…and Kentlee followed up with a pointer to John Gall‘s The Systems Bible, which deals with Systemantics. It first appeared in 1975, was updated in 1986, and expanded in a third edition in 2012. I grabbed it on the Kindle and started reading, flipping between parody and an exposé of some of the fallacies and limitations of “systems thinking” as practised (and buzzworded) in the early 1970s. Delightful reading, a flavor of which can be sampled via Taylor Pearson, and from Drafty Manor. Gall was an acute observer and had a sharp eye for hypocrises, things hidden in plain sight, and the Emperor’s Clothes.
I happened to look at the book’s cataloging information and found that one of its Library of Congress subject descriptors is
System Theory – anecdotes, facetiae, satire, etc.
Facetiae, eh? Here are some of the dictionary entries for that one:
treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor flippant joking or jesting, often inappropriately a joke with a little drop of sarcasm intentionally unserious making humorous remarks or saying things they do not mean in a situation where they ought to be serious characterized by levity of attitude and love of joking dark humor playfully jocular waggish cutting, witty, often sarcastic remarks a sarcastic and sardonic comment, more sneering and meaner not meant to be taken seriously or literally joking in terms of pretending something is true, while knowing that it is false
Hmmmm, I thought, how guilty am I of pretty much all of those? How many of the books on my shelves partake of the facetious and the parodic? Edward Gorey? Terry Pratchett? Archy and Mehitabel? The Good Soldier Svejk? The Big Lebowski? Sandman? uh oh…
A couple of days ago I happened upon Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books (Georges Perec). Since I’ve been working on Arranging in the Auxiliary Library in the barn for at least a month, it seemed a no-brainer to order. And today along comes email from John-the-son asking about the Nexial Institute, which several of us [consider that we] invented and elected ourselves to in about 1973. His question:
So I’ve always assumed that this idea had some particular vision or principles behind it, but I also get the impression it may have been a joke. Perhaps both.
Have you done any writing about what was or was not within this set of ideas? I figured this included several others from … grad school days? Or early Acadia?
Did you ever do anything formal with this Institute? Or particular ideas that propelled the conservations surrounding it?
I’ve got queries out to the original perpetrators (Kent, Shel, Mom) and I’ll be interested to see their takes. For me the Significance of the Nexial Institute has remained …well… Significant, and I’d even claim that everything I’ve done since 1973 is somehow rooted in the basic notions of everything connected to everything, of Systems, of the Dynamical. But I suppose it was basically a joke, or perhaps more accurately a Joke.
Kent’s response fingered the origin of ‘Nexial’ from A.E. van Vogt’s sci-fi The Voyage of the Space Beagle, which I don’t think I have ever read (and so have ordered…). Wikipedia:
The main protagonist of the novel is Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, the only Nexialist on board (a new discipline depicted as taking an actively generalist approach towards science). It is Grosvenor’s training and application of Nexialism rather than the more narrow-minded approaches of the individual scientific and military minds of his other shipmates that consistently prove more effective against the hostile encounters both from outside and within the Space Beagle.
And here’s John’s response to my response:
Got it… But did it have as a part of the germ, the inversion of all that complexity, of the observer influencing what was observed, and of the realization that follows that your every intention, conscious and otherwise, is responsible for influencing the “outside” world, just as it is imperfectly creating the illusion of that objectivity within consciousness, replete with ungraspable biases? The unknown knowns that constrain our very conception of what is possible and real? Oh, the paralysis that comes from that realization of interconnectivity, when you realize that every yarn you pull at will bring worlds crashing down and others springing into existence, barely or not even perceptible. The only ways forward I perceive from there is either to blindly follow the habituated momentum (karma) that was put into place before such a realization until the yawning chasm of awareness undilates again, OR fall into nihilism OR to consciously create an intention (art?) which requires an underlying faith that it will come about, and that circumstances will co-incide to bring it about, if the intention is aligned across consciousness, and circumstances will throw cascading obstacles if the different levels of intentions are incoherent or at cross-purposes?
um… probably, what with the amount of consciousness-expanding consumption that was going on?
So this comes from the “duh” perspective of yes, “yeah sure, dad” everything is connected “so what?”
So there’s the next Challenge, unpacking all of that. At the moment, all I have to contribute is the conviction that “a lot of my present-day library could be woven in”, and some photos of a few shelves from the barn to suggest some of what I can draw upon:
(Those categories are approximate and partial and provisional…)
And then yesterday along comes email from John the Son with this challenge:
On the subject of cats in Sarawak, have you read [Paolo Bacigalupi’s] ‘the windup girl‘ it’s very evocative and the GMO cats are everpresent. I’m very curious of your perspective on this vision of southeast Asia in the somewhat near future. And of the tensions between the Malay and Chinese immigrants that are cited as a brutal(future) history in the book. I remember you saying that each of the four groups thought the others were disgusting for different reasons: the Muslims, the Chinese, the Malay and the westerners…
into the answer of which is packed a vast morass of entangled Information. I did read The Windup Girl when it first came out, then passed the book along to my (much-missed since 2016) friend Hutch (whose Thai connections were deep), so I snagged it via Kindle and am reading it again to see what I might have thought before and what I think now.
John’s question dropped me right into Professor mode, to wrangling what I “know” and/or what I have thought I knew over a broad canvas, thinking about what I’d have to weave into any …explication… of the dimensions of a satisfying answer to the question. That’s great sport, in which I’ve lived for a good 55+ years—and which I should have lived in those 60 years ago days of Harvard /opportunities/, but needed then to (a) invent for myself, and (b) develop the requisite background to begin to practise. And of course I’m still learning how to do those things, and how to think about them.
That’s true for all of my Entanglements with subject matter
curiosity [about things not already listed…]
…and so I’ve been exploring the Southeast Asia territory of my mental and bibliographic Catalog, to figure out how to set about providing enough of the relevant background to make a sensible answer (i.e., to Inform the Others Against Their Will). There’s a sequence to the exposition, starting with physical geography, ecology, at least a millennium of human demography, and then finally history… covering the whole of what JOM Broek has summarized as
an area of transit and transition … [with a long history of] foreign intrusions … culturally a low-pressure area … recipients rather than donors of culture … ethnic and political fragmentation—a kind of Asian Balkans.
There’s plenty to quibble over in that summary, but it serves to indicate the diversity that has to be accounted for, understood, and fairly characterized.
That’s a term-long class to even contemplate. But wouldn’t it be fun to … no, it wouldn’t, or rather YES it would but only in the imagination. No names, no pack drill, no papers to write and read, no grades to turn in.
So here’s the first page I wrote:
The first thing I’d say is how arbitrary the national boundaries of Southeast Asia are [essentially colonial legacy] and how complex ethnic identities are within each of the current-day nations. Labels like ‘Chinese’, ‘Malay’, ‘Thai’, ‘Burmese’, ‘Indonesian’ project an image of homogeneity within the labels that is at best false-by-oversimplification. There’s an interesting analogy to explore in the shadow theatre so widespread across Southeast Asia; another is the music of gongs, present everywhere as shimmering sound, but in both cases built on illusion: the shadows of the puppets are insubstantial, flickering, turned into narrative by the words of the puppet-master storytellers; the striking of gongs rendered musical and comprehensible as evanescent layers each of which is a pretty simple repetition of a pattern. Somewhere under those visual and aural realizations is a profound syncretism of … Hindu and Buddhist influences, Muslim notions, a Western European and Colonial imposition of “order”, bits of Chinese high and low traditions … and all of that overlaid on a persisting base of indigenous animisms—enormously complex worlds of spirits and ghosts and shamanic manipulations. Add a murky history of trade and gene flows, and natural and anthropogenic ecologies, and human entanglement with plant and animal life, and rising falling seas. And make it equatorial, and subject to annual monsoon/dry cycles…
And there you have the stage set. For next class, please read………
(at least two classes on rice… and there’s rubber… and oil palm… and and and)
While exploring journal entries from 2007 (as part of work on the grand history of my own computer entanglements) I came across responses to a question posed by Gardner Campbell: what kind of poem are you? Here’s my response:
senryu is me enigmatic smile wrapped in clever doubletalk
and here’s Broot’s, much more elegant:
my weakness – senryu wryly observing humans skirting the unkind
Once again I’ve got only a single blog posting for the month. The photostream records a succession of grill-watching evenings:
(Kate does the grilling, I having no genes for that activity. She includes kohlrabi and green beans and zucchini as regular grillage, and it seems possible that ALL garden produce can be grilled…)
Organizing projects in shop and Library Annex proceed:
I bought a couple of professional-grade book carts to facilitate the Library (re-)organization process:
…and it proceeds slowly, arranged by my own idiosyncratic and ever-morphing categories:
It’s been very pleasant to spend afternoons sitting here dipping in and out of a succession of rediscovered books.
In Convivium space, I spent quite a while thinking about the Future. On other frontiers, lots of books read, music played, videos watched, trash picked up. Quite content to be mostly At Home, going from thing to thing.
And a lot of work (reading, writing, cogitation) on Convivium questions centered on memory.
There’s a Project just taking shape to make better sense of the welter of books on language, linguistics, lexicons, lexicography. That will probably enliven July, and necessitates a reorganization of the Auxiliary Library in the barn. And of course the piles of books on divers subjects grow and totter, delightfully.
And 25-30 miles a week of St. George peninsula roadside trash continues to be picked up on an almost daily basis (well over 140,000 cigarette butts in the four years since we started counting).
The London Review of Books is a continual delight, every issue replete with surprises and challenges, lambent writing, and things I had no idea I was interested in until I started reading. This week’s case in point: a review by Francis Gooding of Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds And Shape Our Futures, which I was reading and listening to (via Audible) about a year ago. This (summarizing “what we know of mycelium and its habits”) is from the last paragraph:
The explosive growth of interconnections, the development of flexible new relationships, the filling of spaces with a tangle of new pathways, novel and powerful exchanges and flows of information coursing through an electrically excitable network: what else but this would a fungus do if it really did seize hold of your mind… an entanglement of intimate, sudden, pulsing fresh connections between the things around it?
What a marvelous characterization of Education, I thought, and how very like what I experienced (mostly outside of classes…) with friends in the halcyon days of 1969-1971 at Stanford, and now and again in the years since (though the “electrically excitable network” didn’t really bloom until the 1990s), and mostly on my own in 16 years of retirement. Perhaps the greatest pleasure is never knowing when and in what modality the next inspiration will present itself, but they keep coming.
Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in the familiar territory of the rocks of Marshall Point, and (as usual) discovered scores of faces and creatures I’d never seen before, alongside old friends I’d captured on earlier expeditions. As I clambered over the rocks I tried to pay attention to what and how I was seeing, and to respond to the intensity of visual stimuli.
Most of the images from a day’s shooting convey the insight of a fleeting moment, an accident of light and angle: there’s a face, or the elements of a face, as if it was waiting for the photographer to come along and notice it and engage; seemingly, nobody else ever has.
The post-processing of images can focus the viewer’s attention on features as seen by the photographer. Such actions include cropping and rotation, tweaking Tone and Presence, judicious removal of distracting bits, vignetting, dodging and burning—all have plentiful precedent in traditional analog photography.
Quite a few of the processed images remain obscure to most viewers, who may wonder just what the photographer saw to inspire the framing and the exposure itself. A slim few pose no such challenge to the viewer: the physiognomy is palpable to anybody, and all agree that the face is real and actually there.
The latter are clearly the most ‘successful’ images, but the whole set from a given day tells us more about seeing than we can learn from the obvious successes alone.
Many of my rock portraits allude in a general way to the studio photographs seen in Abandoned Ancestors and Bluenose Physiognomy—a head framed in a rectangular space, features more or less in the expected places, displaying a grin or a moue or a grumpy frown.
A few have specific resonance with images from a lifetime of eidetic image memory. Some enter new territory in proposing a neo-Cubist assembly of fragments to create a novel and subjective reading of face or body.
A few beg to be brought to life by mirroring.
And some are simply enigmatic, for readers to make of what they will.
Their charm and purpose lies mostly in how viewers read them, and I’m sometimes surprised by variant interpretations that I’d missed myself.
It’s been quite a month of photographic explorations on the St. George peninsula, with a gallery of Charming Manifestations (constructed near the end of March) and then several more Flickr Albums in the fortnight since.
The sands continue to fascinate:
two marvelously lissome dancers with a portly Easter Bunny supporting:
and headgear reminiscent of Tenniel’s Duchess:
I am not much closer to an understanding of the meaning or significance of such legerdemain, but it seems to keep happening will-I-nill-I.
This just rolled in and I thought… well, why not? the Veil Nebula as imaged by the Hubble Telescope. I snipped out a portion and did the copy-flip-join thing to produce
which clearly shows a red-eyed Elemental (none too pleased, I think) in the center of the image.
Pretty much since the dawn of philosophy we have been asking the question: Why do we need consciousness? What purpose does it serve? Well, the purpose is easy to extrapolate once we concede the simulation hypothesis. Consciousness is an integrated (combining five senses) subjective interface between the self and the rest of the universe. The only reasonable explanation for its existence is that it is there to be an “experience.” That’s its primary raison d’être. Parts of it may or may not provide any kind of evolutionary advantage or other utility. But the sum total of it exists as an experience and hence must have the primary function of being an experience. An experience by itself as a whole is too energy-expensive and information-restrictive to have evolved as an evolutionary advantage.
…There is nothing in philosophy or science, no postulates, theories or laws, that would predict the emergence of this experience we call consciousness. Natural laws do not call for its existence, and it certainly does not seem to offer us any evolutionary advantages. There can only be two explanations for its existence. First is that there are evolutionary forces at work that we don’t know of or haven’t theorized yet that select for the emergence of the experience called consciousness. The second is that the experience is a function we serve, a product that we create, an experience we generate as human beings. Who do we create this product for? How do they receive the output of the qualia generating algorithms that we are? We don’t know. But one thing’s for sure, we do create it. We know it exists. That’s the only thing we can be certain about. And that we don’t have a dominant theory to explain why we need it.
So here we are generating this product called consciousness that we apparently don’t have a use for, that is an experience and hence must serve as an experience. The only logical next step is to surmise that this product serves someone else… The simplest explanation for the existence of consciousness is that it is an experience being created, by our bodies, but not for us. We are qualia-generating machines.
And John’s reply to my querulousness about qualia:
…why dismiss the grindings of imagination? when you tear things apart with symmetry or other challenging art, all kinds of interpretive possibilities suddenly spring up in the observer’s strained mind as it grasps for meaning and sees (for me) a vulture, a jackal, and a beetle stacked totem-wise gazing expectantly. You’ve become expert at tearing apart an image just so that it creates the most potential of interpretation, and another degree or so it would again collapse into baffling noise that is torment to the mind that seeks to grasp at meaning everywhere. And if we’re in a simulation, the possibility that that meaning created might indicate something greater or hidden significance being revealed seems all the more tempting, no? Rather than just flecks of mica rearranged by water.