jacqamor�/a> (see yesterday):
what we remember lacks the hard edge of fact.
to help us along we create little fictions, highly subtle and
individual scenarios which clarify and shape our experience.
the remembered event becomes a fiction, a structure
made to accomodate certain feelings.
August 21, 2000
Ran across hypnode while mining my old referrer logs. Hypnode's art page and weblog.
Via hypnode: jacqamor�/a>, "writings of the absurd." Daily prose poetry.
Read this today in Gregory Bateson's
Steps To An Ecology of Mind:
In fact, the phenomenon of context and the closely related phenomenon of
"meaning" defined a division between the "hard" sciences and the sort of science which I was trying to build.
August 20, 2000
It was raining today but as often happens here, the sun broke out in the afternoon, revealing a quiet, shining, moist, blue-grey sky. It occurred to me (dangerously) to try to
whip out my camera when I saw a bit of this, while driving, and I barely managed to get it out and flip it open and
on to take this hurriedly through my windshield just as the light turned green and I was obligated to lurch onto the freeway onramp.
In the bathroom I have a copy of Three
Ages of Zen and I happened to re-read the following koan which struck me somehow (excerpted):
The rite of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts was being performed at the Karataka mountain gate of the Kenchoji temple. When the sutra reading had been completed, however, priest Rankei suddenly pointed to the main gate and shouted: 'A samurai has come through the gate. It is Kajiwara Kagetoki, of many treacheries. Bring him to salvation quickly!'
The monks all stared hard at the gate, but could see no samurai there. Only the head monk shouted, 'Clear to see!' He left the line and went back to the Zen hall.
The teacher berated the others, saying: 'Look at the crowds of you, supposed to be saving myriad spirits in the three worlds, and yet you cannot save one samurai --- blind clods! The rite must be performed again at the main gate, and the Heart Sutra recited in its original Sanskrit.'...
Imai's commentary: Can chanting the sutra in Sanskrit bring salvation to Kajiwara, or can it not? He who says that it can will have to come under the teacher's hammer yet again.
August 19, 2000
For the first known time in 50 million years, there is open water at the North Pole.
A hole in the polar ice cap a mile wide has been encountered at the North Pole. The north polar ice cap has thinned by 45 percent since the 50's and 60's.
John Pang sends me a reference to the work of Hiroaki Kitano,
who is doing interesting work on the computational evolution of biological and neurological systems. One of his projects
is the Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project.
Yellow Peril Alert. The FBI, in spite of a howling lack of evidence and the continued undermining of their case
(none of the "nuclear secrets" that the Chinese supposedly stole --- most of which have been shown to be easily
obtainable from nonclassified sources --- could have come from Wen Ho Lee, since that information did not exist
at the time Lee downloaded the information to his encrypted laptop), they continue to press charges against a man whose
only crime was some sloppiness with unimportant
information (which was only later reclassified at a higher
security clearance --- after the "crime" took place --- and which John Richter, a former senior weapons designer at Los
Alamos has just now testified that, if it fell into enemy hands, he doesn't think "it would have any deleterious effect at all.")
Furthermore, sloppy handling of such information occurred regularly at the lab (luckily for most of those folks, they
aren't Chinese). The FBI has systematically engaged in deception and now
false testimony they gave last winter. Wen Ho Lee actually passed an independent polygraph test with
flying colors (the FBI witness admitted that "Lee had scored among the highest possible scores for credibility"),
but they explained their claim that he had "failed" the test by saying that the test did not follow FBI protocols.
The only explanation I can think of for this persistent obstinacy is that the FBI is trying to cover their asses on
what is clearly turning out to be an entirely frivolous and racist prosecution (one might note that Wen Ho Lee is
not from mainland China, but from Taiwan, and is perhaps one of the least likely people to want to compromise
American security --- but to the FBI, yellow skin is yellow skin is yellow skin, apparently).
August 18, 2000
My friend Atau Tanaka sends me a note that his performance art group, Sensorband,
which utilizes sophisticated bioelectronic sensors and sound synthesis,
will be performing in Berlin on August 29, 30, and 31,
in Taipei on September 9, and at ICC Tokyo on September 23 for Caipirinha's Architettura screenings.
at Carnegie Mellon University have uncovered evidence that better problem solving comes with less mental effort
(i.e., higher efficiency). His group found that people who scored higher on tests of visual-spatial ability showed less increase
in brain activity in visual regions when solving a spatial problem, and similar results for verbal tasks and related brain activity.
The implication is that people may solve problems better not by expending more effort, but
by using their brains more efficiently. This report supports earlier research that showed that as the brain learns,
it becomes more energy-efficient, and that decisions can be aided by powerful but simple tactics.
Which reminds me of a certain Chuang Tzu story.
August 17, 2000
Of course, one problem with this idea of consummation-free love is that it would be difficult to find an evolutionary story
to go with this idea. Perhaps another problem is our notion of absolutely strict monogamy is overly artificial. Of course,
there are practical issues involved: custom, jealousy, and so forth. Difficult to find balance in such a rough sea of
Obey Giant (via Bovine Inversus).
August 16, 2000
Back from the Kira experiment and a post-Kira visit to New York.
I was kind of surprised, actually, at how much progress we made at the Kira conference dealing with such
difficult and intractable subject matter. One of the more interesting unifying themes to arise was a much clearer notion of
what it is that is lost when one attempts to ignore the effect of the observer; this is of course an old idea, but there are
many deep ways of looking at this from multiple vantage points. We are a part of the universe we observe,
and there are ways in which acknowledging the fact of our participation in the universe is an essential
part of carefully making our way in it. This is not to sacrifice objectivity but rather to enhance the real aim of objectivity: that is to say, to be more aware of the ways in which we are embedded in and influencing our pictures of the world.
Met with Heather Anne and Victor again. One idea that we bandied about
in an amusing evening of ideas was the notion that some architects (i.e., Frank Gehry) seem to be focusing more on the
external shape of the building while others (like Richard Meier)
seem to be primarily thinking now about the actual experience at the human scale. It occurred to me, later, that in
web design, it is almost impossible to see the large structure of a web site
"from the outside" as it were --- there is only the page-by-page individual human user experience. It would be
rather pointless to make a web site with a view to the external shape --- there is no visible external shape.
Of course, the external shape of buildings cannot be entirely ignored (it affects the climate of one's experience of
the built environment in a city, for example), but buildings are primarily meant to be used, not just be
monuments. Even when considering the monumental aspect of a building, where buildings (and web sites, and
neighborhoods, and cities, etc.) must work is ultimately on the scale of the human user, the participant, the living components of
any system. To the extent that large-scale structure is important, it ought to serve living needs.
Designing for giants rather than people leaves one like an ant exploring a sculpture --- driving for miles to get to
a huge shopping mall, gazing from afar at a wonderful shape in the distance, only to be swallowed up as insignificant
when one actually enters the space.
Ideas have causal effect in the world. They are not innocent, uninvolved bystanders. They change the ways in
which even the physical universe evolves, because of us (they aren't really separable from us).
I have been thinking recently about the possibility or meaningfulness of romantic love which does not ever
get "consummated"--- which doesn't even really try for this. What is the status of this sort of love? Loving someone,
with the emotional intensity of ordinary romantic love, but without actual sexual contact of any serious sort?
It seems to me that it ought to be possible to love in this way, if there is no possibility of physical realization of love,
it should still be possible to love without that. Why should love be limited to only those people with whom one
can have a physical relationship?
August 10, 2000
Heather Anne sends me a link to this study on cross-cultural cognitive differences. It's odd how much
I find myself in that account; even though I was born and raised here. Immersed in the culture of my
family (my dad born in Japan, my mother raised by Japanese parents), I certainly internally think in many of the
ways described in that article as typically "Asian." It was, in fact, a sort of shock when I was younger to realize how different my inner life
was from that of most of the people around me; since I speak English and am in almost every other outward way a
perfectly American person.
Lopati sends me this fascinating link to a web site on something called process physics.
These process physics guys are trying to derive space and time, relativity and quantum field theory from a set of fundamental assumptions
that do not presuppose a 4-dimensional space-time manifold, but rather they attempt to show these as emergent phenonema
of a non-geometric nonlinear stochastic, iterative map. Interesting.
August 7, 2000
Some people complain about rain in Portland, but I am here to tell you that when it is hot, humid, AND raining, then you've
got the ingredients for truly miserable weather. For most of the Kira event here in Amherst, Mass., this has been our fate. However, for the three days of the public part of the Kira Conference (which just ended), the weather was perfect: just like a sunny spring day
We have been doing a lot of philosophy here at Kira. I enjoy philosophy, though I would have to say that it is only when applied
in some way that I really feel satisfied with it. Simply thinking about viewpoint is to me in and of itself only an intellectual amusement, which,
while very important I think, only becomes alive as it were when applied to practice. If I went back to academia, I would say that if there
were a department of Applied Philosophy then perhaps that's where I would find myself most comfortably situated as either student
Having said that I want to say something about philosophy anyway. At this conference the Husserlian philosopher
Erazim Kohak raised the issue of the fundamental conflict and
dialogue between Heidegger and Husserl, in the course of a response to a question raised by Brian Cantwell Smith.
Husserl, it was said, placed himself firmly in the world of the known: that is, the "life world" which is the world
as construed by life as an intelligible system. Brian, however, raised the issue of the grounding of that
system in what he called the "raw stuff", which is in and of itself not knowable (in the sense of being fully captured by any
ontology or "way of splitting up the world") but is nevertheless a ground in the sense that there is only "one reality" as it were.
That is to say: while we cannot know the ground, we are *in* the ground.
But Kohak admitted that these "life worlds" are not in and of themselves closed, that is not closed in a metaphysical sense.
If they are not closed, then what are they open to? In the end, I believe it is sensible to propose that they may be open to Brian Cantwell
Smith's "raw stuff"; the ground of being. However, I would like to propose two things. First, while any given life world *must*, by
necessity, leave out a huge amount, and that NO life world can avoid doing this, this does not mean that there is any part of the "raw stuff"
which is in some sense entirely hermetically sealed off, in a metaphysically absolute sense. That is to say,
the radical otherness of the other, in Heidegger's terms, ought to be construed not so much as an absolute division of the world into
two parts, the knowable and the unknowable, but rather a statement that no given intelligible system of construing the world can
in fact cover the ground of being. In Brian's terms, we are grounded, but not grounded in alpha, for any given alpha.
There is always a connection, in some sense, to something that *is* known from something that is not... this is crucial. One could
define the universe as everything which is connected, in some sense, to anything that could ever be known in any life world.
One might propose, even more radically, that there is no reason to think that *any aspect* of the universe could not in principle be known
in *some* life world, even though we know there would always be massive amounts left out of any given life world.
Why does this matter? I think it matters because the "not closedness" of our life worlds is precisely what makes it
possible for the world to be deconstructed and reconstructed in more rigorous and precise and sensitive ways,
via various practices (science, contemplation, art, and so forth). We cannot acquire the world (by "stealing" it and
locking it away into our intelligible systems), but we can, in some sense, allow reality to operate in and through us, and
thus give us an inspiration to go beyond the identifications we make (with our conceptions of ourselves and of the world).
The danger, of course, is in capriciousness: how do we ensure that we are not constructing a fantasy world? Well,
having a reason alone doesn't save us: we can base our reason on unconsidered hidden assumptions (as many philosophers
seem to want to do). There is no absolute safety in merely having reasons. The danger of fascism, for example, was not
simply in their faith in irrationalism, but that they were willing to clamp down on their assumptions so intensely that they
decided they had to impose this on the world at large. This is not a respect or a humility in the face of the unknown but rather precisely
the opposite: a capricious insistence on what they decide to be the known, and a subsequent attempt to physically force
reality to conform to this insistence. A fascist has no real respect for either the unknown nor the unknowable.
In the end, admitting that our worlds are not closed is tantamount to alowing the possibility of waking up: waking up not
to the "real" world but rather simply the gesture of waking up. Without contact with that which lies outside our intelligible
picture, we could simply live in what appears to us to be the case. Logic and reason help us to ferret out the contradictions
in our world views, but they don't help us to crack our shells and open out to a larger reality as experiment and contemplation
and artistic engagement can.
August 3, 2000
Maybe there is a God after all.
August 1, 2000
I ended up getting the Fuji FinePix 1400
(review via the excellent Imaging Resource,
which has the most useful comparative reviews of digital cameras I've seen.) It was $379 (a bit high considering that
I had set out originally to just get a cheap web cam) but I got sucked into feature creep and decided I wanted the zoom
and USB. However, I was also impressed with the MX-1200 I mentioned last entry; small, cheap (I found it for $200 at
a local camera shop), and high-quality.
While in New York, I visited with Heather of Texting
(left). We had fun with long conversations about the vicissitudes of her
online and offline personal life, among other things. Before I left I installed some video compression software on her machine so
she can post clips of her performance art online; she had always had a video capture board but had until now not had software
to compress it for Web distribution; she was quite excited.
Later on I spent some wonderful time with Heather Anne Halpert (who is rather private about
her photo so I won't be posting her picture) and Victor. We had lots of fascinating conversation and some very good food.
One of the interesting topics that came up was the subject of organizational architecture. Heather Anne was talking about a
new organization structure she had heard about which involves the elimination of formal titles and the destruction of traditional
hierarchical authority structures in favor of a network architecture. This is, of course, an idea that I have long advocated, for many years; it is the basis
of all of the group work that I have done since I left my first and only traditional job eleven years ago. It seems patently clear to me
that information flows much more naturally and readily in a network topology than via a hierarchy; in a hierarchy, each node in the
tree further up becomes a potential information bottleneck. For the design and implementation of complex systems, therefore, it
seems obvious that one ought to organize one's teams in a network architecture. This does not mean the elimination of all
structure; in fact, it requires the creation of much more varied, robust, flexible, and rich structures, tailored to meet the demands of
the problem domain. I believe that team architecture ought to match the structure of the problem the team is attempting to address.
I have participated in variants of this organizational architecture for projects ranging in size up to 60 people.
Of course, one doesn't want the network to deadlock due to disagreement, so one strategy I like is to assign single leads to
domain expertise areas for each project.
Project decisions can generally be made by coordinating the opinions of all the domain experts on the project team, but in the event of
an irreconcilable difference, the decision devolves to the lead for that domain (i.e., engineering decisions made by the
lead engineer, etc.) However, there would not be a single overarching lead who makes all decisions.
Furthermore, the leads are not so much managers but rather support personnel
for their domain areas: management ought to be seen properly as a support role. Another important element
is that the different domains cooperate and coordinate their work from the beginning; complex projects invariably involve
side-effects and interrelationships between factors; this should be reflected in team operation. The leads should collaborate
heavily, as well as other points in the network. Of course, you don't want a totally n^2 effect where
everyone is talking to everyone else pairwise, however. Either broadcast emails to subsets of people (one to many) or more
structured communications "nodes" (people
who act as "information routers" in the project graph) can ameliorate this problem. All of this I have advocated since the early
90's, when such notions were quite radical---however I had always imagined that eventually these ideas would begin to
catch on, simply because they are sensible. I'm happy to see that others have begun to evolve similar notions.
Of course, the question remains, why did these inefficient hierarchical structures evolve in the first place? I told
Heather Anne my historical theory, which I developed along with my new organizational ideas as a way of motivating the switch (because we tend
to simply believe in hierarchical forms without really thinking: why did they arise?) I believe at one time they were, in fact, a reasonable solution to an emerging
problem. I thought back to the context in which hierarchical managment
arose: aristocratic and military control of physical territory. In the old days, communications were highly constrained by one factor:
physical distance. In such a situation, to effectively control large amounts of territory, it made perfect sense to subdivide
your kingdom (or, in the case of a military conflict, to divide the battlefield or the front) into regions of locally-proximate control. When you
divide your regions in this way, what naturally emerges is, of course, a hierarchical structure. It doesn't work well to have
far flung regions connected in a control structure in that situation, simply because the communications infrastructure (man on horseback?)
couldn't support it.
However, today, of course, not only is hierarchical management no longer necessary in most cases, it is in fact inappropriate, costly,
slow, and inefficient. Information bottlenecks are one of many problems; another is that a single manager can no longer be expected
to have nearly enough experience or knowledge to make all of the decisions necessary to run a complex project. One must divide
decisions up and give authority to make those decisions to people with the requisite expertise. What sense is there in having just one
person ultimately responsible for all engineering, creative, financial, QA, and project management decisions? Clearly none. Although
of course this doesn't exactly occur in practice even in hierarchically-managed companies; what often occurs instead are managers who
are either irrelevant to the process or are incompetent obstacles (cf. almost any Dilbert cartoon). It is time to move on from
archaic and outdated organizational structures which obscure the efficient solutions to these difficulties.
Attending the Kira conference this week. I've been particularly interested in the excellent
and intriguing work of one of the speakers: Brian Cantwell Smith's On The Origin of Objects. Smith argues, first of all, that commonsense notions
of absolute ontology (i.e., the idea that objects are atomic, clean, absolute entities, or can be treated as such) are simply
unjustifiable. This I believe is quite obvious to anyone who has carefully thought or felt these issues, but he is coming from a very
"hard science" perspective: computer science and physics:
...consider a frog tracking a fly. Except now register the situation without any individuals or boundaries. In the spatio-temporal region of the fly, there is a differential density mass with a complex internal structure. For simplicity, suppose that
roughly even spatially distributed flux of electromagnetic radiation (constant illumination) flows into the region. In the patch of
higher mass density, various reflections and obstructions cause a local disturbance in the radiation pattern. Some of
this (reflected) radiation, after making its way through an intermediating region of air, impinges on what we are tempted to
register as the frog's retina. But of course there is no frog, yet, nor any retina --- merely hills and valleys and spikes and skews in the
various relevantly oriented feature fields, corresponding to the fly, the frog, the focusing properties of the eye, and so forth.
If, as theorists, we look in the vicinity of the frog's retina, but let go of any tendency to register objects, we can see (what amounts to
a local projection of) a patch of disturbance, extended in both space and time...
...A property we ultimately associate with both subject and object --- that of a boundary or edge --- is in the first instance a
property of their interaction.
...And so the initial boundaries or edges that allow the frog to see the fly as fly --- or at least allow the frog to see the fly as whatever
it sees it as, i.e., in its own register --- are what theory will eventually call relational. These boundaries matter, too; it is no
accident that edge detectors are among the first neuronal circuits to get into the registrational act. Except that to call them
edge detectors is both misleading and expensive. It is expensive because it describes the situation in terms dangerously
close to the structure of the solution ('detect' being a fully intentional word.) It is misleading because all we have, so far, is
a causal loop involving subject and environment.