All posts for the month December, 2007

Out west with Sylvia, Tom and Robbie … Vegas, Death Valley, Sierras, Tahoe, San Francisco, Sequoia, Flagstaff, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Vegas.

Highlight for me was Monument Valley (at 12F) and Sequoia for a white Christmas day – oh, and the pleasure of meeting Alice and Family. Surreal moment, eating dinner outdoors on the balcony at Olives with 6 hours to kill before our return red-eye from Vegas – recommended fountain-entertainment-and-food value even at The Bellagio prices.

More later when I’ve sorted the pictures, and dealt with the e-mail backlog.

Having noticed that the content of the “Taking Science on Faith” post below, provided to me by Gary Wegner, was also in the current edition of The Edge, I see that it is also covered in the comment thread to the Daily Kos post reviewing Paul Davies “Cosmic Jackpot” … The Edge and Paul Davies being the connection.

That’s the Anthropic Principle thread that wound Island up, though I have to say the piece reads as a reasonable if sceptical summary, despite the clamour of self-congratulatory closed minds in the ensuing thread. That post of mine was of course prompted by Marsha picking up the Daily Kos article on the Pirsig Metaphysics of Quality discussion forum … Pirsig being my connection with Gary in the first place

A series of interviews by Matt Frei with journalists. bloggers and the YouTube team of under-21 Billionaires, and others across the US. The agenda is about the place of professional journalism in this media revolution … don’t worry Matt, there still is one.

One interesting discussion – a traditional journalist expressing the concern with blogging / social networking communities tending to be self-selecting amongst people who already agree / re-inforce their pre-conceived perspectives. Actually I don’t believe that is true. How to put this … I’m sure the “less intellectual” select their mainstream media channels to satisfy their prejudices too, and the media re-inforce that by pandering to their audience tastes. The more intellectually / experientially curious will always seek more channels of input – where different equals interesting. I’d suggest that’s true whatever the media, the difference is choice is simply easier with the bottom-up channels.

Again, third time today, 99% of blogging and social media content is crap, and 99% of mainstream media content is crap too because, repeat after me …. 99% of anything is crap. (If the idea of 99% crap offends, insert your own preferred interpretation of the 80/20 rule, the Pareto principle. Despite the odds, the point is to treat the 1% nuggets as a “cup half full” – something to work with and build on.)

(Interestingly, the YouTube video parodying the YouTube business success story to the tune of “We Didn’t Start The Fire” is off the air …

“This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by a third party.”

(Billy Joel’s music publisher presumably, not YouTube itself. Pity, it was an excellent piece of work.)

Interestingly ironic thread with Dave Snowden on Euan Semple’s Obvious about this Doris Lessing comment.

Referring a few posts ago, to Johnnie Moore commenting on the persistent inanity of most of what the evolving web technologies are used for.

Lest we forget, 99% of the internet is inane crap, because 99% of everything is crap. The important thing is knowing how to pan for the nuggets … peer-to-peer connections, context, etc …

Doubly ironic is Euan’s slightly later post on Gartner appearing to rubbish the investment value in Web2.0 … given Dave Pollard dubbing KM2.0 as KM0.0 (also reported by David Gurteen.) Interconnected enough for you ?

I’ve mentioned many times that “meta” is an important concept – the word itself seems to come and go with fashions. “Meta-X” equals “X concerning X”

In my agenda here it is a way, in this Subject / Object oriented world, of taking that one step back from the apparent objects and focusssing on the objects (processes) by which they arise and interact … less risk of “reifying” the objects themselves.

Ant drew our attention to this new “Meta-Q” blog by Caryl Johnston, in Philadelphia PA. Meta-Q signifying Meta-Quality, and very much looking at the place of Pirsigian Quality in an educational / academic context.

By (Pirsigian) defintion, Quality itself is undefinable, and attempts to do so of limited value and ultimately counter productive. Meta-Quality is a concept I like – definition through the processes and interactions through which Quality arises – rather than direct definition of Quality itself.

Less than a month in the blogosphere, but several interesting looking essays there already. Added to the blog roll so I can read at leisure and post some more specific comments in due course. Caryl describes the Pirsigian (Metaphysics of) Quality agenda as an attempt …

… to raid the encampment of philosophy, which has become entrenched in the subject-object dualism of modern rationalism and fortified by the spoils dispensed by universities, government, and economics, to capture its real prize: an orientation that makes sense of the world, makes a difference in how one lives, and does justice to all levels of human nature.

Addressing the problem of the “subject-object dualism of modern rationalism”. Absolutely. Sounds like my manifesto (in the header).

(Post note : been browsing around and Caryl has multiple blogs – all very interesting. She concludes another essay with …

We need to re-dynamize ourselves
– by remembering the paradoxy in orthodoxy.

Well said. And talking of the paradox in the orthodox, conflict with the static, I’m reminded of Pirsig’s own words in the Baggini nterview … )

Dynamic or static, both are absolutely essential, even when they are in conflict. As stated in LILA, without Dynamic Quality an organism cannot grow. But without static quality an organism cannot last. Dynamic liberals and radicals need conservatives to keep them from making a mess of the world through unneeded change. Conservatives also need liberals and radicals to keep them from making a mess of the world through unneeded stagnation. This also holds true for philosophy. My feeling is that subject-object way of interpreting the world is stagnant and inadequate for our time, but without that base of subject-object understanding to build from, the Metaphysics of Quality, by itself, has no value either.


Series of two articles and letters to the editor in the NY Times, and a SlashDot thread …

Dennis Overbye “Laws of Nature, Source Unknown”

Paul Davies “Taking Science on Faith”

(More of the same by the same authors in the latest “Edge“)

Letters to the NYT Editor “Scientific Method; Evidence not Faith”

SlashDot “Where Do the Laws of Nature Come From ?”

Forwarded by Gary Wegner, picking up on Pirsig’s “Ghosts” theme on “scientific laws” in Chapter 3 of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Robert M Pirsig

“feigning twentieth-century lunacy”

just like everyone else.

Gary highlights this “SPUN1352″ response in the SlashDot thread …

There are three basic approaches to this existential dilemma. First, decide based on arbitrary experiences that one particular explanation is right. Second, decide that no particular explanation matters since you can’t know which one is right for sure, and get on with your life. Third, go batshit insane.

Buddha was asked a number of questions by a wise philosopher of the time, such as “Is there a soul,” “Is there a God” and “Is there life after death?” Buddha refused to answer because the answers aren’t important. If they are important to you, there is a more basic question you should be asking first, which is, “Why is it important for me to believe that I know the answers?”

You will find the answer to this is always some variant of, “Because I’m afraid of dying and knowing the right things will help keep me from ceasing to exist.” So the question becomes, why am I afraid of dying? And the answer is almost always something along the lines of, “Because I see myself as fundamentally separate from the Universe, and when I die, I’m gone.

This is based on the fact that mind has privileged access to some of it’s own internal state. No one else seems to know our internal worlds, and so we fear that when we die, those worlds will be lost. Worse yet, as we believe we are the only ones who can put them in their proper context, when we die, they might be misinterpreted.

Well, buck up. You aren’t separate from the universe. You are not a subject, observing the objects. You aren’t a little man sitting in your head looking out through your eyes and hearing through your ears. The sense of self is just another sense, just another track in the recording. No one is listening because there aren’t any such things as individuals to observe.

Is that confusing or upsetting? Then you are stuck in dualistic thinking, and will always be, in some sense, scared of death. If you can let go of dualism and realize that there is no subjective observer separate from the objects observed, but that observation still exists, then you will be free and it won’t matter one bit whether we are living in a simulation, or even whether there is a God, a soul, or an afterlife.

Interesting final quote – see my last Dawkins “Talking Point” piece, where I think I quoted Dennett that, to an atheist or agnostic, the question of the existence of god can be of no pragmatic consequence. But so much more in there … more later.

If you ask the wrong (existential) question …

the answers aren’t important.

[Post Note - It occurred to me that the quoted expression “Why is it important for me to believe that I know the answers?” is in fact a meta-question - a why-question about why-questions. See next "meta" post.]

Did this back in 2003.

Sam picked up on it recently, and I was prompted to re-do and see how my outlook has changed.

Latest Result

1.  Aquinas   (100%)  Information link
2.  Aristotle   (94%)  Information link
3.  Jeremy Bentham   (72%)  Information link
4.  Plato   (71%)  Information link
5.  John Stuart Mill   (55%)  Information link
6.  St. Augustine   (53%)  Information link
7.  Epicureans   (52%)  Information link
8.  Spinoza   (51%)  Information link
9.  Jean-Paul Sartre   (50%)  Information link
10.  Ayn Rand   (46%)  Information link
11.  Thomas Hobbes   (40%)  Information link
12.  Stoics   (40%)  Information link
13.  Nel Noddings   (38%)  Information link
14.  David Hume   (38%)  Information link
15.  Nietzsche   (37%)  Information link
16.  Cynics   (29%)  Information link
17.  Ockham   (14%)  Information link
18.  Kant   (11%)  Information link
19.  Prescriptivism   (3%)  Information link

Previous Result

1. Spinoza (100%)
2. Aquinas (89%)
3. Stoics (89%)
4. Aristotle (86%)
5. Nietzsche (85%)
6. Jeremy Bentham (70%)
7. Epicureans (68%)
8. Jean-Paul Sartre (68%)
9. Nel Noddings (65%)
10. Plato (64%)

Significant differences … the survey itself seems modified behind the scenes, certainly the reporting has.

Aquinas, Aristotle and Plato all up, Spinoza down, Nietzsche well down. Weird ? Re-reading Nietzsche and reading Spinoza both at the moment. Not sure if this is meaningful at all. Clearly there is a level of interpretation in the survey relationships to the specific philosophers introduced by whomever created it.

WTF. As a loyal fan of the Beeb, I have to call them out on this one.

Censoring the word “faggot” out of The Pogues and Kirsty McColl’s Fairy Tale of New York. Surely the very best of that dodgy genre of Christmas singles.

Response to the vote on censorship, and the “Have Your Say” comment thread is over 96% against, and over 115 pages of responses so far … all with the same message so far as  can see. Censorship does have a legitimate place in a society built on freedom of speech, but this isn’t one of them.

It’s pure poetry … a scene of an old married couple at Christmas, a time of family stress, and alcohol-fueled emotions, taking stock as one year ends and another looms  … throwing insults at each other only to discover how much they really are in love with each others dreams. A truly uplifting piece of work

The word “faggot” may have homophobic uses, but absolutely not in this context, the redeeming power of real love. So much more offensive language exists in other songs with misanthropic intent; it’s a travesty that Shane McGowan’s poetry should come in for this abuse.

Rectify your glaring mistake Auntie.

[Post Note : Oh wow they just did.
The power of the people. Well done Auntie Beeb.

Peter Tatchell I have a lot of respect for his brave stands on freedoms, not just gay rights, but I have to say he's wrong on this one. Context matters.]

[Post Post Note - 2030 (!) comments on the "have your say" thread in under two days.]

This news story is the first time I’ve seen the sea-level rise due to global warming correctly described in popular media.

Melting of ice over land, and the thermal expansion of the sea-water itself. The “melting of polar ice-caps” meme makes me cringe every time I hear it … forgetting that more than half of that is floating on the sea, already displacing its own mass.

Only caught part of this interview / debate involving Dawkins, but thought I’d better blog the link so I don’t lose it. Got the impression he was looking for compromise ground (?) based on what little I did hear, but reaction by those on the God side of the debate don’t seem to have made that iterpretation … need to find time for a closer listen.

(Post Note : The link is just a news report
… can’t see the link to hear the programme itself ?)

Link to the “Talking Point” video recording provided my Mardé.
December 2007 Link on this page.

Interestingly, the first caller’s point is the same as Dan Dennett’s. Atheist or agnostic, the existence of God is an uninteresting question. What good / bad is caused by professed religious faith in God’s name is the much more real, pragmatic issue. Dawkins still doesn’t seem to get that.

Some wonderfully dirty rhetorical tricks later on from the religious side trying to smear the atheist agenda with the authoritatian evils of Stalin and Hitler prepetrated “in the name of atheism”. Heh heh. I thought Dawkins was remarkably reserved in maintaining his moral high-ground – and as you know, I’m no fan of Dawkins.

Dawkins may be tolerant on comparative religion as historical cultural fact, but his pure scientific outlook means he misses other values in faith and denies any parallels with the “dogmas” of science itself – meta-dogmas.

Interesting little snapshot here via Johnnie Moore, originally from Marina’s Bloggariffic on the evolution of blogging. The technology changes like fashions come and go, but the evolution of use, uses that add value to humanity, is comically retarded. The ratio of nuggets to trivia is pretty static ….

90% of X is crap, because 90% of everything is crap

…. someone once said.

I have a theory about memetic evolution – the three generation rule – originally evident in “Kondratiev Waves”. However fast the technology itself, humans have to learn habits, exploit habits and unlearn habits, and we humans as a whole / in general / culturally have physiological limits to the pace of learning, and communicating / applying that learning.

Interestingly, Johnnie has a later post about the optimal load for a brain to take something new on board.

Find myself surfing YouTube one full evening a week or fortnight these days, finding music video of acts I’d long forgotten were important to me (*), often prompted by a link from Rivets, who has his own musical agenda, but the lateral connections are infinite. I blogged about Rory Gallagher some weeks ago, and spent last night absorbing all things Mothersbaugh (Mark, Bob1 and Jim) and Casales (Jerry and Bob2) - after a sneak listen to Rory’s Montreux Jazz version of Shadow Play – more Akron-Spud-madness later … but a few evenings ago I stumbled upon The Thoughts of Chairman Parker. Where to start ?

Graham Parker was responsible for the best gig I ever experienced at London’s Roundhouse in 1978, supported by the then little-known-in-the-UK Blondie and Devo, on the evening of the day of the Anti-Nazi league rally from Trafalger Square to Victoria Park Hackney – featuring The Clash and Tom Robinson amonsgt others – what a day. Some weeks / months later we saw GP & The Rumour again on the two opening night(s) of Richard Branson’s Virgin Venue in Victoria, where I took some pics, inlcuding my favourite of GP (Passion is no Ordinary Word).

Anyway Chairman Parker was waxing philosophical about the Harris / Dawkins / Hitchens debate – on the atheistic side of it – and drawing some flak in comments from US fans - which is coincidental to my agenda here. What I picked-up on is how active GP has been and still is, in the US since the late 70′s. Official web-site, most of the backlog available CD and MP3 formats … and a link to this 5 hour radio marathon … which I’m about 3.5 hours through. A 9 hour (!) Elvis Costello marathon there too, I’m yet to dip into.

Anyway Devo … all their early “art school” experimentation too … and they’ve been perfoming as recently as last month, Manchester, Vegas … official site.

(*) Important 70′s music that I have on vinyl, but never replaced with CD or Mp3, having gone through the 90′s and 00′s with my experiencing both my sons’ rock tastes. Small world though – Elder son did unplugged arrangements of Whole Lotta Love & Black Dog the week before Led Zep’s re-union gig acclaimed by critics and fans alike at the London O2 Arena. Saw Zep at Earl’s Court in 76 was it ?

Can’t decide whether I need to do a more methodical search, subscription or otherwise re-connect with the old vinyl collection … or continue the random trip of rediscovery.

Just added “Freedom of Science” to the blogroll. Pretty whacky style, but a very similar agenda to mine, in this case aimed at “Newtonism” specifically as the problem rather than “scientific objectivism” more generally in my case. Freeing knowledge from academic categories.

But very similar rationale too, about the easy option associated with the immensely successful “marketing and branding” of Newtonism, or in my case the memetics of the hyper-rational.

No human identity, but “Freedom” responded to Island’s post mentioned in my previous post below.

(Post Note – Dec 19th – I see Domenic has picked-up on Island’s conjecture and is following the logic of where the maths exists to support it …. comment thread ensues … all that is required is one open mind.)

An October 2007  post here from “Island” (Rick Ryals) guesting on “A Quantum Diaries Survivor” (That’s a serious physics blog … so not for the faint-hearted.)

Just collecting the link because, I don’t know why, but I need to understand what Island is on about, even if he’s wrong ;-).

 I hit the link on a search cross-hit, but Island also included it in his last thread of comments. See various comment threads involving “Island” (very hard to pin down in a search, thanks to that name) as well as his own site and blog already linked in the side-bar as “Science in Crisis”.

Interesting. I guess the fact that we all post in public (like, Doh ! blogging on the web) means we expect (nay hope) to be picked-up, linked and copied, directly or from feeds, but I hadn’t though of this – people scraping feed content and “passing off” without linking or attribution.

As ever, it’s the “passing off” that is immoral. [via Geo Hancock]
BTW did you pick up on “Kindle” Geo, see previous post.

I’ve been following e-Paper / e-Ink developments, but this mainstream event almost passed me by. I see Amazon sold out their entire “Kindle” production in five days in late November. A few days later Wikipedia already records the “November 2007″ event as history.

I’m interested, particularly if the subscriptions can be extended beyond the US and to the web via a browser rather than just the registered publications. Watch the video demo half-way down this official Amazon page.

Last night a colleague recalled the scene from “The Simpsons – The Movie” where Homer questions “Aawww, why do I have to go to church on Sundays. Why can’t I just pray like hell in the final minutes of my life, like everbody else does.” – being scarily close to the truth for some significant proportion of the populace down here in the bible belt.

Unlike Sam, I wouldn’t like to bet against too high odds that these people are from a real church community, who see this as valid comment, albeit in some level of humorous parody (or god forbid, maybe not).

Things are rarely what they seem, which after several cycles of paradoxical irony, may be not, not … not what they appear to be. Now that is the sign of our times … (too) many a true word.

In the good old days the jester wore the silly outfit, so you could tell spoof from reality even if, in fact precisely because, many a true word could be spoken. The loss of innocence arrived “while the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown”. The difference between irony / humour and hypocrisy / lies is in the intent, not in the words or ideas expressed. The memes have us mere mortals over a barrel.