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Graph-types 2: towards a universal graphical mapping language

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — for background, see Graph-types 1: sample graphs and boards ]

The world is full of all sorts of wondrous things, and we can map and model many if not all of them. Here are some examples of the kinds of maps I’d like to see integrated in the One Big One. For a fun first instance, here’s a dynamic model of the functioning of a washing machine:

Washing machine 600

If you’re figuring out how to map the world, of course, you may think first of economic stocks and flows in a Forrester-style model, like this diagram for a model of housing market cycles:

:Housing development stocks and flows 600

There are a whole lot of different modeling conventions of this sort. One of my own devsing has to do with choice — and in this instance, with the meanings that can be given to the words “let’s play”:

ChoiceBach diagram

There are PERT Charts, which allow one to plan the sequencing of various “streams” of actions to arrive optimally at a given end-point:

PERT 600

There are Markov chains for probabilistic inference:

Marjov chain

And then there are those subatomic Feynman diagrams I mentioned in a recent post. I believe this one is the first published Feynman diagram, and you can find it on an Edward Tufte page that’s worth taking a look at in its own right:


For those of you who may be interested, I’m attaching here an earlier attempt to corral such things which I originally wrote as part of a 159-page documentation of my HipBone games for Amos Davidowitz of the Institute of World Affairs in DC:

Variety of Concept Mapping diagrams


The world-system in actuality “answers” in some way to each of the types of model I’ve illustrated above — and then some! — which leads me to believe that some sort of grand map or model should in principle be devisable which would incorporate them all — in principle, though not perhaps, or not yet, in practice.

That’s my idea — I hope it will stimulate msome quirky thoughts, questions, insights..

See, “node and edge” graphs are everywhere, and I’ve discussed several more of them in a series of posts titled On the felicities of graph-based game-board design which you may want to look at: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

And hey — the human brain, too, is a node and edge affair, so it may not be too surprising that my casual reading roundup this morning pointed me to this image of a real-world object called a Stentrode:

Stentrode 600

That’s from a DARPA page titled Minimally Invasive “Stentrode” Shows Potential as Neural Interface for Brain, and it’s a device designed by a team in Melbourne that can be slipped into the brain via the blood-stream, providing “a brain-machine interface that taps into your motor cortex through a relatively simple operation” allowing a patient to “directly steer an exoskeleton or artificial limb through thoughts alone”.

Like the brain that devised it, it is a physical edge and node graph — and so-o-o brautiful.

I am in awe.

Sceenius: Y2K and a universal graphical mapping language

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a mental long-jump, following Sceenius: the macro in micro, Nepal ]

It’s a stretch, I know, and whether it will prove a useful leap or not I have no idea — but for the record, this detail from slide 8 of the Sceenius promo caught my eye, offering a graphical continuity between my own HipBone / Semble gameboards and Richard Feynman‘s celebrated particle diagrams:



I have this almost Borgesian interest in what kind of map of the world we’d get if we had a universal language of graphs.

When I was working on the potential social implications of the Y2K computer bug — which included the al-Qaida “Millennium Plot” and Albert Ressam‘s attempt to blow up the international terminal at LAX during the millennial roll-over — my friend and colleague Don Beck of the National Values Center / The Spiral Dynamics Group suggested in a private communication:

Y2K is like a lightening bolt: when it strikes and lights up the sky, we will see the contours of our social systems.

As it turned out, the lightning struck and failed to strike, a team from the Mitre Corporation produced a voluminous report on what the material and social connectivity of the world boded in case of significant Y2K computer failures, we did indeed get our first major glimpse of the world weave, and thankfully, very little of that weave was broken as the new millennium dawned.

But as Thomas Barnett put it in his first book, The Pentagon’s New Map:

Whether Y2K turned out to be nothing or a complete disaster was less important, research-wise, than the thinking we pursued as we tried to imagine -– in advance -– what a terrible shock to the system would do to the United States and the world in this day and age.

Viewing the world as an integral, interconnected whole, illuminated by our various preparations for whatever eventualities might arise, stuck with me. And my take-away was the idea of a world-map that represented as widely and richly as possible the tugs and tensions, the causalities and probabilities, the chains of command and channels of distribution that are present in our world — a pragmatist’s equivalent, if you like, to the Buddhist Net of Indra.


Our mandate [at The Arlington Institute] was to understand potential social fall-out of the Y2K computer event and related millennial events. Essentially, this was a dry run for failures in the intricately cross-connected world we now inhabit, and even thought Y2K was a “non-event” in terms of computer disruptions, it was an education for those of us who tracked it.

In that spirit, a few years ago, I wrote:

The world is woven of many different processes: causality and synchrony perhaps each play a role in determining the moment, qualitative and quantitaive, head and heart concerns all have their role, fear and hope impact stock prices, movement (e-motion) in the inner world triggering movement (motion) in the the outer, rumors of wars becoming blacks ops in the wars they mimic, with the Cartesian mind / matter barrier no less than the barriers between our disciplines falling… and in all this shuttling to and fro of the looms of the Moirae, humans find themselves making models and diagrams to understand and explain…

My point is that that our systems diagrams, flow charts, maps, conceptual networks, semantic graphs, HipBone Games and so forth are not isolated entities but family members, and that at some point we may wish or need to be able to link one of the diagram types above with others into a master-diagram, for which we currently lack a graphical language. [ … ]

I think we should at the very least be thinking about how these various diagrams intersect, overlap and breed offspring after their own kind..


This project — an actual world-map of this kind — is hopelessly utopian, impossible, needed, encyclopedic like Wikipedia, a secular bead game in its own right, and in general probably best left as a Hilbert-like challenge for future generations to gnaw at..

Next post: a few examples of examples of graph-types that should be included.

Red mercury as scam and symbol

Friday, November 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — CJ Chivers, nuclear nonsense, faux chemistry, and the alchemical imagination, with hat-tip to Cheryl Rofer ]

CJ Chivers, conflict journalist extraordinaire and author of a book about the Kalashnikov assault rifle, The Gun, today posted a remarkable account of what he terms The Doomsday Scam, with the subtitle “For decades, aspiring bomb makers — including ISIS — have desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance called red mercury. There’s a reason that they never have.”

A taste:

The Islamic State, he said, was shopping for red mercury.

Abu Omar knew what this meant. Red mercury — precious and rare, exceptionally dangerous and exorbitantly expensive, its properties unmatched by any compound known to science — was the stuff of doomsday daydreams. According to well-traveled tales of its potency, when detonated in combination with conventional high explosives, red mercury could create the city-flattening blast of a nuclear bomb. In another application, a famous nuclear scientist once suggested it could be used as a component in a neutron bomb small enough to fit in a sandwich-size paper bag.


To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist.

Indeed, there’s a sidebar in Chivers’ post which sums the topic up nicely:

The shadowy weaponeer’s little helper, red mercury was the unobtainium of the post-Soviet world.

There’s much more, of course — with red mercury rumored to be found in old Singer sewing machines, which briefly raised the price of such machines in Saudi Arabia a thousandfold to $50,000 — and the whole extraordinary piece is more than worthy of your attention. It is also about a concrete, if counter-factual, reading of the term “red mercury.”

Cinnabar, aka mercury sulphide, anyone?


A centuries-old debate concerning alchemy has concerned the literal and metaphorical interpretations of alchemical texts.

Scholars up to and including Isaac Newton theorized about and practiced alchemy in their aptly named lab-oratories, at a time when literal and metaphorical “readings” were much less easily considered separately than is the case today. Alchemy was then for a while widely ridiculed as proto- and indeed pseudo-science — a tendency still prevalent in many circles today. And more recently, alchemy has been explored by Carl Jung and followers (and his predecessor, Silberer) as a field of imaginative, metaphorical inquiry illuminating spirituality, psychology and literature.

  • BJT Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy
  • BJT Dobbs, The Janus Faces of Genius
  • Herbert Silberer, Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism
  • CG Jung, Psychology and Alchemy
  • CG Jung, Alchemical Studies
  • CG Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis
  • Marie-Louise von Franz, Aurora Consurgens
  • Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy
  • Jung’s reading of alchemical texts is a symbolic reading — in accordance with the principle “the stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone” (Psalm 118.22, cf Acts 411), he has taken precisely those materials in the alchemical tradition which modern chemistry rejected as ridiculous, and reclaimed them as symbolic, richly metaphorical expressions of psychological truth.


    It is in that spirit that I turned from Chivers’ fascinating treatment of “red mercury” as an allegedly physical, albeit spurious, substance, with its intriguing narratives of scams from the Cold War to the present day and IS, to take a look at what I might find via a brief search in the Jungian literature. I say “quick” because I have neither the appropriate library nor the time for a more intensive search, but here’s what little I found:

    There’s a “red mercury” reference in Stanton Marlan, The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness, on p. 22:

    The idea is that the raw solar energy must darken and undergo a mortificatio process that reduces it to its prime matter. Only then can the creative energies produce a purified product. In this image the sperm of gold refers not to the ordinary seminal fluid of man but rather to “a semi-material principle,” or aura seminales, the fertile potentiality that prepares the Sun for the sacred marriage with his counterpart, darkness, which is thought to produce a philosophical child or stone and is nourished by the mercurial blood that flows from the wounding encounter of the Lion and the Sun. The blood — called red mercury — is considered a great solvent.

    Marlan then gives us what is effectively a translation of the paragraph above into contemporary therapeutic language:

    Psychologically, there is nourishment in wounding. When psychological blood flows, it can dissolve hardened defenses. This then can be the beginning of true productivity. In dreams the imagery of blood often connotes moments when real feeling and change are possible. The theme of the wound can also suggest a hidden innocence, which is also a subject of mortification. The green color of the lion, which is referred to as “green gold,” suggests something that is immature, unripe, or innocent, as well as growth and fertility. The alchemist imagined this innocence, sometimes called virgin’s milk, as a primary condition, something without Earth and not yet blackened. Typical virgin-milk fantasies are often maintained emotionally in otherwise intellectually sophisticated and developed people.


    And then there’s what Jung would term synchronicity..

  • CG Jung & Wolfgang Pauli, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche
  • In my twitter stream within 3 minutes of my posting my first tweet re Chivers’ piece, & before I’d tweeted my follow up, I ran across this tweet containing the phrase “Drawing Blood will eat the sun”:

    Drawing Blood will eat the sun — just how synchronistically alchemical can Molly Crabapple and Twitter get?

    Let’s get metaphysical — a quick sequence of tweets

    Thursday, November 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — From Elkus to Furnish, Tolkien to Feynman, — too tired to write, not tired enough to sleep — ripe for the twitter feed ]

    The occasion of mirth:


    Adam Elkus identifies the zone:

    The mirth:




    Meanwhile, Tim Furnish was there ahead of time, defending Tolkien & attacking IS:

    And now let’s get back to those laws of physics:

    The “refugee” koan

    Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — considering both sides, while tilting one way or the other ]

    I call it a koan because you can flip it — there are two sides to it, and very possibly a serrated edge that it can balance on, foiling your best efforts to come up with a yes-no answer:

    On the one side, Tsarnaev:

    Not a Christian, BTW..


    Okay, before the second shoe drops…

    Consider this, from Benjamin Wittes, In Defense of Refugees today on Lawfare:

    It is worth reflecting at least briefly on the security risks of turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of helpless people fleeing some combination of ISIS and Assad. Imagine teeming refugee camps in which everyone knows that America has abandoned them. Imagine the conspiracy theories that will be rife in those camps. Imagine the terrorist groups that will recruit from them and the righteous case they will make about how, for all its talk, the United States left Syria to burn and Syrians to live in squalor in wretched camps in neighboring countries. I don’t know if this situation is more dangerous, less dangerous, or about as dangerous as the situation in which we admit a goodly number of refugees, help resettle others, and run some risk—which we endeavor to mitigate — that we might admit some bad guys. But this is not a situation in which all of the risk is stacked on the side of doing good, while turning away is the safe option. There is risk whatever we do or don’t do.

    Most profoundly, there is risk associated with saying loudly and unapologetically that we don’t care what happens to hundreds of thousands of innocent people — or that we care if they’re Christian but not if they’re Muslim, or that we care but we’ll keep them out anyway if there’s even a fraction of a percent chance they are not what they claim to be. They hear us when we say these things. And they will see what we do. And those things too have security consequences.

    And, from a very different area of the political spectrum, this:

    There’s a reason that hospitality is actually a religious virtue and not just a thing that nice people do: it is sacrificial. Real hospitality involves risk, an opening of the door to the unknown other. There is a reason it is so important in the Biblical narratives, which were an ancient people’s attempt to work out what they thought God required of them in order to be the people of God. Hospitality isn’t just vacuuming and putting out appetizers and a smile — it’s about saying, “Oh holy Lord, I hope these people don’t kill me or rape my daughters, but our human society relies on these acts of feeding and sheltering each other, so I must be brave and unlock the door.” Scary stuff. Big stuff. Ancient and timeless stuff. “You shall welcome the stranger.”

    Now: is that wisdom, or foolishness?


    Aha, the second shoe..

    Besides Tsarnaev, who else do we know who came here as a refugee?

    albert einstein non christian refugee

    Einstein, no less.

    And Einstein was not a Christian either, FWIW.

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