While unlike either the Green Villain or Mana Contemporary, this studio is nonetheless on the edge in Jersey City.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Monday, June 17, 2013
Reposted from a year and a half ago. Miyazaki is always worth thinking about.We know, of course, that cartoons aren’t just for kids, right? Many exist in what I’ve come to call “universal kid space”; they’re fully accessible to children, yet are compelling to adults on their own terms, and not just vicariously through children. In thinking about Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo I’ve been thinking about the adult aspect of the film. What’s here for adults?
There is, of course, the visual beauty. The film is a joy to behold and the animation is often astounding, such as the sequence where the sea comes alive as Ponyo runs atop the waves to meet Sosuke:
But what about the story? It’s simple enough that a young child could follow it; Miyazaki has said he made it for five year olds (in an interview included as extra on the Disney DVD). There are two things I find puzzling at the heart of the story. One, that Ponyo should so badly want to be human. Why? It doesn’t seem to follow from any particularly compelling psychology. She just wants to be human and that’s that. Two, given that she wants to be human, why should that desire throw the whole world into turmoil? Why couldn’t the effects of that desire be more local?
I think we have to take the psychology as given. That’s just the way things are. As for the cataclysmic effects of Ponyo’s desire, that’s what Miyazaki was reaching for. On the emotional side, let me quote from Mark Mayerson:
Miyazaki's subject here is love, though not romantic love and certainly not sexual love. What the characters in this film are missing is devotional love. Just about every character in this film has been abandoned in one way or another.
The nursing home that Sosuke's mother Lisa works at is next door to a school (or is it a pre-school?). In each case, the old and the young have been isolated from the world of adults. The old women in the home are, I presume, widows, and their children are not taking care of them. The children in school are not being looked after by their parents....
Both Sosuke and Ponyo have two parents, but those parents are not together. Sosuke's father is captain of a ship and over the course of the entire film, he never gets off it. . . . Ponyo's mother is a goddess who is not present in Ponyo's home and who only interacts with Ponyo once during the entire film.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
I've recently uploaded two essay-reviews to my SSRN page:
Synch, Song, and Society. Human Nature Review, Volume 5, 2005, 66-86.
A number of thinkers, including Charles Darwin, have argued that language and music as we know them were evolutionarily preceded by something that was neither one nor the other, but a bit like both. Steven Mithen is the most prominent current exponent of this idea, which he has set forth at book-length in The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body. In particular, he argues that the neanderthals were virtuosi in this superseded behavior. In this essay-review I summarize the salient point of Mithen's book, which is based on a wide ranger of literature, and add some speculations of my own. In particular I talk about interactive synchrony and shared intentionality and the emergence of group norms and symbolization.
Colorless Green Homunculi. Human Nature Review 2 (2002) 454-462.
Robert Aunger wrote the The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think as a first draft of a neural accounts of memes, units of cultural evolution comparable to the biological gene. It is best viewed as two books. One book is comprised of the first six chapters, which are preparatory in nature, reviewing the current state of memetics, alternative analyses of human cultural evolution, types of replicator (DNA, prions, computer viruses), and the physical nature of information. This book is competent, interesting, and thought provoking. The second book sets forth Aunger’s new theory of neuromemetics and is a failure. Aunger’s ideas are vague, incoherent, and contradictory. Because the long seventh chapter contains Aunger’s central statement, I concentrate on it in this essay-review.
Letters of Our Days
A, E, I, O, U:
These were all the five
So select letters in being
Standby for someday,
The imagined who at noon can see
Indifferently the hollow of
Moonlight and sometimes “Y” . . .
The sun in the only
One center of the galaxy
Once upon a time:
How are you? I am fine. Having a wonderful time.
Wish you were here.
The New York Times has a fascinating article about this artist.
It is difficult to say much more about the piece without descending into gibberish. This is one of the first things you notice when you spend time around Turrell. Though he is uncommonly eloquent on a host of subjects, from Riemannian geometry to vortex dynamics, he has developed a dense and impenetrable vocabulary to describe his work. Nearly everyone who speaks and writes about Turrell uses the same infernal jargon. It can be grating to endure a cocktail party filled with people talking about the “thingness of light” and the “alpha state” of mind — at least until you’ve seen enough Turrell to realize that, without those terms, it would be nearly impossible to discuss his work. It is simply too far removed from the language of reality, or for that matter, from reality itself.
Turrell's work sounds fascinating. He uses light to creates immersive environments that destroy, diffuse and de-fuses one's ordinary sense of space so that the light itself assumes a numinous presence.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
A couple of months ago I posted a precis of "Music and movement share a dynamic structure that supports universal expressions of emotion" by Beau Sievers, Larry Polansky, Michael Casey, and Thalia Wheatley (PNAS 2013 110 (1) 70-75). Here's a Bloggingheads.tv conversation with Wheatley in which she discusses that work (and more):
HASTAC is organizing a course on this topic. From the course description:
This is a curated collection of blog posts and op ed pieces on "The History and Future of Higher Education," a project initiated by the HASTAC alliance which is coordinating the teaching of a number of diverse courses, workshops, and reading groups, in different locations and online, on the future of higher education in the Spring/Winter term of 2014. Anyone is invited to offer a course or informal learning program on this topic and include it as part of this project.
Below this introduction, you will find a collection (reposted from hastac.org and other online publications) of posts, resources, forums, syllabi, sample assignments, tools, and other resources and information updates about this co-located, freeflowing, and loosely connected array of courses--many of which will have public, online, open components. We are hoping for as much public engagement as possible. We see this as bringing together mounting energies advocating on behalf of reinvigorated funding and new investment in education--with a particular emphasis on the importance of critical thinking, humanities content, peer-contribution, and 21st century literacies. We are seeking the best new ideas for improving, informing, and reforming education as it exists today.
Right now (June 2013), we have confirmed co-located teaching of courses on some general or specific aspect of the history and/or future of higher education by:
- Cathy Davidson, Interdisciplinary Studies and English, Duke University, "The History and Future of Higher Education" (draft course description)
- Katie King, Women's Studies and American Studies, University of Maryland
- David Palumbo-Liu, Comparative Literature, Stanford, "Histories and Futures of Humanistic Education: Culture and Crisis, Books and MOOCs" (draft syllabus)
- Howard Rheingold, independent scholar, author of Net Smart, UC Berkeley
- Sean Michael Smith, Hybrid Pedagogy
- Jesse Stommel, Marylhurst and Hybrid Pedagogy
For more information, current resources, or to offer yourself and your resources, go to the current website. There's lots of stuff already there.
Friday, June 14, 2013
I’ve been thinking a lot about information recently, mostly as a consequence of reading Dan Dennett on memetics. I’m uncomfortable with his usage, and similar ones, and I can’t quite figure out why. Let me offer two passages, and then some comments by way of thinking out loud.
The first passage is from George Williams, a biologist. It’s in a chapter from a book edited by John Brockman, The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution:
Evolutionary biologists have failed to realize that they work with two more or less incommensurable domains: that of information and that of matter. I address this problem in my 1992 book, Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges. These two domains will never be brought together in any kind of the sense usually implied by the term "reductionism." You can speak of galaxies and particles of dust in the same terms, because they both have mass and charge and length and width. You can't do that with information and matter. Information doesn't have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesn't have bytes. You can't measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesn't have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information. This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains of existence, which have to be discussed separately, in their own terms.The gene is a package of information, not an object. The pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule specifies the gene. But the DNA molecule is the medium, it's not the message. Maintaining this distinction between the medium and the message is absolutely indispensable to clarity of thought about evolution.Just the fact that fifteen years ago I started using a computer may have had something to do with my ideas here. The constant process of transferring information from one physical medium to another and then being able to recover that same information in the original medium brings home the separability of information and matter. In biology, when you're talking about things like genes and genotypes and gene pools, you're talking about information, not physical objective reality. They're patterns.I was also influenced by Dawkins' "meme" concept, which refers to cultural information that influences people's behavior. Memes, unlike genes, don't have a single, archival kind of medium. Consider the book Don Quixote: a stack of paper with ink marks on the pages, but you could put it on a CD or a tape and turn it into sound waves for blind people. No matter what medium it's in, it's always the same book, the same information. This is true of everything else in the cultural realm. It can be recorded in many different media, but it's the same meme no matter what medium it's recorded in.
It seems to me that that is more or less how the concept of information is used in many discussions. It’s certainly how Dennett tends to use it. Here’s a typical passage (it’s the fifth and last footnote in From Typo to Thinko: When Evolution Graduated to Semantic Norms):
There is considerable debate among memeticists about whether memes should be defined as brain-structures, or as behaviors, or some other presumably well-anchored concreta, but I think the case is still overwhelming for defining memes abstractly, in terms of information worth copying (however embodied) since it is the information that determines how much design work or R and D doesn’t have to be re-done. That is why a wagon with spoked wheels carries the idea of a wagon with spoked wheels as well as any mind or brain could carry it.
Here I can’t help but think that Dennett’s pulling a fast one. Information has somehow become reified in a way that has the happy effect of relieving Dennett of the task of thinking about the actual mechanisms of cultural evolution. That in turn has the unhappy effect of draining his assertion of meaning. In what way does a wagon with spoked wheels carry any idea whatsoever, much less the idea of itself?
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Over at Language Log Mark Liberman has a good post on gene/culture co-evolution. The point of departure is an opinion piece that Simon Fisher and Matt Ridley published in Science (ungated HERE). Here's the crucial assertion:
The discovery of any genetic mutation that coincided with the “human revolution” (6) must take care to distinguish cause from effect. Supposedly momentous changes in our genome may sometimes be a consequence of cultural innovation. They may be products of culture-driven gene evolution (7)
Liberman's point is that "this is an entirely traditional and common-sensical view," one for which he provides citations, including Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom, Eric Lenneberg (Biological Foundations of Language, 1967) and Charles Darwin:
There are some useful remarks in the discussion.But the old and impeccable pedigree of this classical account of gene-culture co-evolution, in the origins of language and elsewhere, has not prevented the spread of "gene for X" bizarreness, or other forms of anti-evolutionary mysticism. So it's nice to see a couple of eminent scientists expressing these ideas, clearly and forcefully, in the pages of a widely-read journal.
Here we go again. It's complicated, but not really.
The research is about the ability of 10-month old infants to feel empathy for others. That's nice, and not very surprising. What particularly interests me about the research, however, is the way it was conducted. The infants were shown videos involving simple geometric figures, not people. That is, the stimuli were like those used in the famous experiment where Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel showed simple animated figures to Smith undergraduates who them willing interpreted those simple shapes and living creatures in purposeful interaction with one another.
Here's a summary of the current research in Medical Express:
Infants as young as ten months old express sympathy for others in distress in non-verbal ways, according to research published June 12 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Yasuhiro Kanakogi and colleagues from Kyoto University and Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan.Infants at this age are known to assign goals and intentions to geometric figures; hence the researchers used a series of animated sequences to test infants' responses to aggression. In their experiments, researchers showed infants an aggressive 'social interaction' between a blue ball that attacked and violently crushed a yellow cube and found that the babies preferentially reached for the victim rather than the aggressor. Infants' behavior remained consistent when the roles of the shapes were reversed and when a neutral, non-aggressive shape was introduced in the video, suggesting that their preference for the victim was not out of fear of the aggressive shape.Based on these observations, the authors conclude, "Ten-month olds not only evaluate the roles of victims and aggressors in interactions but also show rudimentary sympathy toward others in distress based on that evaluation. This simple preference may function as a foundation for full-fledged sympathetic behavior later on."
You'll find the video there. The squash and stretch (a classic animation technique) comes at the very end.
Here's a link to the original article in PLOS One.
Smile and the world smiles with you—but new research suggests that not all smiles are created equal. The research shows that people actually anticipate smiles that are genuine but not smiles that are merely polite. The differing responses may reflect the unique social value of genuine smiles."These findings give us the first clear suggestion that the basic processes that guide responses to reward also play a role in guiding social behavior on a moment-to-moment basis during interactions," explains psychological scientist and lead researcher Erin Heerey of Bangor University (UK).
The fact that we anticipate real smiles plays to my hobbyhorse that, during social interaction, we are coupled with one another in the same temporal framework.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Inspired by a harrowing episode when Mr. Frankel could not communicate the symptoms of a virulent stomach bug to a pharmacist in Beijing, the service takes just 15 seconds to put mobile users in touch with a human translator fluent in both English and any of 11 other languages. In other words, it combines the speed of Google Translate with the precision of a traditional translation service — at least that was the pitch Mr. Frankel and Mr. Sarda made to the sharks.Within 72 hours of the segment being shown, 20,000 new customers had downloaded the VerbalizeIt app, according to Mr. Frankel. Daily revenue, he said, more than tripled. The company charges about $1.50 a minute from individual consumers and as much as 27 cents a word from businesses that use the same network of 10,100 freelance translators to translate documents and videos.
A little background: Machine translation–the use of computers to translate from one language to another–was one of the founding problem areas of computer science in the 1950s. The Defense Department of the US Federal Government funded a number of programs that set out to translate Russian texts into English. "Pure" machine translation, with no human help, didn't work too well. Human-aided translation, where a human translator cleaned-up the computer's work, was better.
But VerbalizIt is, obviously, rather different. They use the web to quickly find a human translator to do the whole job.