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Monday, February 16, 2015
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Things come in cycles. Love being one of them (for us mere mortals who still (?) believe in the biochemical process of love, that is the vescicles of appropriate neurotransmitters fusing with the cell wall of the neuron and spilling their contents en mass across the synapse and other hormonal such stuff taking place). In the vernacular there is the idea of “the honeymoon phase”, that is, the early “phase” of love wherein the participants have only eyes for each other, are blinded to each others problematic or “negative” traits and are blissfully and unproblematically in love, until the other shoe drops, usually in the form of the recognition that each of them are human with faults and emotional problems and pasts and boundary issues, etc.
Now, I myself have never been an advocate of the honeymoon “phase.” First of all, unlike many actually phasic cycles in a relationship, it is not cyclic. It is an anomoly that comes only once, if ever, at the beginning of a relationship in the form of infatuation. As I’ve never been a fan of infatuation, how can I be a fan of one of its many manifestations. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been a victum of all sorts of infatuation: record collector, art admirer, literary Hoover (as in to purchase and suck up books), idea collector, metaphor whore, etc., all with varying degrees of sub-dilettante sucess. But this is an albatross around my neck not a virtue. Always chasing after the next great idea or collectable thing, perfect song, book or pair of glasses. True love is reading a book over and over until the pages fall off, especially a book with depth. It is skipping over the honeymoon “phase” as fast as you can or achieving a somber, neutral view of the world that allows one to get past infatuation completely and dive right into a deeper relationship with a person or object where immediately you and the other begin to work on each others strengths and weaknesses, building new structures where you can, butressing weak points or circumventing them with new constructions, finding novel objects that are the products of elements from the direct product of both where it just wouldn’t be possible to build without objects from the pair.
This is not “honeymoon style romance” this is dirty work, like, waders on, I know your shit you know mine and we’re both fine with it and lets party sort of work. I don’t know how often this happens in human relationships, anecdotally I would guess next to never, but I don’t get around much. In groups, special groups, where people tend to know, at least in certain domains, deep stores of other’s affairs, whether in their knowledge of physical chemistry or their relationship to drinking alcohol, it seems to happen more often.
Take the sciences for example. Lineage is important. People know who each other’s mentors are/were, who they have published with, what problems they have worked on, how many citations they have accumulated, they have read their work (stories?) themselves and can attest to the quality first hand, evaluate their depth with respect to the field.
Similarly, in a sort of strange, and at first glance, non-resonant, parallel, in some recovery communities, their is a “sponsorship” lineage, that some take quite seriously, people tell their stories from the podium and to their sponsors, and others can gauge the depth of their relationship with substance abuse and recovery, their are informal networks within networks that serve to filter out (and in) those that look like they are prospects to be taken seriously (at least that is my understanding). Like any goup with dynamics there are various jobs and personalities and one can guess at an anthropology of such things. (Interestingly, in this second example, it might be in the interest of the new participant to develop a “honeymoon” relationship and allow the group to do some heavy lifting for them and not ask too many questions about the mechanics until later, allowing for the “miracle” to take place, and enthusiasm to bubble.)
In any case, at some point, one has to get down to brass tacks, lift up the hood, be it in a job, an academic disclipline, a community centered on recovery, or a romantic relationship with their lover and get to know all the grime and grit and the parts that makes them work, if not, how best can they be a good participant in the relationship/community/company/academic community? I think many are afraid of this level of commitment in many of the domains above or perhaps it simply seems like too much to ask, too much work, too much. But we do see it in some well run companies with great HR departments, in some intentional communities with well defined process and good decision making protocol and in many academic disiplines (e.g. in physics and mathematics with online preprint servers (and those that study them) like arxiv and newsletters and people who put a lot of thought into how to best shape the community over time and make sure that say, mathematics remains healthy and full of talented new mathematicians (you can see evidence of this in say, the Notices of the AMS).
It is for this reason why I think a tempered enthusiasm going in, a skeptical, I hope this turns out to be interesting but I’m not going to put all my chips on it sort of approach”, seems best. From that vantage point one can begin to develop an infectious attitude only if the relationship demands it, as you get to the innards and you see what makes everything go, if the mechanisms behind it all still drive you to ask more and wanto to learn and build more, then chances are, whatever it is, it’s a keeper. That my friend, sounds like love to me.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I should be reading Gian-Carlo Rota’s book on Geometric probability, which I found through a strange and circuitous chain of events and discussions including a pun on Buffons needle (buffoons noodle). And I will… But after I get some work done today, I aim to read a few pages of indescretion from book that the title of this post was stolen from.
In Rota’s lexicon, I had “working myths” a few years ago, a so-called “ultimate reality” to stand unquestioning upon, then crises hit, uncertainty came pouring in and working myths dissapated into belief (that I, apparently like others, although I didn’t realize it at the time, fancying myself not the type, defended)… these beliefs begat “wilting myths”, a few of which are still going to seed this very autumn, but most are now dead, DEAD! I can’t wait to read this book. (Note: not only did Rota write the book on Geometric probability, but he was an expert functional analyist turned combinitorialist at MIT who also taught philosophy in phenomenological tradition! amidst a sea of analytic philosophers that threatened to quit if he was allowed to give students course credit for his packed class (they didn’t quit and Rota kept on teaching to a full house). The first page alone established a framwork and vocabulary for anyone who has experienced an attuation in their relationship with “ultimate reality” and the rest of the book looks equally interesting and unhinged.
(AMS review – Krantz)
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Some art from folks that have been seen in the virtual pages of Effluvia and from those that have not…
(from the recent issue)
I managed to get my hands on a copy of the Juxtapoz issue and Ross says something rather inspiring about some of the folks he hangs out with,”I suppose what they all have in common would be completely solid pedigrees, each putting in a good amount of work to be who they are, having real life reputations that exist with or without social media.”
Now those are fine words to say about your crew, but it got me thinking about pedigree “in the small” and pedigree “in the large.” That is lineage, pedigree or, as biologists would have it, the coelescent, and pedigree a la Ross, that is, social or cultural pedigree. Now I have to admit I don’t really understand either, although I do have a little model I have programmed where I can at least visualize a toy version of the former, that is, genetic lineage:
The above is an individual, and all of its (the individuals are hermaphroditic in the model and can recombine with others or “self”) ancestors diffusing as their genomes collect mutations and are shuffled via recombination.
In any case, the Juxtapoz piece, specifically Ross’ words regarding his crew, got me thinking about the relationship between lineage at the genetic level and pedigree on the social level (which seems to be tied to reputation in some sense). For any population there are individuals that grapple with genetic conditions that create anomolous behavior (especially when environmental stress or other (internal?) stressors are high) does this mean that given a set of cultural norms, some genetic pedigrees are not capable of delivering the goods vis a vis cultural pedigree? Well, not so fast, there is another concept that Ross brings up, that of “putting in work.” One puts in work to build a reputation. That is, the social pedigree is defined in the context of the individual putting forth effort. So the questions get pushed back to the domain of effort: Is the effort what is most important? The results? What of the well intentioned loser who tries his/her/its best and just comes up short no matter how hard (s)he/it tries? Here, I’m not so sure. In genome land, all the “good intentions” of a truly deleterious mutation won’t save the organism from being selected out of the population. But cultures are different things than genomes, they prize effort and reward good intentions, sometimes in curious ways.
So I guess, at least insofar as this totally cursory “analysis” goes, the questions here just get mixed up and pushed around rather then answered, which leaves us with another of my favorite themes from the Ross article: humor as a useful coping mechanism. I recently failed to heed this useful strategy, one that I have been given in the flesh by many bright folks, and consequently might have missed out on some major potential events in my tree of possible lives. The lesson isn’t totally divorced from those individuals carrying those genomes that resulted in phenotypes that displayed anomolous behavior above either, when you think about it, as the lesson itself is behavioral at heart. The edict/lesson is, when life doesn’t offer you answers to your “deep existential crises” or even just to your simple-minded musings in pop-genetics meets pop-culture, consider a “blown out pair of crime fighters” hovering over a Spandau Ballet song title in crisp curlicued script and remind yourself to “laugh when you feel like dying.”
When the world doesn’t make sense and everything seems like it’s coming apart, try and find something, if only yourself, to laugh at. Hell, you know yourself the best, you should be able to have a field day laughing at all your internal (and external) hiccups and life-flatulences.
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Saturday, October 18, 2014
(I print out A lot of articles and don’t read them for months, below are some thoughts on a paper that has been laying on my bed for about half a year. (ego? ergo?) See below the quotes from the article for additional thoughts for how we might “build a partial answer to some of the author’s questions.”)
I have often found myself drawn toward activities that I felt held the capacity to make a difference. Ironically I never found myself making one. Lately I have been just having fun in a less “goal orianted” way. I found the expository article below surprising because it turns precisly these notions on their heads and argues for goal free learning as a route toward a true science and mathematics of learning, written with respect to the aspects that seem to me to be exactly those that are the most amazing, confusing and beautiful.
Apparently, mind contains two quite different separate entities, that we call egomind and ergobrain.
Egomind is what you see as your personality. It includes all what you perceive as your conscious self – all your thoughts, feelings and passions, with subconscious as a byproduct of this ego. Most (all) of what we know of egomind is expressible in the common sense language – this language, call it ego-reasoning, that is a reflection of egomind, is perfectly adapted to to our every day life as well as to the needs of a practicing psychologist.
Ergobrain is something abstract and barely existing from ego’s point of view. Ultimately, ergobrain is describable in the language of what we call (mathematical universal learning) ergosystems but it is hard to say at the present point what ergobrain truly is, since almost all of it is invisible to the conscious (ego)mind. (An instance of such an “invisible” is the mechanism of conditional reflexes that is conventionally regarded as belonging with the brain rather than with the mind.)
Certain aspects of ergo may be seen experimentally, e.g. by following saccadic eye movements, but a direct access to ergo-processes is limited.
Your egomind with its pragmatic ego-reasoning– common sense as much as your emotional self, is a product of evolutionary selection. The two “selves” stay on guard of your survival and passing on your genes. But ergo, unlike ego, was not specifically targeted by selection – it was adopted by evolution out of sheer logical necessity as, for example, the 1-dimensionality of DNA molecules.
A pragmatically teleological ego-centered mode of thinking that was installed by evolution into our conscious mind along with the caldron of high passions seems to us intuitively natural and logically inescapable. But this mode was selected by Nature for our social/sexual success and personal survival, not at all for a structural modeling of the world including the mind itself. The self-gratifying ego-vocabulary of:
intuitive, intelligent, rational, serious, objective, important, productive, efficient, successful, useful.
will lead you astray in any attempt of a rational description of processes of learning; these words may be used only metaphorically. We can not, as Lavoisier says,
to improve a science without improving the language or nomenclature which belongs to it.
The intuitive common sense concept of human intellegence – an idea insulated in the multilayered cocoon of teleology–purpose, function, usefulness survival, is a persistent human illusion. If we want to to understand the structural essence of the mind, we need to to break out of this cocoon, wake up from this illusion and pursue a different path of thought.
It is hard, even for a mathematician, to accept that your conscious mind, including the basic (but not all) mathematical/logical intuition, is run by a blind evolutionary program resulting from “ego-conditioning” of your animal/human ancestor’s minds by million years of “selection by survival” but we welcome the idea that mathematics is the only valid alternative to common sense.
We do not fully banish common sense but rather limit its use to concepts and ideas within mathematics. To keep on the right track we use a semi-mathematical reasoning – we call it ergologic– something we need to build along the way. We use as a guide the following
Ergolist of Ideas:
interesting, meaningful, informative, funny, beautiful, curious, amusing, amazing, surprising, confusing, perplexing, predictable, nonsensical, boring.
These concepts, are neither “objective” nor “serious” in the eyes of the ego-mind, but they are universal, unlike say “useful” that depend on what, specifically, “useful” refers to. These ergo-ideas will direct us toward understanding of how a child’s (ergo)brain, that hardly can be called serious, rational or objective, makes a world out of chaos of signals.
Any kind of randomness in the world can be represented (modeled) geometrically by a subdomain Y in the unit square “square” in the plane. You drop a points to “square”, you count hitting Y for an event and define the probability of this event as area(Y).
A particular path to follow is suggested by Boltzmann’s way of thinking about statistical mechanics – his ideas invite a use of non-standard analysis as well as of a Grothendieck’s style category theoretic language. (This streamlines Kolmogorov”s “square” in certain applications as we explain in.) But a mathematical interpretation of the idea of probability in languages and in learning needs a more radical deviation from (modification? generalization of?) this “square”.
Cardano, Galileo, Buffon:
The existence of these people stands in contrast with our picture of a wall separating ego and ergo in the human mind, it challenges our evaluation of the range of the human spirit. Where are such people to-day? Why don’t we see them anymore? Nobody in the last 200 years had a fraction of Cardano’s intellectual intensity combined with his superlative survival instinct. Nobody since Buffon has made long lasting contributions to domains as far-distant one from another as pure mathematics and life sciences. What needs to be done to bring galileos back to us? – M. Gromov
In the article Cardano’s problems with gambling are also mentioned, his ego-brain and ergo-brain emmeshed in the quest for the symmetries and probabilities ties to dice. It makes me want to generalize from Cardano’s possible experience and the frustration of him holding back his mathematical results due to his shame related to compulsive gambling.
What if we could take an addict, someone with the most problematic difficulties with learning and the most problematic if not rudimentary “grasp” on it, (the kind of people who make the most “unreasonable ‘decisions’ again and again, as if driven by some inner compulsion unknown to them, and never seem to learn from the consequences of their actions, never seem to i nternalize the arrows of causality), and take one (some?) of these problematic folks, but, say, one (some?) who is/are also obsessed with the idea of understanding learning itself as a process and developing a techinical set of tools to study it, and somehow (re)ducate them, setting their ergo free? (These people would be not unlike Cardano who was complsive dice-thrower but also a seemingly compulsive dice theoretician. With Cardano the situation was easy, he already had the mathematical ability and education going in, I am talking about a rehabilitation process here.) How would one achieve it? Could it be done? (This is a thought experiment, lift legal restrictions for a moment, for example.)
Their ego-brain would have to be targeted, confusion would have to become their friend, reality would need to be called into question at a basic ontological level. What if they were then supplied with the heavy machinery to attack serious ergo-problems? Is there a possibility that they could become a fraction of a Cardano? I am speaking theoretically here there are a lot of addicts here, many of whom are sharp and quite intellegent. And I am speaking in a measured way, we are not producing a Cardano but simply eliciting some of his qualities. Perhaps addicts are an overlookes category as addressed in this article?
From what I know about institutions that rehabilitate those with substance abuse problems I believe this ergo-style targeting is regular practice, but perhaps in a more ad hoc rather than formal manner and so deeply mixed with ego-stimulus that the signalling might often not work as I outlined above. However, gallows humor and a deep comfort with a shifting or lack of reality wherein the only good defense is humor and an infant’s style of learning and an inquisitiveness with respect to the basics, that is, an openness to the flux of the world and allowing ones sensory-self to do its work on the incoming stream of signals often is present in the beginning of sobriety, that is, until one begins the process of reintegration into the social matrix and assumes the roles and responsibilities of an “adult” again, thus nullifying all the ergo-enhancing work done and ego-recodifying so that the once potential “nonconformist”, who only posed a threat to herself, might never pose a “threat” to the order of things, by inquiring into the nature of ergo-structure. Imagine a world of Galileos! Who would do everyone’s taxes?
I suppose I am asking not “What needs to be done to bring galileos back to us?” but instead, “How might we build some Cardanos?”