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Education: a call for actors, directors, composers, conductors

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- leaping as far out of the box from Education: on Engineers, the Navy — and excuse me, Jihad as I can manage ]
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Director / Actor Jean Renoir as Octave in Rules of the Game


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Let me dive directly in at the deep end.

If, as Keith Oatley suggests, theatre is “simulation that runs on minds“, what does that tell us about actors (as compared with the rest of the population) as experienced simmers of complex realities, potential scenario planners?

Where does that leave Ronald Reagan vis-a-vis Margaret Thatcher? What about directors vs actors? What of Jean Renoir (depicted above)? Or Clint Eastwood, actor, director — and one time Mayor of Carmel, CA?

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On another tack:

In one of my all-time favorite quotations — because it covers so much ground, aptly, from Middle Eastern politics to JS Bach — the music critic and pianist (and yes, Palestinian, and other things as well) Edward Said once wrote:

When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes — opposites in the Hegelian sense — that is yet to receive its due. So what you are faced with is a kind of sublime grandeur of a series of tragedies, of losses, of sacrifices, of pain that would take the brain of a Bach to figure out. It would require the imagination of someone like Edmund Burke to fathom.

If contrapuntal composers and conductors can hear, feel the conflicts between, and at times, at least for a while, balance and resolve them, what then might Bach be able to teach our analysts, policy and policy makers?

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And finally, to quote Cornelius Castoriadis:

Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table. What does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night. What does this show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Mozart’s Requiem be a paradigm of being, let us start from that.” Why could we not start by positing a dream, a poem, a symphony as paradigmatic of the fullness of being and by seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way round, instead of seeing in the imaginary — that is, human — mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being?

What then could we learn from Mozart (and Bach, and Shakespeare, Said and Renoir) about the better understanding of our present mode of existance?

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Yes.

I am suggesting that there is in fact such a thing as genius, that it is a “still, small voice” available to any who care to listen — and that we might be wise to center our educational ideas around its care and feeding…

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Education: on Engineers, the Navy — and excuse me, Jihad

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a minor contribution to the discussion about STEM-to-stern education ]
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Adm Grace Murray Hopper

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I really don’t want to put too much weight on this — for one thing, John Boyd was, if Wiki is not mistaken, the possessor of a Batchelor’s in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech — but I do think it’s a bit foolish for the Navy to put most all of its eggs in the engineering basket.

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Food to chew on…

Lt. Alexander P. Smith, USN, Navy Needs Intellectual Diversity:

To me, diversity is more than gender, race, religion and sexual orientation; it also includes the intellectual background each officer brings to the force. Starting in 2014, however, the vast majority of all NROTC graduates will be STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) majors with minimal studies in humanities. Our Navy is about to go through unprecedented compartmentalization, but not many officers seem to realize it. [ … ]

Few metrics are considered when determining who gets an interview in the nuclear-reactor community. Most midshipmen certainly have strong grade-point averages, but the principal criterion was how they performed in calculus and physics, not their major.

This begs the question: Does the tier system produce better submariners or more proficient naval officers? If less than 35 percent of our Unrestricted Line Officers possess the unique quality of comprehensive thinking through critical reading and reflection, what will the force look like in 20 years?

These are questions to consider when discerning the benefits and disadvantages of STEM graduates. We should not forget the value of future officers developing a keen interest of foreign affairs, history or language.

LCDR Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong, Engineering and the Humanities: The View from Patna’s Bridge

:Cultural understanding, emotional intelligence and empathy are fundamental parts of good leadership, and also a part of modern naval concepts like international partnerships. They come from experience. It is my great hope, however, that I will never have to experience all of the trials and challenges my fellow sailors face in life in order to help them. What a tragic life that could be. Instead, I’d rather read my share of Shakespeare, Hemingway, or O’Brian, which might help me learn a thing or two about emotion and about the way people face different challenges in their lives, even at sea. Reading the biographies of great leaders, the histories of battles both large and small, and the classics of strategy, helps me learn from the mistakes and successes of others rather than have to learn only from my own multitude of mistakes.

Oh, and to throw some high-grade jalapeño into the stew…

Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, in their hugely contested paper Engineers of Jihad:

The only other case in which we find a trace of engineers’ prominence outside of
Islamic violent groups is, consistently with the mindset hypothesis, among the most
extreme right-wing movements, especially in the US and in Germany, where it is all
the more striking again given the general low level of education of the members of
such groups. Here we have perhaps the only other case in which the mindset alone has
activated engineers into resorting to violent action – their absolute number is tiny, but
disproportionate relative to other types of graduates.

Oops — too much pepper, pehaps?

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Look, I come from the arts side of the house.

In Education: a call for actors, directors, composers, conductors, I’ll get as deep into why arts and humanities training might be important — particularly for analysts and decision-makers — as the two naval writers cited above suggest it might be for the future of the Navy.

And no offence to engineers, please. It’s thought I’m hoping to stir up, not trouble.

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Pictured atop this post:

  • Admiral Grace Hopper, USN, was among other things the first person to write a compiler for a computer programming language.
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    Lind on “the Navy’s Intellectual Seppuku”

    Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

    William Lind had a very important piece regarding an extraordinarily ill-considered move by the Navy brass:

    The Navy Commits Intellectual Seppuku 

    The December, 2013 issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings contains an article, “Don’t Say Goodbye to Intellectual Diversity” by Lt. Alexander P. Smith, that should receive wide attention but probably won’t. It warns of a policy change in Navy officer recruiting that adds up to intellectual suicide. Lt. Smith writes, “Starting next year, the vast majority of all NROTC graduates will be STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with minimal studies in the humanities … As a result of the new policy, a high school senior’s best chance of obtaining a Navy scholarship is to apply for Tiers 1 and 2 (engineering, hard sciences, and math), since CNO guidance specifies that not less than 85 percent of incoming officers will come from this restricted pool.”

    ….The engineering way of thinking and the military way of thinking are not merely different. They are opposites. Engineering, math, and other sciences depend on analysis of hard data. Before you make a decision, you are careful to gather all the facts, however long that may take. The facts are then carefully analyzed, again without much regard for the time required. Multiple actors check and re-check each others’ work. Lowest-common-denominator, committee-consensus decisions are usually the safest course. Anything that is not hard data is rejected. Hunches have no place in designing a bridge.

    Making military decisions in time of war could not be more different. Intuition, educated guessing, hunches, and the like are major players. Hard facts are few; most information is incomplete and ambiguous, and part of it is always wrong, but the decision-maker cannot know how much or which parts. Creativity is more important than analysis. So is synthesis: putting parts together in new ways. Committee-consensus, lowest-common-denominator decisions are usually the worst options. Time is precious, and a less-than-optimal decision now often produces better results than a better decision later. Decisions made by one or two people are often preferable to those with many participants. There is good reason why Clausewitz warned against councils of war.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Rarely have I seen Lind more on target than in this piece.

    Taking a rank-deferential, strongly hierarchical organization and by design making it more of a closed system intellectually and expecting good things to happen should disqualify that person from ever being an engineer because they are clearly too dumb to understand what resilience and feedback are. Or second and third order effects.

    STEM, by the way, is not the problem. No one should argue for an all-historian or philosopher Navy either. STEM is great. Engineers can bring a specific and powerful kind of problem solving framework to the table. The Navy needs a lot of smart engineers.

    It is just that no smart engineer would propose to do this because the negative downstream effects of an all-engineer institutional culture for an armed service are self-evident.

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    Serpent logics: the marathon

    Sunday, November 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- oh, the sheer delightful drudgery of finding patterns everywhere ]
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    I’ll start this post, as I did the previous one to which this is a sort of appendix, with a (deeply strange, tell me about it) example of the…

    Matrioshka pattern:


    That’s a piece of jewelry made out of disembodied pieces of Barbies from the extraordinary designer’s mind of Margaux Lange, FWIW.

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    This post is the hard core follow up to my earlier piece today, Serpent logics: a ramble, and offers you the chance to laugh and groan your way through all the other “patterns” I’ve been collecting over the last few months. My hope is that repeated (over)exposure to these patterns will make the same patterns leap out at you when you encounter them in “real life”.

    Most of the examples you run across may prove humorous — but if you’re monitoring news feeds for serious matters, my hunch is that you’ll find some of them helpful in grasping “big pictures” or gestalts, noting analomalies and seeing parallels you might otherwise have missed.

    Have at it!

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    Here’s another Matrioshka, from the structural end of lit crit that my friend Wm. Benzon attacks with gusto over at New Savannah:

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    Enantiodromia:

    You’ll recall this is the pattern where something turns into its opposite… as described in this quote from the movie Prozac Nation:

    I dream about all the things I wish I’d said.
    The opposite of what came out of my mouth.
    I wish I’d said
    “Please forgive me. Please help me.
    I know I have no right to behave this way?”

    Here are a few examples…

    Ahmed Akkari Repents Violent Opposition to Danish Cartoons Lampooning Islam:

    After a Danish newspaper published cartoons satirizing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed Akkari spearheaded protests that ultimately cost the lives of 200 people. Now he says he’s sorry. Michael Moynihan on what changed Akkari’s mind.

    That’s impressive!

    That one’s run of the media mill…

    And this one’s from my delightful, delicious boss, Danielle LaPorte:

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    A friend sent me this:

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    Let’s just plough ahead…

    Nominalism:

    Nominalism is the category where the distinction between a word and what it represents gets blurry — a very significant distinction in some cases —

    How’s this for naming your donkey after your President?

    Consider this one, another instance of nominalism in action, from the French justice system:

    A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words “I am a bomb” on the front, along with his name and ‘Born on September 11th’ on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for “glorifying a crime”. A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

    The classic nominalist image — with which I’d compare and contrast the French three-year-old with the unfortunate name and tsee-shirt — is Magritte’s cdelebrated “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”:

    And here’s one final nominalist example:

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    The spiral:

    Here’s a potential downwards spiral, for those watching India:

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    Straight parallelism:

    This one’s from Jonathan Franzen:

    And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.

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    Simple Opposition:

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    Some of these categories seem pretty fluid — or to put that another way, some of these examples might fit with equal ease into several doifferent categories. Here’s another oppositional class:

    Arms crossed:

    From Ezra Klein and Evan Solta blogging at WaPo’s Wonkbook: The Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences:

    It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

    A great “values” juxtaposition:

    And hey, nice phrasing:

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    Here’s an example of one of the central patterns of violence and justice:

    Tit for Tat:

    [ the account this tweet came from, which was a media outlet for Shabaab, has since been closed -- hence the less than euqal graphical appearance of this particular tweet... ]

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    And here, without too much further ado, is a whole concatenation of…

    Serpents biting their tails:

    [ ... and that last one of Nein's appears to have been withdrawn from circulation ]

    This one I love for its lesson on biblical pick-and-choose:

    This one is also a DoubleQuote:

    when closely followed by:

    And this one really bites:

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    To close the series out with more of a bang than a whimper, here’s Serpent bites Tail with apocalypse & gameplay for additional spice:

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    Sunday surprise 9: surreal art imitates real life?

    Sunday, October 20th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- my semi-official idiocy to cap the week ]
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    Here, surreal art imitates real life — ahead of time, and or much later.

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    Sources:

  • Tokyo Times, An abandoned and atmospheric Japanese school in the mountains
  • Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory

  • A tip of the hat to Bryan Alexander of Infcult
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    Footnote:

    Time itself is a curious business, and the question of its “reality” comes up from time to time. Physicist Sean Carroll talked about it a while back on the pompously named Closer to Truth series, and makes some interesting points. I have to say, though, that I wasn’t overwhelmed — Carroll may be the equivalent of Hawking when it comes to physics, but the equivalent of Wittgenstein when it comes to philosophy he has yet to prove himself.

    But then of course we have never seen Wittgenstein talking off the cuff on YouTube: my sense is that this was a wise decision on his part — although many of the slips of paper on which he typed the aphorisms that go to make up his Zettel might well have been Tweeted, give or take a century.

    Twitter’s immense fan-base does include thousands — and likely hundreds of thousands — of folks who would follow a Witty Wittgenstein twitter-feed among it’s half-billion (2012 estimate) users if wittgenstein were alive and tweeting… Indeed, the entirely posthumous Wittgenstein Tweets feed has more than 4,000 followers, and you might care to join them — although the quotes in the tweets are more than 60 years old at time of tweeting. My own preference for a philosophical feed, btw, runs to Kim Kierkegaardashian.

    But it’s Sunday, we were talking surrealism, and I digress.

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