Monthly Archives: August 2023

What to do with these, harvested this morning? (28viii23) (some may be paywalled)

The Fourfold Root of Stoic Virtue Steven Gambardella

(not sure what to include)

Between the Bauhaus and Bell Labs David Krakauer, Santa Fe Institute

The focus on thinking with all of one’s sense and sensibility was a dominant feature of the Bauhaus, where according to the art historian Magdalena Droste, “[t]hanks to their basic training on the hand loom, however, students were equally capable of running small, artistic crafts workshops” and “A profession was thus created within the textile industry which had rarely been found before — designer.”

Between the engineering design of Bell Labs and the artistic design
community of the Bauhaus, I like to position the Santa Fe Institute. Complex systems are that special part of the universe “designed” by natural selection and self-organizing dynamics or by human collectives: organisms, ecosystems, markets, computers, and cities. And all organizations dedicated to understanding design in this larger, distributed sense have no choice but to accommodate very different styles of thought.

…Our project is a radical one, which seeks to explore the frontiers of complex reality — the garden of machines, as it were — and emphasizes the precarious balance between individual iconoclasm, communitarian vision, and creative production.

Breathing Life into Bytes: The Enigma of Machine Consciousness Daniele Nanni

In the Western culture, thinkers like René Descartes championed the idea that our minds, distinct from our physical brains, hold our consciousness. His proclamation, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”), underscores that our self-awareness attests to our existence.

Following him, John Locke envisioned our minds as a tabula rasa (a blank canvas), gradually painted on by our life’s experiences. Contrastingly, David Hume saw consciousness as a mixtape of sorts, a collection of different experiences and perceptions. Immanuel Kant then threw in his two cents, suggesting our minds actively piece together our experiences into a cohesive narrative.

Fast forward a bit, and we find William James, a pioneer in psychology, proposing different “versions” of ourselves within our consciousness. And who can forget Sigmund Freud? With his iconic iceberg analogy, he illustrated our mind as largely hidden beneath the surface of our awareness.

As we mull over these Western theories, the East provides its own philosophical richness.

Ancient Indian Vedantic scriptures, such as the Upanishads, emphasize the concept of Atman or the inner self, and Brahman, the grand cosmic essence. They argue for a universal consciousness, where individual awareness is but a droplet in the vast ocean of existence.

Buddhism, with its profound insights from the Buddha, presents consciousness as ever-flowing. The doctrine of Anatta or “no-self” describes our conscious self not as a fixed entity but as an evolving stream of experiences.

Chinese philosophers weren’t far behind in their contributions.

Confucius rooted consciousness in relationships, emphasizing our interconnectedness. Then we have Daoism, with Laozi speaking of the Dao, suggesting that true consciousness aligns with the universe’s rhythm.

In juxtaposing these Western and Eastern thoughts, we discern a recurring theme: Consciousness is intricate, layered, and deeply connected to our experiences, surroundings, and perhaps even the cosmos.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Web3: The beginning of a digital renaissance? Jasvin Bhasin

(2010s)…a significant paradigm shift: the car was no longer seen as just a means of transport, but as a “computer on wheels” — a data machine equipped with lidar, radar and ultrasonic sensors. These sensors collected a wealth of data about the car’s environment. Enabled with deep learning and artificial neural networks the vehicles now made real-time decisions. Many car manufacturers also rolled out data intelligence platforms to implement next-best-action systems, that also used big data and predictive models. For example, to predict when a vehicle needs maintenance or provide recommendations for route changes based on traffic data. This capability to predict and plan actions based on data led to significant competitive advantage.

This era was also characterised by breathtaking visions where we imagined a future in which people owned electric vehicles that could drive themselves and recharge themselves. These vehicles were not only to be a means of transport, but also an integral part of our energy ecosystem. They could feed surplus energy into our homes and even offer the possibility to exchange this additionally generated energy via blockchain technologies in order to earn money with it…

…For a long time, the development of artificial intelligence was mainly seen as a sustaining and iterative innovation. But suddenly this perception has changed. Now, AI is seen as having a disruptive potential that is fundamentally changing our previous understanding of what qualifies as “work” and “creativity”. Another significant change was that during the era of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, discussions focused mainly on the automation of factory workplaces. Now, however, the realisation begun to mature that knowledge workers could in fact be dispensable…

…Currently, a third of the world’s web traffic comes from just three companies: Google, Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, five companies — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Meta — represent 50% of the total market capitalisation of the Nasdaq 100, a significant increase from a decade ago when their share was only 25%.

…Amara’s Law says: “We tend to overestimate the impact of a technology in the short term and underestimate the impact in the long term.”

Ambiguity Defines the Human Experience Douglas Rushkoff (from Team Human)

…we are mistaken to emulate the certainty of our computers. They are definitive because they have to be. Their job is to resolve questions, turn inputs into outputs, choose between one or zero. Even at extraordinary resolutions, the computer must decide if a pixel is here or there, if a color is this blue or that blue, if a note is this frequency or that one. There is no in-between state. No ambiguity is permitted.

But it’s precisely this ambiguity — and the ability to embrace it — that characterizes the collectively felt human experience. Does God exist? Do we have an innate purpose? Is love real? These are not simple yes-or-no questions. They’re yes-and-no ones: Mobius strips or Zen koans that can only be engaged from multiple perspectives and sensibilities. We have two brain hemispheres, after all. It takes both to create the multidimensional conceptual picture we think of as reality.

Besides, the brain doesn’t capture and store information like a computer does. It’s not a hard drive. There’s no one-to-one correspondence between things we’ve experienced and data points in the brain. Perception is not receptive, but active. That’s why we can have experiences and memories of things that didn’t “really” happen.

Our eyes take in 2D fragments and the brain renders them as 3D images. Furthermore, we take abstract concepts and assemble them into a perceived thing or situation. We don’t see “fire truck” so much as gather related details and then manufacture a fire truck. And if we’re focusing on the fire truck, we may not even notice the gorilla driving it.

Our ability to be conscious — to have that sense of what-is-it-like-to-see-something — depends on our awareness of our participation in perception. We feel ourselves putting it all together. And it’s the open-ended aspects of our experience that keep us conscious of our participation in interpreting them. Those confusing moments provide us with opportunities to experience our complicity in reality creation.

It’s also what allows us to do all those things that computers have been unable to learn: how to contend with paradox, engage with irony, or even interpret a joke. We don’t think and communicate in whole pieces, but infer things based on context. We receive fragments of information from one another and then use what we know about the world to recreate the whole message ourselves. It’s how a joke arrives in your head: Some assembly is required. That moment of “getting it” — putting it together oneself — is the pleasure of active reception. Ha! and aha! are very close relatives.

On Being Led Astray (something that’s likely to happen multiply in any day)

A London Review of Books post this morning points to Michael Wood’s Quashed Quotatoes (Vol. 32 No. 24 16 December 2010) and carries me off into

…Joyce alludes to Carroll, then, but already had much of his own method. It’s worth pausing over the similarities and differences between the two writers, because we may understand the difficulty of Joyce’s work better if we do — understand it better, that is, rather than diminish it. Both Carroll and Joyce are interested in puns as forms of criticism of behaviour, even portraits of behaviour’s secret life. When we learn in Alice of a school where the pupils are taught ‘Reeling and Writhing … and then the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision, we quickly translate the terms back into their ordinary classroom relatives, and then realise we shouldn’t be translating at all: it’s in their immediate, literal forms that an education is being identified…

…Carroll has a taste for sheer absurdity, the collapse or travesty of plausible meaning, whereas Joyce, as far as I can tell, wants only to multiply meanings, and believes they will never end. We might miss a few, or a lot, and he himself might not always know what they are. But they’ll be there, and some day someone will find them…

…And when Joyce recites the names of days, they too sound like many days we’ve known: ‘moanday, tearsday, wailsday, thumpsday, frightday, shatterday’. Sunday is safe for the moment; safe because unmentioned. Sometimes the transpositions are even simpler, like ‘while the sin was shining’, ‘sneeze out a likelihood’, ‘call a spate a spate’, ‘whirled without end’, or ‘the late cemented Mr T.M. Finnegan’…

…A person who has been given bits of greenery for her birthday instead of the colourful flowers she was hoping for decides to make the best of things. She says: ‘With fronds like these, who needs anemones?’…

…John Bishop, for example, says ‘the only way not to enjoy Finnegans Wake is to expect that one has to plod through it word by word making sense of everything in linear order.’ This is a brave claim, but it is true that the book is hard not to enjoy — it’s just even harder to cope with one’s bewilderment…

…’Our task,’ Kitcher says,’‘is to find a set of readings … that produce an illuminating pattern on the kaleidoscope — where the reader sets the standard for what counts as illuminating.’ …

…semantics are where most of the wordplay is, and the syntax is what provides (the appearance of) a logical structure. Joyce hints at this situation when he writes of his ‘iridated lingo’ as ‘basically English’, suggesting it’s about as far from Basic English as it could get but still thoroughly English in its basic structure. David Greetham, citing this passage, says this is how Finnegans Wake can ‘fill the reader with ideas without making every idea distinct and separable’. I have no real sense of what it means to say, ‘It’s an allavalonche that blows nopussy food,’ but I can recognise the mockery of a proverb — no, the mockery of the tiresome use of a proverb &mdash when I hear it, and it’s the syntax that allows me to do this. Apart from that we can agree that an avalanche would be a hell of a lunch, and a suitable end to a jibberweek…

…We are not only or always laughing as we attend to Finnegans Wake, but laughter is never far away. The text indulges our taste for renegade readings as well as for literal ones, and the revolt against single sense represented by every pun. But even as we revolt, and congratulate ourselves on our acrobatic associative life, something else inside the laughter, something like laughter at laughter, suggests that we may not like disorder as much as we pretend to, and that there is usually more mess in the offing than we can quite see, especially when, as in Finnegans Wake, it’s all ‘quashed quotatoes’ and ‘messes of mottage’.

What a day. And it’s only 9 AM.

More from the Archives

Fathoming the Archives again this morning, I ran across something I wrote in 1974, after my first year of teaching at Acadia, in a document called “How it looked, Spring 1974”. This was of course long before the WWW, html, even computer access (let alone ubiquity). Some of it presages my 1990 change of career:

So what I’m really getting at is that Information is one of our biggest problems. We have at the same time too much, such that we choke on information and get to be too blasé about what would have profoundly shocked us 10 years ago — and we have too little information because we keep being surprised by what the world serves up to us. The only way to improve that situation is to do something about it yourself — to start being aware of how much your own information structures are changing, and to start trying to achieve systematic understanding of the information that does come in. In a sense you have to do that, just for your own future protection. Or else you have to find a way to drop out completely.

The point is, we have to seek out and find meaningful alternatives to more-of-same. Short-run solutions aren’t solutions — they’re just palliatives to stave poff disaster, and disaster seems to be getting closer and closer.

Another from the Archives, from July 2002, just 3 years before I retired form W&L:

My version of postmodernism is to see the passing scene as chains of stories, the subtext of which (and often the explicit content of which) is about the networks of relationships that lie behind the observed Events. Juxtaposition.

The stories often leak into each other, sometimes because one is a hinge between them. The stories also link people, quite often people who have no idea that they’re linked. If I hear a story on NPR about going over Niagara Falls n a barrel, I’m linked to … the teller of the story, even though I didn’t retain his name … to the people in in the story, though they played their parts in the past, sometimes long ago, or (often enough) didn’t actually do what the story reports … to others who happened to hear the same radio program … and so on. The nature and strength of these connections may be pretty misty and faint, but my participation in them, even as a passive auditor, is of some significance to me, to what I know, to what I think about, to who I am.

I’m a collector and container of stories and linkages. Everybody is.

A discovery in the Archives

While organizing stuff in the barn, I picked up a Notebook from 1976-1977 in which I’d written material for courses I was teaching at Acadia, and was quite interested to see how I was thinking about and constructing the narratives to present to Intro Anthropology (Soc 110) and Human Geography (Soc 218). At that point in my career I wrote out imagined lectures, and then improvised on that base, supplementing with maps and projected images and handout materials (I never used conventional textbooks). Tucked into the Notebook were handouts for the final projects: a “term paper” for Intro Anthro, and a “map portfolio” for Human Geography. Both are delicious evidence for what I thought I was doing at the time, and encouraging my students to think, do, and be. Here they are: