All posts for the month March, 2006

Aparently that’s my Robert Johnson song – one of my favourites, along with Dust My Broom, I remember being performed by Scarecrow, mid to late 70′s, after the Clapton version … [via Rivets]

Also from Rivets this link to high-rise skylines of the world. You’d have to like modern man-made skylines to appreciate it, but I’ve never seen Hong Kong, or Shanghai with such clear light and skies. Shenzen is truly surreal for a huge city you’ve maybe never heard of before you drive into it.

Not sure whether Melvyn Bragg’s recent book, describing 10 (or is it 12) books that changed the world prompted Sam’s recent post – but the list of most important books is a meme that comes around. Sam’s are a personally significant collection, Melvyn had some clear criteria for influencing the world. Anyway Brian Walden reviews his favourites in response to Melvyn’s, and in commending Melvyn’s list conlcudes with …

It can only help to see the role that logic plays in human development. How each new idea leads inexorably to the next one. But don’t neglect chaotic reading either. We can be sure that Melvyn does that too. Because it’s fun.

Memes evolve not by logic alone. Anyway, that’s how I come to be reading Ian McEwan’s “Enduring Love” – saw McEwan associated with the Dawkins “celebration”, and just happened to come across “Enduring Love” whilst packing away the family collection of books over the weekend. (Am I allowed to say spooky ? Alice ?)

Or even plain old post-autistic-rationality.

I keep using the “scientific” meme in scare quotes … the idea that being hyper-rational, fundamentally-objectivist … the meme of using entirely deterministic and reductionist scientific arguments and logical induction … cannot be the basis of a high quality explanation in all but the simplest “scientific” context. (Every debate of any kind in any domain including public-media, seems to have to follow these unwritten rules. At root it’s a problem with myths and metaphors about the very idea of causality. From a western scientific camp, I always quote David Deutsch as having his finger on this one, and I suspect David Chalmers may be there too, if I ever get to thoroughly understand his “supervenience” and other arguments, but of course a Buddhist slant gives us dependent-arising instead of “empty” causation – See Twelve Links for that one. )

I keep accusing Dawkins of this failing – despite him being the person who brought the idea of memes to the fore, and despite him being a great scientist and writer, ironically he seems almost totally blind to this one. Cast the meme out of thine own eyes Dawkins was a working title I’ve had for some time for an essay on the subject.

I picked up earlier on “autistic” as an adjective to describe this failing. So perhaps now we have as a working title :

“Post-Autistic-Memetics :
Cast the meme out of thine own eye Dawkins.”

And for the pointless binary polarisation issue – really just a corollary of the above – we have the working title :

“All or Nothing:
Looking for an Argument”

Loads of general media anecdotes there – where press seem to determined to find “conflict” in looking for an angle on the truth of any story – even if it’s just the cock-up vs conspiracy angle, or the classic “scientists discover revolutionary new ….” angle. Gary Richardson of BBC Radio 5 springs to mind, can he interview anyone without setting them up to bad-mouth someone else ? It’s just sport for chrissakes Gary.

Post Note :
As well as Sam pointing me at Asophic & Apathistic as alternatives to “Autism”, whilst checking up on the Dupuy quote on knowledge in literature, both in the Dawkins comment thread below, I found this quote from Dupuy I’d also recorded as significant, way back when … Listing many problematic dichotomies in “knowledge”, from his AI / Cybernetics historical perspective, as well as science vs literature , he lists the dichotomy :

between Hidebound Savants
and Cultured Ignorami (or Foggie Froggies)

Savants are commonly “Autistic” – see Kim Peak threads, and others …
Here of course Dupuy is alluding in the Foggie Froggies to the more “cultural relativist” post-modern French philosophers contrasted with those trapped (hidebound) in the logical-positivist “scientific” meme.

The convergent spiral tightens its screw.

I was about to post a link to Sue Blackmore’s piece about Albert Hofmann’s 100th birthday party, which she had published in the Times Higher Education Supplement, mainly to continue the ongoing psychedelics thread I have within Psybertron.

I did post the link of course, but in re-reading it, I noticed her final paragraph is a plea for “Wisdom”. A topical subject. I notice Sue is attending Unhooked Thinking, where many “Friends of Wisdom” look like congregating. And to bring it full circle – the main agenda of Unhooked Thinking is “addiction”.

To drugs ? Well yes, but primarily to bad memes,
like the one in psybertron’s manifesto above.

The “great convergence” spirals onwards and upwards.

The proceedings of the Darwin Day Talks “The Selfish Gene 30 Years on.” at LSE last week 16th March are now on-line on The Edge web-site. (I was in the air over China at the moment the tickets went on release, and by the time I landed they were all gone, though by the sound of the press reports, they were very hard to come by anyway.)

The day was chaired by Melvin Bragg, and included Dan Dennett, John Krebs, Matt Ridley, Ian McEwan and Richard Dawkins himself.

The Edge site includes Brockman’s own intro, full transcripts, audio streaming and mp3 downloads, and selected press reports. The Edge is a “professional” operation. Ironically, Brockman chose to use Krebs’ quote of Dawkins’ “Plane load of cultural relativists at 30,000 feet” story to introduce the piece. One of the very quotes I singled out for criticism in my review of Dawkins’ “A Devil’s Chaplain“.

This will be an interesting read, we already know Dawkins doesn’t “get it”, but I happen to believe Dennett does. Back soon.

“You’re missing something Dawkins” has been a theme of mine for some time – see my 2003″Hyper-rationalism” review of “A Devil’s Chaplain”.

Here, via a link from Alan Rayner mentioned in the previous post, a review by Martin Lockley of Alister McGrath’s “Dawkins’ God”.

Dawkins’ postures, therefore, only revive rather trivial historical debates and create unnecessary polarisations which divert us from the main issues, which are how the rational and intuitive human mind probes the vast mysteries of the cosmos.

Spot on, great minds, etc.

The historical debates may have been “trivial”, but there’s no escaping that the damage caused by religious conflict is historically massive. The problem is conflict-in-general, not religion-in-general of course.

Binary dialectical arguments (unnecessary polarisations) necessarily lead to conflict, that’s what they’re for, to destroy hypotheses. The problem is the seduction of this “scientific” style of argumentation, justification and explanation. This is the problem meme. This is the raison d’etre of Psybertron.

The problem is how to avoid being branded a liberal pinko wimp, if you don’t subscribe to that macho meme. Wisdom has the appearance of naivite and weakness. That’s another take on the problem meme.

Post Note : And of course in the competitive world of memes, unlike genes, appearance is almost everything. Assuming Lockley’s review is a fair summary of McGrath’s thoughts, there is a lot wrong with McGrath’s overall story.

Attack in order to win an argument has all the usual pissing contest pitfalls – eg he says “although religious fanaticism historically has a lot to answer for so too does atheism, which is responsible for more atrocities than religion in the last century.” Zzzzz – so what ? Fighting nasty rhetoric with nasty rhetoric – a recipe for conflict.

He also, like Mary Midgley, misses the point with memes and assumes because Dawkins is misguided in his arguments that memes are therefore “wrong”. One of his dismissals is due to their recursive nature – a very poor basis for denial in my book. Recursion itelf is a good sign. The meme-ing mean-ing contrasting wordplay is catchy but an unfounded rhetorical metaphor.

He also seems to use the “nothing is proven in science” meme himself to cast the “Darwinism is only one theory” aspersions about. I doubt Feynman ever used the word “merely” about the concept of explanation. Pot and kettle spring to mind – whilst rightly warning Dawkins off religion, McGrath would do well to keep off the scientific agenda here. Having a science qualification doesn’t make him (or Dawkins) an expert on the philosophy of science.

McGrath himself falls foul of the “creating unnecessary polarisations” meme.

The title of an article by Alan Rayner (of Bath University) orginally published in Philosophica 73 (2004) 51-70, describing his forthcoming book … here an extract.

At the heart of the book is a refreshing way of understanding the dynamic geometry of human and non-human nature, based on modern scientific evidence of the inextricability of space from energy, time and matter. This ‘inclusional logic’ treats all natural form as receptive-responsive flow-form, lacking any fixed executive centre or centres. Correspondingly, space and boundaries are envisaged as connective, reflective and co-creative, not divisive, in their vital role of producing heterogeneous local identity within a featured rather than featureless, dynamic rather than static, Universe. This understanding leads in turn to some new and exciting ideas about what it means to be Human in a complex and rapidly changing world. These ideas are based on regarding the Human ‘Self’ as a complex, dynamic togetherness of inner and outer through intermediary aspects, in much the same way that we can understand a river system as a creative interaction of stream with landscape mediated through its banks and valley sides. Each aspect simultaneously shapes the other.

This form of reasoning makes sense of many long held human emotional values and principles. With it, we can appreciate our complex self-identities as receptive neighbourhoods in dynamic, loving and responsive relationship …

Alan has sent me a few draft chapters to take a look at.
Very promising on the strength of the above.

receptive-responsive flow-form, dynamic over static,
complexity, [causality as] creative-[strange-loopy]-interaction,
emotional values.

Suffice to say, very much the natural science background that caught my imagination with the MoQ. More later.

The following is the abstract from Douglas Hofstadter’s contribution to this year’s upcoming Science of Consciousness Conference, April 4th to 8th, Tucson 2006. (Followed by some other interesting abstracts.)

(I had been kinda hoping I could be there, but it seems less and less likely as I approach my move to the US ironically.)

Strange Loops,
Downward causation, and
Distributed Consciousness
by Douglas Hofstadter

As everyone knows from hearing microphones screeching in auditoriums, feedback loops give rise to a highly stable type of locking-in phenomenon. A related phenomenon arises in other types of feedback loops — in particular, in video feedback. The patterns that result from such feedback loops exhibit stability and robustness, and therefore take on a seeming reality at their own level.

The brain’s mirroring of the world is far more complex than that of a television camera, since its purpose is to “make sense” of the world, which means the selective activation of small sets of symbolic structures, or as I call them, “symbols”, which reside on a level far higher than that of neurons. The interplay of symbols in the brain constitutes thought, and thought results in behavior, whose consequences are then perceived anew by the selfsame brain. Such a feedback loop exists in any system that has internal symbols, but when the symbolic repertoire is unlimitedly extensible (through the mechanism of chunking) and when it additionally gives rise not only to permanent records of past episodes but also to the possibility of imagining future and counterfactual scenarios (which is the case for human brains but not for, say, dog brains), then the system’s representation of itself becomes an extremely stable, robust, locked-in, epiphenomenal pattern (which I dub a “strange loop”), and the system thus fabricates for itself an “I”, whose reality (to the system itself) seems beyond doubt.

The “I” seems to act on the world purely through high-level phenomena such as desires, hopes, beliefs, and so on — and this lends it an apparent quality of “downward causation” (i.e., thoughts and other emergent phenomena “pushing around” particles, rather than the reverse). To the extent that the “I” is real, so is downward causation and also conversely: to the extent that downward causation is real, so is the “I”.

Each human being, by virtue of being acquainted with (and thus internally mirroring) many other human beings, houses not only one strange loop or “I”, but many such, at extremely different levels of fidelity — metaphorically speaking, mosaics at wildly different grain sizes. Thus each human brain is the locus of not just one consciousness (or “soul”) but of many such, having different levels of intensity or presence. Conversely, a given individual, although it inhabits primarily a particular brain, does not inhabit that brain exclusively, and as a consequence each human “soul” and each human identity is a somewhat distributed entity.

The near-alignment of one brain and one soul is thus misleading: it gives rise to the illusion that consciousness is not distributed, and it is that illusion that is the source of much confusion about what we human beings really are.

This one caught my eye too.

Metaphorical Heterophenomenology:
Vim vs the Anti-Matrix.
by Keith Turausky

To support his “heterophenomenological” view of consciousness, Daniel Dennett has introduced the metaphor of “vim.” Vim describes the intrinsic worth of a currency as imagined by those who use that currency. The metaphor is intended to poke fun at those who posit the existence of qualia—or, to use Dennett’s coinage, those with the “zombic hunch.”

I will argue that, contrary to Dennett’s intentions, the vim metaphor argues for panpsychism better than it discredits qualia. I will also present a more fitting metaphor for heterophenomenology: the “Anti-Matrix.”

In the “classic” Matrix, the extrinsic is an illusion, but in the Anti-Matrix, the intrinsic is an illusion. Dennett’s views suggest that ours is an Anti-Matrix world, wherein massively deluded “zombic hunchers” perpetuate a false metaphysics. The suggestion raises troubling questions. While the Matrix is installed by outside forces to conceal a horrifying reality, Dennett would presumably credit our Anti-Matrix—our zombic hunch—to natural evolutionary forces.

What function, if any, does the illusion of an intrinsic world serve in a wholly extrinsic reality? Does it represent an unfortunate error in the “hardware” or the “software”? Is it no error at all, but rather a necessary illusion? Has an error evolved into a necessity? Dennett argues that the zombic hunch compromises otherwise rational people’s beliefs about reality. It is worth considering whether this is a necessary compromise, even if qualia do not exist.

And this one

Collective Deceptions in Western Science
by Charles Whitehead

Is western science just one more mythological scheme with no more validity than, say, the belief in witchcraft, as some postmodern anthropologists claim? This is surely going too far. The postmodern assertion that there is ‘nothing outside the text’ is worse than theoretical nihilism – it denies the terrible human costs of real-world events and processes.

Science is certainly not a mythological scheme. Science is based on testable hypotheses and repeatable observations, whereas mythology is based on out-of-body experiences or other ritually altered states. But this is not a valid reason to deny that science is embedded in political and economic processes and that anthropological analysis can help scientists to transcend the problems of cultural distortion.

A typical objection to such analysis is: ‘What can anthropologists tell us about natural science? You do an experiment and you get an empirical result. How can anthropology change that?’ This is the wrong question of course. Culture does not affect empirical findings as such. But it does determine the choice of experiment, the interpretation of the result, and the tendency to ask the wrong questions such as the example just given.

Cultural distortions are most pernicious in the field of consciousness studies. Apart from the physicalist paradigm itself, a central problem affecting all the behavioural sciences is the absence of any coherent theory defining human behaviour. This is not the result of simple ignorance or incapacity but of active and ingenious falsification – you could say that it is the ‘job’ of human culture to falsify our perceptions of ourselves and the world we live in. ‘Collective deceptions’ were at one time necessary to coerce our social but selfish ancestors into collaborating in a non-selfish system, and western science has not yet freed itself from them.

In fact, in reacting against a vitalistic worldview, post-Enlightenment science created new deceptions of its own. Those affecting consciousness studies most directly include physicalism, cognocentrism, logocentrism, individualism, and ‘genocentrism’ (the last being in direct conflict with Darwinian principles).

Once you start to ask the right questions, it becomes easy to show that commonly held scientific assumptions are self-contradictory and rooted in vested political and economic interests. Human cultures everywhere maintain fictive schemes which could aptly be described as ‘wholly believed-in make-believe’, and this is itself a widely accepted definition of the hypnotized state.

Suggestibility is in fact a precondition of human culture, but as long as we continue to act out our make-believe fantasies in the real world, we will continue to add to the dangers that we created in the first place. It is high time we all took active steps to stop investing in our own collective dream-worlds.

The latter sounds right up the “Friends of Wisdom” street.
Lots of good stuff there, at Tucson 2006

Is it just me or has the rate of blog comment spamming risen recently ? I’m getting dozens daily at the moment. Why do they bother – does any blogger allow un-moderated comments onto their pages ?

Amongst the blatant sex and drugs plugs, the worst (trickiest) kind are those that appeal to vanity. Automated, but carefully tailored complimentary notes, with some worthless link in the senders details. Creative, but pointless. Are people really so desparate to get a link onto any old web page ?

I guess the question I need to ask – is do we have any automatic spam-filtering software for wordpress blogs ? (I’m still up for a global e-mail charge – a small cost for serious users, a real burden for scattergun time-wasters – but presumably blog spamming software is not using e-mail protocols – so it would have to be a more general traffic tax – oh well, maybe not.)

Is love all you need, or does money make the world go round ? Interesting post from Euan Semple, contrasting the “pathological” shareholder-value-making duty of business organisations, with the idea that love is the most important driver in any organisation.

Like any of us taking this stuff seriously, he is forced to conclude with an apologetic disclaimer for the benefit of the politically correct, about accidentaly appearing too “new-agey”. An occupational hazard I find.

Particularly poignant here is his reference to Dave Weinberger (co author of Cluetrain) suggesting love is what holds the internet together, whereas Chris Locke (co author …) has a blog whose main aim in life is to steer people away from the dangers of new-ageyness. True but dangerous. Wasn’t that the last Edge question too ?

Shareholder value. Value ? Truth ? Quality ? Love ? Same thing really.
Love conquers all. True and dangerous. The truth IS dangerous.

BTW great little anecdote in Butuki‘s comment in Euan’s post thread.

Yet more from Anecdote. A great Dilbert cartoon, about the artificiality of fitting numbers and rationality to strategic plans. Works on many levels. The “complexity” in the square root of the negative number, or simply the fact that the result is “imaginary”, and the strange recursion in the mobius strip timeline. Many a true word.

Also followed the Anecdote links to “Open Space“. Something I’ve been following for some time, though I don’t believe I’ve ever blogged about it. Johnnie Moore used it as a facilitation method for a group of knowledge management bloggers I’ve been involved with. Like much new management consultancy buzzspeak, it’s easy to take a cynical view of old ideas packaged with new jargon, designed to sell new textbooks and new consultancy services. But it is based on the sound idea that human narrative interaction is the best means of organisation through complexity.

I could see it as an antidote to the John Cleese “Meetings, Bloody Meetings” approach. The idea that if you must have meetings, make sure they are “efficient”, and impose rules of participation that stick to the agenda, speaking one at a time, we have one meeting here, and so on. Whereas, OpenSpace facilitation encourages agenda formation by invitation of the participants, and positively encourages the idea that people will naturally group around multiple sub-meetings / sub-agendas, where they have greatest interest, enthusiasm, contributions. The grouping and re-grouping, by physicaly walking about and moving chairs around is fundamental. The only imposed structure is the Open Space format, not the agenda content, nor any specific decision-making outcomes – so clearly it’s not the right process for every “meeting”. Imposed informality almost. Good where genuinely open outcomes are expected from complex situations. Preparation and facilitation skills are about allowing what happens naturally to happen – so establishing genuine openeness and trust in the transparency of any implicit prior agendas is crucial, as is allowing and encouraging the right forms of interaction to happen, even though uninitiated participants may initially find the apparent chaos uncomfortable. (This is a good brief summary article by Diane Gibeault.)

The “Data Rat” from David Pope, via Anecdote.

Also from the guys at Anecdote, Two linked posts on building trust and the value of silence in narrative knowledge.

And, a link to Malcolm Gladwell’s blog. Not really a fan of Gladwell, in the sense that I saw a lot of over-sensationalised unoriginality in his Tipping Point and Blink, despite their content being essentially true and, more importantly, with messages consistent with my own – My therapist tells me I’m just jealous of his publishing success :-)

Wow, how come I never made the Malcom Gladwell connection with this post.

Can’t quite work out where the name “Post-Autistic Economics” comes from, but this is essentially about numbers being irrelevant in economics. Naturally I approve. [From AdBusters via Rivets]

Post Note : Of course I remember now why the word “autistic” struck a chord – Dave Snowden’s quote from earlier …

“The only humans who analyse all the data and then make a rational choice are autistic, but economists insist this is the way we all work.”