Saturday, May 28, 2011
(h/t A. Sullivan) Rama thinks that synesthesia results from the neurological wiring for metaphor in overdrive/overconnectivity. About this fascinating prospect, here's a talk:
Parts 2 and 3. And here's a lecture.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
|Figure 1: (left) termite castle; (right) Gaudi's La Sagrada Famiglia.|
This is one of the coolest examples of cognition-free-competency in contrast with top-down (cognitively directed) competency around. The two vastly different modes of execution can sometimes come to stunning convergence. The salient difference between these two structures lies in the representational ability of their creators: the structure on the right had a conscious purpose for being built, and was dependent on verbal communication, while the structure on the left was built by clueless organisms with no organizational plan. That "mind" is not requisite for the construction of highly functional complexity is both hard and wonderful to comprehend. Dennett:
Only in one species, Homo sapiens, has transmission by replication of nongenetic information taken off. In us, culture accumulates recursively, explosively, leaping thousands of miles and dozens of centuries in single steps. This hyperpotent variety of cultural evolution depends, I will argue, on language and more specifically on features of words, a category of cultural replicant found only in human beings (and, marginally, degenerately, in some of their domesticated animals and pets, such as parrots). It is words, I will argue, that make possible a novel system of design control never before instantiated on the planet, the difference dramatized by the comparison between the termite castle and Antonio Gaudí’s La Sagrada Famiglia church in Barcelona (Fig. 1). These two animal artifacts, so outwardly similar in shape, are produced by fundamentally different processes. In the case of the termite castle, “local rules generate global order,” as the slogan has it: Individual termites follow rigid rules for moving and depositing building material by detecting local pheromone signals, and no organism has, or needs, a vision or blueprint of the whole structure. In the case of La Sagrada Famiglia, there was an “intelligent designer,” an individual, Antonio Gaudí, who did have a guiding vision and did draw up plans; the control of the building flowed from the top down, through verbal representations to subordinates and thence to their subordinates. The design and construction could not have proceeded without elaborate systems of symbolic communication.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
"A sailor throws a drowning man a life preserver. How dare you, screams the man. Because of you, people are going to think I can’t swim."That is how Beinart hears Netanyahu's paroxysm over the "1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps" reasonableness. The claim of indefensibility is, at the least, bizarre, and it's a claim which virtually all media outlets have repeated without investigating whether such is the case. Nobody has asked Netanyahu to give evidence for the assertion-come-talking-point, a position which has gone mysteriously unspoken by serious parties over the past decade.
What's obvious is that large, out-posted settlements in the West Bank make the defense of Israeli citizens more difficult under any conception of a contiguous Palestinian state. Oh, wait...
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Despite one of the weakest opposition panels I've ever seen argue for IQ2US (managing to be both hysterical and boring), the debate is worth watching in full, if only because it is important to be able to spot poor arguments for the curtailment of free-speech that function by sneakily blurring its meaning (such as by raising copyright law and classified information as examples of speech which is not protected). The eternally insurmountable task for those opposed to the primacy of this right over all others is to answer the question of who will decide what is eligible for censorship. Whose responsible ears will decide what is right to impoverish from our own?
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Out from all the whinging surrounding the ethics of the Bin Laden raid and the American response to it, Paul Berman's is a voice of clarity. Contrary to those who claim the event as insignificant, the slaying of so infamous and effective a monster is a symbolic triumph of the secular, liberal-democratic vision over its detestable opposite. We can be glad that Bin Laden is dead, and we can be so guiltlessly.
Berman, on why it matters, in TNR:
“Relentlessness is good. Relentlessness has a philosophical resonance, which everyone intuitively understands. The war between Al Qaeda and the United States has always rested on a dispute over the meaning of history. Al Qaeda has always believed that God wishes the resurrection of the ancient Islamic caliphate. And Al Qaeda has always regarded America, with its Christian origins, as the ultimate obstacle to the resurrection of the caliphate. Al Qaeda’s militants have always believed that, as the representative of God’s will, they will ultimately win. Al Qaeda has therefore called for a stubborn and even eternal struggle—the kind of struggle that might lead earnest and idealistic people to agree to commit suicide on Al Qaeda’s behalf.
America, however, has also been stubborn. Ten years, compared to eternity, is nothing. Still, relative to the lifetime of a human being, ten years is not, in fact, nothing. For ten years the United States has been relentless. And now that America can boast of its achievement, the American relentlessness has suddenly become eloquent, and this is more than good. It is crucial.
The United States adheres, after all, to its own theory of history, even if most of us do not like to acknowledge anything of the sort. In our own liberal and democratic theory of history, doctrines like Al Qaeda’s are doomed to defeat. In our estimation, the mad and fantastical doctrine about resurrecting an ancient caliphate is comparable to other doctrines that we have encountered over the last century—the doctrine about resurrecting the Roman Reich in an Aryan version or the doctrine about resurrecting the ancient Russian peasant communes in the form of a proletarian Soviet civilization. We liberals and democrats look on doctrines of that sort as reactionary protests against the authentic march of progress, and as nothing more than reactionary protests. And we believe that, if we struggle sufficiently, if we are relentless enough, the reactionary protests will go down to defeat.”Which brings to mind this reflection from another fight-not-flight intellectual, who, upon the towers' fall, thought:
“Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that."
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Beinart in TDB:
Even before the U.S. killed bin Laden, the Arab Spring had already rendered him irrelevant. President Obama now has his best chance since taking office to acknowledge some simple, long-overdue truths. Terrorism does not represent the greatest threat to American security; debt does, and our anti-terror efforts are exacerbating the problem. We do not face, as we did in the 1930s, a totalitarian foe with global ideological appeal. We face competitors who, in varying ways, have imported aspects of our democratic capitalist ideology, and are beating us at our own game.
Bin Laden was a monster and a distraction. It is good that he is dead, partly because the bereaved deserve justice, but also because his shadow kept us from seeing clearly the larger challenges we face. The war on terror is over; Al Qaeda lost. Now for the really hard stuff; let’s hope we haven’t deferred it too long.
And Frum, on growing up:
Those of us who oppose this administration’s economic and foreign policies have had so many valid points to make.
Yet some have insisted on traveling beyond those valid points. They have called the president “post American.” A “Third world dictator.” An individual whose behavior could only be interpreted as “Kenyan post-colonial.” A “thug in chief.” They have tried to present US politics not as a choice between liberal and conservative, but as a choice between American and non-American, between real Americans and between a dangerous dark-skinned intruder. They have sought to portray the President as a man who could not be trusted to lead the country because he owed no loyalty to the country – because he did not belong in the country.
After the events of the past 72 hours, those kinds of attacks should be finished now. It’s a cleaner world without bin Laden soiling it. And American politics will be cleaner for the expunging of the malicious fantasy of the president’s non-Americanness.