All posts for the month April, 2008

Or if you prefer; the “Three Body Language”.

Something that has cropped-up several times in recent quite separate correspondences are analogies to the Newtonian “Three-Body-Problem” and I realised these linked to some earlier things I’d blogged about.

The three-body-problem is insoluble analytically – take three or more bodies (physical objects) apply Newtons laws of motion (inlcuding gravitation) to each of them, and you find you can’t solve the resultant set of equations. Not directly anyway; numerical methods and simulation processes can take each object / object-pair progressively and iterate to an overall solution in small time-slices that ultimately predicts their motions. Of course heavenly bodies didn’t have to wait for someone to find that solution – they just got on with orbitting each other, they’re not analytical objects.

And neither are human subjects – analytical objects. Real human car drivers can cope with three or more cars on the road at once, without bumping into each other too often, they can predict and manage their motions giving and reacting to body-language. They don’t stop to solve equations of motion in order to do it. (And of course there is evidence of this from the opposite case. The Dutch road-traffic experiments, repeatedelsewhere, that show that if you take away road-traffic control signs, people have fewer accidents and drive more safely in general – because they have to use body language to negotiate interactions and passing / crossing manoevres. Conversely in places where every intersection has lights and stop signs the humans forget to use body language, trust the signs, and use their freedom from involvement in the process to make better use of their valuable time dealing with their cell-phones, offspring and breakfast, and their cars have more accidents as a result.)

The correspondences were …

One of them, in a private colleague correspondence, was a three-piece band (Drums, bass, guitar say) and how the real rhythms, attack and timings were never as objectively perfect as just two people or one / two people with a drum-machine / click-track – but were less sterile and all the better for it. A rhythm section may be “tight” but music needs that soul and emotion of humans bouncing their body language off one another. Tight like an elastic rubber-band, not tight as in bolted down.

Another, on the Inclusionality Forum, was Ted Lumley talking about “harmony seeking” fluid dynamic behaviour – in response to my “faith in love” – used a freeway driving example (!) and the Newtonian three-body-problem analogy.

And another I can’t pin down at the moment,
Not Zen driving … anyway …

More related to the earlier boiled frog, but sparked by this line of thought, is the idea that a metaphor in a parallel domain is better than an explicit statement in the real one. If a team is performing well, it’s making music, not following a plan; If musicians are playing well, they’re cooking on gas, not following a score; If you can’t stand the heat (Mr Frog), you can get out of the kitchen (boiling pot); You hum it, I’ll play it; Thereof which we cannot speak, we can’t whistle it either; If you can think of any more, you can let me know …

Post Note … Tom offered this one:

In the days of the Greeks it was thought all could be know about the behaviour of all the particles in the universe.
Then Newton Came along and three bodies was too many.
Then with Einstein relativity made two bodies too complicated a system to understand.
With quantum uncertainty it turns out that even knowing what one thing is doing is impossible.
That is progress.

Made references to the thoughful words of Dr Rowan Williams before, and this is no exception. A link provided by Sam.

Only scanned it so far, and capturing the link for now – but some interesting stuff I’m going to have to come back to. As usual, I find myself agreeing with both sides, Bono and Rowan in this instance.

PS – Also some good current postings & linkage on sustainable food economy from Sam – this is just one example (go browse) – developing from his Peak Oil interests and his aversion to supermarkets (like Tesco, which is specifically a red-herring to the underlying sustainabilty issue.)

Often referred to Charles Handy’s “boiled frog” metaphor – tell me I don’t have to explain it – and referred to it as hard-boiled already at the time I did my MBA dissertation in 1991.

Well Matt at WordPress picked-up this link that “debunks” it.

So what ? I say – metaphors don’t have to be true, just good.

(“A picture is worth ten thousand words” is a good – misunderstood – example, but people still get value from using it. Being good is better than being right.)

I&I saw The Wailers in Huntsville last night, at Crossroads – which is a great venue by the way, once it has drawn a big enough crowd to at least 1/3 fill its large yet intimate layout, which The Wailers more than did.

Aston “Family Man” Barrett is the sole survivor of the original Pete Tosh / Bunny Wailer / Burning Spear Jamaican era, solid on bass. Great treat to see Junior Marvins on guitar, and an excellent, engaging (white) front-man in Elan Atias, out of LA. All round solid 8-piece, smiles all round, doing justice to those reggae rhythms and plenty of those “songs of freedom” from the Bob Marley days. Took me back to all those sweaty 70’s ska gigs – now that’s a work-out – and a large contingent of the audience singing along to the verses as well as the choruses. It didn’t know Huntsville had Rastafari in it.

Don’t worry ’bout a t’ing,
‘Cos every little t’ing’s gonna be all right.

I’ve been a WordPress blogger for almost three years, after orginally being satisfied with (Google owned) Blogger for almost five years. It was a tough decision to switch from the successful simplicity of Blogger to the sophistication of WordPress. My overt reason was that Blogger were not supporting “categories” anytime soon, and look as though they still do not – though there are some quite sophisticated themes / styles and plug-ins for Blogger too.

In fact “categories” per se was never my real aim. They are just too “hierarchical” for my needs. I really wanted “connections” and “connections that connect connections” and I have a knowledge-model in mind to do this with the PHP / MySQL capabilities – if I had the time to teach myself.

Anyway I’ve been through several upgrades with WordPress, all perfect right from the first install, with single-click upgrades through the DreamHost hosting service. BUT the most recent upgrade to 2.5 has been disappointing to say the least, just unnecessary changes in the organisation of the management tools in many cases – nuisances that one can always get used to – but also retrograde steps in functionality. No editing directly coupled to the published view, incompatibilities with subsidiary pages and commet page themes and styles; much tougher graphic (& media) publish & linking methods, no editing of comments, no searching or selecting of posts by ID-number in the edit mode. And these are just my problems – the list seems to go on if one reads the WordPress forum.

So I’m sitting here with a three-way choice.
Grin and bear it and wait (in hope) for WordPress 2.5.1
Roll-back to WordPress 2.3.3
(In both the above I can still aspire to more sophisticated knowledge-organisation apps.)
Switch back to Blogger.
(And abandon the more sophisticated modelling hopes.)

In all three cases securing the valuable content resources is paramount.
Decisions, decisions.

Listened to the Blackmore / McGrath debate on Belief in God as a Dangerous Delusion. (Mentioned earlier.)

Some observations. He talks about things being “unprovable” and of course that’s true of so many things, not just matters of religious faith, something science is very poor at recognising in its arguments in the space beyond repeatable experiments and clear logic. That is effectively my agenda here. But he uses this as a straw man argument against memes, not proving anything and no more explanatory of religious faith as it is of theism. Of course the memes shorthand can be used to explain any kinds of ideas and beliefs, including atheism. In Sue’s opening speech, she made this clear already, the significance of meme’s in this debate is the evolutionary process, competition AND co-evolution. Religion, rather than no-religion, is a predictable outcome. But meme’s are just short-hand for all the complex communications, selection and replication processes – the world doesn’t “reduce” to memes, in anybody’s arguments.  Alister says “web of ideas” and “interlocking beliefs”, Sue says “memeplex” – they agree, already. Jeez. All language is just short-hand (Sue even says it !). [Meme in action towards the end about the “72 virgins” reward … much bandied, but where did it originate ?]

He also referred to the Dawkins “Root of All Evil” programme and the “selective” parade of extremist nutters broght on to represent the “evil” and contrasted with more normal moderate faithful, and parallel this with the atheist evil arguments – eg Stalin, etc. Oh, well. Both sides use these straw-men too; Both equally guilty. This is my agenda. Will both side please stop trying to “beat” the other, and look for truth, the point (sense-making, the meaning of life, if you like), and the bases of believing it.

Intetesting that both speakers in this debate are “converts”. Alister from science to theology, Sue from parapsychology to sceptic, and Alister also refers to CS Lewis et al. That theme keeps coming up.

Sorry Alister, Harris does NOT say we must only believe things that can be positively proven to be true. His philosophy of belief is much more sophisticated than that.

Oh well. Poor debate – well typical debate – each side using rhetorical tricks to make the other appear wrong. THAT is the problem meme, as if argument is somehow not “rigorous” if it isn’t in this dialectical style of showing I’m right whilst you’re wrong.

Hooray – one synthetic audience comment / question – about the “both 95% right” position, this is not an either/or question. Though the question, was framed with a “real but less personal” god in both sides – so it fell on largely deaf ears – 20/80 in the audience. The point here is not God but faith – bases of belief and value. Most people still want an either / or answer … that damn meme again.

Anyway, they eventually get to the point – what is evidential ? what is real ? what bases do you believe these things, science as well as theistic. The either / or notion closes off the “open” position. As Sue (the most open-minded person I know, apart from me, obviously) says in response to this suggestion – the polarisation is part of the fun and process of “debate” – BUT DO NOT APPLY THIS THINKING TO REAL LIFE.

Actually Sue’s behaviour in the debate, shows well that this is not simple objective logical dialectic. She several times points out it’s easier to have the debate when she can “see” who she is responding to. This is about human interaction.

Sounds like Alister McGrath’s writing might be worth reading. (I’ve already read all of Sue’s).

News story today about an eruption of Nevado de Huila 240km SW of Bogota, causing concerns in Colombia.

And this is why. Lahars – rivers of broken rock and meltwater, like concrete flowing at 10’s of m/s (!) – were still up to 5 m deep 100km away (!) from the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz – sweeping 23,000 people to their deaths in the village of Armero. (Wikipedia is good on vulcanology.)

Wonderful quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, uttered by Razumikhin in a drunken but intense rant in defense of his friend Raskolnikov, who may be going mad – talking nonsense – with the guilty complications of living with the double murder he has committed.

“Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind posesses over the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth !

I talk nonsense, therefore I am human.

Not one single truth has ever been arrived at without people first having talked [reams of nonsense] and that’s an honorable thing in its own way; well but we can’t even talk nonsense with our own brains ! Talk nonsense to me by all means, but do it with your own brain, and I shall love you for it. To talk nonsense in one’s own way is almost better than to talk a truth that’s someone else’s; in the first instance you behave like a human being, while in the second you are merely being a parrot ! […]

We’ve got accustomed to making do with other people’s intelligence – we’re soaked in it !”

Too true. I suspect Dostoevsky wasn’t drunk when he wrote it.

Checking out Sue’s web site, I see this contribution passed me by.
Article on Comment is Free (UK Guardian)
Podcast of debate with Alister McGrath, author of ‘The Dawkins Delusion’. (Bristol Uni &

I have to say the text of the piece posted before the debate seems to have it pretty well right, so I’m going to have to read / listen to the whole debate and comment threads. Sounds like Blackmore and Dawkins have been listening to their critics and their “atheism” is ever more sophisticated. (Here is the last substantial thing I wrote on this.)

[Post Note – Having fully read the article – I do find I agree with the gist of it, in the same way I was positive about Sam Harris, in the earlier post referenced. As with all these debates the danger is one of over-simplification – what Rayner would call simplistication.

She says “In a society that strives for honesty and openness, that values scientific and historical truth, and that encourages the search for knowledge, [religious faith] is outrageous …” I’d say that the striving for honesty and openess is not actually that unequivocal – she herself mentions the game theory angle, but reality of the lives of individuals and groups is more complicated than that. I’d also say that “values” in scientific and historical truth are not simple matters of science and history. And I’d say that there is more to it than the “search for knowledge” – there are quests for wisdom and value too, to name but two. She even mentions the value-deficit in the costs of the religious meme. Anyway, I’m pretty sure given an environment where “wiggle-room” is not seen as a sign of weakness in argumentation, Sue would further acknowledge these complicating aspects of the debate, as indeed Harris does.

Even more positively Sue ends with what is really a Quine, which is a great Hofstadterian place to build evolutionary uderstanding of the full picture. “Mostly Harmless” Meta-Logic.

She says ” … belief in God is not just a harmless choice; it is a dangerous delusion.”

I would say that the idea that {the idea of belief in God is either a harmless choice or a dangerous illusion} is not just an (entirely) harmless choice; its a (partly) dangerous delusion.

Dichotomy kills.]

I see Sue Blackmore coined the idea of a third level of replicator above genes and memes, termed (so far) “temes” in her recent presentation to TED2008.

Not entirely convinced yet that this form of technology enabled memes are fundamentally different to memes. As she says herself, in discussing whether “artificial-meme” might be a better name “But really they are no more artificial that we are.”

Meme’s have benefitted from being technology enabled since the printing-press or maybe even the tabula-rasa or papyrus scrolls – whatever  – maybe even the use of myths and symbols in story-telling ? This is really just a debate about what technology is, and our parochial human perspective of intelligence and communication.

It’s really the same debate as to whether Strong-AI need be considered “artificial” if it is indeed “intelligent”. The artifice is in a non-human-bio-physical substrate brain, and the debate as to whether such an intelligence is possible without a substrate that is actually living – artificial life. I’m beginning to believe the latter – that AI may prove impossible without AL (which would be wonderfully consistent with neither actually being “artificial”, and with quality evolutionary theory and experience of life before intelligence to date.)

Anyway, the term may be useful pragmatically; as we so often find “fundamental” definitive distinctions are rarely black-and-white anyway.

An aside … joining up the dots increasingly between Quality (a la Pirsig), Wisdom (a la Maxwell), Inclusionality (a la Rayner), and more recently IdentityTheory, and find the convergence between The Edge / Third-Culture and TED becomes ever greater. These latter two initiatives are on a much grander scale than the former 3 or 4, but the agendas converge – “Third-Culture” is as good a catch-all umbrella as any for these syntheses of classically scientific and traditionally romantic understandings of humans in the cosmos.

Social Justice Blog. One of several blogs at IdentityTheory.Com. Here’s a sample.

“AIDS has now been around for a quarter of a century, and the U.N. is holding a three-day conference on the virus. A group of 14 nations, led by France, is going to implement an airline tax to help pay for AIDS drugs. The U.S. Government is not willing to participate because they feel it’s more rational to try to convince everyone to be a virgin.”

The whole (agenda) elephant in one. One to watch. Note – the Joseph Epstein interview in the earlier Wisdom Research post was from IntentityTheory.Com

Two observations …

The last 2 or 3 months …. been getting repeated bursts of direct hits from “Limelight Networks” in Tempe, AZ. No idea why – are they testing out some content crawler at Uni of Az ?

Last couple of years …. I get constant search hits from people all over the world – east as well as west – looking for “rational comprehensive planning“. Something I ranted about way back. My considered view is that “rational planning is irrational action” – after Chris Argyris, Nils Brunsson, etc, oh and years of personal experience. Or if Tom Peter’s is your preferred management guru … “Ready fire aim” beats “Ready aim fire” in any non-trivial situation – guided missiles beat slings and arrows. How complicated can it be ? The dynamic fluidity of iterative feedback-driven processes.

A 3 year old post from Dave Pollard, that I spotted on a cross-hit, probably due to the fact that he self-referenced in a more recent post. Entitled “The End of Philosophy” and inlcuding a reading list with a lot of common ground here. The particular post concerns a review of a book called “Straw Dogs” [no connection] by John Gray. Worth a look ?

He quotes Gray

Homo rapiens is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.

I think that’s true, so long as we don’t destroy the biosphere on our watch. David Deutsch has a more positive spin, that humans (and any other high intelligence life, we’ve not yet encountered) actually has tremedous power and influence on the path of evolution whilst we’re a part of it. Whatever we destroy, evolution will continue from what’s left. Be a pity if it had to start again from a pre-biological cosmos ?

I know where I want “us” to get, but I wouldn’t want to start from there 😉

There’s something about the image in this news story of the Mars Orbiter encountering Phobos – “Stunning” – the caption says it. The “real” thing, in all its simplicity – not one of those ubiquitous computer simulated graphics. You just get the sense that it is exactly what it is – a lump of rock hurtling through the darkness. The scarring of both new, fresh and old, abraided impacts tells its story.

Noticed this “news” story about MoND – “Modified Newtonian Dynamics” the same week as “In Our Time” had Newtons Laws of Motion as its subject matter – no idea if there is any connection – I’ve not listened to the edition yet, but I’ve noticed several different plugs for it on different philosophical discussion fora.

[Post Note – this quote from Melvyn’s newsletter …]

One thing that still intrigues me is the idea that you can derive the laws of motion without experimental evidence.  In this regard there was a lovely quotation from Descartes speaking of Galileo: “he builds without foundations”.  Galileo, so I believe Raymond Flood said, declared that whatever causes gravity isn’t worth worrying about. 

What matters is getting the measurements right and understanding how it works.  As long as you get the measurements right, what happens happens. 

Not unlike the American Indian idea of the Great Mystery in the sky.

Tickled me that this “Wisdom Research Network” initiative, associated with the Wisdom Research programme at Chicago University, is now in 2008 called the “Arete Initiative”.

Chicago >> Arete
>> Pirsig >> Quality
>> Values >> Maxwell >> Wisdom
>> Rayner >> Inclusionality >> Fluid >> Dynamic Quality …

… is it just my mind that works this way ?

[Post note. Apparently not …

I see Pirsig picked-up on the Chicago education thread (see comment referring to a Robert Birnbaum interview with story writer Joseph Epstein, Jew to Jew as it were.)

Bob refers to this quote :

 … like a lot of serious booksellers, he was a failed Ph.D. He was a failed Ph.D. in philosophy from Chicago. A student of guy named Richard McKeon who left corpses all over the city. Pascal would not have gotten his Ph.D. from McKeon. Aristotle wouldn’t have. Nobody. He was a miserable character and he made it so hard for everybody. It’s like you and I trying to get a Ph.D. from Martin Bormann.

Understandable given Bob’s legendary relationship with McKeon (see ’60 to ’63 in the Timeline). My favourite is in the next paragraph :

 … I have come to think that a good student is not that impressive a thing to be. A good student can tell you seven reasons for the Renaissance. Big fucking deal. [laughs] He can tell you that materialism is naturalism. Because in order to have naturalism you have to have three things that satisfy materialism and so on. I sensed, in my crude kid way, this really wasn’t where the action is.

How true. Actually the interview is a good read … much on the “church of reason” in education and on “education in culture”. Can see why Bob liked it. Wise words.

PS .. and Arete ?  Bob uses this Greek term for “excellence” in his thought processes of arriving at his Metaphysics of Quality, and his boat in the book Lila, he named “Arete”.]