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Theory and Practice:

Friday, November 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — how theory works out in practice, and vice versa ]
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Here’s the first of a pair of “patterns” of interest…

Theory contradicts practice:

— with thanks to my friend Peter van der Werff!

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And here’s the second, a delicious serpent-bites-tail tweet re Egypt:

Practice contradicts theory:

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Okay, there are two more items for the “pattern recognition” / “pattern language” archives…

And here’s wishing you all a Happy Black Friday — if that’s even concedivable!

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Geometry aka logic as an analytic tool

Friday, June 28th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — reflections on cognitive empowerment by selective noticing ]
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I just realized that I take notice of details at the level of “geometry aka logic” which I would miss if I were more focused on content. In effect, I treat idiosyncracies and hiccups of expression — such as paradoxes — as indicative of condensed or distilled meaning.

What triggered this realization was the way my interest was aroused by this phrase:

The parallel universes may soon become perpendicular.

I found that today in an FP piece, Will June 30 be midnight for Morsi’s Cinderella story?

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Paradox? Geometry? Contradiction? Figure of speech?

It’s the irregularity in the pattern used to describe the events in question that catches my eye here, however you care to name it. And something very similar is going on when I flag the weird juxtapositions of imagery and music in Taylor Swift, Sara Mingardo, JS Bach and a quiet WTF, or the koan-like tensions and reconciliations inherent in such inseparable pairs as war-and-peace in Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality.

Here’s the full paragraph, discussing the increasing polarization of the Egyptian public, and some ways in which “the current situation differs more in degree than in kind from the recent past”:

Second, violence is on the table. The parallel universes may soon become perpendicular. Of course, Egyptian politics has had its victims over the past two and a half years, but violence has seemed episodic and almost self-limiting since those who have deployed it have paid a heavy political price. Nobody advocates violence now, but many expect it and it is not uncommon to hear from both sides that they will not shrink from self-defense. And the line between self-defense and offensive action can become thin for each camp for opposite reasons. The opposition is hardly centrally controlled and rogue elements have already been involved in attacks on Brotherhood offices as well as those of its political party. For the Brotherhood, its discipline has led it to prepare for what it sees as defensive action in a manner that understandably appears threatening to outsiders (especially after the events of December 2012 when Brotherhood cadres constituted themselves as a vigilante force to confront those demonstrating at the presidential palace).

Okay, so I’m already reading the article, ergo I must already have been interested enough in what’s going on in Egypt to click through to it. So why the fuss about paradox and geometry in what is, after all, only one turn of phrase in a piece whpose subject already interests me?

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I’m still feeling my way towards and understanding of how my mind works, how I pick up on things, how I populate my mind with rich and interesting memories, how I make my small and large creative “leaps” — my means of collecting and connecting dots, if you will. Because there’s a cognitive skill there that I haven’t seen taught, and I believe it offers an “outside the box” alternative mode of monitoring topics of interest.

You know, of course, that most every time you read the words you know, of course, that it’s a dead giveaway that the speaker or writer is skimming quickly past a cherished assumption that he or she wouldn’t want you to examine too carefully? Of course you do. It’s one of those psychological “tells” that should alert you, like a facial tick, a hesitation, or that curious (and paradoxical) tight grip on one arm of the chair with one hand while the other rests almost disdainfully relaxed and gracious on the other, in El Greco’s masterful portrait of a Cardinal, now in the Metropolitan in New York:

How very telling that sort of detail can be!

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And intersections.

I talk quite a bit about juxtapositions and parallelisms, because they’re the elements of “creative leaps” (and Sembl / Hipbone moves) and I “practice” noting them for my DoubleQuotes. But one way to clear the xlutter from mind is to concentrate on places where two fields intersect. I’m interested in apocalyptic, for instance, so I take particular note when someone from a Christian apocalyptic POV (Joel Richardson, Joel Rosenberg, eg) writes about Islamic eschatology, or when someone from an Islamic apocalyptic POV (Sh. Safar al-Hawali, eg) writes about Christian eschatology. Reading wherever I notice this kind of overlap means that I learn in two contexts — effectively doubling my knowledge value — where most reading that’s not “targeted” this way only allows me to learn in one…

Again: parallelisms, overlaps, paradoxes, perpendiculars, contradictions — these are all “formal properties” of a given text rather than “contents” — that’s the level of abstraction at which you can make the details sing.

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Hey, I’m not alone. As I was cleaning this post up, Adam Elkus tweeted a link to a post about the CTO of Intel, Intel Labs: Assuring Corporate Immortality by Rob Enderle, which contains this phrase:

This is very orthogonal thinking

There we go! The word orthogonal is so important to me, and is so often on the tip of my tongue but out of reach of immediate memory, that I have a file on my computer consisting solely of the words “opposite oblique orthogonal congruent incongruous antithetical obtuse parallel asymptotic perpendicular right angles” — so if I can remember any one of them, I can easily find “orthogonal”.

Very orthogonal thinking — terrific!

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Form is insight: the vesica piscis

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — here’s another post in my importance of form in intelligence series ]
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Form is pattern, and pattern recognition is insight.

A while back, I started a series of posts [1, 2, 3, 4 and 5] in which I suggested that form is, from an intelligence point of view (and however you may parse “intelligence”) as important to humans as content. I’ll be saying more about this today, but wanted to complete this old and never quite completed post in that series right away, in response to a comment Grurray made today regarding Venn diagrams and the vesica piscis.
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If you’ve seen a Venn diagram, you’ve seen overlap. And the simplest form of overlap — between two classes, ideas, or whatever — is the one that’s Venn diagrammed (below, left) as the overlapping of two equal circles — known to artists as the vesica piscis or eye of the fish.

MasterCard uses it for its logo (right) —

— as do Gucci and Chanel:


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But let’s go back to that first pair of images:


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Long before commerce took note of it, the vesica was a sacred image — back in the days when geometry, like nature herself, was sacred.

Like the illuminist of the Codex Bruchsal (ca 1220) with his Christ Pantocrator (above, left), Jan Valentine Saether makes sacred use of the vesica in his book The Viloshin Letters, which I hope to see published shortly — the exquisite suite of prints that accompany the text have already been exhibited to acclaim.

In his text accompanying this particular plate, he writes:

I was not sure. But a new wonder has been moving towards us. That which is… has a new presence. Entering here from elsewhere, the holy spirit manifested again in the vernacular last Wednesday, September 16th.

We were standing around, being together in our own fashion, when suddenly through our common imagination, right there on the floor in the old barn, the donna and the madonna, the loose one and the holy one, merged and became visible.

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It seems to me there is more to the glory of God than there is to the glory of handbags and perfumes — but your mileage may vary, credit cards are handy little items, and then again, it’s all part of the glory in my opinion.

A neat koan, that.

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Bouleversé by forgiveness

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — not just “thinking outside the box” — how about upending the whole thing and seeing what shakes out? ]
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FWIW, this isn't the world, nor is it upside down -- it's just a rather different map, eh?

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A celebrated stanza by the Indian poet-saint Kabir — beloved of both Hindus and Muslims — asks:

Is there any guru in the world wise enough
to understand the upside-down Veda?

There’s a style of poetry used by Kabir and others to describe experience of the divine called “ulatbamsi” or the “upside down language” — and Linda Hess, Kabir’s great translator, writes of it as a language “of paradoxes and enigmas” — not too dissimilar, perhaps, to the koans or meditation paradoxes often encountered in zen training.

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Boom! The French have the word “bouleversé” to cover the way we feel when suddenly our whole world seems turned upside down.

Maybe it’s a modern idea? Bob Dylan, I’m delighted to say, no longer belongs to Robert Zimmerman except for purposes of copyright — his songs have entered the cultural bloodstream. Here’s his version:

The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

The world often seems upside down, our values are often quite the reverse of what they might be if we had the kind of clarity that is implied in Samuel Johnson‘s celebrated quote:

Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

And then there are those great ones for whom our world is manifestly unjust, manifestly topsy-turvy — or “through the looking-glass”, if you prefer.

I mean, what else can being “in the world, but not of it” be all about, if it’s not about a major shift in perspective?

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I’m writing about this at such length because I just read one of those paragraphs that turns my own world upside down. It came in the middle of a long piece on “restorative justice” and it focuses on the power of forgiveness.

This particular paragraph describes how an Indian-American woman, Sujatha Baliga, came to see the unexpected power of forgiveness, and for her it occurred in a Buddhist context — but the power itself is beyond the boundaries of specific religions:

Baliga had been in therapy in New York, but while in India she had what she calls “a total breakdown.” She remembers thinking, Oh, my God, I’ve got to fix myself before I start law school. She decided to take a train to Dharamsala, the Himalayan city that is home to a large Tibetan exile community. There she heard Tibetans recount “horrific stories of losing their loved ones as they were trying to escape the invading Chinese Army,” she told me. “Women getting raped, children made to kill their parents — unbelievably awful stuff. And I would ask them, ‘How are you even standing, let alone smiling?’ And everybody would say, ‘Forgiveness.’ And they’re like, ‘What are you so angry about?’ And I told them, and they’d say, ‘That’s actually pretty crazy.’ ”

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I like the dark blue “sky” and the “clouds” at the top of the map I began this post with — but then, I’m a mostly vertical human who seldom stands on his head, so it looks “natural” to me. But that’s simply a matter of my point of view.

I imagine maps like that one must please our friends “down under”.

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A hat-tip to Hadar Aviram, whose California Corrections blog first pointed me to the article about Sujatha Baliga.

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The War and Peace koan, episode n+1

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — glimpsing the Necker Cube effect, when the weapons of war meet the prayers of peace ]
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Necker cube image credit -- youramazingbrain.org

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A while back I co-authored a book with a physician friend, Cleaves Bennett MD, on the control of high blood pressure, and since he wanted to include the idea that humor had a role to play in reducing stress, we included a joke with each week’s exercises — and one of the jokes I suggested, and which made it into the book, was this:

A Catholic priest, a Dominian, once walked into London’s Farm Swtreet Jesuit Church and found one of his Jesuit friends kneeling in prayer, smoking a cigarette.

“How do you get away with ut?” the Dominican muttered. “I asked my father confessor if I could smoke while I was praying and he absolutely forbade it.”

“No wonder,” said the Jesuit. “I inquired if I could pray while I was smoking, and my confessor said, ‘Of course, old boy, feel free. … I don’t believe you should ever stop praying.'”

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This post could well be included in my “form is insight”: series, with the form in question being “the reversal”.

Here’s a recent BBC picture with the tag-line “An Israeli soldier prays at dawn on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip”:

Some readers might look at that picture and recall Psalm 94, verses 3-5:

Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves? They break in pieces thy people, O Lord, and afflict thine heritage.

Some might reflect on Psalm 122, verses 6-7:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.

Some might recall the Qur’an 49, verse 13:

O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.

Others might think of the Gharqad Tree hadith, quoted in the charter of Hamas:

The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.

And I myself have no idea what the prayers that Jewish soldier offered were all about — his own safety, that of his family and loved ones, that of his own people, that of all the world’s people — nor about the prayers of young Muslims on the other side of the wall…

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I look at that photo of the soldier boy praying beside the munitions of a brutal war, and my first instinct is to feel sadness — because the essence of prayer, surely, is shalom, peace, salaam.

And then I am reminded of the Dominican and the Jesuit in that story I told you.

Substituting “peace” for “prayer” and “war” for “munitions” to get at the essence here — should I be more sad that here, peace is depicted in the presence of war — or more glad that here, war is depicted in the presence of peace?

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