Sunday, November 25, 2007

Faith in Science

Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University, wrote an op-ed piece in yesterday's times taking physicists to task for the manner in which they have either accepted certain base assumptions in physics as being inviolate, or having constructed elaborate meta-explanations that further confuse matters. While I agree with the conclusions Davies reaches in the last two paragraphs of his essay, I took some issue with how he got there. Follows is a conversation from my news group, in which I put up an initial response which was in turn responded to, and my recent riposte. I like what I wrote, but if more comes of it, I'll post it as well.

at first I thought this was interesting, but I think the arguments are a bit flawed, he makes some comments that are simply handwaving. It really seems like he is equivocating until the very last few sentences...I would have liked to hear his conclusions stated more up front.

The use of phrases like "meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed" and "just any old ragbag of rules" undermines his argument because they are essentially meaningless, or worse yet, suggest either the presence of something that has lead to this indeterminate state or a complete nihilism. They also appeal to something like a vlugar sentiment, "oh, haphazard jumbles or old ragbags are bad things that can't be studied". maybe part of the problem is being unwilling to look at those things as possibly interesting phenomena, themselves. But he says that if the laws were "any old ragbag", life would certainly not exist. If he means we shouldn't treat the laws as inviolate, inscrutable, and utterly holy, then fine. but what a weird way to express it.

I also think he ignores some very significant points in philosophy, such as Hume's arguments against making such assumptions, including the assumption of causality. Ultimately, we have to accept that these assumptions are part of the limits on human reason, and when they are violated, that gives us a hint that a) there is something new and more interesting to study, and b) assumptions of causality are not necessarily going to hold because there are always possible elements of which we are not aware.

really, i think davies' essay should be asking a somewhat different question - not how can we make an internally consistent set of physical laws, but rather, what is it that makes our laws take this form? as in, these are products of human reason operating on human observations, and the perspective we are working from is inevitably the human-eye view, not the god's-eye-view. the laws of physics should be treated as the human-laws-of-physics, and I think at that point, the answer to why these laws hold might become a little more clear. ultimately, i think the problem of faith in science and religion can be understood more clearly in these terms, as both are rooted in the limits of human ability.


The response (left anonymous):
No amount of reading Hume is going to change what basic science is.
Science is science. Even if physicists were to drop everything to ask
why it is that their rules are the rules that they are, at the end of
the day they're still going to be stuck with some set of rules and
testable hypotheses that they can get paid to test. Also, he's not
asking "how can we make an internally consistent set of physical
laws". He is questioning the basic assumption that science has some
kind of ultimate say in the way things are. Also, I think in the
context of this piece "meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly
juxtaposed" is perfectly meaningful. I also don't think saying
"haphazard jumbles and old ragbags can't be studied" is entirely
vulgar. Science is the study of the natural world and in the natural
world we don't encounter the haphazard jumbles or old ragbags that
Davies is referring to. Of course that could just be a bad

Here's what I found interesting: one implicit assumption that Davies
seems to make is that science is concerned with finding out the Truth.
Depending on who you ask you will probably get different opinions,
right? I personally think that science (as a thing, or methodology,
or entity) is NOT concerned with the truth. The fact that you can
publish papers in Nature and Science with p<.05 should be some
indication of that. There's always a margin of error. And there's
always the possibility that some discovery will invalidate your study.
But life goes on.

And my more extensive riposte:

I think you may have misread my response and I, at least, have a very different reading than you of Davies' claims. First - I didn't make the claim or hope to imply that reading any Hume changes what constitutes basic science - however ever since Hume first made his case about causality in the 18th century, science has had to deal with the very serious problem he raised - that no matter how much you observe about a phenomenon, you cannot know of all the causal relationships at work in creating what you've seen. You make this same point at the end of your response - nature publishes studies with p<.05, which means there is a statistically possible alternative occurence, even if we are extremely confident that the data we find is valid and that it supports an interpretation we offer. and of course, there is the old saw of "correlation does not imply causation". This is a very important aspect of any scientific work - that no matter how much we observe and test, we are probably missing something and have to be willing to accept that possibility - it's the blessing and curse of ceteris paribus. There have been many scientific and philosophical examinations of this situation and the role it has in our ability to conduct useful and effective science.

But this does not mean we should throw our hands up, bend our heads and carry on sadly accepting that "science is science". I think that is almost cynical - science is in constant flux, constantly questioning its assumptions, going through upheavals and revolutions, etc. Davies seems to insist that scientists are in fact doing just that, to their own harm - they are not trying to create "an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency." I think he pretty clearly states, in those last two paragraphs, that he does hope for internal consistency for physical laws. He also states pretty clearly that his issue is with scientists claiming that their explanation are free of faith - I don't really get the impression that he is calling science-as-ultimate-explanation a canard. Again, this is borne out by the last two paragraphs, which I think are mostly on the mark.

Davies's use of those phrases that I took issue with seems to be rooted in his frustration with the possibility that a nihilistic streak is becoming the base assumption behind the scientific endeavor. But I also think it is incorrect to use the term "meaningless" in the first instance - I think there is a solid case to be made that the universe is not intrinsically "meaningful", but is only so with regard to organism in it that can deal with "meaning". One might think this is esoteric philsophizing, but I think it is entirely relevant to science, particularly with regard to many things, intentional phenomena and information theory to give just two examples. Also, the term haphazard implies some kind of agency engaging in a careless behavior, and the altrernative is thus a meaningful, careful arrangement of the universe by ____. This is surely not what Davies wants to suggest is the right thing for scientists to think - and he explicitly says so at the end. I think it is perfectly possible to look at the universe as a meaningless hodgepodge of things haphazardly juxtaposed because that may just be what it is - that is in fact a question science is equipped to examine and answer. When you say that in nature, we don't encounter haphazard jumbles or old ragbags, you're right because that is not a very articulate or rigorous way to refer to the things we see - so instead we use nice phrases like "emergence", "chaos", and "non-linear dynamic systems".

Davies ultimately says that the laws of physics are themselves something that is subject to examination in a scientific context, so that we can work away from any turtles-all-the-way-down type explanations. I think that this is a fruitful domain of future research, where physicists will have to join with cognitive scientists (not a self-plug - this has already been happening, as in the work of Roger Penrose) to examine those rules within which they are operating, how they arise, and how they are part of the process by which physics is done (or as Davies says, are regarded with universe as "part and parcel of a unitary system"). What I think Davies ultimately wants to say is, stop trying to pull the physical laws of the universe out of the universe. Which I think is something we can all agree is an entirely appropriate thing for physics to do.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007


As suspected, the FBI has found that the shootings of Sept. 16th of Iraqis by Blackwater employees were unjustifed:

F.B.I. Says Guards Killed 14 Iraqis Without Cause

A major point I found very interesting and rather problematic is embedded in this statement:

Representative David E. Price, a North Carolina Democrat who has sponsored legislation to extend American criminal law to contractors serving overseas, said the Justice Department must hold someone accountable for the shootings.

"Just because there are deficiencies in the law, and there certainly are," Mr. Price said, "that can't serve as an excuse for criminal actions like this to be unpunished. I hope the new attorney general makes this case a top priority. He needs to announce to the American people and the world that we uphold the rule of law and we intend to pursue this."

As the article later points out, Price's legislation will not apply to the events of Sept. 16th, which he also acknowledges. Unfortunately, I believe the above statement is logically inconsistent and contains the key argument against any prosecution (at least in a US or Iraq court) of the Blackwater people. That is, there is no clear law under which these acts can be prosecuted as criminal, but they are criminal anyway and the AG should show that we enforce laws even when there aren't any that we can apply. I have trouble believing that Mr. Price could have really meant for this to be the meaning of his statement (or legislation) but this is my reading of it and I think it is a sound one. As such, and I don't usually advocate this, it seems that the only applicable doctrine is international law, and this probably needs to be dealt with as a war crime. Call in the Hague and the Tribunal I say, because I really think this looks godawful for us (and is godawful in and of itself) if we (america) allow for these kinds of atrocities to pass without second thought. I only hope a more coherent case than what this Rep is spewing can be made before the international community. That being said, does it seem like he is advocating such a course? And who is liable in such a case, the guards themselves, the organization that employs them, the heads of that organization, etc?

What fun and important things we are doing with our $1.6 trill.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Critical Mass = 2?

It seems that my critical mass for checking out new things based on recommendations or references is somewhere around two. That is, catching a glimpse of something vaguely interesting registers it in the neocortex with a little emotional marking, based on the source and content. Given a second reference or recommendation, plus the right context, seems to have recently led to some interesting forays. For example, I was told that Landmarc was a good spot to dine by some semi-anonymous drunkards last week, and then an old friend did shine a light upon it as well. One very satisfying (though pricey) meal later, with new friends and new tips, I see the rule of 2 at work.

It happened again tonight, with Brijit. More than just the name of a college chum's ex-girlfriend, Brijit is a nifty site offering bite-size (<100 words) ADD-oriented reviews of various pieces of long-form journalism. The blurbs are submitted by registered users to a panel of editors, who boil it down to one postable bit. And then they pay the "winner" with a shiny fiver in the paypal. This was power-of-twoed at me by, which didn't fully agree with my enthusiastic assessment. However, it's the second rec/ref in as many days, so I dove right in - and approve. (I think the first may have been from thrillist)

Already submitted an abstract on A-Rod in the onion. Hoo-hah I love me some encapsulated ranting. Not sure if I can post it here (they might own my words! eep!), but we shall see if I become five American dollars richer!

As for the theory of two-ness as pertains to refs and recs, I can't make a categorical claim, as a)my evidence is all anecdotal and from the past week; b)this phenomenon is probably deeper and more interesting than can be fully covered here; c)I bet the number shifts for each instance, but I also bet there is a relationship that can be described and elucidated through experiment.

Hence, some research questions:
What influence do the recommendations of friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances have on whether we choose to engage in some activity? And what is the role of the other contributory factors, such as memory, emotion, content, and context? Fodder for my future!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Neighborhood Blogs

Neighborhood blogs seem to be a web-based vanguard of the meatspace phenomenon of young, affluent, tech-hip people who are populating the once industrial-decayed parts of Brooklyn. Seems to be a sort of mild spinoff of Gothamist, same idea, but more localized. Examples:

Ditmas Park Blog
Brooklyn Junction
The Gowanus Lounge

These are just the ones I've actually browsed; each has links to more.

The times are-a-changin'.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Well, I mangled a comment on Warren Ellis' blog, to my eternal...ah whatever. here is the pic. I think it's a nice companion piece to Trixie Bedlam's:


I am nearly done with the Turk. I guess when it hits th 20th century, I will try to resume the near-stillborn 20th century project. That thing needs some pizazz.

Friday, October 5, 2007

RIAA Case Roundup

- The RIAA (boo! hiss!) won a significant judgment in the case of the first file-sharer to take their case to court. Jammie Thompson was found liable by a jury for making downloaded music available for sharing, and was fined $9,250 for each of the 24 songs on which the plaintiff's attorneys focused the case. I am wishing I had known about RIAA radar, a great tool for evading paying these buggerers with my redundant dough.

I happen to be one of those people who buys more music as a result of downloading, due to my constant, insatiable need for new shiny things and my less rabid but still relevant attention to recording quality (my grado headphones are where these desires met). So this just pisses me off, because it means I could be punished for behavior which, in my case, often gets me contributing more to pocket lining than I otherwise would. So I will stick to grabbing non-riaa tunes and paying those hardworking people for their non-collusive efforts.

and a thought:
These kinds of lawsuits are a pathetic attempt by the industry to make up for the losses it incurred by being so far behind the market that the demand was met by quasi- or illegal providers (e.g.,

Also, Ryan sent out a link to this (entirely relevant but completely Bizarro) Graphic Novel on Internet Piracy (from Underwire blog)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

das quickie

Reality Checkpoint


- Jason Kottke found the most perfect procrastination tool I've yet seen on wikipedia. Particular fun off the bat is Reality Checkpoint, which Grant Morrison has surely used, somewhere.

- The RIAA (boo! hiss!) won a significant judgment in the case of the first file-sharer to take their case to court. Jammie Thompson was found liable by a jury for making downloaded music available for sharing, and was fined $9,250 for each of the 24 songs on which the plaintiff's attorneys focused the case. I am wishing I had known about RIAA radar, a great tool for evading paying these buggerers with my redundant dough.

I happen to be one of those people who buys more music as a result of downloading, due to my constant, insatiable need for new shiny things and my less rabid but still relevant attention to recording quality (my grado headphones are where these desires met). So this just pisses me off, because it means I could be punished for behavior which, in my case, often gets me contributing more to pocket lining than I otherwise would. So I will stick to grabbing non-riaa tunes and paying those hardworking people for their non-collusive efforts.

- SOON (tomorrow?) I will write something thoughtful about I Killed Adolf Hitler, by Jason. It is lovely.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Awful Times Graphic

Honestly, I could not tell that this was "The College Issue" for a good minute or so of looking at the graphic. And I'm hypersensitive to recognizing familiar patterns in obscure settings. What were they going for with that weird ant-shaped "G"???

Haredi Death Posters

In the ultra-orthodox communities of Israel, the announcement of a death is an opportunity for a dramatic "wall literature", one which has mostly disappeared from the non-haredi community. These posters are filled with arcane and euphemistic descriptions of life and death, Torah references, and statements on the decedent's role in the community:
There is much "oy veying" using quotes from the Bible and rabbinical literature in the wall notices. Here are a few examples I jotted down this past month from three posters: "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof," "Woe unto the ship that has lost its captain," "Zion shall weep bitterly and Jerusalem lift its voice," "Tears shall flow from our eyes and from our eyelashes water shall run," "Let every eye weep and every heart groan," "Broken and shattered, afflicted and demolished by the fire of God's burning," "How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!

The article in Haaretz is an interesting exploration of the symbolism and expression of a seemingly cloistered community of scholars and ascetics, whose black-and-white appearance and religious fervor hide their flair for bold statements:
I asked a yeshiva student who was reading death notices, which often draw many passersby on the street, why the grief imagery is so dramatic. He replied to my question with a question: "So what do you think, death is not dramatic?"


Sunday, September 23, 2007

1901, the century has begun!

Fine, I'm a bit late, and can't let this happen again - but I have the excuse that 1900 wasn't thought by all to be the start of the 20th century. So ha. Even though there is a somewhat compelling case for the conventional approach. However, convention does me no good here, so bah! 1901 is the start! Here are the goodies:

The Commonwealth of Australia federates! Flight of the Conchords now has a people to hate upon.

Oil gushes in texas!

Queen Victoria dies, succeeded by her song, King Edward VIII (born Albert Edward, at left). First monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (wherefrom the Royal Consort Prince Albert hailed), to be renamed House of Windsor.

Mar 4th - Pres. McKinley commences his second term.

Cuba becomes a US protectorate.

Sept 6th - Pres. McKinley shot and fatally wounded, dies on Sept. 14th. Theodore Roosevelt becomes the

McKinley's assassin, Leon Czolgosz, is executed by electrocution. Must've been a speedy trial...

First Nobel Prize ceremony is held in Stockholm, and Marie Curie receives her doctorate.

Guglielmo Marconi receives the firs TranPublish Posts-Atlantic radio signal (this must have been so freakishly awesome for him to hear).

Lots of good births, including: Clark Gable, Zeppo Marx, Linus Pauling, Fulgencio Batista, Emperor Hirohito, and lots more.

Second Boer war still going strong.

Work calls, hopefully I'll be able to go into a little more depth on these things later in life...

Friday, September 21, 2007

The 20th Century Project Begins!

I have decided that, for no particularly good reason, it would be nice to know some stuff about...everything. In pursuit of that meager goal, I am going to have a look, over the course of the next 100 days (today is day 1), at the major events of each year of the 20th Century, jolly time that it was.

Wikipedia is a convenient enabler - there are single page writeups of the significant events, births, and deaths for (at least) every year in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Turns out there are more stretching back, but that's just so many grains of sand, right?

I am not quite sure what I am to get out of this little endeavor, other than a whole mess of semi-reliable world-knowledge. Perhaps a daily summary of the good stuff, a map of the tangents I ride out, and some kind of completion counter? Some posting of media finds or inspired content-filled inspired creations? Internets the limit, I suppose. Up up and away!

A note: So, in hindsight, I have realized that today I read 1900, which is of course, in the 19th century of that crizazy Gregorian Calendar. So let's just call it background. As such, no full entry (also I am tired and aching). But a quick summary:
  • The big deal events were the Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion. Brits v. Dutch-Africans, chinese peasants vs. everyone else.
  • Also, lots of strikes across Europe, workers seeming to think they have "rights", speak out, etc etc. No email, so no flashmobs.
  • British Labor party formed, wins 2 MP seats, and Winston Churchill got in for the first time.
  • Future Admiral Hyman Rickman born. Without him, no successful US nuclear sub fleet. Go figure.
So there's probably more but I'm tired so, c'est ca for now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Flickr Learns Me Again!


I have become a bit of a Flickr junkie. I take an inordinate number of amateurish but devoted photos, and load many (though not enough) right onto the tubes through Flickr. I've even got it going through the Curve (though I load through the web, which is oddly more effective than email). But I have not only been attention-whoring with Flickr, giddily lapping up views and comments; nay, I have also been learnin'!

One fine day, browsing the groups on flickr, I noticed a neat featured group, emergence. Well, here I am, massive dork and flickr junkie; what else could I do but join the group? I send the admins my plaudits as well as qualifications, and bangarang, they let me in. Now, some of my favorite pictures are of the fractured remains of subway advertisements that have been removed, and I decided I could cook up an adequate explanation of how the patterns formed by the strips of paper and glue can be recognized as faces or other objects of daily life. But wait! That is nay emergence! What is emergent is the layering, the overlapping colors and forms. But not what we perceive them to be - that is in our heads.

And it has a name.

And a Flickr group.


Magical perception, I am not a loony!! Others see the faces, and the buffalo, and the funeral in which the fish jumped over the moon, and so on...

So I have learned a new thing, and it is a thing that is always present in my life - any malformed or corroded object is fodder for my tendency towards pareidolia. How exquisite to find out there are whole online groups devoted to this fancy, and how interested a subject. But wait, there's more!

Posting one of the face-ridden ad scars netted a fair number of views, 50 at last check. And one of those views came from the founder of yet another group - Tachism. Who said "Boy! Yo photo be Tachism! Hook us up!"

And what is Tachism? Hoh hoh, silly Americain! It is a European Abstract painting movement of the 1940's/50's, perhaps the Euro-equivalent of Abstract Expressionism. You know, the silly Americans. In any case, its sweet, fitting, bizarre, and a whole new bag of fun to learn about. So there.

BlackWater rising (NOT)

BoingBoing got me started with a post about Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq being revoked.

I ranted a lot to my email newsgroup. We covered a range of topics, such as how Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater, sits on the board of a crazy Christian fundie group.

Mentioned this Guardian article, which talks about how overused the contractors seem to be.

A nice article on the no-bid contracts, from 2004 - frighteningly prescient article.

Found Chris Hedges' report on "America's Holy Warriors" We discussed how bad an idea it seems to be to have people with this inclination stomping around Iraq or Afghanistan.

And grand finale:
Wired's National Security blog, Danger Room, has an extensive analysis of the Blackwater situation (and the general scene with contractors in Iraq) written by P.W. Singer, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution who has done extensive scholarship on private defense contractors:

As we now see in Iraq and elsewhere, the privatized military industry is a reality of the 21st century. This entrance of the profit motive onto the battlefield opens up vast, new possibilities, but also a series of troubling questions – for democracy, for ethics, for management, for law, for human rights, and for national and international security. At what point do we begin answering them?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Homo Politicus

From PhysOrg (via Digg):

Homo politicus: brain function of liberals, conservatives differs from

The brain neurons of liberals and conservatives fire differently when confronted with tough choices, suggesting that some political divides may be hard-wired, according a study released Sunday.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Tonight in NYC

Forget the Pubs, Clubs, and Scrubs: I saw random things on the street.

So what has I seen tonight?

- This was technically this evening, but the line stretching out of DiFara was highly amusing. Longish styled hair, scruffy beards, tight pants, apathy, timbuk2. Hipsters and BoingBoingers, I guess? I wonder if the variety joint next door got as much business...after I saw that bull statuette in the window (more on that soon), I knew fame had to follow. P.S. The bus and I were talkin' college.

- Hot Ghetto Mess/We Got to Do Better: The 4 train to manhattan was attended by a group of "youts" (I'm guessing they ranged from 10-16) who saw fit to show off all of their underwear - as opposed to the tasteful little bits peeking through the holes in my jeans...

- The Dying Soldier Shot through the his screaming, modern head, his World War I/II/III fatigues imploring, "Bring Me Back" - perhaps asking us to do so now, anyway...

-I Love You, a Coconut and a Crate: Drink on a wall.

-The Bowery Shoe: It puts its foot down. Nice contrast with the shiny new clubs, cars...People really loved seeing me shoot this one...

-Kicked a cork in some park. Better than a needle. Thought it was a pill vial.

-Fleurie "Domaine des Grands Fers", 2005, Beaujolais, France. $8 at Jadis. Spicy nose, smooth up front, heavier spice on the way down. Body stays with you. Is this the proper way to describe wine? Who knows, don't care. Something about legs. I like legs.

P.S. the 16" of navel from the hostess is highly fashionable. coming back.

Now: tea and ridiculous comments from the passerby at teany. I like tea. and the wifi (from somewhere). and the juice. LOVE JUICE.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eye Movement and Conversation

A comment on a review at Cognitive Daily:

This is really interesting in that it provides some evidence as to how factors relating to embodiment contribute to two agents' ability to share their intentions and engage in a shared activity. rtl, while I too love the mirror neurons, there's more to it then the activity of those cells. In general, there seems to be an elaborate coordination between two agents that incorporates salient aspects of the situated physical environment (e.g., the painting), as well as prior knowledge (the lecture in the second case). One other tremendously important factor, as hinted at in the beginning of the review, is the ability of each agent to assess the intentions of the other. If a listener is observing the speaker look at something, the listener's mirror neuron activity might predispose them to looking at the same thing, and thus give them a predictive stance on what the speaker intends, which is supported by the content of the speech. The shared attention given to the painting then, could be seen as emerging from the interaction between imitative behaviors, shared environmental cues, physical interactions, and assessments of salience in the environment. Very interesting stuff.

Friday, July 27, 2007

crooked little vein

a capsule review i wrote for some facebook app:

A highly visual and incredibly fast-paced culturefuck, a wall of graffiti based on Spider Jerusalem's venom from Transmetropolitan with craks through which seep the cultural luddisms of a megachurch pedophile. A delightful and palpable pastiche of America But beyond all the gut-wrenching scrotum-clenching moments, and the general breeziness with which one should plow through this thing, a smile at almost every (other) turn. Also, it should be noted that this book inspired the phrase "scuzz fuckling cumbag" to emerge from my language parts, and I lay the entire weight of that burden squarely on Warren Ellis, an inimitable and hilarious and hopefully immortal human being.

facebook update

Just updated my facebook profile in ways that amuse me. I need to embark on a more ambitious online exposure campaign already. I think I'm just weird (and marketable) enough to be noticed in the right ways. Pay attention dammit!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Articles of the Day

Robot Reptile "Released" Into Wild to Aid Breeding Research

Only its head moves and it makes the female mating display when it should make the male, but it would be really funny to try this with humans.

this one sucks.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Melted Keyboards and Wooden C64s

BoingBoing had a post linking to a flickr set of a wild melted keyboard resulting from arson. In a related, and intentionally driven sort of affair, a 419eater rescammed an email scammer into making elaborate wooden carvings of strange objects, such as toys and a Commodore 64. Originally read of in the Atlantic, though you need a subscription to read the full article...great one though.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Go Jeff, Go!

[Originally posted on Friendster Blog Mentation Station on 3.24.05 at 8:24PM, prolly from VC]

It seems that Jeff Hawkins' book, On Intelligence, and the goals he set out within it are finally making a splash.  Posts on Slashdot and BoingBoing, as well as stories in the NYT (you know, subscribe) and other outlets are reporting that Hawkins and fellow Palm entrepreneurs Donna Dubinsky and Dileep George have finally founded Numenta, which is going to attempt to implement Hawkins' theories from On Intelligence.

Last semester, I was fortunate enough to read this book with a group of Cognitive Science majors, at the behest of the all-knowing Prof. Broude, for the Cog Sci book club.  Alongside some more hearty works, such as William Uttal's The New Phrenology (recommended to destroy your hopes of localizing brain processes) and Lakoff & Johnson's Philosophy in the Flesh (recommended to destroy your love affair with just about all philosophy post-Aristotle), Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens (just plain recommended), On Intelligence was a bit of a breeze to read (thanks in part, no doubt, to bestseller-maker Sandra Blakeslee).  But it did set out a fairly radical approach to understanding cortical function and how it underlies intelligent behavior.  Hawkins' theories, I believe, fit in as the next step from the work of Joaquin Fuster, Gerald Edelman, Vernon Mountcastle, and some others.  They all emphasize the distributed, network nature of cortical processing, the role of feedback, and the importance of memory as a key cortical process.  In my humble opinion, the work of these guys pretty much represents the future of brain research, and, as Hawkins is showing, perhaps the future of AI as well.

Endless Grand Central

[originally published on 3.19.05, 4:43PM, from GCT]

So, nobody tell the MTA that there is free wireless in GCT. Even though I just told you. By tracks 114 and 113 in the food court. Awesome.

A note to my drug-induced (read the post) comments yesterday. I've cheated, and I've been reading Damasio's Looking for Spinoza rather than the Gary Marcus book, which it turns out is deeply related to Gladwell's latest (Gladwell cites Damasio and talks about Descartes' Error a fair bit, and Damasio uses the work of Ekman, who Gladwell tipped me off to initially). Anyway, like any good cognitive scientist, Damasio manages to weave drugs into the discussion of feelings, emotion, and the brain. And what should he cite as the best resource on drug experiences? Why, Erowid, of course.

This, along with Dennett's extended rant on hallucinogens at the beginning of Consciousness Explained, as well as my own, ahem, experiences simply strengthens my claim that, like the buzz-driven computer science of the 60's and 70's, cognitive science is the domain of drugged up and/or semi-psychotic intellectuals with too much or too vivd mental imagery... Well, this is mostly conjecture, although this article tosses in a number of shady references, such as how Timothy Leary's daughter took up programming (before she shot her boyfriend and hung herself in jail...hmmm).

But some might take issue with this idea, so I'll just limit the extent of that claim to myself and, oh, nearly every cognitive science student I've known at my darling home institution. Although, cog sci, drugs, and mental illness do not always fall in the same boat, as everyone at my home institution would thus qualify to study the mind; however, there may be a case for describing all humans as cognitive scientists. But my train is leaving in 9 minutes, so no time to defend the validity of that particular radical claim.

friendster had a blog

but friendster has so fallen I found some of my old entries there and have decided to put them here. Cuz I like em, and don't want to lose them. so there.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Social Bonding With Robots - some thoughts

A comment on this post from Cognitive Daily.

This is reminiscent of many examples throughout cog sci of attributions of agency, or at least intentionality (and thus leading to the development of concepts of personality and attachment to same) to inanimate or unconscious entities (there is some research on whether god concepts form in this way). A favorite example are experiments involving describing a scene in which shapes move around and appear to interact, and participants reporting "his" and "her" interactions on the screen. A more interactive version is the robot simulation software BugWorks, which I recall having to work on before attempting more elaborate physical implementations. when multiple bugs were interacting, it was almost inevitable that we would attribute intentionality to the interactions, especially such behaviors as chasing (seemed like mating to some). I think this raises a question - is the difference between object anthropomorphization (e.g. cars, ships, etc.) and bonding with robots the fact that robots display an increasingly apparent degree of goal-directed (and depending on the definitions and implementations, perhaps intentional) behavior? Such behaviors appear to have special resonance in humans, and are probably some of the basic elements of human social bonding. As robot movement and appearance becomes more lifelike, i think it will be inevitable that people treat them more like equal agents. And this is a very big deal, as even iRobot is getting into developing military grade field robots that may be deployed in very large numbers - the "robot stock news" blog has some very interesting information about the development of, and soldier interactions with, the iRobot PackBot. Looks like some very interesting times ahead.

Oh yeah, today I got the Scooba I ordered last week. My grandfather, who is 83, was so excited to say "I have a robot" that I'm afraid he's going to be too cool for school when he goes back to Boca and says to the old folks, "remember the Jetsons?"

Sunday, March 25, 2007

It's been a long, long, long....

Today I find myself back in the throes of academic procrastination. I also, again, have faced up to the looming ogre of my potential. It's almost as though I'm having the deja vu, all over again. Walking down the stair to my humble cave, the play of the light and the smell of the fresh air through the door shifted me back at least 10-15 years (and it is a sign of my senescence that I can say that; a sign of my youth that it feels like an incredibly long time) to the time when I was only at this house on weekends; yet I have lived here pretty much full time for at least four, maybe five years. It troubles me that I can't grasp the exact time. Nonetheless, I drifted down the stairs to face my room, a-clutter with the detritus of my last few years of mental wandering, and I was a bit shocked. The differences between now and then were stark and immediately apparent; piles of cds, a tile floor where once lay a psychedelic carpet; a desk with multiple computers; mounds of clothing and books, vaguely packed but generally disarrayed. I suddenly thought, "nostalgia dies here".

Which is actually curious, because my uncle, for the majority of my youth, lived in this very room, whiling away hours between his college courses (taken in his forties) playing intense role-playing games on the early IBM clones, of which I still have the monstrous ram boards (what an art project yet to happen!!! I am going to make a family out of old ram chips...). But my space seems different; more vital, filled with newer, more used things; less feeling of moldy rot or decay (found on the bottom of computer desks of the era).

And so this brings me back to the notion of potential. The possibility for activity filling time is to me an incredibly valuable asset to have and to exploit. Yet I often find myself drifting through the time, stretching minute (in the sense of small) activities over hours of potentially useful time. Yet thinking back to those days, it is not just my lot to have spent hours doing nothing with a mind that could be doing so many things; my parents, my uncle, and who knows what other members of my genealogical tree have seen hours of their lives fly by with no added value remaining. Today I glanced at the posting on Google's Jobs site, particularly this post for Research Lead/Manager. Some friends had spotted it and actually thought of me as a good fit for such a role. Now, they don't have my resume in front of them, and they may have realized I haven't had the 7-10 years of management experience (though I did play the managerial role in high school, professionally, for money, for reals), but it is still really intriguing to me that I seemed a worthwhile candidate for these folks. While they aren't Brins and Pages, these folks are no dummies - one is a 23 year old entrepreneur and the other an MD/PhD student - so it makes me wonder, is that the potential I appear to have? The Google job sounds bloody cool - managing a research team while having the opportunity to "roll up [my] sleeves and get [my] hands dirty". Organizing a team, budgeting, interacting, evangelizing, for pete's sake...I wish I had it together enough to be the one for this job.

Yet, here I sit, on my throne, degreeless though not jobless, agonizing over a research summary that should take not more than 5 hours of solid work to complete. And I realize, the time is filled with potential - but I must be the mathematical plug and chug machine, the pac-monster of productivity, chomping on the bits of potential and spitting out the formed husk of product. Sounds easy, and I bet when I'm done, it will have been so (I cannot form that tense in any language properly, other than English...but I love it...). So anyway, until I figure out how to properly make temporal-hyperlinked text (half of what I wrote above was added post-hoc, and I'd love to be able to show it), I think for now I will turn my slowing burgeoning attentional resources towards the modest task of summarizing the state of research into resilience. A lovely, bouncy word, no?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NYC World Class

A fact that did not surprise me: the "urban agglomeration" that is constituted by New York City, Newark, and the surrounding suburbs constitutes the largest (by population) such unit in the United States. That neato list shows that in 2005, according to the U.N., the NYC-Newark urban agglomeration held 18 million 718 living breathing peoples. That beats the Los Angeles-some beach-some other beach combo by around 6 million. But what did surprise me: Mumbai, the largest such agglomeration in India, slacks back by around 600k. Now, figuring that was only in 2005, Mumbai grows at about 1% faster rate than does New York, it will probably flip soon; the UN says that by 2010 Mumbai will be way ahead. And besides, no one can pack 'em in ,like the Nipponese - Tokyo rocks 35 mil plus! Domo arigato!

The full summary on mega-cities (pdf) is telling, but there are of course many factors I'm presently to tired to look at. New York does drop over time though, and I am kind of uncertain as to my acceptance of Newark in the "agglomeration". Then again, I work there with two other New Yorkers. Hmm.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


as i let copernic index my tablet, i thought "why not see if there is anything more out there about fuckintosh?"

And guess what?

there ain't.

This is a shame - this twisted mash up madness is sometimes sublime.

The name alone - Fuckintosh (aka Codek's Fa Ventilato) - was enough to draw me in, and the photocopied covers added to the mystique. When I saw "Kraftwerk vs. the Beatles", and for $9.99, I knew I was in for something...

Currently, I have said album streaming forth...and it is just ridiculous. I can barely place some of the tones, but they usually flow together just beautifully - the machine-melody rhythms of Kraftwerk are laid under unnervingly fun chops of Beatles riffs, snippets of a lyric, or perhaps even just a sound. And sometimes I simply can't tell what is from who, or if he's actually got both going on or not...but it barely matters. Track 7 (none of the black disc's tracks bear titles) is a repetition of a gently strummed guitar and bass line, with some tom and snare patches - and a grating hvac sound coming in and out, beautifully punctuating the smoothness of the beatles clip. it's like floating through a chaotic parking lot in a glowing translucent marshmallow cocoon..until the robotic tendrils tear your soft little coffin apart at the very end and make you part and parcel a piece of the machine. Stunning. and then into a repeating "ju-ju" from the beginning of "come together".

Found it at other music and returned this week for "Criminal Edits" - also quite good, but only got one or two listens before the office monster swallowed it whole and spat it out into a permanent memory hole somewhere under my desk. Bastard.

But now it's "Blackbird" distorted over a smoothly shiny driving beat...track 10, possibly my favorite of this disc.

Recommended if you can find it - he has a a list of stores on his label's site - Killing Music At Home

Monday, January 15, 2007

Israel-Syria "Understanding"

This looks like something which - if carried through to its purported ends - could have tremendous implications for the state of the Middle East (and hence the world):

In-Depth Haaretz coverage

Hopefully, the fact that it is being covered in a major news outlet is a sign that the parties are carrying on to the next level and making it official, and it will not collapse as a result of the exposure. The last few paragraphs are not entirely encouraging - it seems that Israel is not yet willing to officially acknowledge any talks, and Syria is still in a "demand" mode. The nature of the Golan transfer is also somewhat suspect - would Israel be willing to transfer this flashpoint area for water control and "parkland"? According to the disputed Wikipedia page, there are more Jewish settlers than indigenous Druze residents. However, the Syrian concessions - withdrawal of support from Hezbollah and Hamas, along with distancing from Iran - are remarkable and even hard to believe. If this were not coming from Israel's paper of record, I would have some trouble accepting its veracity.

Interestingly, originally saw this on Newsvine here, which is an AP report. No American or British outlets seem to be reporting it as of 1:50 AM EST.

Also - what is going to be the upshot of Rice being in the region?

The Nano Shuffle

In a brilliant display of its "shuffle" feature (I'll call it pseudo-random pattern detector, aka "iThink"), my nano treated me to, in succession, The Shangri-Las with "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" followed by The New York Dolls' "Looking for a Kiss". Both open with the line, "When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in love, L-U-V". A fave topic of caricature dorks like Levy (who writes a fine piece) and blogs galore. My thought is, consistent with Apple's tendency to paternalize, the iPhone will also have predictive random features, such as automated calling based on frequency, auto-iTunes shop purchases, and pre-crime prevention alert software. Yippee.