All posts for the year 2009

Another excellent Clive James piece in the BBC Magazine. I keep returning to HAL in 2001 as the archetype and so it seems does Clive.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen the man-machine interface problems long enough to recognize them – Turing’s enigma – but we still idolise “efficiency” over “care”. Spot on Clive.

I’ll add care to trust as the key ingredient of the information age – and yes even the inventor(s) of the semantic web understand that – explicitly (Fig 7). You can’t trust something that doesn’t care. You trust an automated system because of the people that create and support it, but that trust is a very ephemeral quality, easily lost by the slightest exception to the (nevertheless idolised) rules and re-built only by humans, with care.

Automate “customer care” at your peril. Indeed. Automation is simply the the latest idol. When I say latest I don’t mean recent either – back to the Luddites – but the possibility of ever more computerized automation makes our idolatry more psychologically engrained and perilous each human generation. I’m in the business of automation – but it is only a means to an end – to support individual humans – decision support.

Kevin Kelly talking on “The Technium” as he calls it – the “cosmic force” of technology running right through evolution. I probably wouldn’t use his language, but I do agree – the anthropic angle of the self-organizing drive is just that, our perspective, as “the species that domesticated itself” in order to exploit that (otherwise natural) drive. We don’t invent it or control it we manage to ride it as best we can in the best directions we can.

As well as the web becoming literally an organism in every sense of the word, and the real way that both genetic and memetic (human) resources are co-evolving, rather than the latter taking over from the former, I was particularly taken with this “tipping point” kind of conclusion ….

We technophiles are no longer defined by the technologies and gadgets we take up and use (though using is still the key process of developing understanding and of exploiting) …

We are now increasingly defined by the process of which technologies we choose NOT to adopt.

Dead right … inclusion may be as important as selection, but de-selection is still a fundamental part of the evolutionary process.

This must be closely related to my view that good communication is about what not to communicate, in these days of socially connected everything.

Or “Ditchkins” as Eagleton would have them. Came across this (Part 2 of 10) because of the quote about …

“separating the numinous from the supernatural”

… on this Wikipedia page.

I was in fact trying to track down the Greek / Latin split in the etyomology of Numen / Noumena – both clearly about the transdendent, absolute, “divine” nature of things given by their “nodding” acquaintance with god(s), as opposed to empirical phenomena. (This is where we need “PIE” linguists rather than Kant.)

Interesting that “numinous” is seen as a concept worthy of understanding by these four. As noted many times, I am a serious fan of Dennett, have a lot of time for Harris, precious little for Dawkins and a recent admission to having underestimated Hitchens. (Commenting on a review of “God is not Great“. Overall impressions of the four reinforced by just 10 minutes of this conversation.) Looks like Parts 1 to 10 need to be reviewed. The plot thickens and the convergence continues.

Endless lists as we approach 2010 – best books, films, of the decade etc.

Liked this collection of TV Ads from The Guardian. I’d forgetten about the frog in the Sony Bravia (Colour Balls) ad. Some classics in there. Cadbury’s Gorrilla / Drummer … it’s a spoiler after you’ve seen it once to know he’s sitting at the drum kit … what happened to the chocolate ? … but the ironies of the Phil Collins “moment” of anticipation are excellent.

I have an ongoing problem with “too transparent” media publication of anything and everything, just because it is ever easier to do so, and “everybody’s doing it”. Came across this 2006 Bruce Charlton paper – The Paradox of Modern Mass Media.

“The paradox of modern mass media is that divisive content is probably intrinsic to maximizing its effectiveness and inclusiveness. The cohesion of liberal democracies therefore depends on a widespread psychological capacity to endure a permanent state of dissent and disagreement. The presence of endemic media provocation and controversy does not always make for a comfortable life. Yet, the greater the social toleration – the stronger and broader the social cohesion.”

That “depends on a widespread psychological capacity to endure” aspect makes the argument circular as to whether the divisive content is “paradoxically” a source of social cohesion. Clearly it’s a balance in the evolution of that capacity and of the divison to be tolerated. But that is incidental to the point that the large amount of division and the capacity to tolerate it must tie up huge human resources, that never achieve common closure on the contentious / divisive content … and all that we ever get to agree and build on is lowest common denominator non-contentious stuff – like Wikipedia without authorized editors.

I agree mass communication is net positive, but I believe it is highly inefficient and only just barely net positive – easily driven to be net negative. It could be so much more efficient if better mediated.

This is just an excuse to post a link to an old post on Evolutionary Intelligence by evolutionary biologist Ze Ayala in which he says …

Scientific knowledge, like the description of size, materials, and geometry of Guernica, is satisfying and useful. But once science has had its say, there remains much about reality that is of interest, questions of value and meaning that are forever beyond science’s scope.

Prompted by a surfing hit and the topics of discussion over on DawkinsNet.

Medical Hypotheses is a journal edited by Bruce Charlton but with a parallel blog of Bruce’s own papers for the last 2 years. The blog title can be misleading, since although Bruce comes from / operates in the medical / psychiatry / psychology area, and the journal itself covers this ground, his own blogging and editorial scope is much more broadly epistemological in terms of knowledge and truth generally.

I came across Bruce the first time I researched Pirsig, and have corresponded once or twice since.

Much interesting stuff for my agenda – the Inklings including Barfield , Bronowski’s “Tolerance” , “Clever Sillies” and “The Atheist Delusion“.

… Atheism is a ‘clever’ but maladaptive explanation for reality; which is preferred by many smart people exactly because it is goes against natural instinct, and therefore both requires and signals greater cleverness among its advocates. Pride in one’s own cleverness thereby overwhelms the fundamental adaptation to reality; indeed willed-nihilism and desired ideological self-extinction are, to a remarkable extent, precisely the hallmarks of an intelligent and Politically Correct Atheist.

… I suggest that it can be argued that atheism is literally a delusion, using objective psychiatric criteria.

The latter drawing the attention of the Dawkinsian crowd. Heh, heh. When are the Dawkinsians ever going to get it ? The clever sillies – high objective-scientific-rational IQ, but no common sense problem – it’s the wisdom angle – but I don’t see Bruce using the concept of wisdom in his arguments ? Worth more reading. Excellent stuff, for an non-theist like me.

Excellent post from Kevin Kelly. Lessons of why a fee-based – but free at point of use – model works in valuing the intangibles, and “products” that are perceived as “staples”.

Flat or monthly fixed pricing is one way of pricing “as if free.” ….. Subscriptions tend to emphasize and charge for intangible values: regularity, reliability, first to be served, and authenticity, and work well in the arena of “as if free.”

Interesting series recently on white-collar crime from Laurie Taylor on “Thinking Allowed”. This week’s program was on social software communications in the post-Obama party-political election environment, and it was interesting that Laurie joined up the two subjects, in the intent and honesty of communication in these channels. Bingo.

The inventors of the internet didn’t overlook the fact that “trust” was top of the stack of priorities when communicating meaningfully, but the more un-mediated open social software communications are the norm, the less trust is explicit in the process – the medium inexorably becomes the message – “everybody’s doing it”.

Misguided  expectations – in any objective truth or value in the content of messages are unmet – and since no-one can admit to being a gullible soft-touch, scepticism tends to the downright cynical end of the trust spectrum. One aspect of such misguided expectation for objective truth is the process of justifying decisions in organizations, and the reality that in order to make decisions, much of the formal justification – eg in systems and procedures – has to be “fiddled” if the organization is to function (organizational hypocrisy). The greater the unmediated public communication, the more facts are seen to be “fiddled” and the less the uninvolved trust the involved, the greater the demand for more formal justification, the greater the demand to “fiddle” …. etc. Information is more and more mis-information.

The problem is the misguided expectation of ever greater objectivity in communications, rather than recognition that trust is above such things – almost literally.

Excellent marketing for “Tactical Nuclear Penguin“, and at £30 a pop, clearly not a contribution to binge-drinking – 20x the price for 5x to 10x the alcohol – so that’s a complete red-herring.

Their previous brew “Tokyo” at 18% was apparently genuinely brewed to that level using Champagne yeast, but how do you create 32% alcohol beer, and still call it beer, that’s what I want to know ?

(Incidentally, I’m not a fan of beers over about 4.5% anyway, so drinking the stuff would be another thing altogether. Nothing to do with “Nanny State”.)

“What are all these expense claims from the night club ?”
“I say. I say, what … ”
“Sorry I’m still a bit deaf. They’re all part of our research project, professor.”

This actually doesn’t sound like good research … too many other left / right dominance possibilities here, besides the hearing, surely … but this is science-reporting, not science.

This looks credible though. Not sure why the focus on the aspirates, but clearly the senses combine; ear drum sound with other physical clues.

I have a pet hate which is people starting a conversation with a sentence that is a question, and starting that sentence with the most significant word – like the subject of the question, or the W word – and expecting  a valid response. Sorry, what ? Was that when or why  or who ? Was that even a question? No attention focussing pre-amble. (And OK, maybe I am a bit deaf in the right ear, and yes being male I can’t walk, talk and think all at the same time. OK, OK, it’s just me.)

Sorry, I wasn’t listening.
OK, so that was a question ?
OK, so what was the question ?

Recently read Khaled Hosseni, both “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. Both powerful stories of recent Afghan history, across three family generations, across the Russian occupation and the Taliban (and refuge / emigration in Pakistan and USA). The former already well known as a film (which I’ve not seen). The latter even more powerful, conveying the deadening oppression of women in particular, but somehow undermined by slightly too “Hollywood” dramatic timings of key events. Good writing, recommended reading.

(I have a particular interest, having worked for two periods in Baluchistan, Pakistan, near the Afghan border just after the Russians had departed, and Kalashnikov’s appeared to be compulsory fashion accessories amongst the locals.)

Between the two, by way of light relief, I read John Le Carre’s latest (2008) “A Most Wanted Man”. I have mixed experience of Le Carre, but this was very good. Very much “of our time” mix of international banking, 9/11 Hamburg connections, US/European politics, ex-Soviet Moslem terror and the war on funding. Who needs any conspiracy when life’s motivations are this complicated ?

Perhaps prompted by Arabic / Moslem / geographic / tribal / linguistic distinctions of these modern reads, I felt compelled to pick up T E Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” for a fourth or fifth read. Gets even better with every read in each different light. Beautiful witty prose as well as a razor sharp study of people, peoples and places – physically and psychologically. An “agile” management textbook in a wartime historical narrative. Unsurpassable, and I’m only a little over a third of the way through, though hooked to a finish, again.

Talking of healthy debate, the AGW debate is a debate – a debate about what to do for the best hopefully, rather than a debate about whether it’s “science” and whether it’s “proven” – I refer to my previous post – what a waste.

George Monbiot has been blogging on the recent backlash, so I’m sure George is probably one contribution to Clive James’s impression that there are more sceptical scientific views of AGW than there were. Unfair to chide Clive for suggesting that no one could claim the “the science is in” – as George suggests it is only ever in so far as it is … ever in. And that from someone who claims to be a serious defender of sceptical science as opposed to the writer of a light-hearted mgazine essay. Lighten up George – oh wait a minute – satire is OK when it’s on the other foot.

This is mostly not about science, it’s about conspiracy paranoia. Belief and scepticism can both lead to unwise acts of hypocrisy when dealing with paranoia.
( …. I like it.)