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Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
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Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:

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There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

    **

    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    The Holy Ghost & the Machine?

    Monday, December 8th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — because throwing holy water at a computer is foolish and beautiful, a combo I rather like ]
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    Arthur Koestler‘s book title, The Ghost in the Machine, came to mind a day or so ago when I saw this tweet:

    **

    A memory stirred: I had seen something similar before.

    Back in 1999 — when programmers were putting in overtime to remediate or work around the so-called Y2K bug, CEOs were concerned as to the potential ripple-through effects of Y2K computer failures on just-in-time acquisition and distribution channels, and I was monitoring the possible social impact if, for instance, fear of bank failures led to bank failures, or terrorists saw a massive vulnerability and ran with it — a curious document came across my desk.

    You might say, Mammon gave a sermon.

    **

    The sermon was actually written for and distributed by the American Bankers Association to its members, for them to pass along to their pastors, rabbis and imams as what we might call sermon-fodder — a seldom mentioned sub-category of the public relations genre that gives us that handy shortcut to avoid actual thought, the press release.

    The Washington Post highlighted this quote:

    “Prepare as best you can,” advises the sermon, written by an ABA speechwriter and made available to local bankers earlier this month. “Then trust God for the rest”

    Also known as “trust in God, but first tie your camel”.

    **

    Here’s a link to the suggested sermon, plus a paragraph or two of text, in case at this late date you are still worried about bank failure, or indeed are worried now for the first time — the fall of the rouble, too, I suppose, has potential ripple-through impact on the global economy, though I know less than nothing about such things myself.

    Sermon Title: Thinking about Y2K: Moses, Orson Welles and Bill Gates

    You’ve heard the dire warnings, the off-the-wall forecasts and the downright silly predictions. Life insurance companies, they say, could bill us for coverage for the past 100 years. Airplanes won’t get off the ground. And that could be the good news. Our bank accounts will show zero. Our mortgages will require another 100 years of payments. Hospital monitoring equipment will stop monitoring. The lights will go out. The phones will fail. We’ll be plunged into a deep, cold winter without heat, electricity, money or — worst of all, pizza delivery.

    And yes, some of us will report actually seeing a fire on the horizon.

    Grovers Mill all over again. Orson Welles would be pleased.

    Quite a few jokes have been made about Y2K as well. Perhaps you’ve heard that Bill Gates has just announced the official release date for the new Windows 2000 software.

    It’s to be the second quarter of 1901.

    [ .. ]

    Most important, we should understand what Y2K really means. It’s a computer headache that experts are working to fix right now, not an alien invasion of New Jersey. And not the end of the world. As members of God’s community, we can and should play a leadership role in helping our own families, friends and community prepare for Y2K. By understanding it. And by not being afraid. We want to go into the next Century as God intended, with hope, knowledge and the promise of a bright future.

    **

    I imagine it must have been quite fun writing that — and in the event, banks didn’t fail, and we went into the next century, and indeed millennium, pretty much as divinely intended.

    But forget Y2K, forget the rouble’s present troubles: what’s the proper relationship between God and Mammon, spirituality and survival, the Ghost and the Machine?

    I’m not convinced we’ve figured that one out as yet.

    In good, really good company

    Friday, January 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameronmildly NSFW if your office can’t handle Leonardo, which IMNSHO we should be able to manage now in this 21st century CE — and besides, it’s the weekend ]
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    Well, we here at Zenpundit have a particular interest in creative thinking, and this last evening I unexpectedly found myself in excellent creative company…

    …in a months-old blog-post by an old friend, an astrophysicist by profession who goes by the name Cygnus on the web — presumably after the constellation that harbors Deneb, and also Kepler-22b, the “first known transiting planet to orbit within the habitable zone of a Sun-like star” (WikiP, since I know no better). Cygnus means “swan” in Greek, and Zeus became a swan for his own imperious purposes when he saw LedaHelen of Troy being one of their offspring (see eggs in Da Vinci‘s image below), with the Trojan War ensuing.


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    Here’s then, is the A-Z of creative folk, as Cygnus pulled it together last April as part of an “A-Z- Challenge” — I’m honored and awed to be named in the company of such as Andre Breton, Donald Knuth, George Carlin, Octavia Butler, Samuel R Delany, Dame Frances Yates and the rest:

    **

    For April 2013, my theme for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge was “An A to Z of Masters of the Imagination that You Oughtta Know About.”  In other words, on each day I profiled a person whose brains were just overflowing with weirdness and creativity.  Here’s a list of the posts:

    **

    So that’s Cygnus’ list — quite a dinner party! You’ll recognise some members of your own constellation of creatives here, perhaps — feast on some of those you’re not yet familar with! Cygnus blogs about games and such at Servitor Ludi.

    As for me, I’ll simply offer you William Bulter Yeats‘ great poem Leda and the Swan, to celebrate the company I just found myself in, and close out a memorable evening:

    Leda and the Swan

    A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
    Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
    By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
    He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

    How can those terrified vague fingers push
    The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
    And how can body, laid in that white rush,
    But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

    A shudder in the loins engenders there
    The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
    And Agamemnon dead.
                                     Being so caught up,
    So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
    Did she put on his knowledge with his power
    Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

    Taoism with Intelligence, yeah!

    Monday, December 30th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — this post is useless and a delight, if you catch the same drift I do ]
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    Well you know me, I love juxtapositions and variations on a theme, and I have a keen interest in applying them with intelligence to Intelligence — especially where it meets Religion — so this one’s a natural!

    I mean, you might think the upper panel was an IC logo since it uses the word “intel”, but it’s not — it’s the long-time logo for a brand of computer chips from Intel Corp — now found in both PCs and Macs.

    But the IC was not to be outdone, and — mirabile dictu — has responded with its own “inside” logo. Intel is fine, you see, but frankly Tao is better.

    My own preferred Taoist text is that of Chuang Tzu‘s Inner Chapters — “chapters inside” one might almost say — which you can find translated by the excellent Burton Watson in Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings.

    Open it up, go inside…

    **

    NSA’s Tao source:

  • Der Spiegel
  • Blip: algo’s got rhythm at last!

    Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a qualit with little time for quants making another graceful retraction ]
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    I haven’t been too convinced that algorithms were good at understanding my interests — remember that ad for “bold” Christian shirts (and babe) some fool code placed on Islamic Awakening — a site I was visiting to read up on Awlaqi?

    Well, those algos are improving… Here’s what YouTube thinks I might want to listen to next, hot from the digital presses…

    **

    Turing Test: check!

    I’d say YouTube’s algorithm has finally figured out — at least momentarily — the basics of who I am.


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