definition chosen fails to encompass the reality. (See the previous blog about the world being more useful than a model of itself.)

Dyson’s piece brings these two issues together …

Turing said in 1948 “The argument from Gödel rests essentially on the condition that the machine must not make mistakes, but this is not a requirement for intelligence.”

Dyson continues [QUOTE]

The Internet is nothing more (and nothing less) than a set of protocols for extending the von Neumann address matrix across multiple host machines. Some 15 billion transistors are now produced every second, and more and more of them are being incorporated into devices with an IP address.

As all computer users know, this system for Gödel-numbering the digital universe is rigid in its bureaucracy, and every bit of information has to be stored (and found) in precisely the right place. It is a miracle (thanks to solid-state electronics, and error-correcting coding) that it works. Biological information processing, in contrast, is based on template-based addressing, and is consequently far more robust. The instructions say “do X with the next copy of Y that comes around” without specifying which copy, or where. Google’s success is a sign that template-based addressing is taking hold in the digital universe, and that processes transcending the von Neumann substrate are starting to grow. The correspondence between Google and biology is not an analogy, it’s a fact of life. Nucleic acid sequences are already being linked, via Google, to protein structures, and direct translation will soon be underway.

….

“An argument in favor of building a machine with initial randomness is that, if it is large enough, it will contain every network that will ever be required,” advised Turing’s assistant, cryptanalyst Irving J. Good, in 1958. Random networks (of genes, of computers, of people) contain solutions, waiting to be discovered, to problems that need not be explicitly defined. Google has answers to questions no human being may ever be able to ask.

But if you are ever wondering what an operating system for the global computer might look like (or a true AI) a primitive but fully metazoan system like Google is the place to start.

[UNQUOTE]

Fascinating.

Noticed this before, but didn’t capture a link. WordPress looks like a really cool and capable blogging tool. Needs PHP hosted, and getting flexible use out of it requires some PHP programming. Maybe I should take the plunge ?

Q – can I multi-categorise my categories ?
If A = Yes, the sky’s the limit.
If A = No, then I’ll stick with Blogger.

Still reading Sue Blackmore’s “Introduction to Consciousness”. Very good. She’s read all the the same books I have in the last 3 or 4 years and working in academe with direct contact with many of the authors, has found the time and credibility to summarise them very succinctly. I agree and I’m impressed. I kinda wish I’d written the book myself, and given that I didn’t I guess a detailed response might be a good place to start, but not here.

Just the jokes …

Summarising Turing’s own caveats against the subjective test of machine intelligence, which says essentially that the trick is in the questions you choose to ask …. “What’s your bra size” is Sue’s suggestion.

In reminding us that evolved traits necessarily fit a previous life rather than the present she says “So, for example, a taste for sugar and fatty foods was adaptive for a hunter gatherer even though it leads to obesity and heart disease today; sickness and food cravings in pregnancy may have protected a foetus from poisons then, although well-fed women do not need this protection now; and superior spatial abilities in males may have been adaptive when males were predominantly hunters and females were gatherers, even though we all have to read maps to get aroind cities today.”

Dennett, Searle and even Pinker are the clear winners. Very balanced chapter summarising her own work on memes, with the Mary Midgley quote “It is an empty and misleading metaphor to call religion, scienec and any other human activity a virus or parasite. Memes are a useless and essentiually superstitious notion”. I noted earlier my disappointment that the generally common-sensical Midgley was so dismissive of Sue’s work.

Given particular problems with data / information / knowledge modelling as my starting point, I was knocked out by the quotes from R.A.Brooks “When we examine [simple levels of] intelligence, we find that [] representations and models of the world simply get in the way. It turns out to be better to [use] the world as its own model”

Creationists and Intelligent Designers need not apply (my words, not Sue’s).

I mentioned the bird life. I didn’t mention the odd live rabbit, the occasional wombat and fox road-kill, the endless wombat and ‘roo road-signs and “street-furniture” sculptures, but I’ve still not seen an insect or spider of any significance, despite prominent bug-traps in offices, etc.

What I did see was a car from out of town in Melbourne, with every forward facing surface plastered with locusts, previously waiting for the windshield on the freeway, thousands missing, presumed dead. Wish I’d been a witness.