Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Beethoven's muse

Israel/Palestine and conflict at the Core of the World: "When you get into this cycle of finding faults, one side's memories clash with the other's."

Here is the translation of the interview:

Absolutely masterful interview on Gaza of Dominique De Villepin, former Prime Minister of France, who famously led France's opposition to the Iraq war and who, IMHO is the best diplomat the West has produced in decades.

This is so important, so incredibly well argued, that I decided to translate it in full:

"Hamas has set a trap for us, and this trap is one of maximum horror, of maximum cruelty. And so there's a risk of an escalation in militarism, of more military interventions, as if we could with armies solve a problem as serious as the Palestinian question.

There's also a second major trap, which is that of Occidentalism. We find ourselves trapped, with Israel, in this western bloc which today is being challenged by most of the international community.

[Presenter: What is Occidentalism?]

Occidentalism is the idea that the West, which for 5 centuries managed the world's affairs, will be able to quietly continue to do so. And we can clearly see, even in the debates of the French political class, that there is the idea that, faced with what is currently happening in the Middle East, we must continue the fight even more, towards what might resemble a religious or a civilizational war. That is to say, to isolate ourselves even more on the international stage.

This is not the way, especially since there's a third trap, which is that of moralism. And here we have in a way the proof, through what is happening in Ukraine and what is happening in the Middle East, of this double standard that is denounced everywhere in the world, including in recent weeks when I travel to Africa, the Middle East, or Latin America. The criticism is always the same: look at how civilian populations are treated in Gaza, you denounce what happened in Ukraine, and you are very timid in the face of the tragedy unfolding in Gaza.

Consider international law, the second criticism that is made by the global south. We sanction Russia when it aggresses Ukraine, we sanction Russia when it doesn't respect the resolutions of the United Nations, and it's been 70 years that the resolutions of the United Nations have been voted in vain and that Israel doesn't respect them.

[Presenter: Do you believe that the Westerners are currently guilty of hubris?]

Westerners must open their eyes to the extent of the historical drama unfolding before us to find the right answers.

[Presenter: What is the historical drama? I mean, we're talking about the tragedy of October 7th first and foremost, right?]

Of course, there are these horrors happening, but the way to respond to them is crucial. Are we going to kill the future by finding the wrong answers...

[Presenter: Kill the future?]

Kill the future, yes! Why?

[Presenter: But who is killing whom?]

You are in a game of causes and effects. Faced with the tragedy of history, one cannot take this 'chain of causality' analytical grid, simply because if you do you can't escape from it. Once we understand that there is a trap, once we realize that behind this trap there has also been a change in the Middle East regarding the Palestinian issue... The situation today is profoundly different [from what it was in the past]. The Palestinian cause was a political and secular cause. Today we are faced with an Islamist cause, led by Hamas. Obviously, this kind of cause is absolute and allows no form of negotiation. On the Israeli side, there has also been a development. Zionism was secular and political, championed by Theodor Herzl in the late 19th century. It has largely become messianic, biblical today. This means that they too do not want to compromise, and everything that the far-right Israeli government does, continuing to encourage colonization, obviously makes things worse, including since October 7th. So in this context, understand that we are already in this region facing a problem that seems profoundly insoluble.

Added to this is the hardening of states. Diplomatically, look at the statements of the King of Jordan, they are not the same as six months ago. Look at the statements of Erdogan in Turkey.

[Presenter: Precisely, these are extremely harsh statements...]

Extremely worrying. Why? Because if the Palestinian cause, the Palestinian issue, hasn't been brought to the forefront, hasn't been put on stage [for a while], and if most of the youth today in Europe have often never even heard of it, it remains for the Arab peoples the mother of all battles. All the progress made towards an attempt to stabilize the Middle East, where one could believe...

[Presenter: Yes, but whose fault is it? I have a hard time following you, is it Hamas's fault?]

But Ms. Malherbe, I am trained as a diplomat. The question of fault will be addressed by historians and philosophers.

[Presenter: But you can't remain neutral, it's difficult, it's complicated, isn't it?]

I am not neutral, I am in action. I am simply telling you that every day that passes, we can ensure that this horrific cycle stops... that's why I speak of a trap and that's why it's so important to know what response we are going to give. We stand alone before history today. And we do not treat this new world the way we currently do, knowing that today we are no longer in a position of strength, we are not able to manage on our own, as the world's policemen.

[Presenter: So what do we do?]

Exactly, what should we do? This is where it is essential not to cut off anyone on the international stage.

[Presenter: Including the Russians?]


[Presenter: Everyone? Should we ask the Russians for help?]

I'm not saying we should ask the Russians for help. I'm saying: if the Russians can contribute by calming some factions in this region, then it will be a step in the right direction.

[Presenter: How can we proportionally respond to barbarism? It's no longer army against army.]

But listen, Appolline de Malherbe, the civilian populations that are dying in Gaza, don't they exist? So because horror was committed on one side, horror must be committed on the other?

[Presenter: Do we indeed need to equate the two?]

No, it's you who are doing that. I'm not saying I equate the faults. I try to take into account what a large part of humanity thinks. There is certainly a realistic objective to pursue, which is to eradicate the Hamas leaders who committed this horror. And not to confuse the Palestinians with Hamas, that's a realistic goal.

The second thing is a targeted response. Let's define realistic political objectives. And the third thing is a combined response. Because there is no effective use of force without a political strategy. We are not in 1973 or in 1967. There are things no army in the world knows how to do, which is to win in an asymmetrical battle against terrorists. The war on terror has never been won anywhere. And it instead triggers extremely dramatic misdeeds, cycles, and escalations. If America lost in Afghanistan, if America lost in Iraq, if we lost in the Sahel, it's because it's a battle that can't be won simply, it's not like you have a hammer that strikes a nail and the problem is solved. So we need to mobilize the international community, get out of this Western entrapment in which we are.

[Presenter: But when Emmanuel Macron talks about an international coalition…]

Yes, and what was the response?

[Presenter: None.]

Exactly. We need a political perspective, and this is challenging because the two-state solution has been removed from the Israeli political and diplomatic program. Israel needs to understand that for a country with a territory of 20,000 square kilometers, a population of 9 million inhabitants, facing 1.5 billion people... Peoples have never forgotten that the Palestinian cause and the injustice done to the Palestinians was a significant source of mobilization. We must consider this situation, and I believe it is essential to help Israel, to guide... some say impose, but I think it's better to convince, to move in this direction. The challenge is that there is no interlocutor today, neither on the Israeli side nor the Palestinian side. We need to bring out interlocutors.

[Presenter: It's not for us to choose who will be the leaders of Palestine.]

The Israeli policy over recent years did not necessarily want to cultivate a Palestinian leadership... Many are in prison, and Israel's interest - because I repeat: it was not in their program or in Israel's interest at the time, or so they thought - was instead to divide the Palestinians and ensure that the Palestinian question fades. This Palestinian question will not fade. And so we must address it and find an answer. This is where we need courage. The use of force is a dead end. The moral condemnation of what Hamas did - and there's no "but" in my words regarding the moral condemnation of this horror - must not prevent us from moving forward politically and diplomatically in an enlightened manner. The law of retaliation is a never-ending cycle.

[Presenter: The "eye for an eye, tooth for tooth".]

Yes. That's why the political response must be defended by us. Israel has a right to self-defense, but this right cannot be indiscriminate vengeance. And there cannot be collective responsibility of the Palestinian people for the actions of a terrorist minority from Hamas.

When you get into this cycle of finding faults, one side's memories clash with the other's. Some will juxtapose Israel's memories with the memories of the Nakba, the 1948 catastrophe, which is a disaster that the Palestinians still experience every day. So you can't break these cycles. We must have the strength, of course, to understand and denounce what happened, and from this standpoint, there's no doubt about our position. But we must also have the courage, and that's what diplomacy is... diplomacy is about being able to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And that's the cunning of history; when you're at the bottom, something can happen that gives hope. After the 1973 war, who would have thought that before the end of the decade, Egypt would sign a peace treaty with Israel?

The debate shouldn't be about rhetoric or word choice. The debate today is about action; we must act. And when you think about action, there are two options. Either it's war, war, war. Or it's about trying to move towards peace, and I'll say it again, it's in Israel's interest. It's in Israel's interest!" 

* * * * *

Here is the interview. Set the auto-generated subtitles to whatever language you wish.

Is it a space alien, an AGI, or both?

Kristin Thompson on Best Film Oscars in recent years

Kristen Thompson, “Best Picture” ≠ “Live Action,”Observations on film art, July 8, 2023.

Opening paragraphs:

Way back in 2006, I posted a long piece on the increasing prominence of animated features being released each year. This was in the infancy of the blog, and the entry shows it–few photos, inserted as thumbnails. We only gradually worked up to our format of posting plenty of illustrations. By contrast this current contribution offers plenty of visual pleasure.

Basically I argued three points. First, that by their nature animated films would tend to be among the highest-quality films in any given year, despite their relatively small number in those days.

My argument laid out some reasons for this high quality. First, the fact that animated films were perforce thoroughly planned in pre-production, meaning that every detail was carefully considered. This means that relatively few inadequate scenes are reworked in production. Live-action films these days tend to be heavily dependent on shooting lots of coverage and making many decisions in the editing stage. Not true of animated films. Similarly, the soundtrack is recorded in advance and the images animated to sync with it. Hence the sound is meticulously planned. The voice actors record their voices and leave, usually not hanging around to try and change their scenes during shooting or fluffing lines and thus requiring multiple retakes of scenes.

My second point addressed the opinion, widely circulating in the trade press, that the spread of animation, and particularly digital animation, was a mistake. I quoted a recent Screen International article: “Much has been made this year of the seeming over-saturation of studios’ computer-generated titles, with critics and analysts pointing to growing movie-goer apathy.” I pointed out that such a claim didn’t fit the facts: “As a proportion among the total number of films made, CGI’s box-office successes seem fairly high compared to live-action films.”

My third point was that American distributors did not know how to market films from abroad, so that Ghibli and Aardman titles did not get nearly the audiences they deserved. Since then the distributor GKIDS has shown that it’s possible, at least for a relatively small company, successfully to release such films. They currently offer films with eleven best-animated feature Oscar nominations (with one win, Spirited Away), having gained distribution rights to Ghibli films, previously controlled by Disney.

Since I wrote that entry, the number of animated films, mostly digital, released yearly has sharply increased. And the disproportionate number of those animated films that appear among the top hits of the year continues to demonstrate that people are not apathetic. The spread of streaming services, combined with the decline of theatrical attendance during the pandemic, make it difficult to judge the success of films. Going back to 2019, where it’s a bit easier to judge, the top ten films included two animated successes, Toy Story 4 and Frozen II. An additional two were in the top twenty, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and The Secret Life of Pets 2. Animated films did not make up 20% of all films released, but that’s the portion of the top twenty they occupied.

I followed up that entry with one that found additional evidence that animated features were doing well, including the fact that Ice Age: The Meltdown was, though not the top box-office film of 2006, the most profitable film of that year.

So many developments have occurred in the world of feature animation since that first post that I decided to write an update.

Thompson then goes on to make a head-to-head comparison of Oscar-nominated live-action and animated films between 2002 and 2022. Her conclusion:

Totting up the live-action vs. animation winners in this face-off, we find one recusal, one draw, five decisions in favor of the live-action winners and fourteen for the animated winner or one or more of the animated nominees. As I mentioned at the start, the figures would be quite different if I had compared all the Oscar-worthy animation awards with all the Oscar-worthy Best Picture nominees. Still, in general this comparison may suggest that animated films are unfairly treated as one of the minor categories that people don’t pay much attention to.

I’m not suggesting that the Academy change their categories or rules. There’s probably no way to boost the prestige of the Animated Feature nominees.

The point here has simply been to add some evidence to my claim that a higher percentage of animated films tend to be excellent in a way that compares favorably with the live-action films nominated in the more prestigious category. Despite this, animated films are simply not taken seriously by most people, inclined cinephiles. They are still viewed as children’s fare, despite the successful appeal to adults built into many of the titles I’ve singled out here. They are also mostly comic to some extent and often involve fantasy, while Oscar bait leans toward drama and, with rare exceptions, away from fantasy/science fiction.

The conclusion is that if you think, for whatever reason, that live-action Oscar winners and films in general have declined in the past few decades, check out some ‘toons.

Color me sympathetic. You should read the whole thing. 

 While you're absorbing this information, take a re-read on my post about Robert De Vany's Hollywood Economics,  quantitative studies developing models that show we don't know how to predict the eventually box-office success of films. Do makers of animated films know something the rest of Hollywood does not?

Monday, October 30, 2023

Charlie Brown would not have been happy with this pumpkin, too scruffy

Miriam Lipschutz Yevick was Jewish

Obviously, her name proclaims it. That’s not what I mean. Not long after I’d started reading her memoire, A Testament for Ariela, I was struck: This is the most Jewish book I’ve ever read. It took me awhile to figure out what I was responding to.

The book is very obviously by a Jewish woman who is telling about her life. Her name, “Miriam,” is obviously Jewish, and so with “Lipschutz Yevick.” The second paragraph mentions “the Nazi invasion of Belgium and Holland,” there are Yiddish phrases all over the place, a section on the Seder, a description of the family’s flight from Europe in 1940, all this is obviously Jewish. But that’s not what I was responding to.

As a contrast, consider a Woody Allen movie. Allen is self-consciously Jewish navigating his way in a world of Gentiles. He has the double-consciousness that W. E. B. Du Bois first ascribed to African Americans in essay published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1897: “Strivings of the Negro People.” Allen is always trying to figure out what it means to be Jewish for Gentiles and what it means to be Jewish for himself.

There’s none of this double-consciousness in A Testament for Ariela. Here we have a grandmother reflecting on her life for her granddaughter. Incidentally, both are Jewish. That’s the water in which they’re swimming. To extend the metaphor, Allen is a Jewish fish swimming in a pool (he thinks is) owned by Gentile fish, some of whom, however, think it’s run by a conspiracy of Jewish fish. Yevick is a (Jewish) fish swimming in an ocean full of fish of all kinds. The Nazis, for example, are just fish. Big nasty and dangerous fish, to be sure, but just fish. It’s not their ocean, nor does it belong to any other fishes. It’s just the ocean.

This lack of double-consciousness, in turn, helps me understand something I’d found puzzling. Yevick is keenly aware of the fact that being a woman has hindered her career as a mathematician. When she got her PhD, 1947, there were very few women in the academic world. There weren’t many Jews, either. Maybe a few places, like New York’s City College, were different, and some of the larger state universities, a few in private schools, but for the most part Jews were discriminated against – see the story of one of my teachers, Earl Wasserman. But Yevick never talked about antisemitism in the academy. I couldn’t figure out why.

Now I know, or at least I think I do. She wanted to avoid (potentially crippling) double-consciousness. She wanted to speak in a single voice, strong and clear, Jewish.

I wonder if that’s why she said nothing about her work on holographic logic in the 1970s. She certainly recognized its importance, and continued to write about it for the rest of her life – see, for example, a passage in her 2003 tribute to Agnes Berger [1]. Here and there in Testament she alludes to her ideas that she had yet to develop. Though I don’t know what she was thinking about, I can imagine that she might have been thinking about developing that work further.

She must have been disappointed that it had not found much of an audience. I rather doubt that that disregard had much to do with being either a woman or Jewish. No, she was ahead of her time, which is what I had in mind with my recent article about her in 3 Quarks Daily [2]. Perhaps this disappointment was simply too painful to dwell on, or too distracting.

But she did get one word in, and in a prominent place in the book, its penultimate paragraph. She is addressing Princeton students at a protest in 1970:

You will have to know in depth the nature of a dozen disciplines: medicine, education, architecture, city planning, transportation, food production, the generation of power, pricing mechanisms, local administration, government organization. You will have to read the world both in fictional and mathematical terms: with empathy, the imaginative projection of one’s own consciousness into another human being, and with logic and rational analysis and lucidity and precision. You may come to stand above your society and epoch as one who views an immense doll house, a miniature city: in every room, in every street, in every mind the activities proceed, locally purposeful but not consciously connected to the larger scheme and often collectively random and destructive.

That’s the antepenultimate paragraph. Here’s the penultimate paragraph:

Such a global knowledge can evoke that “holographic awareness” which transcends its interpretation in the mechanical language of recurrent programs. It “holds compact in one” that global vision which continuously reinterprets reality in terms of lived experience. Thus you will assert your superior humanity and do better than the computer.


[1] Memoir: To Agnes Berger (1916-2002) and Our Friendship, Newsletter, Association for Women in Mathematics, Volume 33, Number 1, January-February 2003, 7-10.

[2] Next year in Jerusalem: The brilliant ideas and radiant legacy of Miriam Lipschutz Yevick [in relation to current AI debates], 3 Quarks Daily, October 9, 2023, https://3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2023/10/next-year-in-jerusalem-the-brilliant-ideas-and-radiant-legacy-of-miriam-lipschutz-yevick-in-relation-to-current-ai-debates.html.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Seasonal, but not spooky

Transmission Versus Truth, Imitation Versus Innovation: Children vs. LLMs

Yiu, E., Kosoy, E., & Gopnik, A. (2023). Transmission Versus Truth, Imitation Versus Innovation: What Children Can Do That Large Language and Language-and-Vision Models Cannot (Yet). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/17456916231201401

Abstract: Much discussion about large language models and language-and-vision models has focused on whether these models are intelligent agents. We present an alternative perspective. First, we argue that these artificial intelligence (AI) models are cultural technologies that enhance cultural transmission and are efficient and powerful imitation engines. Second, we explore what AI models can tell us about imitation and innovation by testing whether they can be used to discover new tools and novel causal structures and contrasting their responses with those of human children. Our work serves as a first step in determining which particular representations and competences, as well as which kinds of knowledge or skills, can be derived from particular learning techniques and data. In particular, we explore which kinds of cognitive capacities can be enabled by statistical analysis of large-scale linguistic data. Critically, our findings suggest that machines may need more than large-scale language and image data to allow the kinds of innovation that a small child can produce.

What’s going on? Antisemitism is breaking out all over. Why?

The ostensible reason is Israel’s retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 4 assault. I wonder, though. I suspect something more complex is going on. This is from today’s NYTimes:

But it’s not just Hollywood.

While the effect is pronounced in Hollywood, where there is a large Jewish presence, the entirety of liberal America has been similarly convulsed. On Capitol Hill, across college campuses and among progressive activist groups and philanthropies, a raw divide has emerged. On one side, there is ardent support for Israel. On the other is an energized faction who view the Palestinian cause as an extension of the racial and social justice movements that swept through the United States in the summer of 2020. And there are others, including Jewish people, calling for a cease-fire.

What’s going on? Let me ramble a bit.

When I look at the situation in-and-around Israel, it makes my head ache. It’s so complicated. If I were to live in the Middle East, it would be in Israel because it’s closest to my values. It seems to be a functioning democracy.

But I see the settlements on the West Bank, and I don’t like it. It’s wrong, it’s going to lead to trouble, I think. I don’t like the blockage of Gaza. Yes, I understand there’s a protective impulse, there needs to be a protective impulse. I don’t like Netanyahu and his government. There’s a lot not to like going on in Israel.

Then Hamas goes on a rampage on October 7. That’s wrong! I don’t have to think about it, it’s just wrong. Upon further reflection, still, and taking into account Israel’s retaliation (so far), it’s wrong. But I can see, that is, I am imagining that, for others, the retaliation tipped them the other way. They realize the situation is complicated, as do I, but for some reason or another, they tip the other way.

Why? Who knows? I don’t. But I don’t think it’s simply about Israel and Palestine and the Middle East. Remember, English people nurtured their antisemitism for three and a half centuries (between 1290 and the mid-17th century) when there were no Jews in England. That antisemitism was about the English psycho-cultural economy, not about Jews. There’s always that ethno-psychic internal component to these things. I suspect that this surprising (at least to some of us) eruption of antisemitism is more about that internal-component than it is about external events.

Let’s return to that New York Times article. Here’s how it ends:

And there are ways in which Hollywood’s Jewish community has recently begun to feel taken for granted.

Bitter feelings linger, for instance, over the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The museum opened in late 2021 with a focus on diversity and inclusion; exhibits highlighted the often-overlooked contributions that women and people of color made to the art form. But the Jewish immigrants who founded the studio system were barely mentioned. After complaints, including from Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media entrepreneur who had donated $50 million to the museum, curators scrambled to put together a new permanent exhibition on the Jewish founders. It has not yet opened.

In part because Jewish immigrants founded Hollywood as a way to escape the antisemitism they faced in more established industries, this current moment of agitation feels profound.

It's that damn snake again!

Sabine Hossenfelder on Climate Change [opportunity cost]

She's got a thread on X, aka The Site Formerly Known as Twitter. Here's her first Xcerpt:

I really feel like there are a lot of people who cannot grasp why climate change is such a big problem, people who are like "ah, cmon, we'll just all buy air conditioning". You must have seen them here on twitter before: It's the "climate's always been changing" type who thinks everyone who is even mildly concerned is an "alarmist".

If you're one of them, here's what you do not understand: There's only so much work that one human can do in one day. The more time we need to spend to fix climate related problems, the less time we will have for other things. Consequently, climate change is going to cause a huge societal and technological stagnation if not regress.

We will be forced to pour an increasingly huge fraction of our economic output into fixing climate problems. Increasingly more people will have to work on mitigation and adaption. Building higher dams, building more air conditioning, moving people out of coastal areas that'll be flooded. Building higher walls at the borders of rich countries so the migrants from now unlivable areas don't run you over...

You can even see this happening already, with all the money that's going into climate projects: This is money which is not available for cancer research. Opportunity costs, ppl, opportunity costs.

As a consequence of all the effort we need to put into coping with climate-caused problems, there'll be fewer people to do other stuff. Like scientific research. Like updating all your beloved gadgets. Like fixing your roads or rooftops or building new hospitals and kindergartens and playgrounds.

What do new hospitals have to do with climate change? As I said there's only so much work humans can do in one day. Every person who works on building a new dam is one person who does not work on building a new hospital.

What is it going to look like for you and I? It'll mean that a lot of infrastructure will deteriorate and not be fixed, and consumer products will get more expensive until they become unaffordable for all but the super-rich. Want internet at home? That'll be $500 a month.

Most of us have grown up with constant progress. Tech gets better and cheaper all the time. We're so used to it we take it for granted. Well you know what it's not a law of nature. Things can fall apart very quickly, ask anyone in Venezuela or Zimbabwe.

That's the point you "cmon we'll get an AC" guys do not understand. You can get your AC alright but it'll cost you a year's worth of income.

I don't want my children to grow up in a phase of economic regress, that's why I support action on climate change. It's not because I think it'll kill us all. It's because the next 100 years will be fucking depressing.

Darryl 🌪️Viva la Entropy🌪️ Morris asks:

Now, about that pro-capitalism video you did.... well, Climate Change is what capitalism got us, and still all that extra work fixing things will be good for GDP and all the stuff that brakes gets written off as 'consumption', also good for capitalism

Hossenfelder answers:

I made the entire video to explain that, no, capitalism is not what caused the problem, the problem is that we did not do what economists have been saying for decades: Account for externalities. The "capitalism is bad" people are the CAUSE of the problem.

The conversation keeps going. There's more at the link.

Unfortunate circumstances

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Youth Quake Africa: By 2050 one person in four will be African [Kisangani 2150]

Declan Walsh, The World Is Becoming More African, NYTimes, Oct. 28, 2023.

Opening paragraphs:

Astonishing change is underway in Africa, where the population is projected to nearly double to 2.5 billion over the next quarter-century — an era that will not only transform many African countries, experts say, but also radically reshape their relationship with the rest of the world.

Birthrates are tumbling in richer nations, creating anxiety about how to care for, and pay for, their aging societies. But Africa’s baby boom continues apace, fueling the youngest, fastest growing population on earth.

In 1950, Africans made up 8 percent of the world’s people. A century later, they will account for one-quarter of humanity, and at least one-third of all young people aged 15 to 24, according to United Nations forecasts.

The median age on the African continent is 19. In India, the world’s most populous country, it is 28. In China and the United States, it is 38.

The implications of this “youthquake,” as some call it, are immense yet uncertain, and likely to vary greatly across Africa, a continent of myriad cultures and some 54 countries that covers an area larger than China, Europe, India and the United States combined. But its first signs are already here.

It reverberates in the bustle and thrum of the continent’s ballooning cities, their hectic streets jammed with new arrivals, that make Africa the most rapidly urbanizing continent on earth.

It pulses in the packed stadiums of London or New York, where African musicians are storming the world of pop, and in the heaving megachurches of West Africa, where the future of Christianity is being shaped.

And it shows in the glow of Africa’s 670 million cellphones, one for every second person on the continent — the dominant internet device used to move money, launch revolutions, stoke frustrations and feed dreams.

“It feels like the opportunities are unlimited for us right now,” said Jean-Patrick Niambé, a 24-year-old hip-hop artist from Ivory Coast who uses the stage name Dofy, as he rode in a taxi to a concert in the capital, Abidjan, this year.


When the Nigerian star Burna Boy stepped out before an adoring crowd at New York’s Citi Field this summer, he confirmed himself as pop royalty.

Weeks earlier, in London, he had filled an 80,000-capacity venue. In New York, he became the first African artist to sell out an American stadium.

He sang his new single, “Sittin’ on Top of the World.”

It was yet another milestone for Afrobeats, a West African musical genre that is becoming a global sensation. Afrobeats songs were streamed over 13 billion times on Spotify last year, up from eight billion in 2021; the genre’s biggest hit, Rema’s “Calm Down,” was a fan phenomenon at the soccer World Cup in Qatar. Countless TikTok dance challenges were born.

“It’s a great time to be alive,” said Laolu Senbanjo, a Nigerian artist living in Brooklyn. “Whether I’m in Target or an Uber, I hear the Afrobeats. It’s like a bridge. The world has come together.”

African artists seemed to be on red carpets everywhere this year — at the Grammy Awards, which added a new category for Best African Music; at the Met Gala, where the Nigerian singer Tems came fringed in ostrich feathers; and at the Cannes Film Festival, where a young French-Senegalese director, Ramata-Toulaye Sy, was a breakout star.

There's much more at the link.

A guide to jazz lingo

Cobblestones, cars, wires, and Acme

ChatGPT discourses learnedly on decorative facial hair

So, my good buddy Adam Roberts, ran up this most interesting tweet, to which I replied:

I then did what comes naturally in such situations, I decided to consult the expert, the magister, the sage of the day, ChatGPT. I’ve appended our discourse on this most interesting topic.

I quizzed the Chatster on the following topics:

  • What can you tell me about decorative facial hair?
  • What can you tell me about the history of decorative facial hair?
  • How does decorative facial hair vary across cultures?
  • Do space aliens have decorative facial hair?
  • Well, if you were to write a science fiction story about aliens landing on earth, would you give them decorative facial hair? Would they, perhaps, adopt decorative facial hair to disguise their alien features so that they could more effective blend in with the locals?
  • I’ve never seen clowns with decorative facial hair. Do you know why that is?
  • What are the most famous beards in world history?
As a bonus, I did a web search on "decorative facial hair." Lots of good Halloween costume stuff.

* * * * *

What can you tell me about decorative facial hair?

Decorative facial hair, often referred to as facial hair styling or facial hair grooming, involves shaping and grooming facial hair, such as mustaches, beards, and sideburns, to create unique and aesthetically pleasing designs. These styles can be a form of self-expression and personal grooming, reflecting individual tastes and fashion trends. Here are some common forms of decorative facial hair:

1. Mustaches: Mustaches come in various shapes and sizes. Popular styles include the classic "handlebar" mustache, which curls at the ends, the "fu manchu" mustache, and the "pencil" mustache, which is thin and neatly groomed.
2. Beards: Beards are versatile, and there are countless styles to choose from. Some common decorative beard styles include the goatee (a small beard below the mouth), the soul patch (a small patch of hair just below the lower lip), the Van Dyke (a combination of a mustache and a goatee), and the full beard, which can be groomed and shaped in various ways.
3. Sideburns: Sideburns are the patches of hair that extend from the temples down to the jawline. They can be shaped and groomed in various ways, from short and neatly trimmed to long and bushy.
4. Chin Straps: Chin straps are narrow bands of facial hair that run along the jawline. They create a distinct and angular look, often extending from sideburns to the chin. 5. Designer Stubble: Designer stubble is a carefully maintained, short beard that gives a rugged and masculine appearance. It's groomed to a consistent length and can be shaped to highlight specific facial features.
6. Mutton Chops: Mutton chops are large sideburns that extend down the cheeks and may or may not connect to a mustache or beard. They can be thick and bold or more subtle.
7. Whiskers: Whiskers refer to elongated, often curled, facial hair around the cheeks and jawline. They are commonly associated with the Victorian era and have a distinctive, vintage appeal.
8. The Horseshoe: The horseshoe mustache, also known as the biker mustache, resembles an upside-down U shape and is often associated with motorcyclists and tough-guy personas.
9. Novelty Styles: Some people get creative with their facial hair, shaping it into various symbols or patterns for special occasions or events.

Maintaining decorative facial hair typically requires regular grooming, trimming, and the use of beard oils, waxes, and other grooming products to keep the hair in place and looking its best. Many individuals use specialized tools, such as trimmers and razors, to achieve the desired style. The choice of style often depends on personal preferences, cultural influences, and fashion trends.

It's important to note that not all styles suit everyone's face shape or hair type, so experimenting with different looks and seeking professional advice can help you find the perfect decorative facial hair style for you.

No, LLMs do not have a so-called Theory of Mind

Hyunwoo Kim, Melanie Sclar, Xuhui Zhou, Ronan Le Bras, Gunhee Kim, Yejin Choi, Maarten Sap, FANToM: A Benchmark for Stress-testing Machine Theory of Mind in Interactions, EMNLP 2023.  

Abstract: Theory of mind (ToM) evaluations currently focus on testing models using passive narratives that inherently lack interactivity. We introduce FANToM 👻, a new benchmark designed to stress-test ToM within information-asymmetric conversational contexts via question answering. Our benchmark draws upon important theoretical requisites from psychology and necessary empirical considerations when evaluating large language models (LLMs). In particular, we formulate multiple types of questions that demand the same underlying reasoning to identify illusory or false sense of ToM capabilities in LLMs. We show that FANToM is challenging for state-of-the-art LLMs, which perform significantly worse than humans even with chain-of-thought reasoning or fine-tuning.

Friday, October 27, 2023

A light purple reminder

The shallow brain hypothesis

Abstract of the article linked above:

Deep learning and predictive coding architectures commonly assume that inference in neural networks is hierarchical. However, largely neglected in deep learning and predictive coding architectures is the neurobiological evidence that all hierarchical cortical areas, higher or lower, project to and receive signals directly from subcortical areas. Given these neuroanatomical facts, today’s dominance of cortico-centric, hierarchical architectures in deep learning and predictive coding networks is highly questionable; such architectures are likely to be missing essential computational principles the brain uses. In this Perspective, we present the shallow brain hypothesis: hierarchical cortical processing is integrated with a massively parallel process to which subcortical areas substantially contribute. This shallow architecture exploits the computational capacity of cortical microcircuits and thalamo-cortical loops that are not included in typical hierarchical deep learning and predictive coding networks. We argue that the shallow brain architecture provides several critical benefits over deep hierarchical structures and a more complete depiction of how mammalian brains achieve fast and flexible computational capabilities.

See Benzon and Hays, Principles and Development of Natural Intelligence (1988), for a comparable idea.

A Prefrontal Cortex-inspired Architecture for Planning in LLMS

Jake Browning: Generative AI is Boring [agreed]

First paragraph:

Now that the dust has settled and the hype has died down (except on Twitter), we can give a verdict: generative AI is boring. We already know they can't reason, can't plan, only superficially understand the world, and lack any understanding of other people. And, as Sam Altman and Bill Gates have both attested, scaling up further won't fix what ails them. We're now able to evaluate what they are with fair confidence it won't improve much by doing more of the same. And the conclusion is: they're pretty boring.


But, worse, they are increasingly boring. As companies recognize the way harmful content by the bots reflects on their brand, they have increasingly hamstrung the models and encouraged them to provide increasingly generic answers. While this is great if the goal is to make them less harmful, there is no question they are becoming blander and discussing ever fewer topics. If it is too unreliable for factual questions, too stupid for problem-solving, and too generic to talk to, it isn't clear what their purpose is besides copy.

The increasingly boring nature of these models is, in its own way, useful. We now see more clearly the gap between what can be learned from the current type of generative models, even multimodal ones. They excel at the superficial stuff--like capturing a Wes Anderson aesthetic--but not improving on the more abstract stuff, on how things work and behave and interact. This is especially visible in the AI movie trailers, where fancy scenes and elaborate aliens briefly come into frame, but nothing ever happens--no space battles or sword fighting, just more blank faces staring at the camera and vista shots.

That's pretty much what I've concluded about ChatGPT's storytelling, which doesn't particularly bother me because I find what it does do to be fascinating.

If I read her correctly, that's pretty much what Nina Beguš has concluded as well, Experimental Narratives: A Comparison of Human Crowdsourced Storytelling and AI Storytelling, though she doesn't use the word "boring." From her paper, where she compares human-generated with GPT-generated stories:

Although 330 stories analyzed in this paper thematized scientific and technological innovations, GPT’s imaginative landscape was much narrower than that of human writers. Like human-written stories, GPT-generated stories thematize artificial intelligence, robotics, and possibly also biotechnology, but they rarely include other already existing technologies, such as virtual assistants, virtual and augmented reality, online dating, which were present in human-written stories.

Stories are taken away from the current time and space, starting with "Once upon a time." They are set in a faraway, made-up futuristic place, bare of any cultural aspects, such as "a bustling metropolis teeming with innovation" or “the vibrant city of Elysia," in which a "brilliant scientist" or "innovator" creates a humanoid indistinguishable from actual humans. This steady beginning of the story presents a huge limitation to the theme. Never does GPT manage to write a story that truly deviates from the typical generation, not even in the playground mode (3.5).

GPT stories are predictable in its plot and message. Every GPT-generated story, in one way or another, addresses the unconventionality of this relationship. GPT is prone to wrapping up each story with a moral lesson, as well as to commenting on the plot with moralization. A majority of GPT-generated stories take the example of human-humanoid love as a symbol of societal advancement and society. Overwhelmingly techno-positive, stories of failure in human- humanoid love are far in between. Hoary clichés and meaningless platitudes, such as “love knows no boundaries” and “love transcends artificiality,” are common in these stories and occur in conclusions as a rule. Apart from the scientific obsession, GPT does not try to justify the pursuit of the artificial human creation.

Only a handful of GPT-4-generated stories manages to elaborate the theme to a more sophisticated level. In Prompt 1 Story 10, after falling in love with the artificial human Ada, her creator and lover Victor wanted to become immortal in order to live with Ada forever. An added twist, such as polyamory (pointed out also in 3.2), blackmail (cited in whole in 3.5), and friendship instead of romantic love, are three most innovative motifs in all 80 generations.

The Mighty Art Ensemble of Chicage, with Guests, Berlin, Oct. 31, 1991

Art Ensemble of Chicago:
Lester Bowie - trumpet
Roscoe Mitchell - saxophones, percussion
Joseph Jarman - saxophones, percussion
Malachi Favors Maghostut - bass
Famoudou Don Moye - drums, percussion


Art Ensemble of Chicago + Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy:
Gerald Brazel, Earl Gardner, Jim Sealy - trumpet
Luis Bonilla, Jamal Haynes - trombone
Vincent Chancey - french horn
Marcus Rojas - tuba
Vinnie Johnson - drums

47:00: In the still of the night

Art Ensemble of Chicago + Amabhuto Male Chorus:
Max Bhe Bhe, Ndonda Kunze, Joe Leguabe, Thomas Moyo, Kay Nxumalo, Jack Nyoni, David Serame - vocals


Art Ensemble of Chicago + Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy + Amabhuto Male Chorus:


Friday Fotos: Pot Luck

Miriam Yevick on her colleague, Agnes Berger – ein Kultivierter Mensch

From a piece Yevick wrote about a recently-deceased friend:

Memoir: To Agnes Berger (1916-2002) and Our Friendship, Newsletter, Association for Women in Mathematics, Volume 33, Number 1, January-February 2003, 7-10.


We met in the fall of 1947 in the Columbia Mathematics library, a four-flight climb up the rotunda. We were in the same situation: women Ph.D.'s in mathematics without a position because of our gender. Upon her arrival in the U.S. Agnes had approached yon Neumann, an acquaintance from Hungary, for advice on how to further her career. He suggested---even though a decade later he wrote a letter of recommendation in which he spoke very highly of her abilities--that she should work as a housekeeper and do mathematics at night. I had a similar experience upon earning my degree at MIT. The woman in charge of placing women graduates informed me that "of course I could not get an academic position in mathematics as a woman" and that I should opt for being a technical assistant. However, not long after her arrival, Agnes had "captured" (in Erdös language) Laçzy, a successful stockbroker. "Something was happening," she told me later, so she concentrated on her goal of establishing a family, which also had interfered with her ambitions. Yet we each were determined to stay with our vocation, so we dragged ourselves uptown (I lived in Hoboken, Agnes on the East Side) and up the stairs. We faithfully attended seminars, we studied the books, we attempted to do some research on our own and we wondered about what, as women, we should do with our lives. Agnes had a two-year-old toddler at home and wanted another baby. 1In the face of our ambivalency, we supported each other in our work.

Flirting, “in the European upper-middle-class tradition, exclaimed”:

Agnes and Laçzy rented a summer cottage when Johnny was five, the Sommerfrische a city child needed. Agnes felt rather out of sorts as a vacation mother with no opportunity to do her own work. She invited me for a weekend. The weather was balmy and the mosquitoes out in force, the moon was full. "A great night for making love," Agnes whispered to me. However Johnny together with a group of age-mates had discovered a machine from which freely gushed Coca-Cola. The whole pack, high on the drink, rampaged all over the colony. They were eventually subdued and the night was still long.

One day I gave a lecture at the Columbia Statistics seminar in which I held my ground against some notable in the audience who did not understand me and harassed me. "I admire your courage in talking back," Agnes said to me. This critic called me to his office and sweated as I once more explained myself in greater detail. "Why must you do such hard things?" he finally lamented. A newcomer in the department, later Professor at Harvard, shared the office with this mathematician. The newcomer listened to my argument and showed the notable critic that my conclusions were correct. I met Agnes in the corridor and praised my supporter to Agnes. Agnes, who could be a flirt in the European upper-middle-class tradition, exclaimed: "Now, Miriam, I have an eye on him. Don't you dare!" She was equally sympathetic to my romantic dilemmas. "You must decide, Miriam, who you want to be the father of your child," she said to me at a critical juncture. Her words, spoken as we ate in the Columbia cafeteria, still ring in my ears as I think of that fateful choice.

Even the great John von Neumann could make a mistake:

Agnes continued her professional work even after she retired. Her publications include several written after she turned eighty. Meanwhile I had been talking to her about the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics to which my reading had returned after almost fifty years. I told her about an error in von Neumann's proof of the non- existence of hidden variables in quantum mechanics. This proof had been of great importance in validating Bohr's interpretation of quantum mechanics among physicists versus Einstein's views. A woman physicist, Grete Hermann had pointed out this error in a publication in the late nineteen thirties, but her paper was completely ignored. Agnes, in spite of her general support of those challenging orthodoxy in science, refused to believe that yon Neumann could have made a mistake. It was only after I sent her one of John Bell's papers confirming the error that she admitted to her unjustified obduracy. This discussion between us took part during the last years of her life. Two years ago, in an attempt at understanding how probability is used in Quantum Mechanics, I brought her a paper on this subject by a Professor at Cornell that I could not understand. Even though it was by then hard for her to read, she made the effort. "Rubbish!" was her opinion, as was my suspicion. If only in her honor, I am determined to prove her right in this matter. I am still working on it.

What it means to be an intellectual:

Agnes was an intellectual in the deepest sense of the word, in the spirit of the outstanding scholars Hungarian Jewry produced. She knew that her roots were in the Jewish tradition of learning even if the learning had become secular, as were the roots of her profound social conscience. She carded the burden of the world on her shoulders, as she believed all Jews should. Agnes had an admirable scientific objectivity in all her judgments. Her voice was truly authentic. She was ein Kultivierter Mensch, as her parents and mine used to say.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Ellen Alaverdyan plays Victor Wooten

Ezra Klein on Andreesen's Reactionary Futurism [Starship Troopers]

Ezra Klein, The Reactionary Futurism of Marc Andreessen, NYTimes, Ocr. 26, 2023.

Now Andreessen has distilled the whole ideology to a procession of stark bullet points in his latest missive, the buzzy, bizarre “Techno-Optimist Manifesto.” I think it ill named. What makes it distinctive is not its views on technology, which are crude for a technologist of Andreessen’s stature. Rather, it’s the pairing of the reactionary’s sodden take on modern society with the futurist’s starry imagining of the bright tomorrow. So call it what it is: reactionary futurism.

Andreessen’s argument is simple: Technology is good. Very good. Those who stand in its way are bad. He is clear on who they are, in a section titled simply “The Enemy.” The list is long, ranging from “anti-greatness” to “statism” to “corruption” to “the ivory tower” to “cartels” to “bureaucracy” to “socialism” to “abstract theories” to anyone “disconnected from the real world … playing God with everyone else’s lives” (which arguably describes the kinds of technologists Andreessen is calling forth, but I digress). It ends — I kid you not — on a quotation from Nietzsche. “The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small.”

So who is it, exactly, who extinguishes the dancing star within the human soul?

Our present society has been subjected to a mass demoralization campaign for six decades — against technology and against life — under varying names like “existential risk,” “sustainability,” “E.S.G.,” “sustainable development goals,” “social responsibility,” “stakeholder capitalism,” “precautionary principle,” “trust and safety,” “tech ethics,” “risk management,” “degrowth,” “the limits of growth.”

The enemy, in other words, is anything or anyone who might seek to yoke technology to social goals or structures, who would erect guardrails or impose limits on the John Galts of tomorrow.


Andreessen focuses at some length on the nuclear future he believes we’ve been denied — I’d agree that regulation has been too heavy-handed in that arena, though it’s worth noting that nuclear power has faced similar problems across a range of countries with very different cultures and regulatory systems — but curiously ignores the stunning advances in solar and wind and battery power that public policy has delivered.

Why does that remarkable success go unmentioned? Perhaps because it makes heroes of Andreessen’s preferred villains. He yearns for a kind of person, not just a kind of technology. “We believe in ambition, aggression, persistence, relentlessness — strength,” he writes, italics included. “We believe in merit and achievement. We believe in bravery, in courage.”

Andreessen is not entirely wide of the mark here. There are ways in which these virtues have become undervalued, in which the left, in particular, has a dysfunctional relationship with individual achievement and entrepreneurial élan. But what’s needed is a synthesis Andreessen doesn’t even attempt, preferring the aesthetic of the Übermensch to the complexities of the age.

I am TechBro, hear me roar:

“We are not primitives, cowering in fear of the lightning bolt,” Andreessen writes. “We are the apex predator; the lightning works for us.” Or so we want to believe. I am more of a McLuhanite in this — though, given Andreessen’s affection for Nietzsche, perhaps a quote of his is what we need here. “If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” It is hard to read Andreessen’s manifesto, with its chopped-up paragraphs and its blunt jabs of thought delivered for maximum engagement and polarization, and not feel that Andreessen now reflects the medium in which he has made his home: X. He doesn’t just write in the way the medium rewards. He increasingly seems to think in its house style, too.

The end:

Reactionary futurism is accelerationist in affect but deccelerationist in practice. Treating so much of society with such withering contempt will not speed up a better future. It will turn people against the politics and policies of growth, just as it did before. Trust is the most essential technology of all.

There's more at the link.

* * * * *

Bonus: Klein's article is getting a lot of replies. Here's one by RM2Ride that gets right to the point:

As a denizen of Silicon Valley, to me Adreesen's screed seems merely a representation of the energy that drives so many men (mostly) of this place: unfettered faith in "technology" over interpersonal relationship building; vindictiveness that seems to stem from being unpopular during formative developmental years; and massive insecurity at never knowing whether their lack of popularity and inability to build actual trusting human relationships has been over-written by their ability to have managed - by luck or invention - to have made piles of cash.

Bird's eye view of an iris spreading its petals

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

ConvNets Match Vision Transformers at Scale

Light Rail

Beyond projection: We need to rethink human society, making evolutionary cultural dynamics primary

In my freshman year at Johns Hopkins I read an essay that Talcott Parsons published in 1947, “Certain Primary Sources of Aggression in the Social Structure of the Western World”. It’s been on my mind ever since and I’ve blogged about it I don’t know how many times, e.g. TO WAR! Part 1: War and America's National Psyche. Parsons argued that Western child-rearing practices generate a great deal of insecurity and anxiety at the core of personality structure. This creates an adult who has a great deal of trouble dealing with aggression and is prone to scapegoating. Inevitably, there are lots of aggressive impulses which cannot be followed out. They must be repressed. Ethnic scapegoating is one way to relieve the pressure of this repressed aggression. That, Parsons argued, is why the Western world is flush with nationalistic and ethnic antipathy. I suspect, in fact, that this dynamic is inherent in nationalism as a psycho-cultural phenomenon.

A full decade before Parsons, John Dollard published Caste and Class in a Southern Town, which “redirected the study of southern race relations in general and lynching in particular” by asking a simple question: Why do people need racism? The question implies that mistaken beliefs about others are symptoms of racism, not its cause. Racism has some useful function in the individual or collective lives of racists. What function could that be? Dollard’s answer was, in effect, to keep the peace.

In a post from 2013, Blacks, Blues, and Soul Sickness: Lynching and Racism in the USofA, I quote him making an argument the anticipates Parsons’ 1947 argument. Dollard observes that social life is often frustrating, generating aggressive impulses which cannot be always be satisfied. In Dollard’s view this leads to

a generalized or “free-floating” aggression . . . [that] can be thought of as a tendency to kick, hit, scorn or derogate someone or something if one could only find out what. A second necessity is that of a permissive social pattern. This must exist in order to lift the in-group taboos on hostility. The permissive pattern isolates a group within the society which may be disliked. Usually it is a defenseless group. . . The third essential in race prejudice is that the object must be uniformly identifiable. [pp. 445-446]

In other words, white racists are using blacks as scapegoats for the accumulated frustrations they experience in daily life. Aggressive impulses are being displaced from their real objects, which are appropriate targets, to substitute objects, toward whom one can act aggressively.

Then just yesterday I quoted Stephen Greenblatt on how the English nourished antisemitism from 1290 through to the mid-17th century, a period when there were no Jews at all in England. This anxiety, anger, resentment, and hatred thus had to originate entirely within the socio-cultural dynamics of English society. It had nothing at all to do with interaction with real Jews.

There’s an obvious pattern here. I could multiply examples. You’ll find some of them in the articles I’ve linked.

But the psychodynamic imagery of projection, which was at the heart of Parson’s rather convoluted psychoanalytic account is not helpful. It seems to imply that one sees or senses something within oneself, right here, picks it up and then tosses it, that is, projects it, to someone else, over there. The process is not that deliberate and self-conscious. It just happens.

It’s more like a failure to differentiate in the first place, a failure nurtured by various cultural practices, including rituals and stories. For it is through those kinds of practices that the negative affect becomes attributed to other people and other groups. Ultimately, we’ve got to go back to infancy, which is after all, where Freud started, where the infant is unable to differentiate between ego and alter. How do cultural mechanisms shape those interactions?

It's turtles all the way down, that is, interpersonal interaction. That’s what I struggled to conceptualize in the special case of music in my book on music, Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture, “Part I: Collective Dynamics,” pp. 23-90. And I started where one must start, with the brain. What is going on in the brains of people while they’re interacting?

That question was just barely an empirical one when I wrote the book, but it had become (almost) empirical. I was able to cite some early work by Uri Hasson. That early work has blossomed into an extensive area of research crossing many disciplinary lines. You can find some of that word by searching my blog on the name “Hasson,” and the tags, “coupling” and “synchrony”.

More later.

Oct 7 massacre at an Israeli trance festival

More from the article:

Days later, the evidence of what then happened is still strewn about everywhere. Torn up tents, water and alcohol bottles lying everywhere, along with glowsticks and makeup. A small car full of blood and flies. A motorcycle with a sticker from Gaza. Investigators are here, and so are – still – body bags. The dead, the injured and the kidnapped still haven’t been conclusively counted, but 260 people are thought to have been killed, perhaps more. The murderers, Hamas fighters from the Gaza Strip, arrived with four-wheelers, paragliders and pickups just like the ones that are still parked here on the rural road leading to the kibbutz. White Toyotas, the terrorists’ belongings still in the bed: army boots, plastic flipflops, Arab cigarettes, vanilla cookies from Turkey. The bodies of some of the attackers are still lying in the open field. Flies are buzzing and the smell of decay is in the air.