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Not everything that counts can be counted

Monday, July 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not Einstein but a fellow Cameron gave me my title ]

I’ll admit I was uneasy when I read about the “effective altruism” movement in Peter Singer‘s Boston Review piece, The Logic of Effective Altruism, but I didn’t quite see how to phrase my unease. Here’s Singer’s explanation of the concept:

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.

That’s the gist, but there’s a lot of what I can only term “moral cost-effectiveness” in there, as though goodness were a problem in engineering.

Today I read Michael J. Lewis‘s Commentary piece, How Art Became Irrelevant, and think I found the “why” of my unease, in the writer’s description of the German idea (“ideal”) of an architectural Existenzminimum:

This was the notion that in the design of housing, one must first precisely calculate the absolute minimum of necessary space (the acceptable clearance between sink and stove, between bed and dresser, etc.), derive a floor plan from those calculations, and then build as many units as possible. One could not add a single inch of grace room, for once that inch was multiplied through a thousand apartments, a family would be deprived of a decent dwelling. So went the moral logic.


  • Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
  • The heart has reasons Reason knows not of.
  • Intelligence vs the Artificial

    Friday, January 16th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — who believes that detours are the spice of life ]

    Craig Kaplan:

    Craig Kaplan

    Maurits Escher:

    M Escher


    There’s a fasacinating article about Craig Kaplan and his work with tiling that I came across today, Crazy paving: the twisted world of parquet deformations — I highly recommend it to anyone interested in pattern — and I highly recommend anyone uninterested in pattern to get interested!

    Kaplan himself is no stranger to Escher’s work, obviously enough — he’s even written a paper, Metamorphosis in Escher’s Art — the abstract reads:

    M.C. Escher returned often to the themes of metamorphosis and deformation in his art, using a small set of pictorial devices to express this theme. I classify Escher’s various approaches to metamorphosis, and relate them to the works in which they appear. I also discuss the mathematical challenges that arise in attempting to formalize one of these devices so that it can be applied reliably.

    I mean Kaplan no dishonor, then, when I say that his algorithmic tilings, as seen in the upper panel above, still necessarily lack something that his mentor’s images have, as seen in the lower panel — a quirky willingness to go beyond pattern into a deeper pattern, as when the turreted outcropping of a small Italian town on the Amalfi coast becomes a rook in the game of chess


    Comparing one with the other, I am reminded of the differences between quantitative and qualitative approaches to understanding, of SIGINT and HUMINT in terms of the types of intelligence collected — and at the philosophical limit, of the very notions of quantity and quality.

    Serpent logic and related

    Saturday, September 14th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — where paradox begets form in phrasing, redux ]

    Here for your entertainment and entrainment are some further instances where the tweet doubles back on itself, bites its tail, or otherwise embodies some form of “form” that’s noteworthy in its own right, and possibly indicative of the heart of a problem — think of these tweets as eddies in the flow of things, knots in the wood…

    Two arms crossed as in that MC Escher hand-draws-hand piece:

    And a net version of the same, aka “tit for tat”:

    Speaking of economics, here’s a bit of spiral logic — the economics of spiralling out of control?

    And here’s an example of “endless” recursion, as featured in two tweets about “end” times from Barth’s Notes:

    and its 2013 equivalent:


    Okay, here are some simple sample opposites. First, the weather forecast for Syria:

    — spelled our explicitly by Andrew Stroehlein, who tweeted “Sunny with a chance of cluster bombs…” in response.

    That one seems fairly fair, but click on the links yourself to see the nuances in King‘s actual statements.


    Now for some regular serpents’ tails, from the reasonably light-hearted to the heavier end of the scales:

    Okay, here are two from Mikko Hypponen, the first of which is frankly outdated, but still fun:

    Angela Watercutter caught the tide at just the right moment with her Wired piece, Skynet Becomes Self-Aware: How to Welcome Our AI Overlords:

    The time has come. According to the Terminator clock, at 8:11 p.m. Tuesday, Skynet will become self-aware. And humanity will be screwed. Going by canon set out in the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series, Judgment Day should hit Thursday.

    Never mind Mikko, this one’s funny too — if and only if one’s also familiar with Wikipedia, which seems plausible in all cases for those who follow twitter — it wins double-honors in fact, hitting it out of the self-reference ball-park and into parallelism as satire:


    Namarupa, or “name and form”, has to do with parallelisms between a name and its referent — or what zen might call the “finger pointing” and the moon — always fun:

    The next one depends on your knowing that the Greek mythological creature known as a Naiad refers to “any of the nymphs in classical mythology living in and giving life to lakes, rivers, springs, and fountains”:

    — aptly named indeed.


    We’re almost done — here’s one with a built in time-factor:

    It it still there? Aha!


    Finally, this isn’t a serpent eating its tail by itself:

    — but it becomes one, I’d suggest, when Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2011, retweets it!


    Until next time…

    Blip: algo’s got rhythm at last!

    Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a qualit with little time for quants making another graceful retraction ]

    I haven’t been too convinced that algorithms were good at understanding my interests — remember that ad for “bold” Christian shirts (and babe) some fool code placed on Islamic Awakening — a site I was visiting to read up on Awlaqi?

    Well, those algos are improving… Here’s what YouTube thinks I might want to listen to next, hot from the digital presses…


    Turing Test: check!

    I’d say YouTube’s algorithm has finally figured out — at least momentarily — the basics of who I am.

    On two, one, seven plus or minus, and ten – towards infinity

    Monday, July 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a few quirky thoughts about graphs and analysis ]

    Two eyes (heads, ideas, points of view) are better than one.


    When I worked as senior analyst in a tiny think-shop, my boss would often ask me for an early indicator of some trend. My brain couldn’t handle that — I always needed two data points to see a pattern, and so I coined the mantra for myself, two is the first number. When the American Bankers Association during the Y2K scare wrote and posted a sermon to be delivered in synagogues, churches and mosques counseling trust in the banking system it was a curiosity. When the FBI, in response to the same Y2K scare, put out a manual for chiefs of police in which they provided input on the interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the two together became an indicator: they connected.

    My human brain could see that at once — non-religious authority usurps theological function, times two.

    For what it’s worth, the Starlight data-visualization system we used back then (1999) couldn’t put these two items together: I could and did.


    To wax philosophical, in a manner asymptotic to bullshit:

    One isn’t a number until there are two, because it’s limitless across all spectra and unique, and because it is its own, only context.

    One isn’t a number unless there’s a mind to think of it — in which case it’s already an abstraction within that mind, and thus there are, minimally, two. At which point we are in the numbers game, and there may be many, many more than two — twenty, or plenty, or plenty-three, or the cube root of aleph null, or (ridiculous, I know) infinity-six…

    Go, figure.

    Two is the first number, because the two can mingle or separate, duel or duet: either way, there’s a connection, a link between them.

    Links and connections are where meaning lies — in the edges of our graphs, where two nodes seamlessly integrate, much as two eyes or two ears give us stereoscopic vision or stereophonic sound, not by abstracting one from two by skipping the details that make a difference, but by incorporating the rich fullness of both to present a third which contains them fully via an added dimension of depth.

    That’s the fundamental reason that DoubleQuotes are an ideal analytic tool for the human mind to work with: they’re the simplest form of graph — the dyad — populated with rich nodes and optimally rich associations between them.



    Cornelius Castoriades wrote:

    Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table; what does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night; what does this show me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Requiem of Mozart be a paradigm of being”, and seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way around, instead of seeing in the imaginary, i.e., human mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being.

    When I specified above “the simplest form of graph — the dyad — populated with rich nodes and optimally rich associations between them” I was offering a Castoriades-style reversal of approach, in which our choice of nodes is determined not by their abstraction — as single data points — but by their humanly intuited significance and rich complexity. Hence: anecdotes, quotes, emblems, graphics, snapshots, statistics — leaning to the qualitative side of things, but not omitting the quantitative. And their connection, intuited for the richness of the parallelisms and oppositions between them.

    Often the first rich node will be present in the back of the mind — aviators wanting to learn how to fly a plane, but uninterested in how to land it — when the second falls into place — when a student asks a diving instructor to teach the diving technique, with no interest in learning to avoid the bends while coming back up. And bingo — the thing us understood, the pattern recognized, and an abstraction to “one way tasks” — including “one way tickets” established.

    Let’s call that first node a “fly in the subconscious”. I’d love to have been a fly in the subconscious when SecDef Rumsfeld told a Town hall meeting in Baghdad, April 2003:

    And unlike many armies in the world, you came not to conquer, not to occupy, but to liberate and the Iraqi people know this.

    Because I could have chimed in cheerfully in the very British voice of General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, in that different yet same Baghdad in 1917:

    Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators…

    Oh, the echo — the reverb!


    The ideal number of nodes in the kind of graph I’m thinking of is found in terms of the human capacity to hold “seven plus or minus two” items in mind at the same time — thus, with a slight scanning of the eyes, a graph with eight to twelve nodes and twenty or so edges is about the limit of what can be comprehended.

    The Kabbalistic Tree of Life, infinitely rich in meaning and instruction, has ten nodes and twenty-two edges. Once taken into the mature human mind, there is no end to it.

    The value of a graph composed of such rich nodes and edges lies in the contemplation it affords our human minds and hearts.


    Two, being the simplest number, will probably give you the richest graphs of all…

    Art, in the person of Vincent Van Gogh, meet science, in the person of Theodore von Kármán.

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