Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Art of the Philosophy of Art

The intersection, while looking normal to those who used it everyday, from a bird's eye view looked as anxious as an intersection can look. Its two roads were not at the proper right angles to each other. The one running east to west was lying at a slight skew to its mate. A higher vantage point would reveal that this intersection had been developed with others to join two disparate sections of the small town. This town did not have the budget and therefore the luxury of long term city planning. Thus, the slightly non-right angle of the intersection was a result of joining two sections of the town whose roads did not match up with each other by just a smidge.

This was the source of the roads seeming anxiety.

The people in the cars stopping at the stop sign and standing at the corners waiting to cross were by no means a spectacular breed of people. However, not one of them walked or drove across the intersection with an air of frivolity. The young woman who rolled through rather than stopping at the stop sign was hurrying to the day care to pick up her daughter. She had called ahead to apologize being late. She was a secretary whose boss had spent some time joking around with everyone at the office oblivious to the possibility that some of them had more urgent matters to which they needed to attend. The elderly gentleman jaywalking from one corner to the opposite corner was on his way to the hardware store. He was expecting a visit from his grandson this weekend. He was going to buy some miniaturized tools so they could work on building a birdhouse together.

It was amidst all this that the man in the suit entered.

His attire was quite fashionable. This was all the more so in comparison to the dress of the individuals who now surrounded him. He wore a Dior double-breasted suit. It had short lapels and was wool voile so he was not stricken in the spring sunlight. He wore a thinly striped light-blue button down shirt underneath without a tie. The suit had a prince of wales check pattern. He had never met the Prince of Wales. He had never even been to Wales, though he was incidentally privy to some of its history. As it happens, one of his interests happened to be similar to work that was done by a 13th century friar by the name of John. Though he was unaware of the connection.

What is unexpected is that despite these loose connections he had with the Prince of Wales, he did not buy the suit because of its pattern. The largest impetus for purchasing this particular suit was that amidst the elegant descriptions for the suits various particulars; the color was listed simply as grey. To see long lines of clothing verbiage borrowed from various languages mixed in with: “Color: Grey” to him, gave the suit an intrinsic character.

So here was the man, a stranger to the town, whose strong personality was matched by that in which he chose to wrap himself.

He carried a briefcase and a smile. The briefcase was foldable. It was thin and seemingly light. Light just as his smile which looked to be so comfortable resting on his face that it didn't seem it could be a part of anything as permanent as a face.

He walked to a corner of the intersection and set down his briefcase but not his smile. He stood there looking so very odd in this environment. It was as if he were a cutout from a magazine that had been pasted onto a photograph by a child who had little experience with social norms.

He was standing there watching various cars and people walk the intersection.

A woman holding the hand of her daughter walked up to and stood next to him. She had not yet actually studied him, but rather just noticed someone standing at the intersection so she assumed he was waiting on the traffic. When she took her eyes off of her daughter she noticed the intersection currently had no traffic. She was about to cross when she realized the man had no apparent reason to be waiting. This made her nervous as she worried that he knew something she did not know. She quickly decided to cross; still troubled and a little absent-minded. She was so absent-minded that she continued straight through an entire block instead of taking the left required to arrive at the clothing store. She was meeting her sister and her sister's two daughters for a day of shopping.

It continued in this way for a short while. The man stood watching the intersection with an almost other-worldly amount of attention at the various people, cars, animals … He even seemed to analyze the trash on the curb. This profound attention only lasted so far as the object was within the intersection.

Even though he had a slight smile and held his head with a relaxed tilt, the situation made him appear rather non-personable. Some individuals noticed him and some did not. Of those that noticed him were, like the woman, briefly inundated with mental distraction.

Nobody yet spoke to him, but after 20 minutes the people in the hardware store located diagonally to him began speaking about him.

“What a strange young man” most would say.

“What is he doing?”
“Doesn't he have anything better to do than stand around all day?”
“He's prolly not very smart.”
“I think he's cute.”
Were some of the things said about him.

A police car drove by. The policeman noticed this man standing with his hands behind his back. He decided to drive a couple of blocks down then loop around. On his second pass, the policeman saw him still standing there and decided to investigate. He continued for half of a block then parked.

He approached with an air of curiosity and no pretenses.

He was crossing the street when the man in the suit noticed him. With the policeman noticing the other noticed him he greeted the man in the suit with a 'Good Afternoon' and a courteous tip of his hat.

The man in the suit smiled warmly then looked to his left and up a little as he said with a casual blink: “Yes, I also think so.”

“I don't think I've seen you around before. My name is Officer Wilman” said the policeman with an extension of his arm.

The suit took his hand and shook it saying: “I appreciate your introduction.”

The suit began to seemingly analyze the officer from the ground up. It was as if the officer were a jigsaw puzzle and he wanted to make sure every piece fit perfectly.

“Are you waiting for somebody?” said Wilman.

“Some-body?” asked the suit without taking his eyes from his puzzle inspection. “With such an unspecified quantization I can not answer accurately.”

“Are you a lawyer or something?” asked Wilman who became surprised at how he had so quickly become irritated with this man.

“With an operator such as 'or' and the increasingly vague descriptor 'some', I am inclined to answer ...” The man just now finished his inspection and was staring, not looking staring, into the officer's eyes. “Yes” he said with his gaze unbroken.

“OK” said Wilman slowly and more than a little bewildered with such intimacy from a stranger. He continued “Can I ask why you are standing here?”

“Yes” he said with a smile that forced his eyes halfway shut.

The policeman did a little chuckle merged with a sigh. “OK, why are you standing here?”

The suit looked away again with wide eyes and a neutral face. “Why, concerns cause or intentionality. The discussion of the cause of my standing here should not be limited to any scope smaller than the foundational mechanisms of the universe as a whole by any non-privileged effect. The intentionality of my standing here would be a much more limited discussion, and via the powers of empathy I assume it is the latter of the two to which it was your intention of referencing. So in short, I assume you intended intention. Haha.”

The suit noticed the policeman growing impatient.

“So to answer your query, I am studying this intersection.”

“Boy you sound like a professor instead of a lawyer. Why are you studying this intersection?”

“From fear of reciprocated discomfort arising out the tedious nature of full explanations let me say that I am trying to find an hitherto unkown beauty.”

The policeman sighed. “A'right fine. It is not illegal to loiter on public property aside from doing so in order to commit another crime. So, I will let you be, but know that I'll be watching you.”

“I appreciate you allowing me to 'be'” he said with a smile.

The policeman left and the man continued studying the intersection and the people in it; even though he never really stopped.

Those in the hardware store continued to talk about this man. Some even complained to Officer Wilman. He informed them that he could not really do anything. He suggested they talk to him or ask him to leave themselves.

A few did. Some of the time the conversations were like the one with the policeman. All who went to talk to him left very distracted with their minds whirling around. Once they regained their typical composure they all became irritated at the man for causing such a distraction from their important lives. That is, all except for the little girl in the white tutu.

She was 7 years old. She wore white adidas tennis shoes with the logo and shoelaces in pink. She had on capri blue jeans from Wal-Mart, and a blue shirt with the decal of a magical unicorn and an inordinate amount of glitter. She also had on this white tutu. She had not even asked her mother if she could wear it. She simply rushed back into her room once she was dressed and slipped on her most prized article of clothing.

Just 5 yards from the man in the suit, she stood next to her mother who was talking to a friend who had more eyeshadow on her right eye than on her left. No one would tell her. She herself would never notice, and would never make the mistake again. The girl was spinning around while watching her tutu rise up.

She noticed the man and watched him for a short while. She then hopped over to him and tapped him through his pant leg.

“What are you doing?” she asked

“I am studying this intersection.”


“I want to find the beauty in everyday situations.”

She wrinkled her brow and paused. “But its not pretty”

“Beauty is not an attribute that is inherent outside of one's perception. By analyzing this piece of the world and feeling good about the intimacy that arises I make it beautiful.”

She was looking at him with a confused look and her mouth slightly open. She looked down and pointed to some weed defiantly peeking through a border in the sidewalk in order to showcase its measly yellow flower. “I think that's pretty”

He said “I do now too”

They smiled at each other for a few seconds. “Amy! Get back here!” Amy spun around and ran back to her mother.

After a couple of hours a young woman who had been walking the town taking photographs arrived at the corner in front of the hardware store and diagonal to the suit. She was taking pictures of the buildings and the people and cars crossing the intersection. Then she noticed the young man. For the next few minutes she walked all around the intersection taking pictures of the buildings, people, and cars as before, but now she always managed to keep the suit in the frame at various angles.

She ended up back at the hardware store. She pulled out her telephoto lens and began photographing the man's face from across the intersection.

People coming in and out of the store would occasionally mention to her how odd this man was. It was mostly said pejoratively. She always said that she thought he was wonderful.

Once, a woman mentioned this strange behavior to the girl and said: “I wonder what he is doing.”

The photographer said: “Well his dress and mannerisms suggest an air of privilege and importance.”

The other lady asked “But who is he? Who stands on the corner like that for hours just standing and looking. Essentially doing nothing?”

The photographer said: “He's obviously a philosopher.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A short discussion about basic level concepts

I first encountered the idea of basic level categorization from Lakoff and Johnson's "Philosophy in the Flesh". I understand this is not a view held only by these two authors. I am also aware that Eleanor Rosch, perhaps with George Lakoff mentioned here, formulated the Prototype Theory in the early 1970's.

Basic level concepts have been defined by Rosch as: "that level that has the highest degree of cue validity". This has a symbiosis with embodiment. That which we would define as a basic level concept (bird, chair, fruit, child, adult, ...) is done so with relation to our physical relations with said concept. A bird is something which soars above our heads, has legs and feet similiar to our own but skinnier, and has wings in place of our arms. A chair is something we bend our knees to sit down on and then are at a level such that our feet rest on the ground. There is more to it than I have mentioned, but these were used as rudimentary examples.

I originally brought up "Philosophy in the Flesh" because technology and scientific inquiry were described in a manner which was novel to me. Many aspects of technology, maybe even all, were described as our ability to bring more and more structures of the natural world into our realm of basic level concepts.

We have not evolved to directly perceive the celestial bodies of our solar system or the molecular systems of our bodies, but we do perceive them.

I remember the first time I saw Jupiter with a respectable telescope. My first reaction was something like: 'My goodness, I feel like I could reach out and grab it.' This is not an uncommon sentiment. After all, is this not what the powers of technology do for the scientific entrepreneurs? It brings aspects of the world previously unknown to a level where we feel we could 'reach out and grab it'.

Not long after my joy at seeing Jupiter at such an un-natural proximity, I experienced a chilling sensation as I tried to extrapolate what was seen in the telescope to what I knew was actually there.

I now come to the primary point of this post. I am writing this in reaction to the more and more prevalent use of the words 'information' and 'design' in reference to DNA. When studying DNA, scientists use tools to bring this structure to a level where it can be characterized at a basic level. (When I use the term characterize in this post I mean it to be in the cognitive sense not the scientific one.) Once more is known about DNA, it becomes apparent where to look above and below for its causes and affects.

Therefore, whenever an individual uses terms like information and design with reference to DNA, and I say this with all due respect for individuals making this argument, they must remember that they have no direct perception of this structure. What they are speaking of is something that exists only after it has been brought up to their level of perceptual ability. In order to fully know the causes of DNA structure one should bring the lower levels of DNA categorization up to observation. Do not take the small amount of knowledge you have obtained about DNA and fill in the gaps with knowledge you have about people and paintings. People and paintings do not behave in the same manner as DNA. DNA does not even exist in the same perceptual framework as architectures and buildings. Do not stop with the basic level of what you have found. Keep going if you really want to know.

What this effectively means is that a legitimate inference can not be made about DNA using everyday natural basic level concepts. DNA exists in a world where things may very well behave very differently than what we are used to. I say: ‘may’, because I simply do not know. What I do know is that it is folly to assume that the practical knowledge I picked up as a toddler is appropriate to use to analyze the causes of micro-machinery.

I will always be skeptical of individuals who spend more time pronouncing that they know the truth than they spend searching for the truth.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Illusion of Immediacy and it's Implications Regarding Free Will and the Higher Cognitive Function

Mental processes take time. All of them.

The effect of this can be called the illusion of immediacy.

You see someone walking toward you, or rather a car heading toward you. You would like to assume and naturally do assume that what you are seeing is happening at the very instant that you are seeing it.

The reality is that you can only ever see something after it happens.

The most crucial reason for this is because everything mental takes time. Not only is this due to the fact that impulses travel along the neuron at no faster than 120 meters per second, but the formation of a stable thought is not instantaneous and takes time to resonate (albeit on a scale of microseconds).

Due to some thoughts having cross-modal patterns the "higher" thoughts literally take more time to resonate and become a noticeable thought.

My proposition:

Due to the fact that these higher functions take longer, we are more aware of the formation of that thought. This is opposed to lower leveled functions such as sight, hunger, and pattern recognition. The difference between higher and lower functions is that the higher ones have more modalities which many times include some lower functions. It is this reason why higher functions take longer; they can only form after the lower ones.

This all leads one to say things like: I can not control whether or not I perceive that block as a block, but I can control how I act toward it. Sentiments of this type are merely due to the fact that the higher functions take more time and we are then more aware of its formation.

This leads to the highest level which is the sense of self. This sense of self is not a part of the brain/mind because it is the brain/mind. This is why we can not see it or at least not aware of its formation as we are with other cognitive functions.

Francisco Varela wrote on page 41 in his book Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom and Cognition:

In other words, the cognitivist challenge does not consist simply in asserting that we can not find the self; it consists, rather, in the further implication that the self is not even needed for cognition.

You have no more control over your behavior than you do over your sense of sight. Or, to put it another way, you feel that your sense of self is in control of the other cognitive processes on another level than those processes simply because your sense of self is the control. I know this may sound kookie, but one's sense of self, and therefore free will, is the system itself instead of in it.

This is why cognitive science does not see the sense of self. It is looking for a part of the cognition. The study of this cognition (cognitive science) therefore exists on the same level as the sense of self. I know this sounds antithetical to what was presented above, but the main point is that just because science is a study of the world does not mean that it can control it.

Charlie's Disclaimer:

I must add that living your life under this pretense will most inevitably lead to nihilism. Let me say that I do not mean for this to be seen as an advocation for a nihilistic lifestyle. We would be in a poor state indeed if responsibility were not expected of each individual. My point is that due to cognitive science's tackling of subjective experiences; it is objectively blind to the most fundamental subjective experience. This should not quelch the validity of a sense of self. Perhaps I have not thought thouroughly enough about this issue, but it seems to me that a scientific understanding of subjective experience is different from a subjective understanding of subjective experience.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The constant smirking of dolphins should have tipped us off

The following is an excerpt from an article in Discover magazine.

"Their constant smirking should have tipped us off, but we were so damned in love, dazzled by the glare from those latex-smooth exteriors, charmed by those adorably wobbly tail stands at Sea World. [...] Now, however, if a team of scottish marine biologists are to be believed - and if you've ever dipped even a toe into a body of scottish water you have some sense of those people's rigor - dolphins are not to be trusted. They gossip. We know this because we know their names. Each bottlenose individual identifies itself by a unique pattern of clicks along the lines of woo-woo-wee-wee, or even woo-wee-woo-woo-wee-woo. What was not known until the Scottish research, however, is that a pair of dolphins use the name of a third dolphin when that third dolphin isn't present. In other words, dolphins gossip."

I just had to post this one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Extropy: Pantheism

While enjoying an espresso and a book on cognitive science at the lovely Gutenberg Cafe, I had a provocative idea I would now like to share with you.

Is AI an emergent property of any tech-species? To put it another way, is AI inevitable given a species which can manipulate parts of the physical world, i.e. technology?

I believe that it is. It all stems from the properties and products of recursive processes. This also has to do with autopoiesis. Once the tiniest most simple instance occurs, an explosion of intelligence has to happen, barring any apocalyptic event.

I see it proceeding as follows: life stems from nature and the ingredients which comprise this planet, then human level intelligence stems from life and the ingredients which comprise organic chemistry, then artificial intelligence stems from human intelligence and the ingredients of metal and silicon.

This progression should be obvious, but is it inevitable?

Now I am really taking the concept of autopoiesis and running very far with it but it was originally introduced as a way of describing self-sustaining life and any other dissipative structure. I saw the convenience of this definition simply as life supporting life. Instinctively keeping one's species in existence and all that Darwinian hullabaloo. The original 'motivation' of life has always been to keep itself alive. This is how evolution came about because with a changing environment some separated areas of life learned how to keep themselves alive better than the rest. (I now slightly digress to ask for some pardon regarding my anthropomorphizing the chemical processes of DNA and mutation. I am doing so to help make it apparent that we are experiencing the same force of nature but seems different because we are sentient and natural selection is not.) As I was saying, life became so good at keeping itself alive it became able to manipulate the environment so that it would be easier to stay alive. This of course refers to us.

Now is where it becomes interesting. Humans have created artificial intelligence and are currently working to make better ones. Why? Humans do this because AI tends to be very good at making living easier for the humans. Humans have invariably continued the process of life keeping itself alive. Not only that, humans have made it much faster. Some say exponentially so.

Now I know you are going to ask how AI has made it easier for you to stay alive. I would respond that what it means to live is much more sophisticated to a human than it is to any other form of life on this planet. We have reached a level where if one had access to any large compendium of information as is normal in any developed nation, one would be able to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and "live off of the land" without any problem. Some have even tried this. I make this point to make it obvious that we have reached a ceiling with regards to evolution through natural selection. Natural selection will not be able to make it easier for our species to survive. We have created our own form of evolution. The evolution of ideas, principles, and information. Our collective minds have made it so easy for our bodies to survive that it has turned on itself and raised its own expectations. We seem to have to keep moving, which may be more evidence supporting the embodied cognition school of thought.

I thoroughly enjoy the concept of extropy, as informal as it may be. It is such a beautiful view of life. The opposite of entropy. While entropy increases disorder in the universe,extropy increases order in a particular neighbourhood. While entropy starts out as a rapid change and slows down as it dissipates, extropy starts out as the slow evolution of life and speeds up as it progresses.

The biggest critique of entropy is that it seemingly tries to nullify the second law of thermodynamics. This, however, is not correct. The second law is only interested in very large systems, i.e. the universe. Extropy, or rather the description I have here, deals primarily with increasingly smaller systems. The human civilization may expand up to and even beyond the solar system, but intelligence is not defined by how much space its proponents take. It is defined by ability and amount of organization. A system can increase in extropy without increasing in size. Consider the Big Bang as an example of entropy along with the fact that the universe is still expanding; while considering the pulling together of mass to form planets as extropy.

I share all of this because it has portrayed to me the world and life in general in such a sublimely beautiful way only a pantheist could experience it. The advancement of intelligence and order in general is the quintessential anthropic concept. It preceded us because we are products of this propensity for autopoiesis to develop self-aware systems. This thing called life has not been given to us by some higher power. We are not children in a playground given to us by some omniscient parent. We were born from non-conscious star dust. To quote Carl Sagan we are: "star stuff contemplating star stuff". The secrets of life are not being governed and hidden from human eyes. They are here and we are immersed. Maybe the future is not variable and can be predetermined, but if it is we are the only ones responsible.