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From John Robb to Jean Paul Gaultier

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — via Christopher Alexander, Arthur Koestler, James Clerk Maxwell, Hermann Hesse, and Wells Cathedral ]

My topic today is a comment that John Robb just posted on his FaceBook page. As so often, I’ll proceed by indirection. Here’s a wild DoubleQuote illustrating a blogger’s perceived similarity between the “scissors arch” at Wells Cathedral and one of the models in Jean Paul Gaultier‘s 2009 Spring collection:

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 wells cathedral 1


John Robb posted:

Some philosophical thinking:

Human knowledge, at an elemental level, can be described as a “transformation” of data.
Complex ideas are built using layers of “transformations” with each layer feeding into the next (think pyramid)
We teach these transformations at home and at school to our children.
We communicate by sharing transformations.
Questions We Need to Answer in the Age of Cognitive Machines:
How many transformations would it take to model all human knowledge?
How deep (how many layers of transformation is human knowledge) is human knowledge? Both on average or at its deepest point?
How broad is human knowledge (non-dependent transformations)?
How fast is the number of transformations increasing and how fast is it propagating across the human network?


My interest is in John’s pyramid, considered as a pyramid of arches.

My starting point (with Hermann Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game ever in background) is Arthur Koestler‘s observation in The Act of Creation that the creative spark occurs at the intersection of two planes of thought —


— or to put that another way, that the creative leap is an associative leap between two concepts, disciplines or aspects of knowledge — thus, an arch:




— which in my own DoubleQuotes notation gives us:

Karman Gogh mini

— thus, many arches build to a pyramid:

pyramid of arches


Of course, with arches one has to be very circumspect, buecause in rich contexts, they’re not simple creatures:

rib vaulting flying buttresses

Among the greatest such arches I know are Taniyama‘s 1955 “surmise” as Barry Mazur puts it, that “every elliptic equation is associated with a modular form” — arching way above my pay grade — an insight that was to bear rich fruit forty years later, in Andrew Wiles‘ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem; and Erwin Panofsky‘s great book similarly linking the structures of medieval cathedrals and scholastic thought:

panofsky gothic architecture scholasticism


White we’re on the topic of gothic iconography, another form of arch we might consider is the vesica piscis:


— frequently found in medieval art and architecture:



I’m not suggesting, John, that your inquiry and mine are identical — far from it — but that they have a sufficiently rich overlap that an appreciation of one is likely to spark insight in terms of the other.

And with Hesse’s Game, with which I recall from our earlieest conversations you are familiar..

I mentioned Hesse and Christopher Alexander in my bracketed note at the top of this post. It’s my impression that both were striving for a similar encyclopedic architecture to the pyramid John proposes. Hesse on the Glass Bead Game:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

And Hesse is clear that individual moves within the games take the form of parallelisms, resemblances, analogical leaps — writing, for instance:

Beginners learned how to establish parallels, by means of the Game’s symbols, between a piece of classical music and the formula for some law of nature.

Speaking of the playing of his great Game, Hesse said:

I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of the mind.

And Alexander? His book A Pattern Language is pretty clearly his own variant on a Glass Bead Game, following on from what he terms his Bead Game Conjecture (1968 – p. 75 at link):

That it is possible to invent a unifying concept of structure within which all the various concepts of structure now current in different fields of art and science, can be seen from a single point of view. This conjecture is not new. In one form or another people have been wondering about it, as long as they have been wondering about structure itself; but in our world, confused and fragmented by specialisation, the conjecture takes on special significance. If our grasp of the world is to remain coherent, we need a bead game; and it is therefore vital for us to ask ourselves whether or not a bead game can be invented.


Gentle readers:

For your consideration, delight, temptation, confusion or disagreement, here are three more of Gaultier’s arches, as perceived by Kayan’s Design World:

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 1

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 7

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 10

Avian Intelligence Ops

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with a sideward glance at the rights of dolphins and trees ]

For your refreshment and edification:

— while:

I fully agree with Ohad Hatzofe who says in that second clip:

Birds and other aninmals, but especially flying animals, don’t know political boundaries, and if there are fences on the ground, to them it’s not a barrier, and we’re to protect them and to treat them as such. The birds are not Israeli birds or Lebanese birds, or European birds passing over our skies; these are this earth’s birds..



We are asked to decide whether the world’s cetaceans have standing to bring suit in their own name under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. We hold that cetaceans do not have standing under these statutes.

Judge William A. Fletcher

It looks as though it is past time for birds, dolphins and other creatures to have international legal standing of the kind suggested by Justice Douglas in his dissenting opinion, Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972):

The critical question of “standing” would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage.

—and further discussed by Christopher Stone in what is perhaps the only law book I have found it a pleasure to read, Should Trees Have Standing?

What you say on Twitter, stays on Twitter

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — plus a quick followup to my post on Political candidates and religion ]


Also of interest:

to which Sarah Posner responded:

This just might be my Favorite Party Political Poster of All Time

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — at least for the moment ]

— since I am a Brit, Arthurian, a child of Albion, a lover of poetry and myth..


.. and partial to Python:

On the orthogonality of rabbit and duck

Monday, February 1st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a brief comic digression about them and us ]

Generally, we’re stuck with this:

It is a good one, I’ll admit.

I’m inclined, however, to agree with this analysis on occasion:

What I hadn’t realized, though, is that the theriomorphic rabbit and duck divinities in question are orthogonally related:

Very clever!


Two sides to every coin, two hands for every koan?

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