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Seymour Papert, RIP

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a somewhat personal note ]
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Seymour Papert, photo by L. Barry Hetherington, via Papert’s NYT obit

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Seymour Papert, artificial intelligence pioneer and one-time research colleague of Jean Piaget who was keenly interested in bringing children, education and computers together, has died.

The Jewish paper, Foward, has an obit which touches me personally, since it turns out that Papert knew and learnjed much from my own mentor, Trevor Huddleston. Key graphs from the obit:

Another activity that became more than a pastime was improving life conditions for his black neighbors in South Africa. Daniel Crevier’s “A. I.,” a history of machine intelligence, notes that Papert grew up in an otherwise all-black area. Papert acquired further insight and sensitivity into the issue of racism from lengthy discussions with Father Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid Anglican clergyman who often collaborated with Jewish activists sharing his views, notably the artist Hyman Segal of Russian Jewish origin, who illustrated Huddleston’s 1956 anti-apartheid study, “Naught For Your Comfort.”

As Desmond Tutu told an interviewer last year, Huddleston visited him regularly “when I nearly succumbed to tuberculosis. He taught me invaluable lessons about the human family; that it doesn’t matter how we look or where we come from, we are made for each other, for compassion, for support and for love.” This interfaith belief impressed young Papert as well, who like other South Africans of his generation was stunned when Huddleston did simple things like politely greeting black people in the street, acknowledging them as fellow human beings; one such recipient of unexpected civility was Desmond Tutu’s mother. In high school, Papert tried to arrange evening classes for illiterate black domestic servants, an activity strictly forbidden by the apartheid government.

Ever a logical thinker, Papert asked why black Africans were not permitted to attend white schools. The response was because of the threat of infectious disease, to which Papert replied that black servants prepared food and cared for children of the same white families, so the thought process at the basis of apartheid was clearly illogical.

For my own recollections of Fr Trevor, see:

  • Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston
  • Between the warrior and the monk (iii): poetry and sacrament
  • h/t Derek Robinson

    Whole lot of DoubleQuoting going on..

    Friday, July 29th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameroncompare & contrast is a very basic mental practice, and one I’d like to sharpen into the cognitive tool or mental app I term DoubleQuotes ]
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    This may well be the most significant DoubleTweet of the day — the very fact of its doubleness placing the issue into the category of Who Knows?

    — both tweets, as you see, come to us courtesy of Mike Walker, former acting SecArmy & deputy FEMA director — and since this is Friday, let me say #FF him at @New_Narrative.

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    A French-language DQ worthy of note and our support:

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    A Trump trumps Trump DQ:

    — hat-tip to @pourmecoffee.

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    Another Trump on Trump, this one caught by Adam Serwer:

    FWIW, I’m sure there are Clinton on Clinton DoubleTweets too..

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    An entire, detailed NYT comparison between the two election campaigns demonstrates the power of extended compare and contrast thinking, aided and abetted by the graphical ease of digital capture and analysis —

    NYT e;lection DQ article

    — but you’ll need to click through and read it to get the full effect.

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    And while we’re on the subject of patterns, here’s a great quote which I got via Jessie Daniels:

    A fine use of the ouroboric form to hammer home the significance of an observation — and also a powerful contemporary creation myth!

    The Shoehorn — two into one won’t go

    Monday, July 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — these things are multi-factorial, and can’t truthfully be shoehorned to fit two categories — “terrorist” or “deranged” — as realtors might say, it’s nuance, nuance, nuance ]
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    Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt have an interesting piece in the NYT today, titled In the Age of ISIS, Who’s a Terrorist, and Who’s Simply Deranged? It hinges on a comparison of two similar events in France, two years apart, in Dijon and Nice.

    Here, I’ve presented them as a DoubleQuote. The Dijon article (upper panel, below) comes from an NYT report dated December 23, 2014:

    Tablet DQ 600 Terrorist or Deranged

    The Nice report (lower panel, above) comes from Mazzetti and Schmitt’s piece today.

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    Mazzetti and Schmitt point out that shortly before the Dijon attack,

    In September 2014, the spokesman for the Islamic State put out a call for the group’s followers to attack Westerners by any means possible, and to do so without awaiting further instructions from the group’s leaders.

    “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him,” the spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, said during a 42-minute recorded statement.

    The whole Mazzetti and Schmitt piece is worth your reading. Categorization, as they explain, is changing —

    “A lot of this stuff is at the fringes of what we would historically think of as terrorism,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism and a professor at Dartmouth College. But, he said, “the Islamic State and jihadism has become a kind of refuge for some unstable people who are at the end of their rope and decide they can redeem their screwed-up lives” by dying in the name of a cause.

    Mr. Benjamin said this also led the news media and government officials to treat violence like the Nice attack differently from other mass attacks, like shootings at schools and churches that have been carried out by non-Muslims.

    “If there is a mass killing and there is a Muslim involved, all of a sudden it is by definition terrorism,” he said

    — and this has impacts far beyond the horrific crimes themselves.

    For instance, here’s one conclusion with significant foreign policy implications:

    But terrorism experts caution that because the Islamic State seems to have broad appeal to the mentally unbalanced, the displaced and others on the fringes of society, there are limits to how much any military campaign in Syria and Iraq can reduce violence carried out in other countries on the group’s behalf.

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    As Will McCants puts it in a Time piece titled The Difference Between ISIS and ISIS-ish:

    The pattern is tragically familiar: a troubled youth with a criminal past attacks in the name of ISIS. Charlie Hebdo, Orlando, San Bernardino and perhaps now Nice. They are not ISIS, exactly, but ISISish men and women who have no organizational ties to ISIS but murder in its name.

    And Heraclitus:

    No man ever steps in the same river twice.

    Soundbites and hasty headlines don’t chew what they bite. Each case is its own case — sui generis. Classical philosophy used to posit four types of cause: formal and material, efficient and final. In terms of acts of sudden violence, we may want to consider a variety of contextual influences, subconscious drives (James Gilligan‘s work on violnce and shame is deeply relevant here), overt signalling by perps including claims of bayat, methods employed and their history in previous actions and inspoirational or technical literature, and post-action claims by known terrorist groups

    Life does not pretend to be simple. Convenience is no substitute for careful analysis.

    Meanwhile, back in Nice..

    Saturday, July 16th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — from blessed peace to brutal war ]
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    Yesterday:

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    Today:

    Or as they say on Twitter, #FridayFollow Rukmini Callimachi.

    Sunday surprise the second — the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God

    Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — wishing you all blessings on the Fourth ]
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    My eye was caught today by yet another disaster — which in turn reminded me of tomorrow, the Fourth of July. It’s just one example among many:

    — but it brings up again the question of whether we think in terms of “acts of God” or “laws of Nature” or — somehow — both. And that’s where thw roding of the Constitution comes in, with the phrase “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”:

    Nature and Nature's God DQ

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    If I used that phrasing — “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” — today, I might well be attempting to please or at least placate readers who variously:

  • believe in a God separate from and superior to Nature, and author of Nature’s laws
  • believe in a God essentially indistinguishable from Nature, wholly immanent, &
  • disbelieve in any kind of God, but recognize Nature as a catchall term for the Whole System.
  • I don’t suppose that would necessarily be the case in 1776, though, and wonder whether the phrase should be read as:

    the Laws — of Nature and of Nature’s God

    or:

    the Laws of Nature — and of Nature’s God

    and if the second, whether the and marks a distinction between Nature and nature’s God, or also covers the possibility of their being one and the same.

    And once we’ve cleared that up, and bearing in mind that John Donne could write “At the round earth’s imagin’d corners” — thus conflating the old, imaginative, square earth with the new, scientific, spherical one — how feasible do you think it is to hold simultaneously the idea that a given earthquake, hurricane, tsunami or volcanic eruption is an act of God and a natural disaster?

    A worldview paradox?

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    Sources:

  • July 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
  • November 18, 2013, Room for Debate: Natural Disasters or ‘Acts of God’?

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