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Alice in Sovereign Citizenland

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — offering context for a remarkable court appearance ]

David Hall, a member of the Sovereign Citizen movement, appeared before Judge John “Jay” Hurley, Broward’s First Appearance and Extradition Judge, and the exchange in the upper panel below is a transcript of a portion of their interaction:

Sovereign Citizen Broward County Alice

The lower panel is taken from Alice in Wonderland, a book written by the individual Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson — a mathematician and logician at Christ Church, Oxford — in the person and under the assumed name of Lewis Carroll.

The distinction drawn by Mr Hall between the individual and person who go by the name “David Hall” follows much the same surreal logic as that of Lewis Carroll’s Red Knight. Judge Hurley handles the matter with gravitas and grace, as you can see:

Hat-tip: JJ MacNab, author of The Seditionists: Inside the Explosive World of Anti-Government Extremism in America

Getting deeper into Koestler

Friday, March 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on creativity at the intersection of the fleeting and the eternal ]

centaur skeleton
Centaur, displayed in the International Wildlife Museum, Tucson, AZ


You know Lao Tzu’s “uncarved wood” (pu) — and Spencer Brown’s “Mark” or “first distinction? It is hard to speak of “the one and the many” without language itself favoring the many, the one being “one” and the many “another”. The Greek phrase “Before Abraham was, I am” attributed to Christ may be as close as we get.

The “uncarved wood” is not some definite -– named and thus defined -– “one” -– it is also “raw silk” (su), the simple -– the natural way or stream, from which things have not yet been separated out by naming.

There is delight, however, both in one becoming two and thus many, in the making of distinctions and naming of names, and no less in two (or the many) becoming one, in the resolution of paradox, the release of tension, peace after strife. In human terms, there is joy in both solo and collaborative achievement.

What better, then, than the perfect fit between disparate entities?

I have written often enough about Arthur Koestler and the place where two disparate spheres of thought link up — the centaur links horse and man in an indissoluble unity — there’s no question here of dismounting after a ride, giving the horse a rub down and some feed, then retiring to the verandah for a whiskey…

The mythological aha! we get from the centaur displayed in the museum hinges on the fit of horse and human skeletons, the perfection with which disparates are joined.


Thus far, whenever I’ve discussed Koestler‘s notion of bisociation, I’ve focused on the sense that it liea at the heart of creativity. Koestler himself takes it deeper. Here’s Nicholas Vajifdar, in a review titled Summing Up Arthur Koestler’s Janus: A Summing Up:

Koestler .. asserts that there are two planes of existence, the trivial and the tragic. The trivial plane is the stage for paying bills, shopping, working. Most of life takes place on the trivial plane. But sometimes we’re swept up into the tragic plane, usually due to some catastrophe, and everything becomes glazed with an awful significance. From the point of view of the tragic plane, the trivial plane is empty and frivolous; from the point of view of the trivial plane, the tragic plane is embarrassing and overwrought. Once we’ve moved from one plane to the other, we forget why we could have felt the way we used to.

That’s not just any old distinction between two realms, that’s the one Koestler himself prioritizes. And following his basic principle that a creative spark is lit when two disparate “planes of ideas” intersect, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Vajifdar continuing:

“The highest form of human creativity,” Koestler writes, “is the endeavor to bridge the gap between the two planes. Both the artist and the scientist are gifted — or cursed — with the faculty of perceiving the trivial events of everyday experience sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity…”

William Blake made a similar observation in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, writing:

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

Finally, Vajifdar tells us why he finds Koestler’s definition of art maybe the best he’s ever read:

What I value in this definition of creativity is its emphasis on the subjective being of those who experience the work of art or scientific theory, a surer gauge than cataloguing formal properties or whether it’s “interesting.” Art has always seemed like a kind of sober drunkenness, or drunken sobriety. Most people probably have wondered whether the feelings they felt while drunk were more or less real than their sober feelings. Koestlerian art joins these seemingly irreconcilable feelings together.

Let’s just go one step further. In Promise and Fulfilment – Palestine 1917-1949, Koestler specifically singles out this intersection as an aspect of the experience of warfare:

This intense and perverse peace, superimposed on scenes of flesh-tearing and eardrum-splitting violence, is an archetype of war-experience. Grass never smells sweeter than in a dug-out during a bombardment when one’s face is buried in the earth. What soldier has not seen that caterpillar crawling along a crack in the bark of the tree behind which he took cover, and pursuing its climb undisturbed by the spattering of his tommy-gun? This intersecting of the tragic and the trivial planes of existence has always obsessed me in the Spanish Civil War, during the collapse of France, in the London blitz.


I am grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration, and that on the glamour of war which will follow it.

Spectacularly non-obvious, 2: threeness games

Friday, October 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — my own three-way play, and a little goose ethology from Konrad Lorenz ]

lorenz goose geese gander pecking order from laws of the game
Konrad Lorenz, Paul Leyhausen, Motivation of human and animal behavior: an ethological view, p 129


Returning to the topic of ternary logics and scissors paper stone, here’s another old post of mine (Dec 2000):

I’ve always thought it was a training in the complete frustration of the assumption that conflict could be decided, most of all by means of skill of any kind. I mean, if you want to decide on a random basis, toss a coin, and if you want to decide on a basis of power or skill, set up a contest in which superior power or skill succeeds…

In scissors paper stone you have a setup where (as in heads and tails) no choice is superior to any other as far as chance is concerned, but there’s a troubling “threeness” about the thing which means it’s not aligned with an “either/or” logic but with a subtler logic altogether.

Two other places where this kind of “intransitivity” relation can be found would be (a) the geese studied by Konrad Lorenz which had a pecking order “a > b > c > a” (ie of the three particular geese, one would always defer to the second, which would always defer to the third, which in turn would always defer to the first) — and this is a perfectly “natural” effect which Lorenz encountered in “real life” — and (b) the impossible triangle devised by L S and R Penrose, which is clearly and unambiguously paradoxical (though logically equivalent to the Lorenz geese as far as I can tell).

Anyhow, what I’m trying to suggest is that “scissors paper stone” can work a little like a koan, it can somehow challenge our usual binary asusmptions and train us in a more flexible and “lateral” way of thinking..


Some thoughts about a game (real or agent-based) in which three players (or sides) compete, two teaming up against one in constantly different configurations of challenge and victory (June 2005):

The idea is simplicity itself, putting it into words unambiguously is difficult.

Yesterday I was at a hotel swimming pool where two sons of another guest and my own son Emlyn were playing around together, all aged around 10-12, with nobody else there, and I asked them to play a game where one of the three would be “top guy” and the other two would try to dunk and generally overthrow him, and as soon as it became clear that the top guy had been dunked and dethroned, there would be a new “top guy” (one of the two who had been doing the overthrowing and come out the obvious winner) and the other two would pounce on him…

They were not evenly matched, but any one of them was easily outmatched by the other two working together, and being “top guy” meant your head was above water and you were, so to speak, “comfortable” — so there was a real premium on being “top guy”, and the other two were (at any time) eager to collaborate to get the position.

And there was no tendency for the two brothers to gang up against my son, because the immediacy of two defeating one was more urgent and compelling than any ideas of teaming by kinship interests, minor differences in strength and skill, etc…


Prisoners’ Dilemma deals with the essence of twoness, as do many win / lose games such as tennis or chess, and this game deals with the essence of threeness, as (in a very different mode) does paper scissors rock.

My sense from PSR, and reason for being particularly interested in threeness in games, is that PSR involves thinking in flagrant defiance of our usual binary logic as humans.

I suspect my threeness game could be paradigmatic for cooperation and competition, in that each player at any given moment is either “top guy” or “member of the opposition” — and thus plays either “sole defender” (competing without a trace of collaboration) or “team attacker” (cooperating to compete) at any give moment, but with a very rapid turnover between the two.

The kids seemed to enjoy the in-the-pool version yesterday, until it the water-play got a bit too rough after about forty minutes or an hour of enthusiastic splashing and dunking.

And finally:

As a game designer, I want to think through this mode of play, two against one with switching, in a number of media — water play, three-person tag, possible card-game instantiations, board games, a chess variant perhaps, a variant on my own HipBone Games, etc — and as a conceptual matrix for game-theorizing, modeling, understanding conflict and conflict resolution, etc.

I wonder what ideas and possible uses the basic idea might trigger in others…

In Brief: Azzam illustrates Levi-Strauss on Mythologiques

Friday, March 6th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the geometry of two miracle stories from Abdullah Azzam ]

SPEC DQ Azzam honey & vinegar

These two tales are taken from Abdullah Azzam, Signs of ar-Rahman in the Jihad of Afghanistan.


Binary oppositions seem to be basic to the human thought process, and this simple, elegant observation has in turn given rise to a number of interesting philosopphical explorations, some of which are expressed perhaps most powerully in diagrams. I am thinking here of the medieval square of opposition — as in this diagram taken from Georg Reisch, Margarita Phylosophica tractans de omni genere scibili, Basel 1517:

square_of_opposition SEMBL

Algirdas Greimas developed his semiotic square from this medieval diagram —


— and defines his square as the “visual representation of the logical articulation of any category”. In his “Towards a Theory of Modalities”, Greimas writes:

the terms manifestation vs. immanence .. can be compared profitably with the categories surface vs. deep in linguistics, manifest vs. latent in psychoanalysis, phenomenal vs. noumenal in philosophy, etc.

Then there’s Levi-Strauss and his triangle, essentially a variant on the same idea, applied by LS in his magnificent 4-volume Mythologiques to a wide range of myths — here’s the basic triangle for the first volume, The Raw and the Cooked:

LS culinary_triangle


What Reisch, Greimas and Levi-Strauss are all doing lies in its own distinct area of “visual thinking” at the confluence of logic, algebra, geometry and conceptual graphs — the same area my own DoubleQuotes and the HipBone and Sembl games are found in.

When people think about narrative — and it is or should be as hot a topic in strategy and counterterrorism as it is in myth, story-telling, film and their various related forms of criticism — they tend to think linearly, from beginning to end, noting the emotional expansions and contractions, the narrative shifts, the crescendos before the climax and its resolution.

My own style of thinking leans more to the atemporal or synchronic, which in turn is closer to the logical-algebraic-geometric-graphical mode of visual expression. Thus, for me, the “myth of Narcissus” is not a story-line but a geometry, a narrative formulation of the concept of reflection, or “bouncing back”. To adapt the Levi-Strauss triangle to the Narcissus narrative, then, we have:

Reflection triangle

while the two Azzam miracle tales in my DoubleQuote at the top of this post give us:

Azzam triangle

This in turn can become a square if we allow the four coordinates to be wine (intoxicant, bad), water (sobriety, good), vinegar (sour, bad) and honey (sweet, good). We notice here that water (sobriety, good) is the fourth which hovers unmentioned over the twin tales, just as Jung argued the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin into heaven was the “fourth” which “completed” — nb, this is from a psychological perspective — the celestial Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It remains for Jalaluddin Rumi to transcend the duality of the halal (sobriety) and the haram (intoxication) in his praise of his master, Shams of Tabriz:

In Shams al-Din-i Tabrizi you will discover a heart which is at once intoxicated and very sober.


In what sense or senses are Azzam’s two tales two, and in what sense are they one and the same?

Sources & suggested further readings include:

  • The Raw and the Cooked: Mythologiques, Volume 1
  • Anthropology for Beginners
  • Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
  • The Dual and the Real
  • Semiotics for Beginners
  • Semiotics and Language
  • Visual Memory (handbags!)
  • Punctualization: Law and Greimas
  • Square of Opposition
  • Visualizing knowledge
  • Signs of Ar-Rahman
  • Mystical Poems of Rumi
  • PR Beckman tweets on bridges and analogy

    Sunday, January 25th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Sembl — this post is for Cath Styles, who has been thinking bridges ]

    Pooh bridge


    My blog-friend PR Beckman, on a roll, has been tweeting Octavio Paz and Martin Esslin.

    I’ve taken Beckman’s tweets out of 140 characters and put them back into paragraphs, and given a little more context to some of them, but greatly though I admire Octavio Paz and much though I have puzzled over the Theater of the Absurd, I wouldn’t have run across these particular passages if I hadn’t found them in my Twitter feed today. Important.


    Octavio Paz, Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-garde:

    Analogy is the science of correspondences. It is, however, a science which exists only by virtue of differences. Precisely because this is not that, it is possible to extend a bridge between this and that. The bridge does not do away with distance: it is an intermediary; neither does it eliminate difrerences: it establishes a relation between different terms. Analogy is the metaphor in which otherness dreams of itself as unity, and difference projects itself illusively as identity. By means of analogy the confused landscape of plurality becomes ordered and intelligible. Analogy is the operation nby means of which, thanks to the play of similarities, we accept differences. Analogy does not elimiate differences: it redeems them, it makes their existence tolerable.

    Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, pp 419:

    the Theatre of the Absurd is concerned essentially with the evocation of concrete poetic images designed to communicate to the audience the sense of perplexity that their authors feel when confronted with the human condition

    and 428:

    The realization that thinking in poetic images has its validity side by side with conceptual thought and the insistence on a clear recognition of the function and possibilities of each mode does not amount to a return to irrationalism; on the contrary, it opens the way to a truly rational attitude.


    Let me add a quote of my own choosing, this one from Winnie the Pooh:

    Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.

    Illustration: Original, 1928 Illustration Of Pooh, Christopher Robin and Piglet Could Fetch Over $200K

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