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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”.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”…

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GMTA: Temple Grandin

Friday, May 24th, 2013

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

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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!

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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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The Abel Prize for a great Sembl move

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Sembl ]
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You don’t have to be playing a Sembl or Hipbone game to make a great Sembl move — you just have to see a rich semblance between two concepts in (previously) widely separated fields of thought. Thus Pierre Deligne of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, who won the Abel Prize in mathematics this year, did so by working on a rich Sembl-style insight from André Weil. As Scientific American reports today:

Deligne’s most spectacular results are on the interface of two areas of mathematics: number theory and geometry. At first glance, the two subjects appear to be light-years apart. As the name suggests, number theory is the study of numbers, such as the familiar natural numbers (1, 2, 3, and so on) and fractions, or more exotic ones, such as the square root of two. Geometry, on the other hand, studies shapes, such as the sphere or the surface of a donut. But French mathematician André Weil had a penetrating insight that the two subjects are in fact closely related. In 1940, while Weil was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the army during World War II, he sent a letter to his sister Simone Weil, a noted philosopher, in which he articulated his vision of a mathematical Rosetta stone. Weil suggested that sentences written in the language of number theory could be translated into the language of geometry, and vice versa. “Nothing is more fertile than these illicit liaisons,” he wrote to his sister about the unexpected links he uncovered between the two subjects; “nothing gives more pleasure to the connoisseur.”

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While I was still a schoolboy, my favorite place to visit on vacation was the great Abbaye St. Pierre de Solesmes, celebrated for its central part in the renewal of Catholic liturgy and of the Gregorian Chant in particular. Two of my fondest memories are of the terrific bowls of coffee served in the monastic refectory at breakfast, and of my opportunity to take a class in chant under the chironomic hand of Dom Joseph Gajard, then Choirmaster at Solesmes. The liturgy and the chant were sublime.

I was an Anglican (“Episcopalian”) at the time, and just a wee bit concerned that the monks might want to convert me to the One Holy [Roman] Catholic and Apostolic version of the faith — but when I expressed my concern to one of the monks, I was reassured: they had had an earlier guest at the abbey, one Simone Weil, and she too had been unready to convert, though deeply moved by the liturgy…

So I’ve felt a quiet kinship with Simone Weil ever since, and try to keep a copy of her Letter to a Priest nearby me at all times. She begins:

When I read the catechism of the Council of Trent, it seems as though I had nothing in common with the religion there set forth. When I read the New Testament, the mystics, the liturgy, when I watch the celebration of the mass, I feel with a sort of conviction that this faith is mine or, to be more precise, would be mine without the distance placed between it and me by my imperfection.

I love her for that — and I love, too, that her brother should make such a splendid Sembl move.

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I suppose I’d better post my reading of Wiles’ Proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem viewed as a Glass Bead Game as a follow up.

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