Monday, October 14, 2019

Fire in life and animation

The board of the Bergen Arches Preservation Coalition (BPAC) when on a camping trip over the weekend and, of course, we had a campfire. Since I had my camera with me, I took lots of photos of the fire. Why? Because fire is fascinating, so quick and mercurial. It's wonderful to watch.

Fire has also fascinated artists. But I'm not interested in artists in general, but particular artists, the animators working for Walt Disney when the studio produced Fantasia. Fire was featured in two sequences, The Rite of Spring (volcanoes) and Night on Bald Mountain, where the devil Chernobog played with fire on his hand in one sequence.

Reading the Human Swarm 4: Summer camp and beyond – another digression [F2F group & society]

I went camping with some friends over the weekend, and got thinking about summer camp, which is not quite the same thing as camping. By summer camp I mean children and teenagers going to some place, traditionally rural, where then sleep in relatively simple quarters and engage in various outdoor activities for a week, two weeks, or more at a time. According to the Google Ngram chart below, phrase “summer camp” started an upswing in the first decade of the 20th century and really shot up in the second decade.

I’ll take that as an index of when the practice took hold in America.

But what, you’re asking, does that have to do with The Human Swarm? A lot. For Moffett makes a crucial distinction between a face-to-face band or group and a society. Everyone knows everyone else in the band. But that’s not the case with a society, which typically includes several to many bands. Societies divide the world into those who are in the group and those who are not, insiders and outsiders. You don’t need to have a personal relationship with everyone in your society, indeed, you cannot, for the society is too large for that. All that’s necessary is that you have some way of recognizing that a person IS in your society.

So what’s that have to do with summer camp?

Simple, when a kid goes to summer camp they have to leave their everyday face-to-face group and (figure out how to) live with a bunch of strangers for the duration. Those strangers, of course, are members of the kid’s society. That’s what makes summer camp possible. But, and here’s the point, it’s all well and good that you share the same stories and symbols with others in your society, but that’s a little abstract. When you go to summer camp you have to interact with these fellow citizens in a way that’s different from living at home. At home your have your familiars, family and friend, but all those casual acquaintances and strangers you deal with, the owner of the candy store, the cop on the corner, and so forth. That’s all gone at camp.

At camp you have to reconstitute your life, at least for a couple of weeks, without benefit of your familiars. You’re on your own, kid. And you survive, have fun, and even thrive. In this way society takes on a deep lived and livable reality that those symbols do not have.

Let’s push further. I have had to uproot myself and reconstitute my life four times: First when I left home (in Johnstown, PA) and went to college (in Baltimore, MD), second when I went to graduate school (in Buffalo, NY), third when I took a faculty job at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (in Troy, NYO, and then fourth when I moved to Jersey City, NJ, to work in a start-up company (which failed, but I stayed in the area). This is a fairly common experience among my friends and family.

I would really like to know just how common it is in America in general. How many people are born, live, and die in the same place? How many have had to uproot themselves once, twice, and so forth? I don’t know, but I’d like to.

This article in The Atlantic in 2016 indicates that “the average person in the United States moves residences more than 11 times in his or her lifetime.” I’m nowhere near that. But I’m not sure just what “moves residences” means. I moved to Jersey City in 1999. I then moved to Hoboken in 2010, I believe, back to Jersey City in 2012, and then back to Hoboken in 2015. So I’ve switched residences three times since moving to this area (Hoboken and Jersey City are next to one another, across the Hudson River from Manhattan). As far as I’m concerned that’s all one area, one set of friends and so forth. But it might be counted as four separate residences by the Census Bureau, which is the source of the information in the article. Still, that doesn’t had up to 11.

But you get my point. We move around a lot, and that bears on the distinction Moffett makes between group and society. The mobility is made possible by society while the actual moving around gives weight and heft to being a member of the society.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

In the woods and among the trees

Five Princes (and two dogs) of Serendip were sitting on the shore of a campsite in northern New Jersey...

...when along comes a Spotted Lanternfly that lands on the thumb of Prince Adam:

Prince Bill (that's me) then took a photograph of it, several in fact. Why? Because he had his camera with him and he likes to take photographs, more or less on general principle, and of whatever strikes his fancy.

We [to drop the Princes of Serendip conceit, but not the story that goes with it] chatted a bit about this creature, wondered what it was and what it was doing, and then it jumped away. And that was that. When I got home that evening I rendered some of the (over 640) photos I'd taken, including that one. Earlier this morning I posted the photo to an photo group I belong to, the Jersey City Photography Meetup, mostly to offer a technical tip. 

I'd bought the long lens (a 100-300mm telephoto lens] to shoot distant graffiti, it's very useful for photographing small object's you're close to, like flowers or, in this case, insects. I was sitting about 7 or 8 feet from Adam and the lens was at 260mm.

That was it. Just a photo tip. But someone recognized the fly as a nasty invasive species that had recently (within the last year) invaded New Jersey. Someone else posted a link where I could report the fly, which I did. I sent the photo along with where we were (campsite 72 at Round Valley Reservoir).

Let's review, for the point of this post is that stuff happens, aka, serendipity is alive and well. 
  1. The five of us were camping for no reason other than the fun of hanging out in the forest for a day. 
  2. The fly landed on Adam's hand because, well, flies do that sort of thing.
  3. I photographed the fly because, well, I do that sort of thing.
  4. I posted the photo to my photo group to offer a photo tip because what's what photo groups are for.
  5. Two people who knew about the fly were members of the group and informed me about the fly,  giving me a place to report it. Why? Because that's what helpful people and good citizens do.
  6. And I reported it. Why? Because that's what good citizens do.
What's the causal chain like? When we decided to go camping, reporting invasive species was not on our mind, nor was any kind of citizen's duty. Yes, we kept all our trash in a bag and hauled it out, because that's what responsible campers do. Other than that, citizenship and civic responsibility was not on our minds. And yet that's where this chain ended up.


Sleep on it! [problem solving]

Kristin E. G. Sanders, Samuel Osburn, Ken A. Paller, Mark Beeman, Targeted Memory Reactivation During Sleep Improves Next-Day Problem Solving, Psychological Science, First published online, October 11, 2019,
Abstract: Many people have claimed that sleep has helped them solve a difficult problem, but empirical support for this assertion remains tentative. The current experiment tested whether manipulating information processing during sleep impacts problem incubation and solving. In memory studies, delivering learning-associated sound cues during sleep can reactivate memories. We therefore predicted that reactivating previously unsolved problems could help people solve them. In the evening, we presented 57 participants with puzzles, each arbitrarily associated with a different sound. While participants slept overnight, half of the sounds associated with the puzzles they had not solved were surreptitiously presented. The next morning, participants solved 31.7% of cued puzzles, compared with 20.5% of uncued puzzles (a 55% improvement). Moreover, cued-puzzle solving correlated with cued-puzzle memory. Overall, these results demonstrate that cuing puzzle information during sleep can facilitate solving, thus supporting sleep’s role in problem incubation and establishing a new technique to advance understanding of problem solving and sleep cognition.
H/t Alex Tabarrok.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Gone Fishin'

I'm bumping this to the top of the queue in honor of the fact that I've gone fishin'. Well, not quite. I've gone camping. So there'll be no blogging 'till I get back Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, give a listen to Pops and Bing.
* * * * * 

Lyrics, some spoken, but most sung:

Bing Crosby: I'll tell you why I can't find you Every time I go out to your place (singing starts) you've gone fishin'
Louis Armstrong: How do you know
Bing Crosby: Well there's a sign upon your door
Louis Armstrong: Uh-huh
Bing Crosby: Gone fishin'
Louis Armstrong: I'm real gone man
Bing Crosby: You ain't workin' anymore
Louis Armstrong: Could be
Bing Crosby: There's your hoe out in the sun/ Where you left a row half done/ You claim that hoein' ain't no fun
Louis Armstrong: Well I can prove it
Bing Crosby: You ain't got no ambition/ Gone fishin'.../ by a shady wady pool
Louis Armstrong: Shangrila, really la
Bing Crosby: I'm wishin' I could be that kind of fool
Louis Armstrong: Should I twist your arm?
Bing Crosby: I'd say no more work for mine
Louis Armstrong: Welcome to the club
Bing Crosby: On my door I'd hang a sign Gone fishin'/... instead of just a-wishin

Louis and Bing: Papa Bing, Yes Louis? Louis Armstrong: I stopped by your place a time or two lately and you aren't home either
Bing Crosby: Well, I'm a busy man Louis. I got a lotta big deals cookin' I was probably tied up at the studio.

Louis Armstrong: You weren't tied up dog
You was just plain old...Gone fishin'
Bing Crosby: bah-boo-bah-boo-bah-boo-bah-boo-bah

Louis Armstrong: There's a sign upon your door
Bing Crosby: Pops, don't blab it around, will you?
Louis Armstrong: Gone fishin'
Bing Crosby: Keep it shady, I got me a big one staked out
Louis Armstrong: Mmm, you ain't workin' anymore
Bing Crosby: I don't have to work, I got me a piece of Gary*
Louis Armstrong: Cows need milkin' in the barn
Bing Crosby: I have the twins on that detail, they each take a side
Louis Armstrong: But you just don't give a darn
Bing Crosby: Give 'em four bits a cow and hand lotion
Louis Armstrong: You just never seem to learn
Bing Crosby: Man, you taught me
Louis Armstrong: You ain't got no ambition
Bing Crosby: You're convincin' me
Louis Armstrong: Gone fishin'
Bing Crosby: bah-boo-dah-do-dah-do-dah-do
Louis Armstrong: Got your hound dog by your side
Bing Crosby: That's old cindy-lou goin' with me
Louis Armstrong :Gone fishin'
Bing Crosby: mmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm
Louis Armstrong: Fleas are bitin' at his hide
Bing Crosby: Get away from me boy, you bother me

Bing Crosby: Mmm, folks won't find us now because
Louis and Bing: Mister satch and mister crosb
Bing Crosby: We gone fishin'... Instead of just a-wishin'
Louis Armstrong: Bah-boo-baby-bah-boo-bah-bay-m­mm-bo-bay
Louis and Bing: Oh yeah!

*Gary Indiana. There used to be major steel mills there.

Look at all the little people...well not quite people, silhouetts of people-like creatures [#graffiti]

Trajectories in story-telling space [#DH, #Macroanalysis]

This is an explanatory supplement to On the direction of literary history: How should we interpret that 3300 node graph in Macroanalysis?

* * * * *

First we go about visualizing possible trajectories of an abstract particle moving about on a plane. Then we interpret those particles as successive states in a game of ‘whispers’ where A tells a story to B, B tells the story to C, and so forth. The story changes a bit with each telling. Finally, I explain what this has to do with the 3300 node graph in Mathew Jockers’ Macroanalysis.

Visualizing an abstract particle moving about on a plane

Let us imagine an abstract particle moving around on a plane. We are going to take a ‘snapshot’ of the particle at regular intervals and see if there is some lawfulness in its movement or it is just moving about without any particular order. Here we have six successive snapshots of our particle, one after the other, each one showing the particle’s location at a moment in time.

So, there’s where our particle starts:

It then moves to here:

Followed by:

And then:

Next comes:

And at last, the particle arrives here:

Examining the particle’s successive position like this is tricky. It’s difficult to get a sense of the particle’s path. let’s line those snapshots up in a row and see if that helps:

That helps some, but still, it’s hard to see what’s going on.

We need to superimpose these snapshots in order to see the path more clearly. So that we can be sure of their order, let us connect successive positions with an arrow where the direction of the arrow goes from the earlier to the later position. This is what we get:

While there doesn’t appear to be any order there, it looks like the particle’s may be confined to a hill-shaped area in the space. Let us take some more snapshots and superimpose them.

In the above image I have identified the particle’s first and last positions by making the dots red:

Still, no order, but the particle no longer seems confined to that hill-shaped area. It certainly doesn’t look like the particle is following any particular path.

But, of course, it might have worked out some other way. Like this perhaps:

There’s order there. The particle appears to be moving in a circular path. That means we could write an equation approximating the path.

Here is a different, and simpler, kind of order:

The particle is simply moving in an almost straight line with a small upward slope.

Let’s play whispers

Now let’s interpret each of those points as a story. It can be any story, of any kind, it doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter how long it is, but as a practical matter it should be pretty short, because we’re going to imagine people telling it to one another in succession. Frederick Bartlett reporting on this sort of thing in his classic, Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology (1932), and others have worked on it since.

Let us further imagine that we have some way of measuring each version so that we can establish a measure of similarity between them. I note in passing, that since we’re heading toward Matthew Jockers’ Macroanalysis, we need not worry too much about this as he developed a very sophisticated measurement system for his texts. Finally, assume that our system is a simple one that measures the story in two dimensions.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Reading the Human Swarm 3: A digression about an image with an applicaton to human cultural evolution [#DH]

What’s this image represent?

I supposed I’ve you’ve been reading New Savanna for awhile you know what it represents. But imagine you didn’t know. What would you think it is?

Since this is a post about recent book by Mark Moffett, and Moffett’s an expert on ants, you might think it’s a nest, one with 3300 chambers, each represented by a node in the graph. From The Human Swarm, pp. 57-58:
The size of leafcutter settlements can be gargantuan: in the French Guiana jungles I came upon a nest the square footage of a tennis court. A drawback of such a metropolis is the same face by a human city: pulling in enough resources means a lot of communiting. From the far corners of that large nest spring a half-dozen speedways along with the workers doubtless hauled hundreds of pounds of fresh foliage over the course of each year. To unearth just a part of another colony I once hired six men with pickaxes and shovelss near São Paulo. The bloody bites I sustained that week didn’t stop me from feeling like an archaeologist eshuming a citadel. Hundreds of gardens grew in chambers arrayed along meters upon meters of superbly arranged tunnels, some at least six meters below the surface. Scaled to human dimensions, their subway systems would be kilometers deep.
Pretty impressive, no?

If this were Tom Sawyer you might think it’s a map of the cave where Becky Thatcher got lost with Injun Joe.

If this were a post about the brain, you might think it’s a map of some neural system.

And so on.

Of course, it’s none of those things. Each of those nodes represents the text of a 19th century novel, British, Irish, or American. It’s from Matt Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History (2013), a book I’ve written quite a bit about. Matt “measured” each text on each of roughly 600 features – just what I mean by measure and how Matt did it is secondary at this point, but if you dig around in those posts, you’ll find out – and then placed a point for each text in 600 dimensional space (one dimension for each feature). Why’d he do that? Because he wanted to identify books that are similar to one another. If the books are similar, then they will be close together in this 600-dimensional space.

So, he’s got these points (representing texts) in 600D space. Now he calculates the distance between each pair; with 3300 points, that’s a lot of pairs. How’d he do that? The principle’s the same as measuring the distance between, say, two cities, or two windows on a wall. We can treat the earth’s surface as a plane (two dimensions) and, of course, the surface of a wall IS a plane. Since these books have 600 features, we’ve got to embed them in a space of 600 dimensions. Tricky, but the principle’s the same.

Now Jockers made the graph by 1) connecting all the points together and then, 2) pruning away all the links that are longer than some appropriately low value. He then projected the resulting graph onto two dimensions and produced that image. All with the help of a computer, of course.

Easy as pie.

Imagine if ants could dig nests in 600 dimensional space. Yikes!

So what? you ask.

I’m getting there, I’m getting there.

Of course each of those texts have been read by many people, a few of them by millions of people. That graph thus implies the existence of millions of readers over the course of time. Now we’re getting to ant colony numbers, millions and millions.

Now we’re talking about a human swarm. And THAT’s how we have to think about human cultural evolution. That’s why I’m interested in that graph. Because it implies an ant colony we HAVE to think about it in evolutionary thinking. Evolutionary thinking is population thinking. That graph implies a population of people reading a population of texts yielding a population of readings. It boggles the mind.

Imagine millions of ants gathered together moving over the ground in a swath I don’t know how many meters wide – Moffett has described such things, but I can’t put my finger on one of those descriptions at the moment. There it is, a band of red-brown-blackish particles speckled by the sun, moving in a single mass. Well that's how, with the aid of Jockers’ graph, I think about cultural evolution. Millions of humans, their minds linked, moving through history like the Mississippi River over the flood plane of human events.

The human swarm indeed. And it’s culture that makes us a swarm. Without it we’d just be small bands of very clever apes, using twigs to fish for termites. Instead, we’ve stood on the moon.

More greenery, below grade [with tiny people]

On Kurtz’s twice-quoted orison, as well as people named and unnamed [#Heart of Darkness]

I like that word, “orison”. I’ve never used it myself, not ‘till now, though I’ve certainly read it. My dictionary says it means prayer and that it’s archaic. Just what we need.

I’ve previously used the word “litany” to refer to a specific phrase Kurtz utters. A litany, of course, may also be a prayer. But the word is more familiar, and with a different valence. But I want to go with the unfamiliar, because that’s what he is, this Mr. Kurtz. Very strange.

I’ve written about this phrase before, several times, but this eight year old post is a convenient reference point. The phrase occurs twice in Heart of Darkness in slightly different versions. I’m going to list those occurrences, but in context. Both contexts involve a death. In the first instance it is the death of the helmsman, to whom Capt. Marlow had become attached. In the second instance it is the death of Kurtz’s African mistress.

The first instance is at the beginning of paragraph 103 (yes, I’ve numbered them, from the Project Gutenberg edition). The helmsman has just dropped bleeding to the boat’s deck and Marlow has interrupted his narration for a moment. When he resumes talking he doesn’t attend to the dying helmsman. Rather he embarks on a digression about Kurtz, the first time we learn anything beyond the fact that he was chief of the Central Station, which has gone incommunicado.
“I laid the ghost of his gifts at last with a lie,” he began suddenly. “Girl! What? Did I mention a girl? Oh, she is out of it—completely. They—the women, I mean—are out of it—should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse. Oh, she had to be out of it. You should have heard the disinterred body of Mr. Kurtz saying, ‘My Intended.’ You would have perceived directly then how completely she was out of it. And the lofty frontal bone of Mr. Kurtz! They say the hair goes on growing sometimes, but this—ah specimen, was impressively bald. The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball—an ivory ball; it had caressed him, and—lo!—he had withered; it had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation. He was its spoiled and pampered favorite. Ivory? I should think so. Heaps of it, stacks of it. The old mud shanty was bursting with it. You would think there was not a single tusk left either above or below the ground in the whole country. ‘Mostly fossil,’ the manager had remarked disparagingly. It was no more fossil than I am; but they call it fossil when it is dug up. It appears these niggers do bury the tusks sometimes—but evidently they couldn't bury this parcel deep enough to save the gifted Mr. Kurtz from his fate. We filled the steamboat with it, and had to pile a lot on the deck. Thus he could see and enjoy as long as he could see, because the appreciation of this favor had remained with him to the last. You should have heard him say, 'My ivory.' Oh yes, I heard him. ‘My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—‘ everything belonged to him.
There have it, Kurtz’s orison, My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—. Notice and think about the things conjoined in that phrase. His Intended, that is, the woman he wants to marry, his Beatrice if you will. Then his ivory, which he has been accumulating so he has wealth enough to be accepted by her family. What is his means of accumulating that ivory? His station, that is Central Station, but also his position (station) as the head of the station. And then his river, the Congo. But in what sense is it HIS river? Never mind, it is the artery that connects him to the world. And that orison is the umbilical connecting his soul with the cosmos.

What about that first sentence: “I laid the ghost of his gifts at last with a lie”? Marlow would seem to be referring to Kurtz’s death and to his conversation with Kurtz’s Intended. That’s when he told her that Kurtz’s last words were of her. But they weren’t, were they? Hence the lie. And the girl, the women? Notice that word girl, where are there girls in this story? Or is he using it as a diminutive, referring, not to the Intended, but to Kurtz’s African mistress? As we will see, she is murdered in paragraph 146 and Kurtz utters his orison shortly thereafter, in paragraph 148. I presume, upon reflection, that Kurtz uttered it only once, but that Marlow has entered it into his narrative twice, in slightly different forms.

And what of this: They—the women, I mean—are out of it—should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own, lest ours gets worse? What beautiful world (of their own)? Perhaps theirs (the world Marlow would relegate them to) is the world of the novels that so enchanted and deceived Madame Bovary?

On to the second instance. The steamer is pulling away from the shore.
[142] “We had carried Kurtz into the pilot-house: there was more air there. Lying on the couch, he stared through the open shutter. There was an eddy in the mass of human bodies, and the woman with helmeted head and tawny cheeks rushed out to the very brink of the stream. She put out her hands, shouted something, and all that wild mob took up the shout in a roaring chorus of articulated, rapid, breathless utterance.

[143] “’Do you understand this?’ I asked.

[144] “He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing eyes, with a mingled expression of wistfulness and hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a smile of indefinable meaning, appear on his colorless lips that a moment after twitched convulsively. ‘Do I not?’ he said slowly, gasping, as if the words had been torn out of him by a supernatural power.

[145] “I pulled the string of the whistle, and I did this because I saw the pilgrims on deck getting out their rifles with an air of anticipating a jolly lark. At the sudden screech there was a movement of abject terror through that wedged mass of bodies. ‘Don't! Don’t you frighten them away,’ cried someone on deck disconsolately. I pulled the string time after time. They broke and ran, they leaped, they crouched, they swerved, they dodged the flying terror of the sound. The three red chaps had fallen flat, face down on the shore, as though they had been shot dead. Only the barbarous and superb woman did not so much as flinch, and stretched tragically her bare arms after us over the somber and glittering river.

[146] “And then that imbecile crowd down on the deck started their little fun, and I could see nothing more for smoke.

[147] “The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress; and Kurtz’s life was running swiftly too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heart into the sea of inexorable time. The manager was very placid, he had no vital anxieties now, he took us both in with a comprehensive and satisfied glance: the ‘affair’ had come off as well as could be wished. I saw the time approaching when I would be left alone of the party of ‘unsound method.’ The pilgrims looked upon me with disfavor. I was, so to speak, numbered with the dead. It is strange how I accepted this unforeseen partnership, this choice of nightmares forced upon me in the tenebrous land invaded by these mean and greedy phantoms.

[148] “Kurtz discoursed. A voice! a voice! It rang deep to the very last. It survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his heart. Oh, he struggled! he struggled! The wastes of his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images now—images of wealth and fame revolving obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression. My Intended, my station, my career, my ideas—these were the subjects for the occasional utterances of elevated sentiments. The shade of the original Kurtz frequented the bedside of the hollow sham, whose fate it was to be buried presently in the mold of primeval earth. But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power.
Let me interpret a bit. The woman with the helmeted head in 142 was Kurtz’s mistress; anyone can see that. In 145 Marlow blows the whistle to disperse the Africans on shore. Why? Because he saw the ‘pilgrims’ (emphasis on the grim?) getting out their rifles to shoot into the crowd. And one of those pilgrims objects. And then they fire [146]. The mistress has been murdered – an observation we owe to Samuel Delany (from an interview conducted by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansa, “Samuel R. Delany, The Art of Fiction No. 210”, Paris Review, Summer 2011, No. 197). Two paragraphs later, 148, we get Kurtz’s orison again, My Intended, my station – and instead of my river we get – my career, my ideas. Eight paragraphs later [156] we’re told, ‘Mistah Kurtz—he dead’ – the single best-known line in the text (courtesy of T. S. Eliot).

To summarize: We have two deaths, the helmsman and Kurtz’s mistress. In his dying ramblings consequent to having seen his mistress murdered, Kurtz utters his orison, and Marlow quotes it in that context. But he also quotes it in the context of his helmsman’s death, a man to whom he had been quite attached.

One further detail: Only two characters in the story are indicated by name, Marlow and Kurtz. Many others are referred to by one title or another, Manager, etc. [note to self: make an inventory of these appellations], indicating, well, their station, the role they play in the social system. Still others have no specific appellation at all. The helmsman and the mistress are the most important of those and they, of course, are linked to the only named characters. And Marlow binds them all together though his repetition of Kurtz’s orison.

More later.

Hmmm.... How about a super yacht to cruise the Congo [Who would commission such a thing?]

Peter Wilson, No One Needs a Superyacht, but They Keep Selling Them, NYTimes, Oct 8, 2019:
Research by the Superyacht Group shows that after peaking in 2008 and then slumping after the financial crisis, the production of luxury yachts has been stable in recent years, with an annual output close to 150 new vessels.

While Americans remain the biggest buyers, the United States’ own yacht output has shrunk, with the global industry consolidating into fewer shipyards. The Italians now make the most vessels, and Dutch and German builders dominate the top of the market.

The most striking change in the industry is a shift in what the boats are actually for, as a new generation of owners want to do more than show off while anchored off Sardinia.

“The clients that approach us nowadays don’t really want a floating palace,” Mr. Rowell said. “They want a boat they are going to live on and even work on, and use for more than two weeks a year.”

The Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who died in 2018, is often cited as an example of a more active owner, as he used his yachts for ocean research and roaming the world.

A 600-foot-long monster called REV that emerged from a Romanian shipyard in August took that trend even further: Its Norwegian owner had it designed to double as a marine research vessel capable of supporting 60 scientists. The world’s largest yacht, REV (short for Research Expedition Vessel) can sail around the world without refueling.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

GPT-2 sure demos impressively [be skeptical]

Mark Liberman at Language Log reports on John Seabrook, "The Next Word: Where will predictive text take us?", The New Yorker 10/14/2019, which is about the marvels of GPT-2. After quoting from the article, taking GPT-2 out for a spin, and saying a bit of this and that, Liberman observes:
This undermines the claim of GPT-2's creators that they've withheld the code because they're afraid it would be used to create malicious textual deep fakes — I suspect that such things would routinely exhibit significant "world modelling failures".

And Seabrook's experience illustrates a crucial lesson that AI researchers learned 40 or 50 years ago: "evaluation by demonstration" is a recipe for what John Pierce called glamor and (self-) deceit ("Whither Speech Recognition", JASA 1969). Why? Because we humans are prone to over-generalizing and anthropomorphizing the behavior of machines; and because someone who wants to show how good a system is will choose successful examples and discard failures. I'd be surprised if Seabrook didn't do a bit of this in creating and selecting his "Read Predicted Text" examples.

In general, anecdotal experiences are not a reliable basis for evaluating scientific or technological progress; and badly-designed experiments are if anything worse.
Caveat yada yada.

Liberman recommends thinking about the Winograd Schema Challenge, which poses simple language-based problems that are difficult for computational systems to handle, GPT-2 included.

Up on the hill (overlooking the water that you can't see, but you can see the fences around the tennis courts)

Windows on the world, a quick thought about critical illusion [#counting #DH]

Michael Gavin has an interesting article in Critical Analytics, Is there a text in my data? (Part 1): On Counting Words (09.17.19). Coming up on the end of his prefatory remarks we find this paragraph:
This essay is the first in a two-part series. In this first installment, "On Counting Words," I'll respond to a single comment made almost in passing in Nan Z. Da's original piece. She says that "all the things that appear in [computational literary studies]—network analysis, digital mapping, linear and nonlinear regressions, topic modeling, topology, entropy—are just fancier ways of talking about word frequency changes."[13] This comment is wrong in little ways that won't matter to most literature scholars. Much of what happens in network analysis and digital mapping, in particular, has nothing to do with word counts. But Da is not completely off the mark. To be honest, I spend an embarrassingly large amount of my time trying to think up fancy ways to talk about word counts, and that's exactly what I'll do in this essay. I invite you to think along with me about a few very basic questions: What does it mean to count words in a text? What happen to the text, and to our understanding of it, when we decompose it into a series of word counts? What relation exists between the textual domain and its numerical image?
Gavin then goes to show that while, yes, there is a lot of counting going on, it’s not mere counting. And the results of that counting does bear on meaning, if only indirectly.

And, really, is that so different from so-called “close reading”? The critic who is reading closely is not, in those moments, during those acts, immersed in the text that is the object of their contemplation. They aren’t actually reading the primary text, in the ordinary sense of the term (reading), they’re writing their own text, one that exists in relation to that primary text, but is most definitely not identical to it.

Once upon a time critics may have believed that, by reading closely, they would be able to happen upon the real, the true, the unmediated meaning. But those illusions were shattered in the 1960s (along with many other things). There are no unmediated readings, just interpretations.

The close critic may well have their nose pressed tightly to the window, palms firmly pressing the glass, eyes focused longingly on the prize, but the candy is still on the other side of the window. I ask you, is it so bad that some of us construct our windows out of numbers rather than in addition to words?

Retail banking like it used to be

By buddy Cobb has an interesting post about banking the old-fashioned way, before the internet and all that:
I’ll talk about retail banking in 1980 when I was a teller.Bank

First of all, banks opened at 10am and closed at 3pm, and they were never open on the weekend. If you needed cash only a very few banks had ATMs and there were no ATM networks to speak of. The protocols for Cirrus and the others had yet to be invented and adopted. Also, if you traveled, there would be no banks in say Las Vegas that were the same as your banks in California. No banks were licensed to do business across state lines. So you really needed a credit card, and they were hard to come by. Most people used travelers checks.

So banking was slower and geographically limited and it meant a great deal if you had a credit card or American Express card. There was no Discover. There were no debit cards that were acceptable outside of your bank’s ATM network, and bank ATM networks went bank by bank (until around 1986 or so). So the idea of using a bank card at a supermarket was ridiculous. To get a credit card for a gas station or a department store was a huge privilege. There weren’t many general purpose credit cards.

Nobody had automatic overdraft protection. If you bounced a check, the branch manager at your bank would get a greenbar report of all of the overdraft checks and he would approve or deny an overdraft according to his familiarity with your account and business. [...]

Deposits also took a long time to clear, so you could deposit a check on Monday and it wouldn’t clear until Wednesday or Thursday. If it was drawn on a bank from out of state, they might even put a 2 day hold on it or give you partial credit.

Very few tellers had cash counting machines and they were unreliable. So cash deposits were counted by hand, twice. [...]

In other words, altogether things were slower and people had to be trusted more.
Ah, the good old days.

Monday, October 7, 2019

On the direction of literary history: How should we interpret that 3300 node graph in Macroanalysis? [#DH]

That's the name of a draft I've put on for comment. Here's the link:

Abstract, table of contents, and introduction below.

* * * * *

Abstract: In Macroanalysis (2013) Matthew Jockers created a graph depicting similarity relationships between 3300 19th century Anglophone novels, each characterized by 600 features. The graph is derived from a database that contains no date information. When projected onto two-dimensions and visualized, however, the graph has a gradient that is aligned with time. I 1) interpret the graph as a trace of the activity of complex dynamical system (19th century Anglophone novels), 2) conclude that the system has an inherent temporal direction, and 3) contrast it with systems that evolve through random or through cyclic trajectories. I suggest that as this system evolves the range of design possibilities for novels becomes larger, allowing them to encompass a greater range of human experience. I conclude by asserting that evolving literary culture is itself a force in history.


What’s Up? 2
3300 Anglophone novels in a graph 2
Da’s critique 6
A trace of a complex dynamical system 9
Trajectories in time: random, cyclical, and linear 10
Change and growth 14
Literary culture is a force in history 17

What’s Up?

I’m currently working on a response to two articles:
Franco Moretti and Oleg Sobchuk, Hidden in Plain Sight: Data Visualization in the Humanities, New Left Review 118, July August 2019, 86-119.

Nan Z. Da, The Computational Case against Computational Literary Studies, Critical Inquiry 45, Spring 2019, 601-639.
The first part of my article will be address an issue raised by Moretti and Sobchuk at the end of their article, namely the general relationship between literary form and history (pp. 108 ff.) in terms taken from evolutionary biology, where tree-like phylogenies are contrasted with reticular phylogenies. I’ll be address that in this piece, which is draft material for the second part of my article.

I plant to center my argument on the 3300 node graph that Matthew Jockers published in Chapter 9 of Macroanalysis (2013, p. 165). Da dismissed it in one rather long paragraph (pp. 610-611) while Moretti and Sobchuk didn’t mention it all, though their article centered on visualization and that graph is one of the most striking visualizations in contemporary computational criticism. Since it clearly demonstrates a reticular pattern of relationships among 19th century Anglophone novelists, it IS germane to their interest in reticular phylogeny, but for some reason they didn’t mention it. Whatever.

It’s not the reticular form of that graph that interests me here. What interests me here is that, while there is no temporal information (e.g. publication dates) in the underlying database, the graph displays an unmistakable temporal gradient, a fact that surprised Jockers, presumably because he wasn’t looking for that at all. He was simply examining similarity between texts. That the graph has a temporal gradient suggests to me that the underlying social process – the creation of 3300 Anglophone novels in the 19th century – can be thought of as a complex dynamical system having an temporal inherent direction that is of a different kind from mere succession. Da seems unaware of such a possibility and dismisses Jockers’ unintended result as trivial. I know from private communication that Moretti dismisses it as well.

The purpose of this post is to indicate why I think they are wrong.

Graffiti, weeds, and wild flowers near Long Dock Tunnel in Jersey City

Journey into Shakespeare, a tedious adventure – Will the real Hamlet stand up?

With ring-composition on my mind again – Heart of Darkness – I'm bumping this to the top of the queue.
* * * *  *

I’m inching my way toward a decision to take a serious look at Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

I’m thinking about doing a book on ring-composition and I need another canonical text to make the argument more enticing to ‘traditional’ literary scholars – by which I mean just about all literary scholars currently working regardless of their interpretive methodology. Hamlet is a good choice for several reasons. In the first place, it’s Shakespeare and, to the extent that the canon has a center, Shakespeare is it, and Hamlet is at the center of the Shakespeare oeuvre. Second, it’s already been identified as a ring-composition. Mark Rose did the basic descriptive work in Shakespearean Design (Harvard 1972), but didn’t use the term. In 1976 R. G. Person reviewed a wide range of diverse scholarship, “Critical Calculations: Measure and Symmetry in Literature” (PMLA, 91, 3, 1976, 367-375), and included Rose, asserting that he had in effect analyzed Hamlet as a ring-composition. Most recently, James E. Ryan has argued that all of Shakespeare’s plays are ring-compositions, Shakespeare’s Symmetries: The Mirrored Structure of Action in the Plays (McFarland 2016).

So, the basic work has already been done. I just have to check it. Except that, at first glace, Rose and Ryan don’t quite agree on the analysis. Uh oh! As I’ve not read the play in years I’m in no position to comment on this difference. Once I’ve (re)read the play for myself...

Which brings me to a third reason for looking at Hamlet. All of Shakespeare’s plays exist in two, or even three, early versions. The differences between the versions may be relatively minor – printer’s errors, different word choice scattered about, a few lines here and there – or not so minor. Hamlet exists in three versions and the differences between them are not minor; thus two texts are almost twice as long as the other and the two longer texts differ in some 300 lines out of almost 4000. Those are hardly trivial differences and there are many more local differences.

Now things begin to get interesting. If Hamlet is a ring-form composition, is that form preserved across all three texts? I don’t know. That’s what I want to find out. Hence both the adventure and the tedium. The process of reading the three texts and comparing them will surely be tedious, perhaps even tedious beyond belief. The prospect of finding out something at least interesting, but who knows, maybe even deep, is where the adventure comes in.

What qualifies as interesting? If all three of them turn out to be ring-compositions, and they have the same number of parts arranged in congruent ways, that would be interesting. If only one of them is a ring-composition, that too would be interesting, and become more so if the others diverge from ring-form – if that’s the way to put it – in intelligible ways. I don’t know what to expect. That’s adventure.

One text, one meaning

When you see a production of Hamlet, or a movie, you see one text, one play. If you purchase a text of the play, unless you are a scholar, you will purchase a single text; for that matter, most scholars work from single texts. That single text will have been prepared by an editor. A text that is acted will start with some existing edition and the director more likely than not will cut things here and there to produce a script that can be performed in a reasonable amount of time, say two hours plus or minus.

Just about the only people who work with the texts Shakespeare wrote are the editors who prepare the texts that the rest of us work from. Correction: Actually, no one works with the texts that Shakespeare wrote, at least not that we know of. Such things no longer exist.

We have no manuscripts and there is no documented relationship between any existing text and the man named William Shakespeare, son of a glover named John Shakespeare, actor, and partner in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theatrical company. Two of the Hamlet texts were published during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Did Shakespeare have a hand in them? We don’t know. The third was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare died, 1616. It seems highly unlikely that Shakespeare had a hand in that edition.

What’s an editor to do? What’s at stake?

What Shakespeare editors in fact have done is to produce a single text. You correct printer’s errors as best you can, modernize the spelling, and examine the existing texts. Where they vary, pick the best variant. That last step, of course, leaves room for editorial discretion. But as long as the texts you start with do not differ in major ways, it is reasonable to think that the final result is a good approximation of the TRUE WORK.

For that’s what is behind this process, the idea of the true and original work of art by the true and original genius. That’s what we’re after.

In the case of Hamlet the existing texts differ from one another in such major ways that this process doesn’t work very well. As a practical matter, editors have mostly ignored the earliest text, which is also the shortest, and based their work on one of the two later texts. To be sure, they differ in significant ways, but still not so much that the search for the ONE TRUE TEXT can’t be patched up and pushed out on stage for another song and dance.

But things have changed over the last two decades or so. Postmodernism has given the search for the ONE TRUE MEANING the old heave-ho. And ONE TRUE MEANING strongly implies ONE TRUE TEXT, which can plausibly be edited from existing texts that ARE NOT SO DIFFERENT. Without the search for ONE TRUE MEANING driving critical practice, the need for the ONE TRUE TEXT all but disappears. And thus it is now possible to purchase a scholarly edition of Hamlet that includes all three texts.

What we’ve got, three texts

It didn’t happen all at once. It happened by stages, a story that is told in the introductory material for the Revised Edition (2016) of Hamlet in The Arden Shakespeare – one of several scholarly editions of Shakespeare’s plays. It is edited by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. Here’s what they say about their three texts (one of many things they say):
We are not assuming that William Shakespeare was necessarily the sole author of every word in those early seventeenth-century texts, nor that we know the degree to which any of them represent the author’s or authors’ intentions, nor how it was that they came to be in print. We do know, however, that they have a claim to be regarded as separate plays as well as separate versions of the same play. Our approach to editing them ultimately lacks intellectual purity, since ‘the dream of the original text’ inevitably informs every editor’s mind and, therefore, practice. But we nevertheless offer three Hamlets rather than one. (p. 95).

Sunday, October 6, 2019

They do it all...

* * * * *

A note added later: I really like that first photograph. One might observe that it's badly framed, what with that partition running through it on the right and with most of that one fellow being cut off at the right edge, leaving only a slice. But I like that. And I like the diagonal lines along the wall, which give the photo a feeling of motion even as we see four people sitting and eating lunch. It all works together to give a sense of dynamic calm. 

Not, mind you, that I had anything like that in mind when I shot the photo. I didn't think two seconds about it, didn't even pause to get just that off-key framing. I just pointed the camera and clicked the shutter. That's the third of three room shots I took at 11:11 AM on Thursday, October 3 (I haven't rendered the other two). That is, I took them so quickly that the camera recorded them as happening within the same minute. Then, judging by the data, I went back to eating for four minutes and then snapped a burger shot, a fries shot,  then two tray shots, another burger shot (that's the one you see in the middle), and two more room shots, all at 11:15 AM. The last of those room shots is third one you see.

Reading the Human Swarm 2: The importance of scale in social structure

I’ve now gone back to the beginning of The Human Swarm and have been reading chapters in order, from the Introduction up to chapter 5, “Ants and Humans, Apples and Oranges”. I’ve made notes (mostly excerpts) on it all, but I want to concentrate on Ch5. By that time Moffett has established two things to keep in mind:
  • Animal life can be organized on two scales, 1) the small band, which is based on recognizing individuals, and 2) what he calls a society, where one only recognizes whether or not an individual is a member. Societies will (may?) consist of a number of small individual-recognition bands.
  • One form of social organization is the fission-fusion society, where bands will spend part of their time on their own, but will also conjoin with other bands in the society for joint activities.
Ch5: Ants and Humans, Apples and Oranges

Let’s list some excerpts:

p. 57
We modern humans may be genetically close to the chimp and bonobo, yet ants are the animals we resemble most. The similarities between our species and theirs tell us a lot about complex societies and how they emerge.
p. 58-59
Insomuch as chimpanzees and bonobos think as we do, the parallels often extend to other animals, too. Both are like us in recognizing themselves in a mirror; then again so do dolphins, elephants, and magpies, and there’s a claim, widely doubted, that ants do, too.
p. 59 Among both bonobos and chimpanzees...
relationships are dictated by strict hierarchies of power, which are tyrannical in the chimp–especially in the males. On maturing, females of both species abandon childhood kith and kin for another community, never to return. The females are sexually receptive only on occasion,...
Here’s the big one, the one this post is about, p. 60:
Scientists investigating animal behavior have too often been narrowly devoted to the evolutionary relationships between species, when many features of societies have more to do with scaling – sheer numbers – rather than pedigree. The societies we have looked at among the nonhuman vertebrates, including the nonhuman apes, contain at most a few dozen individuals. A large leafcutter nest harbors a workforce in the low millions. [He opens the chapter discussing these.]

Once a population grows that large, all types of complexity can emerge – in fact often have to emerge to get jobs done. The coordination seen among hunting groups in a chimp or painted dog society is mercurial enough to amount to wishful thinking compared to the elaborate way some predatory ants organize hunts, with some workers stopping the quarry in its tracks, others applying the death blow, and others dismantling the corpse into slabs of flesh carried off in coordinated teams. Most vertebrates lack the labor force to take on such specific roles; nor must they operate in this way for the members to get the food they need.

The same is true for housing and infrastructure. The burrows of prairie dogs can be intricate; they connect underground with hibernation chambers and dead ends that thwart predators. Yet, contrasted with the monumental architecture of a leafcutter nest or a honeybee hive, the dwellings of these rodents seem a relic of the Animal Stone Age.

It’s one thing to organize a society with, say, a dozen to 30 or 40 members, the individual-recognition band. This doesn’t require much if any occupational and thus role specialization. It’s another thing when you’re dealing with 10s of thousands or millions or even billions of members in one society. Now specialization is essential. That’s what makes ants so interesting. And that’s why it is important to understand how their societies work.

Group size among humans, some quick observations

From my book on music, Beethoven’s Anvil (2001), Ch9: Musicking the World, 200-201:
In a recent synthesis and review of work on human groups Linnda Caporael argues that the band, which she calls a deme, and the group of bands, which she calls a macrodeme, are basic units of organization that appear in all human societies. We see demes and macrodemes in their most basic configuration in hunter-gatherer societies, but they persist even in the most sophisticated. Thus, drawing on David Hull’s work on the social organization of science, Caporael suggests that scientific “in-groups” devoted to certain ideas are demes, while somewhat larger “invisible colleges” are macrodemes that meet with one another at yearly meetings of scientific societies.

Caporael’s analysis extends to smaller groups as well. Many tasks typically fall to groups that are smaller than bands. Courtship, mating, and child-rearing involve intense interaction between pairs—technically referred to as dyads. One obvious characteristic of dyads is that they permit a very high level of coordination between people; consider an infant interacting with her mother, or a courting couple. Other activities require “handfuls,” work groups of a half-dozen or so individuals. Here, coupling is generally looser than in dyads. Thus when a handful of men go out hunting they may agree on the type of game and the general direction of the hunt but otherwise function fairly autonomously, at least until game has been spotted.

Caporael treats these core configurations—dyads, “handfuls,” demes, and macrodemes—as basic units of social organization. I will assume her framework for the rest of this book. For the past ten or fifteen millennia, however, humans have been living in societies larger than thousands of individuals. How do we construct societies larger than the largest core configuration, a macrodeme of some hundreds of indivduals? We need a new mechanism—permanent leadership—and as we will see later on, that mechanism requires musicking for its social construction and maintenance.
Along those lines I can also mention Mancur Olson’s The Logic of Collective Action (Harvard 1965, p. 54), where discusses an organization in which “the average size of the ‘action taking’ subgroups was 6.5 members, whereas the average size of the ‘non-action taking’ subgroups was 14 members.” Olson goes on to cite similar numbers for other organizations, including committees in the US Congress. And that makes sense. Taking action, e.g. reporting out a bill for consideration before Congress, requires a higher degree of coordination and assent than simply examining something to, say, issue a report. The smaller group facilities the necessary degree of interaction.

Interaction in musical groups

This is obvious in the structure of musical groups. Small group jazz, which I know very well, gives each musician a great deal of freedom. Such groups typically have between three six or seven members; quartets and quintets are particularly common. Typically, though not always, at any given moment one musician will have the “floor” as a soloist and, as such, is free to play whatever they wish. But the accompanying musicians do not play set parts. Rather, they are expected to vary their accompaniment in response to the soloist.

Larger jazz groups are organized differently, say nine to perhaps twenty or so piece. Now fixed arrangements become necessary. You can’t have a dozen people making it up all the time. Typical arrangements will have sections that feature a soloist, who is free to do as they wish, just like in a small combo. And, like a combo, the rhythm section is some latitude in how they accompany the soloist. But the arrangement may well include set backing figures played by other musicians.