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.