Excellent article, thank you for sending it along. Reminds me of Tolstoy's point about the fog of war. I would only come back on one sentence in the whole article, in red:

In addition to the intelligence reports that in hindsight seem to point toward a specific attack, there is also a huge background of useless intelligence, each week bringing new reams of sometimes alarming or mysterious messages and transcripts that would later prove misleading or insignificant. In advance of the event, you can’t tell one sort from the other.

If I were standing on line at the movies chatting with Leonard Mlodinow, in response to his assertion that 'in advance of the event' one can't discern useful from useless information ...

Mlodinow: Now hold on: I didn't say 'information'; I said 'intelligence.'

Montenow: Professor Mlodinow, my apologies. You asserted, after giving the specific example of Pearl Harbor, that 'in advance of the event, you can't tell [useless intelligence] from [intelligence reports that in hindsight seem to point toward a specific attack]." Have I got it right now?

Mlodinow: Yes, that is what I said.

Montenow: Are you saying that this is a hard-and-fast rule ... that no amount of processing or analysis of information available in the present will ever yield up predictions that are significantly better than chance? Such that one might never utilize such predictions to evolve strategies that are effective in controlling for risks and hassles and challenges that life seemingly randomly tosses up?

Mlodinow: No, no, nothing so strong as that was intended. As I said, "... I try to relax, and work on making the best of whatever develops, rather than worrying about how awful it is." So, the way I "work on making the best of whatever develops" -- that is, the strategies I calmly employ as I make my way through life -- are ones that rely on reading the present and forming judgments about how to act, always seeking to 'steer' circumstances toward 'solutions'; that is, toward futures in which risks and hassles are controlled, and happiness (among other non-zero-sum benefits) is promoted.

Montenow: Nice to hear. Because at the moment it appears that "evidence from computational models hints at the potential existence of a large equivalence class of adaptive behavior."

Mlodinow: Miller & Page, page 83. Yes, that caught my attention too. What does that mean to you, "large equivalence class of adaptive behavior"?

Montenow: Well, for starters, an 'equivalence class' of 'adaptive behavior' simply means, for example, that common strategies arise out of divergent implementations of, for example, genetic algorithms. "Implementations of such algorithms often differ in a variety of ways; for example they may use very different kinds of representations, selection mechanisms, and choices of specific operators. Notwithstanding these choices, the resulting algorithms tend to perform more or less identically." M&P, App. A, at 240.

Mlodinow: Go on, I'm with you ...

Montenow: So this tells me that
there are reasons to believe
that it is worthwhile to investigate
the extent to which
one can beat chance in predicting
(based on analysis and processing
of information available in the present)
that the state-space of the world
will fall into some such equivalence class.

Because if so, one might use this ability to evolve strategies that will be effective in controlling for the risks and hassles and challenges that life tosses up.

Mlodinow: Hmmm. I don't know what to say.

Montenow: I'm saying, it seems to be possible to gray some otherwise black swans. And it certainly seems like a good idea to investigate further whether or not it is possible. But apart from that one small quibble, I am very thankful for the points of view you have so eloquently articulated in the NY Times interview.



Rhetoric and Rheology

Those whose words and deeds fly in the face of the ambient reality call to my mind a scene near the end of the 1986 movie Ruthless People (embedded at the bottom of this post).

Ambient reality? One way of conceiving of the present networked information age is to draw an analogy between 'reality' and matter. Units of information are analogized to particles of matter. (This analogy lives in the classical mechanical realm; this is not a quantum theory of Ruthless People, so think of bits and collections of bits (not qubits) as the information particles in the analogy).

Particles of matter may be found in different states (e.g., gas, liquid, solid), depending on the physical context. From Wikipedia:
A State of matter is a class of materials, usually solid, liquid, and gas. Plasma and also Bose-Einstein condensate are also states of matter, though less known ....

There is a classic general science description of each of the phases: A solid is a material that maintains its shape and its volume; a liquid maintains its volume but takes on the shape of its container; A gas takes on both the shape and volume of its container.
The collection of particles in a gas has "an indefinite, unstable shape.... In a gas, the particles are far apart from each other, and they can move around quickly."

Absent any means to record and correlate units of information, the units remain in rapid motion relative to each other, and far apart, like molecules in a gas. As the ability to store, retrieve, and relate information increases, the behavior of the particles relative to each other "settles down" -- becomes more coherent -- more like a liquid. The particles are still free to move about the volume, and slide easily past each other; and their overall shape still conforms to the container (shape of container being part of the analog of 'context,' which can be manipulated (reshaped) through rhetorical framing of information).

But in the "liquid" state, particles of information form discrete surfaces; and the distance between particles is less than in a "gas." As liquids tend toward solids, up a scale of viscosity, so too does commonly perceptible reality become more "viscous" in this analogy, with advancements in information technology. From Wikipedia:
Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid to being deformed by either shear stress or extensional stress. It is commonly perceived as "thickness", or resistance to flow. Viscosity describes a fluid's internal resistance to flow and may be thought of as a measure of fluid friction. Thus, water is "thin", having a lower viscosity, while vegetable oil is "thick" having a higher viscosity.
In the present networked information society, the collecting, cataloging, and sharing of evidence is vastly more efficient (and egalitarian) than ever before in human history.
  • We are seeing the emergence of filtering, accreditation, and synthesis mechanisms as part of network behavior. These rely on clustering of communities of interest and association ... but offer tremendous redundancy of paths for expression and accreditation. These practices leave no single point of failure for discourse: no single point where observations can be squelched or attention commanded – by fiat or with the application of money. Because of these emerging systems, the networked information economy is solving the information overload and discourse fragmentation concerns without introducing the distortions of the mass-media model. Peer production ... is providing some of the most important functionalities of the media. These efforts provide a watchdog, a source of salient observations regarding matters of public concern, and a platform for discussing the alternatives open to a polity. [Benkler, The Wealth of Networks 271-72; see also Jack Balkin, "What I Learned about Blogging in a Year" (Balkinization 1.23.2004 )].
  • While there is enormous diversity on the Internet, there are also mechanisms and practices that generate a common set of themes, concerns, and public knowledge around which a public sphere can emerge. Any given site is likely to be within a very small number of clicks away from a site that is visible from a very large number of other sites, and these form a backbone of common materials, observations, and concerns. ... Users self-organize to filter the universe of information that is generated in the network. This self-organization includes a number of highly salient sites that provide a core of common social and cultural experiences and knowledge that can provide the basis for a common public sphere, rather than a fragmented one. [Benkler, The Wealth of Networks 256; see also Of Strategies and Substrates].
So the ambient reality in the present networked information age is increasingly 'viscous.' Reality is still vulnerable to rhetorical framing, but not nearly as much as it was just a very few years ago. It is now practical for individuals to record, retrieve and relate information rapidly enough to feed back into the equation. Rhetoricians and all other actors may increasingly be held to account.

It is important to emphasize the recency and magnitude of this change. Vast swaths of society still do not conceive (or refuse to believe) that a phase transition [cf.] is underway, altering the very nature of the ambient reality. This explains why political actors (including, but not limited to, corporations & politicians) continue to behave as though reality rapidly evanesces, or that it may be endlessly reshaped; that nobody can enforce a logical consistency among the various things that are known, and hold politicians and others to account for what they do and say.

But it doesn't work that way anymore -- people can check! [cf.]

The old-style Rove-Atwater-Machiavelli-Thrasymachus politics can no longer outpace the rigors of reason, and are anathema to the upcoming digital natives.

Which brings me back to the Ruthless People clip. Judge Reinhold's character (in the clown outfit) has kidnapped Danny DeVito's character's wife, hoping to gain a huge ransom. The scene depicts the handoff of the ransom money. Both parties are well aware that the handoff is being observed by scores of armed police. That is the ambient reality in the scene.

As Reinhold's character prepares to leave with the suitcase full of money, a third party (played by Bill Pullman) enters the scene and attempts a holdup. Only Pullman's character is totally unaware of the ambient reality that the plaza is ringed by police. As summed up by one police lieutenant (@ the 1:10 mark), "this could very well be the stupidest person on the face of the Earth."

You'll make no mistake in imagining those who are ignorant (or incredulous) of the ongoing phase transition wrought by the networked information society to be like Pullman's character in this clip:

. . .. ... .. . .

& in case that scene gets taken down, here is a stand in:

p.s. Rheology is the study of viscosity and related aspects of the mechanical behavior of materials.


network perspective

Siddhartha: "... teachings are of no use to me; they have no hardness, no softness, no colours, no corners, no smell, no taste — they have nothing but words...."

tb: How do you feel about rich media, my friend? Teachings can now be made more tangible -- the words can acquire some hardness, some softness, some colors, some corners in the new substrate. Your description of words (and teachings) is like to a diffuse vapor, imperceptible for more than a few fleeting moments after emission. But now the world features an information substrate that is rendering reality more viscous. Structures can be built and made to persist and proliferate.

Siddhartha: "Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it. I suspected this when I was still a youth and it was this that drove me away from teachers."

tb: Maybe not; but one can self-exemplify wisdom. Rich media bolsters the effectiveness and extends the reach of self-exemplified wisdom. [a humble example; another] And, Siddhartha, I think I can further phase-transition your enlightened ferryman mind with just a little discourse on network theory and related perspectives. Like a cooking show, where the host can take the finished cake out of the oven right away, allow me to jump to the network-perspicacious hypersegments of the 4D Siddharthapillar.

Siddhartha: Wow! It sure is nice to have a robust theoretical apparatus on which to hang all my hitherto incommunicable wisdom. You have succeeded in communicating much wisdom to me, thereby self-exemplifying your point that it is possible. I might quibble -- in an attempt to save the purity of my 'can't communicate wisdom' wisdom I was trying to impart to Govinda -- that you too are like all teachers in that you have also only shown me knowledge; that my network perspicacity has sprung from the depths of my own soul, as ever.

But I am not so small-minded: You have demonstrated a material shift in the quality of reality, and my former view has given way. Perhaps you have only shown me knowledge, but the new substrate has changed the ratio of knowledge-exposure to wisdom-emergence profoundly. Quibbles about what is being communicated (knowledge vs. wisdom) melt away.

tb: Thank you, my friend. You told Govinda that you do not attach great importance to thoughts; that you attach more importance to things. Do you still feel that way, Siddhartha?

Siddhartha: Yes, but thoughts are now more thing-like, in this new substrate. Thoughts and words and images are now instantiated physically and interconnected as never before.

[Siddhartha bent down, lifted a stone from the ground and held it in his hand.]

Siddhartha: Previously I would have said, "This stone is a stone; it is also animal, God and Buddha. I do not respect and love it because it was one thing and will become something else, but because it has already long been everything and always is everything. I love it just because it is a stone, because today and now it appears to me a stone. I see value and meaning in each one of its fine markings and cavities, in the yellow, in the grey, in the hardness and the sound of it when I knock it, in the dryness or dampness of its surface."

I do not feel otherwise now, but I wish to point out that my respect and love for artifacts like microchips surpasses my respect and love for stones by some orders of magnitude.

[Siddhartha opened his coarse hempen knapsack and drew forth a 4GB micro-SD chip.]

On this tiny flake of matter is encoded vast stores of interconnected knowledge. I have seen electron micrographs displaying its intricate patterns, and with your help I have come to understand the physics of its function.

Without diminishing the beauty of the stone, I perceive a higher order of value and meaning in the microscopic markings and cavities of the microchip, as compared to the chaotic markings and cavities of the stone I hold in my other hand.

And when I put the micro-SD chip into my web-enabled handheld over in my third hand, it becomes physically connected to far-reaching networks of people and information, and wondrous new meta-things emerge and self-organize. Thoughts, knowledge and information are made tangible and communicable and accessible, acquiring a utility far surpassing the humble stone in the hierarchy of things in the thingosphere.


Asperger Notes

How to climb out of the Asperger 'gravity well'

That's it!

cf. metacognition

For neurotyps

Learn up on Asperger's, seeking clues to what an Aspie worldview might be like; seek out some of the readily available Aspie testimony too -- i.e., try to break out of the neurotyp 'syndrome' mentality, and dig the multidimensional phase space of human cognition -- array, if you will, all human intelligence on this multidimensional hyperboard, yours included.

You are on the same hyperboard, is the point, with the 'Aspies.' You must relax your conception of yourself as 'normal' or 'typical' and see yourself on the same 'spectrum' as all other humans, Aspies included. The Aspie/Autism 'spectrum' encompasses a multitude of cognitive attributes, each one represented by its own orthogonal dimension in the phase space of human cognition. A 'diagnosis' of 'Aspie' means that the clinician has located the subject in a subset hypervolume within that phase space.

The boundary of the hypervolume enclosing 'Aspies' is not well defined, and differs along with the tastes of different practitioners, I imagine (I only imagine, because I am only roughly familiar with a/A spectrum clinical practice; but measurement of cognitive attributes has some serious error bars attached, I further imagine, yielding up ye fuzzy boundary).

Anyway, the point, for neurotyps, is that you almost certainly share some of the attributes that contribute to the 'Aspie' score. They are not binary "on" or "off" attributes, but each one varying along a subspectrum (not necessarily one-dimensional either). You might even register 'Strong Aspie' (or whatever they call it) on some of these attributes, but not very many; and you may register 'Mild Aspie' on a number of them, but not enough to approach the score thresholds of the 'Aspie' diagnosis.

The armchair scientist in me wants to venture that for every individual clinically diagnosed 'Aspie' there are some large multiple of other individuals who would also be diagnosed 'Aspie' if measured. And there is an even larger multiple of individuals who would not be diagnosed, but who inhabit neighborhoods of the phase space of human cognition overlapping the Aspie environs (and Autie environs too).

don't fight it

This is where the 'relax your conception of yourself as normal' thing comes in: it's not that you're 'normal' and Aspies are 'abnormal' or 'mentally ill.' I am hopeful that you will come to understand that overlapping the Aspie environs is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. Some of the attributes in question are things like meticulousness and industry and transcendent musical brilliance -- got a problem with any of that? So you can imagine that you only overlap in those kinds of attributes if you like. But you can see yourself arrayed on this same hyperboard -- in the same phase space of human cognition. Do you see how you can overlap in a subset of these dimensions?

OK, that's progress. Now: please do not suspect that I am attempting to gain a foothold from which to argue that all of the rest of the Aspie bag must be allowed into polite neurotypical company. I am not arguing that point one way or the other.

Recall that episode of Bewitched where some old Aunt put a spell on Samantha, compelling her to append a rhyme to the tail of every utterance. E.g., "Give it to me ... fiddle dee dee." I know a person who exhibits a similar compulsion in that he cannot miss an opportunity to issue forth puns, and apparently has no filter; it is hard to discern any limit in the extent to which he will reach in order to interject something 'witty' into a dialogue. He believes that this is good, first-class wit; whereas I perceive it to be a degenerate form of wit. We are on either side of one or more A/a attribute borderlines on the pun thing. I am not arguing that anybody needs to put up with this sort of thing.

And coming back to my point, dear Neurotyp, consider the merits of rigorous dialectic habits in this networked information age. This new world characterized by self-organizing interlocutors communicating via interactive multimedia (aka 'rich media'). Iterating out a wikiworld of connected understanding.

Now my point is that the bag of tricks necessary to navigate (and co-create) this world, includes several items from the Aspie bag that -- check out my Aspie aspect -- have been being thrown out with the bathwater in many communities.

So for example, computer programmers to this day are castigated as 'nerds' or 'geeks' etc. by the neurotypicool set. But in the information age, algorithmic sensibilities are necessary! A facility with logical structures, with mathematics more generally -- with complex adaptive systems and network theory and fractal geometry -- these are increasingly necessary literacies. If neurotyps would only relax their aversion to these 'geeky' neighorhoods, they would be doing themselves a favor. In my experience, it is often not lack of interest that keeps their minds closed, but rather fear of having this interest found out by other neurotypicools and being branded 'nerd' or whatever. That's a sorry anti-intellectual memetrap indeed.

. . .. ... .. . .

. . .. ... .. . .

Anyway: all that by way of suggesting to you, dear reader who may be a neurotyp interested in Aspergers, that it would be salutary if you made an earnest attempt to see the world a little bit through clear Aspie eyes.

On the Merits

Neurotyps complain about aspie's inability to 'empathize' among other deficits (from the neurotypical perspective).

But at bottom, what the complaint is often about ... is aspie's unwillingness (or inability) to cave on the merits.

For example:

Neurotyp complains that aspie does not see things from her perspective enough (or at all).

But if her perspective, in a given case, is that she should get her way despite the merits of the situation, then all aspie has done is fail to cave on the merits.

Empathy does not involve necessarily caving on the merits just because neurotyps would prefer it.

If one's feelings won't be sufficiently soothed until one gets the thing one wants, one should take care to want things that, on the merits, one may legitimately expect to get.

And if called out on the merits ... then defend the merits.

Don't say, off-the-merits, that, e.g., aspie's tone of voice is now the problem (attempting to multiply any merit-based arguments of his by zero), or that aspie is too [nerdy / geeky/ type-A / erudite / pointy-headed, etc.], or whatever off-the-merits ploy.

sometimes I think it is a question of different perspectives on what "the merits" are. E.g., you may not want to make the 5-hour drive for the weekend because it has a low ratio [of enjoyment to hassle] ... those are the clear merits, but she doesn't care about that so much because she believes the value of being in some other place for 35 hours is worth the 10 hour driving investment.

If the merits cannot be defended, then:

  • It is not aspie's fault!

If the merits can be defended, but not real time, then neurotyps should take some time to think it through and then communicate in writing or something.

If neurotyps turn out to be wrong on the merits, they should admit it.

And if they are wrong a lot of the time, they should reflect on that and stop giving aspie so much trouble.

In any event, neurotyps should drop the idea that they are automatically right on the merits; or are entitled to some presumption of being right on the merits; or that they are entitled to summary judgment on the merits; or that the merits need not even be discussed.

To your point above: certainly it's a question of different perspectives on what "the merits" are.

But one should have the opportunity to advance arguments on the merits that will be entertained in good faith; conversely, one should have the obligation to hear the other persons well-reasoned arguments on the merits and entertain them in good faith.

Neither side should get to decide the issue based on unfounded ipse dixit or any other off-the-merits strategy.

Often a [neurotypical] interlocutor protests that s/he 'can't be expected to defend the merits,' or 'think through the issue a little more clearly' due to some information deficit or cognitive disadvantage relative to aspie. This is advanced in lieu of substantive response, in the expectation that it it can overcome the merits and win the argument. Now even if it were true (regarding information processing disadvantages relative to aspie), this would not be aspie's fault; and even if it were chargeable to aspie somehow, such a state of affairs would not impact the underlying merits at all.

1) i don't think you should lump all neurotypicals together in that regard

2) not all aspie's are of superior intelligence and that makes a big difference

1) I'm not;

2) I don't maintain that.

I mean: the subset of neurotypicals who do that; or better yet, people (without labeling them) who do that.

More Aspie Pearls

"Those with [Aspergers] will have problems with communication [and] in reading nonverbal signals, such as facial expressions and body language, and also being able to give the right responses when talking."

Maxine C. Aston, The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome (National Autistic Society 2001).

Let’s examine these communication problems from a different perspective. I think I am onto some neurotypical behaviors that might account for this type of communication breakdown.

Namely, the habit of saying something other than what is meant. If one party to a communication persistently utters words that do not match the meaning they hope to convey, why is the fault for the ensuing communication breakdown assigned to the person who is not in the habit of doing this (and who is, moreover, in the habit of seeking a clear, unambiguous understanding in every interaction, and being thwarted in that pursuit by the aforementioned word/meaning mismatch habit of the other person)?

In my experience, people often seem very uncomfortable (or even unable) to say what they mean directly. They may not say it directly for any number of reasons: because it does not sound so good out loud; because if the interlocutor picks up too readily on the actual meaning, it may produce an undesired response; because the speaker is not capable of articulating their meaning, or perhaps they are not clear on their meaning to begin with.

A frequently observed behavior is to pull utterances up short; that is, not finish sentences, expecting the interlocutor to clue in on the rest of what is meant (this is especially pernicious in those instances in which the speaker is not even capable of finishing the thought, and is just fishing for someone else to do the critical thinking for them).

A clear-headed communicator, faced with any of the above, is faced with a cloud of potential ambiguity. There is too much of a range in what is possibly meant. Now, it may be neurotypical for participants in conversations to ride through the information gaps, throwing lifelines to each other, guessing as to meanings. And it may even be that people can get very good at guessing meanings, and develop a willingness to play at communicating in that fashion.

But it is a reckless way to communicate, because it is so imprecise; whole worlds of ambiguity are opened up, and often on purpose. For example: let’s say Ann wants her co-worker Bob to take on a particular task. If Ann doesn’t come right out and say “I think you should do that task,” then whatever indirect thing she does say will create a palpable ambiguity, to be danced around, regarding who is to do the task in question. Bob may be well aware that Ann wants her to do the task, but let’s say he doesn’t want to do it. He may respond in like fashion, with some indirect way of attempting to keep the task off his plate. This is an inefficient way to make decisions and achieve the requisite clarity, and I suspect this kind of communication dynamic accounts for a lot of dropped balls.

Let’s inject Clare into the same discussion. Clare favors direct, unambiguous communications, bucking the conventional “dance around sensitive issues” pattern. So now Ann tries to float the task over to Clare’s plate, and Clare shares Bob’s desire not to have that task land on her plate.

So Clare comes out with a direct "I don't think it is appropriate for me to do that task; Ann, that's squarely in your area of responsibility; I think you should do it."

Ann gets bent out of shape, because Clare didn't play the neurotypical game of allowing the merits to be decided unfairly, with improperly supported arguments.

Now, for some (most?) Aspies, I think they genuinely lack insight into what is meant (if it is very different from what is said, especially).

I feel like i have no idea what other people are thinking or how they think....is that an aspie trait? can neurotyps tell better what people are thinking or do they just THINK they can tell what others are thinking?

Often they guess correctly but too often, they do not, but continue to act as if they have (and as if their mode of communication is 'normal' and clearer; more logical forms are abnormal).

I don't know so much about the run of aspies for whom neurotyp meanings are opaque. For me, it's not an inability, or a disability, in discerning meaning, but a kind of hyperability.

For example, I am very Bob-like, quick to clue in when someone else, e.g., is inappropriately trying to waft something over to my plate. I'm extremely, think-12-steps-ahead, quick to clue in and the next thing I do or say is a direct response to what is actually meant (within the limits of my putative hyperability to guess what that is). This often comes as a slap in my interlocutor's face because they may not even know that they mean that; i.e., they may not have gotten that far in the chain of reasoning to understand the logical implications of their utterance.

Or, they may know very well they mean that, but were trying to disguise it, and resent getting hit in the face with it.

Well, anyway, sticking with my solipsistic universe for a second ... I often can't pull out the meaning either; but more often, I can, but simply refuse to play the game of 'communicating' like that, because it's too frustrating and inefficient. And THAT is the kind of reaction that neurotypical writers of books on Asperger's syndrome depict as 'inappropriate communication sensibilities' and the like.

What I do is bottom-line the thing, way earlier than conventional people. I figure (not always correctly) that if I can't understand something, then it needs clarification. Even if I am wrong (and some huge % of others would not find any ambiguity), the thing still needs clarification if one of the parties to the conversation isn't getting the incoming communication (no matter whose fault that is).

It is this process of disambiguation that neurotyps often object to, and often apparently because of their own shortcomings in the articulation and critical thinking departments -- which shortcomings, paradoxically (in my experience anyway), are often advanced in lieu of substantive rejoinder (as discussed above: 'I can't be expected to think as fast as you; so I get to win the point notwithstanding the merits...').

Objecting to that kind of logic is some kind of sin against neurotyp nature, apparently.


Language is Music is Math

Quoting from The Art of Music (Cannon, Johnson & Waite 1960)

What is Music? In every age a different answer has been found. Today music may be the art of organizing tones so that an aesthetic experience may result. It was once held to be sound related to number, and at another time the union of word and tone. Two thousand years after Plato, Johannes Kepler still adhered to Plato's idea that music was a force regulating the universe through the mathematical relationships inherent in musical intervals. For a man of the Enlightenment music was matter in motion, while a man of the nineteenth century would have described it as the language of the emotions, an irrational form of speech capable of expressing the inexpressible.

* * * *

There is another reason why music has been such an important aspect of human thought. For millenia music was held to be not only an art, but a science. Tradition ascribes to Pythagoras, a Greek thinker of the sixth century B.C., the discovery that the relationships of musical tones are measurable by specific mathematical proportions. Although the earliest makers of musical instruments, such as the person who bored holes in a wooden pipe to produce different tones, must have had some knowledge of these numerical relationships, it was not until the fifth or sixth century B.C. that they were formulated mathematically.

This discovery, that sound is subject to the rational laws of number, was one of the first intimations the Greeks had that nature is an orderly process. If the harmony which exists between tones is the product of mathematical proportions, could it be possible that other aspects of the world are regulated by the same numbers? May not the succession of the seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides, the balance and discords of the human spirit all be related through the same proportions? May not music be the foundation of the universe? As a result of such speculations music became the companion of arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy as a science that measures and explains the causes and relationships of the universe. In subsequent centuries the evolution of music as an art was continually to be influenced by the premises of music as a science. Even today the mathematical aspect of music is an important element in the theories of many composers. (see also math rock).

* * * *

[E]ven in the prehistory of Greece music was pre-eminent among the arts. In the earliest Hellenic times before the establishment of laws, it was the poet-musician who preserved and guided the traditions of his people through a recitation of the deeds of the heroes of his race. For the early Greeks music was not simply tone as such. It was a composite art: word and music united in the utterances of the bards. The poet, composer, and singer were one, the lawgiver who guided his primitive political society through the examples of proper action recited in his songs. Through the force of his thought, ennobled by musical expression, the musician could move his audience to emotions and actions. This power of music was felt to be of divine origin, and it was said to have come into the possession of mortals as a gift of the gods who had invented musical instruments.

Poetry and music were the transmitters and the mainstay of culture. The first form of education was "musical," by which the Greeks meant an indoctrination into the arts of music and poetry as well as the assimilation of the examples and laws furnished by poetry. Music was considered to be necessary for the preservation of the community and it was inextricably interwoven with the life of the state. All public occasions were graced by music, often performed by the populace. Contests were established in which both singers and instrumentalists participated to win public acclaim. ...


Fog of War

War & Peace | The Black Swan

War & Peace
Modern Library, Constance Garnett trans.

Part 2, ch. XXI, p. 177-78

Prince Bagration thanked the several commanding officers, and inquired into details of the battle and of the losses. The general, whose regiment had been inspected at Braunau, submitted to the prince that as soon as the engagement began, he had fallen back from the copse, mustered the men who were cutting the wood, and letting them pass him, had made a bayonet charge with two battalions and repulsed the French.

“As soon as I saw, your excellancy, that the first battalion was thrown into confusion, I stood in the road and thought, 'I'll let them get through and then open fire on them'; and that is what I did.”

The general had so longed to do this, he had so regretted not having succeeded in doing it, that it seemed to him now that this was just what had happened. Indeed might it not actually have been so? Who could make out in such confusion what did and what did not happen?

“And by the way I ought to note, your excellency,” he continued, recalling Dolohov's conversation with Kutuzov and his own late interview with the degraded officer, “that the private Dolohov, degraded to the ranks, took a French officer prisoner before my eyes and particularly distinguished himself.”

“I saw here, your excellency, the attack of the Pavlograd hussars,” Zherkov put in, looking uneasily about him. He had not seen the hussars at all that day, but had only heard about them from an infantry officer. “They broke up two squares, your excellency.”

When Zherkov began to speak, several officers smiled, as they always did, expecting a joke from him. But as they perceived that what he was saying all redounded to the glory of our arms and of the day, they resumed a serious expression, although many were very well aware that what Zherkov was saying was a lie utterly without foundation. Prince Bagration turned to the old colonel.

“I thank you all, gentlemen; all branches of the service behaved heroically – infantry, cavalry, and artillery. How did two cannons come to be abandoned in the centre?” he inquired, looking about for some one. (Prince Bagration did not ask about the cannons of the left flank; he knew that all of them had been abandoned at the very beginning of the action.) “I think it was you I sent,” he added, addressing the staff-officer.

“One had been disabled,” answered the staff-officer, “but the other, I can't explain; I was there all the while myself, giving instructions, and I had scarcely left there.... It was pretty hot, it's true,” he added modestly.

Some one said that Captain Tushin was close by here in the village, and that he had already been sent for.

“Oh, but you went there,” said Prince Bagration, addressing Prince Andrey.

“To be sure, we rode there almost together,” said the staff-officer, smiling affably to [Andrey].

“I had not the pleasure of seeing you,” said Prince Andrey, coldly and abruptly. Every one was silent.

* * * *

Part 10, ch. 1, pp. 637-38

[Tolstoy surveys various current 19th Century historical narratives about Napoleon's war on Russia.]

... [A]ll these hints at foreseeing what actually did happen on the French as well as on the Russian side are only conspicuous now because the event justified them. If the event had not come to pass, these hints would have been forgotten, as thousands and millions of suggestions and suppositions are now forgotten that were in current at the period, but have been shown by time to be unfounded and so have been consigned to oblivion. There are always so many presuppositions as to the cause of every event that, however the matter ends, there are always people who will say: “I said at the time that it would be so”: quite oblivious of the fact that among the numerous suppositions they made there were others too suggesting just the opposite course of events.

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Charles Joseph Minard, Tableaux Graphiques et Cartes Figuratives de M. Minard, 1845-1869

see also Wikimedia Commons

The above is the classic of Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870), the French engineer, which shows the terrible fate of Napoleon's army in Russia. Described by E. J. Marey as seeming to defy the pen of the historian by its brutal eloquence, this combination of data map and time-series, drawn in 1869, portrays the devastating losses suffered in Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812.

Beginning at the left on the Polish-Russian border near the Niemen river, the thick band shows the size of the army (422,000 men) as it invaded Russia in June 1812. The width of the band indicates the size of the army at each place on the map. In September, the army reached Moscow, which was by then sacked and deserted, with 100,000 men.

The path of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow is depicted by the darker, lower band, which is linked to a temperature scale and dates at the bottom of the chart. It was a bitterly cold winter, and many froze on the march out of Russia. As the graphic shows, the crossing of the Berezina River was a disaster, and the army finally struggled back into Poland with only 10,000 men remaining. Also shown are the movements of auxiliary troops, as they sought to protect the rear and the flank of the advancing army.

Minard's graphic tells a rich, coherent story with its multivariate data, far more enlightening than just a single number bouncing along over time. Six variables are plotted: the size of the army, its location on a two-dimensional surface, direction of the army's movement, and temperature on various dates during the retreat from Moscow. It may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.

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Taleb, The Black Swan, p.8:

History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what' s inside the body, how the mechanisms work. What I call the generator of historical events is different from the events themselves ....

This disconnect is similar to the difference between the food you see on the table at the restaurant and the process you can observe in the kitchen.

The human mind suffers from three ailments as it comes into contact with history, what I call the triplet of opacity. They are:
  • the illusion of understanding, or how everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (or random) than they realize;

  • the retrospective distortion, or how we can assess matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rearview mirror (history seems clearer and more organized in history books than in empirical reality); and

  • the overvaluation of factual information and the handicap of authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories ...

Nobody Knows What's Going On

The first leg of the triplet is the pathology of thinking that the world in which we live is more understandable, more explainable, and therefore more predictable than it actually is.

I was constantly told by adults that the [Lebanese civil] war, which ended up lasting close to seventeen years, was going to end in “only a matter of days.” They seemed quite confident in their forecasts of duration, as can be evidenced by the number of people who sat waiting in hotel rooms and other temporary quarters in Cypress, Greece, France, and elsewhere for the war to finish.

* * * *

p. 251: The Ubiquity of the Gaussian

One of the problems I face in life is that whenever I tell people that the Gaussian bell curve is not ubiquitous in real life, only in the minds of statisticians, they require me to “prove it” -- which is easy to do, as we will see in the next two chapters, yet nobody has managed to prove the opposite. Whenever I suggest a process that is not Gaussian, I am asked to justify my suggestion and to, beyond the phenomena, “give them the theory behind it.”...

Theory shmeory! I have an epistemological problem with that, with the need to justify the world's failure to resemble an idealized model that someone blind to reality has managed to promote. ... This ubiquity of the Gaussian is not a property of the world, but a problem in our minds, stemming from the way we look at it....

I sometimes get a little emotional because I've spent a large part of my life thinking about this problem. Since I started thinking about it, and conducting a variety of thought experiments ... I have not for the life of me been able to find anyone around me in the business and statistical world who was intellectually consistent in that he both accepted the Black Swan and rejected the Gaussian and Gaussian tools. Many people accepted my Black Swan idea but could not take it to its logical conclusion, which is that you cannot use one single measure for randomness called a standard deviation (and call it “risk”); you cannot expect a simple answer to characterize uncertainty. To go the extra step requires courage, commitment, an ability to connect the dots, a desire to understand randomness fully. It also means not accepting other people's wisdom as gospel.

Then I started finding physicists who had rejected the Gaussian tools but fell for another sin: gullibility about precise predictive models.... I could not find anyone with depth and scientific technique who looked at the world of randomness and understood its nature, who looked at calculations as an aid, not a principal aim. It took me close to a decade and a half to find that thinker, the man who made many swans gray: Mandelbrot – the great Benoit Mandelbrot.

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See also The Geebus (April 14, 2006)


excerpt from Bellow

from Saul Bellow, “What kind of day did you have?” in Him With His Foot in his Mouth and Other Stories (1984).

page cites are to the Penguin Books paperback edition (1985)

This is the part in which the great art critic Victor Wulpy (modeled after Bellow's University of Chicago colleague Harold Rosenberg) encounters an old acquaintance, Larry Wrangel, a Hollywood sci-fi film producer, while stuck in the airport in Buffalo ...


background, p.98:

Victor tells Katrina, his traveling companion ...

about a note he had received at the hotel from a fellow he had known years ago – a surprise that did not please him. “He takes the tone of an old chum. Wonderful to meet again after thirty years. He happens to be in town. And good old Greenwich Village – I hate the revival of these relationships that never were. Meantime, it's true, he's become quite a celebrity.”

“Would I know the name?”

“Larry Wrangel. He had a recent success with a film called The Kronos Factor. Same type as 2001 or Star Wars.”

“Of course,” said Katrina. “That's the Wrangel who was featured in People magazine. A late-in-life success, they called him. Ten years ago he was still making porno movies. Interesting.”

She spoke cautiously, having disgraced herself in San Francisco. Even now she couldn't be sure that Victor had forgiven her for dragging him to see M*A*S*H. Somewhere in his mental accounts there was a black mark still. Bad taste approaching criminality, he had once said. “He must be very rich. The piece in People said that his picture grossed four hundred million. Did he attend your lecture?”

“He wrote that he had an engagement, so he might be a bit late, and could we have a drink afterwards. He gave a number, but I didn't call.”

“You were what—tired? disgruntled?”

“In the old days he was bearable for about ten minutes at a time—just a character who longed to be taken seriously. The type that bores you most when he's most earnest. He came from the Midwest to study philosophy at NYU and he took up with the painters at the Cedar bar and the writers on Hudson Street. I remember him, all right—a little guy, quirky, shrewd, offbeat. I think he supported himself by writing continuity for the comic books—Buck Rogers, Batman, Flash Gordon. He carried a scribbler in his zipper jacket and jotted down plot ideas. I lost track of him, and I don't care to find the track again....”


p. 136:

They now saw Victor working his way back to the booth, and Wrangel signaled to the waitress to serve their lunch. The glazed orange duck looked downright dangerous. Circles of fat swam in the spiced gravy. Famished, Victor attacked his food. His whiskey glass was soon fingerprinted with grease. He tore up his rolls over the dish and spooned up the fatty sops. He was irritable.

Wrangel tried to make conversation, as a host should do. Victor gave him a gloomy if not sinister look – a glare, to be more accurate – when Wrangel began to point out connections between cartoons and abstract ideas. When people spoke of ideas as “clear,” didn't they mean reductive? Human beings, in reduction, represented as things. Acceptable enough when they were funny. But suppose the intention wasn't funny, as shorthand representations of the human often were, then you got an abstract condensation for the Modern theme. Take Picasso and Daumier as caricaturists (much deference in this to Victor, the expert). It might be fair to say that Daumier treated a social subject: the middle class, the courtroom. Picasso didn't. In Picasso you had the flavor of nihilism that went with increased abstraction. Wrangel in his rolls of fur and his chin supported by silk scarf and cotton bandanna was nervous, insecure of tone, twitching.

“What's this about reason?” said Victor. “First you tell me that ideas are trivial, they're dead, and then what do you do but discuss ideas with me?”

“There's no contradiction, is there, if I say that abstract ideas and caricature go together?”

“I have little interest in discussing this,” said Victor. “It'll keep until you get back to California, won't it?”

“I suppose it will.”

“Well, then, stow it. Skip it. Stuff it.”

“It's a pity that my success in sci-fi should be held against me. Actually I've had a better than average training in philosophy.”

“Well, I'm not in the mood for philosophy. And I don't want to discuss the nihilism that goes with reason. I figure you've done enough to f___ up the consciousness of millions of people with this mishmash of astrophysics and divinity that has made you so famous. Your trouble is that you'd like to sneak up on real seriousness. Well, you've already made your contribution. Your statement is on the record.”

“You yourself have written about ''divine sickness,” Victor. I would suppose that any creature, regardless of his worldly status, had one ticket good for a single admission if he has suffered – if he paid his price.”

But Victor wouldn't hear him out. He made a face so satirical, violent, so killing that Katrina would have turned away from it if it hadn't been so extraordinary – an aspect of Victor never manifested before. He drew his lips over his teeth to imitate bare gums. He gabbled in pantomime, not a sound coming out. He let out his tongue like a dog panting. He squeezed his eyes so tight that you couldn't see anything except the millipede brows and lashes. He put his thumbs to the sides of his head and waggled his fingers. Then he slid himself out of the booth, took up the duffel, and started for the door. Katrina, too, stood up. She held Vanessa's fiddle in her arms, saying, “I'd apologize for him if you didn't also know him. He's in very bad shape, Mr. Wrangel, you can see that for yourself. Last year we nearly lost him. And he's in pain every day. Try to remember that. I'm sorry about this. Don't let him get to you.”

“Well, this is a lesson. Of course it makes me very sad. Yes, I see he's in bad shape. Yes, it's a pity.”

It had cut him up, and Katrina's heart went out to Wrangel. “Thank you,” she said, drawing away, turning. She hoped she didn't look too clumsy from the rear.

Victor was waiting for her in the concourse and she spoke to him angrily. “That was bad behavior. I didn't like being a party to it.”

“When he started on me with Daumier and Picasso, I couldn't stand it, not a minute more of it.”

“You feel rotten and you took it out on him.”

He conceded this in silence.

. . .. ... .. . .

staging ...


Doofus Turing Test

(from 5.23.2007)

The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine's capability to demonstrate thought.
Described by Professor Alan Turing in the 1950 paper "Computing machinery and intelligence," it proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with two other parties, one a human and the other a machine; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. It is assumed that both the human and the machine try to appear human. [from Wikipedia]

In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of the machine instead of its ability to render words into audio), the conversation is usually limited to a text-only channel such as a teletype machine as Turing suggested or, more recently, IRC or instant messaging.

Thus, the Turing test takes as its objective measure the best-informed subjective impression of the human judge.

I propose an analogous test, which I will call the Doofus-Turing Test Notwithstanding the tradition of naming such proposals after their proponents (anticipating the doofus retort). The Doofus-Turing Test involves communication between a human judge and a human subject, not between a human and a machine. Like the Turing test, however, it takes as its objective measure the best-informed subjective impression of the human judge.

In other words: I am borrowing the notion from the AI field that it is useful to employ such a measure of intellect. Turing himself suggested several objections which could be made to his test, and I am not here arguing whether the Turing test holds up as a useful test or not against such arguments. I have observed, however, that computer scientists and AI researchers won't shut up about the Turing test, and neither shall I.

If a human judge's subjective impression is a useful construct in measuring machine intelligence, then perhaps it can also be employed to measure aspects of human intelligence. That is the extent of the analogy I draw.

So, what aspects of human intelligence do I imagine might be measured by the Doofus-Turing Test? I imagine that the human judge will rank the subject along a spectum of doofusheadedness. I shall call this measure the Doofus Quotient. I do not here propose the method of assigning an objective rank, nor the mathematical form of the index. That is to be worked out later, by actual smart people (once this proposal passes their Doofus-Turing Test).

The Doofus Quotient, or DQ, scores the depth and consistency of the subject's understanding. A subject who manifests a shallow, superficial or rote understanding of a topic under discussion would score higher, and especially if the topic is one on which the subject holds him or herself out as having specialized knowledge. Conversely, subjects who evince deep knowledge and whose remarks hold together logically would score lower (they would be less doofusheaded). High DQ scores for adherents (or spouters) of idea-sets lacking strong empirical and theoretical foundation; low DQ scores for practitioners of rigorous and intellectually honest analysis.

My premise is that a human judge with sufficient acuity in a given area can easily recognize others with a similar or greater depth of understanding; and conversely, the same human judge can readily sniff out spurious experts.” The more data points, the better (as usual); but it does not take very many data points, I propose, to distill out a useful DQ. If the subject produces accurate, consistent responses to, say, five penetrating questions in a row, this tells the judge a lot. If the subject can only manage canned, superficial bullet-pointy soundbites in response to the same five questions, all the while maintaining the faรงade of specialized knowledge, the judge can also learn much about the subject. Even a subject who has a deep understanding in some areas may yet score high on the DQ scale, if the subject over-leverages this expertise by feigning expertise in other areas, for example. Indeed, such behavior may warrant a multiplier of some sort!

The Doofus-Turing Test looks for logical inconsistencies. If there are any pockets of irrationality in the subject's reasoning, it is a sign that there could be many similar pockets. The Doofus-Turing Test is attuned to the spouting of talking-point memes, divorced from factual or empirical basis. The Doofus-Turing Test exposes the deployment of rhetorical trickery tending to deflect attention from the merits of the subject at hand.

Someone who spends too much time writing a piece such as this one would score higher on the Doofus-Turing Test; someone who stops here and attends to other matters in life would tend to score lower.


[Update: someone who came back to edit this post likely just spiked his DQ.]


rw said...

On the subject of the DTT and the DQ, which results therefrom, I am puzzled by a population stratification bias. There are categories of people (let's select politicians as one subgroup) who clearly cluster around a high DQ. They are forced to speak to constituents, the debate floor, or their party often at times when they have nothing to say, or for that matter, they are rhetorically modifying a party line to overemphasize its strength. For instance, the republican party during the Lewinsky scandal continuously turned the debate on the floor, whatever the issue actually was at the time, to the notion of morality in this country. One might argue that the morality of an illicit affair and even the lying to cover said act up is dispicable. But, at what point does the act of a single man, even one so high in office as the President condemn the morality of an entire nation?

Herein lies the efficacy of artfully used dufusheadedness. By taking a single situation and extrapolating it to win political sway, we also have a form of high DQ. I view the DTT as having two sub categories. There is high DQ A, which is highly rhetorical debate with no substance or intellectual reference wherein the dufus is merely talking to pontificate. And, there is high DQ B where the dufus knows exactly how wrong and untruthful the use of rhetoric is but chooses to perpetuate it because rhetorical sound bites amplify his position. This is the most dangerous form of a dufus. The high DQ B dufus is the one who turns entire political platforms into a few sound bites (i.e. decline of family values, defeating terrorism, etc.). It is ironic that in many cases those dufuses have been caught violating their own "rhetorical moral code" when they are caught in a scandal (e.g. Mark Foley) or act to undermine their own rhetoric (Abu Graib, Walter Reed, and a lack of suitable armor on Hummers).

What is truly incredible is the ability of the high DQ B dufus to quickly spin a tale so as to marginalize the subject of a scandal and form a new rhetoric which draws attention away from it (i.e. new sound bites such as "the Democrats do not support our troops because they want to bring them home"). I submit that the high DQ A dufus is easy to find, and often easy to discredit, but the high DQ B dufus is much more careful about what, where, and who actually sends the message (case in point, who was hung out to dry in the Valerie Plame scandal, those who contemplated the leak or those who actually perpetrated it?) The high DQ A dufus is one who plagarizes a speech in his first run for the Presidency, manages to rebound to make another run more than a decade later, only to make another stupid comment about his competition (e.g. Joe Biden). This is someone who knows rhetoric works but does not know how to use it or even when he is using it.

I do not want to leave out low DQ A and B dufuses as well. You might suggest that if the DQ is low, then one is not a dufus. On the contrary, I would argue that a party who is up against another group of nearly pure high DQ dufuses and still cannot find a way to win sway must also be called to the carpet. This is the low DQ dufus A. That is someone who clearly references and understands the argument and can argue intelligently and with data against a high DQ dufus but often does not formulate a proper argument or is so lazy as to not realize they can powerfully use the tools of the high DQ dufus B against them. The only gem in this crowd is the low DQ dufus B, who are few in numbers. These are the class of people who gather data, cross reference it, form an opinion, and articulately display it in a form such as to totally discredit the opinion editorial nature of the high DQ dufus.

Alas, I search for this person in the political realm and find none. There are too many high DQ dufuses, particularly B's, who so quickly make the situation unenjoyable for the low DQ dufus B, so why would anyone worth the job actually ever choose to do it.

May 26, 2007 11:01 AM

truthboy said...

Low-D QB wondertwin powers activate! Form of a network; shape of a phase transition.

June 12, 2007 11:11 AM

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& test of machiavellianism salon.com 9.13.1999