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Monday, March 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Jefferson and Adams reverberating still ]

For your current interest: words eschanged between two candidates for the Presidency of the United States some two centuries back, as presented in a neat DoubleQuote today by John Robb:

I can’t improve on John’s presentation of thesse two quotes — but I might perhaps point out that they were similarly relevant to poiitical discourse in 2010, when ReasonTV posted the following video on YouTube:


As a conoisseur of coincidence, I appreciate the fact that Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other — fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As Jorge Luis Borges observed of the rival theologians Aurelian and John of Pannonia, “The end of this story can only be related in metaphors since it takes place in the kingdom of heaven, where there is no time.”

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

Sunday surprise: concerning scale and zoom

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — A DoubleTweet on earth, air and water, with IS for fire — plus a Gary Snyder poem ]

The ability to scale, including but not limited to ratio, is one of the great human cognitive skills:

The Daily Mail:

John Robb:


Or as Gary Snyder so excellently has it:

As the crickets’ soft autumn hum
is to us
so are we to the trees

as are they

to the rocks and the hills.

Robb on the Networked Age

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

John is en fuego today:

Life in a Networked Age

.….In the last thirty years, we’ve seen a shift in the technological substrate.  This new susbstrate is increasingly a family of technologies related to information networks.

As this new substrate begins to take control, we’re going to need new management forms.  Both bureaucratic and market systems are proving insuffient solutions to the challenges of a networked age.  

In both cases, the emergence of a global network is eroding the efficacy of bureaucracy and markets as solutions.  How?  One reason is scale.  

A global network is too large and complex for a bureaucracy to manage.  It would be too slow, expensive, and inefficient to be of value.  Further, even if one could be built, it would be impossible to apply market dyanmics (via democratic elections) to selecting the leaders of that bureaucracy.  The diversity in the views of the 7 billion of us on this planet are too vast.  

In terms of markets, a global marketplace is too unstable.   Interlinked, and tightly coupled markets are prone to frequent and disasterous failures.  Additionally, a global marketplace is easy for insiders to corrupt and rig, as we saw with the 2008 financial melt-down.   Given instability and unmitigated corruption, markets will fail as a decision making mechanism.  

So, what’s going to replace bureaucracy and markets?

Read the rest here.

In very strong agreement with John. I like markets and think they produce efficient and optimized results for many things ( not all things) but free markets currently face massive (and sadly bipartisan) efforts to rig them by the oligarchy here at home, much less in autocratic states where the  practice of state socialism, kleptocracy and government by mafia or tribal/sectarian minority is the norm.  People will seek work-around structures to adapt, thrive and evade extortionate schemes by elites that have hijacked the state.

Hat tip to Lexington Green

Some unknown calculus

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — thinking inside and outside the pack, Robert Wright, John Robb, Iran, outliers ]


Robert Wright just closed his Atlantic piece on Why Bombing Iran Would Mean Invading Iran with an exchange from a couple of years back between Gen. James Cartwright, then Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Sen. Jack Reed:

Senator Reed: I presume that [a bombing campaign] would not be 100 percent effective in terms of knocking them out. It would probably delay them, but that if they’re persistent enough they could at some point succeed. Is that a fair judgment from your position?

General Cartwright: That’s a fair judgment.

Senator Reed: So that the only absolutely dispositive way to end any potential would be to physically occupy their country and to disestablish their nuclear facilities. Is that a fair, logical conclusion?

General Cartwright: Absent some other unknown calculus that would go on, it’s a fair conclusion.


Look, I’m way outside my zone of focus here, but that phrase “some unknown calculus” intrigues me.

Maybe Robert Wright should read John Robb. Maybe that “unknown calculus” is in Robb’s post, Israel, Iran and the Poor Man’s Cruise Missile:

One of the Stratfor research “findings” (culled from the Wikileaks stockpile) is that Israel claimed its upcoming strike on Iran would be “catastrophic enough” to cause a regime change. This claim was made both to dissuade Iran from going forward with its program, physically eliminating their ability to move forward with the program, and persuade the US to act instead of Israel.

Running through all of the potential scenarios, only one emerges that makes sense.

A strike on Iranian oil facilities. A strike so devastating that it disrupts all of its oil production, currently at 4 million barrels a day.

How to do that? Drones.

Look, Robb’s piece came out yesterday, Wright’s piece came out today — and who knows how long the editorial process might have taken. So I don’t blame Wright.


The point is, Robb doesn’t think with the pack. And that means he comes up with ideas the pack is blind to.


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