synthetic zero


March 18, 2002

In the midst of a group conversation about the illusory nature of the subject-object divide, Flavia Cymbalista pointed us to the work of Gene Gendlin on an epistemology based on interaction, which he calls the Philosophy of the Implicit. An interesting idea; a way to divide the world not into subject and object, but into interactions. Flavia has actually applied his ideas to help people develop their intuition, which is an embodied reality but is very difficult to access or talk about in ordinary language. If it has this sort of application, whether the project has philosophical difficulties or not, it could well be useful.

Logical forms only seem to work alone. For example, the pattern of a triangle seems to work alone when it determines its angles to add up to 180 degrees. Two and two seem to make four alone. .... But-I argue-what happens can talk back. Actually it gives the forms and rules their meaning and their work. Forms never work alone, always only within a wider and more intricate order.
I think this is precisely correct. Logical forms exist only in relation, that is to say, in some sort of feedback loop (cf. Gregory Bateson).

March 16, 2002

Susan and I went to the first part of an evening of music at Joe Foster's house, and though we missed most of it we were able to hear one very interesting performance by a gamelan/shakuhachi/etc. musician who used his Powerbook to do real-time sound processing, creating a wonderful sonic space to explore. After he performed we reminisced about our days in Berkeley (he also lived there for a long time), where Susan was a music major, and we talked about the various music scenes there and complained about the conservative nature of the music department, which discouraged exploration in electronic music, jazz, world music, or anything besides avant-classical. It got me to thinking about doing some experimentation with electronic music again.

Later that night we saw the Shaolin monks perform, it was quite impressive. I will have more to say about that.

Fundamental things about the nature of reality.

Reginald Cahill and Christopher Klinger propose that self-referential noise could generate three-dimensional space. From their paper:

Generalising results from Godel and Chaitin in mathematics suggests that self-referential systems contain intrinsic randomness. We argue that this is relevant to modelling the universe and show how three-dimensional space may arise from a non-geometric order-disorder model driven by self-referential noise.

I do not think it is anything like an accident that self-reference is at the heart of much of the most groundbreaking thought of the last century: Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, Bateson's cybernetics, quantum correlations creating seemingly objective reality in the presence of consciousness, i.e., feedback systems, and Chaitin's elaboration of Godel's work towards the discovery of the fundamental randomness at the heart of mathematics:

I have found an extreme form of randomness, of irreducibility, in pure mathematics - in a part of elementary number theory associated with the name of Diophantus and which goes back 2000 years to classical Greek mathematics. Hilbert believed that mathematical truth was black or white, that something was either true or false. I think that my work makes things look grey, and that mathematicians are joining the company of their theoretical physics colleagues. I do not think that this is necessarily bad. We have seen that in classical and quantum physics, randomness and unpredictability are fundamental. I believe that these concepts are also found at the very heart of pure mathematics.
Or, as the New Scientist article, noted above, puts it:
Chaitin showed that a vast ocean of such truths surrounds the island of provable theorems. Any one of them might be stumbled on by accident--an equation might be accidentally discovered to have some property that cannot be derived from the axioms--but none of them can be proved. The chilling conclusion, wrote Chaitin in New Scientist, is that randomness is at the very heart of pure mathematics.

These ideas all connect together: self-reference is necessary for consciousness, logic runs into strange phenomena when one applies self-reference to it, further investigation of self-reference in mathematics leads to the existence of random truths, randomness lies at the heart of our experience of quantum mechanics, a self-referential randomness may be able to explain the generation of what appears to be spacetime.

March 14(b), 2002

"There hasn't been what I would call a mathematical drop in crimes," said Lt. Steve Morris of the Inglis Police Department.

From David: healing with (infrared) light. Of course most of these devices are being sold for about 10 times what they probably cost in parts. Probably due to the need to get approvals.

March 14, 2002

You know, it's really strange, but I have practiced martial arts on and off since I was 9 years old, with maybe 10 years of fairly serious practice in amongst the various hiatuses, and I have also done Zen meditation and various Taoist practices since I was in college, and I didn't know that the Shaolin Temple in China has been teaching Ch'an (Zen) meditation along with kung fu for the last few decades, since the end of the Cultural Revolution, though it is only recently that the government has allowed more than a very few monks to study there. I had kind of assumed the old Shaolin temple had been destroyed, and whatever was going on there now was devoid of the original Zen teaching. But no, they are not only teaching kung fu but they're even teaching Zen there again, more and more openly these days. And now the monks are going on tour. Zen Buddhism originated at the Shaolin Temple with Bodhidharma, and legend has it that Chinese kung fu largely originated there, an offshoot of Zen (originally, apparently, it was Bodhidharma's idea to make the monks do some exercises so they would have the stamina to stay aware for 72-hour-straight meditation sessions. Yes, that is the story as I heard it, but I imagine it has been embellished a bit.) I have no idea what the quality of Zen practice is there now, but it is kind of heartwarming to think that the old teachings are having a resurgence in China, after literally hundreds of years of relative eclipse culminating in a total eclipse during the time of the terrible Cultural Revolution.

Now if they could just let the Tibetans practice their ancient teachings as well...

March 12, 2002

It's 2002. What happened to all the sliding doors that go "whoosh!" that we were suppopsed to have by now? I read that in the old Star Trek series, they couldn't find any automated system that would open the doors quickly enough, so they were actually pulled open by stage hands.

Believing things just because "everybody" believes them, or because it is generally accepted by experts, is dangerous. There have been so many cases where what "everybody" believed was terribly wrong. As Richard Feynman put it so aptly: "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." He should have said that this is what science should be about, as he himself was fond of pointing out, it often fails to live up to this high standard.

For most of the last century, fingerprinting was considered the "gold standard" for forensic evidence. But it turns out that when you actually examine the technique as it is practiced in the field, it is far more error-prone than we generally believed. As this article points out, "there is now serious doubt on the reliability of fingerprints."

Similarly, for decades it was assumed that homosexuality was a psychological pathology. Many theories were advanced to "explain" the "disorder" --- and tests done on homosexuals seemed to confirm these theories. Then one day, a psychology professor in England befriended one of her students, who happened to be gay. He introduced her to his group of gay friends. She was intrigued because they did not appear to be psychologically disturbed. She decided to conduct an experiment, and she gave some 20-odd gay subjects and the same number of heterosexual subjects a series of standard psychological tests, like the Rorschach. She then asked a group of experts to try to determine which were the homosexuals, merely from the test results. Of course, they were totally unable to do so, and furthermore they certified the vast majority of the gay subjects to be very well-adjusted individuals. She checked the research and determined that until her study, all the tests and research done on homosexuals had been done on people who were in prison or already in mental institutions. No one had ever done a study on homosexual people from the general population. Because of her research and other studies, homosexuality was finally removed from the DSM as a mental disorder in 1973.

So many other examples come to mind: it was thought for a very long time that lucid dreaming was impossible. It took decades for the geology community to finally accept the fact that continents move--- long after the evidence, to a dispassionate eye, had accumulated to the point of being overwhelming --- some geologists joked that some of the most stubborn proponents of the old theory finally just died off. For many decades it was unquestioned dogma that child sexual abuse does not occur. And on and on.

It is easy to forget to question widely-held beliefs. It's easy to forget to question our own beliefs.

March 11, 2002

My friend Joe Foster has started a performance series in his living room.

The other day I was talking casually to some of the people in my T'ai Chi class about various amazing feats we have witnessed being done by master martial artists over the years. I related a story about a strange thing that I witnessed being done by a Jewish martial artist who had studied under a man named H. I. Sober, who founded the Tora Dojo (a sort of combination of Jewish and Asian traditions). He demonstrated something they called "soft breaks", which essentially involved him apparently gently dropping his hand from a short distance over a cinder block, causing it to, essentially, crumble. When I watched the demonstration one of his students mentioned to me that an MIT engineer had once come to try to debunk him, he came with all of these instruments to measure the forces involved, etc.; and instead he ended up becoming his student.

The guys I was talking with talked about something they witnessed once when Master Chen came from China to give a demonstration at the school. Chen did a trick involving using a piece of paper and a pencil; in this case they used a dollar bill. What he basically did was cut a pencil in half using the dollar bill. Then, to drive the point home, someone brought a pen over (I think he said it was made of metal), and he did the same thing with the pen. The guy telling me this story said he went to look at the pen and saw that it had been sheared right through, as though someone had sliced it with a razor blade.

March 10 (b), 2002


March 10, 2002

"What about feelings of inadequacy?"

I guess I didn't address this source of jealousy, for this reason: if someone I love finds someone else to be better for them than me, why should I be upset about that? Because if I truly love them, it is their happiness which is paramount, and if they are happier with this other person, then I am happy. Of course, if I think I am better for them, I will try to make my case in word and deed, but if I fail, I have enough faith in the person I love that she will make the best choice for her. So I can't lose (well, I can "lose" but overall, either way, it will be for the best overall, which is all I really care about).

I don't want to be one of those "polyamory" people. Why do we have to make this into some sort of awful "movement" --- it has that stink of "swingers." A love affair should be sweet, delicate, torrid, romantic, poignant, spontaneous and it should be between two people, not between people trying to adhere to a philosophy --- at least that is how I see it.

The other beef I have with serial monogamy is that it is often the cause of the breakup of a relationship: you meet someone new and you feel that to be with that person means leaving your mate. Why? Can't you just be lovers?

March 9, 2002

I'm adding exception handling to my old Developer language; when I first designed the language, it was based on the Smalltalk and C++ languages available at the time, and exception-handling wasn't designed into those systems then. It's nice to get my hands into that code and add a powerful feature like this. This will make it easier for me to build robust servers using the language (I am planning to put another old project of mine up on the web, which was mostly developed using this language, an interactive sitcom).

Working on this old code is strange because I don't really remember how it works, but I can figure it out by thinking how I would solve the problem from scratch, and then I see the code and map that onto the solution I am thinking of now (if that makes sense). In general I don't remember things so much as figure them out from scratch over and over again. It makes it difficult for me to remember arbitrary facts, but I am very good at figuring things out quickly.

Despite my entry, below, regarding open relationships, I should note that as I get older my sex drive seems to have moderated itself to the point where I no longer feel it is really that interesting to think about indulging wide-ranging sexual experimentation with many different people. If there is a point to an "open" relationship, I think it would be more to allow more freedom of love rather than promiscuity sexually per se. In any case, it seems to me that sex between people who don't love each other has a sort of draining quality to it. Furthermore, between people who love each other, sex per se doesn't seem to me to always be necessary; there are other ways of expressing love. Still, excluding sexual expression as another way for people to relate (people who love each other) seems extreme --- although perhaps pragmatic for the majority of people.

March 6, 2002

Psychologist Robert Firestone says this in an old Salon interview:

Generally speaking, it is unwise for partners to be restrictive of the other's freedom because this tends to foster resentment in the other. But most people are unable to cope with a partner's sexual freedom without suffering considerable pain. This creates a serious dilemma for most couples. The most important thing is for the partners to agree on a basic policy that is respectful of each other's feelings and desires, and then stand by their agreement.

An open marriage, in every sense of the word, would be the best solution for mature individuals. But for many it's unworkable.

I've never understood why most Americans are so unquestioning with respect to the idea of monogamy; I've talked about this before. One of the problems I have with it is that the tacit assumption is that if your partner strays, you will leave them --- but why should this necessarily be the case? I understand there are feelings of jealousy, but would I want to jeopardize a long-term relationship just because my partner was interested in someone else? Also, we often seem to judge romantic partners by the standard of "would I want to be with just this person for the rest of my life?" --- even at the outset, so instead of taking our time and working things through with someone, we pressure ourselves to resolve everything right away. I think a lifelong relationship is one that has to be created one day at a time; it isn't something that you can control or predict or perfect at the very beginning. Furthermore, if someone is with me, I'd want them to be choosing to be with me, actively, every day, not just staying with me out of habit; i.e., I believe I have to work hard every day to be worthy of that love. Of course, I believe that carefulness and honesty with all parties involved is crucial if anyone is going to experiment with love outside of the boundaries of monogamy. Furthermore, I believe that non-monogamous love can be very long-term; Carl Jung and his wife had an open marriage which lasted their entire lives.

Still, there is a sense of caution that I feel, writing this. I don't think things are as simple as Firestone would like them to be.

Caroline links to this article about a rash of killings of microbiologists around the world since September 11. I doubt that their speculation about why these murders have occurred is correct (they believe it is because these scientists were working on things that could have led to a cure for anthrax and other bioterror agents that do not require the use of Cipro or other conventional pharmaceutical treatments, and there is this martial law-angle as well, so they think some pharmaceutical companies and some secret government elements may be behind the murders --- farfetched in my view) --- but the fact of the killings is itself rather strange, whatever the reason.

March 5, 2002

Scientists receive messages from Pioneer 10, 30 years after its launch. Oddly, tucked down near the end of the article, is the following:

Scientists are also interested in Pioneer 10's progress because it appears to be slowing down very slightly slower than would be expected given the gravitational attraction of the Solar System alone. This might be evidence of a mystery force new to physics, or, more simply, it might be due to some property of the spacecraft not yet understood.
Some property of the spacecraft? What sort of property could cause the spacecraft to even "slightly" defy gravity? They forgot that they included an antigravity drive amongst its propulsion sources? It's kind of interesting to realize that despite all of our technological advances, until very recently we still have never really travelled outside of our own solar system. Our theories and laws and models are already running into "slight" anomalies even with our first tiny foray. We ought to be always on the lookout for anomalies; these anomalies are our best chances to discover revolutions in our outlook on the universe.

March 3, 2002

Dirk Hine reminds us about Robert Irwin, who was one of my father's teachers at Chouinard Art Institute.

If that state of consciousness I keep talking about became, in a sense, the consciousness of society as a whole, if we really thought in those terms, and were really that aware, . . . really that sense-sophisticated, then our art would be an integral part of our society, and the artist as a separate discipline or art as a separate event would not exist.

Perhaps the future role of the artist will be to act directly as the arbiter of qualities in our lives. Quality not as an add-on, as it is now, but as criteria in all matters of planning.

I tend to agree with Irwin in these matters, even if I think his work, which I mostly admire, can at times misfire (as in the utterly horrible Garden he designed at the Getty Center).

Dirk quotes, as contrast, Richard Serra:

To deprive art of its uselessness is to make it other than art ... Architecture serves needs which are specifically functional and useful. Therefore, architecture as a work of art is a contradiction in terms.

I love Serra's work but I tend to disagree with the idea that art is "useless." Art is a participant in the play of significance, in the play of quality. Art is more directly about quality, whereas things that are useful in the ordinary sense are usually abstracted from quality to varying degrees. I cannot separate the utility of an architectural space from the quality of its use; that is to say, the quality of the interaction between the person and the space --- and with art there is this same quality of interaction, one confronts and participates in works of art in the exact same way. So I cannot really see any fundamental coherence to the idea of art as "useless." If one includes life and death as moments of participation in the flow of existence, then the separation between the utilitarian and the artistic can no longer be made perfectly clear. (Because don't we define the utilitarian ultimately as "that which prevents death?" But why isn't death an aesthetic moment along with everything else?)

To simply shrug when encountering the unexpected is to be dead. (Not to die, but to be dead.) Never shrug when encountering the unexpected. Burn passionately until you have burned through it completely, or are consumed yourself.

March 2, 2002

There is something to be said for always being a little bit dissatisfied. Total satisfaction is essentially disappearing against the background of your life. If that happened you would "fit" everything perfectly, and like a cartoon chameleon, you would disappear. Out of dissatisfaction comes the impetus for creation. However, the goal of creativity shouldn't be total satisfaction, but rather infinite creativity.

There's something beautiful about the dangling

March 1 (b), 2002

I'm sorry, but I cannot understand why they have to build the fucking temple on the site of a destroyed mosque. The whole cycle of violence and disaster is utterly insane, to me.

March 1, 2002

From Culture and Value by Ludwig Wittgenstein:

If life becomes hard to bear we think of a change in our circumstances. But the most important and effective change, a change in our own attitude, hardly even occurs to us, and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult for us.
and also:
I may find scientific questions interesting, but they never really grip me. Only conceptual and aesthetic questions do that. At bottom I am indifferent to the solution of scientific problems; but not the other sort.
I find myself agreeing with him. I am, myself, very, very good at the solution of scientific or technical problems. I went to school with some of the best math and physics people and had the opportunity to test myself against them; I know I am near the top in terms of raw technical ability. In terms of software engineering I've designed and built entire programming languages and environments. But in the end none of those things really interest me intrinsically, except as they relate to other issues: as W. puts it, the aesthetic, or the conceptual.

Recently I've been using a language and IDE I built a while ago, the Developer. The language was inspired by C++ and Smalltalk; it is remarkably similar to Java, actually, and it predates Java by several years. It is amazing how productive I am using the system. Although the language has many flaws which I would correct if I were reimplementing it today, the editing environment (inspired by the Smalltalk class browser) makes editing code vastly easier, at least for me. I can build software subsystems using the Developer in days that would take me weeks in C++ using traditional text editing tools. Using my language again after having done mostly Java has inspired me once again to think about building another generation of this system, but this time spending more time on a careful design of the language. I love building things, but I hate the programming environments that exist today. Programming should be a lot easier and faster. Using the Developer reminds me of what could be possible.


february (part 2)