Designed Evolution

Had an exchange with David Morey today on MoQ.Discuss, on non-simple mechanisms contributing to evolution, prompted by the recent “In Our Time” edition on “altruism” involving Dawkins and Dupre, and we got into Systems Engineering approaches to evolution …

By coincidence, stumbled across this interesting post from Matt Wyndham (who looks like he hasn’t posted for over a year) The link in the post (and the comment thread on that) and the “Previous Posts” links in Matt’s side-bar are full of good material. Also got a Gordon Pask hit on Cybernetics, after also mentioning Stafford Beer and “Requisite Variety”. The great convergence, Dawkins would dismiss.

Matt’s comment (or was it Ze’s ?) about “Every surgeon knows the quality of evolved functionality comes with lousy interfaces” reminds me this is a systems engineering dialogue. That is so relevant to the day job currently; If you’re planning for evolution of a complex system, ensure you have its interface specifications well defined before you let nature rip.

(BTW talking of blogs-long-time-no-post, I reviewed some of my 5 and 6 year old pages earlier and found 30% or 40% link-rot. Time to start stashing away important off-line links.)

Productive Time Management

Great little piece of Bad Language from Matthew Stibbe (via Matt Bartlett) with some useful and witty hints on writing to a deadline. I need all the help I can get.

Actualy Matt (Bartlett) has a great collection of links for November.

Spookily, Anecdote have a time management piece this month too. Draw’s on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, but includes some tips of their own, inlcuding the “cut yourself off occasionally from all communications channels” advice. 

And Anecdote have another piece on making use of del.ici.ous . How many times have I told myself I could really make use of that, but could never find the time.

Wittgenstein Disappointment

Instead of reading David Morey’s novel (which I had with me on our trip to the Gulf Coast over the Thanksgiving holiday) I finished Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” and got about half-way through “Philosophical Investigations”.

The latter so far just seems to continue casting doubt on the science (logic) of natural language, and of course logic is something he already debunked philsophically in the Tractatus – “All philosophy is critique of language” (4.0031) – “All propositions of logic say the same thing. That is nothing” (5.43)

The lingusitic stuff doesn’t so far seem to say much more than I’ve already read in Quine’s “Word and Object” – Gavegai, etc (and in Foucault, Derrida and Dennett ?) but I’m only part-way through.

Tractatus was generally a disappointment, but there were surprises, in that whilst following a very methodical structuring of dependent logical assertions, he was actually undermining the value of logic in real world philosophy, and there are some great one-liner jokes to boot. Methinks he must have had a wicked sense of humour at Russell’s expense.

After several dense pages of formal logical notation in 5.5 he concludes “This shows that there is no such thing as the soul” in 5.5421 – Brilliant.

(He is also obsessed by “colour” – the reality of experiencing it vs “naming” or “describing” it … I note that this is something he has also written on elswehere. A recurring theme in “mind” philosophy generally … “Mary the colour scientist” etc.)

Must write more when I’ve fully digested Wittgenstein. Apart from making reference to his mentor Russell, and thence Frege, Witt doesn’t sully himself with analysing the thinking of others – an arrogance he shares with Pirsig, no ?

[Post Note : Read a fair bit “about” Wittgenstein one way or another, despite only recently reading him in the original. I was browsing his Wikipedia entry, partly because I’m still following the conversion to faith / intellectual elitism angle for some reason I’m not yet quite sure of, and sure enough found that point confirmed for future reference. I wasn’t expecting to find this. Could I really have forgotten ? Yep, sure enough, there it is plenty about this in Edmunds and Eidinow. My copy is full of annotations I’ve never followed-up. When will I ever find the time ?]

Pirsig Guardian Interview

Another interview promoting the re-publishing of Lila, pointed out by Ant and linked by Horse.

Actually a very sympathetic interview of the man by Tim Adams who recalls reading Zen and the Art at the age of 14. Lots of anecdotal recalls of biographical (and very personal) events behind the two books, including some worth adding to the timeline.

Even better, Ant has captured a copy of the
full transcript here.

Community of Emergence

Brian Eno speaking on BBC Radio 3, at Hope University, Liverpool Future City of Culture “Free Thinking” series. Nothing new in terms of this blog, but lots of good material, worth a listen.

Darwinian optimism. “Scenius” the genius of “the scene” – everyone is smarter than anyone. Emergence from simplicity. Art and politcs. Power of community. Flash-mobbing. Observer-participant collapse. Historical technology cycle drivers … new technology (eg TV & Vietnam) creates change, attracts control, technology evolution, etc. Internet built to be hard to control, by design, fast feedback loop crucial. Time-paradox, “the long now”. 10,000 year planning horizon (remember blogging before about a project to establish a construction that might last that long). Lagos traffic chaos “negotiation”. The Netherlands traffic experiment. Self-regulation. Art as the stylistic “don’t have to do” overlay on top of the necessary … very Maslow.

The whole “free thinking” series seems to have some good content. Links are only valid for 7 days after broadcast. Hope permanent links appear.

Anthony Graying too, on Radio 2 promoting a book; extolling the idea of teaching philosophy to schoolkids. Never been a better time to strudy philosophy, he says, employers should be snapping people who know how to think.

Meta-thinking methinks.

The Stern Warning

Can’t believe I let the Stern Report and the press response go by without comment. I guess I had the BBC links in my side-bar at all times, so I was following events there. This link at Know Your Place (via Sam) is as good an entry point as any.

The interesting thing, given agreement that this is the point where we all agree, “OK, so it’s real – it’s official” is that it doesn’t in itself answer the question “So what alternative world would we like instead”.

Some romantic return to “noble savagery” or utopian communist agrarian society (as one commenter suggests) is not only highly unlikely (positively impossible, given all the “interests” already involved) but almost certainly not the sensible thing to aim for anyway.

The fun has only just begun. Cool heads needed as I mentioned most recently here.

An Atheist Christmas

Excellent edition of The Edge NEwsletter, includes not only Dan Dennett, recovering from an acute heart condition, and Evolutionary Morality from Nick Wade of the NYT, but also last weekend’s Observer piece by their religious correspondent Jamie Doward, reviewing the three popular science books lined up against God in the best seller charts as we run up to Christmas.

Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion
Dan Dennett – Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Sam Harris – The End of Faith / Letter to a Christian Nation

Not yet read any of the three. As a big fan of Dennett, I will almost certainly obtain and read that. Dawkins, I’ve said enough about, what he seems unable to see is that being “scientifically right” is hardly a convincing argument. Sam Harris was recommended by Sue Blackmore on “A Good Read” recently, so I may give it a try, though Sam seems to shoot the atheist cause in the foot with a “Nuke the Bastards” suggestion if reason fails to impress not just religious extremists, but masses of religious moderates. (See previous piece on moderate but sophisticated theological issues here.)

The “final solution” outburst from Harris is interesting though. A sign of the seriousness of the issue under debate here. As the footnote to every page of my blog has said since 9/11 “The phrase ‘Creative Destruction’ can never again be used lightly.” Cool heads needed like never before.