Okay, so the presentation of this idea is pretty awful, but I just don't have time to try and make it better....
There's a kind of circular argument you can get when you consider that the truth or falsity of a claim inversely affects the truth or fality of competing claims, and you reason on this basis without having any independent justifications.
For example, here's one to do with AI. The reasoning goes as follows. First, we might think that human intelligence seems to be non-computational, and therefore artificial intelligence can't be right.
Then, on the basis of believing that artificial intelligence can't be right (for the aforementioned reason), we take this to bolster our view that human intelligence is non-computational.
The logical structure of this is belief in A adds strength to belief in B, which then in turn adds strength to belief in A again. That last step makes it a circular argument.
I think that this particular example is actually quite common. It's a fairly easy mistake to make because the logical structure of what is going on is usually hidden away in the particular way the views are being expressed, and because it's easy to forget or not think carefully about the reasons why we hold the original belief.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Okay, so the presentation of this idea is pretty awful, but I just don't have time to try and make it better....
A comment I added on this post in the Library Stuff weblog on whether the author of a post should be able to tag their work or not, because there are some negative effects if the author can. I suggested that avoidance wasn't the only option - you can also adapt to situations, which is sometimes a better option.
I'd like it if the search and replace dialog boxes in text editors and word processors would give you an indication where in the document the next, or even all, the occurrences of the search term are. With all the ones I'm used to using, when you click to find the next occurrence, it just jumps you wherever in the document it is, which I can find disorientating.
It could, for example, give you a small visual map of the document, which highlights the occurrences. The sense of where the occurrences are located would enable you to see, for example, whether your search term has picked up all the occurrences you expected it to (if there's one section of the document where you were expecting matches but where there aren't any, this could lead you to realise that you've entered in a slightly wrong search term, or misspelt the items in that place).
There are various other ways this sort of information could be conveyed. For example, it could have a special display containing an entry for each occurrence, showing the line it is on and perhaps a line or two above and below it for context, and also something like a little image of the document to show where the lines for that entry are located. The entries could be listed one after the other, to give you a view upon the document focusing on the occurrences.
I wouldn't be surprised if there's a system out there that does something along these lines, or if not, that someone will try something like this sooner rather than later.
Keeping with the idea of using my weblog to write notes for myself.... I picked up Shelley-Maree Cassidy and Grant Sheehan's book A Place to Stay: 30 Extraordinary Hotels for something like $5 at a bookstore's bargains table and really liked it... and I wouldn't mind getting this similar book of theirs sometime: A Moving Experience: Holidays on Wheels, Water and Wings. (there's also this book which is probably the same one but under a different title or at least similar, Vacations on the Move: Exotic Experiences on Wheels, Water and Wings Around the World).
Posted by James at 7:07 a.m.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Structure makes structure
That might quite a general principle. Or that's at least what robotic orangutans and penne pasta have led me to believe.
Earlier today I was reading Steve Grand's fantastic book about the nature of intelligence, Growing Up With Lucy. Trying to build something is a really good way to understand it, and Grand is building a robotic orangutan in order to try and understand things about how intelligence works. It really is a fantastic, insightful book, and I would recommend it to anyone -- after all, who isn't interested in the nature of our selves?
One of the book's key points is that the brain seems to be made up of all sorts of different maps of things (of visual information, of where muscles are located, and so on), and a lot of what the brain is doing is transforming information between these maps.
It turns out that genes only need to specify a small proportion of the details of these maps and pretty blind and simple processes can "figure out the rest". Grand gives a plausible account of various ways this could happen, though acknolwedging that it's still speculative and it hasn't been fully put to the test.
One of the ways is how the mappings between the different "formats" used by the maps could be created simply by having the maps generate random information that, because it's coming from this map with a particular structure, reflects the structure of that map.
He also gives an account of how the structure in the environment can be used in a fairly blind way to build up important structures in the brain (the 'orientation detectors' in the primary visual cortex).
Anyway, both these things are examples of structure + non-structure makes more (or greater) structure. But I didn't really think of in these terms till I was making some pasta for lunch.
I don't usually use penne pasta, but there was this recipe I wanted to try and it called for penne and who am I to disobey? One of the reasons I don't usually use it is that it tends to clump together as it cooks, which means you have to take more time out to stir it.
The reason that penne tends to clump together, and most other pasta does not, has to do with their shape. Being cylinders, pieces can stick together along their lengths, and end up all pointing in the same direction. (I suspect that them being hollow cylinders might have something to do with it also, as the water currents flowing through them might cause them to line up with each other). Other pasta tends to be irregular shapes (at least as they become soft while they're cooking, anyway) that don't provide regular surfaces that can cause clumping like this.
With the ideas from Steve Grand's book bubbling away under the surface of my mind, it occurred to me that these clumps were a form of higher-level structure that were made possible by the lower-level structure of the pasta shapes. That is, structure making more complex structure. It seems like any structure that's there provides a hook that can be used for building more structure. I haven't really thought it through, but I suspect that this is the only way you can build structure... that sounds right to me.
I don't think this would be any surprise to people who have looked at things like complex systems. From what I've read, this is the kind of way they talk about complex systems. The only thing I can say is that I don't recall having read the point being made that explicitly.
I know there would be other ways of putting the concept, but just as a test I did a google search for this phrase. At the moment it only returns a single result, and that's a mis-hit (where the first 'Structure' is at the end of one sentence and the following 'Makes structure' is the start of the next sentence).
update: I thought I should explain a bit more about what I meant. When I said that structure makes structure, and that 'I suspect that this is the only way you can build structure' and that this view 'sounds right to me', I did have something more specific in mind. "Structure makes structure" describes what's going on with evolutionary processes, for one thing.
Evolution is a process whereby new structure is created by a process of unstructured changes to existing structure (random mutations of genetic structures) that are "guided" by the structure of the environment (what increases "fitness"). If the environment was "undifferentiated" or "random" this wouldn't happen. It has to have the pre-existing structure for the evolution to make use of. What I'm saying is that evolution is a blind process by which two existing sources of structure are used to make more structure. Thats existing structure making more structure -- an instance of structure makes structure.
If structure makes structure, then what makes structure in the first place? There's two kinds of answer to this -- the "ultimate" answer, and the "in this universe" one. The "ultimate" answer really concerns the question "what, ultimately, is the universe", which we don't know the answer to. The "in this universe" answer concerns the question of "where in this universe does the structure come from". The answer to that is, it comes from the nature of the actual laws of physics (not our formulation of them, but whatever they actually are). These cause matter to interact with other matter in regular (that is, structured) ways, and, at least according to the view expressed in this post, all other structure emerges from this lowest level form of structure.
 If that sounds somehow petty to you, then it's probably because you're confusing the explicit listing of reasons "penne clumps, means more stirring, thus avoid buy", which were written in that way for the purposes of explaining something in this post, with some "logical" train of reasoning that you imagine I must go through. If you, on the other hand, you think that it's a bit petty to make the effort to avoid penne like I'm doing, then re-read the previous sentence. Going further afield in my digressions, I suspect that a vague sense of "pettiness" we can feel about such things comes from our persistent "moralising" about things in which, amongst other things, says its somehow bad to do anything that might give you slight conveiences. Don't think I'm saying morals aren't important; I'm just pointing out that we need to think about those we're using.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Just a minor observation. One thing that really impressed itself on me when I went scuba diving is just how low the communication bandwidth is while you're down there. There's a few hand signals and gestures you can use, to indicate things like "I'm okay" or "look at that", but you can't really communicate with the other people you're with (so I was kind a half jokingly thinking "so this is what it's like to be a creature like a dog or a cow without any real language..."). And all this made me think that if you and your dive buddy could sign, you'd be set.
Nice bit of 'thinking outside of the box': A company in South Africa has found a way to harness youthful energy, by using a playground roundabout to power a borehole pump, to help address the perennial problem of water supply in rural villages (BBC News, via Robotwisdom).
Friday, April 22, 2005
Paul graham’s article, partially on a topic that interests me greatly: tightening the screws on bullsh*t. The article partially concerns how changes in the communication ecology -- blogging -- are tightening these screws.
Monday, April 18, 2005
As part of the Looking Back Down Explorer Street series of posts...
(This has to do with how cognition and communication involving expression/representation of abstractions, and specifically the expression of them)
There are various ways we can manipulate others and ourselves by the way we express things. We can obfuscate the meaning of what we say. We can exploit the tendancy to consider a statement to be reasonable as long as it is factually true. We can also misleadingly frame a situation.
Certain language can, intentionally or not, obfuscate meaning. Obfuscation exploits the quirks and limitations in the way we interpret and reason about statements, such as our limited capabilites to remember earlier things we've heard/read, and the various ways our emotional strings can be pulled.
The language can make it difficult to see what is actually being stated, by making it seem like one thing is being meant where in fact another is. This obfuscation can be intentionaly used for all sorts of ill-ends, such as sneaking in inconsistencies that help falsely support/defend an argument, describing a situation in a way that obscures its true nature, and saying something that, while not false in a literal sense, is highly misleading.
Equivocation is one type of obfuscation. Equiovcation can be quite subtle, making it hard to detect and point out. I think a reasonable example of this is this one where the notion of success is first treated as success in finishing a particular task but then subtly treated differently as an asbtract notion of success.
Another type of obfuscation hides the mundaneness of your statement under the appearance of meaninfulness and significance. One technique for this involves asserting identity between two different things, where really the relationship between them is much weaker. For example, there might be a tv station slogan that says "Channel X is sport".
Because the two things are not the same, and often quite different, yet are related, your mind tries to see them as the same but can't quite grasp it, and this creates a vague but potentially potent sense of sigificance, as if you've been presented with something that is really meaningful.
The phrase 'Persistance is the triumph over skepticism' is another example of this.
Exploiting The False Belief That Factual Truth is All That Matters
Until we learn better, we tend to belive that a statement or claim is fair as long is it is factually true. This is a false belief, because things can be factually true but still misleading.
That a statement can be factually true but misleading is due to several factors. The meaning of a statement is not simply its literal meaning, but its meaning after it has been interpreted according to the various conventions we use for communication. Also, our ability to interpret statements is limited or biased in various ways, and a factually true but misleading statement can be constructed in order to exploit these weaknesses. And in addition, we evaluate statements with various measures and heuristics that have limitations or weaknesses that can make factually true statements misleading.
One form of limitation is that we tend to evaluate a statement in a somewhat self-contained fashion. That is, we will evaluate the content of the statment by applying various measures/heuristics that apply to it and its meaning, without really considering the statement in terms of what other knowledge we have or what came earlier in the conversation or argument and then applying the measures and heuristics.
To give one kind of way this can be done, in an argument one person can make a claim about what the other person's argument has been, and they can present it in a way that is consistent with the factual details of the actual argument but also in such a way that exploits the heuristics-with-a-narrow-view in order to present a misleading view of the argument, as I have given a somewhat more concrete example of.
The means of expression can frame the way we look at a situation.
This is one of the effects of the way that we express something, outside of the factual content of that expression. Saying that it affects 'the way we look at it' is a bit vague, but that's the best I can do at present.
To be a bit more specific, but ultimately not much more concrete, the framing affects the kinds of things we that think of about the situation. One thing that the framing can definitely do is subtly bring in assumptions without ourselves or others realising it. An example of this involves some bird behaviour that was misinterpreted as being 'for the good of the species' because of the way it was described.
Because we don't realise an assumption has been made, this can effectively block us from seeing any other alternaties, because we basically don't realise that there was something there that had the possibility of alternatives. I suspect that all forms of misleading 'framing' are actually all cases of making unknowing assumptions.
A slightly different means of embodying assumptions is by what I've called implicit categorisation. An example of this, which also explains what implicit categorisation is, comments on something from an introductory philosophy book, where implicit categorisation is used to seemingly justify a particular position, without actually providing any justification for it. This implicit categorisation is very closely related to the things I talked about under the heading of 'Obfuscation', above.
Language that poorly frames situations can be symptomatic of problems with the reasoning strategies that are constructing the statements. If we want to avoid assumptions, or avoid them as much as possible, in our statements, then we need to find the most general way of describing the situation that is consistent with the facts that we know about the situation. The reasoning statements can be problematic if they are too hasty in construct descriptions, constructing ones that seem to fit the situation, but without considering what the alternatives are, and just how they relate to the known facts. (really, this talk of facts is a bit of a simplification. It's more a case of how they relate to what we believe to be true, and factoring in the degree to which we believe they are the case. It's just that I don't have a decent shorthand way of putting this at the momenet.)
I suspect that these three ways of manipulating via the means of expression seem more distinct than they actually are. Concepts such as how we 'frame a situation' are fairly vague, and I think we can be more specific and get into the specific types of mechanisms that are underlying such thoughts. I expect that doing so will dissolve these apparent categories or replace them with a more accurate means of classification.
Not the kind of discovery (via Arts and Letters Daily) you expect could happen these days: we now have on our hands about a massive twenty per cent more of the text from great Greek and Roman works. An infra-red technique has been used to read a previously indescipherable collection of papyrus texts originally found at the end of the 19th century. (and yes, I know this story is over a day old).
Saturday, April 16, 2005
As part of the Looking Back Down Explorer Street series of posts... again, a bunch of notes on a theme, and kinda abstractly presented.
The following is about a potential problem with our knowledge or awareness, or lack thereof, of the nature of the abstractions we reason with.
Abstractions can divide up the world according to how we perceive it, rather than according to any real divisions that exist out there in the world. To effectively reason with abstractions we need to understand how much our own perception contributes to the nature of abstractions we are reasoning with.
Here are some examples of things that have a strong perceptual component. Colors are a classic case. The colors we perceive are based on objective features of the world, but the manner in which we divide the world up into the different colors is a property of our perceptual/cognitive systems and not the objects themselves. To give another example, the reason that we call something analogue or digital, or descrete or continuous, is somewhat surprisingly often perceptual, and not to do with the things themselves.
Here is an example that shows how this lack of awareness can impact on the effectiveness of our reasoning. This example involves the notion of species, and the full details are here. Evolution works by the gradual transition between forms by means of natural selection. Some people incorrectly think that a 'species' is a collection of things of a particular type out there in the world, and that through evolution we should find intermediates between species in the fossil record. And since there aren't such intermediates, then a conclusion that can be drawn is that evolution is wrong.
But in fact, since there is gradual change in the fossil record there are no natural sharp boundaries where we can say these things are of species X and these are of species Y. Our notion of 'species' is ultimately a construction. The notion of species has to do with how we cut up the world, not how the world is. There are no intermediates between species because when we find a fossil that is not clearly in one or another species that we've created, we always decide to put it into one or the other. In other words, the notion of species we have created does not allow for intermediates between species.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Mainly a note for myself... some I wouldn't mind, or that could be presents for some people I'm thinking of...
Stereotypes are a...
The sports team from my area...
Let the... (rude language)
I am in a promising...
I enjoy drinking...
As part of the Looking Back Down Explorer Street series of posts...
A bunch of notes on the topic outlined in the following paragraph.
If we feel that something is the case, there's a tendancy for it to be accompianied by the conviction it's correct. As you might expect. Except the criteria your brain subconsciously applies, to determine how much conviction you have in a belief, is flawed, and this means if you want a better judgement you have to consciously determine what level of conviction you should have in your beliefs. There's also a natural conviction that the belief shouldn't be questioned, though I hope I don't need to say that there's nothing that simply "shouldn't be questioned" and I won't talk about this more (though I know there are people who believe this).
The crtieria can not, it seems, be affected consciously (though other conscious critiera can be be given precendence over it, see below). It seems to be subconscious and because of this, "hard-coded" and thus an evolutionary adaptation, and thus, like all other evolutionary adaptions, is a heuristic "designed for" the nature of the environment at the time the adaption was created. For this reason it can't make use of the kind of knowledge that culture can develop, and we should be surprised that it's imperfect.
(I made some notes on this tendancy. One saying almost exactly what I've just said. Another noted the line in the Radiohead song There There that goes "Just cos you feel it doesn't mean it's there". I also noted that, on the importance of evaluating your feelings, or more specifically, your perceptions, that the theoretical physicist Brian Green thinks doing so is important, because not doing so is a major reason people are held back from making breakthoughs.)
Since it isn't a reliable indicator of correctness, other means are required to evaluating feelings. We can, for one thing, simply become aware that feelings aren't always right, and try to always keep this in mind.
The following are some examples of these convictions of correctness.
We have a natural conviction (feeling) that we we feel our memory is accurate, it is. It is now well understood that our memory often "plays tricks" on us (though I haven't yet noted down any references for this). The only things related to this I've noted down are the following. Lafcaio Hearn made the point that it's important to preserve first impressions, because you can't see the same thing through the same eyes twice. I also noted that "[m]ost of our own past is as a story whose details we recall" (this is the full text of the post found here).
There is the conviction that we are aware of what we are doing. Not a constantly held conviction, but in the sense that if we asked whether we are aware of what we do, we we would probably say of course we know what we are doing. But in fact it can be very difficult to maintain awareness of what you are doing and particularly that you're switching over to another task - which if you had awareness of, you'd realise that there were things you still had to do as part of the current task.
There is a tendancy to think that an insight or solution that is fairly simple, and to which there's no obvious impediment to thinking of it, would be easily thought of. I don't think this is the case. There's lots of stuff that's only obvious in hindsight. I gave an example, involving the purchase of a bus ticket, of the kind of simple thing that can be unobvious. This example can also be seen as an example of the lack of awareness you can have of what you are doing.
(As a comment on that last link, I suspect that a lot of the things we presume we've figured out ourselves are actually things we've picked up from others. In other words, that copying skills and knowledge from others plays a much larger role than we tend to think, as argued in Susan Blackmore's book The Meme Machine. And this isn't a bad thing -- if its how it is, it's how it is and always was.)
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
As part of the Looking Back Down Explorer Street series of posts...
Determining the plausability of a claim is one type of reasoning task, which I am calling plausability reckoning. Naturally, some of the means by which we undertake plausability reckoning are flawed.
One such means uses imagination as a judge. The plausability of a claim is tested by trying to imagine some situation or way that the state of affairs could arise or have existed. And if the imagining comes up blank, the judgement is: not plausible.
Unfortuantely, imagination is a poor judge at this, because it simply can't match the complexities of the world. The possibility that coming up blank is a limitation of your imagination looms much larger than the possibility that your imagination has a correct insight into the nature of reality.
To consider one type of claim, of whether some thing will be possible in the future, it means little if a person can't imagine how the thing could become possible. In the realm of technology, for example, the possibility is always impacted by future technological advances which we in the present are not privy to.
Another flawed means of plausibilty reckoning is to compare this thing to what we are familiar with and to reject it if it seems too different. This is really just a special case of the first means. You are again assuming that if the thing is plausible, you ought to be able to find some positive justification for believing it is -- such that lack of such positive justification implies implausibility. In this case the supposed justification is that it is like other things you know exist.
On this blog I noted down two examples of flawed plausibility reckoning, one historical, one recent. The historical one involved an early description of geisers that was submitted to a publication but rejected because they "don't print fiction". The more recent involved giant ocean waves that were rejected as myths but are now known to exist.
I think that we have a tendancy to look back on such things as being reasonable judgements for their time and place, thinking "any reasonable person would have made the same judgement". This expresses a belief that there is no reliable means for avoiding such mistakes. But while it seems likely that there is no universal method, what we can do is rule out all the means that, while intuitively appealing, are not reliable. As I believe these means are.
I believe a more adequate approach, instead of trying to find a reason why the thing might be possible, is to see if you have any good reason for believing it couldn't be possible. If you can't find any good reason then you have no grounds to reject it. This doesn't mean you believe it is definitely true, it means you have no grounds for making a judgement. And this is okay.
There's a belief that we always have to make either a yes or no (approval or disapproval) judgement on thing. We can't sit there without making a definite judgement. But I believe this is in fact false. Quite often there is no reason at all to make a one-way-or-another judgment, and not even a reason to make any sort of judgement (I haven't done a proper justification of this yet).
Even if we do need to take some action based on our judgement of the thing, what we need is a definitive action not some definitve belief about the actual plausiblity. What we can do is make a judgement of what is most likely and then go one-way-or-the-other through the action that we take. It is our actions that require definitiveness, not our judgements of the situation -- we can be definitive with our action and still undecided about the plausibility.
People seem not to decouple judgements from their actions. If there is a need for definitive action, they see it as a need for definitive belief, and this leads to some degree of dogmatism, which fills the void of a substantial justification for the judgement made.
The flawed means of plausability reckoning by trying to see a reason why the thing might be possible, and rejecting if you can't see such a reason, is an example of our overconfidence in our perception of the world. We think that because we can't see an answer, an answer must not be there. As such, we need to always take the nature of our own perception into account, and consider whether one of its limitations could be responsible how things seem to be, and not the world itself.
As part of the Looking Back Down Explorer Street series of posts...
On the topic of Language and Weilding Abstractions...
While it may be clear that there is potential for problems to arise through language use, it is less clear that they do occur with sufficient frequency, and with sufficient damage, to warrant making much of a fuss over them. After all, we pick up language naturally as children, and we seem to get by on a day to day basis. But despite this, I think that poor language use can and does have substantial negative affects on our thinking, and I want to explain why I think this.
I believe the problems mainly occur when we reason over langauge statements. And this seems to be a common part of our langauge use. In verbal conversations, we recall what we and others have said, and think about the meaning of those statements. Especially if it's an argument. We reason about the consequenes of the views expressed in those statements. We think about what is consistent with those views, and what things aren't. We tend not so much to recall the meaning of what is said, but rather what is said, from which we then rederive the meaning. In other words, it is easier to remember what was said than exactly what was meant.
We tend to be able to deal fairly well with the meaning of utterances if we are directly taking in that utterance, such as if you were listening to someone else say it. We automatically follow all the background conventions to derive the meaning of the statement from its literal statement. When, however, we have to explicitly reason about the meaning of a statement, such as considering what other things it entails, what it contradicts with, we are not so good. We can't just use our automatic, unconscious system to extract the meaning and then reason in terms of that meaning. We have to actually consciously be aware of those subtleties and apply them when reasoning about the statements.
From December last year to March this year I didn't post much to this blog. Part of the reason was that I was busy in Jan to mid-Feb preparing for my PhD confirmation (which I ended up passing) and then from late-Feb to late-March on holidays overseas.
The other reason was that I was working behind-the-scenes on a kind-of summary of what I'd written to this weblog, which I was hoping to finish and post before the end of last year. But the work on it blew out and I didn't get it finished. Still haven't.
I've realised I won't have time to do all that I originally intended, so what I'm going to do instead is take what I've done so far and post it in a piecemeal fashion. The structure isn't there to put it up all in one coherent post. I'll have to try doing things in a more organic fashion.
This is like another realisation of how much more it was going to take than I'd thought, on top of the realisation to that effect that I'd already made, as you'll read about below :-).
Here is the original description of what I was trying to do:
This post tries to create a coherent description covering, and linking to, the various things I've written so far on this blog. It tries to draw out the various concepts and topics that appear in those posts, to see how they relate to each other and to organise them into larger themes. It covers the period from August 2003, when I started the blog, to the present, December 2004.
The two reasons for this post are to provide a kind of index into what I've been writing about, and to help me to organise and clarify my thoughts on those topics. I started this blog with a morass of thoughts in my head that I really wanted to bring some more clarity to. I was pretty sure that there were connections between them, and themes running through them, but I had a lot of trouble seeing those with it just in my head or in the notes I'd tried writing down in the past. So I was hoping that the blog would, along with giving me some writing practice, help me get some of this clarity.
I thought that rather than trying to just write down my thoughts off the bat, I would work in a more bottom up fashion. I'd try to pick fairly small, focused things to write about, and try to give a fairly solid description of that thing, and hopefully by doing so get a clearer idea of the more general things I'd been thinking about. I think this strategy has worked fairly well, and this post is an extension of it, a kind of second sweep through, where I'm taking as raw material the posts I've written and trying to clarify and synthesise things.
That sounded relatively easy to me at the time, and I have to wonder when I am going to learn to disregard my intuitive judgement on how long things will take and how hard they will be, or at least learn to multiply these judgements by about fifteen. So things blew out a bit as I had to write and write and write in order to try and get some of that clarification and synthesis, and it was almost like re-writing each of those posts. If it was just a matter of summarising what I'd written, I could condense things down, but as the form of the ideas changed as I rewrote, I ended up with a lot of text.
Some caveats. My main purpose at the moment is simply to try and describe my thoughts, and I don't do much of a job of justifying the points I make. I wouldn't want you to think I'm just trying to assert these things without providing a good justification. I think I need to get it clearer what I'm actually saying before I can, or before it makes sense to, try and give that justification. And of course, in trying to give that justification for thoughts, it may turn out that a solid justification doesn't exist. Also, what I've written about so far is only bits and pieces of my thoughts, and it's not meant to be some sort of treatise on my-view-of-everything.
So after much ado, here's looking back down Explorer Street...
...and as you'll see, even though this started out as a kind-of summary, I ended up writing a lot of new stuff that hadn't been covered earlier.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
In Windows, when copying a file would overwrite an existing one, it asks 'Confirm File Replace?' and gives you the options of 'Yes', 'Yes to All', 'No', and 'Cancel'. Often I find that a 'Yes to All Older Files' would be handy, like when I'm backing up files.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Some recent returns, after gaps of some years, from a few people whose work I follow:
Amon Tobin has a new album (actually, it's the sound track to the computer game "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory", but it's still pretty damn good. The song "El Cargo" is awesome).
(update: Michael has pointed out this interview with Amon Tobin about the album. It answers something I've been wondering about: was it a side project, or the major thing he'd been working on since his last album. The answer: a side-project. A new album is due out late this year or early next year).
The Robotwisdom weblog is back, after a long hiatus.
Ian McEwan has got a new book, Saturday. I haven't read it yet, but it's been getting good reviews.
update: I should also mention Lemon Jelly's fine new album '64 - '95.
For stuff I'm looking forwards to... Boards of Canada are supposed to have a new album out this year. And there's Greg Egan who hasn't published anything for three years... I've been wondering if he's been up to anything.
Monday, April 04, 2005
This post is more to help me out than for anyone's reading pleasure :-), as explained in the next few paragraphs. So if you're interested you might want to read them, and then possibly skip the rest.
I've been plagued by muscular tension for ages, coming from... well, it's not completely clear. Having had all the problems for a long time is itself a major source, perhaps all of it now.
From time to time i've realised various postural things I'm doing that is contributing to it. It's always something subtle. I'm not even sure how i manage to figure out the right posture. Usually the current posture i have feels alright, even though its not. Or at least any deviation from it feels funny. Recently I think I've had another insight into it.
This post is to document what I'm doing and what I should be doing posturally with this insight, in order to help me remember to do it and how to do it. Becuse the right posture feels unnatural, it is, as I've discovered many times in the past, very easy to get it right for a while but slowly slip back into the bad habits and hard to realise this and remember what I should have been doing.
Part of the problem is that we don't have any ordinary vocabulary / concepts for describing postural positions, and without these it's hard to remember these details. So I'm hoping that by writing it down it will help fix it in my mind, and give me something I can periodically check up on. And the blog seemed the best place to do it, as the combination of chronological order and web search makes it easier to manage and find things you've written.
So here goes...
I get a lot of tension in my shoulders... and I think this causes a lot of tension in my neck. When I was at the chiropractor last he was telling me this position, that I wasn't aware of, that i can put my arms in to rest those muscles.
And doing that gave me an intuitive sense that my shoulder posture was wrong, and that this was causing a lot of the tension. My implicit mental model was that shoulders were either up and tense or down and relaxed, and as much as I tried to relax them it just didn't seem to work.
See, what was happening was that I've been trying hard to sit/stand up straight and tall and as part of this had been lifting up my chest and the front side of my shoulders (if you talk of the shoulders running up from the front side of the body, onto the top of the shoulders, and down on the back side). This didn't feel like lifting up my shoulders but it was.
What i've realised is to let them "sag backwards" and what it feels like to do so. Doing this doesn't really feel like standing up straight, and i think part of that is that when I do it, my neck tends to tilt forwards. It's a lot of effort to draw my neck up and keep it more properly verticle when I do this.
Posted by James at 8:56 p.m.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Is there a mobile phone with a feature that can, if you want it to, 'condense' the text in your SMS? Sometimes I'm writing an SMS and I realise I want to condense it -- reduce the number of characters -- and I have to go back and change things like 'and' to '&' and stuff like 'today' to '2day'. I'd like the phone to be able to do this for me.
Why not write write the SMS using abbreviations in the first place? Why should I? Some abbreviations are uglier, and, with the way the predictive text works on my phone, some take longer to type in.
Ideally, the phone would have several levels of condensing that you can apply, starting with milder condensing that involves less drastic changes but frees less space, up to that involving more drastic but more space-saving changes.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
To make their babies competitive in the global economy, parents are making them learn Chinese.(Makes me feel more confident in my decision, a few years back, to learn Mandarin, in that, aside from just wanting to learn another language, doing so could be quite useful).
Hilton Augusta Rogers, 1 year and 10 months old, as blonde and blue-eyed a baby as ever was born in Manhattan, looked at the waitress taking her parents’ order at Shun Lee West, and said, “Bao bao!” which means “Pick me up!” in Mandarin. Startled, the waitress picked her up. Soon, other wide-eyed waitresses gathered around. One said, “Point to your nose” in Mandarin, which Hilton Augusta promptly did—as her parents, Jim Rogers and Paige Parker, a private investor and an aspiring author, looked on, beaming.
Posted by James at 2:54 a.m.
Friday, April 01, 2005
Clay Shirky identifies (or did, a few weeks back) two prototypical ways people think about technolgoical change, which he metaphorically associates with cartesian and radial coordinate systems. (though he's talking about technological change, it seems applicable to any type of change)
Radial people assume that any technological change starts from where we are now — reality is at the center of the map, and every possible change is viewed as a vector, a change from reality with both a direction and a distance. Radial people want to know, of any change, how big a change is it from current practice, in what direction, and at what cost.(as one of the comments to the article points out, this is focusing on the journey vs focusing on the destination, which is perhaps a better way of putting it, but anwyay...)
Cartesian people assume that any technological change lands you somewhere — reality is just one point of many on the map, and is not especially privileged over other states you could be in. Cartesian people want to know, for any change, where you end up, and what the characteristics of the new landscape are. They are less interested in the cost of getting there.
I think it's a useful identification/distinction. I think, though, that what Clay presents as the Cartesian viewpoint is really more a "naive" Cartesian viewpoint, attributing to it naive views that are not inherent to it.
I also think he makes the folk psychology mistake of considering attributes and dispositions to have "complete coverage" and always apply to every facet of the person's perception and thinking -- where we say, for example, that some person is a good person, or a bad person, or a mischevious person, or a radial person, or a cartesian person, as if they had this essence of badness or whatever.
But this radial/cartesian thing can apply to different facets of someone's thinking. For example, it is better, I think, to consider possibilities, in a cartesian fashion, and then once you have figured out what is possible, to think consider how we can get there in a radial way. It is possible for a single person to be able to apply both forms of thinking about a situation.
I also disagree with the concluding remarks
There’s no answer to any of this — as Grandma used to say, "Both your maps are nice."which sound like relativism to me. That sort of conclusion comes, I think, from thinking of the radial/cartisian as things in themselves, as is done when thinking about them in "complete coverage" terms, and thus concluding that "they both have their good and bad points, and thus one isn't superior to the other". But when we consider how good something is or isn't we always have to ask *for what?*. The mistake that relativist thinkers make is failing to do this, and thinking that things have some single property -- some "absolute" property -- of good/bad, useful/not useful or whatever. When we consider "for what" we can usually say something more decisive. (I know this is a very brief presentation of this argument, and probably not convincing to you, and I wish I had more time now to try and elaborate on it).