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Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

***


Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

HipBone implications of the second shoe dropping for intel analysis

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — also, the role of the True Name in intel analysis & Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea ]
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You may know that I value the documentary film Manhunt for its lucid presentation of the process by which the finest intelligence analysts “leap” to their quarry — in which Cindy Storer notes, “not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic”.

In my post The process of associative memory I decribe this process, which I consider the root process of true creativity:

There’s the present moment .. And there’s the memory it elicits.

Compare Michael Hayden in Manhunt, at 1.19.18:

The way it works is, information come in, you catalog it, your organize it – that little nugget there could sit fallow on your shelves for four or five years until something else comes in that’s suddenly very illuminating about something that you may have had for a very long period of time. That actually happened in the work we did to hunt for Osama bin Laden by trying to track his courier.

By way of confirmation, here is Robert Frost:

The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic.

And here’s Jeff Jones on piecing together puzzles —

Some pieces produce remarkable epiphanies. You grab the next piece, which appears to be just some chunk of grass – obviously no big deal. But wait … you discover this innocuous piece connects the windmill scene to the alligator scene! This innocent little new piece turned out to be the glue.

**

My point here is that the board in my “game” of DoubleQuotes provides a matrix for eliciting and annotating such leaps between fact and memory — that’s its purpose, and that’s why I believe the practice and “playing” of DoubleQuotes is, in itself, an ideal training for the analytic mind in that otherwise elusive aptitude which Ms Storer says seenms like magic to those who do not possess it..

I believe my DoubleQuotes would be an invaluable tool for analysts in training.

**

Note, however, that Jose Rodriguez, speaking immediately after Michael Hayden at 1.19.55, adds a reference to the “True Name” — accompanying screencaps included — something to which as a theologian I am naturally drawn:

It took years for the agency to recruit the human source that eventually gave us the true name. That’s why we were in the business the of condensing human intelligence because, in many cases, all these fancy gadgets and everything else won’t give you the information that you really need. A true name.

And we finally got his true name, which is whatever it is. Whatever. Arabic name, you know. But the true name – we were able to find out a lot about him. From then on, you know, the agency was able to do what it does so well. Track the guy and find him.

That too elicits memories, though in this case providing cultural context rather than actionable intelligence. It’s interesting to compare Rodriguez’ quote with the passages in which Ursula Le Guin describes the nature of magic in her book, Wizard of Earthsea:

He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea.

and:

He saw that in this dusty and fathomless matter of learning the true name of every place, thing, and being, the power he wanted lay like a jewel at the bottom of a dry well. For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.

**

See also:

  • Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B
  • Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles
  • FWIW, there’s an appendix on the central spiritual significance of remembrance of the True Name in Judaism (HaShem), Christianity (Jesus Prayer), Islam (dhikr), Hinduism (nama-rupa), Buddhism (nembutsu) etc at the back of Frithjof Schuon‘s little book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions.

    On which frankly mystical note, here’s a third para from Le Guin to carry you towards Lao Tzu‘s observation that “The name that can be named is not the eternal Name” —

    It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

    Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

    Monday, July 11th, 2016

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    Storm of Creativity2017

    wright-brothers-biographyserendipities

    Paradisejssundertow

    white horsewashington

     

    The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

    2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

    The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

    Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

    Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

    Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

    The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

    Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

    This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

    I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

    2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

    David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

    Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

    Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

    Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

    White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

    Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

    This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?

    Considering Viv, Wolfram Language, Syntience, and the GBG

    Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — expanding the computable to include qualitative ideation ]
    .

    Let’s start with Viv. It looks pretty phenomenal:

    That video is almost exactly a month old, and it’s pitched at “the universe of things” with a marked tilt towards e-commerce. Fair enough.

    **

    It’s instructive to compare it with Wolfram Language, although here I’ve had to go with a video that’s a couple of years old:

    Stephen Wolfram, the creator of both Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha, is focused on the world of numbers — and incidentally, that includes graphs of the sort I’ve been discussing in my series here On the felicities of graph-based game-board design, as you can see in the video above.

    It will be interesting to see how the two of them — Viv and Wolfram — interact over time. After all, one of the purposes of these lines of development is to dissolve the “walled gardens” which serve as procrustean beds for current thinking about the nature and possibilities of the web. Do these two gardens open to each other? If so, why? If not, why not?

    **

    I’ve talked enough for my purposes about AlphaGo and it’s narrowly focused though impressive recent triumph, and the wider picture behind it, as expressed by Monica Anderson — and tying the two together, we have this video from Monica’s timeline, Bob Hearn: AlphaGo and the New Era of Artificial Intelligence:

    Bob Hearn: AlphaGo and the New Era of Artificial Intelligence from Monica Anderson on Vimeo.

    Monica’s Syntience, it seems to be, is a remarkable probing of the possibilities before us.

    **

    But I’m left asking — because Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel The Glass Bead Game prompts me to ask — what about the universe of concepts — and in particular for my personal tastes, the universe of musical, philosophical, religious and poetic concepts. What of the computational mapping of the imagination?

    My question might well have large financial implications, but I’m asking it in a non-commercially and not only quantitative way. I believe it stands in relationship to these other endeavors, in fact, as pure mathematics stands in relation to physics, and hence also to chemistry, biology and more. And perhaps music stands in that relationship to mathematics? — but I digress.

    If I’m right about the universe of concepts / Glass Bead Game project, it will be the most intellectually demanding, the least commercially obvious, and finally the most revelatory of these grand-sweep ideas..

    From my POV, it’s also the one that can give the most value-add to human thinking in human minds, and to CT analysts, strategists, journos, educators, therapists, bright and playful kids — you name them all!

    Seeing it in terms of counterpoint, as Hesse did — it’s the virtual music of ideas.

    No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

    Monday, August 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — borders and distinctions from Trump to Revelation, plus one ]
    .

    Donald Trump‘s “three core principles of real immigration reform”:

    1. A nation without borders is not a nation.

    **

    G Spencer-Brown wrote of his book. Laws of Form, “The theme of this book is that a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart” — or as Heinz Von Foerster rephrased him, “Draw a distinction and a universe comes into being”. Indeed, his book opens with the words:

    We take as given the idea of distinction and the idea of indication, and that we cannot make an indication without drawing a distinction.

    He writes:

    Distinction is perfect continence.

    That is to say, a distinction is drawn by arranging a boundary with separate sides so that a point on one side cannot reach the other side without crossing the boundary. For example in a plane a circle draws a distinction.

    Similarly, Gregory Bateson defines an idea as “A difference or distinction or news of differences”.

    **

    Borders are both physical and metaphysical: the border between the physical and the metaphysical passes through human beings, who are themselves both metaphysical and physical.

    Borders may thus be heeded or ignored.

    Smugglers don’t necessarily ignore them, they may take them very seriously, as do those who police them. Birds, however, ignore them, fishes, lizards, languages..

    There are would-be states that straddle national borders, as the Basque peoples straddle the border between France and Spain:

    Basque France Spain 600

    There are also would-be states that literally erase national borders, as in the case of IS bulldozing thw border between Iraq and Syria:

    Iraq Syria Border 600

    Thus while borders may be tidy in separating one from a second, they are also untidy in straddling them, neither one nor two, yet (like Janus) both.. They are, in short, thresholds, limina. And so wahat we know of liminality applies to them. I have discussed tthis previosuly on Zenpundit in Liminality II: the serious part — suffice it to say here that limiality is a condition that exacerbates, intensifies.

    **

    The anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, quotes Leviticus 19.19:

    You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff.

    Why these disjunctions? Dougles notes the repeated refrain in just such contexts:

    Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy

    and points out that Ronald Knox correctly — if “rather thinly” — translates this:

    I am set apart and you must be set apart like me

    She then tells us:

    Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order.

    noting that:

    The word ‘perversion’ is a significant mistranslation of the rare Hebrew word tebhel, which has as its meaning mixing or confusion.

    and concludes

    ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created.

    **

    The upper image, below, is taken from my recent post on Matrioshka cartography, and waas taken in turn from Say goodbye to the weirdest border dispute in the world in the Washington on August 1st..

    SPEC DQ maps

    … while the lower image is from Welcome to Liberland, the World’s Newest Country (Maybe) in the New York Times Magazine, dated Aug 11

    **

    Lydia Kiesling, in her post Letter of Recommendation: Uzbek in the NYT magazine today, writes:

    National borders can be risibly at odds with reality, especially in Central Asia, where Turks, Mongols, Persians and others roved and mingled, where ‘‘Uzbek’’ was, for a time, more of a descriptive antonym of ‘‘Tajik’’ — no­­madic versus settled — than an ethnic classification.

    And why not?

    They are, after all, distinctions drawn in the mind, lines drawn on paper. Thus the Sykes-Picot map:

    Sykes_Picot_Agreement_Map_signed_8_May_1916 600

    Sykes was quite clear about the “lines dorawn on paper” part. He is reported to have said:

    I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk

    The map, in other words, is not the territory: the map is a map.

    To take another instance of importance in today’s world, the Durand Line:

    Durand_Line_Border_Between_Afghanistan_And_Pakistan 600

    Not only is the map not the territory in this case — it can be seen, as one-time Afghan president Hamid Karzai said, as “a line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers” — Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    **

    Sympathies which exist across borders can be potent forces for their dissolution. In a poem titled “Their Eyes Confer Fire” written in the 1980s about Basque country, I wrote

    We have
    little time,
    Marie explained,
    for those
    who, because
    it is hard
    to draw
    lines
    across actual
    mountains,
    carve up
    this earth on
    paper.

    France, Spain:
    we disdain
    boundaries, borders,
    and border guards.

    A canny reader noted that the entire poem could be read not as a description of the Basques as they exist in reality, but as a paean to the corpus callosum joining the two hemispheres of the brain — and thus the two modes of cognition of which I so recently wrote.

    **

    Returning to Lieberland, or Gornja Siga as the locals call it, we learn:

    Gornja Siga has come, over the last few months, to assume an outsize role in the imagination of many — not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and in the United States. Its mere existence as a land unburdened by deed or ruler has become cause for great jubilation. There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation. All the most recent states — South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea — were carved from existing sovereignties in the wake of bitter civil wars. Here, by contrast, is a truly empty parcel. What novel society might be accomplished in a place like this, with no national claim or tenant?

    Consider one sentence alone as the key to that “outsize role in the imagination”:

    There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation.

    The apocalyptic yearning here and its kinship with the Amrican dream are hard to miss — it is like a conflation of Matthew 5.14:

    A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

    with Revelation 21.1-2:

    And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

    **

    Plus:


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