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Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — at the intersection of filmcraft, tradecraft, and gameplay ]
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IBM Fellow Jeff Jones has a powerful insight into puzzles and analytics which I explored in one of my early guest posts here, A Hipbone Approach to Analysis III. I quoted him thus:

The first piece you take out of the box and place on the work surface requires very little computational effort. The second and third pieces require almost equally insignificant mental effort. Then as the number of pieces on the table grows the effort to determine where the next piece goes increases as well. But there is a tipping point where the effort to determine where to place the next piece gets easier and easier … despite the fact the number of puzzle pieces on the table continues to grow.

and — being a theologian and poet, hence interested in creative leaps — I threw this in for bonus points, since in it he talks about epiphanies:

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.

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That, being (at least a little) past — I was quoting Jonas back in 2010 — is prologue.

Yesterday I was listening to Nada Bakos, ex-CIA analyst and targeter, and more recently one of the stars of the HBO documentary Manhunt, which just won an Emmy — and which I have written about twice here on Zenpundit, first in Manhunt: Radicalization, & comprehending the full impact of dreams, and then in Manhunt: religion and the director’s eye.

Chelsea Daymon interviewed Nada Bakos on yesterday’s Loopcast, and I’d just got to the point, one minute and thirteen seconds in, where Bakos said the words that triggered my urgent need to reconnect with Jonas and his puzzle insights. She says:

It’s not unlike what an investigative journalist would do, when you’re piecing together an intelligence picture. You’re looking at disparate bits of information, and you’re trying to form them to make a puzzle. So from our perspective at the Agency, we were looking at it from signal intelligence, to human intelligence, to technical collection, foreign intel services — across the board, we were gathering this information from a variety of different sources. And any one of those pieces of information. in and of itself, may look innocuous, or not representative of what we’re trying to find, but when you add it to the larger puzzle, that’s when you can see if its going to fit. So it’s hard to sift through the chaff to find your actual information that you need to piece together.

I also wrote briefly about Manhunt in A feast of form in my twitter-stream today, quoting Bakos’ colleague Cindy Storer:

Even in the analytical community there’s a relatively smaller percentage of people who are really good at making sense of information that doesn’t appear to be connected. So that’s what we call pattern analysis, trying to figure out what things look like. And those people, you really need those people to work on an issue like terrorism, counternarcotic, international arms trafficking, because you’ve got bits and pieces of scattered information from all over the place, and you have to try to make some sense of it. … That takes this talent, which is also a skill, and people would refer to it as magic — not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic.

Storer’s “magic” and Jones’ “epiphany” seem to me to have a great deal in common…

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[ and yes, personal disclosure, I’ve been working for almost 20 years on games that teach that kind of magic, the whole of that kind of magic across all domains, and nothing but that kind of magic. ]

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Back to Nada Bakos, and a crucial distinction between two types of analytic puzzle-solving:

From a predictive standpoint, if you’re looking at trying to gauge when or if an attack is going to happen, that is really difficult, and you’re going about looking at the data in a very different way. Because if you have a piece of intelligence that said that there will be an attack, but you don’t know the timing or location, your focus is going to be strictly on those two pieces.

That’s narrow focus. Wide focus, by contrast?

When you’re trying to look at an overall picture, you’re not — this is typical of intelligence gathering, when you don’t know what you have in front of you — you’re letting the information tell you what the picture is going to be. And that’s the objective challenge for intelligence analysis, and that’s what the Agency tries to drill into their analysts, to always let the information lead you, rather than you lead the information, so you’re…

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Wait a moment, though — I’d like to come back to that — but just for the record, here’s what looks to be a parallel use of “leading” from a legal definition…

LEADING QUESTION, evidence, Practice. A question which puts into the witness’ mouth the words to be echoed back, or plainly suggests the answer which the party wishes to get from him. 7 Serg. & Rawle, 171; 4 Wend. Rep. 247. In that case the examiner is said to lead him to the answer. It is not always easy to determine what is or is not a leading question.

I’m hypothesizing that the idea here is, in effect, “to always let the witness lead you, rather than you lead the witness” — in the interests of justice, not of prosecution or defense… And that “justice” in this case parallels “objectivity” in the case of intelligence analysis.

Analysts may yawn and attorneys quietly splutter at this truism — yet when the same pattern crops up in two distinct fields, you can bet it has more general application. From an intel standpoint, it’s a matter of avoiding your own biases and assumptions, and dealt with as such in Heuer. In the arts, it’s this need to avoid painting what one thinks what one knows, rather than what one sees, that’s behind Betty Edwards‘ instruction to her students to draw an upside-down photo of Albert Einstein, as in her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, see p. 51. In music, it’s what permits the fresh interpretation of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould, 1955 — and then years later in 1981, but Gould again — so very different from all previous interpretations.

It’s the stuff of creativity, and at its highest pitch, the stuff of genius.

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But let Ms Bakos continue… Here’s another distinction she draws for us:

From a targeting perspective, your focus is, operationalizing the analysis. So you’re taking all that big picture and you’re doing something about it, so that is your intent from the get-go.

When you’re a traditional analyst, you’re actually writing pieces for the policy maker, and you’re adding to the larger picture so they can make decisions based upon that intelligence.

The second of these is clear enough, but I’d have a question for Ms Bakos about the first.

Roughly speaking –and I know the answer is likely to be a bit more complex than my formulation of the question — does this mean t hat the policy maker has by this point signed off on a “do whatever’s needed in your best judgment to achieve the stated goal”? — and if so, where is the threshold where targeting and execution take over from decision-making, in a Clausewitzian extension of the politics by other means?

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Towards the very end of the interview, and having covered a number of topics that were specific to Iraq and al-Zarqawi and thus not pertinent to my interests here, Ms Bakos asks:

How do we effect change, how do we actually deprogram people to get out of these groups, these regional groups, this ideology, and I think we haven’t effectively tapped into that, yet. I think we’re always fighting yesterday’s war. So, I think we need to start looking forward as well: What’s the way out? Are we working with host governments to figure out how we help people to get out of al-Qaida, how do they get out of the situation that they’re currently in — because once they’re in I think it’s very difficult, for some of these younger followers, if they’ve become disenchanted, to move on.

That’s something I feel passionate about, since Leah Farrall posted a series on Children, jihad, agency, and the state of counter terrorism making much the same point in considerable, painful detail. I invite you to open that link in another window and bookmark it for later reading.

If I’m reading both Ms Bakos and Leah right, this is a serious and underappreciated issue, and one that is both humane and eminently practical.

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Okay, that’s the gist of what Manhunt tells us about the analytic process, as I see it. So this is where I’d like to take what Nada Bakos, Manhunt, and Cindy Storer tell us, view it through the lens of Jeff Jonas’ insight, and see where else that leads us.

This to me is the crux of the thing.

For myself as a curious mind and game designer, what this boils down to is an investigation of the gameplay involved inp roblem solving, when the game-board extends from the virtual to the real, from thought to action, from the ideal to the practicable…

Indeed, our board also extends from our own models and games via the Great Game (in both its intel and Afghan meanings) to the deep game of life itself, of which Plotinus observed “Men directing their weapons against each other- under doom of death yet neatly lined up to fight as in the pyrrhic sword-dances of their sport- this is enough to tell us that all human intentions are but play…” — and not forgetting Keith Oatley‘s contemporary interpretation of the metaphor in his Shakespeare’s invention of theatre as simulation that runs on minds.

The gameplay of life, then — as is it practiced by the intelligence analyst, by the investigative journalist as Ms Bakos points out — by curious minds, as the phrase goes — and by game designers. Which last consideration is why I’d like to invite Mike Sellers, Brian Moriarty, and Amy Jo and/or Scott Kim and others to add their wisdom to the mix, should they happen to read this post…

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Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are the ones I think of most easily whose boards include both virtual and real spaces. Myths, beliefs and hard-nosed realities all impact both the Israeli-Palestinian issue and such games about it as PeaceMaker. The warfare in Mjolnir’s Game is deliciously asymmetrical. Three-dimensional chess has different “levels” to its boards, but no metaphysical distances between them — my own story-telling chess variant (see Playing a double Game) has both competitive and cooperative aspects tied in to every board move…

What other examples should we be thinking about? What other game design rules and heuristics might we apply?

The end game as Jonas describes it, happens quickly — in the context of a puzzle in which the “big picture” was complete for the designer before the pieces were scattered for play to commence, in which all the pieces in play are in fact part of the final picture, with none of them originating in other games and tossed randomly into the box, where none of the pieces are “false” in the sense of false flags, lies, propaganda, dissimulations, and so on.

Compared to the possibilities of deliberately deceptive pieces, duplicative pieces, partially obscured pieces and pieces of unrelated puzzles, the technical issue of pieces arising in different media is relatively easily handled by purely technical means (this I assume, having worked briefly with an early version of Starlight, correct me if I’m wrong).

And it is here — also an assumption of mine — that the analytic, pattern-recognizing mind will have the advantage over the machine.

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It’s the beginning of the game that interests me most — Jonas says that the moves are quickly made in the beginning, and in Manhunt there’s a moment where Cindy Storer pins the first puzzle piece — a photo of Abdullah Azzam, whose book The signs of Ar-Rahmaan in the Jihad of Afghanistan I’ve discussed before — into the first board space, which she’s labeled AF:

with the words:

Your starting point is Afghanistan. Abdullah Azzam is the Godfather of the Afghan jihad…

That’s a cinematic description of the process, of course, and there must have been a small flotilla of facts floating around in her brain — and the other brains working with her — at the time. Nevertheless, disciplined thought has to have a starting point, and Afghanistan, Azzam and the muj war against the Soviets offer the immediate context for the next face up and central focus of the pursuit, that of Osama bin Laden

whose photo she pins up with the words “and his partner is Osama bin Laden…”

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For additional context, here are some other quotes from Manhunt about the process:

A link chart is the visual representation of a terrorist network and it’s what terrorism analysts spend much of their time building.

and:

My mental image is that, you know, I’m doing Jacob’s Ladder, you’ve got this string where you’re pulling the strings in your fingers, I feel like that’s what I feel I’m doing mentally.

and:

You know, trying to keep track of all the threads of various threats and which ones are real and which ones aren’t real and what connects to what. And, you know, people say, why didn’t you connect the dots? Well, because the whole page is black.

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A sea of thoughts, then, in more than one mind yet strongly interconnected by whatever intel comes across the transom, conversations, memories, that needs to become physically represented in a way which represents links between the parties and their ideas, stated or surmised. With wild-cards, seepage, and needless duplication. Some oriented to materiel, some to morale: from munitions to Qur’anic meditations. A “semantic network“, with links as vertices, people and ideas as nodes (cf also “conceptual graphs“).

Something very like, in fact, Hermann Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game — only with a focus on threat, rather than conceptual elegance across the full range of human thought…

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It’s a formidable task, then, moving first from copious scraps of intel to human minds that perform their own evaluative sorting. Here I’d invoke Coleridge‘s “hooks and eyes of memory” and suggest the process, like other forms of combinatorial insight, may require passionate examination, sub-conscious-threshold processing, and some reverie or rest time in which the unanticipated connection can be presented to consciousness… in a highly complex iterative process. And with each new connection or cluster of dots requiring is own drilling down for verification, and weighting adjustment so that salient masses and intriguing outliers are both held in steady remembrance…

— I think this whole process is what Ms Bakos was talking about when earlier she gave us the overall injunction, “you’re letting the information tell you what the picture is going to be” –_

And all this without the benefit of the “red and yellow thumbs” that Jonas talks about in jigsaw puzzles [ see interview here ], or more accurately, with the exact nature of the thumbs ranging from quantifiable links between telephones to near-stochastic leaps from a theological imperative to a tactic…

And with a board that doesn’t have the neat rectangular frame of a picture puzzle, where the frame is in fact the particular analyst’s account – a geographic area, a nation perhaps, or some other area of specific expertise. So there are no “easy corners” to find, just a buzz of data, a murmuration…

It’s magnificently hard. It’s epiphanic, it’s magical. Much of the magic takes place below the threshold of consciousness, but consciousness is not fond of admitting that. And Cindy Storer’s comments, to my ear, convey a whole lot of that magic without “capturing” it.

John Livingstone LowesThe Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination, is I’m not mistaken, is a guided tour through the superb analytic puzzle piece and dot connecting mind o Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and a fir bed-time read for analysts. And I could go on, but this is long enough already.

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My thanks to HBO, the crew and cast of Manhunt — and congratulations on the Emmy.

We’re at the beginning of an understanding of how the mind puts puzzle pieces together, connects dots, spots needles in haystacks, and in general recognizes patterns and irregularities, at this point– and there’s much more to be uncovered.

  • I recommend the Loopcast with Nada Bakos, and the series in general.
  • I recommend the Greg Barker / HBO documentary, Manhunt
  • and you might also like to watch the fascinating mini-docu about the film’s title graphics
  • and read this comprehensive account of the titles
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    Filmcraft, like tradecraft, goes an order of magnitude above and beyond what is easily noticed to achieve its effect…

    And damn, I still want time and attention to give that movie the close review it richly deserves!

    From the Comments section: jihadist use of DoubleQuotes

    Thursday, July 25th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — comments on two posts by Chris Anzalone aka Ibn Siqilli ]
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    I’m bringing across two comments of mine from DoubleQuotes in the wild and making a separate post out of them — to give them more exposure, to emphasize the importance / interest of the two posts by Chris Anzalone that they are based on — and to be able to reference them in a post I’m currently working on. Both graphics are drawn from Chris Anzalone‘s Visual References post from last month, which gives essential visual support to his article, Zaynab’s Guardians: The Emergence of Shi`a Militias in Syria in the CTC Sentinel, just out.

    Here’s the first, with Chris’ comment below:

    Nasrallah & Bashar with the Qur'an (Poster)
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    An Internet poster showing Hizbullah’s secretary-general Hasan Nasrallah (right) and Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. The photograph of Nasrallah was taken after the 2006 Hizbullah-Israel war and has clearly been edited to show light emanating from the book (presumably the Qur’an). The same is true of the posed image of al-Asad. Both are shown by the designer as pious (thus, presumably, deserving of support).

    This pair ties the piety of the politician with the piety of the cleric, making a conceptual bridge between both Lebanon & Syria on the one hand, and politics & religion on the other. Not terribly surprising, but still, cleverly done.

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    The use of “doubling” in the double cannibalism images presented below some from a little further into the same Visual References post, but serve a different function, making an association in time rather than one linking two contemporaries… They are designed to suggest that present Sunni brutalities have historical precedent — with tremendous spiritual and emotional resonance. Again, Chris’ own comment contextualizes the images:

    1, Hind & Abu Sakkar the Syrian Rebel Heart-eater
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    Internet poster comparing Abu Sakkar, commander of a Syrian rebel group, (right), who committed a politically symbolic act of cannibalism on video with an organ (said to have been the liver or heart) from a slain Syrian government soldier in May 2013, and Hind bint ‘Utba (left), one of the Prophet Muhammad’s most virulent enemies before his conquest of Mecca in 630 C.E. In some Islamic historical sources, she is said to have taken a bite of the liver of the Prophet’s uncle, Hamza bin ‘Abd al-Muttalib, who was also one of his greatest warriors, after the Muslims’ defeat at the Battle of Uhud near the city of Madina. The text at the bottom reads: “Some stick to their habits and traditions!!,” referring to Sunni Muslims. The image of Hind and Hamza is a still from Syrian film director Moustapha Akkad’s famous 1977 film The Message about the beginnings of the prophetic career of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Akkad was one of those killed in a bombings of hotels in ‘Amman, Jordan carried out by Al-Qa’ida in the Land of the Two Rivers/Iraq, then led by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi.

    Taken together, the two “doublets” linked to above can add rich spoils to our understanding of Shi’a contributions to what Chris calls “the increasing sectarianization of Syria’s civil war”.

    Of images and likenesses

    Thursday, May 30th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a storm in a tea-kettle, various resemblances to Hitler, how Pudovkin perceived and practiced montage, what happened when the talkies came along, and four faces of Christ ]
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    It begins with something as innocent ad a tea kettle:

    Does this otherwise innocuous tea kettle resemble Hitler? Does it look enough like Hitler to merit JC Penney withdrawing it from sale?

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    Let’s take a look at a couple of other “resemblances to Hitler”:

    Who most resembles Hitler — Chaplin, or Stalin?

    On the face of it, that’s an easy question. If I were to just ask you the question “who is most like Hitler” in words, you might very well say Stalin, or Pol Pot perhaps — or, I suppose, if you were very focused on World War II and the Axis leaders, Mussolini.

    And if I asked you “who looks most like Hitler?” you might well say Charlie Chaplin — but you’d be “thinking visually” in terms of appearances, rather than “verbally” in terms of meanings.

    So there are at least two different ways someone can resemble Hitler — in terms of appearance, and in terms of behavior.

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    We don’t notice our own noses most of the time, even though they’re within our field of vision — and it’s a bit like that with likeness. We don’t have a grammar of resemblance, and that’s part of what I want to explore here, in drawing your attention to these two ways (at least) in which we can think of someone resembling Hitler.

    Placing two pictures side by side — Charlie Chaplin and Hitler, Hitler and Joseph Stalin — gets us to think a bit about the parallelisms and oppositions. And that’s a large part of what my DoubleQuotes format is good for. I am interested in what the mind does with juxtapositions, and I’m interested in getting us able to hold two contrasting thoughts in mind at the same time. As F Scott Fitzgerald said:

    The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

    I’m in two minds as to whether he’s right, of course.

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    So montage. So the beginnings of Russian cinema, and the great directors of the silent era in film, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein.

    Pudovkin wrote quite a bit about montage, about what he called relational editing, telling us:

    editing is not merely a method of the junction of separate scenes or pieces, but is a method that controls the “psychological guidance” of the spectator.

    He talked about five modes of editing, getting close to the foundations of a grammar of resemblance of the kind I mentioned above — contrast, paralleliem, symbolism, simultaneity and leit-motif. He said, for instance:

    Suppose it be our task to tell of the miserable situation of a starving man; the story will impress the more vividly if associated with mention of the senseless gluttony of a well-to-do man.

    and went on:

    it is possible not only to relate the starving sequence to the gluttony sequence, but also to relate separate scenes and even separate shots of the scenes to one another, thus, as it were, forcing the spectator to compare the two actions all the time, one strengthening the other.

    Under the heading of Symbolism, he noted:

    In the final scenes of the film Strike the shooting down of workmen is punctuated by shots of the slaughter of a bull in a stockyard. The scenarist, as it were, desires to say: just as a butcher fells a bull with the swing of a pole-axe, so, cruelly and in cold blood, were shot down the workers.

    I don’t suppose I’m alone in thinking here of the ending of Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now — and I doubt Coppola would have been unaware of the tribute he was paying to one of the early masters of cinematography, either. And what doe Pudovkin say about the symbolic editing together of the shooting of workmen punctuated by the slaughter of a bull?

    This method is especially interesting because, by means of editing, it introduces an abstract concept into the consciousness of the spectator without use of a title.

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    All this, of course, during the silent era. And when the talkies begin…

    After the advent of the talking pictures, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Alexandrov and Vertov issue a statement, attempting to salvage the emotional impact of montage which is in danger of being capsized by the oh so new and glittery charm of verbals — of people talking:

    Only a contrapuntal use of sound in relation to the visual montage piece will afford a new potentiality of montage development and perfection.

    The first experimental work with sound must be directed along the line of its distinct nonsynchronization with the visual images. And only such an attack will give the necessary palpability which will later lead to the creation- of an orchestral counterpoint of visual and aural images

    You see what’s going on here? Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Vertov want the mind to be working on two tracks of ideation at once — a visual track, full of emotional impact, and a verbal track, in counterpoint to the visual.

    They want us to be able “to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time” — not in synchrony but in counterpoint.

    So this business of juxtaposition, of contrapuntal thinking, goes quite deep, and it’s my contention that it’s a skill we need both to develop and to understand — hence my interest in building a grammar of resemblance, of rhyme, of fugue, of graphic match, of equation.

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    One final example. If the “likeness of Hitler” example confronted us with the “nature of likeness” as between facial resemblance and similarities of behavior, this next instance will deal more with “evidence of likeness”:

    Here’s the question: are these “real” likenesses?

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    The two likenesses above are both of interest as possible “likenesses of Christ” — the top one taken from the Shroud of Turin, the lower one allegedly photographed in the snow, perhaps in China. The image on the Shroud might be a sort of “photographic negative” of the actual face of man a crucified two thousand years ago — and scientific techniques may or may not offer us evidence as to that likelihood. The other image — supposedly of the face of the same Christ, this time seen and recognized by a photographer in shadows on snow — how does one check the provenance of an image like that?

    We don’t have a photographic record of what Christ looked like to compare our own images with — unless the Shroud turns out to offer us just that — so it’s likely we’re back at the distinction first drawn by theologians over a century ago, between “the Jesus of History” and “the Christ of Faith”.

    Consider the two images below, neither one perhaps what a camera might have seen if a photographer could time-travel back two thousand years, but each suited to the people for whom it was produced — in China, in Africa:

    The Christs these two images evoke come from a different mode of seeing to the images captured in biometric scans and on ID cards — yet they are well-suited for devotion and inspiration…

    Glass Beads and Complexity

    Monday, May 27th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — achieving something like closure on a post I started for Adam Elkus here, with a side dish along the way here ]
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    It’s astonishing to me how closely complexity science is related to Hermann Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game.

    Adam Elkus recently pointed those who follow him to Cosma Rohilla Shalizi, Methods and Techniques of Complex Systems Science: an Overview, and just a quick dip there gave me the graphic I’ve put at the head of this post, together with this quote about “patterns” as Shalizi understands that term:

    I mean more or less what people in software engineering do: a pattern is a recurring theme in the analysis of many different systems, a cross-systemic regularity. For instance: bacterial chemotaxis can be thought of as a way of resolving the tension between the exploitation of known resources, and costly exploration for new, potentially more valuable, resources (Figure 1.2). This same tension is present in a vast range of adaptive systems. Whether the exploration-exploitation trade-off arises among artifcial agents, human decision-makers or colonial organisms, many of the issues are the same as in chemotaxis, and solutions and methods of investigation that apply in one case can profitably be tried in another. The pattern “trade-off between exploitation and exploration” thus serves to orient us to broad features of novel situations. There are many other such patterns in complex systems science: “stability through hierarchically structured interactions”, “positive feedback leading to highly skewed outcomes”, “local inhibition and long-rate activation create spatial patterns”, and so forth.

    **

    Let’s start with patterns. The “people in software engineering” Shalizi mentions gleaned their use of the term “pattern” from the architect Christopher Alexander, author of the extraordinary, seminal book A Pattern Language, which in turn has hugely influenced computer science. Alexander distilled the essence of his thinking in his “Bead Game Conjecture”:

    That it is possible to invent a unifying concept of structure within which all the various concepts of structure now current in different fields of art and science, can be seen from a single point of view. This conjecture is not new. In one form or another people have been wondering about it, as long as they have been wondering about structure itself; but in our world, confused and fragmented by specialisation, the conjecture takes on special significance. If our grasp of the world is to remain coherent, we need a bead game; and it is therefore vital for us to ask ourselves whether or not a bead game can be invented.

    Manfred Eigen, Nobel laureate in Chemistry, called his book with Ruth Winkler-Oswatitsch Laws of the Game — and it deals with molecular biology, cellular automata, game theory, and games. But not just that — it is specifically written with Hesse’s concept in mind:

    We hope to translate Hermann Hesse’s symbol of the glass bead game back into reality.

    While we’re on about cellular automata, what about Stephen Wolfram? I don’t know that he talks about the Glass Bead Game himself, but at least three people talk about Wolfram’s book, A New Kind of Science, and/or his search engine, Wolfram Alpha as being strongly analogous to Hesse’s game — Jason Dyer, Graeme Philipson, and most recently, Mohammed AlQuraishi. Here’s a key para from Quraishi’s piece:

    I think the Game is an intriguing concept, and I think it may one day be realized. In fact I think we are already on our way toward realizing it. In the simplest and most general sense, mathematics and programming languages allow us to formalize all knowledge. Contenders for the language of the Game already exist, at least in principle. But we are further along than that. Search engines like Wolfram Alpha have already begun the process of formalizing diverse pieces of knowledge, unifying them in a single medium, and providing the means to connect and reason about them. A repeated example in the book, the mapping of musical compositions to mathematical formulas or even historical events, is eminently doable within Wolfram Alpha. Much remains to be done of course, and there is no “game” yet that can be played across the vast sea of all human knowledge, but some enterprising individuals have already gotten started on creating it.

    And then there’s John Holland, the “father of genetic algorithms”. Holland told an interviewer:

    I’ve been working toward it all my life, this Das Glasperlenspiel. It was a very scholarly game, starting with an abacus, where people set up musical themes, then do variations on it, like a fugue. Then they’d expand it to where it could include other artistic forms, and eventually cultural symbols. It became a very sophisticated game for setting up themes, almost as a poet would, and building variations as a composer. It was a way of symbolizing music and of building broad insights into the world.

    If I could get at all close to producing something like the glass bead game I can’t think of anything that would delight me more.

    **

    I’ve been working on a playable variant on the Glass Bead Game too, for twenty years quite consciously, and more if you count subterranean stirrings. And I don’t think glass beads, or stones, or chess or go pieces, or beads on an abacus, or strings of ones and zeros, or cells in an agent-based model for that matter, are the way to go. Which is not to say those approaches shouldn’t be tried, or don’t have remarkable things to teach us. I just don’t believe they give us quite what Hesse envisioned:

    a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created.

    I think what’s important in Hesse’s game is that concepts that humans can grasp should reveal their stunning interrelations to heart and mind. And for that reason, the “moves” in my games [Hipbone, and more recently Sembl] consist of concepts — musical, verbal, visual, mathematical — and the links, the analogies, the “semblances” between them.

    **

    And thus the game is a search for analogies.

    The human mind must inevitably perform what Shalizi calls the “trade-off between exploitation and exploration”. Some thoughts are proximate to others, they can be developed without any special insight by regular “linear” thinking. We do this every day, every minute — but it is not particularly revelatory. It doesn’t solve thorny problems, much less create beauty. There is another mode of thinking, however, that leaps between thoughts that are not so “close” but are nevertheless deeply related. To leap the apparent distance between such deeply related thoughts, we deploy analogy and creative thinking, and that is where the aha! of revelation occurs.

    So I would suggest there is a close analogy here with the point Shalizi is making with the diagram atop this post. The human mind, to slightly paraphrase Shalizi’s caption, will “exploit the currently-available patch of food” for thought by linear, inside-the-patch thinking, but at full stretch it will also “explore, in hopes of ?nding richer patches elsewhere” — the “elsewhere” being attained precisely by “creative leaps” — by seeing semblances, patterns, analogies.

    And to return to my earlier post, Thinking outside the cocoon, of which this post is a continuation, and perhaps the completion….

    Shalizi’s “random walk” is thus also the archangel’s “zig-zag wantonness” in that great poem, Tom O’Roughley — when William Butler Yeats asks, “how but in zig-zag wantonness / could trumpeter Michael be so brave?” and writes, “wisdom is a butterfly / and not a gloomy bird of prey”…

    GMTA: Temple Grandin

    Friday, May 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — here’s today’s windfall apple from the tree of creative delight ]
    .

    On March 31st, 2012 (or very likely the evening of the day before, because the clock this blog runs on is always way ahead of me) I posted a graphic here:

    The upper image illustrates Theodore von Kármán‘s mathematics of turbulent flow, the lower image Vincent van Gogh‘s view of the night sky, and I juxtaposed them using my “DoubleQuotes” format to illustrate the underlying unity of the arts and sciences, and the breathtaking beauty and insight we can derive when we recognize a “semblance” — a rich commonality that transcends our usual division of concepts into separate and un-mutually-communicative “disciplines” and “silos”.

    Apparently, this kind of cognition — the basis of every DoubleQuote, and of every move in one of the Hipbone / Sembl games — has now been termed “pattern thinking”.

    **

    According to Amazon, Temple Grandin and Richard Panek‘s book The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum was released April 30, 2013 although books are often available a couple of weeks ahead of release date, and galleys and proofs earlier still).

    I read about it for the first time today, in Grandin & Panek’s piece, How an Entirely New, Autistic Way of Thinking Powers Silicon Valley in Wired. That article begins with a pull-quote from Grandin’s book:

    I’ve given a great deal of thought to the topic of different ways of thinking. In fact, my pursuit of this topic has led me to propose a new category of thinker in addition to the traditional visual and verbal: pattern thinkers.

    Obviously, that’s something i’d want to find out more about, so I read on into the article, expecting good things. Imagine my surprise when I read this paragraph, though:

    Vincent van Gogh’s later paintings had all sorts of swirling, churning patterns in the sky — clouds and stars that he painted as if they were whirlpools of air and light. And, it turns out, that’s what they were! In 2006, physicists compared van Gogh’s patterns of turbulence with the mathematical formula for turbulence in liquids. The paintings date to the 1880s. The mathematical formula dates to the 1930s. Yet van Gogh’s turbulence in the sky provided an almost identical match for turbulence in liquid.

    Boom!

    **

    Okay, I just received my review copy of Hofstadter and Sander, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking — I guess I’ll have to review Grandin and Panke here, too.


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