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Serpent logic and related

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

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

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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.

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Okay, here are two from Mikko Hypponen, the first of which is frankly outdated, but still fun: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

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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.

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

It it still there? Aha!

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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!

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Until next time…

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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 ]
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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…

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Turing Test: check!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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A woman, a ladder, four goats, and a cow named Bessie.

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- the four goats go with the woman, the cow called Bessie belongs with Hiyakawa's Ladder of Abstraction ]
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My friend the anthropologist Peter van der Werff recently wrote this paragraph about a woman he met in India:

The very poor woman explained me she and her four goats needed the shadow of a tree to escape from the blistering afternoon sun in their semi-arid part of India. There was a tree at the edge of the village, but the owner did not allow her to come near that tree. Therefore, she and her goats suffered from the heat, at the cost of her health and the productivity of the goats.

I was reminded of SI Hayakawa‘s Ladder of Abstraction.

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Caution: you really do need, as it says, to “read” this image from the bottom up…

See Bessie, the Cow, in SI and AR Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, pp. 83-85, 5th ed..

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Why did I think of Hayakawa’s ladder?

Here are two other things m’friend Peter had to say about the woman and her goats, the merciless sun, and that tree with its abundance of merciful shade:

As long as economists don’t include oppression and exploitation in their models, they cannot understand poverty.

and:

Such cruel relationships occur in many of the 750,000 villages of India. Without including those oppressive and exploitative realities, real poverty is not captured. We may invite economists to fit this reality in the computer.

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We humans can do it. But how do we configure models that can hold those levels of granularity and abstraction — of individual human concern and global decision-making necessity — close enough together to give our grand plans humane flexibility?

I suspect writers such as Lawrence Wright know more about this than the number crunchers — and that the well-selected anecdote must become as significant as the well-chosen statistic

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The easy way or the hard way?

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- thinking more in terms of challenge than of threat, and skipping via Chicago Law, Everest, and Handel's Messiah to a Venn diagram of the workings of conscience ]
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Well, I don’t always read the Chicago Law Review cover to cover, or even at all to be honest — but I confess I did like this opening paragraph from George Loewenstein† & Ted O’Donoghue†† (love those daggers after your names, guys):

If you ever have the misfortune to be interrogated, and the experience resembles its depiction in movies, it is likely that your interrogator will inform you that “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The interrogator is telling you, with an economy of words, that you are going to spill the beans; the only question is whether you will also get tortured — which is the hard way. In this Essay, we argue that much consumption follows a similar pattern, except that the torturer is oneself.

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Here’s the easy vs hard contrast I was thinking about as I googled my way to the Law Review — as you’ll see, it has nothing to do with interrogation:

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So, a little background. Jason Burke has been covering Everest for The Guardian lately, since it has been almost exactly sixty years since Hillary and Tenzing were the first to “conquer” the highest peak on earth — and one of his reports caught my eye — Everest may have ladder installed to ease congestion on Hillary Step:

It was the final obstacle, the 40 feet of technical climbing up a near vertical rock face that pushed Sir Edmund Hillary to the limit. Once climbed, the way to the summit of Mount Everest lay open.

Now, almost exactly 60 years after the New Zealander and his rope-mate, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, stood on the highest point in the planet, a new plan has been mooted to install a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, as the crucial pitch at nearly 29,000ft has been known since it was first ascended. The aim is to ease congestion.

That’s what the upper panel, above, is all about — and I think it contrasts nicely with the bottom panel, which shows a rurp. Should you need one, you can obtain your own Black Diamond rurp here.

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Rurps are awesome. Here are two descriptions of them, both taken from the mountaineering literature, and neither one of them focusing in too closely on the poetry of the name…

Steve Rope, Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber, p. 107:

Chouinard’s “rurp” was obviously something special. An acronym for “realized ultimate reality piton,” this ludicrously small fragment of heat-treated steel opened our eyes to untold possibilities.

and Chris Jones, Climbing in North America, p. 273:

It was about the size of a postage stamp. The business end was the thickness of a knife blade and penetrated only a quarter-inch into the rock. With several of these Realized Ultimate Reality Pitons, or rurps, Chouinard and Frost made the crux pitch on Kat Pinnacle (A4). It was the most difficult aid climb in North America.

Chouinard named this postage-stamp-sized thing the realized ultimate reality piton (RURP) because if you willingly and literally hang your life on that quarter-inch of steel, you’re liable to realize, well, ultimate reality.

Zen — yours for $15 and exemplary courage.

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Here’s my question: should we make the hard way easier?

When is that a kindness, and when is it foolish?

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In its own way, of course, a rurp is an assist — it makes the hard way a tad easier for the serious climber.

As indeed would the proposed “ladder” on Everest: here’s why it might be not-such-a-bad idea:

This year, 520 climbers have reached the summit of Everest. On 19 May, around 150 climbed the last 3,000ft of the peak from Camp IV within hours of each other, causing lengthy delays as mountaineers queued to descend or ascend harder sections.

“Most of the traffic jams are at the Hillary Step because only one person can go up or down. If you have people waiting two, three or even four hours that means lots of exposure [to risk]. To make the climbing easier, that would be wrong. But this is a safety feature,” said Sherpa…

Besides, the idea is to set it up as a one-way street…

Frits Vrijlandt, the president of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), said the ladder could be a solution to the increasing numbers of climbers on the mountain.

“It’s for the way down, so it won’t change the climb,” Vrijlandt told the Guardian.

Ah, but then there’s human nature to consider:

It is unlikely, however, that tired ascending climbers close to their ultimate goal will spurn such an obvious aid at such an altitude.

Bah!

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Shouldn’t we just level the top off, as Handel and Isaiah 4.4 suggest, and as we’re doing in the Appalachians?

A little mountaintop removal mining, a helipad, and voilà — even I could make it to the summit!

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But to return to Loewenstein† & O’Donoghue†† — their paper’s full title was “We Can Do This the Easy Way or the Hard Way”: Negative Emotions, Self-Regulation, and the Law — how can a theologian such as myself resist a diagram such as this?

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