Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Mentalese bound (Not every flowering dream should bloom)

Viewing this gem from the “thinking allowed” archives; found it amusing how Herr Mishlove’s peculiar smile and enquiring expression invited the then young professor Pinker to engage in max lucidity. The argument chains appeared to be so clear that I fancied an impromptu objection. At some point (@ 19:07) they came to discuss, if “cadence” may affect the environment in which we think. Pinker mentioned lines from Woody Allen adding that “there is something about the rhythm and the cadence of Spanish that puts us in the mood, perhaps, of more romantic thoughts. But I think that's probably the extent of it…” 

If as Pinker states,“The sounds of the language might make (it) more appropriate to express (it) in kinds of emotion that might resonate more with certain kinds of experience” then should not a ranking be possible? One that would rank each such assemblage of sounds (Cadences of a language) according to how well they lend themselves to expressing “kinds of emotion”. Where the ease with which say the prosody of a Bengali dialect may put us in a melancholic mood would out compete that of Icelandic.

There's the rub I guess for if we assume a correlation between emotions and moods with such sounds, pitches or timbres; it would by definition be a subjective resonance not available to investigation. The cadence of Finnish appears not to lend itself to “my softer thoughts”. But since their respective qualia cannot be analyzed, their “lack of resonance” with vowel harmonies of that language as perceived by me is not measurable. The data for our ranking would be no more than reports by subjects about the resonance between two sets of qualia. There is no reason to believe that the subjective experience of a set of sounds are the same for different people, nor that of what they may label melancholia.

Had it been possible then languages could be assessed as regimes of repression. With let’s say Bengali allowing for easier expressions of certain "thoughts and their accompanying emotions" whilst those same would find far fewer available propositions with appropriate sound and timber in Icelandic. Such comparative assessments can be done by a single person with results that may serve to amuse at least him or her. Each language on the other hand will, during this subject’s lifespan, adopt or invent thousands of new terms or phrases with varied intonations. Possible witty anecdotes on the deficiency or superiority of Bengali over Icelandic for "creamy hatred which I would like to spread on my enemies as when I imagine them to be air bound intrusions" then, will never stand to be true even for a single subject. Unless each such assemblage of sounds (languages) in its capacity for borrowing or adopting new sounds (not words or terms) were more conservative. Take the mandatory vowels at the end of Poliisi and Posti in Finnish. Do these suggest that the mood or character that inhabits a language in an era; which cannot be objectively analysed has a self-preserving character? Such an aspect should limit the mutation of Finnish intonation into  hip-hop prosody or Caribbean drawl within a few decades. 

At an earlier section (@3:52) of this interview were cadence is discussed, Pinker talks of translations. Since translations are possible at all he explains “There has got to be something, I think, underneath it, something like a set of propositions that don't really have sounds, that don't have any left-to-right linear order the way language does, but that has a web of connections between concepts, and that are also connected with other aspects of experience -- with visual images, with body sensations.” But why not sounds? If this set of propositions (mentalese) is a web of connections between concepts and aspects of experience, then why does he limit these and not couple them with sounds too. The sonic aspects of these mental propositions can hypothetically be in disharmony with a staccato set of sounds of that proposition in say Dutch.

It seems then to some tiny extent as Lacan would put it “signifier’s displacement” does determine the “subjects’ acts, destiny, refusals, blindnesses, success, and fate, regardless of their innate gifts and instruction, and irregardless of their character or sex;”. Tiny since that juicy quote knows no limit; as success, fate and destiny and many more notions are at risk. The disharmony I imagined under each such regime of repression or displacement was far less and if anything not noticeable by less expressive subjects. But if it can add up to create a more acute sense of entrapment, it would be intriguing.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


How is an act (A) where a person is beaten to death different from (B) where that same person is raped and beaten to death? In what way can the aggression of perpetrators be distinguished in a non-symbolic way? What makes an injury inflicted on the neck, ears or knees more grave than one on genitalia? What role do cultures play in distinguishing the above, to the extent that they may be blamed or lauded for the efficiency with which they prevent either?

There are arguments among some homo sapiens for extending protection to chimps, bonobos and other great apes since studies have shown them to have a sense of self and capacity to exercise empathy; demanding consideration of them as persons. Leaving aside the fact that genocides are carried on currently by the concerned sapiens on their own kind, how much sense would the question on the distinction between acts A and B have when they occur among other Homininae? Who is the Asaram Bapu of bonobos or hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi of chimps whose attitude, comments and shrieks may produce a favorable climate or legitimize violence amongst those species? And if they have no need for such varieties of pant-hoots, in what way are such vocalizations crucial for the sum total of violence possible amongst sapiens? If one were to install loudspeakers on tree tops all over Gombe Stream national park and play Moody blues instead of Lata Mangeshkar can we hope to see a decline in incidents of “overpowering”? If so how much of the trend can be attributed to the lyrics?

Power is a dirty word; but once present in physical or cognitive form in a member of a species it takes a variety of mechanisms to prevent that agent from practicing it. Let us allow cultural codes to be amongst such; containing mechanisms of moderation. Does not the moderation of existing powers then always come at a cost? And are they not like all mechanisms of control subject to laws of nature which impose limits on the efficiency of such systems? In the light or shadow of such formulations, mechanisms such as segregation of sexes in public places, as reactionary as they sound acquire sense as attempts to optimize a system’s objective; given the available funds or resources. In response one may already hear cries that exercise of “humanity” needs no funds or resources; with nonviolence and restraint seen as cost free aspects of a “human” essence, the evidence for which need not be produced. Yet co-founders Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis are not likely to stage one in The Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Freedoms and rights and practice of “humanity” are a function of what is possible within a system of moderation which apart from resources, requires the consent of the powers that run the system. This consent, which, in a modern democratic society is labeled consensus; while impacted may not necessarily be reflective of the resources of that societal system. Where by resources it’s meant the sum total of material and intellectual funds and the institutions for channeling them.

To digress Let's take some choice quotes from the feminist canon:
"Heterosexual intercourse is the pure, formalized expression of contempt for women's bodies." -- Andrea Dworkin

-Contempt is seen as inherent in an encoded behavior, needless to say that feelings of contempt require ideas of status, hierarchy, which are less immediately primordial compared to an urge to penetrate. Nonetheless the specie has to resign as it has come to be, before it becomes worthy or free from blame. Not too uncommon a take, considering millennia of religious traditions east and west which have variously asserted a fall from a state of "heavenly no intercourse". The sentence also provides an endless potential for contemplating just how much contempt I have for oranges when I drink my juice straight from the pack rather than pouring it into a cup. So to the following from Valerie Solanas’s S.C.U.M manifesto:

 “To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples………………He (the male) is trapped in a twilight zone halfway between humans and apes, and is far worse off than the apes because, unlike the apes, he is capable of a large array of negative feelings -- hate, jealousy, contempt, disgust, guilt, shame, doubt -- and moreover, he is aware of what he is and what he isn't…the male is, nonetheless, obsessed with screwing; he'll swim through a river of snot, wade nostril-deep through a mile of vomit, if he thinks there'll be a friendly pussy awaiting him. He'll screw a woman he despises, any snaggle-toothed hag, and furthermore, pay for the opportunity. Why? Relieving physical tension isn't the answer, as masturbation suffices for that. It's not ego satisfaction; that doesn't explain screwing corpses and babies.

Completely egocentric, unable to relate, empathize or identify, and filled with a vast, pervasive, diffuse sexuality, the male is psychically passive. He hates his passivity, so he projects it onto women, defines the make as active, then sets out to prove that he is (`prove that he is a Man').

His main means of attempting to prove it is screwing (Big Man with a Big Dick tearing off a Big Piece). Since he's attempting to prove an error, he must `prove' it again and again. Screwing, then, is a desperate compulsive, attempt to prove he's not passive, not a woman; but he is passive and does want to be a woman...”

I don’t know if these passages answer the initial question about the difference between act A and act B, but in a perverse way they seem to come close by allowing nature and violence endless echoes. They share in their urgency, truths which only reactionary and fundamentalist forces utter mindlessly. But whilst failing to locate these same set of psychic complexes in the “second sex” they also omit that; irrespective of the stance (passive or active) in the absence of power, in the absence of brute physical force, it fails to be an issue. Desperate compulsive Dodos (yes Raphus cucullatus not the band) are not likely to rape and torture me or my family.

As incorrect as it may seem, I want to share what I believe is another instance of this misapprehension of costs. A deluded Izetbegović who seems to have as much grasp of power dynamics as a slutwalk organizer or participant is presented with an inconvenient truth (@2:12)

In retrospect he says that he expected war but not genocide. It serves; I think to never, not expect it, and to go further there is something criminal in this lack of grasp. Recognition is not an endorsement. But to set aside the power equation and the fact of limited resources for enforcement; is to forget, that the same impulse which enabled the recent Delhi gang rape also powered the protests. And contrary to this slate article it really needs little encouragement from a sexist culture.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Ten percent is not...

I learned about the statistician David Salsburg when Mainak sent me a copy of The Lady Tasting Tea, a popular science book about the history of 20th century statistics. Imagine my pleasure when I stumbled upon this excellent collection of amusing errors in data analysis, narrated by Salsburg.

It includes eclectic examples of faked data, such as the sizes of families from the Book of Ezra in the Bible, and trivial causes for observed anomalies such as the case of the eldery-white-male-in-foreign-sports-car phenomenon. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

On the natural history of destruction and biased biases (Over-deliberate marriage of Sebald and Kahneman)

In a series of lectures given in Zurich, on the subject of how or why German literature did not deal adequately with the topic of allied bombings of cities; W.G. Sebald while pointing out the strategic irrationality of these bombings inserted few lines on the extent to which they were inevitable. A strategy targeting mainly civilian populations was opted for by Churchill, despite some opposition and lack of prerequisites in 1941. Moreover it was sustained instead of selective attacks on targets such as factories making ball-bearings, oil and fuel installations, railway junctions and the main transport arteries which would soon have, in the words of Albert Speer paralyzed the entire system of production. By spring of 1944 Sebald states, the critics had pointed out that the morale of the population was unbroken while industrial production was “impaired only marginally”.

Why then this strategy? The determinism one can trace in Sebald’s account has two phases. It is presented as the irreversible momentum of production, for a strategy preferred to alternatives. Phase one being the choice (decision-making bias) and phase two, the impossibility of a revision (cumulative causation in a system).

In reference to the historian A.J.P Taylor, Sebald gives a picture of the latter phase as:

“…an enterprise of the material and organizational dimensions of the bombing offensive, which …swallowed one third of the entire British production for war material, had such a momentum of its own that short-term corrections in course and restrictions were more or less ruled out, especially when, after three years of intensive expansion of factories and production plants, that enterprise had reached the peak of its development. Once the material was manufactured, simply letting the aircraft and their valuable freight stand idle on the airfields of eastern England ran counter to any healthy economic instinct”

Yet, Sir Arthur Harris commander-in-chief of Bomber Command was not sacked despite his “inflexible support” for a strategy that was not working. A peculiar hold on Churchill is mentioned and the following as to why his position was unassailable.

“His plan for successive devastating strikes, which he followed uncompromisingly to the end, was overwhelmingly simple in its logic, and by comparison any real strategic alternatives such as disabling the fuel supply were bound to look like mere diversionary tactics the war in the air was pure and undisguised.”

Here Daniel Kahneman’s work on biases in situations of conflict while not a study of crude options (with a simple logic) versus more decisive complicated strategies, seems to provide indirect support for the tone of inevitability in Sebald’s account. The following talk given in the Center for Study of Rationality titled “"Biased Biases: Do Cognitive Biases Give an Advantage to Hawks over Doves” lists predictable errors that favor one category of competing counsel over another. That is, if such a division of alternatives into two broad categories were possible. Outside the scope of situations tested and detailed by Kahneman his use of labels such as “hawks” and “doves” broadens the signification. Hence abuse of the sort indulged in this piece.

The alternatives documented by Sebald may then be considered as instances of these categories, in relative terms not as types but as degrees. One of which can be labeled more hawkish as it was “in perfect sympathy with the innermost principle of every war, which is to aim for as wholesale an annihilation of the enemy with his dwellings, his history, and his natural environment as can be possibly achieved”

Kahneman’s conclusion is not that hawkish advisors are necessarily wrong only that they are likely to be more persuasive than they deserve to be. Adding to biases the accumulated potential of all the capital, labor and intelligence which will then go into a certain plan, it becomes easy to agree with Alexander Kluge’s idea which Sebald quotes:

“…systematic destruction arising from the development of the means and modes of industrial production hardly seems to justify the principal of hope”.

In the lectures an interview is referred to with; Brigadier Fredrick L. Anderson of U.S. Eight Army Air Force, where he is asked the question “weather hoisting a white flag made from six sheets on the tower of St. Martin’s in good time might have prevented the bombing of the city”. In response “he points out that the bombs they had brought were, after all, “expensive items”. “in practice they couldn’t have been dropped over mountains or open country after so much labor had gone into making them at home”

The psychological determinism which may affect the choice of tactics at an earlier stage in the conflict is then overtaken by the techno-economic determinism of the war industry. The biases in turn at later stages can affect the interpretation of the outcome. The tendency therefore is not to consider revisions in tactics and onwards.

When a system’s mechanism is remotely dialectical it’s difficult to resist the temptation not to import more obfuscation. Thankfully Sebald does the kind job of telling us that Alexander Kluge captioned a photograph of a ruined city in one of his works with the following quotation from Marx.

“We see how the history of industry and the objective existence of industry have become the open book of human consciousness, human psychology perceived in sensory terms …”

This all is too easy and deliberate, decision making histories can never be reduced to an account of competing alternatives. But bias plus the momentum of production leave little elbow room to suggest "a natural history of destruction" which is really the summary of technical, organizational and political prerequisites for its unfolding.

Monday, 12 November 2012

On local enhancement and its cost

In crystallization, assembly of initially unordered molecules is paid for by a transfer of thermal energy from the crystalline phase to the solution. To demonstrate a similar compliance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics in the reproduction of highly ordered structures an experiment closely comparable to crystallization for living organisms can be considered.

Jacques Monod, 1970, Chance and Necessity
“We take a milliliter of water having in it a few milligrams of simple sugar, such as glucose, as well as some mineral salts containing the essential elements that enter into the chemical constituents of living organisms (nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, etc.). In this medium we grow a bacterium, for example Escherichia coli (length, 2 microns; weigh approximately 5×10-13 grams) inside thirty six hours the solution will contain several billion bacteria. We shall find about 40 per cent of the sugar has been converted into cellular constituents, while the remainder has been oxidized into carbon dioxide and water. By carrying out the entire experiment in calorimeter, one can draw up the thermodynamic balance sheet for the operation and determine that, as in the case of crystallization, the entropy of the system as a whole (bacteria plus medium) has increased a little more than the minimum prescribed by the 2nd law. Thus while the extremely complex system represented by the bacterial cell has not only been conserved but has multiplied several billion times, the thermodynamic debt corresponding to the operation has been duly settled.”

Monod meditates further on this phenomenon in the following lines:
“Nonetheless, something unfailingly upsets our physical intuition…Why? Because we see clearly that this process is bent or oriented in one exclusive direction: the multiplication of cells. These to be sure do not violate the laws of thermodynamics, quite the contrary.  They not only obey them; they utilize them as a good engineer would, with maximum efficiency to carry out the project and bring about the “dream” (as Francois Jacob has put it) of every cell: to become two cells”

Now, recovering from that metaphor (i.e. the dream) one is left with two thoughts. The first has to do with, the cost of order or the transfer of thermal energy to the periphery. The other a bit less sound has to do with the possibilities of a transplant; as any analogy may be described as one.

Let us take a short story "The Quantity Theory of Insanity" by Will Self which I haven’t read but whose plot is relevant to the operation (transplant). A theory is put forward in the story that there is "only a fixed proportion of sanity to go round in any given society" so it follows; if you cure an asylum full of schizophrenics in Turku, a group of perfectly sane people will go crazy in Saarbrucken. Not quite the 2nd law as the system does not evolve towards a degradation of order, the sanity remains constant.  

However it leads one to think of the cost of sanity/intelligence, and its relative growth in terms similar to any system of invariant replication and its energy demands. Can such metaphors be applied to information processing or the memeosphere? If codification and copying of knowledge comes at a cost is there a loss in the sum total of codified exchange and apprehension? If so where do we draw the boundaries? Which apprehending systems should we consider?

Reduction in biodiversity is also coupled by an increase in the scale and power of computing or sensory systems produced by mankind that are to measure, record, analyse, warn etc. These do not yet have the apprehending power or complexity of many life forms in tracing phenomenon and reacting. So the question is how much loss has accompanied this local increase in apprehending power or sanity in some components of the biosphere. 

To further define sanity as any processing power for a purpose, I am tempted to use Gregory Bateson's definition of “information” as “a difference which makes a difference”. With a slight difference between the first difference and the second, the first implying any pattern in the universe which can be discerned or sensed the second being the significance as in “what difference does it make to …my life, survival or whatever aims a component of a system can have”.

Here it becomes a bit more tricky, as the metaphors start to distract the “…dream of every cell to become two cells” is no more conscious or deliberate than say the dream of the water pouring down a waterfall or that of a river reaching the sea. So the differences that make a difference to cellular multiplication are not objectively different than the differences in topography which create a waterfall, or are they? How much more does it matter to a cell to multiply, than it does to water under the influence of gravity to fall off some edge? This makes the earlier definition of sanity or apprehending power as the processing of a difference that makes a difference less natural or purposeful even at higher levels. I have a feeling that this line of thought can only conclude in a variety of reverse panpsychism, which will invalidate the attempted transplant. 

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Super Macro

This blog post is probably a query..

My tasks on the computer very often involve repetitions of commands. Even though the same commands (steps) reveal new information everyday.

Example 1.

Internet -

  1. check 2 different mailboxes 
  2. two different news sites and 
  3. three blogs depending on the RSS feeds I have received

Can this happen automatically- at one mouse click?

Example 2.

Non-internet based job -

  1. Start a custom designed commercial tool to do certain tasks
  2. This job requires repeating the same steps to get different simulation results obviously with small variations in input data.
  3. Then I copy and paste various texts from the tool to an excel sheet.
  4. And do further simple math in excel. 
  5. Finally, results are plot

How about a super macro creating software which records the steps across different tools on the computer and creates an executable script based on this recording. 
Enhanced feature - to add variables to this script so it may in the end have the capacity to produce an analysis.
Super Macro - to make for/ if-else loops within macros.

It would be brilliant to see an easy GUI based software that does this. With increasing computation capacity would'nt this be handy for the less code-able.

Friday, 3 December 2010


Living Science Fiction.

Transhumanism is a movement or the philosophy that we can and should develop to higher levels, both physically, mentally and socialy using rational methods.

A TED talk by a transhumanist about some elements of transhumanism.
Transhumanism is a philosophy that humanity can, and should, strive to higher levels, both physically, mentally and socially. It encourages research into such areas as life extension, cryonics, nanotechnology, physical and mental enhancements, uploading human consciousness into computers and megascale engineering.

Also see - Transhuman resources by Anders Sandberg.