Thursday, November 30, 2017

Tillerson's folly and the distinction between personal and public interests and duties

The NYTimes has an article about the damage Tillerson has done to the State Department. The article contains this paragraph:
Equally damaging, Mr. Tillerson’s insular management style alienated or marginalized many of the department’s most experienced hands. He and the small team around him seemed to view foreign policy professionals as the enemy — a “deep state” opposed to Mr. Trump’s agenda. In this they were profoundly wrong. Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked closely with hundreds of Foreign Service officers and civil servants through Democratic and Republican administrations. To a person, they take pride in checking their personal beliefs at the department’s door and working for the success of whatever administration they serve. I could not tell you the political affiliation of any of the officers with whom I served.
The distinction, the one I've highlighted, is critical to a properly functioning bureaucracy. Your personal beliefs and interests are one thing and they must be kept separate from the duties and commitments governed by your job. Start at the top, with citizen Trump, this administration is short on people who routinely and reflexively make this distinction.

For two other versions of the same distinction, see the last three paragraphs of my recent post, Janet Hays, a brief remembrance.

Sparkychan and Gojochan wondering why all these powerful human males can't keep it in their pants

Impeach them all.jpg

California is using China to pressure Detroit over battery-powered vehicles

China’s push to become a major player in electric cars is already shaking up the global auto industry. California’s governor is hoping it will also give the state an advantage in its continuing showdown with Detroit over battery-powered vehicles.

Gov. Jerry Brown said on Wednesday evening at an event in San Francisco that China’s electric-car effort would help California withstand demands from American automakers that the state ease back on its effort to put more clean-burning vehicles on the road. California mandates that manufacturers sell a small but growing percentage of electric cars or plug-in hybrid vehicles, which run on both gasoline and electricity.

Detroit says the mandate is technologically infeasible.

“Even now, some of the automobile companies are trying to come out and say ‘Gee, the standards in a few years will be too tough,’” Governor Brown said. “‘Will you let us off the hook?’”

But speaking at the The New York Times’s Climate Tech conference, Governor Brown said China’s push puts pressure on Detroit’s automakers to more quickly embrace electric cars or be overwhelmed by the competition.

President Trump, Thank you! Thank you for all the women who have come forward with stories about being harassed and raped


Yes, citizen Trump has played a major role in the parade of accusations, albeit an indirect and unintended role to be sure.

The president of the United States serves two functions: 1) he governs the nation and, 2) he’s a symbol of the nation. The British separate these functions. The monarch is a symbol of the nation, but has no power to govern. The monarch doesn’t introduce legislation or sign it, doesn’t negotiate and sign treaties, doesn’t issue regulations, and so forth. Those are functions of government, and those functions belong to the prime minister. But the prime minister is not asked to shoulder the burden of being a national symbol.

It is in his role as national symbol that citizen Trump has motivated and energized these women to tell their stories. As a symbol of the nation citizen Trump represents our ideas and ideals, our hopes and aspirations, our values and commitments. These women are telling us that they do not want a sexual predator as the symbol of our nation, and they are saying this in the most powerful way that they can, but outing the powerful men who have preyed on them.

No more!

To be sure, citizen Trump is not the first president with unsavory sexual attitudes and actions. But he has come to office at a time when the press, for whatever reason, has decided that it will no longer look the other way. Moreover, he has come to office, not from a career in politics, but from a show-biz career. Thus it is fitting that men in show business are among the most prominent predators being called to account before the public, if not before the law.

Yes, Ronald Reagan was a movie star. But he came to the presidency after two terms as governor of California. And he knew something that 45 does not, he knew there was a deep and fundamental distinction to be made between his personal interests and activities and his actions as head of state. Citizen Trump treats that distinction with utter contempt and disdain, the way he treats women.

By ignoring the distinction between his person and the nation he governs, citizen Trump dishonors and damages the nation. Powerful men ignore a similar distinction – perhaps even, when you think about it, the same distinction – when they prey on women who serve them. When these women speak out to demand recognition, redress, and above all, dignity and respect, they are by that fact speaking on behalf of the nation. Let them and their actions symbolize these United States of America.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Some thoughts about Cleopatra’s Pumps


How time flies. It was only Friday that I announced my photography project, “Cleopatra’s Shoes, or the F Me Pump”, and already I’m reflecting on it, like I’ve learned something. Well, I’ve taken 350 photos or so and I’ve uploaded 137. I’ve got specific plans for more. In particular, I really want to get shots of Ms. Cleo at this miniature castle, if I can find it again (there are no signs or paths leading the way):


And of course I’d like to get some shots of her with her sisters at Wayquay’s joint:




But why, why more photos when you’ve already got so many?

Why not?

But, yes, the question’s a good one, and I’ve been pondering it. Basically, I’m playing, I’m exploring.

Rejected @NLH! Part 4: Déjà vu all over again at New Literary History + Welcome to the club, Franco! [#DH #Canon/Archive]

I've been reading the new Canon/Archive by Franco Moretti and 13 others and decided to bump this post to the top of the queue for reasons that will become obvious when you read addition I've made to the head of the post.


In the first paragraph of his preface to Canon/Archive Moretti tells us how the Literary Lab decided to publish its own pamphlets:
A well-known scholarly journal had been asking for an article on new critical approaches, and that’s where we sent the piece once it was finished. But it came back with so many requests for corrections that it felt like a straightforward rejection. It was dismaying; a few years ago, computational criticism was still shunned by the academic world, and we couldn’t help thinking that what was being turned down was not just an article, but a whole critical perspective. And since we also thought that the essay was perfectly fine as it was, we decided that—instead of trying our fortune with another journal (or, god forbid, making the required alterations)—we would publish it on our own, as a document of the Literary Lab. I cannot remember how the term “pamphlet” came up; and, frankly, it wasn’t even the right one: pamphlets have a public vocation that our work, with its heavily technical aspects, couldn’t possibly have. But the word captured the euphoria of being on our own; the freedom to publish what we wanted, when and how we wanted: short, long, even very long, our pamphlets never come out a minute earlier than they’re ready, nor a minute later, either; and without going through the grinder of editing “styles.” And all this, because “Quantitative Formalism” was rejected by—Never mind. They did us a favor.
YES! To all of it, been there, done that. The following post tells how I was rejected at MLN early in my career in 1980 and at NLH just last year. It's pretty clear in both cases that "what was being turned down was not just an article, but a whole critical perspective." Moreover, it is computation that was being rejected in those cases as well as Moretti/LitLab's. I had framed the MLN submission as being structuralist, which it was in a way, but it was computational at its heart. The NLH submission was explicitly computational. Silly me, I thought the critical world was changing.

As for the term "pamphlet", it's fine. But hundreds if not thousands of academic, government, and industrial labs issue things called "technical reports", some of which become articles in the formal literature, and many do not. I've read 100s if not thousands of these tech reports, and have even written two (back at the Center for Manufacturing Productivity and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute).

And I certainly understand "the freedom to publish what we wanted ... long, even very long". Some of my best work takes the form of pieces that are too long for journal publication but too short for monograph publication. The economics of hardcopy publication places restrictions on what can be published and therefore, if only indirectly, on what is thought. 

More later on Canon/Archive.

* * * * *

I’ve been discussing a manuscript of my that was rejected at New Literary History:
Sharing Experience: Computation, Form, and Meaning in the Work of Literature,
In previous posts I’ve laid some groundwork, first discussing why I decided to submit to NLH, then positioning the article within my larger intellectual project, and, most recently, recounting the history of literary criticism in the 1970s as it moved from openness to closure.

That brings us to 1980, when I decided to submit an essay about “Kubla Khan” to MLN. It was turned down on the basis of a deeply conflicted set of reviewer’s comments. Some of those comments are resonant with comments made by the reviewer who rejected the current essay for NLH. It’s that resemblance that, in part, prompted me to once more re-examine the 1970s and to write this series of posts.

In this post I begin by telling the story of being rejected at MLN. Then I discuss my rejection at NLH, in two parts. In the first part I discuss the similarities between the two rejections. In the second part I suggest that the NLH reviewer is skeptical about computing for reasons that seem more ideological than the result of well-informed study.

“Kubla Khan” – Rejected at MLN

In 1972 I filed a master’s thesis with the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins. I forget the exact title, but it was a more or less structuralist analysis of “Kubla Khan,” the work that prompted me to go all-in on the emerging cognitive sciences (though the term, “cognitive science”, wasn’t coined until 1973). It wasn’t until 1980 that I decided to publish that work. I deleted a lot of the philosophical discussion, added some new diagrams of a style owing more to cognitive science than structuralism, and sent it out under the title “Articulate Vision: A Structuralist Reading of ‘Kubla Khan’.” By that time I’d ceased thinking of myself as a structuralist, after all I written a 1978 dissertation entitled “Cognitive Science and Literary Theory”, but I presented the paper that way because I figured that a literary audience would at least recognize structuralism.

But where should I submit it? No one was publishing essays like that.

I decided to submit to the comparative literature issue of MLN. The basic reason was simple; Richard Macksey edited that issue and he’s the one who directed that master’s thesis. Moreover the comparative literature issue publishes theoretical pieces, which this more or less was. And, of course, MLN had published my first cognitive networks piece in the special Centennial Issue, “Cognitive Networks and Literary Semantics” (MLN 91: 952-982, 1976).

So I submitted the piece to MLN. Macksey had to turn it down because the reviewer’s report was unfavorable. The reader noted that “I found myself teetering on the edge of Kubla’s girdling wall, uncertain whether to tip one way and fall into Benzon’s enchanted ground, or the other way and run from his tables and charts”. Note the reviewer’s alarm at the diagrams [1], which were somewhat more complicated than the one’s that Mark Rose had apologized for in Shakespearean Design back in 1972 [2]. The reviewer goes on to register “surprise at encountering a straightforward, unembarrassed structuralist analysis” in the deconstructive era.

Yet the reviewer acknowledges that those same charts “have a real value in coming to terms with the text, and I will no doubt refer to them when I teach the poem.” That strikes me as a very strong positive remark, a clear statement of his approval. After all, you don’t – at least I didn’t – ordinarily base your teaching on far-out crazy ideas; you are conservative in what you present to students. The reviewer went on, however, to complain that the essay “ought to argue with itself, to put into question some of the patterns it establishes – or better, perhaps to let the poem talk back.” And after this that and the other, they [yes, I know, but I prefer that usage to the more awkward “his or her”] flatly recommend against publication, no chance for revision.

It was a strange and conflicted review. The analysis seems to have made sense to the reviewer but did so in terms so at odds with their sense of the proper (deconstructive) way to approach a poem that they were in the grip of cognitive dissonance. It shouldn’t have made sense at all. But it did, gosh darn it! What to do? The easiest way to resolve that dissonance was simply to wish my article out of existence, that is, to reject it. Whatever Macksey himself may have thought about the article, he had little or no choice but to follow the reviewer’s advice and reject it.

And you know, come to think of it, since I knew Macksey personally, I called him up and we discussed the rejection. I don’t recall the discussion in any detail, though I remember that his wife, Catherine picked up the phone, but it was amiable. Macksey acknowledged the review was strange, but I didn’t push him on it. And that was that. But I’m not in a position to call Rita Felski, the editor of NLH.

Rejection at NLH

The reviewer at NLH didn’t express any such conflict or ambivalence. The rejection was firm and unequivocal. That’s quite clear. Beyond that, however, I’m a bit up in the air since I don’t know who the reviewer was and so have no sense of what they know. In particular, what do they know of computing, which is how I framed by article?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sun Flower Graffiti


Ah, that's what happened to my refrigerator...


In this brave new world (the Twitterverse)...

... a mathematician, a philosopher, and a science fiction writer went into a bar...

Well, not exactly. As the title says, it was cyberspace. And they didn't go into it. They just reached out and touched it, and were there. The mathematician is Mark Changizi, Tim Morton is the philosopher, and Adam Roberts: science fiction writer. I've met and know each of them in cyberspace, at different times and places. I've actually met Tim in real geophysical space as well.

Anyhow, I was hanging out in the Twitter Saloon and these three entered. That is to say, just a few moments ago I sent them the following string of tweets:
I'm wondering, Mark, if hanging out in 'cyberspace' will change people's 'natural' intuitions about space? Our basic intuitions about space derive from the physical world. But that space, what IS that space, anyhow? /1

As a mathematician and psychologist you know that those are not simple questions. However, in middle school we learn Euclidean geometry in 2 dimensions and pick up a third later. We tend to think of that as "real" space. /2

Then, depending on this and that, many of us will pick up a smattering of other geometries. Add a 4th dimension, drop the parallel postulate, etc. We may even pick up a smattering of topology. /3

Thus '6 degrees of separation' has been in circulation for so long and so widely that it has a fairly secure place in pop intellectual culture. And that's topology. That's social media. When we make & break friends.. /4 this space, send messages to 1,3, many, all, etc. we're moving about and manipulating this space. We do so 'naturally', 'intuitively'. Think of those intuitions as the ground on which to construct formal mathematical knowledge. /5

The physical symbols and gestures we use to do this via the 'man-machine interface' form the concrete trace of those intuitions. Relatively young children are doing this. Are their minds being readied for new things? /6

And now, leaping over several tall buildings, we have Tim Morton over there writing about 'hyperobjects' of which climate change is his paradigm example. What do you get when you cross climate change with topology? Hyperobjects. /7

A science fiction writer (Adam Roberts), a philosopher (Tim Morton), a mathematician (Mark Changizi). The new "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou"? /8
I have no idea whether or not any of those will lead to a discussion. As the Indian (played by Chief Dan George) said in that movie (Little Big Man), "Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't".

If you're interested, you can pick up the conversation here:

* * * * *

Changizi's reply:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mysterioso in blue


New Savanna hit a new high on Thanksgiving Day

Here's the stats for the day after:

11-24-17 totals

And Thanksgiving Day, the 23th, would be the previous day: 12,262. So we've got:
  • August 11, 2017: 11,109
  • November 8, 2017: 11,870
  • November 23, 2017: 12,261
How high can we go? Is this as high as it gets for 2017, or will we see another peak? Who knows? I certainly don't.

Here we can see the Thanksgiving Day spike:


Here's hits listed by country for the last week. Notice that Brazil is 3rd after France and, of course, the USA:


That was also the case for the last month:


But it's certainly not the case for all time, where Brazil isn't even in the top 10. Here's the situation for that one day, the 24th:


So, why the pick up from Brazil in the last month or so? Note that today, the 26th, Brazil is 6th, behind USA, France, Canada, Indonesia, and India.

Paul Bloom on Cruelty and Violence

Manne’s analysis can be seen as an exploration of an observation made by Margaret Atwood—that men are afraid that women will laugh at them, and women are afraid that men will kill them. For Manne, such violent episodes are merely an extreme manifestation of everyday misogyny, and she extends her analysis to catcalling, attitudes toward abortion, and the predations of Donald Trump.

Nor are the mechanisms she identifies confined to misogyny. The aggressions licensed by moral entitlement, the veneer of bad faith: those things are evident in a wide range of phenomena, from slaveholders’ religion-tinctured justifications to the Nazi bureaucrats’ squeamishness about naming the activity they were organizing, neither of which would have been necessary if the oppressors were really convinced that their victims were beasts.

If the worst acts of cruelty aren’t propelled by dehumanization, not all dehumanization is accompanied by cruelty. Manne points out that there’s nothing wrong with a surgeon viewing her patients as mere bodies when they’re on the operating table; in fact, it’s important for doctors not to have certain natural reactions—anger, moral disgust, sexual desire—when examining patients. The philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum has given the example of using your sleeping partner’s stomach as a pillow when lying in bed, and goes on to explore the more fraught case of objectification during sexual intercourse, suggesting that there’s nothing inherently wrong about this so long as it is consensual and restricted to the bedroom.

As a philosopher, Manne grounds her arguments in more technical literature, and at one point she emphasizes the connection between her position and the Oxford philosopher P. F. Strawson’s theory of “reactive attitudes.” Strawson argued that, when we’re dealing with another person as a person, we can’t help experiencing such attitudes as admiration and gratitude, resentment and blame. You generally don’t feel this way toward rocks or rodents. Acknowledging the humanity of another, then, has its risks, and these are neatly summarized by Manne, who notes that seeing someone as a person makes it possible for that person to be a true friend or beloved spouse, but it also makes it possible for people to be “an intelligible rival, enemy, usurper, insubordinate, betrayer, etc.”
It's not simply dehumanization:
Certainly, Pitzer’s description of various concentration camps contains so many examples of cruelty and degradation that it’s impossible to see them as a mere failure to acknowledge the humanity of their victims. As the scholar of warfare Johannes Lang has observed of the Nazi death camps, “What might look like the dehumanization of the other is instead a way to exert power over another human.”

The limitations of the dehumanization thesis are hardly good news. There has always been something optimistic about the idea that our worst acts of inhumanity are based on confusion. It suggests that we could make the world better simply by having a clearer grasp of reality—by deactivating those brain implants, or their ideological equivalent. The truth may be harder to accept: that our best and our worst tendencies arise precisely from seeing others as human.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Janet Hays, a brief remembrance

Mike and Heather's Wedding - Professional Photos

I was taking my shower Thursday morning, Thanksgiving day, and thought, “I ought to tell Janet, she’d like that”. I’d just posted something about her husband (and my teacher) to Twitter and it had gotten a nice acknowledgement. The last time we’d spoken Janet had mentioned that she thought that Dave, who’d died in 1995, had never gotten the recognition he deserved. This little bit of recognition, and it was only a little bit, would have pleased her.

But Janet had died a week earlier. So I couldn’t share that bit of news with her.

That’s how it is when people die. You can’t talk with them anymore. You lose a world of conversation with each person who dies. For me, there are conversations I can only have with one or two people. When one of them dies, so does a bit of me.

* * * * *

Let me tell you one story about Janet. I’d met her when I was studying with Dave Hays in graduate school at SUNY Buffalo back in the mid-1970s. She’d come to live with him just before they got married. This is a photograph taken on their wedding day:


They’re standing in the library of their house, which was on about a hectare of land on the eastern shore of Lake Erie.

I don’t know when this particular conversation took place, before or after their marriage or, for that matter, after they’d left Buffalo and moved in New York City in the early 1980s. Just when and where  doesn’t matter much. The substance does, for it is one of those “touchstone” moments that I keep with me for one purpose or another. The purpose of this moment is intellectual.

I was talking to Janet and to Dave about my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins and told them about a class I’d taken in Milton in my junior year. I had no particular interest in Milton and his Paradise Lost, and rather suspected I wouldn’t like him all that much. But I took the course because it was a ‘last hurrah’ for a legendary scholar, Don Cameron Allen. He taught the course with the comic delivery of W.C. Fields.

It was a wonderful course. And, no, I didn’t warm up to Milton. But I saw that he was a great poet, that his purpose in Paradise Lost was a deep and noble one – to justify God’s ways to man – and that I could appreciate his greatness despite the fact that I didn’t particularly like his stern Protestant world view. That was very important, learning to discriminate between my own particular tastes and interests and artistic greatness.

Janet responded by observing that she learned pretty much the same distinction while studying social work. You must respect and serve your clients regardless of whether or not you find them personally appealing. Deep down it’s the same distinction I learned in studying Milton and Janet saw it instantly. That distinction is an important one to make and I was grateful to Janet for pointing out that the distinction is about more than literature. It is about how we interact with others.

Cleopatra enters Rome

This is the scene in Cleopatra, the 1963 historical epic, where Cleopatra enters Rome, where she meets Mark Antony, who would become the love of her life. At 5:53 Mark Antony remarks to Caesar, "Nothing like this has come into Rome since Romulus and Remus" – and they're weren't real, just myths. Finally, at about 6:04, we see Cleopatra, draped in gold, wearing a gold headpiece, and showing a bit of cleavage.

But no funk me pumps. FAKE NEWS!

She's enthroned between the paws of a large black sphinx pulled by a cast of thousands. She's higher than the mighty Caesar, who must thus look up to her. The ladies or Rome are looking mighty disgruntled. Bet they were waiting for the fuck me pumps.

The role of Cleopatra was played by Elizabeth Taylor. Richard Burton played Antony. Their behind the scenes love affair was the talk of the nation.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Fotos: Cleopatra’s Shoes, or, the F Me Pump

I recently explained how I found a woman’s shoe on the street and decided to use it as a prop for photographs. That has blossomed into a photography project I’m (tentatively) calling “Cleopatra’s Shoes, or the F Me Pump”. Why Cleopatra? Here’s how Shakespeare introduces her in Antony and Cleopatra:


I suppose that Harvey Weinstein, Leon Wieseltier, Donald Trump, and other of their ilk think that a woman wearing such a shoe is “asking for it”. That betrays their insecurity, contempt for women, and utter lack of imagination.

Cleopatra may well have been flaunting it, but that’s very different from asking for it. If she is flaunting it, then, she may signal that you are welcome to ask for it provided you do so with desire, imagination, politesse, and respect. She’s also playing. And you know how the cliché goes, don’t you? Fun is fundamental.

And, you know what, I’ll bet Antony flaunted his pumps too. Here’s how Shakespeare sends him off the stage:


Between them, Antony and Cleopatra ruled half the Mediterranean world. And they delighted in their F Me Pumps. It behooves us to do the same.

Here are some relevant videos pointed out to me by a few of my Facebook friends; friends, incidentally, who are also real-life friends.

Here’s the photos I’ve collected so far. Click on the angle brackets to scroll through the photos and  click on the photo itself to be whisked away to to my Flickr album fro the project, which currently has 76 photos, with more on the way.

The Eff Me Pump / Cleopatra's Shoe

They’re just raw material for the project, not the final product. What’s the final product? Don’t know. We’re not there yet.

Finally, the Shakespeare passages by themselves:
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women cloy
The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies; for vilest things
Become themselves in her: that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.
Antony and Cleopatra, Act 2, Scene 2

His legs bestrid the ocean: his rear'd arm
Crested the world: his voice was propertied
As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
There was no winter in't; an autumn 'twas
That grew the more by reaping: his delights
Were dolphin-like; they show'd his back above
The element they lived in: in his livery
Walk'd crowns and crownets; realms and islands were
As plates dropp'd from his pocket.
Antony and Cleopatra, Act 5, Scene 2

Sometimes the thing to do is declare the problem solved – and then, and only then, solve it: Is the REAL Singularity at hand? [#HEX01]

First you declare the problem solved and then figure out whether or not you’re right. The order is important, for the declaration is necessary to the set the stage for solving the problem. You can’t (usually don’t) do it the other way around.

What’s remarkable is that it seems to work. It’s worked for me several times, though only two specific occasions come to mind. One is quite recent, when I declared the “Kubla Khan” problem solved (yeah, I know, I know, there’s still work to be done proving it out). The other is years ago when I was working on my dissertation and I declared, yes, I’ve figured out Sonnet 129 – of as much of it as I needed to. But I’m sure it’s happened several times in between, though I can’t come up with specific occasions.

But why does it work?

Solving the large complex unknown

The problems are relatively large and complex and I have no model to guide me to a solution. I don’t know what I’m looking for.

Let’s step outside and imagine we’ve got transcendental knowledge of these sort of problems. We see the problem to be solved, and we in fact know how to solve it. We also see the investigator working on it and we know what he knows. There comes a time when he has all the pieces to hand. He can solve the problem at any time simply by putting the pieces the right way. That is, he’s got all the components, but lacks a plan for their proper assembly.

One can wonder whether or not such a concrete metaphor is very useful in understanding such an abstract matter. I’m aware of the problem. There is a crucial distinction between components and a plan for their assembly. But is that a real distinction? Let’s go ahead as though it is.

What does he do? It depends. If he thinks more components are needed ¬– though he’s not likely to be thinking in terms of components and assembly plan – he’ll go on looking for more components and miss the opportunity to assemble the missing ones in the proper way. If however he decides, for whatever reason, that he’s got all that he needs, then it becomes possible to intuit the assembly plan, though it may take a bit of fiddling. That is, the plan itself is not a big deal. It’s knowing when you’ve reached the state where all you need is a scheme for assembling the parts you’ve got. Once you’ve reached that point, the components will “tell” you how they go together.

What happens, in effect, if that you figure out how to see a duck, rather than a rabbit:


And thinking about ducks allows you to move ahead.

We’re living the Singularity

Well, I’m beginning to think we’ve got all the components for the next step in an understanding of, simulation of, and imitation of mind. I’ve been blogging around and about this for some time, but I’ll give particular notice to Wednesday’s post, Explain yourself, Siri, or Alex or Watson or any other AI that does interesting/amazing things and we don't know how it does it. I smell that the game is afoot. Beyond this I offer the concluding paragraphs from the paper I prepared for HEX01, Abstract Patterns in Stories: From the intellectual legacy of David G. Hays, which takes a historical look at relevant technical issues:
As a child my imagination was shaped by Walt Disney, among others. Disney, as you know, was an optimist who believed in technology and in progress. He had one TV program about the wonders of atomic power, where, alas, things haven’t quite worked out the way Uncle Walt hoped. But he also evangelized for space travel. That captured my imagination and is no doubt, in part, why I became a fan of NASA. I also watched The Jetsons, a half-hour cartoon show set in a future where everyone was flying around with personal jetpacks. And then there’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1969, which depicted manned flight to near-earth orbit as routine. In the reality of 2017 that’s not the case, nor do we have a computer with the powers of Kubrick’s HAL. On the other hand, we have the Internet and social media; neither Disney, nor the creators of The Jetsons, nor Stanley Kubrick anticipated that.

The point is that I grew up anticipating a future filled with wondrous technology. By mid-1950s standards, yes, we do have wondrous technology. Just not the wondrous technology that was imagined back then. One bit of wondrous future technology has been looming large for several decades, the super-intelligent computer. I suppose we can think of HAL as one instance of that. There are certainly others, such as the computer in the Star Trek franchise, not to mention Commander Data. For the last three decades Ray Kurzweil has been promising such a marvel under the rubric of “The Singularity”. He’s not alone in that belief. 

Color me skeptical.

But here’s how John von Neumann used the term: “The accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, give the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue”. Are we not there? Major historical movements are not caused by point events. They are the cumulative effect of interacting streams of intellectual, cultural, social, political, and natural processes. Think of global warming, of international politics, but also of technology, space exploration – Voyager 1 has left the solar system! – and the many ways we can tell stories that didn’t exist 150 years ago. Have we not reached a point of no return?

The future is now. Oh, I’m sure there are computing marvels still to come. Sooner or later we’re going to figure out how to couple Old School symbolic computing with the current suite of machine learning and neural net technologies and trip the lights fantastic in ways we cannot imagine. That day will arrive more quickly if we concentrate on the marvels we have at hand rather than trying to second guess the future. We are living in the singularity.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!




Complexity and technological evolution: What everybody knows?

Vaesen, K. & Houkes, W. Biol Philos (2017).
Publisher Name: Springer Netherlands
Print ISSN: 0169-3867
Online ISSN: 1572-8404
AbstractThe consensus among cultural evolutionists seems to be that human cultural evolution is cumulative, which is commonly understood in the specific sense that cultural traits, especially technological traits, increase in complexity over generations. Here we argue that there is insufficient credible evidence in favor of or against this technological complexity thesis. For one thing, the few datasets that are available hardly constitute a representative sample. For another, they substantiate very specific, and usually different versions of the complexity thesis or, even worse, do not point to complexity increases. We highlight the problems our findings raise for current work in cultural-evolutionary theory, and present various suggestions for future research.
I've included the final discussion below the fold.

* * * * *

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Out the window through a screen the sun shines indirectly




Explain yourself, Siri, or Alex or Watson or any other AI that does interesting/amazing things and we don't know how it does it

From the NYTimes:
It has become commonplace to hear that machines, armed with machine learning, can outperform humans at decidedly human tasks, from playing Go to playing “Jeopardy!” We assume that is because computers simply have more data-crunching power than our soggy three-pound brains. Kosinski’s results suggested something stranger: that artificial intelligences often excel by developing whole new ways of seeing, or even thinking, that are inscrutable to us. It’s a more profound version of what’s often called the “black box” problem — the inability to discern exactly what machines are doing when they’re teaching themselves novel skills — and it has become a central concern in artificial-intelligence research. In many arenas, A.I. methods have advanced with startling speed; deep neural networks can now detect certain kinds of cancer as accurately as a human. But human doctors still have to make the decisions — and they won’t trust an A.I. unless it can explain itself.

This isn’t merely a theoretical concern. In 2018, the European Union will begin enforcing a law requiring that any decision made by a machine be readily explainable, on penalty of fines that could cost companies like Google and Facebook billions of dollars. The law was written to be powerful and broad and fails to define what constitutes a satisfying explanation or how exactly those explanations are to be reached. It represents a rare case in which a law has managed to leap into a future that academics and tech companies are just beginning to devote concentrated effort to understanding. As researchers at Oxford dryly noted, the law “could require a complete overhaul of standard and widely used algorithmic techniques” — techniques already permeating our everyday lives.
And so we have a new research field, explainable A.I., or X.A.I.
Its goal is to make machines able to account for the things they learn, in ways that we can understand. But that goal, of course, raises the fundamental question of whether the world a machine sees can be made to match our own.
One expert, David Gunning, asserts:
“The real secret is finding a way to put labels on the concepts inside a deep neural net,” he says. If the concepts inside can be labeled, then they can be used for reasoning — just like those expert systems were supposed to do in A.I.’s first wave.
And so:
To create a neural net that can reveal its inner workings, the researchers in Gunning’s portfolio are pursuing a number of different paths. Some of these are technically ingenious — for example, designing new kinds of deep neural networks made up of smaller, more easily understood modules, which can fit together like Legos to accomplish complex tasks.
Makes sense. That's what the brain does, isn't it? Except that the network in even a small patch of neural tissue is huge in comparison to deep learning nets.

Perhaps language will help:
Five years ago, Darrell and some colleagues had a novel idea for letting an A.I. teach itself how to describe the contents of a picture. First, they created two deep neural networks: one dedicated to image recognition and another to translating languages. Then they lashed these two together and fed them thousands of images that had captions attached to them. As the first network learned to recognize the objects in a picture, the second simply watched what was happening in the first, then learned to associate certain words with the activity it saw. Working together, the two networks could identify the features of each picture, then label them. Soon after, Darrell was presenting some different work to a group of computer scientists when someone in the audience raised a hand, complaining that the techniques he was describing would never be explainable. Darrell, without a second thought, said, Sure — but you could make it explainable by once again lashing two deep neural networks together, one to do the task and one to describe it.

Darrell’s previous work had piggybacked on pictures that were already captioned. What he was now proposing was creating a new data set and using it in a novel way. Let’s say you had thousands of videos of baseball highlights. An image-recognition network could be trained to spot the players, the ball and everything happening on the field, but it wouldn’t have the words to label what they were. But you might then create a new data set, in which volunteers had written sentences describing the contents of every video. Once combined, the two networks should then be able to answer queries like “Show me all the double plays involving the Boston Red Sox” — and could potentially show you what cues, like the logos on uniforms, it used to figure out who the Boston Red Sox are.
Sounds promisin.

I wonder if these people could make sense of some obscure notes I wrote up a decade ago:

Abstract: These notes explore the use of Sydney Lamb’s relational network notion for linguistics to represent the logical structure of complex collection of attractor landscapes (as in Walter Freeman’s account of neuro-dynamics). Given a sufficiently large system, such as a vertebrate nervous system, one might want to think of the attractor net as itself being a dynamical system, one at a higher order than that of the dynamical systems realized at the neuronal level. A mind is a fluid attractor net of fractional dimensionality over a neural net whose behavior displays complex dynamics in a state space of unbounded dimensionality. The attractor-net moves from one discrete state (frame) to another while the underlying neural net moves continuously through its state space.

Abstract: These diagrams explore the use of Sydney Lamb’s relational network notion for linguistics to represent the logical structure of complex collection of attractor landscapes (as in Walter Freeman’s account of neuro-dynamics). Given a sufficiently large system, such as a vertebrate nervous system, one might want to think of the attractor net as itself being a dynamical system, one at a higher order than that of the dynamical systems realized at the neuronal level. Constructions include: variety ('is-a' inheritance), simple movements, counting and place notation, orientation in time and space, language, learning.

Introduction: This is a series of diagrams based on the informal ideas presented in
Attractor Nets, Series I: NotesToward a New Theory of Mind, Logic and Dynamics in Relational Networks, which explains the notational conventions and discusses the constructions. These diagrams should be used in conjunction with that document, which contains and discusses many of them. In particular, the diagrams in the first three sections are without annotation, but they are explained in the AttractorNets paper.
The rest of the diagrams are annotated, but depend on ideas developed in the attractor nets paper. 
The discussions of Variety and Fragments of Language compare the current notation, based on thework of Sydney Lamb, with a more conventional notion. In Lamb’s notation, nodes are logicaloperators (and, or) while in the more conventional notation nodes are concepts. The Lamb-basednotation is more complex, but also fuller.
And, we might as well toss these notes in as well:
From Associative Nets to the Fluid Mind. Working Paper. October 2013, 16 pp.

Abstract: We can think of the mind as a network that’s fluid on several scales of viscosity. Some things change very slowly, on a scale of months to years. Other things change rapidly, in milliseconds or seconds. And other processes are in between. The microscale dynamic properties of the mind at any time are context dependent. Under some conditions it will function as a highly structured cognitive network; the details of the network will of course depend on the exact conditions, both internal (including chemical) and external (what’s the “load” on the mind?). Under other conditions the mind will function more like a loose associative net. These notes explore these notions in a very informal way.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Intersection of the Worlds Realized in Two Media

I've been digging out old MacPaint images over in Twitter, so I thought I'd bump this to the top of the queue.
This is a slightly off-angle photograph of a painting I did in the summer of 1981:


When I started it I had a simple formal problem in mind, to do a painting that used a full range of colors. Id been doing paintings that leaned toward blues and reds and paintings that leaned toward blues and greens, but none that had all three in prominent use. That was the problem I started with in that painting. I approached it right off the bat by painting that rainbow arc of color patches across the top and right side. I then filled in the rest with appropriate imagery. Note the three worlds separated by the squid's tentacles: the yellow sky with the bluish sun, the forest with blue sky and stream, and the underwater scene with the strange ET-like face.

A couple years later I got a Macintosh and decided to realize that same image in the very limited medium of MacPaint, which gave me only white dots and black dots, no grays, much less color. Here's the final image:

3W7 framed

Big head


Been down so long a change is gonna’ come [#HEX01] [Ramble 9]

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, by Richard Fariña, 1966: “coming on like the Hallelujah Chorus done by 200 kazoo players with perfect pitch... hilarious, chilling, sexy, profound, maniacal, beautiful and outrageous all at the same time”–Thomas Pynchon.
I’m not going to try summarizing the novel. Just think about the title. What could that possibly mean? Well, I’m thinking it’s the story of my life.

Isn’t it the story of everyone’s life, up to a point, which you may not have yet arrived at, who knows?

I’ve lived under a cloud most of my adult life. The clouds, I think, are breaking up. The sun is shining through. & it’s not that the light hurts, because it doesn’t, but that it’s disorienting. I don’t know the world from this POV.

* * * * *

* * * * *

Are you familiar with the sociological concept of a reference group? It’s a group which you use as a standard for judging your behavior and accomplishments. When I got my PhD in English Literature, those people, academic literary critics, became my reference group. I started out strong, with good articles in good publications, and then that came to an end. I knew, of course, that my work was very different from standard literary criticism, and that caused problems, for me, not for them.

But I worked on literature, and they work on literature, no one else, so what choice have I had. They’re my reference group.

But maybe not. As I said yesterday, at last, someone’s interested in the technical work I did 40 years ago. And they’re not literary critics. They’re gamers.

Maybe I can stop worrying about academic literary criticism. They’re certainly not interested in my technical world, even those interested in cognitive criticism and computational criticism (two very different groups, BTW) have little use for it. And I can’t see making much headway with the descriptive folks, either. They seem more interested in theorizing description than in actually doing it. So we really don’t have anything to talk about. They’re not going to tumble to my ring-composition work. It’s actual description rather than theoretical throat-clearing in preparation for description at some later date.

So, let’s just bracket academic literary criticism for awhile. That profession is no longer a reference group for me. Let’s see if I can get somewhere with the gamers.

* * * * *

That’s one thing. And, in a way, it’s secondary. The big thing is that I think I’m finally going to be able to deliver on a task I set myself four and a half decades ago: to come to terms with, to understand, in some sense, the mechanisms underlying Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”.

I talked about “Kubla Khan” in the presentation I delivered at HEX01 (First Workshop on the History of Expressive Systems), only a week ago today (early in the morning). At the end James Ryan, one of the organizers, asked me whether I would get back to “Kubla Khan”. I forget exactly what I said, but it was something like “maybe/I hope to/someday/yes”. That was the short answer. The long answer isn’t really that long, but it was too long to give in that context.

The long answer is that I long ago made “Kubla Khan” my touchstone, my personal reference point, my North Star. I judge my intellectual progress by what it tells me about “Kubla Khan”. So I’ve thought about the poem – and it’s relation to “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” – off and on for most of my adult life. I did my MA thesis on it in 1972, published an updated version of that in 1985 (“Articulate Vision: A Structuralist Reading of “Kubla Khan”), and a considerably more sophisticated account in 2003 (“Kubla Khan” and the Embodied Mind). I count that last as considerable progress, but still, a way to go with no sense of just how far or even in what direction. In 2013 I put up a working paper, STC, Poetic Form, and a Glimpse of the Mind, in which I did a comparison between “Kubla Khan” and “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” that was considerably more detailed and sophisticated than the one I’d published way back in MLN in 1981, “Metaphoric and Metonymic Invariance: Two Examples from Coleridge” (obviously, my first formal publication on “Kubla Khan”). So, I’ve been through the poem five times in my career, including my unpublished master’s thesis. And, yes, to answer Ryan’s question, I hope to get to it again. But just when, I don’t know.

Well, a day or two later I got back to it. And I’ve declared the problem to be solved. Of course, there’s something of a gap between the declaration and the actual solution. I know that. And it’s not so much the solution that I’m after, but a sure sense of the terms in which a solution is likely to be found. That’s where I’m at.

Monday, November 20, 2017

At last, after 40 years, someone is listening [#DH]

That's from the First Workshop on the History of Expressive Systems. The image you see on the screen originated in my computer in Hoboken, NJ, and was being viewed, via Skype, in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal.

These people aren't literary critics. They're into gaming. That is to say, they are interested in stories, in creating interactive stories, and they think in computational terms. And that's how I've been thinking about literary texts for over 40 years. I can talk to them about Shakespeare, Coleridge, and Conrad in computational terms, but also Francis Ford Coppola, Walt Disney, King Kong, Gojira, and others. They need to know what I know, and vice versa.

The diagram in that image is from my 1976 article, Cognitive Networks and Literary Semantics, MLN 91: 1976, 952-982. Given the importance of MLN as a journal, and the fact that that particular issue was a special one commemorating 100 years of publication, I figured it would mark the beginning of a spectacular academic career. WRONG! Oh, the intellectual work's been good, at times even thrilling, but the literary academy wanted to go to Kansas (though that is not, perhaps, how they thought of it) and I wanted to go to the moon.

Have I found some fellow astronauts?

Stay tuned.

Special FX: The moon didn't fall in Alabama, either, but Jumper and Kong made a splash in JC

infant-stars & hot box spin 5.jpg

tumble rumble.jpg

down down down.jpg



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Either Tokyo was a lot smaller or I've shrunk since my glory days



As you can see from my most recent post, I have acquired a rather exotic women's shoe.  I was walking to the library when I spotted it on the sidewalk. Apparently discarded, a single shoe, left foot, size 7, "Kiss & Tell" – How's THAT for branding? There's a label on the sole at the instep that says, "All Man-Made Material Made in China". What does that mean? I understand "Made in China", but "All Man-Made Material" is ambiguous. Does it mean that all the materials are man-made (and they're made in China), so that the suede uppers are actually some artificial suede substance? Of does it mean that the man-made materials were made in China (the sole and heel are plastic) but the rest might well be natural? If so, was it also assembled in China?

Anyhow, as soon as I saw the shoe one of those little light-bulbs went off above my head:


So I grabbed it and put it in my backpack and then continued on to the library to return my film, Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, and pick up my book, King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson. There's a connection, you see, between King Kong and that shoe. King Kong died on the Empire State Building, right? Why not pose the shoe with the Empire State Building. Like this perhaps:


Notice that, from this angle, that size 7 woman's shoe is larger than that phallic whatsiewhoseit across the river.

Then I realized that these aren't the only photos of shoes I've got. For example, I found these hanging outside the improvised shack of some homeless person:

red shoes.jpg

And then we have the stash of women's shoes that my friend Wayquay is selling at The Ruins JC. Mostly women's shoes, but not all of them. I suppose we could say these baby booties (made by Wayquay herself) aren't shoes, strictly speaking, but they serve the same function, no?


And I've got other shoe shots as well, like these:


This, of course, is a minor sport.

Anyhow, I figured that, with these latest shots of the green shoe – I've got more that I haven't uploaded, and I plan to take more photos as well (perhaps in Narnia) – I should create a tag here at New Savanna (shoes) to capture those shots and write up a brief post acknowledging the importance of shoes.


Isn't that green just gorgeous! That shoe's the greatest prop ever!

Two views of Manahattan



BONUS below the fold –

"It was beauty killed the beast."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

OOO: Baby Jesus and the Sausage Roll

LONDON — A British bakery chain has apologized after creating a Nativity scene in which the baby Jesus, surrounded by three wise men, was replaced by a sausage roll.