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Does technology change people?

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- another fine example of what I call DoubleQuotes in the Wild ]
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This one comes from my anthropologist friend Peter van der Werff via our mutual friend Howard Rheingold:

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Looking at the two images, do you see the juxtaposition as “meaning” that tech does change people, or that it doesn’t? Is it really a question, as its caption suggests — or a statement? And if it’s a question, is it an “open” question, ie a matter of philosophical curiosity — or a question that questions an asssumption, ie a form of statement-in-disguise?

Questions can’t be “true” or “false” as such — but they can sure be suggestive, eh?

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Three DoubleQuotes via Paradoxes of War MOOC

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there's actionable intel, and then there's the chewable kind -- guess where my own interest is focused ]
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There’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of actionable intelligence, and in the software and trainings that serve it, Palantir being among the most notable. And there’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of “inactionable” intelligence, and in any software and trainings that serve it, the HipBone/Sembl/DoubleQuotes combo fitting into the way of things under that “uncomfortable” rubric.

So let’s give those cognitive modes other names, and call them, for simplicity: act-on mode and chew-on mode. Some people need to act on the intelligence they receive, some need to chew on it.

The three DoubleQuotes that follow are the byproduct of today’s discussions on Princeton’s Paradoxes of War MOOC, and to mmy mind they’re worth chewing on.

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Brilliant! These two quotes are juxtaposed as epigraphs to James Der Derian‘s paper, War as Game. Given my interest in both war and games, that was a natural DoubleQuote to borrow..

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The thing about Thomas Friedman‘s quote — which became a semi-tongue-in-cheek theory after he wove it into his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, under the name “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” — is that it traces back so directly to Immanuel Kant, thus demonstrating the theorem, applicable to both waterways and spiritual utterances, that matters whose beginnings are pure tend to accrue contaminants as they move away from source — an effect for whose religious variant Max Weber coined the phrase, “the routinization of charisma”.

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Lastly, here’s one for the Zenmaster, knowing his appreciation both for ancient history as it relates to military matters, and for the art and science of education:

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Sources:

  • Der Derian, Epigraphs from War as Game

  • Friedman, Big Mac
  • Kant, Perpetual Peace

  • Mead, Military Recruiters
  • Deligiannis, The Spartan ‘Agoge’
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    Dialectic, or a waltz within revelation

    Monday, June 23rd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- on three-fold movements in time in Islam, Christianity and Judaism ]
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    The three ages of Joachim of Fiore, in the latter's Venn-like diagram

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    The question of how Islam in its many varieties views other religions is a compelling one, and perhaps never more so than in our own times. Today I was informed that many of William Chittick‘s papers were available for download on Academia.edu, and the first couple I wanted to read were these:

  • The Theological roots of peace and war according to Islam
  • A Sufi Approach to Religious Diversity — Ibn al-Arabi on the Metaphysics of Revelation
  • While scrounging around the net for an easily quotable form of the second paper, I ran across Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller and Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Universal Validity of Religions and the Issue of Takfir — and like a dutiful netizen, I stopped off to read a little, and ran across the gem I’d like to bring you this morning>

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    Shaykh Faraz Rabbani offers a fascinating example of the dialectic three-step in the prophetic books of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (Tawrah, Injil and Qur’an), writing:

    A familiar example cited by ulama is the law of talion, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, which was obligatory in the religious law of Moses (upon whom be peace), subsequently forbidden by the religious law of Jesus (upon whom be peace) in which “turning the other cheek” was obligatory; and finally both were superseded by the law of Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), which permits victims to take retaliation (qisas) for purely intentional physical injuries, but in which it is religiously superior not to retaliate but forgive.

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    In general, Christianity — having the Tanakh and New Testament for its scriptures — offers a binary or two-step process in place of this movement of the dialectic: the lex talionis is commanded in the Old Testament and rescinded in the New. Only in the work of Abbot Joachim of Fiore do we find a three-fold dispensation, in which the first term or “age of the Father” follows the many laws (mitzvot) of the Old Testament, the second follows Christ’s abridgement to include simply the two commandments of Matthew 22. 37-40:

    Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    And the third?

    Mirabile dictu, it is the age in which the presence of the Holy Spirit liberates us from all necessity of law. Gianni Vattimo, writing in After Christianity, expresses Joachim’s vision thus:

    Three are the stages of the world indicated by the sacred texts. The first is the stage in which we have lived under the law; the second is that in which we live under grace; the third is one in which we shall live in a more perfect state of grace. . . . The first passed in slavery; the second is characterized by filial slavery; the third wiII unfold in the name of freedom. The first is marked by awe, the second by faith, the third by charity. The first period regards the slaves; the second regards the sons; the third regards the friends. … The first stage is ascribed to the Father, who is the author of all things; the second to the Son, who has been esteemed worthy to share our mud; the third to the Holy Spirit, of which the apostle says “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

    The Archdruid’s Report discussed Augustinian and Joachimite views of the nature of time a while back, and while his entire post is worth your attention, here I would like to pick out this one paragraph:

    What made Joachim’s vision different from any of the visionary histories that came before it—and there were plenty of those in the Middle Ages — was that it was a story of progress. The Age of Love, as Joachim envisioned it, was a great improvement on the Age of Law, and the approaching Age of Liberty would be an improvement on the Age of Love; in the third age, he taught, the Church would wither away, and people would live together in perfect peace and harmony, with no need for political or religious institutions. To the church authorities of Joachim’s time, steeped in the Augustinian vision, all this was heresy; to the radicals of the age, it was manna from heaven, and nearly every revolutionary ideology in Europe from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries drew heavily on Joachimist ideas.

    Indeed, Norman Cohn in his classic Pursuit of the Millennium sees Joachim’s Third age in the Drittes or Tausendjähriges Reich (the Third or Thousand Year = Millennial Kingdom) of Nazism, and in Friedrich Engels’ notion of the “withering away of the State” — both great tolitarian systems of the last century thus being under the spell of Joachim’s apocalyptic notion of utopia.

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    And Judaism?

    Judaism has its own developmental scheme, in which sacrificial Temple worship gives way to the synagogues, talmudic scholarship and the diaspora — yet always with the Pesach refrain:

    Next year in Jerusalem.

    Here too, it may be surmised, time moves to the music of the dialectic.

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    Landslides: Oso, Washington & Abi Barak, Afghanistan

    Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- comparing two recent landslides for scale, and a conundrum ]
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    Abi Barak, Afghanistan: 2,100 believed buried


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    Oso, Washington: 41 dead, 2 missing


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    I wanted these two images to be as large as the Zenpundit format would permit, and fear they would be too small if reduced to fit my usual DoubleQuotes format — and since that still leaves them equal in image-size though very different in scope of devastation, I’ve added the figures of those who are thought to have died in the two slides, so that you can get a sense of differences of scale which may not be so easily apparent from the images alone.

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    So, the conundrum:

  • Are distant tragedies less tragic than nearby ones?
  • Is a tragedy with more dead more tragic than one with less?
  • Or is there no mathematics to tragedy?
  • For that last opinion, see the views of Ludwig Wittgenstein, CS Lewis and Arne Naess quoted in Of Quantity and Quality II: Holocaust, torture and sacrament.

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    Sources:

  • Abi Barak, Afghanistan: 2,100 believed buried
  • Oso, Washington: 41 dead, 2 missing
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    Hipbone’s Games, Emlyn’s critique

    Sunday, March 30th, 2014

    [ by Charles and Emlyn Cameron -- my thousandth ZP post, and his first -- in which my son schools me in making my games more responsive to the requirements of decision-support ]
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    Alexander Calder, "Yellow Sail", 1950, Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC

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    I’d been wondering what to do with my thousandth post here on Zenpundit, and a conversation with my son Emlyn, who turned nineteen a few days ago, gave me an idea.

    Emlyn was telling me how he saw my HipBone Games, and also the more extended and informal version of the games I’ve been posting here — using “HipBone thinking” to analyse and comment on all manner of things happening in the world around us, with a particular eye on a novel, mental-netted mode of intelligence analysis. He spoke, I was impressed, and asked him to write his observations up, to form the basis of this, my 1,000th ZP post.

    Here he goes:

    I consider all my father’s thoughts to be rather like a mobile, which in turn I consider to be the three-dimensional equivalent of a HipBone board: many swirling clusters of information, spinning, for the most part, independently of one another, balanced, but lacking a focus. They are connected, but some are so only by virtue of their association with a shared cluster between them. These clusters are creative and constructive, but typically inconclusive in their determination of any particular fact to which they all play a part. Father has made some comments to this effect, claiming that the games might widen the perception of intelligence analysts, making them more fully aware of political situations in which they involve themselves, but admitting that it might not be a mechanism for reaching conclusions about the next step to take in said situations…

    That’s fierce enough, and very much to the point. I’m generally more interested in open questions than closed answers — and in my post, Wei Wu Wei, or the inactionable option, I wrote of “the importance of intelligence that is not actionable, with illustrations from Zenpundit, Dickens and Shakespeare” — and closed with a gobbet of my favorite Chinese philosopher, Chuang Tzu.

    But then Emlyn, having understood me all too well, opens an alternative pathway…

    it is my conviction that such a use [ie in "reaching conclusions about the next step to take"] is only missed by the barest margins in the construction of the games, that, in fact, a figure has been presenting the use of such a thought process towards such ends since the eighteen-eighties: Mycroft Holmes.

    I’m delighted, too, that Emlyn finds something about my work that resonates with his own keen interest in the Holmes brothers, favorites of his both in their canonical Conan Doyle and more recent Benedict Cumberbatch forms.

    As for the Calder mobile effect — ideas hanging in some kind of perpetually shifting balance in three-space — I’m reminded of the pebbled path which leads through shrubs and bushes and cactus plants around Pierre Sogol‘s attic studio in René Daumal‘s great novel, Mount Analogue:

    Along the path, glued to the windowpanes or hung on the bushes or dangling from the ceiling, so that all free space was put to maximum use, hundreds of little placards were displayed. Each one carried a drawing, a photograph, or an inscription, and the whole constituted a veritable encyclopedia of what we call ‘human knowledge.’ A diagram of a plant cell, Mendeleieff’s periodic table of the elements, a key to Chinese writing, a cross-section of the human heart, Lorentz’s transformation formulae, each planet and its characteristics, fossil remains of the horse species in series, Mayan hieroglyphics, economic and demographic statistics, musical phrases, samples of the principal plant and animal families, crystal specimens, the ground plan of the Great Pyramid, brain diagrams, logistic equations, phonetic charts of the sounds employed in all languages, maps, genealogies — everything in short which would fill the brain of a twentieth-century Pico della Mirandola…

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    Emlyn again, when I requested he go into a little more detail:

    In regards to the difference between my father’s manner of thinking and that of, say, a Holmesian detective, the largest separation presents itself, not in the construction of a conceptual geometry for the facts, but in the selection of a focal point. That is to say the Holmesian analyst has one.

    Where my father’s constructions are clusters of concepts hanging in their own orbits, connected with fibers between one element of one cluster and one element of another, the Holmesian mindset is clusters of facts arrayed around a single unknown, like the spheres of a model of the Copernican solar system (ironic, considering Sherlock’s reluctance to retain such a universal model in his memory palace), each piece of data added to the strata of information bringing the silhouette of the solution into greater clarity, until finally, only one plausible answer can be found to match the shape.

    Mycroft makes himself the “most indispensable man in the country” simply by centering a single point for all of his data, connecting each strand of thought to an innermost axis, the unknown he wishes to conquer, invariably finding an effective solution even to difficulties involving “the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question… Only Mycroft can focus them all, and say offhand how each factor would affect the other”.

    Father, on the other hand, foresees largely important cultural trends months to years in advance and wields staggering creativity in the collection of concepts, but struggles to choose menu items at a fast food restaurant. He has a plethora of clusters about the pros and cons of various dishes but makes no attempt to align all his awareness towards selecting the best one for his immediate needs.

    Emlyn suggests that retrofitting my games to serve a “Mycroft” function would involve “clusters of facts arrayed around a single unknown, like the spheres of a model of the Copernican solar system” — the Copernican system in which the “single unknown” around which the planets are arrayed is in fact the sun, bright enough, my poetic education in symbolism tells me, that we cannot directly look at and see it… a great mystery, around or within which all things find their harmonious orbits…

    A Copernican board, then, more to Mycroft’s liking, might look something like this:

    The Planisphaerium Copernicanum, from Cellarius' 1661 Harmonia Macrocosmica

    For myself, it’s the motion of the moon around the earth that captures my interest.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein, it transpires, had a game he played with friends. They would walk in the park, wittgenstein himself if I recall correctly, playing the sun, while one friend circled him as the earth and another circled the circling earth as its moon… I am told Wittgenstein particularly enjoyed this game because “nobody wins”…

    **

    Memory palace diagrams: L. Robert Fludd, 1619, R. Victoria & Albert, Museum, 2013

    Next, Emlyn turns from the mobile and the solar system to the idea of memory palaces, which I discussed before in Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lector and Simonides — note again the Holmesian connection:

    Where Mycroft’s memory palace is the resource of his conclusions, a place from which “The conclusions of every department” are culled and sorted, that he might be the governments “clearinghouse, which makes out the balance”, my Father’s is a resource unto its self, lending its exhibits from one massive wing to another in an ever evolving collection of antiquities, religious dictums, poetic verses and verdant projects, a spectacle to be appreciated, certainly, but not one intended to be the mechanism of an answer, rather there to be experienced and considered and revisited once a new article is catalogued or created for display.

    Mycroft’s tidy and orderly “Central exchange”, an intellectual ministry, and my Father’s mental gallery are not parallel in architecture, but are laid with the same mortar and buttressed using the same alloys.

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    At last we turn to Sherlock himself — and to the issue of intelligence which is not only actionable but acted upon — and I think here of the shift by which an analyst (I’m thinking of Nada Bakos, as she describes herself in Manhunt) becomes a targeter…

    It is at this point that we come to a final individual, Mycroft’s better known sibling, Sherlock. I have discussed my Father’s system of arranging connections, and outlined the underlying similarity of the mental mechanism Mycroft uses to synthesize an answer from his collected data to it, but, as my Father’s assembly does not reach conclusions, Mycroft does not solidify his suppositions through action, he defers his assessment to a minister who will choose whether or not to act upon it, or alternatively to his younger brother who will pursue the inquiry.

    Sherlock said of his brother that “If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, [Mycroft] would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy.” It is not sufficient to reach a conclusion, one must be willing to “go out of [one's] way to verify [one's] own solution”.

    In fact, of course — or should I say, in fiction? — Sherlock himself indeed arrives at conclusions, but he tends to have Lestrade around to execute them — to apprehend those Holmes has elicited confessions from or otherwise shown to be guilty. But Emlyn’s concern — to move from games of a non-actionable sort towards actionable games and thus, eventually, action — is well placed.

    Indeed, it follows from the differing tempi of “pure” analysts and “practical” decision makers — or between strategists and tacticians.

    **

    Emlyn concludes:

    Such a mental model as the one heretofore described can be of all the use in the world in reaping a creative crop or finding the hypothetical solution to any number of intractable problems, but without working out “the practical points” with the determination of the younger Holmes brother, all of it is for naught, and if the thought process is overlooked or limited by the consideration of the user, it is as inert as if its products were ignored entirely, its rewards as indispensable as Mycroft himself and equally as inactive.

    It seems I have my marching orders: to devise a game whose tempo accelerates from a slower analytic periphery towards a high-tempo central insight, solution or target. An actionable game.

    It’s a choice problem, and one that lies beyond my usual reach: I’ll set my mind to it.

    **

    Memory Palace diagrams:

  • Robert Fludd, from Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris
  • Memory Palace exhibition at the Victoria and Albert
  • Related posts:

  • The Haqqani come to high Dunsinane
  • Wei Wu Wei, or the inactionable option
  • Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lector and Simonides
  • Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles
  • Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B
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