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All posts for the month June, 2005

Hmm. After Greenteeth (don’t ask), here’s Paul Burgess. Interesting that he’s a beat generation fan who’d read The Tractatus, but like me didn’t read Pirsig until after he was 40, and a good thing too he says …

[Quote] Yes, Pirsig in his former pre-psychosis persona of Phaedrus is a near dead ringer for your humble narrator, back in my late teens and early twenties. And his eventual philosophical solution to the subject-object dichotomy– which is not a bad solution at all!– smells uncannily like my eventual turn to the symbol, and then to Peirce. Pirsig’s “Quality” smells a good deal like Peirce’s category of Firstness. Pirsig also clarifies a question that has exercised me greatly in recent years: “What the hell has gone wrong with modernity?” He thinks, as I do, that the problem lies not in science, technology, industrialization as such, but rather in the mindset we bring to their application– a mindset which fragments us, which fragments our world, into all sorts of polar dichotomies. [Unquote]

Yes, yes, the divisiveness of superfluous dualisms. Me too.
(Must browse around the rest of his site and blog of “pseudo-philosophical” ramblings. Know how he feels, he even has a page called “How Do We Know What We Know”, which is spookily close to Psybertron’s own tag line.)

Or more officially the GCP (Global Consciousness Project). Princeton, serious science (?) with some wonderfully whacky content – Princess Di’s funeral and the O J Simpson trial linked to random events detected in electronic networks apparently arising from the fact that “… a small effect of consciousness on the electronic REG (random event generator) isn’t diminished by distance or shielding, so it apparently isn’t brought about by something physical like temperature changes, or sound waves, or electromagnetic radiation. Instead it seems that the information itself is the important thing …”

I happen to believe that final sentence, about non-local information being the most fundamental level in physics, but can this whacky noetic / noosphere stuff really be empirically proven ? I kinda hope so. What does Josephson make of it I wonder ?

Today, American scientists announced, “send us the money”. Hmm.

Teilhard de Chardin gets top billing, but this Poetic History page includes many luminaries and other phaedra including personal hero Ned Lawrence with a quote I remember oh so well

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. ”

I’d actually forgotten how much of an impression that had made on me. (to whit my still unwritten review of Seven Pillars of Wisdom – “It Is Written“.

Thanks to Platt at MoQ for providing the link.

Some very interesting material brought to my attention by Alice’s comments, so important I brought it onto the main page. Too much material to assimilate and do justice in any summary, but …

As recently as Feb 2005 Maccoby is writing “Creating Moral Organisations” for Research Technology Management, whilst as an ex student of Erich Fromm he reviewed the “Two Voices” of Erich Fromm in this 1994 piece for Society.

The Fromm piece links in Adler, Freud and Jung as well as James, Maslow, Zen, Suzuki, Ortega y Gasset and a Mexican anthropological connection. The Moral Organisations piece links the Nasa Decision Making stuff with Enron and Sarbane-Oxley. Organisations as “psychopathic individuals”. Committees of moral men making immoral decisions as one J Z DeLorean once said.

As a spiritul atheist Fromm ” … viewed neurotic symptoms as a partial rejection of oppressive or alienating authority. The psychoanalyst’s role was to help give birth to the revolutionary within the neurotic.” Hope for anyone there ?

A tremedoulsy rich seam deserving of some serious prospecting.

It’s a little difficult to explain how I came to be Googling for Greenteeth, and you’d never believe it anyway, too spooky for words, but I’m glad I did. A certain Ian Thorpe runs a very entertaining blog in the name of Jenny Greenteeth the Boggart, or is that Bloggart.

Roll on. Toilet humour isn’t dead after all.
Even the tagging raises a smile.
(Must check out www.blog.co.uk too.)

A very small sample for you …
“Everyone’s Gone To The Moon was Jonathan King’s first hit record. I the years that followed we all wished he would go to the moon. Or at least fuck off somewhere…anywhere.
Time passed and King did eventually go, not to the moon but the next best place, Wormwood Scrubs Prison, convicted of sexual offences involving minors. Now just in case anyone is thinking “hmm, fading pop star becomes kiddie fiddler – are we looking as parallels with Michael Jackson here?” it should be made clear that Jonathan King was born to look like a pervert; Jackson paid a fortune in order to look that way.”

Or even more relevant to Psybertron, he posts a far more entertaining piece than I on good ole Radio 4’s search for the “Greatest Philosopher“. A great excuse to ressurect the Pythons ..
The Philosopher’s Song —
Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.
There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya
‘Bout the raising of the wrist.
John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away
Half a crate of whiskey every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
“I drink, therefore I am”
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker
but a bugger when he’s pissed!

Question is, is Ian from Doncaster ?

Piers at Monkey Magic made a positive reference to Maslow, being valuable because he’d studied successful / advantaged people, and therefore his psychological outcome was inherently more positive, looking toward progress, rather than wallowing in “failure” or “sick psychology”. Part of my “Criticisms of Maslow” memewatch.

Of course muggins here, didn’t spot that was Piers’ point when I first read it. See the comment thread on Piers’ post.

Hofstadter’s GEB has a thread – his eternal golden braid I guess – on strange loops from the outset, mathematical, visual and musical at the obvious level of his title, and clearly from the content, he’s leading to the idea of emergence of “intelligence” from multi-layered (recursive, cyclical) patterns of complexity.

I noted a clear strategic / tactical game-theory angle in the “evolutionary” cycles of development. Whether it’s the mathematical quest for a model to completely contain all others, or a record player to play all records designed to break it (GEB shows its age there), or a model that humans know more than any formal system can, or the game between advertisers “honesty” and their target audiences, or a bio-evolutionary battle for survival, they are all battles of (metaphorical, anthropomorphic) wits. The key point that at any given “level” of current strategy, it’s a matter of trading tit for tat tactics, until either side finds a different strategy, and moves the game on a level. The other side may intially cry “foul”, but must find a new tactic that acknowledges the new strategy. Strategy continuously leap-frogs tactic, until it finds itself to be just another outmoded tactic in the face of a new strategy. It’s an inevitable driver for evolution.

The aspect that creates the drive is the desire for a “response” that is the response to beat all responses. ie it accomodates all previous responses, but for good measure claims to include the defintion of (or response to) itself, so that no further response can trump it. It really is the Russelian set of all sets vs Godel’s incompleteness. You can’t win, but you can’t step out of the game either. (NB out of the “frame” … frame analysis here, and a Pirsigian connection too, and for me the original metaphysical “bootstrapping” problem.)

Two other corollaries …

(1) The problem is when you give the concept, “the idea of the mother of all responses” a name, a definition. because you are always then back in the linguistic game. Any conceptual high ground is lost. (Hence the attraction of Zen, at least as a concept, if not a solution ;-))

(2) Talking of mothers, it is also in fact a manifestation of a conundrum that I’ve called the parent / sibling problem in classification / ontologies. Supertype is called “a widget”; a popular subtype is also commonly known as “a widget”; a less common subtype (of the supertype) is also a widget by inheritance, but is usually know as a “special widget”. Special widget gets very confused about the identities of its mother and sister. (Also the “I am my own Grandpa” variation on that theme.)

The really attractive positive conclusion of all this … there can never be a complete formal model of everything or a metaphysics with solid foundations and defences … get used to it … forget that, but do we really have “mechanism” to explain the emergence of intelligence from physical patterns ? Wow.

[Post Note : Of course this links directly to the "learning organisation" and "theory in use" cycle stuff in the original business context in my dissertation - low-level adjustments within the current "model" as loops within higher loops of "strategic shift". Bullshit baffles brains, but that doesn't make it wrong.]

Apart from historical education as museum pieces (which is fair enough), why would anyone want an on-line slide-rule, several on-line slide-rules in fact ?

I remember using one for real, but not beyond high-school and university days, when electronic calculators became widespread. Also remember finding one in an old briefcase about ten years ago and trying to explain to the kids how to use it. I could just about remember how to multiply two numbers, and reverse to divide, but that was about it.

Another example of the breadth of things Jorn gathers together on Robot Wisdom. Only Rivets comes close in my experience.

Another fine spot by Jorn at Robot Wisdom. “The Wicker Man” is an almost forgotten film that made an impression on me, though I never analysed why then, an awful long time ago.

This review by philosophical writer Robert Farrow weaves an analysis of Foucault’s ideas (and others) into a synopsis of the plot. No less interesting are the witty captions to the illustrations and the promise of further interesting content at “Metaphilm“.

One important thread in the development of Pirsig’s ideas, starting with Northrop and the aboriginals of “Latin” America (and all points “East” of western thinking), continued in the North American Indian anthropological forays with Verne Dusenberry. A descendent of said anthropologist points out that Dusenberry’s book is back in print with Oklahoma University Press.

Some interesting Dusenberry biographical points just in the site blurb which might explain Pirsig’s remarks that Dusenberry had a better knack than he did, when it came to interacting with the indians on their own terms. He was an adopted son.

Is that snow on the top of my reading list ?

[Note also error in the Laverne Madigan details in the Pirsig timeline - to be corrected.]

“The simple truth — I don’t know, I just like it that way — simply won’t do, so into this vacuum rushes the bullshit” a quote from Design Observer (Harry Frankfurt) via Adrian Trenholm comments on Johnnie Moore’s blog “Sophistry”. A story where a subject finding no credible patterns to explain something, concocts complex fiction. (Not quite the same point because this subject has deliberately been given no obvious easy explanation, but it does show how people prefer seemingly sophisticated explanations to simple ones. But, careful with that razor Occam !)

Johnnie also presents this antithesis, on exposing emotional honesty, in a Buddhist context, but without comment. What’s your point Johnnie ?

Mark Federman makes a connection between this Canadian political taping story and Watergate, following recent “Deep Throat” revelations. Interestingly the story has it’s own justification “Everybody … tapes all their conversations with politicians.”

And people are surprised ? Actually I can remember being shocked in a previous life when a colleague told me he taped every conversation with his manager.

Hofstadter’s metaphor for the brain / mind as a colony of ants makes only one reference to E O Wilson, as author of “The Insect Societies”. Been meaning to add E O Wilson to my reading list.

One quick google throws up this exchange, something I’ve alluded to many times about a number of physicists. Stephen Hawking recently said that the human race won’t last this millennium unless we start to colonize space. Do you agree ? E. O Wilson ” I admire Hawking but I think he’s completely wrong. All of the evidence shows that we can turn Earth into our permanent, safe home.” [via Salon] Interestingly, the photo of Wilson in this article has him with a large model of an ant, very like Escher’s Mobius Strip. Just noticed I was reading these Hofstadter passages whilst sat in the “Little Creatures” brewery in Freo.

Wow, didn’t realise Consilience was so recent (1998). “Insect Societies” pre-dates Hofstadter (obviously, he quotes it) but Wilson also published Pullitzer prize-winning “Ants” in 1991. The word “consilience” (meaning little more than convergence, of ideas across diverse domains) was apparently coined by William Whewell, in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, 1840 [Wikipedia]. The word is listed in the 1913 Websters [OneLook]

The biologist (sickle-cell) S.J. Singer apparently said : “I link, therefore I am.” (Quoted from Consilience)

As a 1998 book, I can see why Consilience was a reactionary undertaking. For example Bjorn Lomborg is an interest of mine (not because I agree with him, I’ve not read him, you understand, but) because of the intense debate he caused, and the questions he raised about motives for doom & gloom arguments. E O Wilson’s review of Lomborg is wholly negative, and bemoans the scientific resources expended countering his suggestions. Interestingly in this article, neither Lomborg, nor his inspiration Julian Simon, is quoted as saying anything controversial, quite the opposite. “primary research on the environment, generally appears to be professionally competent and well balanced.” There is no question that, in the process of creating a political movement and seeking the scientific evidence to support it, environmentalists have sometimes made both factual and strategic errors — who hasn’t? But environmentalists are not devious puppeteers controlling the heartstrings of the hoi polloi and the purse strings of politicians. The skeptical environmentalist is jousting at windmills, whereas the people he denounces are fighting real battles. If the words of Lomborg’s nemesis-turned-idol Julian Simon come true — if “the material conditions of life continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time” — it will be with the help of, not in spite of, the environmental movement. [Kathryn Shulz in Grist]

The point for me … Lomborg’s error is in implying a “conspiracy theory” angle to erroneous (spurious, secondary) bandwagon-jumping motives on eco-arguments. No amount of objective scientific debate can sustain or refute that. Only something like common sense. A bit like the quote made against Dawkins – “the atheist who has done more than any other for the cause of religion”; scientists arguing objectively against Lomborg, and using mainstream media to do it, are digging their own graves, spreading the meme “with 3,000 footnotes.” (Me too, BTW)

Interestingly Dawkins mocks “the great convergence”. Interesting too that induction (the basis of the original Whewell definition of consilience, induction from two directions to the same conclusion) is much undermined anyway since Popper.

Said “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” which reminded me of Arthur C. Clarke’s 3 stages of reaction to technological breakthroughs: (a) It’s completely impossible. (b) OK, it’s possible, but it’s practically useless. (c) Well, I said it was a good idea all along.

Anyway I’m browsing the BBC In Our Time / History of Ideas “Greatest Philsopsopher” debate / vote.

I’m well through Godel, Escher, Bach. Hofstadter is almost apologetic in his introduction about his appparent espousing of Zen philosophy, almost distancing himself from it to maintain credibility with serious scientific peers. It’s actually pretty clear in the book that he is not ultimately sympatheic to it anyway, but he does provide a good summary of where it fits as a world view, which for me suggests he does really “get it”.

His baffling “MU Offering” dialogue does not itself actually provide much enlightenment on the Zen koan and string folding stuff, but the following chapter “Mumon and Godel” is excellent.

“Zen is holism, carried to its logical extreme. If holism says that things can only be understood in wholes, not as sums of their parts, Zen goes one further in maintaining that the world cannot be broken into parts at all” [by the duality of the words we subjects use to name distinct objects within it.] “Zen, eg in its koans, is trying to break the mind of logic.”

Zen breaks this logical comfort zone, but doesn’t itself provide any real alternative. To study it is to miss the point of it. The “way” is unattainable, to name it is to lose it.

As well as drawing parallels in subject matter and ways of looking at reality between Zen and Escher, he also draws on frequent examples of Magritte and I notice also that “The Mind’s I” has Magritte’s “The False Mirror” on the cover. Magritte is a recurring theme.

[Post-note : If M hade been a note in post-Bach musical notation, as is E, my guess is Hofstadter could just as easily have named his book Godel, Magritte, Bach with no loss of meaning. Ultimately, he makes almost as much reference to the work of Magritte as he does Escher.]

It’s becoming apparent that GEB is mainly about languages, mathematical and typographical, the communication of information, and the properties of encoding on multiple levels, patterns within and upon patterns. ‘There is no such thing as an uncoded message. There are only messages written in more or less familiar codes; when familiar it ceases to appear like a code.” Reminded me very strongly of all language being metaphors, just that some metaphors are so long established they are dead, are no more, ceased to be, fallen off their perch, pushing up the daisies, gone to meet their maker. (Pythons, with apologies to Lakoff)

Huxley (Darwin’s bulldog) – The physical world has causal closure. Physical things are caused by physical things. The biological brain is part of that physical world. IF the mind is not physical, then it cannot cause physical things to happen, and must just be a by-product, and epi-phenomenon, of the physical. Mind and mental things are just the “hum” of the brain machine, not the cause of anything.

Yeah, close. Of course the theological response is that divine intervention closes the causality between the spiritual and the physical. The real problem is the word IF. Better conclusion is that mind, free-will, intention, etc are also physical. Where’s the problem ?