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Physicists playing Calvinball

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — wishing I was fluent in music, and might as well ad mathematics, Hebrew, Arabic, classical Persian, you know the drill, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Japanese.. and their courtly modes and rituals, and could play badminton, chess, dharma combat, go, eh? ]
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Here’s a wonderful description of a game in which the rules — in this case, mathematical languages — change from move to move:

It happens again and again that, when there are many possible descriptions of a physical situation—all making equivalent predictions, yet all wildly different in premise—one will turn out to be preferable, because it extends to an underlying reality, seeming to account for more of the universe at once. And yet this new description might, in turn, have multiple formulations—and one of those alternatives may apply even more broadly. It’s as though physicists are playing a modified telephone game in which, with each whisper, the message is translated into a different language. The languages describe different scales or domains of the same reality but aren’t always related etymologically. In this modified game, the objective isn’t—or isn’t only—to seek a bedrock equation governing reality’s smallest bits. The existence of this branching, interconnected web of mathematical languages, each with its own associated picture of the world, is what needs to be understood.

That’s from A Different Kind of Theory of Everything in The New Yorker, an intriguing rerad, though as a non-physicist, seeing an equivalence with Calvinball — a game in which the game in play constantly changes — is about as far as I can go.

When I was talking with Ali Minai, I said that both music and math were languages I didn’t speak, and that cut me off from much by way of discourse with mathematicians (Ali himself) and musicians (my nephew the conductor Daniel Harding), and Ali commented that music is at least an embodied abstraction, whereas math is a pure abstraction with no embodied component. I hope I’ve understood and expressed that well enough. Anyway, it was a striking comment, and not one that had ever crossed my mind, on a topic of considerable interest and real regret.

**

Calvinball:

Richard Feynman would have enjoyed a Calvinball reference, methinks — but for any sober-sided physicists who don’t play bongos, here’s the philsopher Alasdair MacIntyre to much the same effect:

Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net.

**

I’d hoped to have more intriguing math or game quotes to offer here, but no luck so vfar, so I’m gonna post anyway.

It’s snowing metaphoric chyrons, ignore unless interested 5

Monday, February 18th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — a quiet weekend with no chyrons, but yasukuni, heavy metal, and three stunning headers on faith, forgiveness, and guns ]
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Kamikaze, yay! As war-relate epithets go, it’s among the very finest — strongest, most halo’d with associations — from my POV as mythographer and poet:

As myth and legend, dream and imagination have it in some circles in Japan, kamikaze is spirit wind, downward-rushing, warships targeted, headlong warplanes in full nose-dive, martyrdom almost — tinged with cherry blossom and droplets of blood, patriotism, self-sacrifice ..

The controversies swirling around the Yasukuni Shrine and its inclusion of war criminals as patriotic heroes is something we’ve addressed in Zenpundit before — for both the controversy and the mythopoetics, see these excerpts:

  • Zenpundit, Why is the Yasukuni Shrine so controversial?
  • Zenpundit, Japanese self-sacrifice with intent to kill Americans
  • **

    Saturday wasn’t a chyron-collecting day for me — I had the distinct pleasure of a visit from Omar Ali, and live conversation trumps Trump every time — so I don’t have many items to display here… but this one caught my eye today, Sunday, as much for the color of the header as for its provocative content:

    Heavy Metal Confronts Its Nazi Problem

    Among bands that are said today to fall into the category of N.S.B.M., as it is often called, are ?8?8??, from Russia, whose fans have given Nazi salutes during performances; a Finnish band, Goatmoon, which has performed in front of a backdrop resembling a Nazi flag; and Der Stürmer, from Greece, which shares a name with an anti-Semitic German newspaper whose editor, Julius Streicher, was convicted during the Nuremberg trials and then executed. Those bands and others, including Stahlfront, Sunwheel, Absurd, and Dark Fury, performed in December at the Asgardsrei festival, in Kiev, where Nazi-style displays abounded.

    Asgard, hoke of the Æsir in Norse mythology — sacred to some though not all Asatru in a way reminiscent of Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine..

    **

    Okay, moving along, here’s a football ref, buried in the text of Uranium One informant makes Clinton allegations to Congress:

    An FBI informant connected to the Uranium One controversy told three congressional committees in a written statement that Moscow routed millions of dollars to America with the expectation it would be used to benefit Bill Clinton’s charitable efforts while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quarterbacked a “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations.

    Don’t you just love quarterbacked? Like wingman and running point, it comes up all the time, but that was a stellar quarterback example in terms of paragraph content, ***** in my book.

    Which reminds me, I don’t think I’ve captured one of this week’s favorites yet — making an end run around Congress:

    Finally, I ran across three headers with religion-connected content today (Sunday at time of writing)…

    **

    A Senator praying his party would avoid a second shutdown may well be no more than a figure of speech:

    Republican Chuck Grassley was on the Senate floor, asking the entire chamber to join in seeking divine intervention with Trump. “Let’s all pray that the President will have the wisdom to sign the bill, so that the government doesn’t shut down,” he said, as Washington waited, once again, on its capricious President.

    Susan Glasser, the New Yorker writer, seems to take it a bit more seriously..

    So it’s finally come to this: only God can stop Trump, as members of his own party are admitting that they’ve basically given up trying.

    **

    The story here is best told in this image, the work of the artist Wendy MacNaughton recording the words of a National Portrait Gallery guard, Rhonda:

    Falling on one’s knees in prayer is definitely a mark of religion, even though Obama isn’t generally considered an object of religious devotion..

    **

    And this may be the most remarkable of the three. In the guns as religion article, it’s the mother of a teen-aged son who was shot and killed — a mother who is now a US Representative, Lucy McBath — who ssuggestd gun culture is an American quasi-religion — but she’s the one described in the article as deeply religious in her opposition to gun violence, refusing the request the death penalty for the killer of her son:

    We never considered pushing for the death penalty because I firmly believe that I am not the one to choose who lives and who dies. Morally and ethically, I believe that decision is left to God. We suffered so much pain and so much anguish, and I actually did not want to be the one to inflict that upon his family, and I didn’t want to be rooted in those kinds of decisions, because I truly believed that would be the noose around my neck and I would not be able to move forward to actively champion for safer gun laws and a safer gun culture, because that’s what I believed that I was given to do, and I couldn’t do that without forgiveness, and I couldn’t do that without releasing myself.

    That’s a stunning level of faith and forgiveness.

    Remember?

  • Zenpundit, From the Forgiveness Chronicles: Rwanda
  • Zenpundit, Of martyrdom and forgiveness
  • Zenpundit, More from the Forgiveness Chronicles
  • **

    Sources:

  • New Yorker, The New Republican Strategy for Dealing with the Emergency That Is Trump
  • Atlantic, The Obama Portraits Have Had a Pilgrimage Effect
  • New Yorker, Lucy McBath on the “Religion” of Guns in America
  • Sunday surprise special

    Monday, February 18th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — selected from among the very best of Dylan, Bach, and Joni ]
    .

    I don’t think I’ve ever posted either of these two pieces here on Zenpundit, but in my mind they’re the rock Passacaglia par excellence and the similarly towering classical exemplar — and if you’re exclusively classical in temperament, you may not know Bob Dylan‘s masterful Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands:

    while if you’re straight rock in taste and experience, may I introduce Bach‘s Passacaglia, certainly one of his greatest organ works, here played by Ton Koopman:

    **

    Okay, that’s the classical and rock compare and contrast — here’s Bob Dylan‘s peer — and there aren’t that many — Joni Mitchell, with her wonderful Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter:

    — and that’s a bonus..

    It’s snowing metaphoric chyrons, ignore unless interested 3

    Friday, February 15th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — further gleanings in the fields of MSNBC, my dialysis entertainment ]
    .

    Butterflies, no comment.

    Hoawk, ditto.

    **

    Feb 12 Nicolle:Wallace:

    Brand new reporting suggests that special counsel Robert Mueller may have evidence of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and that the investigation into a conspiracy or quid pro quo between Donald Trump campaign and the Russians is alive and kicking. Testimony from one of Miller’s top deputies delivered behind closed doors and in front of a judge in Paul Manafort’s case is akin to a unicorn sighting. It’s a rare transcript of a Mueller prosecutor describing in his own words one of the investigative theories around the question of conspiracy.

    Note reference to a unicorn sighting at top of that screen-grab

    __________________________________________________________________________

    MTP 2/13/2019
    DJT: We haven’t gotten it yet, we’ll be getting it, we’ll be looking for landmines, because you could have that you know, it’s been known to happen to people ..
    ChuckT: The landmines he’s referring to aren’t real landmines in front of his wall, I think he’s meaning political poison pills {metaphor for metaphor!!] ..
    ChuckT: Kasey, it seems as though everyone is playing a little political kabuki theater here ..
    It’s a sort of security blanket, rhetorically ..
    .
    Melber 2/13/2019:
    42 Rep Hakeem Jeffries: While Paul Manafort and others who were formerly associated with the Trump campaign continue to play checkers, while Mueller is playing 3-dimensional chess ..
    45 Rep Hakeem Jeffries: This is an Ari Melber freestyle that I’m doing right now — appropriate on this show, by the way
    47-8 Rep Hakeem Jeffries: That’s not the Hakeem Jeffries playbook, that’s the James Madison playabook .. *****
    this was a split decision — if this was a boxing match ..
    54: you’re talking about a double back-flip ..
    56: he’s the quarter-back of the [] .. who’s calling the play? ..
    59 triangular (check this) ..
    .
    Hardball 2/13/2019:
    14: david corn: you have to believe there’s aa lot of nodding & winking going on in that [cigar room] meeting and afterwards ..
    what they [russians] mean by peace is they win, you lose ..
    32: Chris M: many of the President’s Republican allies — is that what you call them, allies? stooges sometimes ..
    I represent West Point: that’s $250m that’s been appropriated, not contracted — so when Kevin McCarthy talks about a tool in a toolbox, he’s talking about a hammer to smash the new science buildings for those cadets, their new dorms — that’s the next generation of military leaders ..
    36/7 it’s a game — it’s a game to hide a failure when he could have had a good deal earlier ..
    55 Up next, a Trojan Horse in the White House .. [see War Hawk chyron above] *****

    All In Chris Hayes 2/13/2019
    06: Why is Trump’s campaign chairman, the guy who’s quarterbacking his campaign, taking some time out to meet with Konstantin Kilimnik who, according to court papers, is somebody the FBI has identified is somebody associated with Russian intelligence .
    19-20 rep jeffries: .. a russian operation to affect or interfere ith our elections, and that was a full courtr press. But what we also see is that there was a full court press of human intelligence agents or people with connections to the Russian intelligence agencies, who were obviously targeting the Trump campaign to get something out of them ..
    35 barbara boxer: if this is the way he plays, he should take his marbles and go home ..
    36: he’s cruising for a bruising ..
    37: you [jim manley] said mcconnell was basically ready to go to war ..
    .
    Rachel Maddow 2/13/2019:

    In that case, the case of Mike Flynn and his abrted sentencing hearing, you might notice a little melody, a little tune that recurs, that is becoming sort of a theme song for all
    When we look at these cases, when we can now see, over time, with all of these cases and all these dozens of indictments and dozens of
    .defendants, we can now see a little bit of a recurring melody, a little theme that you can recognize in how judges react when they hear about, when they see evidence about the alleged or confessed crimes of the people who have been caught up thus far in this investigation ..
    We also see that tune, all over today’s news, in multiple cases ..
    That same theme, that same little melody seems to be applying when it comes to the new case of Roger Stone tune ..
    But in the middle of all these things, the theme, the melody, is not quite recognizable. I mean, who has won, going up against the Mueller investigation ir any of the related prosecutions?
    That theme, which we can hear is running threrough all of these different cases and all of these different stories that bre in today’s news, is its loudest and clearest tonight when it comes to the President’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort ..

    ,
    Bryan Williams 2/13/2019:
    Is it fair to cast this in Hannah-Barbera terms and say that the folks on Capitol Hill are anxious to maybe just gently pull the pin out of this grenade, get it passed, and toss it down Pennsylvania Avenue?
    You really need to go for this .. to the mat ..
    ____________________________________________________________________________

    Nicolle Wallace 2/14/2019:

    Because being at war with Nancy Pelosin will feel like a walk innthe park compared to the subversive, quiet, silent, sneak attacks from Senate Republicans. I mean, Nancy Pelosi is a master tactician, a master strategist, and a brilliant public sort of leader band general of her troops. Mitch McCaonnell is, sort of, plays cloak-and-dagger, and this White House won’t see his attacks coming ..

    Velshi & Ruhle 2/14/2019:

    All we can try and do is to ride the bucking bronco of change as it happens .. *****

    Pelosi 2/14/2019?:

    The President making an end-run around Congress ..

    **

    Two Bolton tweets:

    The human voice, counterpoint, & the analysis of complex systems

    Saturday, February 9th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — with Mike Sellers and Ali Minai particularly in mind, and more to come.. ]
    .

    Roomful of Teeth:

    That’s composer Caroline Shaw‘s Partita for 8 Voices, a piece she wrote for Roomful of Teeth.

    A piece she composed and wrote for them — in the remainder of this post, we’ll explore the overlap of text (writing) and music (composition) in increasing subtlety and detail..

    **

    I’m brought to make this post by a paragraph I read in a fascinating New Yorker article, Roomful of Teeth Is Revolutionizing Choral Music. Roomful of Teeth is the group whose music I first praised in Pulitzer : Lamar :: Nobel : Dylan?, and showcase again in the video clip above.

    Here’s that New Yorker para:

    The human voice is the world’s most astonishing instrument, it’s often said. It’s capable of everything from a trill to a bark to an ear-splitting scream, from growling harmonics to liquid acrobatics, lofted on the breath like a lark on an updraft. Instrument is the wrong word, really. The voice is more like a chamber ensemble: winds and strings and blaring horns, strung together end to end. It’s a pump organ, a viola, an oboe, and the bell of a trumpet, each instrument passing the sound along to the next, adding volume and overtones at every step. Throw in the percussion of the lips and tongue, and the echoing amphitheatre of the skull, and you have a full orchestra playing inside you.

    My aim in this post is to add that “full orchestra playing inside you” to that other internal polyphony of contrasting desires, identities, and emergent thoughts, and the external polyphony of all those voices with a stake in our common concerns, risk assessments and deliberations — which are constituent of our complex analytic topics.

    Done.

    **

    The rest is context…

    I’ve often talked about the notion that the analysis of complex human systems involves dealing with multiple stakeholder voices, also on occasion with the many internal voices within each individual, and suggested that music offers the clearest equivalent or analogy that humans successfully and repeatedly navigate. Specifically, the twin notions of polyphony — the sounding together of many voices — and more specifically counterpoint — the juxtaposition of conflicting voices and the possible resolution of their conflicts from dissonance to harmony in an iterative process — are clearly relevant to analytic practice, albeit drawing on a tradition that will seem wildly cross-disciplinary to many analysts.

    Relevant here is Edward Said‘s definition of counterpoint:

    In counterpoint a melody is always in the process of being repeated by one or another voice: the result is horizontal, rather than vertical, music. Any series of notes is thus capable of an infinite set of transformations, as the series (or melody or subject) is taken up first by one voice then by another, the voices always continuing to sound against, as well as with, all the others. Instead of the melody at the top being supported by a thicker harmonic mass beneath (as in largely vertical nineteenth century music), Bach’s contrapuntal music is regularly composed of several equal lines, sinuously interwoven, working themselves out according to stringent rules

    In my view , which I have repeatedly expressed, Johann Sebastian Bach, the master of contrapuntal writing, is a significant exemplar for us at this time. And if it should be argued that musical methods cannot be transposed — another musical term — to matters of verbal thought, let me say that the great Bach pianist Glenn Gould towards the end of his life made specifically contrapuntal human voice radio plays for the Canadian Broadcasting Company..

    **

    Gould’s contrapuntal mind:

    Among Gould‘s eccentricities — David Howes in Glenn Gould’s Contrapuntal Constitution calls them bi-centricities, a phrase that reminds us of Arthur Koestler‘s notion of the creative leap as the bisociation of two planes or matrices, are:

    the way he liked to have one AM and one FM station playing all the time in his apartment, one for news, the other for music; the way he could learn a score while talking on the phone; and the way he enjoyed eavesdropping on three or four conversations at the same time going on at neighbouring tables in the restaurants he haunted (Kostelanetz 1983: 127).

    We can see here that Gould‘s basic thinking is in terms of multiple voices, often contrasting, in simultaneous awareness — Gould, Howes continues, spoke of counterpoint as “an explosion of simultaneous ideas”. As Gould puts it, Howes reports, when speaking of his radio programs for human voices:

    The basis of it was that we tried to have situations arise cogently from within the framework of the program in which the two or three voices … [recorded previously in conversation with Gould, but with the latter’s voice edited out for the final version] … could be overlapped, in which they would be heard talking – simultaneously, but from different points of view – about the same subject. We also tried to treat these voices as though they belonged to characters in a play, though all the material was gained from interviews. It was documentary material, treated in a sense as drama (cited in Payzant 1982: 131).

    This, then, is Gould‘s contrapuntal radio, and we can see Gould vividly transposing conytrapuntal imagination from the musical sphere to that of the varieties of human verbalization.

    **

    As not an aside but the re-introduction of a theme previously only hinted at, here is Arthur Koestler on the conceptual or creative leap:

    **

    Okay, our concept of music must shift, change, expand, if we are to consider Gould‘s Idea of North as a musical composition — in ways that are consistent with my own development of contrapuntal analysis. As Anthony Cushing explains in Glenn Gould and ‘Opus 2’: An outline for a musical understanding of contrapuntal radio with respect to The Idea of North:

    A musical understanding of North requires re-thinking some traditional elements of music theory: harmony must take into consideration semantic content and shifting topic areas; form follows somewhat traditional musical structures (ternary, binary, etc.); and texture encompasses layering of literal voices and dispenses with traditional notions of melody. One must also consider the spatial component of tape composition, in which voices inhabit locations in a sound field. The later documentaries in the trilogy and the Leopold Stokowski and Pablo Casals tribute radio documentaries contribute to a more complete musical concept of contrapuntal radio — complex polyphonic textures, stereo sound, pitch-based harmonic content — the germ of contrapuntal radio was developed and actualized in North.

    I’d like to take that lead, given us by the masterful pianist Glenn Gould, across into the field of analytic understanding — as a stream of analysis complementary and in counterpoint (for instance) to “big data” analytic tools — contrapuntal analysis characteristically working with a few, humanly-selected verbal utterances rather than data-points algorithmically-selected in the millions.

    **

    Moving to a larger geopolitical canvas, Edward Said once told an interviewer:

    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.

    We see here the invocation of Bach in a context of geopolitical analysis — one paragraph in the life-work of Said, who was a music critic as well as a well-known Palestinian-American public intellectual.

    That single paragraph — and Gould‘s clear understanding that contrapuntal thinking can be applied to the polyphony of human voices, not just in the musical sphere — prompts me to go further, and assert that complexity studies with application to the human condition and intelligence and geopolitical analysis will all, sooner or later, arrive at the practice of contrapuntal thinking as basic to their deeper purposes.

    **

    Refocusing at the national level, on Glenn Gould‘s native Canada:

    I’ve mentioned the simultaneity of voices in social contexts such as listening, hearing and understanding the views and voices of multiple stakeholder. In similar vein, Howes suggests Gould‘s own taste for counterpoint stems from and reflects the Canadian Constitution:

    Gould understood music to provide a model of society, and the performing artist, hence, to be performing society, as well as music. Along these lines, counterpoint, Gould’s preferred musical style, provides a specially apt model for comprehending the constitutional structure of the Canadian state. Gould’s interest in keeping the different voices of a fugue distinct, equal, and bound together parallels the concern of the Canadian state to keep the different parties to Confederation distinct, equal and bound together. In this difficult task, however, there is always a risk of overemphasizing or losing one of the voices. If Quebec is proclaimed “a distinct society” will that disturb the equality of the provinces (for surely all are distinct); if it is not, will that lead to the separation of Quebec and the break-up of Confederation? This bi-cultural counterpoint confronts Canadians daily, from the bilingual product information on their cereal boxes to the reports of English/French political jousting on the evening news.

    Counterpoint, or in more general terms, polyphony, is non-dialectical, for it involves the interweaving of voices, of ideas, rather than the Hegelian process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Polyphony as social theory does not, therefore, entail the negation of any countervailing views the way, say, a dialectical social philosophy would. With polyphony, accommodation or peaceful co-presence takes the place of negation.

    **

    Readings:

  • New Yorker, Roomful of Teeth Is Revolutionizing Choral Music
  • NY Times, The Glenn Gould Contrapuntal Radio Show
  • Open Culture, Listen to Glenn Gould’s Shockingly Experimental Radio Documentary
  • Hermitary, Glenn Gould’s The Solitude Trilogy
  • Canadian Icon, Glenn Gould’s Contrapuntal Constitution
  • Politics & Culture, An interview with Edward Said

  • Charles Cameron, Pulitzer : Lamar :: Nobel : Dylan?
  • Charles Cameron, Getting deeper into Koestler

  • Mike Sellers, Advanced Game Design: A systems Approach
  • Ali Minai, A core concern of our research is the desire to catch ‘creativity in the act.’
  • **

    More Teeth — your reward for reading this far:

    And BachGlenn Gould plays Contrapunctus IX from The Art of Fugue — on organ:


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