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Peacemaking: of serious joking and most studious play

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the aesthetic element in DoubleQuotes, and peacemaking as making connections; together with Renaissance phrasing of the same ideas ]

rice hoops
Ambassador Susan Rice on the White House court with the Israeli & Palestinian Peace Players Yesterday


There’s a fair amount of gaming leaking into the blogging I read these days.

Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis is hosting an IS/Coalition War Game [1, 2, 3], while over at PAXsims, Rex Brynen is hosting the “game developer’s diary” of Alex Langer, a McGill undergraduate who is “designing a wargame of the current Syrian civil war as a course project” [1, 2].

Both efforts are of interest, but what the PAXsims venture makes clear to me is that I have been using my Zenpundit blogging as, among other things, a “game developer’s diary” for my own game thinking, and in particular for my thoughts about the DoubleQuotes format as a playful / serious analytic tool.

Both playful and serious, because all fresh thinking requires the application of a playful spirit to serious ends — an approach illustrated by the image of Palestinian and Israeli kids on the White House basketball court at the head of this post, by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra put together by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim — and enshrined in the Florentine Renaissance motto “iocari serio et studiosissime” — which Marsilio Ficino, the genius behind the Florentine Renaissance, named as the core practice of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato – “joking seriously and playing assiduously” in Edgar Wind‘s translation.

Which would among other things be the Renaissance Platonist’s answer to Scott Shipman‘s question posed here the other day, What tools do you use to boost your creativity?


Ficino also said, “the task of Magic consists in comparing things to one another”, as quoted by Mircea Eliade in his Foreword to Ioan Couliano‘s great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

That’s precisely what my own games do, expressed in Renaissance terms, and my DoubleQuotes in particular.

In terms of theorizing about them, one point I may not have emphasized enough is that the quality of a given DoubleQuote (or move in a HipBone or Sembl game) is dependent on the aesthetics of the juxtaposition.

Let me give you a simple example, not taken from my own work but from a “DoubleQuote in the Wild” — the header illustration to a recent FP post, The Activists Assad Hates Most Are Now Obama’s Problem. FP could have used any two photos of Obama and Assad, photos of Obama on the phone in the Oval Office, say, or Assad against the background of the Syrian flag — but they chose two images that showed the two men in near-identical poses, and it’s that near-identity which gives force to the juxtaposition:


Likewise, I could have chosen any one of a flock of quotes to illustrate British and American forces entering Baghdad in 1917 and 2003 respectively — but the most effective way to make the point was via two quotes that very closely paralleled each other:

SPEC Baghdad

That too is fundamentally an aesthetic choice — a choice that favors the simple elegance of the tightest available symmetry.


The image at the head of this post show Ambassador Rice on the Court with the Peace Players Yesterday

Peacemaking, too, is often a matter of bringing out the similarities between otherwise opposing forces.

As Nicholas of Cusa, Cardinal of the Roman Church, said in his De ludo globi / Of the Game of Spheres, a distant forefather to Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and thence to my own various games:

This game is played, not in a childish way, but as the Holy Wisdom played it for God at the beginning of the world.

Luditur hic ludus; sed non pueriliter, at sic / Lusit ut orbe nova Sancta Sophia Deo.


Happily or sadly, our AIs still lack the creative leap

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on one current comparative advantage of being human, and calling for the design of a ReSearch Engine ]

You may not like hymns — or thrash metal. Facebook, whose market value topped $100 billion about a year ago, “thought” that if I liked this video:

I might also like this “related video”:

State of the art! Big Data! Analogical thinking!

Seems like the algorithm didn’t listen to the music, it just decided “King of Heaven” and “in Heaven, King” were pretty similar as word-groups go.

Actually, their reasoning is not that bad, once you think about it in DoubleQuotes terms — they’ve stumbled on an “opposite” rather than a “similar” — but as we’ve seen with such examples as Oxford and Cambridge, or the Army / Navy game, opposites and similars aren’t so dissimilar after all.

Sadly, when it comes to musical tastes, opposites don’t necessarily work too well, and similars would in this case have been preferable.


But the issue is human cognition and the attempts of computer scientists to match it — and specifically, to match and even surpass our analogical powers.

As I wrote in WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies, in an online chat session with David Gelernter years ago, I said:

My own hunch is that an aesthetic sense is *the great sorting principle*, that it has to do with pattern recognition, and specifically the recognition of isomorphisms, parallelisms in deep structure. So an AI that recognized deep isomorphisms across wide topic distances would be the ideal web navigator, as an I that recognizes deep isomorphisms across wide topic distances is a creative mind. It would also be playing Hesse’s Bead Game, no?

to which he responded:

Hipbone, I think basically, that’s exactly right. I wrote a book about this issue of what you call recognizing isomorphisms in widely different domains, a tremendously important issue in how the human mind works.

From my POV, the human mind recognizing a rich correspondence between two rich insights, perhaps even from widely separate domains, is the very essence of creativity — isn’t that what the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture – and thus the eventual proof of Fermat’s last theorem – was all about?

My brief chat with Gelernter dates to 1998, his book The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought, to 1994. On pp. 2-3, he writes:

Reasoning is one big part of human thought, and thought science has reasoning decently under control. Philosophers and psychologists understand it and computers, up to a point, can fake it. But there is one other big piece of the picture, which goes by many names: creativity, intuition, insight, metaphoric thinking, “holistic thinking”; all these tricks boil down at base to drawing analogies. Inventing a new analogy — hitching two thoughts together, sometimes two superficially unrelated thoughts — brings about a new metaphor and, it is generally agreed, drives creativity as well. Studies (and intuition) suggest that creativity hinges on seeing an old problem in a new way, and this so-called “restructuring” process boils down at base to the discovery of new analogies. How analogical thinking works is the great unsolved problem, the unknowable longitude, of thought science. “It is striking that,” as the philosopher Jerry Fodor remarks, “while everybody thinks analogical reasoning is an important ingredient in all sorts of cognitive achievements that we prize, nobody knows anything about how it works” — not even, Fodor adds (twisting the knife) in an “in the glass darkly sort of way” (1983, 107)


For a comparable, consider this NYT evaluation of another tricky issue for AI — Brainy, Yes, but Far From Handy:

The correlation between highly evolved artificial intelligence and physical ineptness even has a name: Moravec’s paradox, after the robotics pioneer Hans Moravec, who wrote in 1988, “It is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult-level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a 1-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”

Brainy the current AI’s may be, and even beginning to manage physical agility — but mentally agile?

If they still can’t tell that a taste for classic hymns does not correlate closely with a taste for German thrash, they’re not agile enough for the HipBone / Sembl style of games..


Derek Robinson wrote a piece about my HipBone Games and AI back in the 1990s. It’s succinct, it’s relevant.

Here’s how I see these matters: I am calling for the development of a ReSearch Engine, with the HipBone Games, Sembl and DoubleQuotes as devices to be used in its construction.

The ReSearch Engine’s purpose would be to learn from humanly identified analogies — gleaned from repeated playings of the HipBone, Sembl and DoubleQuotes games — to recognize deep and richly textured analogies across the breadth of human cultures, following the principle laid out above:

deep isomorphisms across wide topic distances

Such an Engine could hopefully provide us with the links of associative links that at the moment are glimpsed in moments of genius (think: Taniyama‘s conjecture of 1956 connecting the mathematical realm of elliptic curves and that of modular forms), which then take years to be ironed out and brought to fruition (think: Wiles‘ proof of the Taniyama–Shimura–Weil conjecture, along the way to his proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, 1993).

The successful design of such an Engine would be a — hmmm– singular event.


DoubleQuote: Genocide Memorial Church before and after

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a quick note on the DQ format used to illustrate church "before and after" attack, montage in Pudovkin / Eisenstein, and cognition ]


Pondering these images, I see that while they do clearly represent “before and after” when juxtaposed, they do not represent “cause and effect” as such. The cause of the visible changes is not itself present, although implied. Even so, the viewer is liable to jump from a non-causal double image via the implied causal connection to an emotional response — “the bastards!” or something of that sort.

I’ve been interested in the intellectual and emotional responses generated by juxtapositions at least since I first read about montage, Pudovkin and Eisenstein in a class on film directing at UCLA some decades back. It is one of the great issues in film — Eisenstein wrote:

to determine the nature of montage is to solve the specific problem of cinema

It’s more than that, though — it’s one of the great issues in cognition and metacognition.

We’d do well to put some bright minds on the task of understanding it.


Some wrenchingly sad news, 2: nuanced theological implications

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- some surprising twists here, if you think of IS as entirely lacking compassion or religious and moral consideration ]

I am going to take the religious issues out of their original order to create a smoother reading experience with regard to the theological surprises in Barber’s article.

Barber’s perplex:

I have also been perplexed by the question of IS’ methods and behavior and have felt a need to understand the fact that they work according to specific ideals and a strict religious code for behavior, yet often seem to act outside of what such a code would permit. They are not alien creatures but human agents with aspirations of state building who even demonstrate acts of compassion.

Once again, religion turns out to be crucial to a full understanding.

We tend to treat IS — not surprisingly considering their barrage of beheadings videos and other publicized horrors on social media — as utterly unconstrained thugs and brutes. There’s no denying the brutalities, but a more sophisticated reading finds some relevant background in Abu Bakr Naji‘s book, The Management of Savagery, as Will McCants, lately of CTC West Point and now at Brookings, explains.

Booty, both literal and metaphorical:

First, it is worth noting that the taking of captured women as slaves / booty does have religious precedent:

The philosophy underpinning the taking of Yazidi slaves is based in IS’ interpretation of the practices of Muslim figures during the early Islamic conquests, when women were taken as slave concubines—war booty—from societies being conquered.

It’s hideous, it’s “medieval” if you like that term, but it does have arguable religious precedent.

People of the Book vs Polytheists:

Taking the brutality as a given, then, what are we to make of the preferential treatment afforded Christians vis-à-vis Yazidis?

Though they have robbed them of their wealth, IS has not targeted the Christian community in the same way that they have the Yazidis. As “People of the Book,” Christians are seen as having certain rights; Yazidis, however, are viewed by IS as polytheists and are therefore seen as legitimate targets for subjugation and enslavement, if they do not convert to Islam.

Acts of Compassion:

This is perhaps the aspect of Barber’s piece which is most unexpected, and as such deserves our consideration. It is a part of the puzzle, after all is said and done, and our reflexive disgust at the many other brutalities of IS should not blind us to it:

Christians who fled one Iraqi town described to me how IS fighters provided food for their elderly and disabled Christian relatives who were not able to flee, and then later transported them to an area near Kirkuk where they would be able to rejoin their relatives.

The question:

Barber poses the question — to himself, to the analytic community, and to all of us:

How are we to reconcile these humane instances of goodwill with the apparent criminality and destruction that is so pervasive with IS?

The answer:

The answer is not yet in:

Many discussions will continue regarding the similarities and differences between IS’ methods and the actual practice of the early Islamic community. Historical context will be discussed by scholars, and God’s intentions will be parsed out by those with a theological bent.

The situation, therefore:

But regardless of how our contemporaries interpret the past, IS’ attempts to recreate and relive a period in which slaves were taken in war have shattered families that now reel in pain after their children have been snatched away from them.

The imperative:

The imperative to relieve such gross suffering, if it is possible to do so without causing suffering that is even greater in so doing, is the topic of the third and last post in this series, in which I’ll post extracts of Barber’s assessment of the possibility of rescue.

There is hope here, amid all the suffering and hate.


The DoubleQuote as Feedback Loop

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a new variant on the DoubleQuote format addresses loops and escalations ]

I seem to be thinking about feedback loop diagrams today, eh?

And what with my Twitter feed filling with images from Ferguson, MO, and someone posting an image from the Bundy Ranch standoff by way of comparison, it occurred to me that images of cops taking aim at citizens (Ferguson, MO, upper panel below) and citizens taking aim at cops (Bundy Ranch, lower panel) didn’t just naturally fall into the visual DoubleQuote category, they also formed a potential feedback loop.

And as my just posted mutual escalation spiral is intended to suggest, mutually antagonistic feedback loops like this come perilously close to spiraling out of control.


So, too, we now have another variant on the DoubleQuote format — the DoubleQuote as feedback loop. I suspect that now I’ve “seen” it, I may find it comes in handy on other occasions.



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