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Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

Monday, July 11th, 2016

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Storm of Creativity2017

wright-brothers-biographyserendipities

Paradisejssundertow

white horsewashington

 

The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?

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 ]
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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…

More:

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…

Sunday surprise – beauties, Beauty

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — i’m inclined to call these beauties respective variants on Beauty physical, mental, and spiritual ]
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Beauty is beautiful, and never more so than when she conveys Beauty:

**

**

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The beauties:

  • Surfer Maud Le Car
  • Violinist Hilary Hahn
  • Professor Lera Boroditsky
  • I’ve posted la belle Hélène‘s interpretation of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne on Zenpundit before, but in case you missed it, there’s also..

  • Pianist Hélène Grimaud
  • On getting it right, eh?

    Thursday, April 25th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — with a little help from the Buddha, fake quotes, self-referential paradox, a pinch of salt, and two tbsps of anthropology ]
    .

    Over the last ten days we have seen a whole lot of speculation, misinformation, spin and gossip masquerading as analysis and journalism, and that was on my mind when I ran across an alleged Buddha-quote that told me to use my common sense — and since my common sense told me there probably wasn’t a phrase in Pali, the language of the earliest Buddhist texts, that would correspond too closely to the highly idiomatic English usage, common sense, I thought I should check it out with Fake Buddha Quotes, my go-to place for checking what the Buddha is supposed to have said:

    I’m pretty sure the Buddha never said “Pretty sure I never said that” too, for much the same reason.

    **

    But what delights me most about all this is just how self-referential this all is: the Buddha allegedly warns us against trusting what we read even when it’s attributed to him, in what turns out to be a faux quote attributed to him, based on a real quote that reads (in one translation):

    Any teaching should not be accepted as true for the following ten reasons: hearsay, tradition, rumor, accepted scriptures, surmise, axiom, logical reasoning, a feeling of affinity for the matter being pondered, the ability or attractiveness of the person offering the teaching, the fact that the teaching is offered by “my” teacher. Rather, the teaching should be accepted as true when one knows by direct experience that such is the case.

    **

    Fpr what it’s worth, the abbreviated version doesn’t mean the same as the original. From Koun Franz at Sweeping Zen:

    his is a very different idea. The original says we need to verify through direct experience; the popular version says that we can stand back from the practice, at a distance, and use reason to determine its authenticity.

    Or this, from Bodhipaksa, the Fake Buddha Quotes guy, :

    The Buddha of course isn’t saying we should jettison reason and common sense. What he’s implying is that both those things can be misleading and what’s ultimately the arbiter of what’s true is experience. It’s when you “know for yourselves” that something is true through experience that you know it’s true.

    **

    Another comment on the same page led me to this first comment on cultures and languages —

    which in turn reminded me of the second, a long-time favorite of mine from the time when I was some sort of Anthro professor in dreamy Oregon…

    **

    And, y’lnow, both those quotes in my second pair give you a visceral sense of what today’s SWJ article by Robert R. Greene Sands and Thomas J. Haines, Promoting Cross-Cultural Competence in Intelligence Professionals is very rightly on about, though it’s all phrased in a manner so abstract you might easily miss the point…

    Mitigating cognitive, cultural and a host of tradecraft biases is essential for intelligence professionals to navigate through today’s culturally complex environments. Adopting the perspective of contemporary cultural groups, including nation-states, often defies understanding because the intelligence professional is challenged to both appreciate and consequently discern meaning of behavior that is predicated on vastly different beliefs and value systems. Fundamental to this dissonance is a markedly different cultural reality resulting from different histories, traditions and the stasis of culture. The professional’s western and deeply seated worldview impedes either the analysis itself, or is perjured by the cognitive restrictions imposed by the structured analytic strategies used.

    The quote about the Wintu — it’s from Dorothy Lee, Linguistic Reflection of Wintu Thought, Chapter 9 in Dennis and Barbara Tedlock‘s Teachings from the American earth: Indian religion and philosophy — goes on to say:

    The Wintu relationship with nature is one of intimacy and mutual courtesy. He kills a deer only when he needs it for his livelihood, and utilizes every part of it, hoofs and marrow and hide and sinew and flesh. Waste is abhorrent to him, not because he believes in the intrinsic virtue of thrift, but because the deer had died for him.

    Now there‘s “a markedly different cultural reality” for you!

    We spend far too much time on content, and not enough time on form

    Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

    [ by Charles Cameron — recursion as form — this one’s for analysts: poets should know it already ]

    .

    We spend far too much time on content, and not enough time on form.

    We spend far too much time on the data, and not enough time on relationships. It is pattern that connects the dots with accuracy, not more dots – quality of insight, not quantity of information.

    And pattern is underlying form.

    Haiku is a form. The sonnet is a form, the sonata is a form. And just to juxtapose sonnet and sonata is to recognize the formal relationship between them.

    1.

    Recursion is the form that Doug Hofstadter explores in his book, Godel Escher Bach, and you’ll find it every time one mirror reflects another mirror (what color does a chameleon turn when placed on a mirror?), every time there’s a doll inside a doll inside a Matrioshka doll, often in the form of a paradox (“this sentence is meaningless”) – and when people take photos of themselves holding photos of themselves…

    as in the pic of Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle and (in case your politics doesn’t agree so much with Chomsky) the one below them of Jacob Appelbaum and Donald Knuth in my “specs” image at the top of this post.

    2.

    Content can be powerful, but form really doubles up on the power. Here’s one way of thinking about it: form is what tightens information into meaning.

    A couple of news reports in the last couple of days have caught my attention because of their form:

    Charter of Open Source Org is Classified, CIA Says

    Open Source Works, which is the CIA’s in-house open source analysis component, is devoted to intelligence analysis of unclassified, open source information. Oddly, however, the directive that established Open Source Works is classified, as is the charter of the organization. In fact, CIA says the very existence of any such records is a classified fact.

    “The CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request,” wrote Susan Viscuso, CIA Information and Privacy Coordinator, in a November 29 response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Jeffrey Richelson of the National Security Archive for the Open Source Works directive and charter.

    “The fact of the existence or nonexistence of requested records is currently and properly classified and is intelligence sources and methods information that is protected from disclosure,” Dr. Viscuso wrote.

    This is a surprising development since Open Source Works — by definition — does not engage in clandestine collection of intelligence. Rather, it performs analysis based on unclassified, open source materials.

    That’s hilarious, it’s so misguided: I don’t know whether to laugh or barf (not a word I ever expected to use in my writings, but there you go).

    3.

    That’s sad, this one’s just plain tragic:

    Protesters calling for religious tolerance attacked with stones, threatened with death

    Police are investigating a violent attack on a ‘silent protest’ calling for religious tolerance, held at the Artificial Beach to mark Human Rights Day.

    Witnesses said a group of men threw rocks at the 15-30 demonstrators, calling out threats and vowing to kill them.

    One witness who took photos of the attacked said he was “threatened with death if these pictures were leaked. He said we should never been seen in the streets or we will be sorry.”

    Killing your enemies for reasons of religion is one thing: killing those who work for peace between you and your religious enemies is no worse of the face of it – it’s religious killing, no more and no less, in both cases — but it drives the point home with considerable, poignant force.

    Keep your eye out for recursion, it’s an interesting business. And respect form – it empowers content.

    4.

    You’ll find recursion right at the heart of Shakespeare: his plays were performed in a round theater (the “wooden O” of Henry V) called the Globe, whose motto was “totus mundus agit histrionem” – roughly, “the whole world enacts a play” – a notion which Shakespeare put into the mouth of the melancholy Jaques in As You Like It:

    All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players.
    They have their exits and their entrances,
    And one man in his time plays many parts…

    A martial version of this idea, indeed, can be found in the philosopher Plotinus, who wrote in his Enneads (3.ii.15):

    Men directing their weapons against each other — under doom of death yet neatly lined up to fight as in the pyrrhic sword-dances of their sport — this is enough to tell us that all human intentions are but play, that death is nothing terrible, that to die in a war or in a fight is but to taste a little beforehand what old age has in store, to go away earlier and come back the sooner. So for misfortunes that may accompany life, the loss of property, for instance; the loser will see that there was a time when it was not his, that its possession is but a mock boon to the robbers, who will in their turn lose it to others, and even that to retain property is a greater loss than to forfeit it.

    Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing.

    5.

    I thought it would be interesting to see if recursion had power, too, in the field of religion, and this passage from Ephesians (4.8) sprang to mind…

    When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men…

    That’s a lovely recursion, “leading captivity captive”. But I think we can go deeper. John Donne‘s sonnet Death be not proud reaches to the very heart of the Christian message, it seems to me –it parallels the passage from Ephesians closely, while focusing in on the hope of resurrection with its stunning conclusion:

    Death, thou shalt die.

    Here’s the whole thing: profound content in impeccable form:

    Death be not proud

    Death be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
    For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
    Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
    From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
    Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
    And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
    Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
    Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
    And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
    And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
    And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
    One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
    And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

    6.

    What do you think?


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