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Archive for the ‘analogy’ Category

Happily or sadly, our AIs still lack the creative leap

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on one current comparative advantage of being human, and calling for the design of a ReSearch Engine ]

You may not like hymns — or thrash metal. Facebook, whose market value topped $100 billion about a year ago, “thought” that if I liked this video:

I might also like this “related video”:

State of the art! Big Data! Analogical thinking!

Seems like the algorithm didn’t listen to the music, it just decided “King of Heaven” and “in Heaven, King” were pretty similar as word-groups go.

Actually, their reasoning is not that bad, once you think about it in DoubleQuotes terms — they’ve stumbled on an “opposite” rather than a “similar” — but as we’ve seen with such examples as Oxford and Cambridge, or the Army / Navy game, opposites and similars aren’t so dissimilar after all.

Sadly, when it comes to musical tastes, opposites don’t necessarily work too well, and similars would in this case have been preferable.


But the issue is human cognition and the attempts of computer scientists to match it — and specifically, to match and even surpass our analogical powers.

As I wrote in WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies, in an online chat session with David Gelernter years ago, I said:

My own hunch is that an aesthetic sense is *the great sorting principle*, that it has to do with pattern recognition, and specifically the recognition of isomorphisms, parallelisms in deep structure. So an AI that recognized deep isomorphisms across wide topic distances would be the ideal web navigator, as an I that recognizes deep isomorphisms across wide topic distances is a creative mind. It would also be playing Hesse’s Bead Game, no?

to which he responded:

Hipbone, I think basically, that’s exactly right. I wrote a book about this issue of what you call recognizing isomorphisms in widely different domains, a tremendously important issue in how the human mind works.

From my POV, the human mind recognizing a rich correspondence between two rich insights, perhaps even from widely separate domains, is the very essence of creativity — isn’t that what the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture – and thus the eventual proof of Fermat’s last theorem – was all about?

My brief chat with Gelernter dates to 1998, his book The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought, to 1994. On pp. 2-3, he writes:

Reasoning is one big part of human thought, and thought science has reasoning decently under control. Philosophers and psychologists understand it and computers, up to a point, can fake it. But there is one other big piece of the picture, which goes by many names: creativity, intuition, insight, metaphoric thinking, “holistic thinking”; all these tricks boil down at base to drawing analogies. Inventing a new analogy — hitching two thoughts together, sometimes two superficially unrelated thoughts — brings about a new metaphor and, it is generally agreed, drives creativity as well. Studies (and intuition) suggest that creativity hinges on seeing an old problem in a new way, and this so-called “restructuring” process boils down at base to the discovery of new analogies. How analogical thinking works is the great unsolved problem, the unknowable longitude, of thought science. “It is striking that,” as the philosopher Jerry Fodor remarks, “while everybody thinks analogical reasoning is an important ingredient in all sorts of cognitive achievements that we prize, nobody knows anything about how it works” — not even, Fodor adds (twisting the knife) in an “in the glass darkly sort of way” (1983, 107)


For a comparable, consider this NYT evaluation of another tricky issue for AI — Brainy, Yes, but Far From Handy:

The correlation between highly evolved artificial intelligence and physical ineptness even has a name: Moravec’s paradox, after the robotics pioneer Hans Moravec, who wrote in 1988, “It is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult-level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a 1-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”

Brainy the current AI’s may be, and even beginning to manage physical agility — but mentally agile?

If they still can’t tell that a taste for classic hymns does not correlate closely with a taste for German thrash, they’re not agile enough for the HipBone / Sembl style of games..


Derek Robinson wrote a piece about my HipBone Games and AI back in the 1990s. It’s succinct, it’s relevant.

Here’s how I see these matters: I am calling for the development of a ReSearch Engine, with the HipBone Games, Sembl and DoubleQuotes as devices to be used in its construction.

The ReSearch Engine’s purpose would be to learn from humanly identified analogies — gleaned from repeated playings of the HipBone, Sembl and DoubleQuotes games — to recognize deep and richly textured analogies across the breadth of human cultures, following the principle laid out above:

deep isomorphisms across wide topic distances

Such an Engine could hopefully provide us with the links of associative links that at the moment are glimpsed in moments of genius (think: Taniyama‘s conjecture of 1956 connecting the mathematical realm of elliptic curves and that of modular forms), which then take years to be ironed out and brought to fruition (think: Wiles‘ proof of the Taniyama–Shimura–Weil conjecture, along the way to his proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, 1993).

The successful design of such an Engine would be a — hmmm– singular event.


Tools for Creativity and Stuff

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]








At Boyd and Beyond 2014 this weekend there were a few references to creativity and whether creativity could be taught. I prepared what follows back in August in response to a friend’s request for ideas and/or resources.

Free writing: author Mark Levy’s book Accidental Genius is a good resource of concepts for how to get “it” in writing. Levy argues our internal editor gets in the way of our creativity and advocates writing quickly without regard to style, grammar, etc—the idea being to get the ideas out in a tangible form and provides methods to synthesize. It has a sort of gimmicky feel, but I’ve used variations of his methods four or five times a year—and just used last week to get my head around part of a problem.

Michael Michalko’s THINKPAK, THINKERTOYS, and Cracking Creativity are all good resources, but I’ve found the card deck to be the most valuable (Fred Leland uses these, too). In the card deck Michalko divides his thought-prompting cards into the acronym “SCAMPER” (S-Substitute Something), (C-Combine it with something else), (A- Adapt something to it), (M-Modify or Magnify——[I added miniaturize] it), (P- Put it to some other use), (E- Eliminate Something), (R- Reverse or Rearrange it). Here is a link to the google book. I keep the card deck on my desk and use several times a year.

Visible Thinking has moments (a painful read in places, but there are some good nuggets, too), but the larger theme is The Mind Map Book, which many admire. I know Lynn uses mind maps—and I have several for my boat project. I find them good for getting the ideas out there and establishing connections. I use Mind Maps software—which is very good on a PC, but not so good on a Mac.

Systematically, I have found combining Michalko’s THINKPAK with a Mind Map to be useful, and THINKPAK “backwards” with free writing (using the cards as a jumping off place to begin writing). Handwriting might not be popular with the younger folks, but free-writing isn’t the same on a keyboard for me. It is a question of what style best fits for you.

A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants — both by Roger von Oech [he has a "Whack Pack" set of cards, too, but I don't have them yet.] are campy with dated graphics, but when I’m stuck, one of these books is often my first place to stop. Parts are goofy to be sure, but sometimes goofy is good.

At the other end of the spectrum, Barbara Minto’s The Minto Pyramid Principle, Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving I have a love/hate relationship with this very expensive book (I paid about $50 for a used copy) that I purchased back in 2008/09. Minto’s genius is in her simplicity and elegance—it is also very linear, so focus is rarely a problem when using her methods. Her schema is focused on a consultant-client relationship, so you may want to skip or check if google has parts you can review online.

My father-in-law shared a column from an investment newsletter several years ago that I’ve also used intermittently: everyday write down “10 ideas”—this is sort of a riff on free writing, but the idea is to get 10 new ideas on paper everyday—unedited. It gets hard after about five or six consecutive days. I’ll typically go three or four days in a row and take a few weeks off. I’ve ideas for three different weapons platforms that came from this method.

Terry Barnhart’s Critical Question Mapping [see Terry's excellent Creating a Lean R&D Enterprise]  is a good place to approach problems from the perspective of what/which questions must be answered. Mark (aka: “Zen”) has used with students and Fred Leland uses in training law enforcement. We used it a couple of years ago to help establish a big project I’m working on.

Lastly, two tools I use everyday are a small Moleskin notebook and my iPhone camera. Anytime I’ve an idea/insight I’ll copy into my notebook and assign a suspense date to “running it to ground,” and this includes copying marginalia and/or quotes from a book I’m reading—particularly for adjacent ideas as a prompt to come back. Also, I’m a big fan of using my smartphone to photograph magazine articles, shapes or designs that may have applicability to something that interests me. For aid in memory, I’ve found Evernote.com to be very useful, too.

What tools do you use to boost your creativity?


Of “apocalyptic” silk — also mixed fabrics, nylon & polyester

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there are times when religions don't want you to "slip into something a little more casual" -- the end times included! ]

Julie Parker's All About Silk, All About Cotton & All About Wool -- yes, in three separate volumes


I wouldn’t normally draw your attention to books on fabric, but this three-volume set by Julie Parker — each volume a combination fabric dictionary and swatchbook — caught my eye today, because I was thinking specifically of wool, cotton and silk in the context of religious prohibitions.

As regular readers here know, I’m always on the lookout for hints of “end times” thinking anywhere around the globe and in any of the world’s religions (secular ideologies, too) — because they serve as indicators of significant currents and possible shifts in popular sentiment. Accordingly, I wanted to bring our readership’s attention to the current dispute in Malaysia, described in an Agence France Presse post of February 21st from Kuala Lumpur, titled Malaysian fatwa ruling sought on ‘apocalyptic’ silk:

A Malaysian conservative group’s insistence that Muslim men wearing silk was a “sign of the apocalypse” prompted a call Friday for religious authorities to study whether to impose a fatwa on the fabric, a report said.

An activist with the conservative Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia told reporters on Thursday that silk was forbidden for men, citing Islamic literature that describes the prophet Muhammad as taking that stance.

Such literature “also states that one of the tanda kiamat (signs of the apocalypse) is when pure silk is being worn,” association activist Sheikh Abdul Kareem S. Khadaied was quoted saying by the Malay Mail.


That is, thus far, the only eschatologically-connected fabric-related issue that I’m aware of, and of special interest for that reason. But commandments regarding the appropriateness or otherwise of particular fabrics are also to be found in the Tanakh / Old Testament, eg at Deuteronomy 22:9–11:

Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled. Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together. Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen togethe

and Leviticus 19.19:

Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.


The need to keep different things clearly separated, and to avoid those things (eg shellfish) which appear to bleed between otherwise clearly distinct categories, is a characteristic which Mary Douglas explored fruitfully in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966), and one of the more interesting insights to be gleaned there is that declaring something taboo is more like labeling power lines “high tension” — it doesn’t demarcate the bad from the good so much as the dangerously intense or highly charged from the safe and normal…

Thus we discover in consulting Jacob Milgrom‘s JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers that there’s one place in the Torah where wool and linen are indeed permitted to be mixed — in the tzitzit or fringers of Jewish ritual prayer shawls:

What is there about the tzitzit that would remind its wearer of holiness? The earliest rabbinic sources, perhaps dating back to biblical days, taught that the tzitzit are sha‘atnez, a mixture of wool and linen. In fact white linen cords and dyed woolen cords were found in the Bar Kockba caves, proving that the rabbinic teaching was actually observed. Sha‘atnez is forbidden because it is a holy mixture, reserved exclusively for priests and forbidden to nonpriests. .. Thus the tzitzit, according to the rabbis, are modeled after a priestly garment that is taboo for the rest of Israel!


As the centuries and millennia turn, however, situations change — and with them the styles of interpretation and degrees of importance assigned to such rules by various streams within a given religion. In some cases new rulings are called for to meet the changing circumstances — hence the use of qiyas (argument by analogy) in Islamic jurisprudence to cover cases not clearly accounted for in the Qur’an or reliable ahadith.

Here for instance, is a quote from the blogsite of a Christian denomination (a “traditionalist” breakaway group from the Worldwide Church of God, for those interested in such details) bringing the discussion of mixed cloths up into the twenty-first century to address synthetic fibers:

What about the mixture of synthetic, man-made fabrics, such as Dacron, nylon, polyester, and rayon, with either cellulose or protein fibers? Many have not realized that a combination of synthetic and either plant or animal material does not necessarily break the biblical principle. Synthetic materials are usually made to have essentially the same characteristics as the natural fibers. Otherwise, they would not mix well. The stronger fibers would cut and tear away from the weaker ones or would not combine well in other ways. In other words, it is perfectly acceptable to manufacture fabrics from a combination of fibers which are naturally or artificially compatible with one another. It is the mixture of fibers with markedly differing qualities which this biblical principle concerns.

It should be noted that such combinations produce a cheaper garment, with respect to quality, than one made with the best grades of pure fibers. On the other hand, a fabric made from low-grade, natural fibers is usually improved by the addition of compatible man-made fibers. Any good tailor or seamstress knows that the best quality clothing is made from 100 percent wool, cotton, and so forth. Nevertheless, one need not throw away or destroy clothing which may be of lower quality or a wrong mixture. Wearing such materials is not a sin in itself. Rather, God does not want manufacturers producing shoddy materials in order to take advantage of their customers.

A wise principle to follow in selecting either a pure or mixed garment is to purchase the best quality one can afford—it will last longer and fit better than inferior, less expensive clothes. The primary reason to do this is to honor and glorify God in what we wear, especially if the clothing is to be worn primarily for church services. However, it is not wise to go into debt buying better quality than one can afford.


Religion — an endlessly fascinating window on human cultures and the changing times…

And as an inveterate book-lover and collector, I have to say those three volumes from Rain City Publishing look pretty neat! Swatches!


Recap: on HipBone / Sembl Thinking

Monday, March 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- briefly picking up a strand from an earlier post & running with it ]

Some of the fish in the pool HipBone / Sembl swims in - slide credit Cath Styles, & h/t Derek Robinson


I just wanted to reiterate an Einstein quote that I slipped into the middle of a post on the Black Madonna and iconography recently, where some readers more interested in the Sembl / HipBone games and their applicability to analytic work and creative thinking may have missed it:

The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined. There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought – before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of sign, which can be communicated to others.

The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will.

According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned elements is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one is searching for.


Combinatory playessential feature in productive thoughtanalogous to certain logical connections one is searching for — these three phrases sum up pretty exactly the congitive training function of the HipBone / Sembl games.

As I said earlier, I have to wonder how many of our analysts are deeply versed in this “combinatory play” of images and kinesthetic experiences, way below the threshold of conscious thought.


On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on graph theory, and the background and history of HipBone / Sembl gameboards ]

First off, a graph — at least the way I’m using it here — is a diagram of linkages. The items linked, which may be people, places, phones, ideas, quantities, whatever, are represented by dots or circles, known as nodes, and the links between them by lines, known as edges.

Here’s a simple graph diagram with four nodes and seven edges:

left: a simple graph, based on, right: the bridges of the city of Königsberg circa 1735


That diagram represents — elegantly, with topological accuracy — the seven bridges connecting the banks and islands of the city of Königsberg — which gavs rise to a famous math problem, which in turn gave rise to that branch of mathematics we now know as Graph Theory.


Graphs are thus pictures of networks, and networks are the non-linear, feedback-capable basis for an astonishing variety of interesting things such as the internet and your and my brains

And they can get pretty complex. I’m a simple soul, and not a great network maven — but here’s what my network in LinkedIn looks like as of today. It too is a graph, although it reminds me of broccoli, or of a fish…


Hey, that’s a pretty small network — and graph — compared with, say, a graph of all the neurons in a single brain, all the brains on the world’s computer networks, or all the neurons in all the brains on all the networks…


Graphs with concepts at the nodes and conceptual links along the edges have been used for centuries to convey mystical states, propositions in theology, and concepts in the natural sciences:

Left, the Sephirotic Tree in Kabbalah; middle, the four elements in Oronce Fine; right, the Christian Trinity


So you won’t be too surprised to learn that my variants on the Glass Bead Game of Hermann Hesse, which are designed to build what he termed the “hundred-gated cathedral of Mind” by analogically connecting the great thoughts of human-kind across all the arts and scences, use graphs (in this sense) as their boards…

Here, for instance, is one possible board design, derived from the inner vaulting of an English cathedral roof:


Okay, past is prelude.

In the second part of this post I’ll show you a series of boards actually used in HipBone / Sembl play, and then two dazzling works — one a work of art, the other a work of science — that leapt out at my in the course of my browsing a morning or two ago…


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