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The Leap

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — three or four steps out along stepping stones you have no idea where you’ll land next ]
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You know that for me the basic unit is the duet / duel? And that what’s most interesting in the duel / duet — let’s just call it the dual — is the leap, the creative leap, at best the stereophany between them. Well, my bassic image for that leap is the DoubleQuote board:

That’s a simple graph with two nodes and an edge between them:

And beauty and depth — creativity — lies in the leap along the edge between them.

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The rue, as I discussed with David Gelernter lo these many years ago, is that the greatest beauty is found — identified, by AI search; acheved, by artistry — when the two nodes are rich, the edge is rich in connections between themgreat:, and the distance between them is

I don’t know how Theodor von Kármán came by his Vortex Street, and I’ve spent a decade in Pasadena wandering its streets and even picked up his four volume works — signed — at a CalTech book sale, but if he had the Van Gogh painting in the back of his mind, there’s the beginning, the seed of an awesome leap.

And you might say van Gogh made a mighty leap, pre-intuiting the von Kármán pattern in the night ckouds..

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Okay, here’s a terrific leap by Claude Shannon:

There was this idea that you could connect the computer to a machine to turn the cranks on a milling machine and make aircraft parts. At the time, this was a huge leap. It was connecting two alien realms: this new computer thing and a milling machine. What it let you do was make aircraft parts you couldn’t make any other way.

The key words here are “connecting two alien realms“.

Roughly:

Or as Milling Machine; The History puts it:

Perhaps the milling machine’s greatest distinction is that in 1954 it became the first machine tool to be controlled numerically, thereby representing one of the greatest industrial advances of the twentieth century.

And then there’s this leap too, earlier:

In the 1930s and working independently, American electronic engineer Claude Shannon and Soviet logician Victor Shestakov[65] both showed a one-to-one correspondence between the concepts of Boolean logic and certain electrical circuits, now called logic gates, which are now ubiquitous in digital computers.

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Play — play, I emphasize — is the connecting link or edge that leaps between theem:

If there were an Olympic sport of mind leaps — why forever not? long leaps, high leaps, long high leaps, ski leaps — Claude Shannon would surely be a contender.

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With a hat-tip to Monica Anderson, who set me off on this particular journey.

How the outside seems, at least to me, & how different the inside!

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — unenthused by current prospects of nuclear war or power plant interferencer, putinesque america, american proto-fascism, etc — yet filled with joy and wonder ]
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I would like to do a zoom down in.

My daily reading doesn’t follow neat trails such that each article builds not just in general thrust but also in detail on the last — so please overlook the strange leaps I’ve taken here — all in a morning’s web-scan.

Enjoy the three individual essays I’ll quote, in other words, but don’t sweat the details.

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I’ll start with Africa, as explored in George Clooney and John Prendergast‘s major Foreign Affairs piece, The Key to Making Peace in Africa, available without a paywall — because they offer an unparalleled glimpse of the conflicting values that will define our common humanity, fail or fair:


JAMES AKENA / REUTERS Government troops and tanks are seen in the eastern Congolese town of Rumangabo, July 26, 2012.

Here are the matters to weigh in our scales, captured in two of Clooney and Prendergast’s four punchily effecrive lists:

Oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper, and a variety of other mineral deposits and trafficked wildlife provide immense opportunity for those in power to line their own pockets

versus:

corrupt figures .. using their forces to bomb, burn, imprison, silence, torture, starve, impoverish, kill, and rape to maintain or gain power

That’s the basic comparison, the weighing in the scales that chraacterizes the Clooney / Prendergast piece.

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Next for a sideways extrapolation of the dark vision Gen. McCaffrey offers:

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With a further zigzag away from McCaffrey and Putin, I’ll consider our local, USian situation in light of This is the Spanish Civil War by Jonathan Kirshner. We’re zooming in from African gazillions to mere Americo-Russian billions, financially speaking, and from out there to in here — though not yet within.


Franco arriving in San Sebastian in 1939

Comparing our Trumpian times with the beginnings of the Spanish Civil War, and with the decades-long reign of Generalissimo Franco that followed — an arguable comparison, surely — Kirshner writes:

The stakes here are not about partisan politics — Republicans now love him, but other than his plutocratic bona-fides, Trump is barely a Republican — rather, they are about what we are, and what we may become. The Trump Presidency is not normal, and it is dangerous to our democracy.

Again, the scales.

I hope it will be apparent that I am neither comparing America with Spain nor Russia, but simply offering one respected military man’s testament as a preamble to a differently focussed writer’s rant about Franco, in hope of providing a diffuse, impressionistic sense of alarm with an active sense of what the fractious breakdown of democratic and humane values can bring forth.

Steve Bannon‘s reading list, occut and radical — Julius Evola as much as Ivan Ilyin — still lurks in the background, and deserves a=n essay of its own.

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Zooming yet further in, leaping from the nation to the individual — and who knows how the many manages to integrates the one — or the one to evade the blandishments of the many, especially its witch hunts, scapegoating and madness of crowds — I find myself in a beautiful and utterly apolitical world:

Your Inconsolable Longing Has a Name. I have left off the final word of Jack Preston King‘s essay, and will present only his first paragraphs and images:

That Feeling You Can’t Name

My mother called it “the green lace.” Every spring there was a window of just a few days where the buds on all the trees had barely begun to flower, tiny leaf-tips pushed free of supple branches, and all of Nature was briefly sheathed in the most delicate green embroidery. As warming winds signaled “the green lace” was near, the years fell like calendar pages from my mother’s face. She stood taller. She would smile and laugh easily, but at the same time seemed ever on the verge of tears. The first day “the green lace” burst forth and draped the countryside, Mom would disappear in the family car to drive backroads alone, basking in the newborn spring, weeping freely as she drove. I never witnessed that last part in person, but I find it easy to imagine. My mother was not an emotionally expressive woman. But this emotion overcame her. She couldn’t control it, and more to the point, she didn’t want to control it. It was an eruption of the sacred, to be revered in seclusion, but never denied. She loved it privately, without having to define or justify the experience to anyone.

For me, this feeling descends in Fall. A few trees turn early, adding splashes of red and gold to my morning commute. Each evening when I arrive home from work, more grass has vanished beneath a thickening carpet of leaves. The sunlight slants, and afternoons golden. Then there’s always one day, usually in mid-October, when Autumn happens. The red maple in my front yard bursts overnight into flame. I step onto my porch and the air crisps just so. My heart wells as if someone I love with abandon has returned from a long absence. I ache with longing to merge with the trees and the air, the sunlight and sky.

Joy. Sehnsucht, King calls it.

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If you thought my leap from Africa to the US — or from Trump to Franco, Bannon to Evola, Evola to Ilyin — was a stretch too far, I invite you to cnsider how much greater a stretch the leap from outer to inner is. Yet that, in one sense, is the creative leap par excellence — the leap from exteriority to interiority..

I trust it is also a leap from darkness into dappled light.

HipBone implications of the second shoe dropping for intel analysis

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

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

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

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

Compare Michael Hayden in Manhunt, at 1.19.18:

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

By way of confirmation, here is Robert Frost:

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

And here’s Jeff Jones on piecing together puzzles —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and:

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

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See also:

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

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

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

    Of rules and regs

    Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — that little free libraries are like the Sabbath, and on the close-packing of angels ]
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    Let us suppose a parallel reality in which squares and circles, cubes and spheres, have wings. The nature of bureaucracy is that in the interest of packing squares and circles, cubes and spheres, it lops off their wings — convenient but inelegant, and what a waste of flight!

    Example:

    The Little Free Library concept is premised on the blessing of books — and the generosity of a gift economy.

    Individuals put up little free libraries outside their houses, often repurposing bird feeders or mail boxes — but zoning bureaucrats not infrequently try to shut them down:

    Little Free Libraries on the wrong side of the law

    Crime, homelessness and crumbling infrastructure are still a problem in almost every part of America, but two cities have recently cracked down on one of the country’s biggest problems: small community libraries where residents can share books.

    Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, La., have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they’re in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections.

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    Scriptures:

    There’s actually a Biblical injunction about this sort of thing — Mark 2.27:

    The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath..

    It’s a matter of priorities: zoning laws are intended to facilitate human life, not to frustrate it.

    Or as Lao Tzu might say, the zoning that can be set forth in rules and regs isn’t the ideal zoning.

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    Creativity & Bureaucracy, PS, NB:

    I usually think of winged squares and so forth in terms of creative ideation, and how creative ideas can get the creativity clipped from them in committe — making the point that a winged square is, in an important sense, a better “translation” of a winged circle than a circle with its wings clipped will ever be.. since it captures the material / ethereal binary that’s the essence of imagining a circle with wings.

    Compare Picasso‘s reported observation, “the best criticism of any work of art is another work of art.”

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    Has anyone figured out the best method of close-packing angels?

    Argh.

    Carl Jung on Play

    Monday, April 17th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — all i do is play / to play is to create / I am creature / I am pawn / < bows lifelong gassho >]
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    Here’s a key quote on play from Carl Jung, from Psychological Types, CW vol 6. #197:

    My thanks to Mitch Ditkoff for pointing me to this fine quote.

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    The question arises, what is this process in which “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves”? There’s an object, right, and the mind, that much is coear — but does the mind observe the object? absorb it? analyzie it? play around with it?

    If play is what we’re trying to understand, around would be the word sitting right next to it, so around may be what we should think about.

    Around is context. Playing around is seeing in context, seeing from unexpected angels, seeing unexpected close connections. Here’s Arthur Koestler‘s diagram of play, which he thinks of as a diagram of creativity — which he idemntifies with bisociation, or the conjunction of two otherwise separate planes of thought:

    You’ve likely seen it before: that’s my personal Diagram in Chief.

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    Okay, more basics. Play is how infants so richly learn and masters so richly express their mastery. It is rich, it masters and is mastered — “Thou mastering me God” says Hopkins in Wreck of the Deutschland, “giver of breath and bread; World’s strand, sway of the sea..”

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    As a game designer and a Brit with Jungian sympathies, I am also delighted with this other quote:

    One of the most striking testimonies to the quality of the English spirit is the English love of sport and games in a classical sense and their genius for inventing games. One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games and it cannot be done by men out of touch with their instinctive values. The English did it and, by heaven, they even taught us Swiss how to climb our own mountains and make a sport of it that made us love them all the more. And their Wimbledon, did they but know it, is in sort a modern version of an ancient ritual.

    That’s from Laurens van der Post‘s Jung and the Story of Our Time, and game designer Mike Sellers shares my delight in it.

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    Yup:


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