[ by Charles Cameron -- here's today's windfall apple from the tree of creative delight ]
On March 31st, 2012 (or very likely the evening of the day before, because the clock this blog runs on is always way ahead of me) I posted a graphic here:
The upper image illustrates Theodore von Kármán‘s mathematics of turbulent flow, the lower image Vincent van Gogh‘s view of the night sky, and I juxtaposed them using my “DoubleQuotes” format to illustrate the underlying unity of the arts and sciences, and the breathtaking beauty and insight we can derive when we recognize a “semblance” — a rich commonality that transcends our usual division of concepts into separate and un-mutually-communicative “disciplines” and “silos”.
Apparently, this kind of cognition — the basis of every DoubleQuote, and of every move in one of the Hipbone / Sembl games — has now been termed “pattern thinking”.
According to Amazon, Temple Grandin and Richard Panek‘s book The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum was released April 30, 2013 although books are often available a couple of weeks ahead of release date, and galleys and proofs earlier still).
I’ve given a great deal of thought to the topic of different ways of thinking. In fact, my pursuit of this topic has led me to propose a new category of thinker in addition to the traditional visual and verbal: pattern thinkers.
Obviously, that’s something i’d want to find out more about, so I read on into the article, expecting good things. Imagine my surprise when I read this paragraph, though:
Vincent van Gogh’s later paintings had all sorts of swirling, churning patterns in the sky — clouds and stars that he painted as if they were whirlpools of air and light. And, it turns out, that’s what they were! In 2006, physicists compared van Gogh’s patterns of turbulence with the mathematical formula for turbulence in liquids. The paintings date to the 1880s. The mathematical formula dates to the 1930s. Yet van Gogh’s turbulence in the sky provided an almost identical match for turbulence in liquid.
Okay, I just received my review copy of Hofstadter and Sander, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking — I guess I’ll have to review Grandin and Panke here, too.
[ by Charles Cameron -- on caterpillars, butterflies, psyche and the alephs of Georg Cantor, with a glance at the vertiginous idea it might be "boxes all the way up and down"... ]
Let’s get the science — which is quite fascinating — taken care of first. Here’s our best current visualization of how a caterpillar, after crafting its cocoon, prepares to become a butterfly:
Words can sometimes tell us some things that images can’t — or explain things to parts of us that simply cannot comprehend them visually — so here for parallel processing is an account of part of the same business from Scientific American:
How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly? What happens inside a chrysalis or cocoon?
First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs remain dormant throughout the caterpillar’s life; in other species, the discs begin to take the shape of adult body parts even before the caterpillar forms a chrysalis or cocoon. Some caterpillars walk around with tiny rudimentary wings tucked inside their bodies, though you would never know it by looking at them.
Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth.
We watch the deer, and when they’re sick they know which plant is their aspirin: they eat that green medicine, and drink water. So we have deer medicine. We don’t need the mass-produced kind.
I don’t have the exact quote, but he also observed somewhat wryly that scouts from pharmaceutical companies used to watch him and see what medicines he used, in much the same way…
And if there’s any natural process that humans have watched with equivalent metaphysical interest to that which they may have shown in observing the bear’s pattern of hibernation and return, it would have been the process of metamorphosis in butterflies — whose name in Greek, psyche, is also the word for soul.
WB Yeats had a sense of the butterfly transcending both day-to-day human logic and death itself, when he wrote in his poem Tom O’Roughley:
‘Though logic choppers rule the town,
And every man and maid and boy
Has marked a distant object down,
An aimless joy is a pure joy,’
Or so did Tom O’Roughley say
That saw the surges running by,
‘And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey.
adding just a few lines later:
What’s dying but a second wind?
What I’d like to do here is to take us from the plodding science of linear thought to which Yeats was (among other forms of linearity) objecting, towards the science — and poetry — of complexity, of nuance.
And I’d like to do it by skipping a couple of thoughts like a stone across water, inviting you to watch the ripples…
These are the leaps that connect the dots.. the creative leaps. And some leaps, it seems to me, are bigger and more demanding than others.
Is the leap from cocoon to butterfly in Hutching‘s quote really quite a huge leap? It certainly keeps some of our best scientists busy uncovering its hidden secrets. And the leap from butterfly to tornado, that Lorenz made? That would appear to me to be a larger leap, requiring a different mode of perception. And skipping from Hutchings to Lorenz, can we skim our stone of thought even further?
Putting two and two together is one thing: imagining “aleph null” for the first time, as Cantor did, that would be something else altogether. From two to four, I’m tempted to say, is a quantitative leap, while the imaginative leap from four, ten, or ten thousand to the alephs is qualitative.
How should we recognize and connect widely separated — yet deeply entangled — dots? What would prove to be the richest and most profound of creative leaps? Is there a move that will take us not just out of this box into the box it came in — but out of a whole matrioshka nest of boxes?
Those are the questions in my sandbox about now.
When we next meet, I’ll try to tie them in with this diagram that Adam Elkus recently pointed us to —
[ by Charles Cameron -- the art of memory, with a sidelong glance at swans, typhoid and theodicy ]
Thomas Harris (and by extension Hannibal Lector) has been interested in memory palaces for a long time. We can begin to infer this this because Lector describes his hobby in Red Dragon (1981) and again in Silence of the Lambs (1988):
So — church collapses?
As you can tell from that last comment in the Silence of the Lambs quote — to my mind the most brilliant presentation of the problem of theodicy for our day — if there’s a God worth defending, it has to be a God who allows sparrows to fall, typhoid to accompany swans in the vast ecology of existence, churches to collapse on worshipers, and “bad things to happen to good people” from time to time.
And such things, specifically including collapses of religious buildings atop worshipers, do indeed happen in fact as well as fiction.
And they don’t only happen to Christians, either… Bon is the shamanistic religious tradition of Tibet, prior to — and later, somewhat assimilated by — Buddhism…
The thing is, when I read that Hannibal Lector collected church collapses, it not only made me start to take note of them myself, it also made me think of Simonides. As Frances Yates tells us in her book, The Art of Memory:
At a banquet given by a nobleman of Thessaly named Scopas, the poet Simonides of Ceos chanted a lyric poem in honour of his host but including a passage in praise of Castor and Pollux. Scopas meanly told the poet that he would only pay him halfthe sum agreed upon for the panegyric and that he must obtain the balance from the twin gods to whom he had devoted half the poem. A little later, a message was brought in to Simonides that two young men were waiting outside who wished to see him. He rose from the banquet and went out but could find no one. During his absence the roof of the banqueting hall fell in, crushing Scopas and all the guests to death beneath the ruins; the corpses were so mangled that the relatives who came to take them away for burial were unable to identify them. But Simonides remembered the places at which they had been sitting at the table and was therefore able to indicate to the relatives which were their dead. The invisible callers, Castor and Pollux, had handsomely paid for their share in the panegyric by drawing Simonides away from the banquet just before the crash. And this experience suggested to the poet the principles of the art of memory of which he is said to have been the inventor. Noting that it was through his memory of the places at which the guests had been sitting that he had been able to identify the bodies, he realised that orderly arrangement is essential for good memory.
And by way of reinforcing my Lector-Simonides conjecture, Lector certainly had a remarkable interest in memory, as we learn from his dialogue with Clarice Starling:
“Did you do the drawings on your walls, Doctor?”
“Do you think I called in a decorator?”
“The one over the sink is a European city?”
“It’s Florence. That’s the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo, seen from the Belvedere.”
“Did you do it from memory, all the detail?”
“Memory, Officer Starling, is what I have instead of a view.”
A belvedere, from the Italian, is “a structure (as a cupola or a summerhouse) designed to command a view” — and a beautiful view at that. Belvedere is also, ironically, the name of the town in Ohio where Buffalo Bill, Lector’s serial killer ex-patient, lives…
So it didn’t surprise me to discover that in Hannibal (1999), the book that follows Silence, this brilliant man who as we have seen collects church collapses and has an exquisite memory in place of a view, is revealed as a practitioner of Simonides’ art:
The memory palace was a mnemonic system well known to ancient scholars and much information was preserved in them through the Dark Ages while Vandals burned the books. Like scholars before him, Dr. Lecter stores an enormous amount of information keyed to objects in his thousand rooms, but unlike the ancients, Dr.Lecter has a second purpose for his palace; sometimes he lives there. He has passed years among its exquisite collections, while his body lay bound on a violent ward with screams buzzing the steel bars like hell’s own harp.
Hannibal Lecter’s palace is vast, even by medieval standards. Translated to the tangible world it would rival the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul for size and complexity.
We catch up to him as the swift slippers of his mind pass from the foyer into the Great Hall of the Seasons. The palace is built according to the rules discovered by Simonides of Ceos and elaborated by Cicero four hundred years later; it is airy, high-ceilinged, furnished with objects and tableaux that are vivid, striking, sometimes shocking and absurd, and often beautiful. The displays are well spaced and well lighted like those of a great museum. But the walls are not the neutral colors of museum walls. Like Giotto, Dr. Lecter has frescoed the walls of his mind.
Brilliant. And a delight, years later, to have my hunch connecting the church collapses and prison cell with only memory for a view with Simonides and the Art of Memory confirmed by the third book and film in the series…
You’ll note, btw, that the Lector (caveat lector) of the first two books has now become Lecter in alignment with the films starring Anthony Hopkins.
I love symmetries, so let’s move from the most monstrous criminal mind in literature, to the greatest detective…
Sherlock Holmes — in his latest television incarnation — builds memory palaces of a sort, though I’m not sure Simonides would recognize them.
I’m posting the clip from the series here to honor my son Emlyn, with whom I have been watching the series…
In 1596 Matteo Ricci taught the Chinese how to build a memory palace. He told them that the size of the palace would depend on how much they wanted to remember: the most ambitious construction would consist of several hundred buildings of all shapes and sizes, “the more there are the better it will be,” said Ricci, thought he added that one did not have to build on a gradiose scale right away. One coul create modest palaces, or one could build less dramatic structures such as a temple compound, a cluster of government offices, a public hostel, or a merchants’s meeting lodge. If one wished to begin on a still smaller scale, then one could erect a simple reception hall, a pavilion, or a studio. And if one wanted an intimate space one could use just the corner of a pavilion, or an altar in a temple, or even such a homely object as a wardrobe or a divan.
You’ll note that in this early example of virtual reality as an pedagogical technology, Ricci doesn’t start with the easy stuff, the single wardrobe or divan — he begins with “the most ambitious construction”…
Enough for now. When I want to talk about in a follow up post is detail… the crucial importance of detail.
[ by Charles Cameron -- what you see is what you get: WYSIWYG -- and possibly also TEOTWAWKI ]
See buildings, walls, handrails, reflections, rows of windows, and people he’s walking past vanish and reappear as a man dressed for mountain climbing sets out into a blizzard of snow, video snow and special effects…
We knew that Iran could photoshop extra rockets into a widely distributed news image –
and that Russian dissidents could makeover Kirill as his friend Putin –
But the video above, with it’s vanishing and reappearing everythings? Simple — it’s a stunning portrayal of just what patience and skill can manage with video tampering using Photoshop CS5 or the like. Hence — this may also be the time to announce TEOTWAWKI. The end of the world as we know it. As we believe we know it.
You only need one of those effects, remember, to fake out a geopolitical tipping point…
But then there’s my friend Howard Rheingold, who points out that our whole world is a constructed reality:
We habitually think of the world we see as “out there,” but what we are seeing is really a mental model, a perceptual simulation that exists only in our brains. …
Cognitive simulation — mental model-making — is what humans do best. We do it so well that we tend to become locked into our own models of the world by a seamless web of unconscious beliefs and subtly molded perceptions. And computers are model-making tools par excellence, although they are only beginning to approach the point where people might confuse simulations with reality.
Columbia University Press just sent me a review copy of The Violent Image, by Dr. Neville Bolt of King’s College vaunted War Studies Department. Initially, I was amused by the colorful book jacket, but flipping through, it belies a very weighty, heavily footnoted, academic exploration of the iterative relationship between propagandistic imagery and insurgency. Even a casual perusal indicates that The Violent Image is a book many readers of ZPwill liketogettheir handson.
From the jacket:
….Neville Bolt investigates how today’s revolutionaries have rejuvenated the nineteenth century “ptopaganda of the deed” so that terrorism no longer simply goads states into overreacting, thereby losing legitimacy. Instead the deed has become a tool to highlight the underlying grievances of communities
A small sampling of some of the section titles:
Strategic Communications:the State Strategic Communications: the Insurgent Networks in Real and Virtual Worlds Images as Weapons POTD as Insurgent Concept of Operations Anonymity and Leaderless Revolutions The Arab Uprisings and Liberation Technology POTD as Metaphor
Endnotes run slightly over 90 pages and the bibliography tips the scales at 50, for those interested in such things.
Looking forward to reading this and seeing how Bolt presents his case.
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.