Saturday, December 16, 2017

My practice studio is in there somewhere




Emotional intelligence for artificial beings? With a potential application to Shakespeare

2AI Labs, Tim Barber and Mark Changizi, has announced a model of emotion: VICTOR Socio-Emotional AI.
We at 2ai Labs have spent the last decade deciphering the hidden language of emotions, and have developed a unifying theory of emotions, of their meaning and the machinery underlying emotional reasoning. The theory emanates from a first-principles approach to the fundamental issues pre-linguistic animals face in communicating so as to settle disagreements. It has two key pillars.

I. Comprehension of emotions: The technology understands the specific meanings of emotional signals, including (a) what I want, (b) how compromising I feel I am being, (c) my hand strength in a situation, (d) my opinion about my opponent’s hand strength, and (e) my confirmation receipt of my opponent’s signals.

II. Emotional reasoning machinery: The technology consists of an “emotion engine,” and allows the construction of AI personalities to suit one’s needs. The machinery allows personalities to vary along socio-emotionally sensible dimensions, and so one can, for example, vary their level of aggression, willingness to compromise, and degree of hospitality. Social intelligence also requires understanding social currency, or cool, and that a person’s emotions, and an AI’s emotional response, are bets; this is part of VICTOR’s machinery.
This lab note is accompanied by some interesting emoji-type diagrams, which you can see in this tweet from Changizi:

Color me intrigued. I know little about Tim Barber beyond the snippets available in his CV and the fact that he's smart enough to team up with Changizi. I regard Changizi as one of the best psychological theorists we have, and was happy to blurb his book, Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man (Benbella, 2011).

I'm wondering what their theory would tell me about Shakespeare, in particular, what it would tell me about Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy, Othello, a tragedy, and The Winter's Tale, a romance. With these plays Shakespeare has, in effect, presented us with something of an experiment. We have something we can call a Drama Engine. This Drama Engine has a variety of knobs and sliders we can use to set values for the parameters which will determine the matrix, the donnée, for our little play. One of these knobs operates at a very high level, simultaneously determining various aspects of the nascent drama. It is the position of this knob that seems to determine whether the play will be a comedy, a tragedy, or a romance. For the sake of argument let us call it G, for genre.

In each of these plays a man wrongly suspects his beloved of betraying him with another man. The following table shows some of the effects of G as they "trickle down" to the initial situation for each of our plays:

Shakespeare Triad

Along the left I've listed five dramatic functions which some character must play. In the columns for each play I've indicated the character that takes these functions. The point of the diagram as the we move from one genre to the next (in this order) one function seems to disappear. Othello has no mentor, but he has a deceiver; and Leontes has neither a mentor nor a deceiver. What I think is going on is that functions are, in effect, being absorbed into the protagonist. At the play's opening, Othello is senior enough in the world that he has no need of a mentor. Leontes is king in his world, so there is no one higher. As for being deceived about his wife, he does that to himself, no external agent required.

There's more. In the comedy the deception happens between betrothal and the marriage ceremony. In the tragedy the deception happens between the marriage ceremony (which apparently has been a secret one) and the consummation of the marriage. In the romance the marriage has been produced a six year old boy and, at the beginning of the play, the wife is pregnant with another child – who turns out to be a girl. There are others things in this complex as well, but this is enough to give you a feel for what's going on.

But how does our Drama Engine work? What parameters does it have, and how is G related to the others? I set out to answer that question some years ago and got no more than part way there: At the Edge of the Modern, or Why is Prospero Shakespeare's Greatest Creation? Part way is better than no way, and at least the issue is on the table. But it's unsatisfying.

Can VICTOR take us further along the path, perhaps even to its end? I note that "other awareness" is at the center of the model and our protagonists are deficient in the obverse of other awareness, self awareness.

Something else. The first chapter, "Quantitative Formalism", of Moretti et al., Canon/Archive: Studies in Quantitative Formalism, suggests that Shakespeare's genre space varies on two dimensions, not the one I've indicated in that table. I'd wanted to say a few words about that in my already too long review, but I ran out of time.

However, I do have an idea of where to look for that other dimension. Both the comedy and the romance, but not the tragedy, have two plots. The two plots run simultaneously in the comedy and successively in the tragedy. The Claudio/Hero plot in Much Ado About Nothing runs in parallel to the Beatrice/Benedick plot. The Beatrice/Benedick plot is very different in character from the Claudio/Hero plot, and that difference derives from the characters themselves, their temperaments. But I believe that the same psycho-socio dynamic drives both plots. In The Winter's Tale the tragic Leontes/Hermione plot is followed by the comic Perdita/Florizel plot, and that comedy redeems the apparent tragedy, transforming it into a romance.

VICTOR, it's your move.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Group identity

From an essay, The age of white guilt: and the disappearance of the black individual (Harper's, November 1999), by Shelby Steele:
The greatest problem in coming from an oppressed group is the power the oppressor has over your group. The second greatest problem is the power your group has over you. Group identity in oppressed groups is always very strategic, always a calculation of advantage. The humble black identity of the Booker T. Washington era–“a little education spoiled many a good plow hand”–allowed blacks to function as tradesmen, laborers, and farmers during the rise of Jim Crow, when hundreds of blacks were being lynched yearly. Likewise, the black militancy of the late sixties strategically aimed for advantage in an America suddenly contrite over its long indulgence in racism.

One’s group identity is always a mask–a mask replete with a politics. When a teenager in East Los Angeles says he is Hispanic, he is thinking of himself within a group strategy pitched at larger America. His identity is related far more to America than to Mexico or Guatemala, where he would not often think of himself as Hispanic. In fact, “Hispanic” is much more a political concept than a cultural one, and its first purpose is to win power within the fray of American identity politics. So this teenager must wear the mask that serves his group’s ambitions in these politics.
H/t Nina Paley.

Identity in this sense is differential, not intrinsic.

Structuralists behaving badly at Johns Hopkins

The Quarterly Conversation has just published an essay excerpted from Cynthia L. Haven, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (Michigan St. U. Press 2018). Here's an passage from the excerpt about the response to Lacan's mysterious send-up of Freud, “Of structure as an inmixing of an otherness prerequisite to any subject whatsoever.”:
[Angus] Fletcher called him out in his first comment: “Freud was really a very simple man,” he explained. “He didn’t try to float on the surface of words. What you’re doing is like a spider: you’re making a very delicate web without any human reality in it . . . All this metaphysics is not necessary. The diagram was very interesting, but it doesn’t seem to have any connection with the reality of our actions, with eating, sexual intercourse, and so on.” At least, those are the heavily edited words from The Structuralist Controversy, which don’t capture the hysteria and pandemonium (Donato’s careful hand would rework this section).

At the event itself, rather than Donato’s diplomatic recreation of it, Fletcher’s voice had taken on an accusatory tone—“Vous, vous monsieur . . .” He attacked in a British-inflected French, while Lacan insisted on replying in his inadequate English. “Lacan was enjoying every bit of this. He was like a Cheshire cat,” said Macksey. “Angus just went ballistic.”

“I should have been aware, and wasn’t, the state that Angus was in. Angus is a very bright guy.” Elsewhere in the room, Girard was “trying to climb under the chair, it was so embarrassing,” he said. “René felt we owed something to the Ford Foundation, from whom all blessings flow . . . I would watch him. He was the senior member of the troika—at moments, he seemed to be thinking that the wheels had come off and we were rolling downhill.” Girard’s concern regarding the Ford Foundation was understandable, since “Lacan particularly set Peter [Caw]’s teeth on edge”—perhaps from the moment of the big bear hug.

Macksey felt that the microphone had to be kept from Wilden at all costs. Someone passed the mic to Wilden nevertheless. “At that point Tony lit into Lacan, saying this was your great opportunity, this was your first exposure in the United States. All you had to do was just talk your language and you don’t know diddly squat about the English language.” Goldmann jumped into the melée, attacking Lacan on procedural grounds as well.

The Structuralist Controversy gives little indication of this discord—remarks were toned down later to reduce the decibel level, and much of the action was between the lines, anyway. According to Macksey, “It got to be about midnight and things were just going on wildly and Rosolato says, ‘Oh, he always does this to me. He schedules me to talk right after him and then there’s no time.’ So Nicolas Ruwet, who is a Belgian linguist, read a paper that I thought was more exact and applied overt structuralism more than most of the people who were participating had done. But nobody paid attention to that paper. Alas.”

Back at the Belvedere, Lacan started calling everyone in Paris—Lévi-Strauss and Malraux among them—giving his version of the events. Eventually, he would run up a $900 phone bill from the hotel. “People in Paris thought a small revolution had occurred,” said Macksey. But the revolution would take place the next day.
The last day of the symposium, when Derrida delivered the paper that "deconstructed" structuralism. 

H/t 3QD.

My impressionist camera at work


Should I refuse to watch a movie because Harvey Weinstein was involved?

Alas, I'm SOL because I've seen many films he's produced. But going forward?

The New York Times has a short story about a publicaly searchable database, Rotten Apples, that "informs users which films or television shows are connected to those accused of sexual harassment or worse." You enter the name of a movie or show and it returns a list of people associated with the project who have allegations against them. "Each result is linked to a news article about the accusations." If there are no allegations, you'll be told that. So, I searched on "Kill Bill" and "Pulp Fiction" (both of which I've seen) and sure enough, Weinstein's name popped up.

The tool was created by one Hal Wagman and three others.
The tool is purely informational and is not intended to condemn entire projects, said Mr. Wagman, who likened it to Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB.

“We’re definitely not advocating for boycotting anyone’s films,” he said. The team instead wants the tool to help people make “ethical media consumption decisions.”

Bekah Nutt, a user-experience designer at Zambezi and a team member, hopes that the tool can shed light on how pervasive the problem of sexual misconduct is.

“It became interesting to think about the wide-reaching careers of those facing allegations,” she said. “Every article would spotlight the big projects everyone knows about.” This tool, she said, allows users to see “the full-range of their careers.”
What's an ethical media consumption decision?

Salma Hayak just published an article in the NYTimes about the hell Weinstein put her though to make Frida, about the life of Frida Kahlo. I've never seen the film, but it is the kind of film that interests me. Should I refuse to watch it because Weinstein brokered the deal that make the film possible? What of the work Hayak put into the film despite horrific harassment from Weinstein, and the director, Julie Taymor, and all the others involved with the project? Should I refuse to see their work because of its unfortunate association with Weinstein?

Peer review is known to be ineffective in the sciences

So why is the practice continued? Writing in Times Higher Education, Les Hatton and Gregory Warr identify various problems and then observe:
We are not the first to identify these problems, so we might ask why peer review retains its essentially unassailable status. We suggest a two-fold answer rooted more in socio-economic factors than the dispassionate review of scientific research.

First, peer review is self-evidently useful in protecting established paradigms and disadvantaging challenges to entrenched scientific authority. Second, peer review, by controlling access to publication in the most prestigious journals helps to maintain the clearly recognised hierarchies of journals, of researchers, and of universities and research institutes. Peer reviewers should be experts in their field and will therefore have allegiances to leaders in their field and to their shared scientific consensus; conversely, there will be a natural hostility to challenges to the consensus, and peer reviewers have substantial power of influence (extending virtually to censorship) over publication in elite (and even not-so-elite) journals.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Teaching World Literature

More to the point, world literature is a phenomenon of the southern United States. The 11 southern states contained only 14 percent of the nation’s population, but they accounted for half of our adopters. True, there were world literature courses that didn’t use any anthology, while others might assign one of our rivals and therefore wouldn’t show up in our statistics. But despite these caveats (Norton has over 80 percent market share), it was clear that world literature was thriving in the South, unsettling any easy generalization about red states and blue. 
The popularity of world literature in the South was so surprising to me -- and to pretty much everyone I have talked to -- that I decided to visit some of our adopters. When I asked them why their institutions were so invested in world literature, they explained that while many coastal elite universities had given up on Great Books courses during the canon wars, the more conservative southern colleges had held onto them. But gradually those institutions transformed what originally would have been Western literature courses into world literature courses. (This account dovetailed with another result from the surveys: a separate anthology of Western literature was losing adopters, and we have since decided to phase it out).
More than fiction:
The interests of students in the South also dovetail with another feature of world literature: the importance of religious texts. Our current understanding of literature as fiction is recent. Anthologies of world literature, which cover 4,000 years, use a much wider definition -- namely, significant writing, including religious, philosophical and political texts. The Buddha and Socrates are as important as Virgil or Shakespeare.
H/t Jonathan Goodwin:

A touch of red


The problem of state capacity in India

Lant Pritchett famously labelled India a flailing state—one where “the head, that is the elite institutions at the national (and in some states) level remain sound and functional but that this head is no longer reliably connected via nerves and sinews to its own limbs.”

Pritchett’s diagnosis of the Indian malady has been interpreted by many scholars as a problem of institutional manpower and institutional design. There is a new revival of discussions on state capacity to execute plans, and a new focus on redesigning and staffing public institutions. [...] This problem of state capacity has an element of truth and urgency. Almost all of India’s governance problems can find links to the lack of manpower in state services. [...] 
This crisis in state capacity cannot be solved anytime soon. Though India’s population, especially the youth, should be in line for these jobs, there are two major problems. First is the old problem of state budgets. India has a very small tax base, with a minuscule fraction of its citizens paying income tax. There needs to be a reduction in government spending in other areas and an increase in revenue to support the much needed manpower. Second, the Indian workforce is not skilled enough to be recruited for these jobs.
However, perhaps the state can be trimmed back:
An alternative interpretation of Pritchett’s famous diagnosis is that with flailing limbs, perhaps the head can issue fewer commands, and engage in fewer actions. Essentially, both streamlining and shrinking the ambit of the regulatory state to a size that can actually be effectively enforced. The size of the Indian state in terms of its manpower may be small, but its size in terms of regulation is gigantic, and most of this regulation is either unenforced, or selectively and perniciously enforced.

Sometimes seeing is hearing

Heather Murphy in the NYTimes:
This week, in an improbable turn of events, the sound of silence went viral.

An animated GIF showing an electrical tower jumping rope over delightfully bendy power lines began to spread. The frenzy started when Lisa Debruine, a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow, posed this question:

When she asked Twitter users in an unscientific survey whether they could hear the image — which actually lacks sound, like most animated GIFs — nearly 70 percent who responded said they could.

Once you “heard” it, it was hard not to start noticing that other GIFs also seemed to be making noise — as if the bouncing pylon had somehow jacked up the volume on a cacophonous orchestra few had noticed before.
It turns out that this phenomenon has ha name, visual-evoked auditory response or visual EAR, and has been under investigation:
The ability to “vEAR” is not limited to scenes where one would expect to hear a noise, they say. One lab study found that more than 20 percent of people could hear flashing lights in silent videos. A range of motions, abstract patterns and even colors evoke sound for some.

The act of hearing a visual highlights the trippy fact that our senses do not operate the way we often assume, with crisp boundaries between them. Smelling, hearing and tasting all “speak to each other and influence each other, so little things like the color of the plate you’re eating on can influence how food tastes,” said Mr. Fassnidge.
We know, in general, that our senses are constantly involved in predicting or "guestimating" what's next. In the case of vEARing the guestimation crosses sensory borders so that we hear where there is, in fact, no sound, but there should/could be.
Using electrical brain stimulation, we have also found tentative signs that visual and auditory brain areas cooperate more in people with vEAR, while they tend to compete with each other, in non-vEAR people,” Dr. Freeman said in an email. “So people who claim to hear visual motion have brains that seem to work slightly differently.”

Individuals with frequent or advanced vEARing may have a form of “synesthesia,” a neurological phenomenon in which one sense feeds into another, he said. In other types of synesthesia, sounds might be linked to colors or words with tastes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Green and white (to complement with the blue below)



From distant reading to computational criticism: Canon/Archive @ 3QD [#DH]


As far as I can tell literary studies will remain committed to pre-computational intellectual formations for the foreseeable future and will do so from a position of quasi-aristocratic superiority over crass calculation, of which it will remain fitfully ignorant.

One might say that my participation in the academic blogosphere is framed, for the moment, by engagement with the work of Franco Moretti. It began with a so-called book event at The Valve, a now dormant group blog I joined late in 2005. Jonathan Goodwin had organized an online symposium about Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees. It went live on the web on January 2, 2006 and had contributions by 15 people. Eight of us were Valve contributors: John Holbo, Ray Davis, Matt Greenfield, Amardeep Singh, Adam Roberts, Bill Benzon, Jonathan Goodwin, and Sean McCann. There were guest appearances by seven: Franco Moretti, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Timothy Burke, Eric Hayot, Steven Berlin Johnson, Jenny Davidson, and Cosma Shalizi.

I have no idea how many people contributed comments to those discussions, which unfolded over a period of three weeks. Most, but not all of these authors held academic posts (I did not). Two, I believe, did not have doctorates. The contributors came from all over the place and I wouldn’t hazard a guess about their backgrounds. Some were academics, I’m sure, and some where not. The symposium eventually became (self-published) book: Jonathan Goodwin and John Holbo, eds. <i>Reading Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Responses to Franco Moretti (Glassbead Books 2009).

That was over a decade ago. It was a collective event that took place outside the ordinary confines of the academic world – my use of confines is, of course, quite deliberate.

At the time Moretti was talking about distant reading. He had not yet become involved with computing and, necessarily, with people who know how to program then. He formed the Stanford Literary Lab in 2010 with Matthew Jockers, who had computer skills that he did not. The Lab issued its first pamphlet in, I believe, January of 2011: Quantitative Formalism: an Experiment. It was signed by Moretti and four others: Sarah Allison, Ryan Heuser, Matthew Jockers, and Michael Witmore. The most recent pamphlet, no. 16, was issued in November of this year: Totentanz. Operationalizing Aby Warburg’s Pathosformeln, by Leonardo Impett and Franco Moretti.

That first pamphlet had been submitted to a prestigious journal but was turned down in terms that suggested that the intellectual method itself was being rejected, not just that particular argument. And so the group decided to sidestep the world of formal academic publication and publish its work in the form of stand-alone pamphlets. This is common enough in technical disciplines, where work will be published in the form of technical reports – though that work will sometimes/often then by published in journal form as well; but it was unheard of in the humanities.

My point, then, is that the literary lab has worked at the edge of the academic world. It is located at a prestigious university, and its pamphlets bear the imprimatur of that university. But they do not exist in the world of formal academic publication.

Moretti, who is now retired from Stanford, and the lab have now gathered eleven of those pamphlets into a book:
Canon/Archive: Studies in Quantitative Formalism by Franco Moretti (Author, Editor), Mark Algee-Hewitt, Sarah Allison, Marissa Gemma, Ryan Heuser, Matthew Jockers, Holst Katsma, Long Le-Khac, Dominique Pestre, Erik Steiner, Amir Tevel, Hannah Walser, Michael Witmore, and Irena Yamboliev, published by n+1.
Note the term, quantitative formalism. Moretti now refers to this approach as computational criticism rather than distant reading, though some in the field use the latter term.

I have written an essay/review about the book and published it in 3 Quarks Daily, December 11, 2017, which is not an academic journal: Moretti and the Stanford Literary Lab: Computational criticism in two senses and the prospect of a new approach to literary studies.

The epigraph to this post is the final sentence of that essay/review.

Will the future of literary studies unfold outside departments of literature and their associated societies and journals?

More later.

"To the moon", Trump said, "and then Mars"

I don't quite know what I think of this (NYTimes):
WASHINGTON — At a time when China is working on an ambitious lunar program, President Donald Trump vowed on Monday that the United States will remain the leader in space exploration as he began a process to return Americans to the moon.

"We are the leader and we're going to stay the leader, and we're going to increase it many fold," Trump said in signing "Space Policy Directive 1" that establishes a foundation for a mission to the moon with an eye on going to Mars.

"This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars," Trump said. "And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond."

Back in June, China's space official said the country was making “preliminary” preparations to send a man to the moon, the latest goal in China’s ambitious lunar exploration program.

Trump's signing ceremony for the directive included former lunar astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Harrison Schmitt and current astronaut Peggy Whitson, whose 665 days in orbit is more time in space than any other American and any other woman worldwide. [...]

"And space has so much to do with so many other applications, including a military application," he said without elaboration.
The militarization of space? No. Though obviously that's already started with spy satellites in earth orbit.

Space exploration is expensive, and Trump wants to give a big fat tax break to his wealthy buddies. No.

And space ought to belong to all humankind and not be the object of nationalist competition. 

Still, tentatively, Yes.

Gateway (Manhattan in the deep distance)


Monday, December 11, 2017

Neuroscience Needs Behavior, and literary behavior is among the richest there is

Not only that, but it leaves records of its unfolding in the form of texts. Our task is to "reverse engineer" the activity by analyzing the texts. Something more easily said than done. My most recent attempt: Calculating meaning in " Kubla Khan " – a rough cut (Version 2).

* * * * *

 2017 Feb 8;93(3):480-490. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.12.041.

Neuroscience Needs Behavior: Correcting a Reductionist Bias.


There are ever more compelling tools available for neuroscience research, ranging from selective genetic targeting to optogenetic circuit control to mapping whole connectomes. These approaches are coupled with a deep-seated, often tacit, belief in the reductionist program for understanding the link between the brain and behavior. The aim of this program is causal explanation through neural manipulations that allow testing of necessity and sufficiency claims. We argue, however, that another equally important approach seeks an alternative form of understanding through careful theoretical and experimental decomposition of behavior. Specifically, the detailed analysis of tasks and of the behavior they elicit is best suited for discovering component processes and their underlying algorithms. In most cases, we argue that study of the neural implementation of behavior is best investigated after such behavioral work. Thus, we advocate a more pluralistic notion of neuroscience when it comes to the brain-behavior relationship: behavioral work provides understanding, whereas neural interventions test causality.

* * * * *

In my 1978 dissertation, Cognitive Science and Literary Theory, I asserted that the project of cognitive science was to investigate a five-way correspondence between: 1) neuroanatomy (micro and macro), 2) behavior, 3) computation 4) ontogeny, and 5) phylogeny. Of course, that's not so much cognitive science as it is psychology, and I knew it at the time.

Dead leaves rainbow for a Monday

20171210-P1140772 HiSat VP

20171210-P1140772 HiSat B

20171210-P1140772 HiSat G

20171210-P1140772 HiSat Y

20171210-P1140772 HiSat Or

20171210-P1140772 HiSat R

Touching males

Andrew Reiner, "The Power of Touch, Especially for Men", New York Times:
Of course, it would not be surprising if recent allegations of sexual assault by public figures make people even more skittish about initiating or receiving physical contact.

Indeed, many men self-police their hands around each other. In younger men this manifests in the ubiquitous “No homo!” response if they accidentally touch another guy, and in older men it translates into the same awkward discomfort (read: fear) that I, and many men, experience when faced with reaching out to another male, even an intimate. Yet these reactions are a relatively modern phenomena. Men shared the same bed with strangers in early American taverns, and scholarship is unearthing letters — including ones from Abraham Lincoln — revealing how men sometimes nurtured same-sex friendships that were more emotionally and physically intimate in nonsexual ways than the relationships they shared with women. Some 19th-century tintypes, such as those collected in the book “Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection,” illustrate this.

The psychologist Ofer Zur notes that for most 20th- and 21st-century American men, physical contact is restricted to violence or sex. As the sociologist Michael Kimmel, who studies masculinity, said in an email, touch between straight men can occur only when physical contact “magically loses its association with homosexuality” — as happens in sports.

The fear that girds the lack of platonic touch among American men also fuels the destructive force of their hands, a 2002 study in the journal Adolescence found. Dr. Field was the lead author of the study, which looked at 49 cultures. “The cultures that exhibited minimal physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence,” she said. But “those cultures that showed significant amounts of physical affection toward their young children had virtually no adult violence.”
See my old post, Bleg: When Did Male Friendship Lose Its Warmth?

Is America too large and diverse for effective governance?

Ross Douthat in the NYTimes, "The Baker and the Empire":
The United States has the rules of a democratic republic but, increasingly, the cultural divisions of a sprawling Old World empire. We are governed by a Constitution, by the power of national majorities (or minorities with good luck in the Electoral College), and our laws are basically uniform across the land. But the scale and diversity of our country is vast and wild, encompassing immigrants from every part of the world and a native population riven by racial divisions, ideological wars, and a widening religious chasm.

Democratic life requires accepting that your own faction may be out of power roughly half the time. But in a culture this diverse and divided we trust our fellow citizens less, we share less with them, and we fear that any political defeat will leave our communities at their mercy, that if we lose power we will be routed and destroyed.

Meanwhile because we are so distant from our rivals, we cannot recognize that they share the same fears about what will happen if power is in our hands — or else we dismiss those fears as the pleadings of a wicked claque whose destruction is entirely merited.

As a conservative Catholic who works in a liberal milieu, I watched this happen after Obergefell v. Hodges. For its opponents, the same-sex marriage ruling was less frightening for what it did than for what they feared might follow: not just legal same-sex nuptials, but a sweeping legal campaign against the sexual revolution’s dissidents, in which conservative believers would be prodded out of various occupations, while their schools and hospitals and charities would be fined and taxes and regulated and de-accredited to death.

And liberals who felt ascendant in the Obama years simply couldn’t accept this fear as something to be managed and assuaged; to them, it was either ridiculous alarmism or a cloak for bigotry. [...]

This kind of cycle of incomprehension and aggression tends to destroy republics if it isn’t broken, if leaders can’t compromise ideological principles to maintain civic peace, if partisans can’t imagine how the world looks in communities vastly different from their own.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Bicycles in the snow


On the binding of word forms to structures of meaning: A quick note on computing in the mind

The basic linguistic process is the binding of word forms to structures of meaning. I think that is an irreducibly computational process. Just how that computation works, that’s unknown. I note that the semantic system is richly structured and that much of syntax derives from that.

It is not necessarily the case that all the processes involved are themselves computational. The fact that we can simulate a neural net, at various levels of detail, on a digital computer does not mean that the neural net is itself computational, any more than simulating an atomic explosion implies that such explosions are computational.

Finally, I note that, when David Hays and I wrote “Principles and development of natural intelligence” (abstract below), we asserted that indexing is what transformed apes into humans. It was indexing that gave us language as we now know it.

More later.

* * * * *

William L. Benzon and David G. Hays. Principles and development of natural intelligence. Journal of Social and Biological Structures 11, 1988, pp. 293-322.

Abstract: The phenomena of natural intelligence can be grouped into five classes, and a specific principle of information processing, implemented in neural tissue, produces each class of phenomena. (1) The modal principle subserves feeling and is implemented in the reticular formation. (2) The diagonalization principle subserves coherence and is the basic principle, implemented in neocortex. (3) Action is subserved by the decision principle, which involves interlinked positive and negative feedback loops, and resides in modally differentiated cortex. (4) The problem of finitization resolves into a figural principle, implemented in secondary cortical areas; figurality resolves the conflict between pro-positional and Gestalt accounts of mental representations. (5) Finally, the phenomena of analysis reflect the action of the indexing principle, which is implemented through the neural mechanisms of language.

These principles have an intrinsic ordering (as given above) such that implementation of each principle presupposes the prior implementation of its predecessor. This ordering is preserved in phylogeny: (1) mode, vertebrates; (2) diagonalization, reptiles; (3) decision, mammals; (4) figural, primates; (5) indexing. Homo sapiens sapiens. The same ordering appears in human ontogeny and corresponds to Piaget's stages of intellectual development, and to stages of language acquisition.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Trees and branches


Don Giovanni on the front page

Writing in Musicology Now, the blog of the American Musicological Society, Kristi Brown-Montesano takes a look at Mozart's Don Giovanni, an opera about a sexual predator and rapist. She concludes:
Many of the acclaimed men who are now facing serious consequences for sexual harassment and assault have long operated in a culture that preferred to look the other way, not least because corporate employers and board members saw these men as too big to fail. Their brand was more important than the rights of alleged victims. The classical music world is no less implicated in this gentleman’s agreement. There have long been rumors and “open secrets” around conductors and applied teachers, who are often gatekeepers to major career opportunities. And few such secrets have been more open than those around James Levine, operating at the very heart of opera culture in this country. The self-interested and institutional protections around these men are finally--finally--toppling under the broad societal pressure for serious investigation.

Don Giovanni falls into a parallel category: an art product whose aesthetic value and guaranteed box-office receipts have deflected critical charges against the main character. My program note for Bilbao drew a hard line: the only way to make Don Giovanni worthy of our time, if indeed that is possible at all, is to listen more closely to the women. And if we really care about opera’s continued relevance, then everyone who loves the art form—directors, conductors, singers, critics, educators, audiences—must acknowledge the connection between what we applaud on stage and what we permit in the workplace, school, home. Because Donna Elvira could tell you, the “Catalogue Aria” is not so funny when your name, or the name of someone you love, is on the list.
H/t Tyler Cowen.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday Fotos: From yesterday's shoot






Calculating meaning in “Kubla Khan” – a rough cut

KK in Arches

In the spring of 1969 I became interested in Coleridge's "Kubla Khan". In the fall of 1970 I began drafting a master's thesis on the poem, hoping to create the kind of theory necessary to make sense out of its underlying logic. The theory didn't happen, but I discovered that the poem had an elaborate structure, one that (extensive) prior criticism had utterly failed to notice. In the fall of 1973 I went off to graduate school, hoping to create the theory I had been unable to create for my master's thesis. While the work I did with David Hays in linguistics was deeply satisfying, it wasn't the theory "Kubla Khan" required.

But that time the poem had become the touchstone of my intellectual life. I returned to it from time to time, thinking about it often and publishing on it in the the late 1980s and then again in the early 2000s. That last article was an advance over the previous one, but still not what the poem required.

I now believe I know what the poem requires and have posted a sketch under the title of this post. Here's the abstract:
Abstract: "Kubla Khan" and "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison" are constructed on utterly different schemes, though they share some of the same underlying components. "Kubla Khan" is ontological and impersonal in character and makes extensive use of convolution in calculating meanings. It reveals the structure of Being. "Lime-Tree Bower" is narrative and personal and makes little or no use of convolution. It reveals the unfolding of subjectivity in Time. The two poems also differ in their versification, a differences which is related to their different strategies of meaning.

If you're interested in discussing it, you can do so here:

When I say, I know what the poem requires, what does that mean? It means that, as far as I can tell, the conceptual space we need for understanding that poem is now "closed". The article outlines the nature of that closure. It will require a book to do significantly better, a book that integrates the ideas in this article with my previous work. The task of actually constructing a deep and satisfying account of the poem within that conceptual space will require the work of investigators having intellectual skills that I lack.

Is the study of English Lit going to implode in the next quarter century?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

All the fine grasses




Small groups and long memories make for cooperation

In a new paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports, University of Pennsylvania researchers use game theory to demonstrate the complex set of traits that can promote the evolution of cooperation. Their analysis showed that smaller groups in which actors had longer memories of their fellow group members' actions were more likely to evolve cooperative strategies.

The work suggests one possible advantage of the human's powerful memory capacity: it has fed our ability as a society to cooperate.

"In the past we've looked at the interactions of two players to determine the most robust evolutionary strategies," said Joshua B. Plotkin, a professor in Penn's Department of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences. "Our new analysis allows for scenarios in which players can react to the behaviors and strategies of multiple other players at once. It gives us a picture of a much richer set of social interactions, a picture that is likely more representative of the complexities of human behavior."
For the original researh: Alexander J. Stewart et al, Small groups and long memories promote cooperation, Scientific Reports (2016). DOI: 10.1038/srep26889
Abstract: Complex social behaviors lie at the heart of many of the challenges facing evolutionary biology, sociology, economics, and beyond. For evolutionary biologists the question is often how group behaviors such as collective action, or decision making that accounts for memories of past experience, can emerge and persist in an evolving system. Evolutionary game theory provides a framework for formalizing these questions and admitting them to rigorous study. Here we develop such a framework to study the evolution of sustained collective action in multi-player public-goods games, in which players have arbitrarily long memories of prior rounds of play and can react to their experience in an arbitrary way. We construct a coordinate system for memory-m strategies in iterated n-player games that permits us to characterize all cooperative strategies that resist invasion by any mutant strategy, and stabilize cooperative behavior. We show that, especially when groups are small, longer-memory strategies make cooperation easier to evolve, by increasing the number of ways to stabilize cooperation. We also explore the co-evolution of behavior and memory. We find that even when memory has a cost, longer-memory strategies often evolve, which in turn drives the evolution of cooperation, even when the benefits for cooperation are low. 

Night vision



Tweet of the Day: Dance to Despacito

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How the peculiar power of Ta-Nehisi Coates feeds on white guilt and despair

Brendan O'Neill, in Spiked:
His insights are bleak; they are for the most part an intellectualised version of the 21st-century politics of identity and victimhood, so that, in the words of one of his growing number of black critics, in Coates’ moral universe ‘whiteness and wrongness… become interchangeable’. Indeed, Coates’ obsession with whiteness ends up displacing black agency and autonomy — as the victim-oriented new politics of identity is wont to do — because in his ‘whiteness-as-talisman’ worldview, ‘those deemed white remain [America’s] primary actors’. So ironically — but logically, too, given that the politics of identity in its current incarnation is devoted largely to the diminution of the individual and the folding of him and her into victimised groups to which things happen, rather than the treatment of him or her as an individual who can make things happen — Coates’ anti-whiteness centres white people, makes them the adults of the story, gives them all the potential action — to observe themselves, correct themselves, better themselves — while blacks are mere ‘bodies’ for whom history is a violent act upon themselves rather than something they act upon. (Coates continually uses the term ‘black bodies’ to refer to black people.)

No, it isn’t his style and certainly not his optimism — there is none — that endears Coates to the liberal establishment, and most passionately to the white sections of it. Rather, this increasingly spiritual and needy celebration of Coates speaks to one of the darker, more socially destructive elements of the latest manifestation of the politics of identity: the use of historic black suffering to justify the self-loathing and fear of the future of the late, decadent bourgeoisie; the privileging, indeed, of the painful black experience as a means not of ensuring historic clarity about past events but as a key prop, the starring role, in fact, in the contemporary political establishment’s turning against its founding values and loss of faith in its project.

Coates plays a very important role for today’s American elites: he provides them with an intellectual justification for their growing dearth of belief in their republic and its values; he is an external expression of their internal crisis of historic legitimacy and purpose. He is less an independent thinker, in the mould of WEB Du Bois or James Baldwin, than a literary manifestation of the American establishment’s own turn against itself and its search for a proof that makes sense as to why it is right to do that.
The birth of 'black privilege':
In recent years, particularly from the 1960s, many thinkers have observed the shift of the left’s focus away from class to identity, from social relations and questions of economic power towards narrower, though of course legitimate concerns about inequality among people of different backgrounds. In more recent years, there has been a further shift in the post-1960s rehabilitation of the politics of identity by those who profess to be left — a move away even from the tangible if limited question of inequality towards more therapeutic notions of pain and recognition; of the right of identity groups not merely to have equal access to public life but to feel validated in their self-professed suffering and to be accorded resources or respect on that basis. As Christopher Lasch argued in his 1985 book, The Minimal Self, ‘the victim has come to enjoy a certain moral superiority in our society’; we have witnessed the ‘moral elevation of the victim’. Competing groups now ‘vie for the privileged status of victims’, as Lasch said.

And this creates a situation where they increasingly ‘appeal not to to the universal rights of citizenship but to a special experience of persecution’, Lasch argued. In short, where a society organised around democratic ideals, around the idea of the self-willed individual and his freedom to shape his life and even political life as he saw fit, naturally encouraged people to appeal to the ideal of citizenship — to demonstrate their capacity for citizenship — a society organised around the victim, around the sanctification of having experienced suffering, naturally invites people to disavow their capacity for citizenship and instead to accentuate their frailty, their insufficiency, their helplessness. This ‘moral elevation of the victim’ has intensified, enormously, since 1985, so that the demand and the living of the universal rights of citizenship have now almost entirely given way to the project of cultivating self-weakness and dismantling one’s citizenship. And these shifts in the modern politics of identity have had a particularly profound impact on black politics, and on the cultural privileging of the black experience. [...]

Coates represents, in many ways, the pinnacle of these developments, the embodiment of the privileging of the black experience by those who have experienced a profound and existential ‘loss of faith in the future’, in Lasch’s words. This is why white liberals venerate him and need him like they need air and water: he provides the story for their crisis of belief; his biographical experience gives coherence to their jettisoning of faith in universal values and the project of the American republic; his often pornographic focus on America’s alleged disgust with and ongoing torture of ‘black bodies’ titillates their own sense of self-loathing, and complicity, and guilt. The guilt of the republics, the shame of the Enlightenment — key themes of our misanthropic era.

And so white liberals actively welcome Coates’ chastising of them and their culture and history. Writing in Elle, the white liberal broadcaster Sally Kohn said all white people, especially white women, should read Coates because his ‘sharp edges’ and ‘hard truths’ will force whites to face ‘brutal reality’. It is ‘impossible to read [him] without wincing’, she says, ‘and it should be’. Because ‘discomfort is progress’. ‘Get even more uncomfortable’, she tells her fellow wealthy, well-connected white liberals, and then ‘spend the rest of your life’ thinking about what Coates says. This is not reading for intellectual expansion or pleasure — it is reading as self-punishment, the use of black pain to justify white self-loathing and liberal self-doubt. A perversely symbiotic relationship has developed between Coates and his largely white liberal readership, the former dutifully providing horror stories about ‘black bodies’, the latter dutifully lapping them up and feeling disgusted with themselves for their part in it all. This isn’t intellectualism — it’s a public performance of identitarian S&M.
H/t Glenn Loury.

On the beach: nature, culture




Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Dizzy Gillespie, “21st-century Gabriel”

Writing in The American Scholar David Grogan has given us what is perhaps the best short introduction to the life and achievement of John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie. Some excepts follow:
October 21, 2017, marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. Dizzy was a consummate showman: a trumpet virtuoso with blowfish cheeks and horn bent heavenward who in his prime played faster and higher than anyone before or since. In the popular imagination, he was typecast as the steadfast sidekick to saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, whose meteoric ascent into the jazz firmament and descent into heroin addiction fit the romantic archetype of an artistic genius doomed to die young. The late jazz critic Leonard Feather’s characterization of Dizzy as a “21st-century Gabriel” was more astute. Dizzy sounded a clarion call for the bebop revolution with his dazzling pyrotechnics on trumpet and harmonic innovations as a composer and arranger; expanded the ranks of the jazz vanguard by translating what Bird, Thelonious Monk, and other visionaries were doing into a language aspiring musical insurgents could understand; and then unleashed a host of ancestral spirits from the African diaspora by adding Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian polyrhythms to the mix. He exuded a spirit of joy both on and off stage that reflected his faith in the disarming power of music and laughter to promote racial harmony and world peace, and he was unabashedly “dizzy,” a scatterbrained genius, full of boundless kinetic energy, who left a trail of madcap mayhem behind him.
“In traditional African societies, they say there are times when the creator sends down musical prophets to lift up our spirits,” says pianist Randy Weston. “Dizzy was one of those prophets.” In the late 1940s, Weston was helping his father run a soul food restaurant in their Brooklyn brownstone and met Dizzy around the corner at drummer Max Roach’s house, a favorite hangout for beboppers. What left the most indelible impression on Weston was seeing Dizzy onstage with his Afro-Cuban orchestra, which featured the conga player Chano Pozo. “During the slave era,” Weston says, “the African drum was outlawed in America because our ancestors still remembered how you talk with the drum. They couald take a drum and send a message 20 miles away. When Dizzy had this jet-black Cuban propel his entire orchestra with one drum—bom de bop shoo bop shoo bam—that was a revolution.” Pozo’s style of percussion on “Manteca” and “Cubano Be/Cubano Bop” echoed the rhythms of Dizzy’s Yoruba ancestors. “The pulse of Mother Africa, which connects us as a global people, was at the heart of all his music,” says Weston.
The contradictions of genius:
“People didn’t recognize the full scope of Dizzy’s musical genius,” Schifrin says. “They thought he played too many notes. But like Mozart, he played exactly the notes he needed. He was a master of both harmony and melody. And no matter how fast he played, not one note was out of place.”

“He had an IQ of a million, but he couldn’t walk across a room without dropping something,” says Charles “Whale” Lake, who was Dizzy’s road manager for nearly a quarter century. “Every time we got into a limo to leave a hotel, I’d say, ‘Wait a second, John, I think I forgot something.’ Then I’d go back up to his room and find a trail of clothes, books, money, rolls of film, his passport. He was very unkempt.”
Clap your hands:
One evening, in his basement rec room, Dizzy gave me an impromptu lesson in rhythm. “White people clap their hands one two one two, but this goes one and two and one and two and,” he said. Then he began demonstrating a polyrhythmic pattern with his hands and feet while chanting, “Way down south in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten.” He chuckled as I struggled to match the dancelike movements of his limbs and keep a steady pulse by stomping on the downbeat with the heel of my right foot. “Whooee, our music is spiritually inspired,” he said.
Diz and Bird:
In 1947, Bird surprised Dizzy when he showed up at his first major concert at Car-negie Hall. “He walked out on stage with a rose,” Dizzy said. “It probably cost him his last 75 cents.” Even though the two teamed up for several historic concerts and recordings in the years that followed, Bird’s erratic behavior gradually tore them apart. Dizzy was forever haunted by his last encounter with Bird, a week before his death in March 1955. “I ran into him at a club called the Embers, on 52nd Street in New York, and he looked so sad. He said, ‘Save me.’ I said, ‘Man, nobody can save you. You have to save yourself.’ When I heard he died, it broke me up. I thought I would never get over it.”
His wife, Lorraine:
Dizzy credited one person with making sure he didn’t get sucked into a vortex of self-destruction like Bird. “My wife, Lorraine, is my Rock of Gibraltar,” he said. When they met in 1937, paying gigs were scarce for Dizzy and she was a petite young widow earning subsistence wages as a member of a traveling troupe of chorus girls. Dizzy was attracted by her lissome beauty and wicked sense of humor, as well as her moral rectitude. “While the rest of the chorus girls were up in the wings looking for musicians who would take them to after-hours joints, she’d be down in the dressing room, knitting or crocheting or reading.” At first she ignored the mash notes Dizzy sent her. But their romance blossomed after she saw him begging outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem for 15 cents to buy a bowl a soup. Lorraine curbed Dizzy’s reckless spending, helped him negotiate with shady booking agents, and brought a sense of emotional stability to his life.
His woman on the side and the mother of his only child:
Bryson’s affair with Dizzy continued for several years while she struggled to raise Jeanie on a paltry income from a variety of temporary jobs. “The money I got from Dizzy was irregular, and only when I saw him in person,” she says. Everything changed after she pressed for steady child support and Lorraine found out about Jeanie. “All hell broke loose. Lorraine had to deal with three really hurtful things. One: I was 20 years younger than her. Two: I was white. But the real kicker: I had the baby. Dizzy later told me, ‘She never lets me forget it. She just sits in the house and doesn’t say anything.’ ” Dizzy formally agreed to make monthly child support payments of $125. Bryson’s relationship with Dizzy unraveled after that. “I never had any illusions that he and I were going to ride off into the sunset together,” she says. “But I was madly in love with this man, madly in love. And he loved Jeanie.”
There's more – the article goes on through his conversion to Baha'i to his death, but these excerpts will have to do. It's an excellent article.

I met Gillespie twice, once in Baltimore after a concert he gave at Morgan State in the early 1970s, and once in Buffalo at a club in the mid-1970s, where I was introduced to him by Frank Foster, who was teaching at SUNY Buffalo at the time. I opened for him once, in Albany in 1984.

Tim Burke on contemporary politics in the USofA

Hand style found in Hoboken






Story-telling among hunter-gatherers supports cooperation

Cooperation and the evolution of hunter-gatherer storytelling

Daniel Smith, Philip Schlaepfer, Katie Major, Mark Dyble, Abigail E. Page, James Thompson, Nikhil Chaudhary, Gul Deniz Salali, Ruth Mace, Leonora Astete, Marilyn Ngales, Lucio Vinicius & Andrea Bamberg Migliano

Nature Communications 8, Article number: 1853 (2017)


Storytelling is a human universal. From gathering around the camp-fire telling tales of ancestors to watching the latest television box-set, humans are inveterate producers and consumers of stories. Despite its ubiquity, little attention has been given to understanding the function and evolution of storytelling. Here we explore the impact of storytelling on hunter-gatherer cooperative behaviour and the individual-level fitness benefits to being a skilled storyteller. Stories told by the Agta, a Filipino hunter-gatherer population, convey messages relevant to coordinating behaviour in a foraging ecology, such as cooperation, sex equality and egalitarianism. These themes are present in narratives from other foraging societies. We also show that the presence of good storytellers is associated with increased cooperation. In return, skilled storytellers are preferred social partners and have greater reproductive success, providing a pathway by which group-beneficial behaviours, such as storytelling, can evolve via individual-level selection. We conclude that one of the adaptive functions of storytelling among hunter gatherers may be to organise cooperation.