All posts for the month August, 2009

A bug-bear of mine is football stadia that are too big for football. I’m thinking of “olympic” size stadia used in far-east, European and other world-cup tournaments (or god forbid Ozzie rules games) that have running tracks and semi-circular ends and the like, just too much space between the crowd and the game. Those that do fill up can create some kind of atmosphere, but not one that has anything to do with the game. One of the reasons why Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and White-Hart Lane remain so good, despite their large seated capacities.

Now, terraces are a whole ‘nother story.

For now, just some significant quotes and paraphrases (from Closure).


The contemporary predicament. The circle of self-reference in which thought has been increasingly enmeshed – typified by rhetorical self-denials and the use of inverted commas … a predicament so insistent and destructive that it is not sustainable at all. … signs of its destructive force can be found [in philosophy and] throughout our culture … to uphold moral behaviour despite acceptance that others adhere to different moral codes … to believe that science might uncover ultimate laws, despite our suspicion that science is not itself value-free.

[Many] people have shown the inevitability of the failure of closure – particularly linguistically [eg Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Derrida] … [so how do we escape from arbitrary relativism or nihilism? ] … a world full of possibility but a world without any particularity.

To try to imagine material without activity is to imagine complete closure … The world realized through material necessarily has the appearance of stability. Look closer and this stability hides a seething flux.


All forms of life … are closure machines.
[2nd law springs to mind - or, to avoid the mechanistic metaphor, all organisms operate by closure.]

Closure is many layered.

Preliminary closure … the means by which an organism converts the flux of openess into an array of possible particularities – [the means of pure experience, maybe multiple and linked at this level, but remain distinct].

First-level non-preliminary closure … preliminary closures become “held as one” with a new material form. [material form "arising" and not inherent to the preliminary closures.]

And so on …

Thanks to Rivets for the link, but coincidentally one of the largest sections in Diamond’s “Collapse” (two posts ago) is about Norse colonization of the north Atlantic – including Vinland outposts from Iceland and Greenland. Too far from home to sustain a viable Norse community without some serious attempt at integration with the natives and their local practices. But no doubt they visited and explored, Leif Erikson n’all.

The intriguing aspect for me was to learn that this area of Newfoundland was named by the Vikings because of its wine – hence Vinland. Talk about environmental change ?

PS – A little nostalgia – also from Rivets. Magic what sold for a few cents back in the day.

“Closure – A Story of Everything” by Hilary Lawson is something I first blogged mention of back in 2003. I was prompted to obtain and read it just recently by David Morey.

First my usual caveat – it’s clear from the first page that it “fits my agenda” so I am inevitably frustrated looking for “so what’s new ?” I can find only one thing so far.

I’ve read the Preface, the Prologue and Part I (Structure, Outline, System & Purpose of Closure) plus the Epilogue, End-Notes and Index – what I haven’t read so far are Parts II to V (Language, Science, Logic, Maths, Art, Religion, the Unknown, Politics, Power and Society.) – actually I have also read “the Unknown”. All the usual suspects are discussed in the notes.

Most of the message can be summed up – the world is not a “thing” it is openeness – dynamic possibility and potential, material and texture. Closure is what is fixed by static patterns of understanding and language used to describe those understandings - but closure is never ending, therefore always fails as closure and so for the world to be stable at all some framework is required to balance openness & closure. So far so good; already well established monism. Our post-modern predicament.

The new item ? Not exactly new, but unusual to see stated.

OK, so a theory of everything, cannot be closed – it cannot actually be a final theory of everything. But Lawson’s “Story of Everything”, Closure, is defined interms of Openness. There is therefore much discussion of self-referential argument, and the received wisdom that such self-reference is paradoxical, a denial of meaning – ultimately destructive.

Closure as a theory is evidently and quite deliberately self-referential – a reflexive theory. Being self-referential is a constructive attribute, not a failing. Paradoxes that arise are points of “intervention”, not alarms to abandon ship.

Neurath’s ship that is, a variation on Aristotle’s boat – not only being rebuilt and replaced whilst preserving its identity, but our ship, re-built with minimum loss of life whilst humanity is “at sea” in the cosmos.

The idea of self-reference as constructive rather than destructive is fundamental to Quine, Hofstadter, Dennett and a myriad of evolutionary philosophers of mind and morals – disappointed not to see any positive references to these (so far).

Most significant disappointment though (so far) is where is that “framework for stability” that will keep us afloat, prevent us going down with all hands ?

Reading on … Continuing

Just happen to be reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” – only a couple of chapters beyond the intros – Montana and Polynesia so far. Noticed this news item about sustainability of irrigation in NW India.

Good read, Diamond’s book, but quite a straightforward message, I think. Natural or man-made, sustainable success or failure is always a two-way causal balance of many factors over many timescales. Local ecosystem fragility rather than “climate change” – there may be a single clear cause or event that precipitates a boom or bust, but the pattern of stability and fragility of the system is inherent. The parallels and contrasts between small isolated communities, our global village and the one and only isolated earth are clear. Despite the title “Collapse” … the book is very mater of fact and optimistic about lessons learnable.

Diamond is an interesting writer with the benefit of 3 or 4 “careers”. Worth listening to.

Interesting post from Matt Mullenweg on his WordPress development blog, and what makes blog (or other social networking software) interaction into a community, rather than just “noise”. Respect. Reminded me of the Friends of Wisdom rules I drafted …

Rule #1 RESPECT – Understand & Question before Disagree & Criticize. Critical debate is essential to our agenda, but anyone voicing direct disagreement with or criticism of the arguments of another must be seen to have understood, or sincerely attempted to understand, the others’ argument and to have related their counter argument to it.

Rule #2 RESPECT – No “Ad Hominem” attacks on the Individual. Absolute no-no. Anyone having trouble with an individual should resolve privately with that individual, and involve moderator(s) in absolute confidence if mediation or moderation is considered necessary.

Rule #3 RESPECT – Duty of Care when using Rhetoric or Irony. OK, but life (mine and yours) would be boring and sterile if we politely agreed with each other. So lively, critical, robust, intellectual debate is positively encouraged. What will not be tolerated is any perceived intent to circumvent Rules #1 & #2 under cover of rhetoric or irony.

This is the kind of reporting that winds me up – I’m sure there is probably some good science behind it, but this isn’t it.

OK, so we see the birds (rooks – crows are pretty intelligent) raising the water level to reach their morsel of food by displacing the water with stones, selecting the larger stones to do it. But just look at the archive link to tool-using rooks – these birds have simpy been trained to drop rocks on white targets to receive rewards of food. There is no “thought” of displacement as a means to raise floating objects. There is no “innovation” in their thinking – they simply repeat the learned behaviour at the first attempt when presented with the new situation – the very opposite of innovation. Jeez.

BBC Washington Correspondent Justin Webb is returning from the US to the UK after 7 years. We know exactly what he means. The hypocrisy is part of the possibility.

And yet for all the ugliness, the deadening tawdriness of much of the American landscape and the tinny feebleness of many of its politicians – for all that nastiness and shallowness and flakiness – there is no question in my mind that to live here has been the greatest privilege of my life.

The immensity of America, the energy and the zest for life, …. shines a light on the entire human condition.

There is an intellectual ugliness as well: a dark age lurking, even when the president has been to Harvard.

We really miss the US too, and nobody believed us when we said we weren’t leaving because we didn’t enjoy living there.