Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sacred Animal Beyond Category: Super-Dope in Layers [#GVM004]

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Three layers: 1) The Animal is the top layer and is outlined in black (the artist, BTW, is from Dubai). It's painted on 2) the wall of a small semi-enclosed office (look at the way the wall meets the floor). The surface of that wall is the middle layer. Everything else is the 3) bottom layer: the floor and the wall behind the office wall.

I took that photo today: June 3, 2015. Here's how that wall looked on June 5, 2015:

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May 27, 2015:

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Bathroom scrawl [#GVM004]

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Search of Dennett’s Free-Floating Rationales

I’ve decided to take a closer look at Dennett’s notion of free-floating rationale. It strikes me as being an unhelpful reification, but explaining just why that is has turned out to be a tricky matter. First I’ll look at a passage from a recent article, “The Evolution of Reasons” [1], and then go back three decades to a major exposition of the intentional stance as applied to animal behavior [2]. I’ll conclude with some hints about metaphysics.

On the whole I’m inclined to think of free-floating rationale as a poor solution to a deep problem. It’s not clear to me what a good solution would be, though I’ve got some suggestions as to how that might go.

Evolving Reasons

Dennett opens his inquiry by distinguishing between “a process narrative that explains the phenomenon without saying it is for anything” and an account that provides “a reason–a proper telic reason” (p. 50). The former is what he calls a how come? account and the latter is a what for? account. After reminding us of Aristotle’s somewhat similar four causes Dennett gets down to it: “Evolution by natural selection starts with how come and arrives at what for. We start with a lifeless world in which there are lots of causes but no reasons, no purposes at all.” (p. 50).

Those free-floating rationales are a particular kind of what for. He introduces the term on page 54:
So there were reasons before there were reason representers. The reasons tracked by evolution I have called “free-floating rationales” (1983, 1995, and elseswhere), a term that has apparently jangled the nerves of more than a few thinkers, who suspect I am conjuring up ghosts of some sort. Free-floating rationales are no more ghostly or problematic than numbers or centers of gravity. There were nine planets before people invented ways of articulating arithmetic, and asteroids had centers of gravity before there were physicists to dream up the idea and calculate with it. I am not relenting; instead, I am hoping here to calm their fears and convince them that we should all be happy to speak of the reasons uncovered by evolution before they were ever expressed or represented by human investigators or any other minds.
That is, just as there is no mystery about the relationship between numbers and planets, or between centers of gravity and asteroids, so there is no mystery about the relationship between free-floating rationales and X.

What sorts of things can we substitute for X? That’s what’s tricky. It turns out those things aren’t physically connected objects. Those things are patterns of interaction among physically connected objects.

Before taking a look at those patterns (in the next section), let’s consider another passage from this article (p. 54):
Natural selection is thus an automatic reason finder that “discovers,” “endorses,” and “focuses” reasons over many generations. The scare quotes are to remind us that natural selection doesn’t have a mind, doesn’t itself have reasons, but is nevertheless competent to perform this “task” of design refinement. This is competence without comprehension.
That’s where Dennett is going, “competence without comprehension” – a recent mantra of his.

It is characteristic of Dennett’s intentional stance that it authorizes the use of intentional language, such as “discovers,” “endorses,” and “focuses”. That’s what it’s for, to allow the use of such language in situations where it comes naturally and easily. What’s not clear to me is whether or not one is supposed to treat it as a heuristic device that leads to non-intentional accounts. Clearly intentional talk about “selfish” genes is to be cashed out in non-intentional talk, and that would seem to be the case with natural selection in general.

But it is one thing to talk about cashing out intentional talk in a more suitable explanatory lingo. It’s something else to actually do so. Dennett’s been talking about free-floating rationales for decades, but hasn’t yet, so far as I know, proposed a way of getting rid of that bit of intentional talk.

Food trucks, kayaks, and clouds

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Abstract basketball, the triangle offense

I've watched a few basketball games, but I wouldn't recognize the triangle offense if it bit me on the posterior. It seems that many far more knowledgeable about the game are mystified as well. The NYTimes has an article in search of an account where we find these interesting paragraphs:
“I love watching it; everybody seems to be involved,” Amaker said. But, he added, he would never use the system as a coach because “it’s not something I know.”

That even Amaker, considered one of basketball’s most intelligent coaches, could not say much about the triangle seemed remarkable until I spoke with Jay Williams, an ESPN analyst. Williams played in the triangle in his one season with the Bulls before a career-ending motorcycle crash, yet he, too, was challenged to explain it.

“Me, I study the game every day,” Williams said. “I have an N.B.A. League Pass. I watch so many college games. I’m breaking down games every night.

“You hand me a piece of paper and say, ‘Jay, define the triangle for me,’ it’s kind of like a kid with Magic Markers drawing a cartoon. It’s all over the page. So many series of actions, I get lost trying to explain it. Now, give me four guys who know how to run it on the court, I can get out there and do it.”
So we've got a man who knows it when he sees it, but can't use it and another who can play it, but can't explain it.

But lots of things are like that, we can do them but can't explain them.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Creativity comes from the margins: A lesson for graffiti here?

Costica Bradatan has an interesting piece in the NYtimes today, which begins and ends with the Dadaists: Change Comes From the Margins. His thesis is well-known, but nonetheless worth thinking about. So, he tells us:
By definition, any center is a site of concentration and intensity — after all, it’s the place toward which everybody is attracted in some way or another. That’s also what makes it so formidable. The center possesses a wealth of prospects, opportunities and resources, but also anxieties — it is the place where the possibility of collapse, disintegration or descent into chaos figure prominently. To keep such dangers at bay, life at the center has to be regulated in every detail, its energy well managed, impulses properly channeled and spontaneity standardized. Sophisticated and expensive bureaucracies are developed to make sure that the pursuit of happiness does not turn into a stampede.
He then goes on to point out that the center inevitably becomes stale and needs reinvigorating. And so it tries to co-opt the margins:
The biggest irony, however, is that all these attempts at derision and subversion, all the marginals’ mockery, usually end up making the center stronger; they are needed in the same vital way an organism needs antibodies. If the center manages to recruit the marginals to work for its own purposes, then it is saved.
And the marginals know the game:
Marginals know only too well that, by subverting the center, they risk becoming part of it; those who challenge the canons or ideological foundations of the mainstream most vehemently can turn one day into canonic figures themselves — think Picasso, Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Dylan.
The interesting thing about graffiti is that it's been dancing with legitimacy since the early 70s and it's still managed to hang on to its marginality.

I explore these issues in my series on the MacArthur Fellows program.

Visual Thinking

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During the late 1980s I collaborated with Richard Friedhoff on a coffee-table book on computer graphics and image processing: Visualizationi: The Second Computer Revolution. Given that the book was targeted at a general audience, though it has found some favor among scholars, a lot of ideas didn't make it in. I took a number of those and gathered them together into and article on visual thinking for the Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology. You can download it at the usual places:
Abstract and table of contents below.

* * * * *

Abstract: Its ability to deal with visual information is one of the mind's most powerful capacities. Visual thinking, high-level manipulation of visual information, is important to computer science because, with the flowering of computer graphics and image processing, it provides the basis for a rich and intuitively satisfying channel of man-machine interaction. Just as writing evolved to help the verbal mind, so various media have evolved to help the visual mind. I propose that visual thinking involves the internalization of visuo-manipulative activity and of movement through the environment. We move through the physical environment, sometimes in a familiar place, sometimes in a strange place; we handle objects, sometimes to accomplish a specific task, sometimes simply to inspect the object. Visual thinking involves imagined locomotion in imagined settings, imagined manipulation of imagined objects. The settings and objects may be real, but not present, or they may exist only in imagination.

Published in Allen Kent and James G. Williams, Eds. Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology. Volume 23, Supplement 8. New York; Basel: Marcel Dekker, Inc. (1990) 411-427.

Introduction: Visual Thinking in Computing 2
The Method of Loci 2
Understanding Molecular Structure: The Work of Irving Geis 3
Visual Thinking in Art 4
Visual Thinking: A Speculative Proposal 5
The Controversy over Mental Images 7
Some Evidence from Neuropsychology 8
Visual Thinking, Science, and Creativity 10
Images As Tools for Thought 12
The Graphics Interface 13
The Visual Nature of the World of Computing 14
Back to the Future 15

Three Attitudes Toward Light

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Love evolves?

In the 2012 survey, people were asked a version of the famous question in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century poem: “Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?”

A great many, it turns out. In the survey, 33 percent of men and 43 percent of women answered yes when asked if they had ever fallen in love with someone they did not initially find attractive. Dr. Fisher terms this process “slow love,” and says it is becoming more common as people take longer to marry.

“Everyone is terrified that online dating is reducing mate value to just a few superficial things like beauty — whether you swipe left or right on Tinder,” she said in an interview. “But that’s just the start of the process. Once you meet someone and get to know them, their mate value keeps changing.”

When the survey respondents were asked what had changed their feelings, the chief reasons they gave were “great conversations,” “common interests,” and “came to appreciate his/her sense of humor.”
H/t 3QD.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Three for the Festival #GVM004 Demolition Exhibition

Mission Control
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Rocky 184-188 WC
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Push for Help
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Laudato Si' @3QD: Bridging the Gaps

This month I've decided to turn my 3QD slot over to my good friend Charles Cameron so that he can comment on Pope Francis' remarkable encyclical, Laudato Se'.

Charles is a poet and a student of many things, most recently religious fundamentalism and its contemporary manifestations in terrorism. He characterizes himself as a vagabond monk and he blogs at Zenpundit and at Sembl. When he was eleven he applied to join an Anglican monestery and, while they didn't take him in, that act did bring him to the attention of the remarkable Fr. Trevor Huddleston, who became his mentor for the next decade. Thereafter Cameron explored Tibetan Buddhism, Hindu mysticism, and Native American shamanism. He's been around.

But it's his connection with Trevor Huddleston that got my attention, for Huddleston managed to broker a gift between two trumpet-player heroes of mine. At one point in his career he was in South African, where a young Hugh "Grazin in the Grass" Masekela was one of his students. On a trip to America, Fr. Huddleston met Louis Armstrong and got him to give Masekela a trumpet.

Charles chose bridging as his theme, noting that "pontiff" ultimately derives from the Latin: pons, pont- ‘bridge’ + -fex from facere ‘make.’ The Pontiff is thus a maker of bridges. But what is being bridged? Here's an early passage from Charles' commentary:
It is my contention, also, that his pontificate provides the third step in a momentous journey.

The first step, as I see it, was taken by Christ himself in the Beatitudes – blessed are the poor in spirit, they that mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers – and in his doctrine of forgiveness, not once only but a myriad of times. The second was taken by Francis of Assisi, in his Canticle of Creatures – praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, through Sister Moon and the stars, praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.. blessed those who endure in peace.. – and in his crossing the front lines of war during the crusades to greet in peace the Sultan Malik Al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt. And in taking the name Francis, in washing and kissing on Maundy Thursday the feet of both male and female, Christian and Muslim juvenile offenders in prison, and in issuing this encyclical, I would suggest Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is taking the third step.


Addendum [29 June 2015 3:41 PM]: It has just occurred to me that Charles is explicating Laudato Si' as a plea and prescription for what I have, in various posts, been calling Unity of Being.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Computational Brain?

Gary Marcus (NYU) thinks that field programmable gate arrays might be our best bet for thinking about neural computation (NYTimes):
FIELD programmable gate arrays consist of a large number of “logic block” programs that can be configured, and reconfigured, individually, to do a wide range of tasks. One logic block might do arithmetic, another signal processing, and yet another look things up in a table. The computation of the whole is a function of how the individual parts are configured. Much of the logic can be executed in parallel, much like what happens in a brain.

Although my colleagues and I don’t literally think that the brain is a field programmable gate array, our suggestion is that the brain might similarly consist of highly orchestrated sets of fundamental building blocks, such as “computational primitives” for constructing sequences, retrieving information from memory, and routing information between different locations in the brain. Identifying those building blocks, we believe, could be the Rosetta stone that unlocks the brain.

To put this differently, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to directly connect the language of neurons and synapses to the diversity of human behavior, as many neuroscientists seem to hope. The chasm between brains and behavior is just too vast. […] 
If neurons are akin to computer hardware, and behaviors are akin to the actions that a computer performs, computation is likely to be the glue that binds the two.
Here's a link to a perspectives piece published in Science, The atoms of neural computation,  and to a FAQ about that piece.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

On the theology of "Laudato Si"

Pope Francis uses theology to foreground nature, with God being the force of eminence that shoots through and connects all things: “the universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul. But also to discover God in all things.” This isn’t simply rehabilitating something outside of man that man has destroyed.

The pope’s method of thinking about nature by bringing humans back into it, has a lot in common with Morton’s idea of a “dark ecology,” or “ecology without nature.” Morton considers a separation between man and nature detrimental to environmental thought: “Putting something called Nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of Woman. It is a paradoxical act of sadistic admiration.” Morton’s ecology is “dark” because humans are already bound up in its “irony, ugliness, and horror,” and so lack objective ground from which to theorize.
H/t Tim Morton.

Iris petal in your face and on your tongue

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The Hologram Metaphor in Mind and Culture

From some old notes:

Finally, I'd like to suggest cultures encode their master patterns like holograms encode images. If you rip a hologram of, for example, a coin, in half, you can still use it to view the entire coin. If you rip one of those halves in half, you can use either of the resulting quarters to view the entire coin. This is quite different from an ordinary photograph where, if you rip it in half, you get one half of the coin on one piece of photograph and the other half on the other piece. If you rip one of those pieces in half you will be down to photographic fragments showing a quarter of the coin. A piece of a photograph contains a piece of the image.

A piece of a hologram, however, still contains the entire image. The resolution of the image, that is, its sharpness, will be somewhat reduced—the smaller the piece, the lower the resolution—but the entire image is there. A hologram is thus a way of distributing the entire image throughout the representing medium (the piece of photographic film). Similarly, the pattern of a culture is distributed throughout all the artifacts and practices of the people who live that culture. Each piece and aspect reflects the pattern of the whole.

My use of the hologram metaphor is not accidental. There is a considerable body of research and theory which indicates that the brain stores information holographically (Karl Pribram is perhaps the most vigorous proponent of this; see Languages of the Brain, 1971). Thus it may be no accident that a man's essence shows in everything he is or does or touches. That is so because that's how the brain works. The brain also encodes culture.

For culture ultimately resides in the brains of those who carry the culture. If those brains store information so that each physical part reflects the pattern of the whole, then that is how they will organize culture. It is thus no accident that students of culture from Ruth Benedict through Claude Levi-Strauss and Clifford Geertz and Erik Erikson find correspondences, for example, between the pattern of a wedding ceremony and the layout of a dwelling, between patterns of infant weaning and adult aggression, and so forth. Cultures form coherent patterns because the brains of culture-bearers seek to impose coherence everywhere.

Similarly, each individual carries a low-res version of the entire culture. Oh, each person is an expert (high res) in this or that aspect of culture; but has only a nodding acquaintance with most of it. And there is some body of knowledge and practice all hold more or less in common in some reasonable detail. But the full culture in all its richness exists only in the interactions among all the individuals.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Fotos: Some Styles at the Demolition Exhibition [#GVM004]

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AIDS crew
Tomorrow (Saturday, June 28, 2015) marks the official opening of Green Villain’s Demolition Exhibition, a show of graffti installed (good Art Word, that) on 30,000 sq. feet of walls in the Newport area of Jersey City. Of course artists and others have been in and out of the building for the last two months, so the boundary between official opening hours and the rest of time and space is somewhat porous. But that will all come to an end sometime in July, when the building is demolished and returned to dust.

With all that in mind, I thought I’d offer a few comments on some of the styles in view. As far as I know graffiti styles have not been subject to classification and analysis beyond the standard distinction between wild style, in which the letters and cut up, confused, and disguised, and all the rest. So there is no official nomenclature. Nor do I intend to introduce any here.

But I do think it’s useful/helpful to note that it’s not all alike, especially if you’re not familiar with graffiti.

* * * * *

These pieces exhibit a ‘flat’ style, which may be the most common style in the show. There may be some 3D cues here and there, but they’re minimal. There’s no attempt to imply and overall 3D space. Notice the way patterns are deployed across the surfaces of the letters:

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Revenge
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CURVE
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SNOE
This, in some ways, is flat. But the 3D cues (drop shadows) are very strong, though there is no overall 3D space:

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Knows