Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ontology in Play

Levi Bryant has a recent post in which he acknowledges two senses of “ontology.” Thus “On the one hand, an ontology is a group or persons set of beliefs as to what is.” Yes. In this sense ontology is a category of thinking. However, as Bryant notes, that is not what philosophers mean by ontology: “On the other hand, an ontology is a theory about what is. It is making a claim that something exists. This is where the rubber hits the road.”

Ontology in the first sense, ontological thinking, has been under investigation in the cognitive sciences for the last three or four decades. I have a good many posts on that subject under the heading “ontological cognition.” But what about ontological thoughts AS thoughts? What kind of reality are we going to admit for those thoughts as thoughts? Do those thoughts not have some kind of real existences?

THAT’s the kind of thing I was grappling with in talking about realms of being in my own pluralist speculations. At this point, though, keeping track of what’s going on is very difficult. Something’s got to collapse.

It’s clear to me, however, that Bryant hasn’t caught up to cognitive science in his conceptualization of mental processes. It’s one thing to point out that we have ontological thoughts; it’s quite something else to objectify those thoughts and study how they work.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Notes: Godzilla, King of the Monsters

Godzilla, King of the Monsters is the 1956 American version of Gojira (1954). It’s quite different from the Japanese original. The love story has been greatly reduced, with most of its scenes cut from the film. In particular, they have eliminated the scene where Ogata was going to tell Prof. Yamane about his Emiko’s love for one another. That scene was the structural center in the Japanese original.

Further, the story was drastically reframed. A lot of new footage was shot involving Raymond Burr as an American reporter, Steve Martin. He was in Tokyo on his way to Cairo, and visiting his friend Dr. Serizawa, when Godzilla attacked.

The American version opens after Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo. We see Steve Martin badly wounded in a room that had collapsed. He’s narrating in voiceover. He’s removed to a hospital where he sees, and recognizes, Emiko (as daughter of Dr. Yamane). She leaves him to get a doctor and Martin starts telling the story.

He starts with himself being on a plane on the way to Tokyo to visit Serizawa. Then we get the attack on the first boat, which is where the Japanese original started. We then get the rest of the story in flashback with scenes rearranged and with Steve Martin scenes inserted. Martin doesn’t do anything except report on what is happening. He has no role in the Godzilla story nor in the all-but-eliminated love story.

The business about Serizawa’s secret research has been changed. The Japanese reporter who has been investigating the story has been dropped from the film. So he’s not visiting Serizawa to find out about THAT. Emiko visits Serizawa alone with the intention of telling him about Ogata. Serizawa doesn’t even let her get started. Instead, he shows her his lab, as in the Japanese version. He also swears her to secrecy about what she sees. As in the Japanese version, we don’t see all that happened on the visit.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Legacy of Martin Luther King

What Martin Luther King did:  he ended "200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears."
(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of nonviolent resistance, and taught the practices of nonviolent resistance.)

So what did they do?

They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we'll be okay.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn't that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

And you know what? The worst of the worst, wasn't that bad.

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south. Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song. The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another. This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The art industry

Outside auctions, the marketing mechanics buzz on. Roughly since the end of the multicultural, postmodern 1990s, we’ve watched new art being re-Modernized and domesticated, with painting the medium of choice, abstraction the mode of preference. Together they offer significant advantages. Paintings can be assembly-line produced but still carry the aura of being hand-touched. They can be tailored to small spaces, such as fair booths. Abstraction, especially if color is involved, can establish instant eye contact from afar. If, in addition, the work’s graphic impact translates well online, where stock can be moved eBay style, so much the better.

Other traditional forms — drawing, photography, some sculpture — similarly work well in this marketing context. But an enormous range of art does not, beginning with film, performance and installation, and extending into rich realms of creative activity that defy classification as art at all. To note this dynamic is not to dismiss painting or object making, but to point to the restrictive range of art that the market supports, that dealers are encouraged to sell, and that artists are encouraged to make.

The narrowing of the market has been successful in attracting a wave of neophyte buyers who have made art shopping chic. It has also produced an epidemic of copycat collecting. To judge by the amounts of money piled up on a tiny handful of reputations, few of these collectors have the guts, or the eye or the interest, to venture far from blue-chip boilerplate.

Materials for an Allegory

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You supply the story

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and the meaning.


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If any, whatever.

Monday, January 13, 2014

3quarksdaily: Charlie Keil: Groovologist

Here's the opening paragraph of a post about my friend and colleague, Charlie Keil:
Tracing things back to the beginning is always a bit arbitrary. There is always something that came before, and even before that. For example, just how is it that Charlie Keil, winner of the 22nd Annual Koizumi Fumio Prize for ethnomusicology, ended up playing tuba in front of the Vermont Statehouse in the Fall of 2012? I suppose it isn't much of a stretch to get from ethnomusicology to the tuba, as both have to do with music, but the Vermont Statehouse?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sage and Knitting

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Rings in Harry Potter?

Just after Christmas I was contacted by John Granger, who has written a number of books on the Harry Potter series – FWIW, I've not read any of the books but I've seen two of the movies, the first one and some other one. He'd learned about Mary Douglas's work on ring composition and had determined that all of the Harry Potter books are rings and that the series as a whole is a ring. As I've not read the books I have no opinion about whether or not he's right, but it's certainly possible. Here's an interview where he talks about ring composition in the Potter books. Here's his book on the subject: Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle.

And here's a post where he argues that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is ring composed and here's one about ring composition in Around the World in Eighty Days. He's sent me a document in which he describes ring composition in Robert Louis Steven's Kidnapped. I may have read Kidnapped years ago, but I've not read either Frankenstein or Around the World in Eighty Days

This work, of course, raises the question that's been on my mind for some time: Just how wide-spread is ring composition? I have no idea.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Deep Learning on the Rise?

Deep learning is certainly part of the formula for a robust AI, but it's probably not the whole deal. Nature has a useful non-techical article.
With triumphs in hand for image and speech recognition, there is now increasing interest in applying deep learning to natural-language understanding — comprehending human discourse well enough to rephrase or answer questions, for example — and to translation from one language to another. Again, these are currently done using hand-coded rules and statistical analysis of known text. The state-of-the-art of such techniques can be seen in software such as Google Translate, which can produce results that are comprehensible (if sometimes comical) but nowhere near as good as a smooth human translation. “Deep learning will have a chance to do something much better than the current practice here,” says crowd-sourcing expert Luis von Ahn, whose company Duolingo, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, relies on humans, not computers, to translate text. “The one thing everyone agrees on is that it's time to try something different.”

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lanier on getting paid in a networked world

Which leads nicely to Lanier’s final big point: that the value of these new companies comes from us. “Instagram isn’t worth a billion dollars just because those 13 employees are extraordinary,” he writes. “Instead, its value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it.” He adds, “Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.” Thus, in Lanier’s view, is income inequality also partly a consequence of the digital economy.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Netflix World

What does Netfliz know about the cultural ecology of movies and television programs? After all, they can and do track the viewing preferences of all their customers.

The Atlantic Monthly has an article on their tagging and analysis capability:
Through a combination of elbow grease and spam-level repetition, we discovered that Netflix possesses not several hundred genres, or even several thousand, but 76,897 unique ways to describe types of movies....Netflix has meticulously analyzed and tagged every movie and TV show imaginable. They possess a stockpile of data about Hollywood entertainment that is absolutely unprecedented.
Hmmmm....77K ways to describe movies? Perhaps, but I'm thinking that's likely to be superficial. Still, they DO know something even if that number doesn't capture that something in a useful way:
Using large teams of people specially trained to watch movies, Netflix deconstructed Hollywood. They paid people to watch films and tag them with all kinds of metadata. This process is so sophisticated and precise that taggers receive a 36-page training document that teaches them how to rate movies on their sexually suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness.

They capture dozens of different movie attributes. They even rate the moral status of characters. When these tags are combined with millions of users viewing habits, they become Netflix's competitive advantage. The company's main goal as a business is to gain and retain subscribers. And the genres that it displays to people are a key part of that strategy. "Members connect with these [genre] rows so well that we measure an increase in member retention by placing the most tailored rows higher on the page instead of lower," the company revealed in a 2012 blog post. The better Netflix shows that it knows you, the likelier you are to stick around.
A bit later:
A fascinating thing I learned from Yellin is that the underlying tagging data isn't just used to create genres, but also to increase the level of personalization in all the movies a user is shown.
Um, err, yeah. Surely that's the point, not this pseudo-genre stuff. Still, the article's worth at least a quick read if you're interested in such things.

Color Felix Salmon skeptical about all that gee-willikers stuff. He's not all that impressed by Netflix's ability to make cogent recommendations to users. Why?

Faculty of Language: Minds without brains: what's up with plants

Faculty of Language: Minds without brains: what's up with plants: Here's  a report by Michael Pollan, he of Omnivor's Dilemma  fame, reporting on some recent work on plant "neurobiology." ...

In which we find out that plants can "learn" and the we have a "brain" in our gut. Interesting stuff.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cultural Evolution links

The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks has an interesting post, The Music Genome Project is no such thing.
The Music Genome Project is a database in which 1 million pieces of music (currently) have been coded for 450 distinct musical characteristics. The main use of the database at the moment is to provide the data from which predictions can be made about which other pieces of music might appeal to listeners of any nominated musical set; this is implemented in the Pandora Radio product. This seems like a valuable idea.
What's being studied, however, are "phenotypic" traits. But that's OK. It still looks interesting.

There's also this link to Victor Grauer's Phylogenetic Tree of Musical Style, which is based on the Cantometrics project that Alan Lomax organized back in the 1960s. I've only glanced at it, but it looks pretty interesting.

And then there's the Book Genome Project, which isn't about the "genes" of books either, but rather about phenotypic traits. You can use the book "genomes" to find similar books; for that, go to Booklamp.

What is nature? John Wilkins says...

John Wilkins has a typically lucid post addressed to the question: What is nature? He's not himself trying to come up with an answer, but rather is interested in how the question arose. After suitable citation (including one of his favorites, J.S. Mill) Wilkins arrives at:
The “Arcadian” vision of nature was something for the benefit of humanity, decreed by a benevolent deity. So our separation from nature was based upon our agrarian, civilised, theistic vision of ourselves.

In recent years, we have seen a trend to “naturalise” humans, however. We have discovered the natural causes of mental activities and failures, of our physiology, our evolution, and even our abilities to know the world.
He concludes that "In the end our idea of nature is incoherent or needs to be revised to be coherent." And, crudely put, object-oriented ontology rides that incoherence.

Let's conclude this brief note by looking at his opening paragraph, where he tells us there are two kinds of naturalism: "ontological naturalism (the view that all that is, is natural) and methodological naturalism (the view that all that can be known can be known via natural methodologies such as scientific method)." His post is about the former.

As for methodological naturalism, it is in THAT sense that I talk of a naturalist literary criticism. I am not making an ontological claim that literature is more or less just like atoms, thunderstorms, and toads – though, who knows, it might be – but that we can understand how literature works through natural methodology. Roughly speaking, both the literary Darwinists and the cognitive rhetoricians and poeticists espouse something of a naturalist methodology as well, though one that doesn't emphasize description. And the Darwinists may well espouse ontological naturalism as well; they probably do. 

But that is only speaking roughly. More precisely...well, that's likely to go on and on. Maybe later.

Some "old" photos of JC - not that old, and with a touch of red

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Getting Around in the World

It seems that both humans and animals forage like this:
What they have found is that when moving with a purpose such as foraging for food, many creatures follow a particular and shared pattern. They walk (or wing or lope) for a short time in one direction, scouring the ground for edibles, then turn and start moving in another direction for a short while, before turning and strolling or flying in another direction yet again. This is a useful strategy for finding tubers and such, but if maintained indefinitely brings creatures back to the same starting point over and over; they essentially move in circles.

So most foragers and predators occasionally throw in a longer-distance walk (or flight), which researchers refer to as a “long step,” bringing them into new territory, where they then return to short walks and frequent turns as they explore the new place.