Saturday 29 December 2007

2050: Age of the Silverback

The year is 2050.
Climate change has been acknowledged as a way of life around the world. What differentiates the two broad demographics dominating the planet are their degrees of understanding.
Peak oil has passed and the race is on to move the production of essential chemicals to new sources.
The influence of regions which based their clout on the supply of oil and not much else has waned significantly, with considerable impact on global politics. A goal that could have been achieved far earlier has been reached by necessity.
The West as a label describing certain nations bound by their common history has given way to industrialised and under-industrialised regions. The former are able to employ ever more sophisticated methods of determining their status, while the rest function in an ad hoc fashion constrained by their ideological dependencies.
Electronic surveillance, gene technology, and computing power surpassing the historical limits of hardware make it possible to combine their respective potential to create the massively interdependent state.
Privacy has been substituted by meta-data encompassing lateral as well as longitudinal storage of personal information. From movements in terms of geographical locations to multi-level profiling in terms of behaviour patterns at any scale, humanity in the industrialised zones resides in a comprehensive storage of ever increasing complexity.
What prevents the data logs from becoming the authoritarian instruments of old are the lack of resources combined with the evaluation of efficiency quotients down to the minutest detail that are applied to the system of governance.
Derived from the concept of environmental footprints when climate change began to influence the agenda, governments adjust themselves in accordance with dynamic ledgers that feature the current effect of a measure against its ultimate efficacy - feeding back into the overall evaluation of society through its collected data.
Behaviour - whether on a personal or societal level - is no longer subject to ideological boundaries but has become a parameter in a formula that contains the algorithmic calibration of sustainability. These changes are not so much the result of wiser minds; they have been brought about by continually biting shortages of resources available to the administrative processes. Resource-wasting moral guardians are now enemies of the state; they have been replaced by data-mining technocrats.
The profiling of individuals, groups, and demographics consists of a multi-faceted evaluation from genetic to environmental factors and assesses the degree to which the respective elements interact with their system. Any freedoms or constraints in that regard are a function of the role they are able to play within their stratum. The feedback process of sustainability accreditation layers these roles with respect to the system overall. Data-mining provides the parameters, and efficacy measurements establish the boundaries.
Artificial mind simulations of increasing scope are used to play through societal scenarios via functional dynamics, their hypothetical content a substitute for the real world. Such modeling enables the analysis of demographic states on a continuous basis, updated and fine-tuned by synchronising the effects in one sphere with those in the other.
Within the under-industrialised regions the effects of the general resource shift are also felt, but the response lacks the depth only a sophisticated information flow can allow. The resultant pressure is uncoordinated and in tandem with the specific ideologies in force at the local level.
Migration surges occur at regular intervals, but are not permitted to spill into higher-level neighbours. Instead they contribute to changing population patterns inside those zones which could be analysed and responded to positively if only the means to do so existed. The availability of food and energy resources is at the constant whim of random power plays acted out on the basis of religious and political perceptions. What decides a region's membership in one or the other type of zone is its ability to ramp up to the necessities of the times. Sometimes the historical boundaries of nations will have been redistributed to better reflect the nature of their demographics.
Dissolution here and there within the industrialised bloc leads to the formation of niches, which are either made use of or pushed further and further to the edge of their host - on a geographical as well as a cultural level.
The boundaries and differences between demographics are in the end determined by the results of high-to-low and low-to-high conceptual intersections, that is the transposition of conceptualisations from high-complexity regions to lower ones and vice versa. As such the outcomes represent a natural selection process that always had been in operation but has now become more accentuated due to the restrictions prompted by economic contingencies.
The same goes for non-human organisms. The survival of species becomes a matter of their attractiveness to local perceptions, translated into economic utility. Some manage to maintain themselves within their respective eco-systems, some find respite through their usefulness, and others are restricted to special enclaves or computer simulations.
Aid programmes, channelled towards dirigiste governments by the former developed world, have been reduced to narrowly defined policies under the umbrella of sustainable efficiency determined by their source. While the ruling hierarchies at the receiving end are no longer kept artificially alive by such transfers, neither are their dependent masses. Survivability or otherwise has reverted back to the local potential and no other.
Success for the individual means being able to negotiate the constantly changing priorities of governments, businesses, and interest groups, which themselves are subject to similar considerations.
It is the age of the silverback.
Happy New Year.

Note: for references see the next post.

Sunday 23 December 2007

Without Otoom, what then?

The Parallels, their special sections, and many posts on this blog have presented the Otoom model in various contexts.
The scenarios were the environment in which humans went through their actions, and Otoom supplied the framework to better understand their dynamics. Its predictive powers have already been shown in the Iraq/Afghanistan war, the riots in France, and the implosion of so many Pacific Island states, to mention only a few. The evaluation of human activity systems in those terms on an official level is not so much a question of if, but when.
But suppose such information is not available. How would the players fare under circumstances that are in the process of building up at this very moment? Here is a brief overview of the major items. They are deemed major because their effects are the most comprehensive.
The overriding factor in our time is climate change. The relevant data we leave to meteorologists and environmental scientists; what we are concerned with here are the dynamics of perception, feeding into our modes of conceptualisations.
The immediate cause for the changing climate has been identified as the industrial output by developed nations. That kind of information leads to different interpretations depending on where on the economic scale one stands. The historical dimension adds another factor, deemed more significant by those whose own history does not include the evolutionary cycles of the rich. In the absence of a formal framework the positive as well as the negative aspects of technology and industry are not included in a productive manner. The need for sophisticated infrastructure may be appreciated by those who own it, but its purpose is overlooked by the have-nots. For them the factors represent a one-sided wealth underlining their own victimhood. So far those differences are being expressed through words only. Increase the pressure and they will be followed by actions.
Any solution to a problem relies on its realistic assessment. Substitute realism with ideology - whether of the spiritual or the political kind - and the response will be inadequate. The negative outcome is sheeted home to outsiders. A people's ideal (a god or a political vision) is never held accountable because ideals are untouchable.
Terrorism, portrayed as the scourge of our times, is one manifestation of an idealistic obsession. But in reality it has existed in various forms throughout history, only the means and the responses have changed.
In the West our historical baggage in the form of Christianity drove us into the arms of the Middle East on so many occasions, now accentuated by oil. The latter will go eventually, but in the meantime relationships are cemented into what has been termed 'progression locks' under Otoom - situations that pull their members into a web of inevitability with often disastrous outcomes.
In the case of terrorism it is becoming evident that the countermeasures taken affect the societies they are meant to protect more than the terrorists themselves.
To neglect the functional, cognitive dynamics of those entanglements costs everyone dearly.
So not only conceptualisation matters, but also one's disposition. The moralistic remnants of Christianity are at the roots of an imperialistic evangelism that sees the world in black and white only. In some parts it is stoked by the advent of feminism (its ideological side, this is not about the rights of women) which transposed the concept of motherhood and carer into wider society with profound consequences.
The Child in this context is to be shielded from the outside, as it must in the case of a real child, and it is the outside which is held to account. Translate that into society at large and the traditional sense of responsibility and duty falls by the wayside. The "system" however, that which is forced to pay when things go awry, is made up of the very people who are gradually educated into dependency - a downward spiral of dissolution. Obesity, having already reached epidemic proportions, is but one example of diminished responsibility made manifest. Its costs will haunt us for decades to come.
The adulation of The Child is a consequence of a societal repositioning of priorities. To maintain the status of infancy, to spurn the process of growing up in favour of locking in childhood, represent the deepest urges of the Mother. In the home it is mostly the mother who even in the adult still sees her child. The feminised society of today follows that dictum. No wonder a Paris Hilton demands such attention. The adult body with the mind of a child - how attractive they have become.
Characteristically the converse is condemned - nothing endangers a myth more than the existence of its opposite in the real. Consider the child body with the mind of an adult. It is typical of certain societies that nothing invites greater social opprobrium than the paedophile and the misogynist. Not even a murder comes close. In tandem we have billion-dollar industries feeding the narcissism of the female regardless of her age, we have the child-like postures of models, and youngsters running wild. No-one dares to oppose; for example, teachers rather leave their profession than make a stand in the classroom.
To demonise the drive towards adulthood does not merely unseat the values of just about every healthy culture on this planet; it interferes with the designs of nature. The welfare of society has taken second place to womanhood.
Once again, without a clear understanding of how the dynamics of perception relate to interdependent scenarios, any countermeasures - if they are considered at all - will only ever be ad hoc reactions going nowhere.
The greater the sophistication, the higher the demand for commensurate conceptualisations. Given the diversity of current systems, the opportunity exists for the emergence of local variants which may or may not be recognised for what they are.
Diminished resources create their own pressures, and in conjunction with already existing factors pose a challenge for the participants. Not to understand oneself in the widest sense possible means remaining chained to unwitting consequences.
Most likely the near future represents a mix of insight and ignorance. A preview of what it will hold in about forty years time will be the subject of next week's post.

Sunday 9 December 2007

The degeneration of a system

The conceptual tool set offered by Otoom makes it possible to analyse the dynamics of systems at any scale, large and small.

As to the former, societies move through their time lines determined by the interplay of their subsystems. They also relate to their environment, where other systems and their functional elements characterise their dynamics.

The more complex such systems have become the more details establish their functional boundaries, each with their own positive and/or negative potentials. What those boundaries mean depends on the elements they define and the latter's affinity with each other and the whole.

The West is one such large-scale system, and its variance across the nations, together with their demographics, has produced its history over time.

Our nomenclature (systems, subsystems, elements, etc) are not merely convenient descriptors. They stand for perceptions, interpretations; in other words, mind sets that evoke the actions among humans here and there. Those mind sets have their particular history, and that link with the past causes them to function sometimes in harmony, sometimes alongside, and sometimes in opposition to present developments.

Today there are number of conceptualisations that do not support their host. As such they undermine the foundations on which they grew.

Incongruence does not necessarily imply destruction per se, but it certainly means the existing frameworks become compromised. "Nature abhors a vacuum", as has been observed before, and in the absence of a maintaining force other influences will come to the fore.

The self-referencing nature of complex systems is but one of their aspects, but translated into more common language it stands for self-confidence and a clear view of oneself and one's direction.

In the case of the West the earlier confidence (often accompanied by brashness and arrogance, it has to be said) has given way to a more insecure disposition. Greater complexity in thinking, due to its heightened internal variance, makes for less compact and so more diverse opinions. For that reason a fanatic will always act more self-assured than their more objective counterparts.

If two of these disparate mind sets confront each other the outcome is a matter of the respective societal resources standing behind.

Today the West is a hotchpotch of many styles; sophisticated attitudes, brutish niches, profound education and superficial beliefs, they all vie for attention and their assumed right to make a difference in our affairs. And all this against the background of climate change, diminishing resources, and internal and external threats. All of which redefine our standards, and all of them are in the process of becoming even more influential as the years go by. Beyond its borders demographics assert their stance in a manner they simply could not have managed in previous decades.

Internally the succession of generations are interrupted by certain demographics - young and old - which have been allowed to negate authority and by doing so demonstrate the virtual paralysis of the system they are meant to be part of. Whether it be children performing like adult criminals or gangs battling it out with police in a suburb, in terms of the underlying dynamics both are similar in nature. They are joined by religious and political demagoguery that dismisses objective pragmatism in favour of moralistic attitudes forcing the rest of society to march to their idealistic tune. In tandem we have the veneration of the primitive, its sycophants falling on their knees before the demands of anti-intellectual fanaticism; and, when attacked, coming back for more.

Complex systems do not move in a linear fashion. They do not evolve - or devolve for that matter - in equal steps. History seems to stand still until suddenly the latent potential erupts and evolution surges ahead. Likewise, the status quo prevails until one more instance causes an implosion. The foundations grew all along, they just weren't recognisable at the time.

Is there a 'final straw' in the West's case? Just as the Otoom mind model predicted the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, the riots in France, and the difficulties in so many Pacific Island states, here too it has something to say.

More of this later.

Monday 26 November 2007

And now for the future

For Australians this week marks the beginning of changed times. A couple of days ago the Australian Labor Party with its leader Kevin Rudd was elected.
The label ‘historic’ has been used a lot during those hours. Over eleven years of conservative government unseated by a massive swing; only three hours after the polling booths closed in the east (although Queensland doesn’t have summer time) the outcome was already becoming clear. For the first time since 1908 a man from Queensland became prime minister. First time for a female deputy. First time federal and state governments being Labor. The second time a prime minister not only loosing his office but also his seat in parliament.
Quite a few commentators may say, “I told you so”; take that as you will. But certain signs were there - the reference to future themes by the winners, not really matched by the other side or not at all. A feeling the incumbents being out of touch, of not really understanding the concerns expressed by many.
So here we are, and the nation is ready.
As usual there are numerous local issues, but the big picture cannot be overlooked. Climate change, our Middle Eastern entanglement, peak oil - these are not just background scenery, they are very much in the foreground as they determine our own and everybody else’s life on this planet.
And this is where Otoom comes in. The model’s predictive power has been proven many times (just go through the Parallels pages) and right now Australian politics follows a typical branching pattern of complex systems, a bifurcation if you will.
When minds open to new perceptions, that in itself is a pattern which becomes a functional template for more. Times are changing, in the large and the small, and the clock is ticking for many.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Complexity: the Law vs Nature

During the past week two events took place, independent of each other yet connected in a more profound sense.

First came the release of a report by Dr Graeme Pearman and the Climate Adaptation Science and Policy Initiative at the University of Melbourne. Evidence of Accelerated Climate Change warns that the predictions made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are too conservative. More comprehensive data from both polar regions show that an ice-free Arctic Ocean might not occur between 2050 to 2100 but much earlier. Rises in sea levels have also been underestimated.

On Friday Professor Justice Michael Kirby, one of Australia's seven High Court judges and a strong defender of human rights, gave a lecture, Fundamental Human Rights and Religious Apostasy. His main example was the case of a woman in Malaysia who wanted to leave her original religion Islam and now become registered as a Christian. Being a Muslim country eventually the High Court there decided against her, pointing out that although the constitution guarantees religious freedom, for an individual to choose leaving Islam was not permissible. Clearly, the notion of freedom of choice was not part of the wider interpretation when starting from the concept of religious freedom.

The evidence of climate change rides on an increasingly comprehensive picture emerging from the ongoing analysis of a multitude of data. The more information we have the more accurate our perception can be. Despite the opposition from so many quarters the urgency to act locally and globally becomes more and more pressing. The world of our grand children will be vastly different from what the human race has become used to, but at the very least the data necessary for a productive response are accessible.

Compare that to the situation in a religion-dominated society, where on one hand the few judicial parameters are visible but on the other do not encompass the far more complex mind set programmed by its belief system. For a Westerner the conclusion reached by the majority of the Malaysian High Court judges (two Muslims ruled against the appellant and one Christian decided in her favour) seems extraordinary, but such is the effect of a diffuse and pervasive mental landscape that almost anything is possible when an overriding compulsion demands it.

Much has been written and proclaimed in the context of human rights. Religious freedom is usually interpreted as the right to practise some belief, but rarely does that include the freedom from religion. A belief prospers when supported by an ideology, spiritual or secular, and no matter what its source has a profound effect on the cognitive processes under its guise.

Whether a challenge confronts an individual, a society, or an entire planet, productive solutions cannot be found if the steps taken have to rely on obscure and ill-defined notions.

There is a chance some societies will manage to live with the effects of climate change, possibly even ameliorate them, because their conceptualisations are mostly situated in the real. Yet there are also other demographics where ideas are far more convoluted.

A hint of what is to come can be seen in the tables shown on Demographic orientations. The figures for average life spans, infant mortality, and educational standards from around the world are relatable to the influence a belief system exerts upon the respective population. Right now there are hundreds of millions of people confined to their inner mental prisons where even under the current conditions they barely manage to survive, if at all. Now imagine what happens when rising sea levels, scarcity of water, and dislocation of food productions interfere with the already precarious existence of all those masses.

We will be able to watch the process over the coming years.

Sunday 28 October 2007

Teaching blindness

Is it possible to teach blindness? You bet.

Case 1. The other day I bought a piece of software which came in a number of files, altogether several hundred megabytes large. There were problems with downloading so I asked to pay the extra charge for a CD burn and shipping after the software itself was already paid for. That's when the trouble started. Their website didn't allow for ordering the burn for that version, and naturally I didn't want to order - and pay for - the whole thing again. I am still involved in trying to explain the situation so that I may get an answer that makes sense in terms of what their system allows a customer to do.

Case 2. While working on the OtoomCM computer program there was the need to save certain screen areas for later reference as the program was running. The bitmap file format suited fine, but for several reasons I had to write and slightly modify the bitmap-file producing function myself. The way Microsoft designed this function is a case study in obscurantism, and so I hunted around the internet for some hint on how the reading of pixels is actually accomplished. There were dozens upon dozens of web pages offering advice about the use of the MS function per se, essentially useless because the parameters make that rather obvious anyway. Yet not a single one explained the weird system used by Windows. It took many frustrating hours trying to figure out how they did it.

Case 3. In various discussion groups I tried to explain my use of the word 'functionality', its understanding essential for an understanding of the Otoom model itself. Although I abided strictly by the definition Webster's, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the Macquarie Dictionary offered, I couldn't get through to certain people because they stuck to the more specific meaning developed later by researchers in the fields of artificial intelligence and others. Using the general meaning common in the English language just didn't work with them.

Case 4. In an article submitted to a journal I was criticised for not dealing with a number of hypotheses that seek to explain in various ways how the mind works. None of them had proven useful, and therefore wasting precious space on things that do not apply seemed futile. Still, those conceptualisations were so ingrained in the minds of the reviewers that stepping outside their bounds was just too much to ask.

What do those cases have in common?

There is a mindset trained to process a given template and not more. Such a mind had never been given the opportunity to deconstruct a scenario in terms of its inherent elements, so that a reassembled version could be applied to the purpose at hand. If that template happened to be appropriate the information was processed, but anything even slightly outside such a norm constituted a challenge. Since the challenge cannot be taken up the situation is not responded to and a constructive outcome proves elusive.

For many decades pupils and students have been faced with a fundamentally different teaching method, one that is "outcome based" and "holistic" rather than concentrating on schematically organising one's thoughts. Information is presented in chunks, and those chunks are interpreted and reinterpreted without giving the learning mind the chance to understand the underlying bits and pieces.

The result is the mind's inability to reorganise an overall concept to suit the moment, and so university lecturers have to teach new students basic maths while education departments focus first and foremost on sociology and social justice rather than on literacy and numeracy, turning schools into "quasi-sociology departments". Of course sociology and social justice are important, but how can you properly evaluate an event if the capacity to critically evaluate its components is missing?

In programming the current development platforms enable the quick and easy assembly of functions - just drag the icon into your form and it's done. Nothing wrong with that, except there is now a whole generation of programmers who simply don't know what stands behind those functions and what's more, don't even see the need to understand their finer points.

Academic journals have settled into well-trodden paths of endlessly repetitive concepts, with no freedom to step beyond the rut no matter how promising such an escape could be.

And simple questions about payment methods turn into a frustrating cycle of emails that in no time escalate into ridiculous complications.

A corollary to the above would be the inability of people to appreciate the detailed mapping out of results as a confirmation of one's message. How can they if the functional detail of a concept had never been the subject of their mental processes to begin with? I strongly suspect this flaw played a considerable role in the evaluation of my thesis at Griffith University.

No wonder that in the UK synthetic phonics is reintroduced into the classroom, and in Australia the government has recognised the serious problem of many graduates being incompetent in basic science, math or history.

Under Otoom the inherent pattern of a given cognitive process - whatever its representative nature - gives rise to further complexes. If those patterns are insufficient or too coarse, the resultant applicability of the complexes will suffer too.

It is high time the post-modernist and feminist habits of mindless chunking are given the flick.

Sunday 21 October 2007

Globalisation and the disappearance of skills

The migration of industries and their associated expertise from the developed world to newcomers such as China and India is not a new phenomenon and has been amply commented upon by now.

Related issues about flawed goods that had to be recalled at great cost (think of Mattel and their toys) and price dumping due to the sheer opportunity offered have also made themselves felt. Only recently the European Union saw fit to take measures against China's state-sponsored undercutting of steel prices. The latter's steel output is massive, the product is often of lesser quality and sold below production costs with significant consequences in the EU.

Under the economic perspective there are two extreme views; one advocates a completely open trade with no restrictions across borders, on the other end are the import restrictions which in effect constitute trade barriers and lead to the isolation of old.

I leave economics to the economists, but it is an interesting exercise to consider the situation in terms of Otoom.

There we have systems within systems, defined by their respective complexity, connectivity, and number of functional elements. These can be circumscribed as functionalities with respect to the exhibited dynamics.

We can also identify conceptual intersections; that is to say properties of the participating elements which, when compared with their respective counterparts in a neighbouring domain, allow their degree of complexity to be compared with each other. If information travels from a domain of high complexity to one of a lower kind, many associations get pared away and the result in the target area has become poorer. Should the movement occur in the other direction, further associations (now made possible due to the target's higher complexity) get added to the data but are in no direct relationship to the contingencies at the source. For example, a project designed by first-world scientists runs aground in a third-world region because it cannot be properly instantiated there. Or, an utterance by a child is turned into a sophisticated concept by adults.

In functional terms 'system' can be transposed into 'economy', 'data' become 'goods', and 'functional elements' are now 'human activities' in a society. Nevertheless, in terms of the underlying meanings the relationships still hold.

Another feature of such systems are their interdependency. Although a subsystem can be identified as a separate entity, it cannot exist in isolation from the rest of its domain. A steel mill for example may be unique, but without adequate transport, energy supply, and a suitably trained work force it won't function. Transport cannot exist without roads and rail, needs fuel or electricity, another work force, and so on and so on.

The overall quality of a subsystem (defined under the terms mentioned above - complexity, connectivity, etc) therefore relies on comparable characteristics of its neighbours. A breakdown in them anywhere transmits its effects across the network.

Everything in life has a cost, and the maintenance of subsystems is no exception. Hence the training of a work force, industrial standards to be upheld, health and welfare, the availability of education and the quality of life in general, they all come at a cost met by the system overall. Goods from developing countries are cheap because in those economies the costs expended upon the population are lower too. Lower costs means less variance, lower quality overall, and gets translated into an output that now competes with similar products in the importing First World. So much so that entire industries have disappeared in the West, and with them the related skills and self-sufficiency.

To let go of the manufacture of garments for instance may not have a catastrophic effect in a place like the EU or Australia, but it does mean that the stakes have now been raised in the context of international competitiveness. If the entire system (ie, Australia) is capable of up-skilling its work force such that more sophisticated output takes the place of garments, all is well and good. In terms of interdependent systems - at any scale - two potential problems arise at that point.

One, should the other domain (for example, China) experience difficulties, the availability of its products becomes affected and therefore influences everyone else who has come to rely on its supply. And Two, should Australia's work force contain sections that cannot be readily trained upwards, we witness the emergence of niches living outside the required standard. Instituting assistance programs for those demographics may or may not work.

From a system's point of view, and considering the costs carried by a system in order to maintain its standards as well as the aspect of interdependency, the solution would be to peg the tariffs on imports to the relativity identifiable in terms of those respective standards.

In other words, if the overall costs of a given product in a high-complexity region is x, and its counterpart in a region of low-complexity is x minus a, where a represents the difference between the costs born by the higher and the lower region, then the tariff at the border to the high-complexity region will be a pro rata. It is not an arbitrary tariff, but a value arrived at by positing the respective societal costs next to each other.

As far as systems are concerned, such values are not artificial because they reflect the very real difference between standards, and they would not be destructive to either side because they are based on existent dynamics, according to which, after all, either system functions.

As such pro rata tariffs are nothing new. Whether applied to the specific usage of shipping tugs for example or the supply of information by State Public Sector Agencies, a basic cost is adjusted according to the conditions at the time. The above merely represents an extension of the concept applied to the wider system.

Given the sheer magnitude of emerging economies and the costly challenges faced by everyone in today's world (just consider climate change and political altercations), the time may not be far off when these considerations are no longer idle musings but will have become a necessity.

Sunday 30 September 2007


Have you ever seen a ghost?

Try as I might, I never have. But I know others who did, and quite possibly the lack of a similar experience prevents me from getting too caught up with those stories.

Despite such distance I don't know of anyone who has 'seen' Richard III or Napoleon or Beethoven. Those second-hand tales involved friends and relatives, but the question can be raised nevertheless: why are the perceptions always about familiar figures, someone already known to the person in some way or form?

As a prerequisite there would be the ambience of the moment. A bit of mystery, some irregularity of the setting, the predisposition of the witness inviting the unusual - but all within strict bounds.

Deconstructing the scenario we find a particularly configured mindset and its counterpart, the surrounding atmosphere. This functional template, this recipe if you will, can be applied to other situations not normally associated with the 'supernatural'. The effect is similar in principle, that is to say an affirmation of what has been expected found in the perceptive result.

An astral shape confirms one's knowledge of history (general or personal), fits satisfactorily into the moment, and reinforces the cognitive processes leading up to that point. On a more mundane level the stance of a person relates to what is already known about them, does not unseat one's expectation, and confirms what one thinks would have happened anyway.

I remember something that took place a long time ago. A birthday party was held in my honour and when it came to leave a driver was waiting to take me away. As I was getting into the car it began to move immediately with the door still half open. A small boy came running to shake my hand but the crowd pushed and he was hit by the door. Nothing serious, we were hardly moving and looking back the boy seemed fine. Still, we didn't stop, no-one bothered with the child and with everybody waving good-bye their body language did not relate to the mishap at all. Why?

There was the festive event, the guest of honour. There was the show of goodwill, all the gestures produced to underline its intent. An accident occurred, too small to shift the seat of common perceptions. Under the circumstances I was not expected to halt the proceedings, a series of events requiring their start, middle, and end. Stopping the car would have stalled the closure as well.

Again, a functional template acted out according to plan. A diversion would have changed the frame, rendered the entire episode unfulfilling for all concerned. And so we drove off.

Observe society and a whole set of such scripts become visible. From revolutionary upheavals to elections to weddings to passing-out parades to the morning coffee, they all follow a pre-defined direction that everyone follows.

Because that's the point: regardless of the joy or the anger on offer, it seems the familiarity of the outcome is more important than the sensations along the way.

We are not automatons, so we keep telling ourselves. Yet in a very profound sense the evidence says otherwise. In classical Greek tragedy the players are being pushed towards their inevitable demise, an end everyone foresees and so expects. This includes the hero, but such is the path its very profundity does not allow the slightest diversion. To turn away would make a mockery of the noble mind, and only when in tears do we truly understand greatness.

How sad.

Sunday 23 September 2007

You precious!

Last year the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change listed a series of costs associated with a change in weather patterns.

Established forms of behaviour are labeled ‘progression locks’ under the Otoom mind model, and they exist not only in our mental processes but can be found in any system, from the biological to the mechanical.

To modify a function costs. In eco-systems the effects are self-regulating; with human affairs outside resources are brought in to compensate for the loss. In the case of climate change much will have to give.

Recently the Queensland government commissioned a study of the effects of peak oil, the results of which were announced in the Courier Mail under the headline End of the Oil Age is near.

In that context David Room of Global Public Media interviewed Andrew McNamara, member for Hervey Bay, Queensland.

The study concentrated on the economics of a region suddenly confronted with diminishing resources of a very fundamental nature. In Australia peak oil has already occurred, but at the moment its economy, integrated with the rest of the world, has largely escaped the more profound responses from a system that is in the process of undergoing a major shift.

Although the price of oil is rising, there are considerable buffers around the world to ensure that so far life can go on as usual - more or less. But this will change.

From Otoom’s point of view there are aspects which go beyond the obvious such as transport, tourism, the price of goods in general.

The last 50 years have given the West an unparalleled opportunity to indulge in whims that at other times and in other places would not even have been considered, let alone carried out. Entire generations have come to believe in the absoluteness of their habits, living in a cocoon of assumed security about their peccadilloes.

Those habits have been sustained through the availability of plenty, its most basic driver cheap oil. What happens when the floor suddenly gives way?

Our thoughts are more than their open manifestations in word and gesture; they also exist in the form of subliminal trains, carrying their particles of perception around our minds behind the conscious stage. The effects are no less important.

Imagine what will happen when there simply is no time to send a group of counsellors to a school because the children there have lost their pet rabbit. What will happen when a mother’s indignation of not having her daughter included in class falls on deaf ears. When everybody is too busy to listen to a moral campaigner who rails against our young looking at naked humans.

What degree of priority will be given to the issue of shiny hair, cascading around the shoulders of the goddess, and what will be the value of designer sunglasses to meet life’s daily challenges?

An entire industry has grown around the need to find one’s true self, an exercise in interpretation and reinterpretation of noble trivia. Position your limbs just so and the world’s problems are solved. What price narcissism then?

A system that haplessly rushes to the aid of the selfish bore starved social skills to the bone - who needs manners when the pieces are picked up by an army of aides driven by their own need for self-fulfillment in the face of stupidity.

How will those demographics of the world fare when their traditional benefactors have other things on their minds, when their own preoccupation with religion and sectarian identity leaves them open to nature’s games and nobody cares anymore. When their demands for cultural sensitivity as a precondition for aid have become meaningless.

What will happen to a village when there is no outsider who digs a hole for them to find water? What will happen to the little kid who can’t get his hair style any more?

I mean, who on earth can live like that??

Sunday 16 September 2007

Tradition, tradition

In a few days from now the book On the origin of Mind will be available on the Otoom website as an e-book.
The work deals with many areas - science, philosophy, and religion. No matter what the focus however, the framework is a scientific one. This means that assertions are based on observation, analysis, and conclusion. Results are repeatable and falsifiable.
They are also new and radical in the sense that so far no-one has come up with a similarly comprehensive and harmonious description of cognitive processes. Various sections on the Otoom website give a hint of that, but here are all the details.
That raises certain questions, particularly under more traditional auspices.
The familiar path of new scientific discoveries has been from the workbench to the notes to an academic journal. There it is peer-reviewed and if passed goes into publication for all the world to see.
Clearly, this case is different. There has been the 'workbench' of course (the people of this world, existing research, and the computer programming environment), there are the notes, but there are only a few papers in circulation and what's more, none of them provide the overall basis.
For that to be accomplished it needs a book to begin with. Many theories have been advanced over the centuries, with some proving more, others less tenacious. On many occasions the reader needs to reset their conceptualisation of how things are, so ten, twenty, even thirty pages are not enough to explain it all. But book publishers shy away from taking on something about which there had been no preceding awareness. Gleick's Chaos may have been new to many people but the journal articles came long before. And, once published, the book became a huge success.
In addition anything new invites scepticism; that is healthy. It also means the author needs to supply the data and references in abundance so that someone else can indeed follow the path from beginning to end. If there is a mistake it can be handled formally, and if there isn't that also becomes clear.
Here are the figures for the book: Part I (13 chapters, 269 pages, 527 references), Part II (6 chapters, 149 pages, 441 references), Bibliography (61 pages), Index (11 pages, 2-column); total including table of contents, appendix, glossary, overview (25 sections, 520 pages, 970 references).
As for the computer programs OtoomCM and OWorm the figures are: OtoomCM (330 tests), OWorm (320 basic test runs, 560 evaluation test runs); total (1210 tests). OMo runs just as an example of what the system can do.
Such volume would already be a barrier for many. Who has the time to go through all that? Still, the data are there for the taking.
When it comes to peer reviews, the idea is to enable an evaluation by outsiders. They are usually three experts from the field, plus the odd editor or two. Once passed, the paper gets published and hence is seen by many. Nevertheless, there is a pre-existing authority that says, "Read this; it has value". What if the reviewers do not see eye to eye with the material? Let's say already existing frameworks intrude upon their perspectives and the material is judged according to other approaches already done. If those happened to have failed (which is the case when it comes to the workings of the mind) the reviewers' own cognitive space is already pre-loaded with irrelevant data. Semioticians would have a field-day teasing apart the connections between the symbols of one and those of the other.
Just consider the seemingly endless list of papers surrounding the hypotheses categorised variously under such labels as connectionism, dynamicism, etc etc, and read Stevan Harnad's paper Minds, Machines and Searle 2: What's Right and Wrong About the Chinese Room Argument.
Editors of journals want their product to be taken seriously; nothing wrong with that. However, over the years their position has been enhanced by such pressures as 'publish or perish', which forces most academics into a rather servile relationship with the journals. See what Ronald Stamper, a semiotician, has to say about that situation in the footnote to his Stumbling across a "Soft Mathematics"? while Exploring some Issues of Organisation, Law and Metaphysics.
Soon On the origin of Mind can be downloaded from the website by all and read, reviewed, analysed, critiqued and criticised by anyone to their hearts’ content. In the end, that’s how it should be.

Sunday 9 September 2007

Why attack a fortress?

Ask yourself: why did armies in the Middle Ages insist on attacking a fortress and bloody their heads?
Why not occupy the land and establish yourself there? Having land but not a fortress can still give you food, but a fortress without land is just a hulk of stone. (Ah, I hear you say, if you have the fortress you also own the land. - Really?)
On that same note, why storm a palace - are they such a magnet to a hopeful resident?
Now shift to the present, and consider democracy. What is the difference, if not having several factions under the same roof. You can see the attraction: no more sieges, no more conquests. It must be more than a love for heavy oak and shiny candelabras. Or perhaps not, judging by the opulence of today's chambers.
Maybe the occupiers had become more hospitable, or maybe they had lost the will to maintain their solitude at all costs. If that is so, democracy only works within circles of the accommodating.
For let us not get stuck on the trivial. The map shows many nations that have borrowed the word 'democracy' for aesthetic purposes, because their actual governance is anything but.
"He protesteth too much" can be seen from many directions; true democracy does not need the extra ink on the stationery.
Must you storm the palace? Can't live nearby? Then the Democratic Republic of... is for you. The compatriots are waiting.
But there's the rub. Peasants do not form societies, just as ants in the forest are lost without their queen.
A Head needs careful nurturing in a crib, a cocoon away from the battle. In good time there might be a colony, then a state, and a while later still the court is looking for a home. The cocoon moves to its new premises. And nothing has changed.
The cycle continues. Shielded from the adversities of common life the Head plans and plots, but out there, in the dusty streets suitably distant from the manicured lawns of the Residence, they struggle.
Time for another change? Don't bother with the palace, you only get your hands dirty.
Instead settle for something of your own. See the home as something where you are, rather than where you want to be. Slums do it all the time.
There is only one problem. In due course life has to be managed, and managed well. For this it needs well-developed facilities, solid things that work.
They also have value - and so back to the palace.

Sunday 2 September 2007

Ah - those Hypotheticals!

Many years ago the ABC (that's the Australian Broadcasting Commission) ran a TV series called the Hypothetical, presented by Geoffrey Robertson. He is a human rights lawyer, now in the London.

I like the man. He is articulate, precise, says what he means and means what he says, and of course there is his target, human rights, or rather the abuse of them.

But back to the program. He covered a series of topics - topical topics in fact - for which he invited prominent people, politicians, professionals, heads of departments. Pillars of society one might call them.

Hypothetical situations were played out in which the guests had to respond with their own attitudes and opinions for all to see. It was interesting to watch a righteous representative from the bush wanting to witness the execution of someone caught with illegal drugs in the fictitious land of Xanadu. "That's a pity", Robertson counters, because Xanadu happens to be a Muslim country where the penalty for drinking is death. Plenty of grog where the politician comes from... you get the picture.

Wouldn't it be nice to have another version of those programs, but this time even more realistic.

The politician or professional is confronted with a panel of people who have the facts at their disposal (and who are not afraid of voicing them, one might add). Instead of hiding behind glib news-speak they would have to defend their stance and openly debate with facts and figures, telling us how exactly they came to their decisions. Who knows, they even could be right, but then again maybe not.

One candidate could be Associate Professor Darryl Jones, Director of the Centre for Innovative Conservation Strategies at Griffith University, Brisbane, who would have to explain why thousands of people should be subject to considerable inconvenience to say the least. See on another post what the problem is about. Imagine...

Professor Jones, why aren't we allowed to do something about the crows, do you know how noisy they are? - They are just being noisy teenagers.

Their decibel levels are higher than lawn mowers, and there are council laws limiting their use. - Crows are an indigenous species, they need to be protected.

Because they are indigenous? 80 decibels and higher makes for serious sleep deprivation, which has been recognised by the WHO as a form of torture. - There may be some older people in nursing homes who are affected, so? Anyway, they clean the place of rubbish.

Leave our garbage disposal in the hands of crows? Do you know how cities look like if not councils but animals deal with the rubbish? - Crows are a precious resource, they need protection.

In urban centres? Brisbane has well over 300,000 of them, and the city is for people, not birds. - And so on...

Add a representative from the UN, the city council, the sanitation department and I think we'd have an interesting debate.

Make it an hour-long grilling. If their arguments stand up, so much the better.

And if they don't - that makes for good ratings too!

PS: To be precise, the first statement by Professor Jones comes from an interview he gave for the Courier Mail. Statement #2 has been taken from a letter to me written by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service who in turn sourced the information from the people at Griffith University. The third comes from a pamphlet by the same organisation. The last comes again from the professor directly.

Sunday 19 August 2007

The reasons against Otoom - again

In the previous post on that topic I mentioned some of the more obvious reasons why the Otoom model can grate against someone's perception of their world. Its descriptive framework focusing on functionality rather than content so that patterns become visible, the definition of an individual's or a group's situatedness within their culture in an objective, non-ideological sense, and so on.
There can also be deeper reasons for becoming uncomfortable with using such a view.
Since Otoom treats cognitive behaviour first and foremost as a system based on chaos-type attractors and hence affinities between clusters, the emergence of complexity as well as the deconstruction of affinities can be observed. These phenomena can relate to ideations as well as concepts and cultural memes at higher scales.
A human activity system that presents itself as a well-developed entity and featuring many subsystems can do so because its inherent characteristics (size, number of members, connectivity, processing potential, resources) allow it to be so. Similar developments can be observed in other areas of nature and indeed life itself, and so the evolutionary path from the simple to the highly complex does not need recourse to some mystical power but is a completely natural function of life's processes.Therefore Otoom builds upon Darwin's description of evolution, but goes one step further. Not only is natural selection being adhered to, but an ongoing development is also defined in terms of what feature does not [italics 1] meet a constraint. Take beetles - these insects have many useful functions allowing them to have grown into the most prolific order in its class, but with many an outlandish body shape emerged simply because it could. If in due course the environment presented no problem such a shape allowed the genus to survive (see an example in the stag beetle below).

From: E. Reitter, Fauna Germanica, K.G. Lutz' Verlag, Stuttgart 1909.

Similar dependencies can be observed in human behaviour.
Religionists, those who require the presence of a mystical god to bring the wonders of this world into existence, stall at such a deconstruction.
A corollary to the above is the progression lock. It refers to the step-by-step evolutionary path and its multitude of junctions, with each a determinant of what can follow given the already existing framework. Unless some event undoes a junction the developmental direction of that entity is laid down in a very specific way. Take urban development - to modify a building in a street is more easily done than changing the layout of the street (that's why the general plan of most European cities reflects the effects of a major fire some time back in their history). On a lower level similar cause-and-effect relationships hold too; for instance compare the general evolution of the skeleton in mammals to that in whales.
In human cognition a progression lock can have devastating effects. An ideologue may be open to all kinds of arguments, but dare touch on their core belief and the claws come out.
It would be a fascinating exercise to apply these principles to existence in its widest sense. How would a quantum physicist approach the question of the beginning of the universe: a rapidly following series of fundamental progression locks during the first few moments of its birth? What else could have been?
Because another major feature of complex systems is the sheer interdependence of its subsystems, any given characteristic is subject to an ongoing feedback loop ensuring that it appears useful to a casual observer. To go back to our example of urban layouts, once a certain street appears just so people will make use of its configuration and therefore such a utility will remain largely unquestioned. Sure, in a certain, contemporary sense that street is useful, but was that really the full intent of those who were responsible for its appearance, and could there have been something better?
Individuals who question those underlying assumptions are called iconoclasts and quite a few of them were murdered for their efforts. And yet, without their courageous ability we would still live in caves.
In a world of an ever increasing potential for self-destruction - a product of emergent complexity - we must unlearn our propensity to stand in awe before those who distinguish themselves by an unwavering adherence to their convictions. The emotional stamina for it should be recognised for what it is - the sign of a psychopath.
Otoom uncloaks their nature. Therefore it is dangerous.

Thursday 9 August 2007

An update... and a Thank You

The Premier's Office has been contacted again. I was told my previous email had not been received and was asked to submit another request for a meeting (on the other hand, I know that email was opened exactly 5 minutes 39 seconds after being sent). In any case, let's see what happens this time.
And now a big Thank You to all those people who visited the Otoom website and this blog.
Judging by the web stats there must be thousands who have been to Otoom, from over forty countries. Although the blog received far less at this stage, there are the feeds and the cross referrals between the two. So it's not YouTube, but then again the topic is very specialised and it does require some effort to keep reading through the pages. A Thank You to you all out there!
Let's not forget too that word spreads to those who may not be visitors themselves. Consider the constantly increasing number of confirmations which demonstrate that other individuals have arrived at similar conclusions to Otoom (167 confirmations all around and counting - see Parallels). As I mentioned in the Parallels, they would not have known about the model but analysing reality at large brought them to a particular conclusion.
On the other hand, the time could have come where it is feasible to assume some of those individuals actually are aware of Otoom and articulated their perceptions accordingly. Note the tentative wording - at this stage I cannot be more specific.
However, this is not the first time decision makers and politicians had been approached with some effect, however indirect it may have been in some cases. In the early 90s ideas from the book "Logic and Order in Society" (I referred to it briefly in the Opposition) did find their way into official pronouncements. Following are some examples.
- In 1987 the FitzGerald Commission on Australia's immigration invited comments from the public. References to the suitability of new arrivals in my submission found their way into the Commission's report. In June 1995 Prime Minister Paul Keating announced a $25 million initiative to teach Australians "about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and the functions of government".
- In 1988 details for an electronic checking system for life stock was suggested to the New South Wales Farmers Association and Elders Pastoral. In its 1992 Yearbook the Australian Meat Research Corporation had taken up the idea. Alas, it wasn't until July 2005 that a National Livestock Identification System came into force.
- In August 1992 "Project 21" was forwarded to the Prime Minister's office. It outlined the need for computer-based linkages of universities. A report ("Electronic Facilities Network to Enhance Tertiary Open Learning Services") was published in August 1993 by the working party of the Committee of Australian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT), which in turn responded to a consultants' report commissioned by the Department of Employment, Education and Training. This report emphasised the need for computer-based integration among Australia's educational facilities.
- Still on "Project 21", in April 1995 Prime Minister Paul Keating announced a prime ministerial council in order to study the establishment of a nation-wide computer network to enable Australia join the information super highway. Very much in line with "Project 21".
But as I said, as far as Otoom is concerned it's early days yet.

Friday 20 July 2007

We all smile in the same language (not!)

The above statement - minus the "not" - appears on the notice board of a school in West End, Brisbane.

It is quite wrong, in fact dangerously so. In the following short essay I will show why (and it is an essay; for more detail see the Otoom website with all its papers, confirmations from around the world, computer simulations, and references).

Let's take the literal meaning first. The sentence is meant to convey the common nature of us as humans, a feature underneath so many differences often emphasised and hence leading to conflict. A nice try if you will, but like other well-meaning but ultimately misguided views promising much but delivering little.

What is a smile? It is a type of body language representing the pleasure of feeling satisfaction. You don't need to be a profound philosopher to realise the prompts for smiling are as varied as life can make them. Even a child (and remember, that false proverb is there for mostly children to see) could smile for many a reason - to the face of a friend in agreement, to the face of an enemy out of Schadenfreude, because they got praised or because they got away with something.

But, you might say, aren't these the very things that bind us? Yes they are, but here we run into the first of several problems. Consider 'agreement'. Do we all agree on the same thing? Certainly not, but why?

Whether we agree on something depends on our disposition, on what we know, what we have experienced, on our surroundings, our culture. In other words, we interpret the world according to what our minds can make of any given situation. The thought associations we are capable of determine our response, and what we don't know won't get to play a role - end of story.

Yet even what we 'know' does not present the full picture. For an association to be made the right triggers need to be in place (think of mnemotechnics), but it also requires the brain to be sufficiently flexible. Certain psychological tests rely on that characteristic to evaluate a person's ability to process information.

Hence for some people a particular moment is enough to evoke an avalanche of ideas, others it passes by in silence. Being creative is a trait we sometimes admire (if it makes us smile!), and sometimes dread (if it takes us out of our comfort zone).

Going right back to the basic detail the associative capacity is a function of the connectivity of the brain's neurons and their processing ability. The more dendrites per neuron the greater the cognitive reach, the healthier the neurons the more efficacious they are. All this is no longer conjecture, and feeds into such aspects as goal setting and sense of responsibility.

Now shift the perspective to the recipient. If the source of a smile is difficult to ascertain, how much harder is it for the other to interpret? If I grow up among friends and only friends I will never know what it is like to smile with grim satisfaction - I never had the opportunity to learn. If higher abstractions are beyond me what do I know of wan wistfulness?

And so my mind will process the proffered gesture and respond accordingly. The other will do the same in turn. Where does that leave the "common language"?

If the response goes beyond mere conversation but involves acts of significance the diversion of our respective trains of thought can lead very quickly to radical measures.

Consider the fury generated by Salman Rushdie's knighthood. Consider also the attempts by the British government to hose down the flames. Neither side understands the other. Muslims don't relate to the often iconoclastic nature of our culture, and the government doesn't recognise how meaningless it is to point to Rushdie's authorship as an apology. In fact, an apology - like a smile - means different things to different people. For some it is a measure of manners, to others it represents weakness.

On a larger scale the contingencies have moved along. The idea has become the cultural meme, the individual has become the demographic. Just as in a person their mindset has to reconcile the differences somehow, so do the effects of varying cultures influence the status of a society. The mutual relationship between the greater whole and its parts requires a certain synchronicity, but enhance the differences and there comes a point at which the very definition of society becomes questionable.

Furthermore, although we all are capable of learning to some degree, what we allow ourselves to learn depends very much on our exposure to the wider world and how we perceive it. Increase the number of a demographic's constituents and the probability that any one of them will widen their frame of reference diminishes. From a certain size onwards there is no change and the culture will maintain itself regardless of their host.

In the era of globalisation the above applies not only within nations but across the entire world.

Tamil militants in Sri Lanka blackmail immigrants in Australia; radical Muslims associate in groups spread between tribal areas in Pakistan and the UK; newly arrived Africans evoke networks between Europe and their homelands to circumvent EU border controls.

The very laws we have created reflect our general mien. They can never define each and every act anyone is ever able to come up with, but are a collection of markers that rely greatly on social consensus. Introduce behaviour from outside that zone and the law becomes inadequate and needs to accommodate the new. Terrorism and the influx of religious intensity have shown how unsettling the shift can be.

For example, in Western jurisdictions guilt by association has been largely expunged, and for good reason. Yet an association based on family, tribe, and sect are most powerful drivers in Middle Eastern demographics. As I write this the law in Australia is forced to wrestle with the extent to which such alien concepts are to be aligned with our own definitions, in order to deal with suspects arrested here and connected with an act of terrorism that occurred in the UK. There are protests and misgivings, a fear of loosing the achievements gained through centuries of hard work. Those gains had sharpened themselves on the minds of Europe, and not on those of the Middle East.

We have moved beyond the land of rosy visions in which the downtrodden stand in awe before Western accomplishments eager to take part as we in our naiveté would like to assume. Some do, but more and more the darker side of wishful inclusivity in the face of irreconcilable difference emerges. The canvas so far is still the same, but increasingly what is painted there are not the comfortable idylls of yesteryear but the charring strokes of dissonance, anger even.

How long before the lines burst the frame?

Sunday 8 July 2007

The reasons against Otoom

A previous post presented a sweep of vistas open to someone who employed the conceptual tool set of the Otoom mind model.

Yet like any analysis that probes into hitherto hidden areas the findings can be decidedly uncomfortable. What could prevent a person from looking in this particular direction?

Otoom allows two general approaches, from the top down and from the bottom up. Let's take the latter first.

The subject under focus can be identified as a system, and its active constituents as elements that behave in a certain manner. As such these are functional elements, that is to say the things they do relate to their inherent properties, their potential for 'doing a certain thing'. For example, a particular collective of neurons processes visual information, and nothing else. It does so because its configuration allows it and the neurons do nothing else because they are exposed to one certain set of data and no more.

Yet clearly that bunch of neurons is also part of a larger system, similar in terms of functionality but different in scale and in terms of the information they receive and process, and therefore in terms of the result. That result, which higher cognitive processes represent in the form of meaning to us, transpose what is initially some bundle of light frequencies into an image that moves us.

Or take the activities of an organisation. Again there are sections dedicated to one particular type of work, but they also belong together and all those processes reflect the part as well as the greater whole. Since Otoom is scalable it makes sense to talk about a focus on neurons as 'from the bottom up' and it makes equally sense to refer to our view of an organisation along these lines.

The sheer relativity of this approach does not sit well with somebody's need to keep the world and its parts in neat little boxes. It prevents them from separating one phenomenon, one characteristic even, from its neighbours and so responding as if one element exists in isolation from any other. Reality of course teaches otherwise, but for the purpose of maintaining a perspective that prefers simplistic answers to complex situations - and acting accordingly - anything that opens unwanted windows would be anathema.

Now take the top-down approach. Since the act of labeling a particular contingent 'a system' is only ever a relative one, the result of an observation coming from the top and moving downwards could also have been achieved by having arrived there while proceeding from some lower focus to that higher one. What will have changed are the associations observed along the way, but the characteristics pertaining to that focus and now having become visible are no different.

Again, that can be problematic for someone who prefers to be selective. Suppose the idea is to reconfigure an organisation. A plan is developed that concentrates on the wider view but does not involve the sections, the subsystems. Without considering the functionalities of those sections the plan may prove unworkable. Add the personal agenda, surrounding politics plus the need to 'save face', and the iconoclast who points to discrepancies between the grand vision and the practicality on ground level may well be disposed of.

All this would seem straightforward to most, but how often are such considerations disregarded? How many times has a system intruded upon another to impose its ideal, with no thought given to the contingencies present at the target and proceeding blindly no matter what the cost - think of Iraq, of missionaries, of arrogant governments.

Otoom also addresses the processes themselves in terms of their situatedness within the conglomerate of functional elements. Just as in the brain a visual processing area (let's say, V1, V2, etc) deals with data according to such neurons' capacity, a different set of neurons produces other results depending on their situatedness within the brain overall. On a different scale a similar functional relationship holds, although the outcome will have changed.

A human activity system that is dedicated to creating and maintaining a database will behave functionally similar regardless where it is employed, only the content differs (let's say it works for a police department, or an employment agency, or for the biology section of a cancer research institute).

Not only that, but the result also reflects what the data have been subjected to along the way, in other words their history. The history is a function of whatever associations have been evoked and the processes they gave rise to.

To remain with our examples from above, an employment agency will be able to profile an individual according to their work history, but may not include any criminal convictions. The potential difference between the set of present associations and what will not be covered depends on the respective situatedness of the processing domains. While it is less difficult to enable a connection between a potential employee and court cases, when it comes to cell structures the research institute could well have pertinent information but how associative will that type of information be for the employment agency?

Therefore, under a certain focus (a relative exercise in itself) the representation of something that happens in a given situation can easily be omitted because the processing system does not contain the necessary associations to encompass such detail. There is a saying, "To a hammer everything looks like a nail".

The effects can be profound. A Christian will see the world - interpret the world, to be exact - in terms of what that mindset will allow to be covered; not more, not less. For Muslims the filter will be a different one. Adjust that lens to any set of contingencies our world offers and one gets some idea how variable our perceptions can be.

There was a time when we in the West categorised people by their 'obvious' differences. Because they were obvious they also were superficial, and over the years to come the presumptuous nature of that view was duly recognised. Unfortunately, today we fail on the other side of the spectrum: everyone is considered to be the same, with no thought given to their specific mindsets.

Not only can someone interpret a certain scenario differently from someone else, even what is quite literally seen and not seen can disagree with reality.

For someone - whether child or adult, male or female - the experience of joy and happiness, of pleasure and pain, of honour and dishonour, of what is desirable and objectionable, can differ to such an extent that for an observer the effect can be anything from consternation to horror. And yet, especially in today's climate, we act as if everyone has exactly the same mind.

Consider how we evaluate a display of emotion, or religious intensity, or sexual behaviour. Nor can we necessarily rely on the articulations from the individual concerned, since they are made on the basis of their own perspective.

Under Otoom the functionality of subjective assessment can be just as arrogant and overbearing whether we judge someone to be different based on skin colour and nothing more, or whether we presume them to be the same by dismissing the difference in cognitive processes. The former drives unwarranted exclusion, the other promotes blind inclusivity; both can be dangerous.

In a very real sense, our mind is at once a prison and our home. Otoom can be a friend who guides us out of our prison, but becomes the enemy if it dissolves the other.

... and society pays.

Sunday 24 June 2007

The big picture

He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Individuals are born, live, and die. Societies come into being, pursue their interests, and deconstruct. Civilisations emerge, form their environment, and vanish.

The ever widening circles of mutual flows, from low to high and back to low again, determine the overall stability at their respective scales.

Today there exist three great civilisations, each drawing on thousands of years, each having achieved brilliance, and each managing to survive despite so many catastrophes. In alphabetical order they are China, Europe, and India.

One may ask, "What does it take to make a great civilisation?" - one can equally ask, "What does it take to make a great individual?" - because, although different in scale, the fundamental qualities that Life appreciates need to be there in any case.

We need stability, so we have the chance to strike out on an adventure. We need knowledge and wisdom, so we can identify ignorance and stupidity. We need records of our history, so we can see the importance of the moment. But above all, we need an atmosphere that allows our intellect to range far and wide, and atmosphere that sustains the mind with its manifold particles of the spirit, because without the mind there can be no individual, society, and civilisation.

And here we find one essential difference between Europe and the other two. For all its unpredictable intellect, a strange animal that can fight and obey, rage and love all at once, there was a time in its history when it decided to absorb the mentality of an alien people. That mindset became known as Christianity, an outgrowth of Middle Eastern values which imposed their chains on its host ever since.

Do we really know all about the wealth of our antiquity, "the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome" as Poe called it? Can we imagine where we would be now if a thousand dark years of Church dominance had not intervened - if the Age of Enlightenment had continued where Rome had left off?

Instead we had to endure one disaster after another driven by a general religion that with its monotheism imposed a spiritual dictatorship that persecuted the search for knowledge, through its yearning for self-flagellation destroyed elegance and beauty, and whose evangelism drove us to conquer not just lands but also the minds of people, their most precious possession. Think of the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the missionaries, the hate towards the human eros.

So here we are today, facing challenges on a global scale, and yet loosing ourselves in Middle Eastern affairs we even invited into our midst, for here to fester. We wage wars trying to convince the victims that our values are better than theirs; we harbour people within our own lands who scorn the millions of volumes of their own culture while at the same time standing in awe before those who cannot show a single sheaf; we permit individuals to harness an entire governance to their fear of their own selves.

We imprison those who wilfully damaged others in pursuit of their own gains, and rightly so. Yet actions on a grand scale, similarly destructive but not even enhancing our selves, are defended and glorified.

The lives of individuals make a society; the society creates a civilisation through its endeavours; the civilisation in all its might relies on its members. It takes wisdom to understand this continuum.

Sunday 17 June 2007

The dark side of the tribe

A few days ago another horrific story about honour killing went through the news.

Those terrible events haunt us not only for the murder but also because they confront society with the dark reality hiding behind the romantic image of the tribe.

From sports to the construed glory of indigenous society, when it comes to the tribe the West likes to see in such demographics the opportunity to re-live its own mythical past. The ambience of close relationships, immovable customs, and a value system unencumbered by outsiders are perceived as a comfort zone we in our seemingly unnatural sophistication have lost long ago.

A classic symptom of selective memory. What is conveniently forgotten are personal ties that are inviolable, rigid laws that must never be broken, and the veil of secrecy protecting wrong-doers at any cost.

There is a reason why large-scale societies have left such prisons behind. The more people there are subsuming themselves under a common law, the more open and more accountable such a framework will need to be. The sheer volume and dynamism demands it.

The relationship can be turned around quite easily. A society that cannot manage to overcome traditional idiosyncrasies will not be able to extend its reach since its parts will stay bound to their respective customs; overall harmony remains elusive.

Societies can be seen as systems, and so their definition relies on identifiable common denominators. Hence there are systems within systems, institutions, organisations, and groups; all situated within the greater whole but equally cultivating the similarities of their members.

Should any such entity revert back to a cloistered existence its relationship with the wider realm becomes endangered. Queensland has provided us with examples - years ago it was the entire state government under Joh Bjelke-Petersen that actively hunted down dissidents, more recently we had the health system which tried to silence those that spoke out against its transgressions.

And always it was the value system of the tribe held above all else; submit to the group, play along, don't speak to outsiders lest you get punished.

The affair surrounding Griffith reveals another version. In the West universities achieved a degree of autonomy grown out of the desire to protect our places of learning against the vicissitudes of religion and politics. They were meant to be a sanctuary from ideological persecution and the hysteria of the driven masses. Yet as human activity systems they are equally not immune to tribal machinations, should the opportunity arise. To misuse something of value is a form of decadence.

On the advice of Queensland Education Dr Richard Armour, the Academic Registrar at Griffith University, was presented with the case. His response? The same old whitewash dished out so many times before. No new information had been provided he claimed, when in fact the questionable selection of the thesis' examiners was mentioned for the first time. In his view the evaluation should stand, when in fact the points raised by myself had not been examined. How could they have been, unless one assumes the presence or otherwise of text written in black and white was actually some form of hallucination on my part. Should I submit to a test, to ascertain whether I am capable of parsing sentences and processing their content?

Or had Dr Armour's examination of the case been nothing more than talking to a select few, relying on their assurances that everything is just fine? Never mind the glaring detail, if only there is the will to look through the veil.

It's the tribe all over again: submit, play along, don't say anything. After all, it worked for the Kurds, didn't it?