January 31, 2005
Giving up smoking has made me (temporarily?) more irritable. A friend recommended a book to me (Philosophy in the Flesh - Lakoff and Johnson). Last night I sit down to read it. Who would not be irritated by this:
English in is made up of a container scheme (a bounded region in space), a profile that highlights the interior of the schema, and a structure that identifies the boundary of the interior as the landmark (LM) and the object overlapping with the interior as a trajector (TR). In “Sam is in the house,” the house is the landmark (LM) relative to which Sam, the trajector (TR), is located.
Spatial relations also have a built-in spatial “logics” by virtue of their image-schematic structures. Figure 3.1 illustrates the spatial logic built into the container schema:
Given two containers, A and B, and an object, X, if A is in B and X is in A, then X is in B.
We don’t have to perform a deductive operation to compute this. It is self evident simply from the image in Figure 3.1
I kid you not. There follows a diagram of two concentric circles labelled A and B with X sitting in the centre. Unbelievable. I haven’t finished the 600 pages yet. My bet is that the whole thing could have been written in a 100 or less.
January 29, 2005
So the rate of suicide in the U.S. army has dramatically reduced. Presumably this is not due to the decrease in stress levels of the average GI. No, it turns out that the chief suspect here is Lariam, an anti-malarial drug which has not been routinely used for more than a year. The drug has been shown to induce depression and thoughts of suicide.
In Australia it is reported that the rate of anti-depressants being issued to toddlers has undergone a large increase in recent years. Currently 5,000 children under 10 are in receipt of such medication. These selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were shown in a study last year to produce suicidal thoughts in some children.
The youngest suicide on record in Oregon, U.S., is a 7 year old. In South Africa it’s 10, Brazil 9.
January 26, 2005
Two things. First Anatomy for Beginners.
Last night I watched Gunther von Hagens cut open a guys chest, pull out his lungs, cut open his heart, all on TV. Having seen his plasticised exhibits in London, and missing out on his live dissection last year, it was great to find Channel 4 in the UK screening three dissections over consecutive days. This is what public broadcasting is about. The BBC should be embarrassed that it didn’t get there first.
Secondly, talking of the BBC, I’ve been watching a lecture given by Cory Doctorow (Boingboing, EFF) on copyright and DRM (digital rights management). It really is worth a watch for anyone who is remotely interested in IP issues, new media, or just life in the modern world, full stop. I say, talking of the BBC, because he mentions the vast archive of radio and television programmes that the BBC holds. This is a public broadcaster holding an archive of, already paid for by the public, material. We should be lobbying for its release to the web. The BBC site is one of the finest on the web, but has been under attack recently and expenditure on it is being scaled back. Apparently the Beeb are keen to release the archive but need external pressure and lobbying of the governors to see it through.
January 25, 2005
I was thinking about why I’m blogging, about why anyone blogs. [and making it difficult for myself by pumping out The Chemical Brothers new album “Push the Button” at the same time.] Of course there are a number of obvious answers. Fred Wilson (A VC) pretty much sums up the basics. But what interests me is the blogspace itself and what it represents. C S Peirce in “The Fixation of Belief” argued that there are three (it’s always 3 with Peirce!) characteristics which should be present as a basis for belief.
1 It must control our thinking, our thinking must not control it
2 It must be publicly observable
3 It must lead to a common opinion
Something is real if its nature is independent of how I happen to think it to be. The truth, such as it is, is to be found through a COMMUNITY (Peirce himself capitalises the word) of observers. Ultimately, truth, he imagines, is to be found in an unbounded community in the whole of time. Peirce’s system is self-corrective, subsequent investigators correct the idiosyncrasies of those who have gone before, but knowledge is never absolute. We must accept fallibility, it’s the best we have.
“The real, then, is that which, sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of me and you. Thus, the very origin of the conception of reality shows that this conception essentially involves the notion of a COMMUNITY, without definite limits, and capable of a definite increase in knowledge. And so those two series of cognitions - the real and the unreal - consist of those which, at a time sufficiently future, the community will always continue to reaffirm; and of those which, under the same conditions, will ever be denied. ” - CS Peirce (Questions Concerning Certain Faculties)
I give you the Blogosphere - a community without definite limits and capable of a definite increase in knowledge.
I think this is important because it goes some way to explain why it upsets so many, and is going to upset so many more. A friend once told me that he couldn’t believe that the internet was allowed to happen, since it gave consumers all the power. What he hadn’t understood is that THEY, the corporations in this case, didn’t get it. (We’ll ignore the fact that most consumers don’t get it either) Most still don’t, though there are the beginnings of rumblings. Anyone who’s read Cluetrain, or my favourite blog gapingvoid will know what I’m on about.
What do you believe is true, even though you can’t prove it?
The 2005 Edge question provided some interesting material. One favourite came from Donald Hoffman, Cognitive Scientist University of California:
I believe that consciousness and its contents are all that exists. Space-time, matter and fields never were the fundamental denizens of the universe but have always been, from their beginning, among the humbler contents of consciousness, dependent on it for their very being.
The world of our daily experience - the world of tables, chairs, stars and people, with their attendant shapes, smells, feels and sounds - is a species-specific user interface to a realm far more complex, a realm whose essential character is conscious. It is unlikely that the contents of our interface in any way resemble that realm.
Indeed the usefulness of an interface requires, in general, that they do not. For the point of an interface, such as the Windows interface on a computer, is simplification and ease of use. We click icons because this is quicker and less prone to error than editing megabytes of software or toggling voltages in circuits.
Evolutionary pressures dictate that our species-specific interface, this world of our daily experience, should itself be a radical simplification, selected not for the exhaustive depiction of truth but for the mutable pragmatics of survival.
If this is right, if consciousness is fundamental, then we should not be surprised that, despite centuries of effort by the most brilliant of minds, there is as yet no physicalist theory of consciousness, no theory that explains how mindless matter or energy or fields could be, or cause, conscious experience.
The great polymath philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce would be nodding his head, perhaps a little warily, here. It chimes with his philosophy of objective realism. He could see no way for matter to give birth to mind and, therefore, took mind as basic, seeing matter as a form of mind. “Mind hidebound with habit”. And these “habits” are never precise, giving rise always to an element of chance. A doctrine he calls tychism. These habits tend to spread and to connect with one another to make larger networks of habits, which he calls synechism. Thus the universe moves from tychism (chance) to complete synechism (order) through the medium of habit-forming.
For those who don’t know Peirce, he was the founder of semiology, and a philosopher way ahead of his time. He has only relatively recently been rediscovered after his papers, 10,000 handwritten sheets, were found in the Harvard library. Everyone who met him considered him a genius. Of course, he died poor and in obscurity.
I just found a great picture of him I’ve not seen before. I love the framed dog.
January 24, 2005
Apparently the higher the IQ the lower the risk of suicide. That’s the latest findings as published in The British Medical Journal after data analysed from a million Swedish men.
There is a strong inverse association between intelligence test scores and suicide, said Finn Rasmussen, associate professor from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Better performance on the tests was associated with a reduced risk of suicide, he said.
Scientists believe that poor test scores could be associated with depression and schizophrenia - two conditions which contribute to suicide. They also believe that it is possible that people with low intelligence are less able to deal with their problems and may consider suicide as a solution.
Interesting since most of the more intelligent people that I know have seriously considered topping themselves at one point or another. Albert Camus, in a book devoted to the subject, (The Myth of Sisyphus) said:
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest - whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories - comes afterwards.
Thinking about it is one thing, clearing that hurdle may be another.
More suicide news :
A 13-year-old internet addict committed suicide in an apparent attempt to be rid of his obsession with online games.
The letter he left before his death revealed that he could no longer distinguish between reality and illusion and was deeply depressed. He also composed nearly 80,000 words in notes about online games before his death.
Reports suggest the boy had been addicted to online games for almost six months and couldn’t control himself. His parents admitted after the event they didn’t pay enough attention to their child’s mental health.
Parents you have been warned. Though he doesn’t seem from the reports to be such a dumb kid. My own son’s Ratchet & Clank habit looks under control to me, although he has been threatening to “Rip ya a new one” lately.
And yet more:
Controversial as it may be, moviemaker Eric Steel’s yearlong filming of jumpers at the Golden Gate Bridge has succeeded in one respect — it’s kicked open the whole debate about why there isn’t a suicide barrier on what some consider the No. 1 suicide magnet in the world.
Having lived within a hundred yards of another suicide magnet (The Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol) I have some knowledge of these things. I’ve been witness to a few people hurling themsleves off the bridge.
Once a crowd of American tourists clapped one girl as she fell (presumably in ignorance of her purpose). Unfortunately most people drown in the mud. Interestingly of all the people who choose the Clifton bridge as their final departure point, all bar one have jumped facing the city of Bristol. The conjecture is that it’s about saying goodbye. No details available of the individual who faced away. Although I’d be interested if anyone knows . . .