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Of sundry musicians and their moon walks

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a jeu d’esprit, really, because i already have my sunday surprise for this week lined up, and this was too much fun to miss ]
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I ran across this tweet this morning from Husain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military and Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, currently with the Hudson Institute:

Neil Armstrong? Heard the Islamic Call to Prayer? On the moon?

**

Poets love the moon, almost by definition — the Chinese poet Li Po supposedly drowned while attempting (under the influence) to kiss her face in the Yellow River — so this alleged, though dubious, story was definitely too rich in possibilities for me to ignored. And the Islamic Call to Prayer? According to Nicholas Kristof in the NYT:

Mr. Obama described the call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”

You may or may not agree, but if you want to hear the Call and judge for yourself, you could try listening to one of these videos:

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUHDYlJHaOQ
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otdgbR3yso0
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8o6WKTQpMc
  • **

    That’s what led me to my second discovery –one which might be excused by blaming autocorrect, twice, for suggesting that Neil Young — he of the voice, upper panel below — and Louis Arnmstrong — he of the trumpet, lower panel — were each the first man to land on the moon, per (in both cases) NBC.

    Tablet DQ 600 at 75 blank Musicians on Moon

    In all fairness, it’s worth noting that other candidates for moon walks include Buzz Lightyear, Lance Armstrong, and Michael Jackson.

    **

    Sources:

  • Mix 104.1, Twitter Confuses Neil Armstrong With Lance and Louis
  • Buffalo News, Ch.4 moon landing is historic mistake; Best to avoid NBC’s “The Slap”
  • **

    None of these mistakes are critical, however, if you believe the late Srila Prabhupada, who introduced Krishna Consciousness to the United States. As someone fascinated by different cosmologies and theologies, I remember reading of Prabhupada’s claim that the moon landing was faked in a California film studio in his magazine some time in the 1970s. No longer having access to the magazine, and looking for confirmation of that memory, I found this page, Srila Prabhupadas statements about the moon landing, of considerable interest:

    Srila Prabhuapda himself said different things at different times. Sometimes he directly said they didn’t go and it was some kind of hoax. And at other times he said they didn’t go to the moon because they didn’t experience the higher dimensional nature of the moon planet, which is a rational way to harmonize the Vedic perspective with the idea of three dimensional space travel. At other times he just said the whole idea was foolish and a waste of money. He saw material space travel as a foolish attempt to reach higher dimensions which can only be reached by yogic practice.

    Bear in mind too that both Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard also taught their followers about significant planets that do not form part of the standard astronomical account of deep space — or the heavens, in other words.

    And Charles Williams — the brilliant Dante scholar, Arthurian poet, novelist, theologian of Romantic Love, and friend of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis — offers a striking near-contemporary Christian example of the genre in the opening paragraph of his book, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

    The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.

    See also my post, A metaphysical trigonometry.

    Considering Viv, Wolfram Language, Syntience, and the GBG

    Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — expanding the computable to include qualitative ideation ]
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    Let’s start with Viv. It looks pretty phenomenal:

    That video is almost exactly a month old, and it’s pitched at “the universe of things” with a marked tilt towards e-commerce. Fair enough.

    **

    It’s instructive to compare it with Wolfram Language, although here I’ve had to go with a video that’s a couple of years old:

    Stephen Wolfram, the creator of both Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha, is focused on the world of numbers — and incidentally, that includes graphs of the sort I’ve been discussing in my series here On the felicities of graph-based game-board design, as you can see in the video above.

    It will be interesting to see how the two of them — Viv and Wolfram — interact over time. After all, one of the purposes of these lines of development is to dissolve the “walled gardens” which serve as procrustean beds for current thinking about the nature and possibilities of the web. Do these two gardens open to each other? If so, why? If not, why not?

    **

    I’ve talked enough for my purposes about AlphaGo and it’s narrowly focused though impressive recent triumph, and the wider picture behind it, as expressed by Monica Anderson — and tying the two together, we have this video from Monica’s timeline, Bob Hearn: AlphaGo and the New Era of Artificial Intelligence:

    Bob Hearn: AlphaGo and the New Era of Artificial Intelligence from Monica Anderson on Vimeo.

    Monica’s Syntience, it seems to be, is a remarkable probing of the possibilities before us.

    **

    But I’m left asking — because Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel The Glass Bead Game prompts me to ask — what about the universe of concepts — and in particular for my personal tastes, the universe of musical, philosophical, religious and poetic concepts. What of the computational mapping of the imagination?

    My question might well have large financial implications, but I’m asking it in a non-commercially and not only quantitative way. I believe it stands in relationship to these other endeavors, in fact, as pure mathematics stands in relation to physics, and hence also to chemistry, biology and more. And perhaps music stands in that relationship to mathematics? — but I digress.

    If I’m right about the universe of concepts / Glass Bead Game project, it will be the most intellectually demanding, the least commercially obvious, and finally the most revelatory of these grand-sweep ideas..

    From my POV, it’s also the one that can give the most value-add to human thinking in human minds, and to CT analysts, strategists, journos, educators, therapists, bright and playful kids — you name them all!

    Seeing it in terms of counterpoint, as Hesse did — it’s the virtual music of ideas.

    Turchin on Human Sacrifice and Society

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Last week I posted on Human Sacrifice and State-Building, which focused on research findings published in Nature regarding the role of human sacrifice in establishing hierarchical societies. My interest was primarily in the way the gory practices of ISIS today seem to mirror this dynamic from prehistoric, ancient and chiefdom societies. Bogfriend T. Greer helpfully alerted me to the fact that noted scholar and cultural evolutionist, Peter Turchin also blogged regarding this research and took a critical posture.  Turchin, also addressed human sacrifice to some degree in his latest book, Ultrasociety, which has been on my list to read for his take on the role of warfare but which I have yet to do.

    Turchin’s reasons for blogging this article are different from mine, so I suggest that you read him in full as I intend to comment only on selected excerpts:

    Is Human Sacrifice Functional at the Society Level?

    An article published this week by Nature is generating a lot of press. Using a sample of 93 Austronesian cultures Watts et al. explore the possible relationship between human sacrifice (HS) and the evolution of hierarchical societies. Specifically, they test the “social control” hypothesis, according to which human sacrifice legitimizes, and thus stabilizes political authority in stratified class societies.

    Their statistical analyses suggest that human sacrifice stabilizes mild (non-hereditary) forms of social stratification, and promotes a shift to strict (hereditary) forms of stratification. They conclude that “ritual killing helped humans transition from the small egalitarian groups of our ancestors to the large stratified societies we live in today.” In other words, while HS obviously creates winners (rulers and elites) and losers (sacrifice victims and, more generally, commoners), Watts et all argue that it is a functional feature—in the evolutionary sense of the word—at the level of whole societies, because it makes them more durable.

    There are two problems with this conclusion. First, Watts et al. do not test their hypothesis against an explicit theoretical alternative (which I will provide in a moment). Second, and more important, their data span a very narrow range of societies, omitting the great majority of complex societies—indeed all truly large-scale societies. Let’s take these two points in order.

    Turchin is correct that study focuses on Austronesian islanders in clan and tribal settings and that’s a pretty narrow of a base from which to extrapolate. OTOH, the pre-Cortez estimated population of the Aztec empire begins at five million on the low end. Estimates of the population of Carthage proper, range from 150,000 to 700,000. That’s sufficiently complex that the Mexica and Carthaginians each established sophisticated imperial polities and yet both societies remained extremely robust practitioners of human sacrifice at the time they were conquered and destroyed.

    Maybe a more useful approach than simply expanding the data set would be to ask why human sacrifice disappears earlier in some societies than in others or continues to be retained at high levels of complexity?

    An alternative theory on the rise of human sacrifice and other extreme forms of structural inequality is explained in my recent book Ultrasociety ….

    ….Briefly, my argument in Ultrasociety is that large and complex human societies evolved under the selection pressures of war. To win in military competition societies had to become large (so that they could bring a lot of warriors to battle) and to be organized hierarchically (because chains of command help to win battles). Unfortunately, hierarchical organization gave too much power to military leaders and their warrior retinues, who abused it (“power corrupts”). The result was that early centralized societies (chiefdoms and archaic states) were  hugely unequal. As I say in Ultrasociety, alpha males set themselves up as god-kings.

    Again, I have not read Ultrasociety, but the idea that war would be a major driver of human cultural evolution is one to which I’m inclined to be strongly sympathetic. I’m not familiar enough with Turchin to know if he means war is”the driver” or “a major driver among several” in the evolution of human society.

    Human sacrifice was perhaps instrumental for the god-kings and the nobles in keeping the lower orders down, as Watts et al. (and social control hypothesis) argue. But I disagree with them that it was functional in making early centralized societies more stable and durable. In fact, any inequality is corrosive of cooperation, and its extreme forms doubly so. Lack of cooperation between the rulers and ruled made early archaic states highly unstable, and liable to collapse as a result of internal rebellion or conquest by external enemies. Thus, according to this “God-Kings hypothesis,” HS was a dysfunctional side-effect of the early phases of the evolution of hierarchical societies. As warfare continued to push societies to ever larger sizes, extreme forms of structural inequality became an ever greater liability and were selected out. Simply put, societies that evolved less inegalitarian social norms and institutions won over and replaced archaic despotisms.

    The question here is if human sacrifice was primarily functional – as a cynically wielded political weapon of terror by elites – or if that solidification of hierarchical stratification was a long term byproduct of religious drivers. It also depends on what evidence you count as “human sacrifice”. In the upper Paleolithic period, burial practices involving grave goods shifted to include additional human remains along with the primary corpse. Whether these additional remains, likely slaves, concubines or prisoners slain in the burial ritual count as human sacrifices in the same sense as on Aztec or Sumerian altars tens of thousands of years later may be reasonably disputed. What is not disputed is that humans being killed by other humans not by random violence or war but purposefully for the larger needs of a community goes back to the earliest and most primitive reckoning of what we call “society” and endured in (ever diminishing) places even into the modern period.

    This also begs the question if burial sacrifices, public executions of prisoners and other ritualistic killings on other pretexts conducted by societies of all levels of complexity are fundamentally different in nature from human sacrifices or if they are all subsets of the same atavistic phenomena binding a group through shared participation in violence.

    ….The most complex society in their sample is Hawaii, which is not complex at all when looked in the global context. I am, right now, analyzing the Seshat Databank for social complexity (finally, we have the data! I will be reporting on our progress soon, and manuscripts are being prepared for publication). And Hawaii is way down on the scale of social complexity. Just to give one measure (out of >50 that I am analyzing), polity population. The social scale of Hawaiian chiefdoms measures in the 10,000s of population, at most 100,000 (and that achieved after the arrival of the Europeans). In Afroeurasia (the Old World), you don’t count as a megaempire unless you have tens of millions of subjects—that’s three orders of magnitude larger than Hawaii!

    Why is this important? Because it is only by tracing the trajectories of societies that go beyond the social scale seen in Austronesia that we can test the social control hypothesis against the God-Kings theory. If HS helps to stabilize hierarchical societies, it should do so for societies of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions, and so on. So we should see it persist as societies grow in size.

    Well, human sacrifice persisted into the classical period of Greece and Rome, though becoming infrequent and eventually outlawed, though only during the last century of the Roman republic. That’s a significant level of complexity, Rome having become the dominant power in the Mediterranean world a century earlier. Certainly human sacrifice did not destabilize the Greeks and Romans, though the argument could be made that it did harm Sparta, if we count Spartan practices of infanticide for eugenic reasons as human sacrifice.

    What muddies the waters here is the prevalence of available substitutes for human sacrifice – usually animal sacrifice initially – that competed and co-existed with human sacrifice in many early societies for extremely long periods of time. Sometimes this readily available alternative was sufficient to eventually extinguish human sacrifice, as happened with the Romans but other times it was not, as with the Aztecs. The latter kept their maniacal pace of human sacrifice up to the end, sacrificing captured Spanish conquistadors and their horses to the bloody Sun god. Human sacrifice did not destabilize the Aztecs and it weakened their tributary vassals but the religious primacy they placed on human sacrifice and the need to capture prisoners in large numbers rather than kill them in battle hobbled the Aztec response to Spanish military assaults.

    Comments? Questions?

    Sunday sandwich surprise

    Sunday, December 13th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — utter foolishness in a caption from The Good Wife ]
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    It is not Bach, its is Beethoven.

    bach ode to joy good wife s5 e4 at 30

    It is not Beethoven, it is a sandwich.

    **

    Do I have nothing better to do?

    Signs in the skies

    Sunday, October 4th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — “And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke” Acts 2.19 illustrated! ]
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    It is hope that Zenprophet readers won’t confuse the entirely scientific solar flare of October 1, 2015 (upper panel, below)..

    SPEC DQ sun and moon

    with the religious fourth in a tetrad of Blood Moons on the night of September 27-28, 2015 (lower panel, above) — though either one may cause glitches in your mind or your computer.

    **

    Sources:

  • PhysOrg, SDO sees sun emit mid-level flare Oct. 1
  • YouTube, Pope Francis departs USA on night that ends Tetrad blood moons Breaking News September 27 2015
  • See also:

  • EarthSky, Super Blood Moon eclipse September 27-28

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