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The process of associative memory

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — it seems — to me at least — that associative memory is at the root of creativity, and that the process, preconscious pattern-recognition, is basically aesthetic in nature ]


There’s the present moment — in this case, today’s tweet from the RNLI above.

And there’s the memory it elicits — in this case, Hokusai‘s Great Wave at Kanagawa, with its three little boats, tiny Mt Fuji, and towering, breaking wave, from A Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji:


That’s the same process, from perception to memory, that I was thinking of when I wrote DoubleQuoting the French Revolution, and quoted 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.


Come to which, and moving by the same process from what’s in front of me to what I remember, here’s a DQ of Hokusai (~1760-1849) — before me now as I write this — and an image deriving from the work of Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) on fractals” — which looking at the Hokusai quickly reminds me of:

SPEC DQ Hokusai fractal


And as I look at that DoubleQuote, here at the time of writing this post, it reminds me strongly of my earlier DoubleQuote of Van Gogh and Von Kármán:

In each of these two cases, art precedes science.


In each case, too, the associative process is the same, with some item perceived in the present calling up a past memory that is related to it — in a manner that can generally be articulated and annotated.

Such is the mechanism of a typical “move” in a DoubleQuote or HipBone game.

Of a non-comparative use of the DoubleQuotes method

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — further thoughts on the advantages of seeing double ]

I’ve said before that when I was at The Arlington Institute, my boss used to ask me to watch out for “early indicators”, and joked that in my book, two is the first number — I don’t see an “indicator” until I see a pattern emerging.

Putting it bluntly, one point is pointless — things could go anywhere from there. Two points suggest a line, a link, a connection — a possible, maybe even plausible, trend.

And so it is with the two photos above. Here the point is not to compare and contrast the two images of surveillance cameras wearing party hats, but to see that they represent a class — the presence of two concrete instances strongly implies the higher level abstraction: hah! they’re watching us!

It’s that sense I have of two being the beginning of thought that makes me so fond of the DoubleQuotes format — and of Arthur Koestler‘s insight, which I’m always quoting, about creation occurring at the intersection of two spheres..


If I’m a fundamentalist about anything, it’s the notion that it takes two to tango!

Zen in the Art of Future Warfare

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a highly interesting discussion, discussed ]

How to Write and Fight World War III:

This is the video of a terrific discussion of the future of warfare — peacemaking, too, if you see them as two sides of a coin — from the Art of Future Warfare project, to which I have contributed [two stories, 1, 2, a video appearance, 3, and even a DoubleQuotes reference 4]


I want to select certain phrases from the discussion above, and comment on them.

It’s a work of fiction, not prediction.

The thing is, a work isn’t just what its creators intend it to be, it can also be whatever its readers make of it. It’s my impression that the Hebrew prophets were not predicting so much as warning — that’s a distinction Wallace Black Elk made a point of mentioning when he was waxing prophetic — but todays “prophecy teachers” all too often read prophecy as a statement of future fact rather than as a warning of a dangerous path to be avoided.

So we’re dealing with this incredibly complex world – how do we grapple with it? How do we think about these problems?

There’s a class of answers to this question, ranging from complex mathematical models, sims and games to stocks and flows diagrams to Dialogue Mapping and my own HipBone Games. Most if not all of the items in this class are graph-based (node and link) networks.

My own vector is away from high tech and “big” data, towards “rich” data and human-sized graphs — ie graphs with few enough nodes that the human mind can fairly easily envision them, and nodes and links rich enough in anecdotal, visual, statistical, aphoristic, quotatiuonal and other forms of data to elicit full-spectrum human responses, emotional, cultural, mental, heart and mind in conjunction.

we hunger for creativity and intellectual agility in our national security leaders, and our military leaders

The usual routes to leadership significantly fail to provide such agility, although occasional good apples to manage to survive among the rotten throng.. That’s why it takes so long to go from John Boyd being a voice in the wilderness to his being lauded by SecDef.

how do we actually cultivate that kind of thinking, that creative, lateral thinking?

Again, my own practice draws explicitly on Arthur Koestler‘s insight that it is at the intersection of “planes of thought” — silos, anyone? — that creative insights arise.

My games accordingly, simply and elegantly make all moves consist, at some level, of such intersections. The HipBone move is a conceptual leap, regular practice of HipBone Games is the most focused way to train the mind in creative leaping, on or off the gameboard, in play or in life.

fiction, literature and the arts are a critical and often overlooked vehicle for exactly that

I fully agree, and indeed it turns out that the style of “creative leaping” I am talking about is richly found within the complex weavings of the arts — and indeed, my games were directly inspired by a Nobel-winning novel by Hermann Hesse.

I lack the competence to build a web-playable version myself, but a museum-oriented adaptation of my game ideas by Cath Styles can be played on iPads in the Australian National Museum, and its web implementation, also focused on visual artefacts rather than concepts, can serve as a proof of concept for the wider uses I envision — intelligence analysis included.

Paul Callaghan, a writer, game developer, and university lecturer who has played Cath’s Sembl game commented:

Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

That’s very precisely what any HipBone derived game aims to do, and if we want creative leadership, getting the HipBone Games up and running online and using them in analytic and decision-making training would be a pretty useful step to take.

it was basically this Army / Marine Corps answer to a zen koan, right


a theological and religious scholar

It may seem strange to find zen buddhism, theology, and religious scholarship mentioned in a discussion on the future of warfare, but they’re areas of the human conceptual spectrum with a great deal to teach us about insight. And fwiw, I read Theology at Oxford, and have recently been “sitting zen” with koans after a brief but brilliant afternoon with the zen roshi John Tarrant.

Playing a HipBone move and “solving” (resolving, dissolving?) a zen koan have a great deal in common. Haiku, likkewise.

But that’s enough for one post.


Here are the selections I’ve been responding too, at greater length:

Peter W Singer

We have been very clear. It’s a work of fiction, not prediction. That’s the opening line of it. It is based on real world trends and technologies, but it is not a prediction – but hopefully it can be something that maybe ends up being preventative, by identifying certain issues, trends, even mistakes we are making right now, it helps us to avoid those from happening so that the scenario actually doesn’t come to pass. ..

Kathleen McInnis:

We’re grappling with an increasingly complex and interdependent world: globalization, climate change, urbanization, population migration, resource scarcity, all of these are trends that are intersecting with the re-emergence of geopolitics on the one hand, and the erosion of what we’ve known as the sovereign state on the other. So we’re dealing with this incredibly complex world – how do we grapple with it? How do we think about these problems? How do we advance US and global security in a world plagued by wicked problems and unintended consequences?

As Dan mentioned earlier, we hunger for creativity and intellectual agility in our national security leaders, and our military leaders—but how do we actually cultivate that kind of thinking, that creative, lateral thinking? And crucially, how do we communicate how we are thinking about these problems and what we think we should be doing about them – how do we communicate that to our public in a way that resonates.

And I submit to you that fiction, literature and the arts are a critical and often overlooked vehicle for exactly that, the creative contemplation of matters of statecraft and national security.

One of the interesting things about that manual [Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency] was that it actually proposed these intellectual puzzles, these constructs, like, “the more you secure your environment, the less safe you can be” – when you’re operating in a local tactical environment. Instead of having a tactical check-list of, you know, this is what we need to do in these particular operations and this is the logic flow for how you do x, y or z in these environments, it was basically this Army / Marine Corps answer to a zen koan, right – like how does this non-logical, really intuitive way to creatively grapple …

This is no accident. The point of a zen koan is to inspire a deeper, non-logical level of contemplation. But we haven’t always used koans to access that part of our psyches, and that way of thinking about things.

Karen Armstrong, who is a theological and religious scholar, who wrote a book that I just love, it’s called A Short History of Myth – she argues that ever since we were cavemen, sitting round camp fires, we have been using stories and myths as ways to communicate truths to each other, ways to communicate meaning. Myths were not an expression of religious beliefs per se, rather they were an imaginative, non-logical way to understand who we are and how we fit in the world. ..

And then you get to the ancient Greeks, who had two very different, equally important ways of looking at the world, Mythos and Logos.

WTG, Kathleen!


Possible koans from the COIN Manual, p 1.27:

  • Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be
  • Sometimes, the More Force Is Used, the Less Effective It Is
  • Pandora’s box, bottled by Klein

    Sunday, June 7th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a graphical analog to the inside outside koan ]

    Thinking one’s way inside that demmed box…

    8-cell tesseract

    What’s even “inside”?

    Eppur si muove! Or not?

    I suppose this can be today’s Sunday Surprise.



  • Wikipedia, Tesseract
  • How shall “in the box” people think “outside the box”?

    Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a gadfly question ]

    We have seen various conversations online in which its is plausibly suggested that YESness leads to upward mobility across an array of silos and disciplines, specifically including the intelligence community and the military — the end result being risk-averse group-think that is pretty much “inside the box” by definition.

    Similarly, we have noted that serious and nuanced issues are frequently debated in the media by those who are known for their general-purpose punditry or seniority, rather than by those with specific knowledge of and insight into the particular issues of concern.

    Question: How shall we get outside the box thinking from inside the box thinkers?

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