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{Wednesday, November 05, 2003}

 
Detective Gold forks on Ardour Street

Art and Science Meet With Novel Results - by Emily Eakin [also here]
"Radiant Cool" has the makings of a gripping noir thriller: a missing body, a tough-talking female sleuth and a mustachioed Russian agent mixed up in a shadowy plot to take over the world. But the novel, by Dan Lloyd, a neurophilosopher at Trinity College in Hartford, is also a serious work of scholarship, the unlikely vehicle for an abstruse new theory of consciousness.
Lured in by the sinister atmospherics (a possible murder victim turns up on Page 1) and clipped, Sam Spade narration ("He was a fool and a moron, but I never wanted to see him dead"), readers soon find themselves enrolled in a heady tutorial on Husserl, phenomenology, neural networks and multidimensional scaling.
Mr. Lloyd says that embedding his theory of consciousness in a novel was essential for making his scholarly case. "I'm trying to show the way that consciousness is personal and idiosyncratic and especially bound up with time," he said. "If you put those factors together, you end up with a novel as a way to express those ideas."

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
Scottish physicist, widely considered by twentieth and twenty-first century physicists to have been one of the most significant figures of the nineteenth century. His work fundamentally changed conceptions of electromagnetism and introduced the basis of field theory. He is also known for his work on thermodynamics ...

In Our Time - James Clerk Maxwell - BBC Radio 4
"He took the first colour photograph, defined the nature of gases and with a few mathematical equations expressed all the fundamental laws of light, electricity and magnetism - and in doing so he provided the tools to create the technological age, from radar to radio and televisions to mobile phones. He is credited with fundamentally changing our view of reality, so much so that Albert Einstein said, "One scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell".
But who was James Clerk Maxwell? What were his ideas, and does this nineteenth century 'natural philosopher' deserve a place alongside Newton and Einstein in the pantheon of science?"

The go of it
Gillian Beer reviews The Man Who Changed Everything by Basil Mahon
"Maxwell changed the field of thought by his insistence on statistical methods and on probability rather than mechanical explanation. His work in optics (he took the world's first colour photograph), in field theory, on automatic control systems, on how to use polarised light to show structural strain patterns, and much else, developed alongside his three fundamental papers over a period of nine years from 1855 on electromagnetic waves.
To a wider audience today, Maxwell's name is probably most recalled by his pithy thought-experiment "Maxwell's Demon" (not his own title), in which an intelligent molecule-type creature could make heat flow from a cold gas to a hot one, against the laws of thermodynamics."

The Fight Against the Second Law of Thermodynamics

"The word processor is one of the most remarkable products of our mathematized age. It may very well change our concept of a book. In the past, an author would write, rewrite, correct, and edit, and finally a book would appear. It might go through several editions. In the word processor era, a book is a dynamic thing which can be continuously updated by the author or his literary heirs. The reader, on line, calls for today's version. A book is converted from a static object to a living institution with all the strengths and weaknesses of such institutions."
Philip J. Davis & Reuben Hersh - Descartes Dream: The World According to Mathematics
(Penguin, 1988, page xviii)

James Clerk Maxwell once asked: "What if the book of nature were really a magazine?"

"The difficulty lies not in new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones."
John Maynard Keynes

Mallarmé and the "End of the Book" by William Barker
"It is not the page that Mallarmé employs as his material base, but the opening represented by a pair of pages. That is, the poem is now to be read across the fold, and the page is now seen as part of a larger entity. Designers, from the middle ages onwards, have understood the visual force of the opening in the codex, but few writers have written for this bifurcated space. Mallarmé recalls that small company of pre-modernist writers - Geoffrey Tory, Laurence Sterne, William Blake, Charles Nodier, who understand the force of the opening as an aesthetic unit. For Mallarmé, in an essay on the symbolism of the book, the fold represented the location of the dark meaning of the text."

El Lissitsky writes in the Gutenberg-Jahrbuch of 1926: "There are today two dimensions to the word. As sound it is a function of time; as exposition, of space. The book of the future must be both. This is how to overcome the automatism of the contemporary book. A world-view which has become automatic ceases to exist in our senses, so we are left drowning in a void. The dynamic achievement of art is to transform the void into space, i.e., into a unity conceivable for our senses."

Squaring the circle: Stéphane Mallarmé by John Simon
"[...] By now the father of a growing girl, Geneviève, Mallarmé came to realize that excessive intellectual activity to the exclusion of everything else was extremely harmful. "To be truly human," he wrote Lefébure in 1867, "you have to think with your entire body." Yet it is at this point that, transferred to Avignon with its pleasant climate, he writes one of his most rigorously cerebral poems, the notorious "-ix sonnet," beginning "Ses purs ongles très haut dédiant leur onyx." It is based on the decision to have one set of its rhymes in -ix, no easy feat in French. Millan does scant justice to this sonnet; he does not even quote the important passage from the annunciatory letter to Lefébure: "I may write a sonnet, and as I have only three rhymes in -ix, do your best to send me the true meaning of the word ptyx, for I'm told it doesn't exist in any language -- something I'd much prefer, for that would give me the joy of creating it through the magic of rhyme." But the word does occur in Greek, where it means a fold or a shell, of the kind that pressed to the ear suggests the sound of the sea."

Geometry and Abjection by Victor Burgin
"In the 'postmodern' period, the speed with which space is traversed is no longer governed by the mechanical speed of machines such as aeroplanes, but rather by the electronic speed of machines such as computers and video links, which operate at nearly the speed of light. A mutation in technology therefore has, arguably, brought the technologism inherited from the spatial perceptions of modernist aesthetics into line with the perceptions of modern physics. Thus, for example, Paul Virilio writes that 'technological space ... is not a geographical space, but a space of time'. In this space/time of electronic communications, operating at the speed of light, we see things, he observes, 'in a different light' - the 'light of speed'. Moreover, this space seems to be moving, once again, towards self-enclosure. For example, David Bolter, a classics professor writing about computer programming, concludes, 'In sum, electronic space has the feel of ancient geometric space.' One of the phenomenological effects of the public applications of new electronic technologies is to cause space to be apprehended as 'folding back' upon itself. Spaces once conceived of as separated, segregated, now overlap: live pictures from Voyager II, as it passes through the rings of Saturn, may appear on television sandwiched between equally 'live' pictures of internal organs, transmitted by surgical probes, and footage from Soweto. A counterpart, in the political sphere, of the fold-over spaces of information technologies is terrorism. In the economic sphere it is the tendency of multinational capitalism to produce First World irruptions in Third World countries, while creating Second World pockets in the developed nations. To contemplate such phenomena is no longer to inhabit an imaginary space ordered by the subject-object stand-off of Euclidean perspective. The analogies which fit best are now to be found in non-Euclidean geometries - the topologist's Mobius strip, for example, where the apparently opposing sides prove to be formed from a single, continuous surface.
Space, then, has a history."

Topological Ordering in Cyberspace by Jeanette Hofmann
"The purpose of addresses is to localize and identify things and people. At the same time, however, addresses generate a spatial order. My talk revolves around the topological order created by Internet addresses. How are things located in the immaterial world of cyberspace? And related to this question: What is space? How do we imagine space?"

Envisioning the World Wide Web 1999
Fractal Complexity of a CyberCity 1998
Modelling Cyberspace 1997

"Joined together, the great mass of human minds around the earth seems to behave like a coherent, living system. The trouble is that the flow of information is mostly one-way." Lewis Thomas

The World-Wide Web as a Super-Brain: from metaphor to model
"[...] In the human brain knowledge and meaning develop through a process of associative learning: concepts that are frequently used together become more strongly connected (Hebb's rule for neural networks). It is possible to implement similar mechanisms on the Web, creating associations on the basis of the paths followed by the users through the maze of linked documents. The principle is simply that links followed by many users become 'stronger', while links that are rarely used become 'weaker'. Simple heuristics can then propose likely candidates for new links: if a user moves from A to B to C, it is probable that there exists not only an association between A and B but also between A and C (transitivity), and between B and A (symmetry). In this manner, potential new links are continuously generated, while only the ones that gather sufficient 'strength' are retained and made visible to the user. This process was tested by us in an adaptive hypertext experiment, where a web of randomly connected words self-organized into a semantic network, by learning from the link selections made by its users. [See Bollen & Heylighen, 1996, for more details about learning algorithms and experimental results].
Francis Heylighen & Johan Bollen

On Societies as Organisms
"A solitary ant, afield, cannot be considered to have much of anything on his mind; indeed with only a few neurons strung together by fibers, he can't be imagined to have a mind at all, much less a thought. He is more like a ganglion on legs. Four ants together, or ten, encircling a dead moth on a path, begin to look more like an idea. They fumble and shove, gradually moving the food toward the Hill, but as though by blind chance. It is only when you watch the dense mass of thousands of ants, crowded together around the Hill, blackening the ground, that you begin to see the whole beast, and now you observe it thinking, planning, calculating. It is an intelligence, a kind of live computer, with crawling bits for its wits."
Lewis Thomas - The Lives of a Cell (Futura paperback, 1976, Pages 12 - 13)

Stéphane Mallarmé : a portrait of the poet as a spider

Stéphane Mallarmé : "A silent white ant, I dig and work."

Stéphane Mallarmé, un coup de dés...

"A regular journal carries from one research worker to another the various ... observations which are of common interest ... A typical scientific paper has never pretended to be more than another little piece in a larger jigsaw - not significant in itself but as an element in a grander scheme. This technique, of soliciting many modest contributions to the store of human knowledge, has been the secret of Western science since the seventeenth century, for it achieves a corporate, collective power that is far greater than one individual can exert."
John Ziman - Information, Communication, Knowledge,
Nature Magazine, Volume 224, Pages 318 - 324, 25 October 1969

The World as a Blog + The Map of Literature

"The invention of a mechanism for the systematic publication of fragments of scientific work may well have been the key event in the history of modern science."
John Ziman

Tetrads, or, The Four Laws of Media
"McLuhan has stated that all technology we humans create is an extension of some human sense. Each new technology introduced to our culture is accompanied by a host of services, and paid for by the ensuing disservices.
The services and disservices are the hidden ground within which the figure of the artifact resonates. This hidden ground is the ambient environment we live in, but may not always be consciously aware of.
We tend to follow a path derived from familiarity with our environment. Introduction of new technologies alter our sense ratio with which we experience the world, and forces abandonment of the old mental imprint. Loss of identity and violence can be the repercussions. When new technologies alter the ground continuously, McLuhan says that constant change demands pattern recognition.
How do we respond to such rapid environmental changes in our society? How can we perceive a pattern?"

SearchDay - Information Wants to be Valuable - 27 June 2001
Chris Sherman writes: "One the greatest myths of our time is that "Information wants to be free." The Internet corollary is "You can find anything on the web." Sure. Just try to find most original science, technology or medical research with your favorite search engine, and you'll quickly see how absurd these myths actually are.
In fact, publishing original science, technology and medical (STM) research is a huge business, estimated to generate annual revenues of nearly $10 billion. Unless you're willing to shell out serious shekels for access to proprietary information systems, or have privileges in a library that pays for them, you're not likely to find much STM content online.
This tight control of information has spawned a Napster-inspired rebellion among the ranks of the principal users of STM content -- librarians and scientists. Libraries must purchase as much of this literature as possible to fulfill their role as infomediaries. But library budgets are under constant pressure, and most libraries can only afford a small number of the journals they would like to provide.
This has the consumers of this information -- namely, scientists -- hopping mad. Not only are they denied access to crucial research, but their own output doesn't get the widespread dissemination that enhances prestige and leads to career advancement.
Scientists and librarians are revolting against the control exercised by STM publishers. The Public Library of Science has published an open letter that urges publishers to allow the research reports that have appeared in their journals to be included in electronic archives and to be read and used without obstruction. More than 24,800 scientists from 166 countries have signed the letter.
Many librarians are also fighting back, throwing their support behind a Napster-like peer-to-peer file sharing system called Docster. The primary purpose of Docster is not so much to avoid paying for journals but rather to complement existing delivery systems found in libraries, schools and other research-intensive institutions.
Publishers aren't taking these challenges lightly. They argue that the value they add to research justifies the expense of scholarly journals. For example, most are peer-reviewed, edited by specialists, and are advertising-free. Many are published by non-profit societies that use subscription revenues to fund other activities of the society.
So how did we end up in this mess? It's instructive to look at the origins of the "information wants to be free" concept.
Stewart Brand was probably the first person to use the phrase. Here's what he said to the first Hacker's Conference in 1984: "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."
Brand's words deftly illustrated the dramatic distinction between the value of information and the cost of distributing it. Over time, one side of the equation was left out. "Information wants to be free," at least to many people accustomed to searching the web or downloading music with Napster really grew to mean "I want information to be free."
STM content never really migrated to the web, remaining firmly in the grasp of publishers who closely guarded the content. But scientists and librarians took note of the power of the web to widely distribute information, and began to question the value of the cartels that controlled the distribution of STM content.
The journal Nature has taken the debate online ..."

posted by Andrew 11/05/2003 03:38:00 PM

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