Monday, December 01, 2003
introducing the absence of the work in progress
Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books [via ALD]
"A hypertext can give the illusion of opening up even a closed text: a detective story can be structured in such a way that its readers can select their own solution, deciding at the end if the guilty one should be the butler, the bishop, the detective, the narrator, the author or the reader. They can thus build up their own personal story. Such an idea is not a new one. Before the invention of computers, poets and narrators dreamt of a totally open text that readers could infinitely re-compose in different ways. Such was the idea of Le Livre, as extolled by Mallarmé. Raymond Queneau also invented a combinatorial algorithm by virtue of which it was possible to compose, from a finite set of lines, millions of poems. In the early sixties, Max Saporta wrote and published a novel whose pages could be displaced to compose different stories, and Nanni Balestrini gave a computer a disconnected list of verses that the machine combined in different ways to compose different poems ...
All these physically moveable texts give an impression of absolute freedom on the part of the reader, but this is only an impression, an illusion of freedom. The machinery that allows one to produce an infinite text with a finite number of elements has existed for millennia, and this is the alphabet. Using an alphabet with a limited number of letters one can produce billions of texts, and this is exactly what has been done from Homer to the present days."
Edmund Carpenter's - Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me!
The Universe as Book
"It was a commonplace in Scholasticism that God created two books: the world and the sacred Scriptures. Life was thought to follow the format of the book and the book became the organizing principle for all experience.
Even as a written manuscript, the book served as model for both the machine and bureaucracy. That is, it encouraged a habit of thought that divided experience into specialized units and organized these serially and causally. Translated into gears and levers, the book became machine. Translated into people, it became army, chain of command, assembly line, etc.
By organizing society in the format of the book, the ancients organized specialists into elaborate social machines capable of building pyramids or colonizing conquered lands.
The book served as model and impetus for many of Western man's most basic thoughts. Certainly the book was ideally suited for presenting a number of these. "History," says George Steiner, "is a language-net thrown backwards." More specifically, history is a book.
Theories of evolution and progress belong, almost exclusively, to book culture. Like a book, the idea of progress was an abstracting, organizing principle for the interpretation and comprehension of an incredibly complicated record of human experience. It arranged events in a line, causally: the individual was thought to move along that line, like the reader's eye, towards a desired goal.
Nearly all experience, all reality, it was thought, lay within the confines of language. Language, in turn, was structured by the book. Thus, nearly the whole of Western culture was organized around one sense: the eye; expressed in one medium: language; and structured according to one model: the book.
The all-seeing eye of God, believed to control all celestial bodies and all life, was really the eye of literate man. Western civilization synchronized nearly all experience, all perception to this single model and organized the universe according to the book.
Literate man lived in a universe, not a bi-verse or a multi-verse, but a verse obedient to a single drummer. "Whether in the Amazonian forest or on the ridge of the high Andes," wrote Alexander von Humboldt, the great geographer, "I was ever aware that one breath, from pole to pole, breathes one single life into stones, plants and animals and into the swelling breast of man."
Monotheism in religion and uniformity in classical science were mild dictatorships compared to the dictatorship of the eye. In fact, both may have been by-products of it. Alfred North Whitehead said science could have come only out of the strict monotheism of Christianity, but it seems more likely the primary source was literacy, not religion."
Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me! by Edmund Carpenter
(Paladin Books, Great Britain, 1976, pages 43-44)
Fish's Sixth Sense Could Help Robots Navigate Oceans
"Fish and many amphibian animals find their way through even the murkiest of waters, navigate raging torrents and spot obstacles, predators and prey, using a sensory organ known as the lateral line system.
Sometimes known as the fish's sixth sense, the lateral line is a system of thousands of tiny hair cells that run the length of the fish's body. The lateral line responds to fluid flow around the fish and allows it to detect obstacles and sense the movement of water even in complete darkness.
Now, electrical engineer Chang Liu, entomologist Fred Delcomyn and their colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed an artificial lateral line that could give underwater vehicles and robots a sixth sense."
First Chapter: Life's Solution by Simon Conway Morris
"It is obvious that the entire fabric of evolution is imprinted on and through our bodies, from the architecture of our bony skeleton, to the proteins carrying the oxygen surging through our arteries, and our eyes that even unaided can see at least two million years into the past - the amount of time it has taken for the light to travel from the Andromeda Galaxy. In every case - whether for hand or brain - we can trace an ancestry that extends backwards for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years. Yet, for all that, both the processes and the implications of organic evolution remain controversial. Now at first sight this is rather odd, because it is not immediately clear what is being called into question. Certainly not the fact of evolution, at least as a historical narrative: very crudely, first bacteria, then dinosaurs, now humans. More specifically in terms of process, Darwin's formulation of the mechanisms of evolution is not only straightforward, but seemingly irrefutable. Organisms live in a real world, and evolve to fit their environment by a process of continuous adaptation. This is achieved by a constant winnowing through the operation of natural selection that scrutinizes the available variation to confer reproductive success on those that, by one yardstick or another, are fitter in the struggle for survival.
So is that all there is to say?"
A Message to the Fish
In 'History as a System and Other Essays Toward a Philosophy of History' Ortega y Gasset writes: "Darwin believed that species equipped with eyes have been forthcoming in a millennial evolutionary process because sight is necessary or convenient in the struggle for existence against the environment. The theory of mutation and its ally, the Mendelian theory, show with a certainty hitherto unknown in biology that precisely the opposite is true. The species with eyes appears suddenly, capriciously as it were, and it is this species which changes the environment by creating its visible aspect. The eye does not come into being because it is needed. Just the contrary; because the eye appears it can henceforth be applied as a serviceable instrument. Each species builds up its stock of useful habits by selecting among, and taking advantage of, the innumerable useless actions which a living being performs out of sheer exuberance."
'Life's Solution': It Had to Happen - Review by Elliott Sober
"When two species are similar because they inherit traits from a common ancestor, the similarity is said to be a ''homology''; when they are similar because their ancestors independently evolved the same novel features, this is convergence. The camera eye found in vertebrates has independently evolved in other groups -- in squid, some marine worms, jellyfish, snails and spiders. In addition to such standard examples of convergence (like the remarkable similarities that unite placental and marsupial mammals), Conway Morris presents scores of fascinating examples that are less familiar. The lesson is clear. The living world is peppered with recurrent themes; it is not an accumulation of unique events."
Evidence that a Ribozyme Evolved Multiple Times
Laboratory experiments designed to evolve new catalytic RNA molecules, called ribozymes, have demonstrated that a type of self-cleaving ribozyme found in highly divergent organisms might have evolved independently multiple times.
"Since the hammerhead is a very simple motif, if any structure was going to arise independently multiple times, it would be something like this," said HHMI investigator Jack W. Szostak.
The evidence for multiple origins of the hammerhead ribozyme, which is found in organisms as diverse as plant viruses, newts, schistosomes and cave crickets, was published in the November 1, 2001, issue of the journal Nature by HHMI investigator Jack W. Szostak and Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Boxes and Arrows: Forgotten Forefather: Paul Otlet - Alex Wright [update]
"With the faceted philosophy of the UDC as backdrop, the Traité [de documentation] posited a universal "law of organization" declaring that no document could be properly understood by itself, but that its meaning becomes clarified through its influence on other documents, and vice versa. "[A]ll bibliological creation," he said, "no matter how original and how powerful, implies redistribution, combination and new amalgamations."
While that sentiment may sound postmodernist in spirit, Otlet was no semiotician; rather, he simply believed that documents could best be understood as three-dimensional, with the third dimension being their social context: their relationship to place, time, language, other readers, writers and topics. Otlet believed in the possibility of empirical truth, or what he called "facticity" -- a property that emerged over time, through the ongoing collaboration between readers and writers. In Otlet's world, each user would leave an imprint, a trail, which would then become part of the explicit history of each document."
IBM/Collaborative User Experience Research Group - history flow
visualizing dynamic, evolving documents and the interactions of multiple collaborating authors: a preliminary report.
Toward a Brain-Internet Link - Technology Review November 2003
"A few weeks ago i was brushing my teeth and trying to remember who made "La Bamba" a big hit back in the late 1950s. I knew the singer had died in a plane crash with Buddy Holly; if I'd been downstairs I would have gone straight to Google. But even if I'd had a spoken-language Internet interface in the bathroom, my mouth was full of toothpaste. I realized that what I really want is an implant in my head, directly coupled into my brain, providing a wireless Internet connection."
We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick
He awoke -- and wanted Mars. The valleys, he thought. What would it be like to trudge among them? Great and greater yet: the dream grew as he became fully conscious, the dream and the yearning. He could almost feel the enveloping presence of the other world, which only Government agents and high officials had seen. A clerk like himself? Not likely.
"Are you getting up or not?" his wife Kirsten asked drowsily, with her usual hint of fierce crossness. "If you are, push the hot coffee button on the darn stove."
Selling you a new past - The Independent 21 October 2003 [via matt jones]
"You've eaten a chocolate bar and you didn't really like it. Can a commercial afterwards persuade you that you did? 'Memory morphing' could be a powerful weapon for advertisers."
From Our Own Correspondent: When images and reality merge
Peter Day says: "Much have I travelled already, but a new global project has just sent me round the world for the first time. In quick succession, I visited America, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. And my frazzled conclusion is that most of the urban world is morphing into a television screen."
Biology gets digital in Maryland
Meeting tackles how computers should integrate research data.
Helen Pearson reports: At the moment, it is a struggle to link a patient's genetic profile with their brain scans and the latest clinical studies. It's like a primitive PC running incompatible word-processing, e-mail and spreadsheet programs, says Erik Jakobsson of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, who helped to convene the meeting. "We're way behind in making it all work together," he says.
The man who sold his brain
Keats has registered his brain as a sculpture which he created thought by thought.
Wired 11.12: The Key to Genius
Steve Silberman writes: "[...] For most of the 20th century, intelligence was viewed as an all-purpose, monolithic power, christened g by psychologist Charles Spearman. Creativity was believed to be a side effect of a high level of general intelligence - a mark of big g. The father of the standardized-testing industry, Lewis Terman, created the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale to quantify this power. He launched the longest scientific study in history, Genetic Studies of Genius, to track the accomplishments of highly gifted grade-school children through the course of their lives.
His hope that an impressive IQ score would augur groundbreaking accomplishments in science and art, however, didn't pan out. His young Termites, as he affectionately called them, did end up earning slots at better universities and getting hired for executive positions, often with help from Terman. They gave the world two memorable inventions: the K ration and I Love Lucy. (Both Ancel Keys, who perfected single-meal pouches for the US Army, and Jess Oppenheimer, the creator of the popular TV show, were Termites.)
For the most part, however, real genius slipped through Terman's net. None of his prodigies won major scientific prizes or became important artists, while two students excluded from the study for having insufficient test scores, William Shockley and Luis Alvarez, went on to earn Nobels.
Howard Gardner rallied the anti-Terman forces in 1983 with his influential book Frames of Mind. In place of g, Gardner proposed seven modular faculties in the brain, each with its own stronghold of competence. Savants seemed to be the living proof of his theory: In the case of Nadia, while her linguistic intelligence was impaired, her spatial intelligence was highly developed. Gardner compared these separate but equal modules of intelligence to highly tuned computational devices.
But, like Terman, Gardner missed something: the difference between computation and creativity. If a bottomless literal memory and a set of algorithms were enough to make us significant artists and composers, our iPods and museums would chronicle a history of savant breakthroughs. The computational abilities of savants may give them glimpses of the world as it really is, as Snyder says. But creativity is also the ability to imagine the world as it is not - to make conceptual leaps and refine the raw data of experience into abstract ideas, meaning, and insight."
Reclaim your brain by Brian Wheeler
"[...] Professor Kendrick casts doubt on the idea that all the extra information in the world is using up valuable brain space. Apart from anything else, the brain does not necessarily have a finite capacity. "The potential for the brain to memorise is enormous. No one wants to put a final limit on it," he says.
The mind does not store information in a cold, clinical way like a computer. Memory is strongly linked to emotion. So although we are bombarded with information all the time, we are unlikely to remember much of it. The problem is not the amount of information you take in, but what your brain does with it, Professor Kendrick says."
Think Again: How Much Give Can the Brain Take?
"[...] Earlier experiments had begun chipping away at the certainty that the ban on adult neurogenesis, as it is called, is absolute, at least in lower vertebrates or in the human brain's more primitive regions. (Birds apparently generate neurons to encode new songs.) But the Princeton findings went further: Dr. Elizabeth Gould and Dr. Charles G. Gross found that thousands of new neurons a day were being formed in the brains of monkeys, migrating to areas including the prefrontal cortex, the seat of intelligence and decision-making.
If a steady stream of fresh brain cells is continually arriving to be incorporated into new circuitry, then the brain is more malleable than hardly anyone has realized. Memories may be formed not just by forging new synapses between old neurons but by weaving in new ones as well.
No one really knows what these new neurons do. Stuck at the end of the Princeton paper is an arresting speculation: that the continuum of new neurons, arriving in one batch after another, might be the brain's way of storing memories chronologically, forming the pages of the neurological book of life."
George Johnson - The New York Times 24 October 1999
Slashdot -- How Much Give Can the Brain Take?
JPMH says: "... even if Dr Gould and Dr Gross are right that there are always new neurons migrating to the pre-frontal cortex, it seems they can't always be integrated."
The Myth of the 10% Brain by David A. Morton
"The types and numbers of brain cell connections, along with the time-dynamics of their interactions modified by numerous neurotransmitters, results in a complex chemical and electromagnetic environment in the brain. However, that is no argument that we are not using our full brain capacity. While it is in our best interest to try to continue to learn and, if possible, to think more accurately in relation to the physical world and more appropriately in regard to our social world, it may be that we are struggling at or near our limits in regard to the capacities of the brain-mind of the species. This is not pleasing to our self-concept, but it still may be true.
If we are functioning at our mental limits as a species, can we do anything about it?"
Exposing the Nerve: Memory
William Marsh - Witz 5.2, Summer 1997
Language, according to Merlin Donald's Origins of the Modern Mind, was initially used "to construct conceptual models of the human universe. Its function was evidently tied to the development of integrative thought -- to the grand unifying synthesis of formerly disconnected, time-bound snippets of information" (215).
From the beginning, then, the circular
language - memory - concept - language ...
by which the "snippets" are bound, integrated, networked.
IAwiki - Shape Of Information [via The Document Triangle via Interconnected]
"The concept of shape assumes that an information space of any size has both spatial and semantic characteristics. That is, as well as identifying placement and layout, users directly recognize and respond to content and meaning."
Lingua Franca - In the Beginning was the Word...
"As a lexicographer I was keen to see the material associated with the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, especially Dr Minor's citation cards. Dr Minor, the insane murderer, best-known to us from Simon Winchester's book The Surgeon of Crowthorne. Would his cards reveal something of his personality? They appear to be the cards of a sane intellectual, the cards of the man who strolled in the gardens of Broadmoor prison with the dictionary's editor, James Murray, discussing dictionary matters. There was evidence here of something that is not in Winchester's book, a strange sense of the written word speaking out from the past."
Bruce Moore on Treasures from the World's Great Libraries.
MIT Team Mines For New Materials With A Computer
"A computational technique used to predict everything from books that a given customer might like to the function of an unknown protein is now being applied by MIT engineers and colleagues to the search for new materials. The team's ultimate goal: a public online database that could aid the design of materials for almost any application, from nanostructure computer components to ultralight, high-strength alloys for airplanes.
The technique, known as data mining, uses statistics and correlations to search for patterns within a large data set. Those patterns can then be used to predict an unknown."
How Much Information? 2003
This study is an attempt to estimate how much new information is created each year. Newly created information is distributed in four storage media -- print, film, magnetic, and optical -- and seen or heard in four information flows -- telephone, radio and TV, and the Internet. This study of information storage and flows analyzes the year 2002 in order to estimate the annual size of the stock of new information contained in storage media, and heard or seen each year in information flows.
Where do stories come from?
A Kansas plant geneticist, a man by the name of Wes Jackson, in a book titled Altars of Unhewn Stone, wrote an essay called "The Information Implosion." Jackson offers a striking value claim. For though conventional wisdom holds that we are in the midst of an information explosion, more careful consideration must surely convince us that the opposite is true. Jackson notes, in particular, a species extinction rate of 1000 per year including the loss of plant species through the genetic narrowing of crops in his own research. According to Jackson, wheat seed "variety" is a misleading term referring only to a single seed species developed out of a much larger genetic variety -- the new seed is a truncation or reduction of species inventory rather than an expansion. The problem is larger. According to Jackson, the loss in cultural information from the depopulation of the rural areas alone in the period from the 1930s until today is greater than the sum of information given by science and technology in the same period."
World drowning in oceans of data [via A Welsh View]
US researchers estimate that every year 800MB of information is produced for every person on the planet. Their study found that information stored on paper, film, magnetic and optical disks has doubled since 1999. Paper is still proving popular though. The amount of information stored in books, journals and other documents has grown 43% in three years.
Web guru fights info pollution - BBC News 13 October 2003
"[...] Information pollution is information overload taken to the extreme," Jakob Nielsen told BBC News Online while in London for the Nielson Norman Group User Experience Conference. [...]
"The entire ideology of information technology for the last 50 years has been that more information is better, that mass producing information is better," he says. But the net [...] has mutated into a "procrastination apparatus", which spews information without much prioritisation, Dr Nielsen argues.
Tower of Babel by Peter Krapp
"Babel is one of the prime narratives of architecture as social event."
Sabbah's Blog: Knowledge Management Archives - 31 October 2003
The equivalent of a 30-foot pile of books of data is produced for everyone on Earth annually, a study finds.
Boxes and Arrows: The Sociobiology of Information Architecture - Alex Wright
"Much as we may like to think of ourselves as belonging to a uniquely privileged species, the fact is that every complex organism on this planet is engaged in a shared struggle with information overload."
Information overload - The Guardian (Saturday November 15, 2003)
Graham Farmelo gets to grips with Information: The New Language of Science by Hans Christian von Baeyer
"... Shannon's theory clarified the role of noise in communication. In a marvellous passage, Von Baeyer explains why clear communication depends on the presence of some noise because, without it, our senses would be overloaded by measuring or observing a single physical quantity. He likens the world to a complex and sharply detailed landscape, with the noise functioning as "a thick blanket of snow that softens contours into large, rounded mounds we can perceive and sort out without being overwhelmed"."
Clays May Have Aided Formation of Primordial Cells
October 24, 2003 - Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers have discovered that clays may have been the catalysts that spurred the spontaneous assembly of fatty acids into the small sacs that ultimately evolved into the first living cells.
Cuneiform Press - Charles Olson
At Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, Olson's next stop, he was at his outgoing best for the first few days of a week-long reading/lecture visit, helping a young but receptive student audience though his latest mythohistorical Maximus run by airing his views on the poet's role as mythmaker -- reformulated, he said, following discussions a few days earlier with Dartmouth French poetry expert Ramon Guthrie. (Guthrie had pointed out to him that the medieval French verb trobar meant to find, allowing word-root fanatic Olson to link the troubadour poets with Herodotus, Homer, and himself in the tradition of the investigative storyteller, "the man who finds out the words.") But by the end of the week, both the poet himself and his wife [Betty Olson] had been summoned before the college Judiciary Committee, reprimanded for taking part in a wild drinking party on campus, and sternly "told to abide by community laws while there."
Tom Clark - Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life
Q&A: The Geneva accord
posted by Andrew 12/01/2003 06:09:00 PM