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From John Robb to Jean Paul Gaultier

February 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — via Christopher Alexander, Arthur Koestler, James Clerk Maxwell, Hermann Hesse, and Wells Cathedral ]
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My topic today is a comment that John Robb just posted on his FaceBook page. As so often, I’ll proceed by indirection. Here’s a wild DoubleQuote illustrating a blogger’s perceived similarity between the “scissors arch” at Wells Cathedral and one of the models in Jean Paul Gaultier‘s 2009 Spring collection:

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 wells cathedral 1

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John Robb posted:

Some philosophical thinking:

Human knowledge, at an elemental level, can be described as a “transformation” of data.
Complex ideas are built using layers of “transformations” with each layer feeding into the next (think pyramid)
We teach these transformations at home and at school to our children.
We communicate by sharing transformations.
Questions We Need to Answer in the Age of Cognitive Machines:
How many transformations would it take to model all human knowledge?
How deep (how many layers of transformation is human knowledge) is human knowledge? Both on average or at its deepest point?
How broad is human knowledge (non-dependent transformations)?
How fast is the number of transformations increasing and how fast is it propagating across the human network?

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My interest is in John’s pyramid, considered as a pyramid of arches.

My starting point (with Hermann Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game ever in background) is Arthur Koestler‘s observation in The Act of Creation that the creative spark occurs at the intersection of two planes of thought —

koestler

— or to put that another way, that the creative leap is an associative leap between two concepts, disciplines or aspects of knowledge — thus, an arch:

Maxwell

Likewise:

synthesis

— which in my own DoubleQuotes notation gives us:

Karman Gogh mini

— thus, many arches build to a pyramid:

pyramid of arches

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Of course, with arches one has to be very circumspect, buecause in rich contexts, they’re not simple creatures:

rib vaulting flying buttresses

Among the greatest such arches I know are Taniyama‘s 1955 “surmise” as Barry Mazur puts it, that “every elliptic equation is associated with a modular form” — arching way above my pay grade — an insight that was to bear rich fruit forty years later, in Andrew Wiles‘ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem; and Erwin Panofsky‘s great book similarly linking the structures of medieval cathedrals and scholastic thought:

panofsky gothic architecture scholasticism

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White we’re on the topic of gothic iconography, another form of arch we might consider is the vesica piscis:

vesica-piscis

— frequently found in medieval art and architecture:

320px-CLUNY-Coffret_Christ_1

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I’m not suggesting, John, that your inquiry and mine are identical — far from it — but that they have a sufficiently rich overlap that an appreciation of one is likely to spark insight in terms of the other.

And with Hesse’s Game, with which I recall from our earlieest conversations you are familiar..

I mentioned Hesse and Christopher Alexander in my bracketed note at the top of this post. It’s my impression that both were striving for a similar encyclopedic architecture to the pyramid John proposes. Hesse on the Glass Bead Game:

All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

And Hesse is clear that individual moves within the games take the form of parallelisms, resemblances, analogical leaps — writing, for instance:

Beginners learned how to establish parallels, by means of the Game’s symbols, between a piece of classical music and the formula for some law of nature.

Speaking of the playing of his great Game, Hesse said:

I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of the mind.

And Alexander? His book A Pattern Language is pretty clearly his own variant on a Glass Bead Game, following on from what he terms his Bead Game Conjecture (1968 – p. 75 at link):

That it is possible to invent a unifying concept of structure within which all the various concepts of structure now current in different fields of art and science, can be seen from a single point of view. This conjecture is not new. In one form or another people have been wondering about it, as long as they have been wondering about structure itself; but in our world, confused and fragmented by specialisation, the conjecture takes on special significance. If our grasp of the world is to remain coherent, we need a bead game; and it is therefore vital for us to ask ourselves whether or not a bead game can be invented.

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Gentle readers:

For your consideration, delight, temptation, confusion or disagreement, here are three more of Gaultier’s arches, as perceived by Kayan’s Design World:

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 1

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 7

Jean-Paul Gaultier 2009 10

Avian Intelligence Ops

February 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with a sideward glance at the rights of dolphins and trees ]
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For your refreshment and edification:

— while:

I fully agree with Ohad Hatzofe who says in that second clip:

Birds and other aninmals, but especially flying animals, don’t know political boundaries, and if there are fences on the ground, to them it’s not a barrier, and we’re to protect them and to treat them as such. The birds are not Israeli birds or Lebanese birds, or European birds passing over our skies; these are this earth’s birds..

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Sigh:

We are asked to decide whether the world’s cetaceans have standing to bring suit in their own name under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. We hold that cetaceans do not have standing under these statutes.

Judge William A. Fletcher

It looks as though it is past time for birds, dolphins and other creatures to have international legal standing of the kind suggested by Justice Douglas in his dissenting opinion, Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972):

The critical question of “standing” would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage.

—and further discussed by Christopher Stone in what is perhaps the only law book I have found it a pleasure to read, Should Trees Have Standing?

REVIEW: The Last of the President’s Men

February 3rd, 2016

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward

Last of the President’s Men is a short but revealing work by Bob Woodward, the prolific author on American presidents who returns full circle to the subject that made Woodward a celebrity journalist, Richard Nixon and Watergate. Specifically, Last of the President’s Men is about the relationship between Richard Nixon and Alexander Butterfield, the man who revealed to the world Nixon’s secret White House taping system which ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation under the sure threat of impeachment. Butterfield, who unsuccessfully attempted a book of his own, is virtually Woodward’s co-author here and it is Butterfield’s voluminous personal papers, carted out from his White House office against the rules and hidden away for decades, that serve as the evidentiary basis of this book.

Aside from the precise description of how the taping system came to be installed in the Oval Office, a task Nixon’s feared chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, delegated to Butterfield, the focus is on Butterfield’s role as a top aide to both Nixon and Haldeman, a post to which Butterfield ascended only with considerable difficulty after first navigating Richard Nixon’s neurotic quirks, becoming in essence, “Haldeman’s Haldeman”.  Butterfield does not come across as an entirely admirable character. Like Mark Felt who in turning informer during Watergate had acted out of frustrated ambition, Alexander Butterfield’s betrayal of Richard Nixon had less to do with safeguarding the Constitution from an out of control president than the reaction of an unappreciated servant who had noted every slight and had nursed his grievances.

What shines through in the story is how truly weird and brittle Nixon had become in dealing with other human beings by the time he had reached the presidency. It is very difficult to reconcile the Richard Nixon of The Last of the President’s Men who had paralyzing anxiety attacks over working with – or even meeting- new staff with the Nixon who wrangled with lawyers, FBI agents and fellow Congressmen in investigating Alger Hiss, who forcefully debated Nikita Khrushchev or who remained steady when his limousine was attacked by a Communist mob in Venezuela. Perhaps Nixon grew worse with age or perhaps as president, Nixon finally had the means to keep unwanted people – and that would be nearly everyone – at bay. The portrait painted by Woodward of Richard Nixon is of a desperately lonely, misanthropic figure, inept at and pained by normal social relations to such an extent that he kept even his wife and children at a strange remove.

NIXON

Yet Nixon had his gifts and even Woodward allows this, particularly his “strategic mind” which Woodward credits for Nixon managing to retain to this day, admirers. Nixon, for all his social awkwardness (which in sections is  downright painful to read and I speak as someone deeply versed in things Nixon) had a penetrating intelligence that let him understand the board and the players, the moves they might make and their strengths and weaknesses of which Nixon might take advantage. Had Richard Nixon not outsmarted himself with the taping system that Butterfield meticulously oversaw, he most likely would have prevailed in Watergate over his enemies and left office after two full terms. Nixon was far smarter than his critics gave him credit at the time and far more ruthlessly manipulative than his defenders are willing to concede to this day.

The Last of the President’s Men is fast read but an interesting one. Recommended.

What you say on Twitter, stays on Twitter

February 2nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — plus a quick followup to my post on Political candidates and religion ]
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Also of interest:

to which Sarah Posner responded:

This just might be my Favorite Party Political Poster of All Time

February 2nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — at least for the moment ]
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— since I am a Brit, Arthurian, a child of Albion, a lover of poetry and myth..

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.. and partial to Python:


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