All posts for the month October, 2005

According to US-based OCLC worldwide survey of books held in libraries – ie ranked acording to the library purchasing vote, as they put it. [Thanks to Georganna for the link.]

Bible, Quran, Bhagavad Gita and Tao Te Ching all near the top, and the top 100 stuffed with Shakespeare, but the whole 1000 makes an interesting catalogue of books and authors we should presumably know. I see Pirsig’s ZMM makes it at No. 910, whereas neither Wilber nor Campbell are in there. Baum’s Wizard of Oz up there with Plato’s Republic. Some odd modern popular numbers in there with the classics.

Although they don’t go so far as to comment on significant omissions, Georganna points out that the Factoids page, and the the comparisons with other lists, also make interesting reading.

A BBC News story on some research on the letter writing habits of scientists of old, vs current day e-mail habits, finds the scale and patterns of communication are much the same. Twas ever thus. The technology is (almost) irrelevant.

(I’ve also commented before that blogging is very like – notekeeping / index cards used by authors preparing theses / books. )

Americans that is … Just done a long round trip to Auckland NZ, via LA. I’d forgotten that there is no such thing as international “transit” in US airports, so had the edifying experience of going into and out of the US both in each direction, immigration, baggage, customs, check-in, gate security, the lot. Spitting feathers at the mind-numbingly bureaucratic “security” measures seemingly designed to use an excess of disinterested cheap labour, backed-up by beaming portrait photos of Bush, Cheney et al, not to mention cheesey welcome announcements, to piss off the travelling public and bore would-be terrorists to death – both by attrition alike. Oh look, another queue to join a queue.

Anyway, after having bought from a charity vendor a little stars and stripes button, in a cynical attempt at a smoother passage, I have to admit, I found in the bookshop, not just multiple copies of Pirsig’s ZMM, but also Ken Wilber and Joe Campbell, amongst a well stocked philosophy section (!) not to mention some great bar service whilst I waited three hours for my UK return flight. So having completed Barbara Tuchman’s “Bible and Sword” on the outward leg, I got through both “A Theory of Everything” and “The Power of Myth” on the return leg.

Tuchman’s story of the intertwined histories of Palestine and England is educational and a good amusing read, even for those who already recognise the British responsibilities for the state of the middle east. Can’t help thinking US President Wilson’s plea for “self-determination” was singularly unhelpful at a critical moment in a delicate political situation, but that’s history for you. “The March of Folly”, another of her titles I’ve previously read, says it all.

[Interestingly, after that comment about British responsibilities for Israel / Palestine, I noticed this report on the Iranian president’s recent anti-Zionist speech. Striking is that his war on Zionism concludes with “Once we have defeated the Anglo-Saxons, the rest will run for cover.” The explicit rhetoric is chilling, but I wish these guys would address what their real grievances and expectations are here and now, beyond warlike vengence for injustices of history. If he’s looking for the Anglo-Saxons to condemn a pre-emptive strike by Israel and a lack of public opinion to defend them against Arab retalliation, he may be proven right, but it’s one hell of a dangerous (not to say immoral) game of provocation to play with his own people, let alone the rest of the world. The particular web site is dedicated to encouraging moderate Iranian’s to be represented in government. Link via Sam at Elizaphanian.]

Wilber’s theory of everything, suffers from some inconsistency in his “evolutionary psychology” criticism of parts of western culture for believing it has personally invented the correct view of life the universe and everything – but on the whole I find his summaries mostly common sense with little to actually disagree with. The Graves, Beck, Cowan based spiral of evolution through levels (colours) of thinking looks just like Maslow / Pirsig to me. The spirals evoke both Pirsigian “dynamic quality” and Hofstadter’s “strange loopiness”. (His only mistake for me is in ridiculing both string theory and evolutionary psychology, without realising they are just different metaphors for the same whole.)

Campbell – need to read more of, but on the strength of this 1991 interview with Bill Moyers – I don’t find earth shattering, again mainly common sense – Myths exist for good human development (evolutionary psychology) reasons in the context of our place in the world, and the myths themselves mustn’t be confused with the metaphors, the various specific traditional symbolic representations of them frozen in “religions” in different cultures.

Just a holding post to capture a search cross-hit on Peter Marcer’s name [See recent Quantum Information post], with W Ross Ashby and “requisite variety”, and Stafford Beer, and Koans (!), and more ….. the common link being Cybernetics and this page of the British Cybernetics Society. This is a shrinking world – the great convergence really does seem to be happening.

They have a meetings agenda I must investigate.

Saw the Hamsters on their Mad, Bad and Dangerous tour at the Putney Half Moon on Tuesday, with John Otway and Wilko Johnson in tow.

Great show, 19:45 to 23:10 with only one short break in proceedings to switch the drumkit around.

Otway’s set the usual mad guitar “virtuosity” exchanges with sidekick Rick, and milking his 20 year chart hits history for gags. Did everything except the “House of the Rising Sun” spoof, including disco hits “Burn Baby Burn” and “Crazy Horses”. Rick is a great comic foil in his own right, not just the straight man; Otway perhaps overdid the theremin on too many numbers there.

Wilko his usual thousand yard stare, staccato strutting and guitar machine-gunning (psycho-duck-walking) self with the wonderful Norman Watt-Roy on manic bass. Apart from the highlight “Back in the Night” I have to say I didn’t recognise many, at this distance of 28 years, perhaps Wilko’s voice is just a bit flat to do justice ? Entertaining sounds though.

Hamsters did what was for the most part their standard set – just crowdpleasers Banner / Watchtower and Sharp Dressed Man as you’d expect from their Hendrix / ZZ-Top repertoire. Hamsters highlight was a number I didn’t recognise – must enquire. Someone reminded me that it’s not just Slim’s guitar, but his voice that makes the Hamsters’ great sound.

The gig wasn’t quite Mad enough (Otway aside) – don’t know why but I expected more mayhem and integration of the personnel than distinct sets – highlights were Otway and Rick on stage with the Hamsters several times and finally the whole lot crammed on the small stage for a couple of numbers. Only quibble is that Slim’s amplification swamps the other two guitars, when all on together. Bunsen Burner, Born to be Wild, and a big hit from Norman’s past to conclude – if you don’t know it I won’t spoil it here. Finished on a real high.

“One of the strangest portents of the end of progress is the recent discovery that humans are losing their ability to come up with new ideas.” says Bryan Appleyard in this Times article. Thanks to Sam at Elizaphanian for the link.

I’m not sure the specific argument measuring “innovations” holds up to much scrutiny, but the whole article is a reminder that all markets can go down as well as up, even the Darwinian one. The direction of “progress” is driven by morals, not technology or science (or nature) in its broadest sense. In fact the Metaphysics of Quality would suggest the natural direction is towards ever more “sophisticated” intellect – winning memes. Whatever that means, it probably means we should not expect to recognise new innovations by the standards of the old. Technology has progressed beyond the “physical” already, or at least its centre of gravity has; or rather physics has progressed beyond the material.

Clear as mud ?

I must have passed over the Anthropic Principle quite some time ago, because it leaves me unmoved. The reason to mention it is the debate about physical fundamentals of the universe and the recurring intelligent design debate, where I have also gone beyond debate to peremtory dismissal.

I got a combative comment on my report about the quantum information developments at BCS / CASYS below. “Crap”, to quote the comment in fact. The anonymous commenter “Island” runs a web-site called “Anthropic-Principle.Org“, and a blog called “Uncommon Ascent” with the URL “evolutionarydesign” under blogspot.

Also picked up via a Google / Technorati cross-hit a link to a blog by Melbourne student Will G with some extended Christian reasoning on the subject that Island liked. It includes this erroneous application of Occam

1. The universe has the appearance of design
2. There are no simpler explanations of design with evidential support
3. I am justified in believing the universe is designed

Very simple (not), except the absence of any explanation of the existence of the design itself, or any agent behind use of the verb “designed”. Just moved the “first cause” problem.

Unfortunately neither can I take seriosuly anyone who dismissess neo-darwinism with the rhetorical summary “where everything somehow happens this way for no good reason”. Of course Darwinism supplies plenty of “good reasons” and “explanations” – just not a teleological design from any intelligence higher than nature itself, with any pre-planned outcomes.

Anyway Wikipedia restored my belief that weak or strong the Anthropic Principle is just a truism that can explain nothing. Anyway, Island’s case on a brief read looks like “evolutionary design” – where design exists in nature itself, and the natural laws in this universe, but to me that design is a recipe for possible processes not a blue-print for an outcome of intelligent humans with any further pre-ordained destinies. With that spin, I wouldn’t argue against design. Design = Physics = Evolution in fact.

I might actually largely agree with Island.
Choose your metaphor for the fundamental existence of a universe containing these particular laws of physics.