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My latest for Lapido: on the fall of Dabiq & failure of prophecy

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — and detailing the scholarship of failed prophecy as context for ISIS’ upcoming loss of Dabiq ]

Here’s the opening of my piece posted two [now three] days ago on the LapidoMedia site:

ISLAMIC STATE (ISIS) has relied on a saying of the Prophet Muhammad to recruit its impressionable young idealists to kill for God.

But that prophecy could fail any day now, as alliance forces close in on the so-called ‘caliphate’.

Prophet Muhammad is believed to have stated that the first great battle of the Islamic end times would come when Western forces attacked – and were defeated – at a small town in northern Syria called Dabiq.

That should be any day now, according to ISIS’ Amaq News Agency. It issued a statement at the end of September that Turkish fire had killed a man in Dabiq, northern Syria, signalling the beginning of the end.


The trouble is, current reports indicate that allied troops are within a few days of capturing Dabiq, thus disproving the prophecy.

Let me say straight off — this is a complex and nuanced subject, and I hope to dig into it in greater detail shortly.


My piece had been edited — in journalism, that’s SOP — and appeared under the head and subhead:


Those are my editor’s words; my own emphasis is rather different. I don’t believe the fall of Dabiq will mean “game over” for ISIS recruiters, though I do think it will remove one major strand from their narrative — and experts are divided as ot its significance.

The point I particularly wished to make in the article is that if and when Dabiq falls to allied forces, as seems pretty likely in the very near future, it will be a case of the type investigated by Leon Festinger in his classic, When Prophecy Fails.


The prophetic hadith on which ISIS has relied, to such an extent that it named its major English language magazine after it, says that the Roman (ie “crusader”) forces will be decisively defeated when “the Romans would land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq”.

If my Google news feed is any good, the 21st century Battle of Dabiq hasn’t happened yet —


— but it’s close, and from a military standpoint it looks as though the “allied” forces will likely defeat ISIS, which would be quite a notable defeat for ISIS’ apocalyptic rhetoric on the face of it.


Here are four people who have their respective eyes on the situation:

Will McCants wrote the definitive treatise, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State. Here’s a paragraph largely drawn from that book (p. 105) as it appears in his most recent comment, ISIS fantasies of an apocalyptic showdown in northern Syria, dated October 3rd:

The fact that Turkish Muslims, not infidel Romans, control Constantinople today and are working with the infidel Romans against the Islamic State makes the Dabiq prophecy a poor fit for contemporary events. The inevitable defeat of the Islamic State at Dabiq, should it ever confront “Rome,” would also argue against the prophecy’s applicability. But in the apocalyptic imagination, inconvenient facts rarely impede the glorious march to the end of the world.

Imam Zaid Shakir, in Dabiq: An Argument Against ISIS in Jukly:

One of the most powerful recruiting tools of ISIS has been its ability to create an apocalyptic appeal around the prophesized destruction of a “Crusader” army at Dabiq, a location in Northern Syria. So central has this idea been to the call of the group that they have given their propaganda magazine the name of that place –Dabiq. It is now obvious that such a confrontation and the ensuing victory of the “believers” will not occur. What is their contingency plan? Apparently, sending waves of suicidal murderers out into the world to reap a grim harvest of innocent souls.

Tim Furnish, friend of this blog and frequent guest poster, spoke to this issue on A View from the Bunker 343: Dr. Timothy Furnish – Battle of Dabiq: First Shot in the Apocalypse or the End of ISIS? on October 9th. You can hear him on the Dabiq hadith from about the 3.23 mark. Around the 7.12 mark, Tim sets the stage:

ISIS believes that in these battles they are fighting in Syria, particularly, and specifically in and around Dabiq, they believe they are setting off the eschatological timetable for the Islamic conquest of the world. This is what they believe. And again, this is not particular to ISIS. These ideas have been around for a long time, and they have been shared by a lot of other Muslims, it’s just that ISIS, instead of just writing books about them, pining about them, is actually going onto the battlefield and trying to make them a reality.

The interview is a long one, and merits your attention — here I’ll just say that I summarized Tim’s point to him as “you appeared to downplay the significance of an ISIS defeat at Dabiq — did I get that right?” and he replied, “I did say that.” I’ll be interviewing Tim in further detail in the days to come, and report back.

Lastly, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. I quoted him briefly in my Lapido piece, but here’s his full quote in answer to my request:

Whatever else it is, ISIS is an organization with a distinct theological outlook. It recruits using religious themes, and true believers feature prominently within its ranks. ISIS has anchored its rise and legitimacy to specific aspects of Islamic prophecy, and when its interpretation of this prophecy does not match reality, that will pose significant challenges for the organization — perhaps even existential challenges, if the group’s opponents play their cards right. (If ISIS fails, of course, that is not the same thing as jihadism itself failing.) Whether the U.S. government will be able to capitalize is a separate question, given that the U.S. shies away from messaging that touches on religious themes, and generally does not regard itself as a ‘credible voice’ in this regard.


I’d written this much at the point when Cole Bunzel‘s tweet yesterday turned up in my feed, and I quickly posted Cole Bunzel captures the Dabiq moment.


I am going to carry on here, a day later, with materials on Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails and later research along similar lines, because they offer us insight into the varieties of response that the failure of prophecy provokes in “true believers”. The simplest way to do this is to quote here the “Need to Know” coda to my Lapido piece:

End-times prophecies have an unfortunate habit of failing.

In Chicago, housewife Dorothy Martin persuaded her small group of followers that she had received a revelation from a planet named Clarion announcing the end of the world in a great flood on December 21, 1954.

The earth failed to be devastated, despite her followers selling up and moving to a mountaintop to await the end – but it did trigger a research programme into ‘cognitive dissonance.’

Martin’s small group could not accept their leader’s error, and instead went on a recruitment spree, according to expert Leon Festinger.

Others like the Millerites in 1843 recalculate the date, and hope again.

Jehovah’s Witnesses who have had to change the date of the Second Coming of Christ at least five times (in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925, and 1975) are either abandoning the teaching, or spiritualizing the date.

The Japanese sect Ichigen no Miya, ‘internalized’ the suffering its founder had predicted: He attempted to commit seppuku, but his followers intervened.

He told them later: ‘I could see my own body as if it belonged to somebody else. I thought that I had managed to get out of my body at last, and I was greatly surprised to find that my body had changed itself into the islands of Japan and that a fire had broken out at its centre.

‘Then I knew that God had transferred the cataclysm to my own body. I thanked God and felt a bliss I had never experienced before.’

That last quote in particular is pretty stunning: you can read more on the topic in Takaaki Sanada and Edward Norbeck, Prophecy Continues to Fail: A Japanese Sect, or the Introduction to Jon R Stone, Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy.


Another point bears mention. You’ll note that the title of Festinger’s book is When Prophecy Fails — the focus is on the failure of prophecies to be fulfilled in time, on or by a “date certain”, and most if not all of the research that has followed it takes the same form. The Dabiq prophecy, however, deals with a place, not a date — something fairly rare and little discussed in the literature..

I mentioned this in a post to mailing-list I’m on, and Dr James Tabor of the Department of Religion, UNC Charlotte, commented (personal communication):

This is a very important and valid point—“place” is often every bit as important, or more important, than “time.”

Waco 1993 is a case in point, As Gene Gallagher and I show in our book, Why Waco, the key thing the FBI failed to understand was that David was not expecting any “apocalypse” in 1993—as his calculations pointed to 1995—and in Jerusalem—and that is essential—not in Waco, Texas. He thought he had to gather 144k faithful from around the world and everyone would meet in Jerusalem and fight in the final battle side by side with the Israelis.

Of course Jerusalem, in the ancient apocalyptic things I deal with, is absolutely essential as the “place” where it all comes down.

My friend and mentor Richard Landes (Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience, &c) similarly commented that the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, similarly, resulted in the disconfirmation of a place-based prophecy.


ISIS prepares for failure.

Cole Bunzel, in his June Jhadica post, The Islamic State of Decline: Anticipating the Paper Caliphate, quoted the late Islamic State’s official spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani, from May 21, 2016:

While in that statement ‘Adnani was sure to project a measure of confidence, remarking that the Islamic State is “becoming stronger with each passing day,” some of his comments betrayed the starker reality of a caliphate under siege. This was clear in the following queries: “Do you think, America, that victory will come by killing one or more leaders?” “Do you reckon, America, that defeat is the loss of a city or the loss of territory?” Responding to his own questions, ‘Adnani declared that killing the Islamic State’s leaders would not defeat the greater “adversary” — the group itself — and that taking its land would not eliminate its “will” to fight. Even if the Islamic State were to lose all its territories, he said, it could still go back to the way it was “at the beginning,” when it was “in the desert without cities and without territory.” The allusion here is to the experience of the Islamic State of Iraq, which between 2006 and 2012 held no significant territory despite its claim to statehood.

Scripturally, the Qur’an describes the Battle of Ubud, in which the Prophet Muhammad himself was wounded, and which the Muslims lost, in Sura 3 verse 166:

What ye suffered on the day the two armies met, was with the leave of Allah, in order that He might test the believers.

And again, as I pointed out in April of last year, Qur’an 2:154-56 concerns those who fight fi sabil Allah, suggesting they will encounter “tests” up to and including “loss of lives” in the course of events:

And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not. And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return.”

Cole Bunzel‘s latest tweet indicates that ISIS is indeed using this line of argument..

The second issue of the ISIS magazine Rumiyah also sounds a note of preparation for defeat in the context of an article headed Paths to Victory:

The Prophet (saw) also guided us – with great detail – to both the causes for victory and the hindrances to achieving it.

The chief path to defeat is here said to be contention among leadership.

Finally, Cole Bunzel’s tweet yesterday gave us the first clue as to how ISIS is responding to the almost certain defeat in real time:

Date postponement.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Dr Stephen O’Leary has the detailed run-down on how that strategy operated in Millerite rhetoric, in the immediate and longer-term follow up to the failure of Miller’s 1844 end times prophecy — giving rise to the Great Disappointment — while led, twenty years later, to the founding of the Seventh Day Adventist church, and The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) about twenty years after that.

Twenty, forty years and counting.. and the Millerite ripples were only beginning..

Of Boxes and Worldviews

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — this won’t be appearing in the Proceedings, sad to say — luckily, here at ZP I’m my own managing editor! ]

Bravely or foolishly, I keep on writing essays about our ignorance, in areas of which I’m ignorant myself. Not surprisingly, I don’t win any prizes, but I do manage to get my feelings about ignorance down and, sometimes, out.

For example, here’s my Coast Guard Essay Contest 2016 submission:


Of Boxes and Worldviews

What boxes may we imagine we’re in, as we consider this 2016 Coast Guard Essay Contest?

I ask this, because the challenge presented in the contest is described in part thus:

No issue is too big or too narrow as long as it makes the Coast Guard stronger. This does not mean authors cannot be critical and take on conventional wisdom and current practices. In fact, we encourage you to push the “dare factor.”

I’d argue that by now, it’s conventional wisdom to challenge conventional wisdom, that we’re now cosily settled in a box called “out of the box thinking” – that we’re effectively in “nested boxes” – and that what’s needed therefore is a grand scale questioning of the very way we think.

Is there such a thing as a Coast Guard question? There are certainly questions that have relevance to the US Coast Guard and its future, and some of them are mentioned in the prologue to this contest announcement – issues in the Arctic, which presumably range from sovereignty issues and under-ice flag raising claims, to the impact of methane release on global warming as permafrost melts in what amounts to a vicious circuit, a feedback loop, a serpent biting its own tail – issues of drug interdiction, to include the use of cartel submarines and drones, and so forth.

My problem with these questions is that they are effectively silos – specialty topics which, yes, the Coast Guard needs to address, and is indeed addressing, but silos, boxes nonetheless. In a word, they tend to the linear, in a world that is inherently cross-disciplinary, feedback-driven, complex – in which even the most straightforward of questions is involved with others in a peculiar web of tensions, arising and dissipating, between numerous vectors and stakeholders, of the sort first identified by Horst Rittel as “wicked problems”, and clarified thus by Dr Jeff Conklin of Cognexus:

A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented.

Wicked problems always occur in a social context — the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity among the stakeholders in the problem.

Most projects in organizations — and virtually all technology-related projects these days — are about wicked problems. Indeed, it is the social complexity of these problems, not their technical complexity, that overwhelms most current problem solving and project management approaches.

Importantly, Dr Conklin notes,

There are so many factors and conditions, all embedded in a dynamic social context, that no two wicked problems are alike, and the solutions to them will always be custom designed and fitted.

You don’t understand the problem until you have developed a solution. Indeed, there is no definitive statement of “The Problem.” The problem is ill-structured, an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints.

This takes us way past the elegant, non-linear, feedback-aware models that Jay Forrester pioneered ar MIT under the name of Systems Dynamics, way past the simple rules-sets with which agent-based modeling works, and into a rarefied concept-space where the arts and humanities as much as tech and the sciences — perhaps even more – come into play.

Here the nature of the questions asked is neither disciplinary nor silo’d, the questions are not Coast Guard or Army, Intel or National Security, or even Medical or Aesthetic, Local or Global – but human: human questions, crossing not only the usual disciplinary boundaries, but the great Cartesian boundary between the physical and the spiritual – or as Clausewitz would say, between physical and moral.

It’s far easier to think in terms of men, women and materiel, all of which can be counted, than in terms of morale – which takes the women and men seriously, after all – because morale is far less easily quantified. Indeed, with the exception of Matrix Games, it is far easier to game the physical side of conflict than the human. And yet Clausewitz says,

One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapons, the finely honed blade.

I suggested above that we need to get out of the Matrioshka-nested boxes of our current thinking, and if I can put that another way, we need to get to the heart of creativity.


From the point of view of pure creativity, as diagnosed by Arthur Koestler in his classic book, The Act of Creation, the aha! or eureka! of the creative breakthrough is in fact a “creative leap” — from one frame of reference to another, as shown in this diagram based on those in his book:


From the point of view of cognitive science, as Gilles Fauconnier & Mark Turner illustrate and confirm with neuro-scientific precision in their book on “conceptual blending”, The Way We Think, the tide has now turned from a more literal to a more analogical understanding of mental processing, at the most basic levels, and across all disciplines:

We will focus especially on the nature of integration, and we will see it at work as a basic mental operation in language, art, action, planning, reason, choice, judgment, decision, humor, mathematics, science, magic and ritual, and the simplest mental events in everyday life. Because conceptual integration presents so many different appearances in different domains, its unity as a general capacity had been missed. Now, however, the new disposition of cognitive scientists to find connections across fields has revived interest in the basic mental powers underlying dramatically different products in different walks of life.

From the point of view of Marshall McLuhan, writing to the poet Ezra Pound back in the 1940s, the issue is that following the rational enlightenment of the eighteenth century, which brought us today’s scientific and technological breakthroughs but has left us a wasteland in terms of values, threatening our planetary home with our weapons, our eager overpopulation, our fierce tribalisms, and excessive energy requirements, we have lost one central ingredient in human thought: the ability to think analogically rather than logically, in terms of relationships rather than linear causality.

McLuhan wrote, presciently,

The American mind is not even close to being amenable to the ideogram principle as yet. The reason is simply this. America is 100% 18th Century. The 18th century had chucked out the principle of metaphor and analogy.

And computer scientist and Pulitzer prize-winner Douglas Hofstadter has aptly subtitled his book Surfaces and Essences, co-authored with cognitive scientist Emmanuel Sander, “Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking”.

The analogical leap is the leap out of the box.


Thus far I’ve de-emphasized the “Coast Guardness” of my thinking. But let’s view some Coast Guard related issues in light of the above:

Let’s take a simple lateral comparison first – how does the Chinese Coast Guard compare with our own, what are the physical overlaps and differences, strengths and weaknesses, of theirs and ours?

Please note that this question cross-cuts, to a greater or lesser degree, with any and all other questions involving the USCG. It also leaps from ours to theirs, responds to Sun Tzu’s “know your enemy”, works by comparison and contrast, invites us into detail – and is far more easily answered in physical terms than in terms of morale. SIGINT is better at locating ships than at reading the mind and heart.


If ever there was a tangled knot, the US system for allocating budgetary items would be it. Not only do the federal services each have a series of individual pulls and pushes, but the fifty states, their senators and congresspeople do too. And then there’s the lame-duck president and the president soon to be elect. Until November, there’s the two party scramble, with voters on both sides of the aisle drifting to and fro between partisanship, frustration, and independence. And there are undertows and swells of popular emotion influencing these other factors.

The Coast Guard, arriving at its wish list for the next budget, must be single minded as to its objectives, flexible as to its willingness to negotiate – to a point – but balancing its clearly understood urgencies against the shifting tides of political wills in concert and in conflict, in a multi-vectorial tug-o-war, one against many. And there are no doubt similar tussles within the USCG, doctrinal purists and innovators, old hands and new, with their own mixed agendas, their temporary victories and defeats.

Humans, wily at times, straightforward at others, subject to shame and pride – the conceptual landscape within which any particular problem plays out – let alone the interlocking monster of the whole – is inevitably subject to constant change, closer to the paradoxical understanding of Heraclitus that all is flux than to Coast Guard Office of Strategic Analysis doctrine. Hey – it may well be that the Coast Guard would by its nature have understood the threat-nature of the Iranians in Millennium Challenge 2002 as well as Paul Riper, playing red team, did. From USCG to Marines is a difference of silo, but cross-fertilization is the name of the next game, and Defense Readiness (CG 3-0, Operations, 2.2.4) 1., Maritime interception/interdiction operations, is an area of USCG theoretical expertise and practical experience.


In short, the move is from blocked out and simplified complexity to a far more richly complex way of thinking, analogous to an n-dimensional concept space of shifting weights and tensions, of which this water-loaded spider’s web is a pretty good two-dimensional analog:

Spider web covered with dew drops

Imagine each water drop is a player, and that the entire web reconfigures as one drop shifts or is shaken, caroming into another, perhaps stretching one of the strands of the web past breaking point – and all this in an n-dimensional space beyond the capacity of most human minds to cognize, let along predict.

It is this kind of web into which our massive data inflows are directed, and the interface between the data-crunching capacity of our computers and analytic software, and the multiplex capabilities of the keenest human analytic minds – that’s where the “intel” usefully functions. Before it hits that interface is is data. Within a capable mind, or within the web-like tensions and resolutions of our keenest domain expert, analytic, and hopefully decision-making minds, is where the intelligence becomes meaningful.

Incalculable data points, multitudinous conflicting interests, and the human instinct for meaning.

As the US Coast Guard’s European colleagues have been finding out under increasing public scrutiny and with painful intensity, not only are there political and scientific issues to navigate, there can also be strictly humanitarian impacts of the sort that we find occurring in the interdiction of refugee boats making the trip between Turkey and the Greek island of Chios.

All in all, the work of the Coast Guard is a potent brew, and Computer Go pales before its complexity.


On a more personal note..

Do you speak any form of Inuit? Or Athanbaskan? There are in fact 16 indigenous languages with corresponding worldviews in Alaska.

What are caribou to you? Are you fluent in the magical worldview of the shamans? And what, as climate change drastically reshapes native Alaskan living, takes the place of shamanism in the leadership of native populations – in Alaska, an area of special concern to the USCG?

If you are of a scientific bent – and the USCG Academy awards Bachelor of Science degrees, so most who have passed through those gates into the Service probably are – how concerned are you by global warming – and how concerned by comparison with the preservation of Inuit or Athabaskan culture?

The truth is that both go together.

Military and law enforcement agencies are tasked with setting things right in the external world, but the world of the human psyche has its own specialists – psychiatrists no less than spiritual leaders – and while at some level the US Presidency is often considered the pinnacle of human power, there’s also a category of figures we respect for a different kind of authority, one that is earned above all by integrity and generosity of spirit: the names of Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi and Pope Francis come to mind.

Each of these four figures embodies the practice of contemplation in action – a practice which looks within the self for a compassionate response to adversity. Among the Inuit, and across the circumpolar region more generally, this practice of looking inward for values is the particular task of the shaman – and more recently, the artist.

The Yupik, Inupiaq and Irish artist Susie Silook’s work, Looking Inside Myself, is a recent sculptural presentation of this theme:


Cultural anthropology thus opens us to entire worldviews which are themselves both important to local stakeholders and profoundly illuminating in their own right. Indeed, in these worldviews, the whales, walrus, seals, the ravens and reindeer have voices – a concept largely foreign to western thinking until Mr Justice Douglas gave his dissenting opinion in SIERRA CLUB v. MORTON, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), alerting the nation via the Supreme Court that ecological considerations could no longer be ignored in coming to terms with the world we live in. In the arctic, such considerations have peculiar force, by reason of the extreme nature of the human and natural habitat.

An anthropologist such as Richard Nelson can live in the style that anthropologists term “participant observation” with peoples of very different cultural assumptions than our own for extended periods, and with no other motive than to understand their host cultures — and thus gain both the people’s trust and a depth of insight into their understanding of the world — of which Nelson’s Make Prayers to the Raven, in which he presents an Athabaskan view of the natural world, is a celebrated example. The study of the circumpolar bear cult, as presented by Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders in their The Sacred Paw: the Bear in Nature, Myth and Literature, arguably brings us as close to the archaic origins of religion as human science can bring us.

Somehow, these matters of extreme subtlety must at times be borne in mind while making the split-second decisions so characteristic of both military and law enforcement practice. And the higher the decision-maker in an action-oriented profession, the greater the need for deep understanding. In Napoleon’s own words, we can see that his actions, too, sprang from contemplation:

It is not genius which reveals to me suddenly and secretly what I should do in circumstances unexpected by others; it is thought and meditation.

Thought and meditation are the activities that prepare the mind for what Clausewitz termed the coup d’oeil:

When all is said and done, it really is the commander’s coup d’œil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship. Only if the mind works in this comprehensive fashion can it achieve the freedom it needs to dominate events and not be dominated by them.

I have emphasized the cultural and contemplative side of things because Clausewitz’ “comprehensive” fashion of thinking demands it. The USCG Arctic Strategy mentions cultural matters only very briefly, giving far more weight to ecological considerations – which while complex in their own right, and sadly contested in the case of global warming, are far easier for a contemporary western, scientifically-trained mind to comprehend than the diverse human value systems of other cultures.

Indeed, from an Alaskan native perspective, climate change and the tradition values of the peoples are tightly coupled at the leadership level. From a native perspective, there is a need for a new kind of leadership, one that replaces traditional shamanism, well-adapted to earlier conditions but now lost, with an exacting blend of traditional and modern forms of knowledge. As Steven Becker puts it in “A Changing Sense of Place: Climate and Native Well Being”, in face of an uncertain future, “agile and adaptive leaders” are required, who “can meet the physical, economic, and sociocultural challenges resulting from climate change.”

These leaders need to be well versed in western science and management, but they must also be thoroughly grounded in their Native language, culture, and traditions (Kawagley 2008). They must see the value in both Native and western science, see the complementary uses of the two, and use both methods appropriately as the basis of true adaptive management (Tano 2006).

I have emphasized this “new shamanic leadership” issue, not because interactions with native leaders will occupy more USGC time and attention than air-sea rescues or other highly visible, courageous and newsworthy exploits but precisely because they are subtle, not likely to capture headlines, and thus easily overlooked – and also because they touch on my own personal interests.

But not only are these “agile leaders” (or “new shamans” as I prefer to think of them) leaders with whom forward-thinking Alaska-based USCG members may on occasion fruitfully collaborate, but because they are also emblematic of leadership in general, embodying both the best of scientific and technological “hands on” know-how with the finest human and ecological values.

In this, they represent the way forward, not just for the Coast Guard or Alaska, but for contemporary civilization in a world of rapid, complex, often dangerous, and ultimately transformative change.


Well, whaddaya think, eh?

On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: ten

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a long, lazy Sunday post, packed with quirky interest and neat maps ]

Ten? What’s so special about ten, hunh? Just because you have ten fingers, you suppose that makes ten special?



As simple as a map can get:

Simon Kirby, The Worry Line


As complex as one can get:

Eric Jaffe, The World’s 15 Most Complex Subway Maps

And I mean complex, cognitively complex:

When it comes to information processing, an average person’s “cognitive threshold” is about 250 connections, or the equivalent of roughly eight bits of data, according to the researchers. New York’s system neared that limit, with 161 total connections, and the most complicated two-transfer trip a person could make on the subway exceeded it—clocking in at 8.1 bits. Maps for the Paris Metro (with 78 total connections), Tokyo Metro (56), and London Tube (48) clustered around six bits of information.



Nick van Mead, Can you identify the world cities from their ‘naked’ metro maps?

The Guardian wanted to know if you could recognize various cities if shown their metro maps without the stations markings.. and i could manage Chicago (above).



Chris Ward, Coffee Stops

Sadly, the map is not the territory, or I could get my Java from South Ken while sitting at my desk just outside Sacramento.

The London Coffee Map, “Coffee Stops,” was designed by Chris Ward, who calls himself “the boss who works from coffee shops.” He recently published Out of Office: Work Where You Like and Achieve More, a best-selling guide to leading a successful working life outside an office building. Apparently, being properly caffeinated is one of his biggest tips. Now you can grab your joe at local London cafes with quaint names like Scooter and Electric Elephant.



I could then quaff it from an appropriately poetical Map Mug:

Royal Shakespeare Company, Greater Shakespeare Map Mug

The map here representing affinities between characters in the Bard’s various plays:




— and we’re half way to ten, let’s imagine ourselves at Shakespeare and Co‘s bookstore and cafe in Paris





While we’re on a literary streak, here’s a thumbnail of one of artist Rod McLaren‘s illuminations of Italo Calvino‘s Invisible Cities:

Rod McLaren, Invisible Cities Illustrated #2: Trude/Ersilia

The detail here is fantastic, as befits Calvino’s work:

The diagram, a network of curved lines connecting to every other node on a 6 x 5 grid, has two configurations: if the picture is hung one way up, it shows the “Ersilia configuration” (where the lines are like the threads strung between the buildings of Ersilia); if hung the other way up, it shows that of Trude (where the lines are like a complicated airline route map).

Ersilia (Trading Cities 4, p78):

In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, or authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.

Thus, when travelling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.

Trude (Continuous Cities 2, p128):

If on arriving at Trude I had not read the city’s name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off. The suburbs they drove me through were no different from the others, with the same greenish and yellowish houses. Following the same signs we swung around the same flower beds in the same squares. The downtown streets displayed goods, packages,signs that had not changed at all. This was the first time I had come to Trude, but I already knew the hotel where I happened to be lodged; I had already heard andspoken my dialogues with the buyers and sellers of hardware; I had ended other days identically,looking through the same goblets at the same swaying navels.

Why come to Trude? I asked myself. And I already wanted to leave.

“You can resume your flight whenever you like,” they said to me, “but you will arrive at another Trude, absolutely the same, detail by detail. The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end. Only the name of the airport changes.”

All of which reminds me of nothing so much as Antonio Gaudi‘s model — made of hanging chains — catenaries —


which when turned upside down provide the structure for his Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona:




Meanwhile, back in London, we have maps of the ghost (ie abandoned) London tube stops:

Dylan Maryk, Ghost Stations On The London Underground


That’s one way to de-clutter the Tube map — show what ain’t there any more.

Here’s another —

Matt Thomason, 150 years of The London Underground

Don’t ask me what it means — seeing as Hugh Grant gets a station, it’s either gentlemanly or ungentlemanly, I’m not sure which.



I simply didn’t know you’d have to travel this far to get from Dylan to the Beatles:

Dorian Lynskey, in Tufte, Response to London Underground maps

I mean —

Michelle Geslani, The Beatles and Bob Dylan met 50 years ago today


I’ve kept this one for last because in some ways it’s the subtlest:


It’s the work of architect Jug Cerovic., and on his page In Borders We Trust he offers this conceptual comment:

Borders are primarily a mental construct.

Just like a deity, they exist only insofar as People believe in them. Question is however how necessary our belief in their existence is and when exactly does that belief start harming us?

At which point do borders cease to be a convenient orientation marker, a helpful tool for the comprehension of the land we inhabit, a common identifier for the construction of a shared identity? At which point do borders become a dogmatic limitation to imagination, a terrifying prison for the body and mind, a symbol and support of hatred?

Borders do not possess an inherent bad or good character, on the contrary they are a malleable concept subject to appropriation and interpretation.

“In borders we trust” examines the perception, physical manifestation and enforcement of the couple formed by People and Borders focusing on three key areas of the contemporary migration routes:

  • Gibraltar
  • Serbia
  • Levant
  • For this purpose the peculiar relationship between Borders and People is illustrated with a sequence of three distinct maps:

  • Borders without People
  • Borders with People
  • People without Borders
  • This novel perspective of a seemingly familiar representation, with each component of the couple shown separately and juxtaposed to their combined illustration, questions the articulation and pertinence of our present predicament.

    Happily, this is an area that I’ve delved into at some length myself in my earlier post, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream? — with specific reference to ISIS’ bulldozing of the border between Iraq and Syria, and the Basque country, Euskadi, saddling the French / Spanish border.

    Cerovic has achieved an eminently practical limited version of one of my own grandiose castle-in-air schemes — building a universal graphical mapping system. Cerovic’s version offers us a universal graphical underground / tube / metro mapping system, in the form of his book One Metro World — you still have a couple of weeks to support it on Kickstarter!



    Earlier in this series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: three
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: four
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: seven
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eight
  • And hey, and we’re back at maps — where we started in

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine
  • McCants explains the Saudis, Quantico rebukes them

    Friday, August 26th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Saudi-sourced jihadism, the FBI, Baader-Meinhof — hey, it’s all about terrosism ]

    Will McCants explains [upper panel, below] how the Saudis are and are not promoting terrorism —

    Tablet DQ 600 arsonist

    — while a screen-cap from episode 9 in the first season of Quantico explains just why such an approach is logically bound to be defective.


    Oh well, not to worry. It’s just another example of the illusion colloquially known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. I wouldn’t want to go all irrational on you, so I’ll let RationalWiki explain:

    The frequency illusion (also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon) is the phenomenon in which people who just learn or notice something start seeing it everywhere.

    Except that — well, there it is again — Baader-Meinhof — it’s all terrorism!

    Sunday surprise: Damages and House of Cards

    Sunday, August 7th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — two opening credit sequeces that rhyme, also sheep & starlings ]

    As you know, I’m interested in twinnings of various sorts — the sound twinnings we call rhyme, visual twinnings in films we call graphic match, the contrapuntal twinnings of melody in canons and fugues, the twinnings when history “rhymes” — oh, and the ever popular plagiarism. Recently I’ve been watching the TV show Damages — an old friend is in it — and having the eerie feeling every time the opening credits rolled that they were just like the opening credits from House of Cards. So I thought I’d look them up, and see if they’d been put together by the same team.



    House of Cards:

    I didn’t get as far as finding out who put them together, but I did run across a blog post by Alicatte from 2013 titled House of Cards Opening: Deja Damages which more than amply vindicated my far less detailed intuition.


    And while it’s still Sunday, let’s take a look at another couple of videos that have some twinning to them. A friend of mine, Bob Crosby — ecological engineer par excellence — of Biorealis, posted them on a private group with the fake names I’ll give you above each one:

    An aerial view of the American electorate being herded by corporate media pundits…


    An EEG video of neurons forming a thought...

    Have fun..

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