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The Antilibrary of the Living Dead

Friday, November 30th, 2012

From time to time we talk here about “the pile” of books waiting to be read, or the larger “Antilibrary” which briefly also became a blog, now defunct:

….The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. he is the owner of a large personal library ( containing thirty thousand books), and separates vistors into two categories: those who react with ‘Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?’ and others – a very small minority- who get the point that a private library is not an ego boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real estate market allow you to put there. You wil accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call the collection of unread books an antilibrary.

–    Nassim Nicholas Taleb 

It occurred to me the other day, that the Antilibrary contains some unread books that, while bought we the best of intentions, perhaps even an air of anticipation, yet were never read – and at the current rate of new book purchases, never will be. To get “living dead” status a book needs to have been sitting on a shelf for a minimum of five years (the archives of book collectors don’t count since they are buying to own or invest and not always to read) and ten is even better. Here are a few of mine:

Tecumseh: A Lifeby John Sugden

My only explanation is that this one was a gift by a well-meaning friend who knew in a vague sort of way that I am “into history”. I really don’t care very much about Tecumseh and still less about his brother the Prophet ( maybe if he had a better handle on the prophecy thing their confederation would have won).

The Oak and the Calf by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This has been sitting on my shelf for 20+ years. This is odd, because I’ve read The Gulag Archipelago twice, along with Cancer Ward,  The First Circle and August 1914.  Not sure if I burned out on Russian-Soviet studies at the time or if the collapse of Communism made it less relevant but it has never been cracked open.

Conquest by Hugh Thomas

Sweeping, magisterial, impressively detailed…..and decidedly unread for at least 15 years.

Nietzsche by Rudiger Safranski

As my Great-great Grandfather hailed from Germany, I now suspect the author may be a distant relation. That hasn’t helped me get started reading it.

Does America Need a Foreign Policy by Henry Kissinger

One of the more ironically-timed books ever written, coming out a mere six months before 9/11, I have had this one for 10 years + and I think I bought it in hardcover for $4 (you can it used on Amazon for one cent. Ouch!). I have read a fair amount of Kissinger, including his acromegalic, multi-volume memoirs, but I can’t muster the energy to read this one.

What are you not reading and why?

On the HipBone and Sembl games: update

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

[ brief intro by Charles Cameron, then shorter version of Dr. Cath Styles‘ presentation of Sembl at the National Digital Forum in New Zealand, 20 November 2012 ]

Charles writes:

I’ve been working for almost twenty years on the development of a playable variant on Hermann Hesse‘s concept of the Glass Bead Game.

It’s an astonishing idea, the GBG — that one could build an architecture of the greatest human ideas across all disciplinary boundaries and media — music, religion, mathematics, the sciences, anthropology, art, psychology, film, theater, literature, history all included — and it has engaged thinkers as subtle as Christopher Alexander, the author of A Pattern Language [See here, p. 74]. Manfred Eigen, Nobel laureate in Chemistry and author of Laws of the Game [see here], and John Holland, the father of genetic algorithms [see here].

Here’s Hesse’s own description of the game as a virtual music of ideas:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number.

My own HipBone Games were an attempt to make a variant of the game that would be simple enough that you could play it on a napkin in a cafe, and has in fact been played online — and more recently, my friend Cath Styles has adapted it for museum play, and introduced the basic concept and our future hopes in a presentation at the National Digital Forum 2012, New Zealand — which you can see very nicely recorded in Mediasite format.

Do take a look — Cath makes a first-rate presentation, and I love the Mediasite tech used to capture it.

Since the slides are shown in a small window concurrently with Cath’s presentation, I’ve edited her presentation for Zenpundit readers, and reproduced many of her slides full-size with some of her commentary below.


Sembl, the game of resemblance

Cath speaking:

In its first form, Sembl is an iPad game, called The Museum Game, at the National Museum of Australia. We’ve just released it in beta as a program for visiting groups.

Cath then talks about feedback from children and adults about their experience of playing the game. Some kids homed in on the principle of resemblance, others emphasised the social side of the game. She talks, too, about their teacher, and her observations about the ways the game engaged her kids.

She then shows us various Sembl gameboards for iPad:

Sembl Museum gameboard for four teams of younger players

Four different Sembl Museum gameboards

Cath speaks:

But The Museum Game is just one form of Sembl. The Museum Game is played in real time, on site, and players take photos of physical objects to create nodes on the board.

The next step is to make a web-based form, that you could play at your own pace, and from your own place. Then, Sembl becomes a game-based social learning network, which amplifies the personal value of the game – it becomes social networking with cognitive benefits.

But it’s the bigger picture – of humans as a community – that I most want to explore: Sembl as an engine of networked ideas, or linked data.

Charles notes: I’m skipping the educational part — and the bit about my own role in the game’s development, to get to the core of her presentation as I see it: the cognitive facilitation it provides

Cath again:

Another way of saying this is that the Game provides a structure and impetus for dialogue, between the museum and visitors, between visitors and things, among visitors and between things. And this is not dialogue in the sense of an everyday conversation. It’s deeper than that. It’s a mutual experience of looking both ways, simultaneously.

Cath next quotes David Bohm, the eminent quantum physicist:

to hold several points of view in active suspension – quotation of David Bohm

Cath speaks:

For Bohm, dialogue means holding several points of view in active suspension. He regarded this kind of dialogue as critical in order to investigate the crises facing society. He saw it as a way to liberate creativity to find solutions.

Cath then drops in an important topic header:

Toward a game-based social learning network


The concept of Sembl, in its deepest sense, is social learning – game-based social learning. In its first instantiation, it is game-based social learning in a museum and – if things turn out as I hope they will – from next year it will be playable at any other exhibiting venue that has the infrastructure and the will to host games – galleries, libraries, botanic gardens, zoos and so on.

network thinking – how Sembl network links differ from traditional linked data links

A web-based form of Sembl can generate linked data with a difference. It’s linked link data, and quite different to normal linked data.

  • Instead of connections based on what a thing is – sculpture, or wooden, or red – Sembl generates connections based on a mutual resemblance between two things. Which, amazingly enough, is a great way of gaining a sense of what each thing is. And if your interest is to enable joyful journeying through cultural ideas, or serendipitous discovery, this approach just wins…
  • Instead of compiling logical links, Sembl cultivates the analogical.
  • Instead of building and deploying a structured, consistent set of relationships, Sembl revels in personal, imprecise, one-of-a-kind, free association, however crazy.
  • Instead of attempting to create a comprehensive and stable map of language and culture, Sembl links are perpetually generative, celebrating the organic, dynamic quirks of cognitive and natural processes.

But the most important way that Sembl is distinct from other systems of network links is that those who generate the links learn network thinking. Which is a critical faculty in this complex time between times, as many smart people will tell you.

Poets have always known the virtues of analogy as a path to the truth.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant – poem by Emily Dickinson

Sembl promotes dialogic, non-linear thinking, and new forms of coherence.

deliberative thinkers – quotation of Charles Cameron

It’s distinct from deliberative thinking, which is rational and causal and logical and linear.

eccentric thinkers – quotation of Charles Cameron

It’s another kind of thinking, which might be informed by rational thought, but its purpose is not singular.

bridge-builders – quotation of Charles Cameron

You might say its purpose is to create – and cohabit – a state of grace, from which ideas simply emerge.

every move you make is a creative leap

If playing Sembl gives us practice in polyphonic thinking, if it helps cultivate connectivity and our capacity to find solutions to local and global problems, it is good value. As Charles says, every move is a creative leap.

Cath concludes:

If you’re interested in working with us to supply content, develop strategy or raise capital, we’re keen to talk.

And I can’t tell you how much I’m anticipating being able to invite everyone to play.



Cath can be reached via Twitter at @cathstyles, and I’m at @hipbonegamer. The Sembl site is at Sembl.net.

Next up: what Sembl has to offer the IC.

OMG! — Fisher to Churchill, 1917

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — for your general amusement ]

Is OMG something to write after your name on your official correspondence — one of the orders of British knighthood, perhaps?



Hat-tip: Smithsonian, via Jeff Gates.

Of ID cards and innermost mysteries

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — just another angle on personal identity and ID, nudged on by two news pieces I saw today, and written to set the thought juices flowing ]

Life’s four deep questions are often listed thus: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? and Where will I go? We humans can spend a lifetime in search of the answers, and Paul Gauguin made three of them them the title of what some consider his greatest painting:

Paul Gauguin: D'où je viens, qui je suis, où je vais?


These are deeply personal questions — and now governments and bureaucracies everywhere would like to know the answers to them, too:


The poet Hopkins, in his tightly compressed way, teaches us that we are not our driving licenses, we are not files in a desk drawer or on a computer, we are not our photos, we are not numbers, we are not even our names, we are… that which is most natural to us, that which is most essential about us, what you might call our “true natures”:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

We selve, we go ourselves — most precisely, we deal out that being which dwells within us.

And to learn what that being is, that mystery which most richly propels us, is our life task.


In our desire to identify, classify, count and track everybody and everything, our governments and bureaucracies keep losing track (!) of the simple fact that a person’s person is that person’s innermost mystery.

Powerful words from Pope Benedict XVI on Power

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — the Pope and power, from his new book ]


A few days ago I posted a piece on the Church of England, with a bit of a squib in its tail. I quoted an MP asking the Church Commissioners‘ MP representative in parliament —

Does he agree that when the decision-making body of the established Church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society that it represents, its position as the established Church must be called into question?

and a response from scripture [Romans 12:2] —

It is written: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’

commenting myself:

One would have thought that after the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the hands of the Nazis for his unwillingness to go along with “decision-making body of the established Church” — in his case, the Lutheran Church in Germany at the time — a little more thought might need to be given before such a question was raised…


I’m now happy to announce that Pope Benedict XVI has some powerful words on the topic in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, as presented by National Catholic Reporter Senior Correspondent John L. Allen Jr. in a piece titled A vaticanista reads the pope’s book:

In the context of discussing the kind of kingdom which the birth of Christ promised, Benedict writes: “Jesus’ words to Pilate remain perennially true: ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ In the course of history, the mighty of this world have sometimes tried to align it with their own [kingdoms], and that’s when it is put at risk. They seek to link their power with Jesus’ power, and in the process they disfigure his kingdom and endanger it.”

Benedict adds, “Or else it is subjected to constant persecution by rulers who will tolerate no other kingdom than their own, and would like to destroy this powerless king, whose mysterious power they fear.”


Christ saw it, St Paul could see it, the Pope sees it, common sense can probably see it. It’s a bit late for me to recommend the idea to Constantine — but could contemporary American Christianity perhaps come to see it, too?

But oh, the Pope goes much farther. In John Allen’s words again:

There you have it: According to Benedict XVI, humility and joy are core tests for Christian authenticity. Let the conversation begin about whether those two qualities are actually characteristic of Catholic life in the early 21st century.

Good question.

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