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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

In Defense of The Question Is The Thing

I’ve oft been accused of being all vision with little to no practical finishing capability. That is, people see me as a philosopher not a doer. Perhaps a defense of myself and philosophy/approach isn’t necessary and the world is fine to have tacticians and philosophers and no one is very much put off by this.

I am not satisfied. The usual notion of doing and what is done and what constitutes application is misguided and misunderstood.

The universe is determined yet unpredictable (see complexity theory, cellular automota). Everything that happens and is has anticedents (see behaviorism, computation, physics). Initiatial conditions have dramatic effect on system behavior over time (see chaos theory). These three statements are roughly equivalent or at least very tightly related. And they form the basis of my defense of what it means to do.

“Now I’m not antiperformance, but I find it very precarious for a culture only to be able to measure performance and never be able to credit the questions themselves.” – Robert Irwin, page 90, seeing is forgetting the name of thing one sees

The Question Is The Thing! And by The Question that means the context or the situation or the environment or the purpose. and I don’t mean The Question or purpose as assigned by some absolute authority agent. It is the sense of a particular or relevative instance we consider a question. What is the question at hand?

Identifying and really asking the question at hand drives the activity to and fro. To do is to ask. The very act of seriously asking a question delivers the do, the completion. So what people mistake in me as “vision” is really an insatiable curiousity and need to ask the right question. To do without the question is nothing, it’s directionless motion and random walk. To seriously ask a question every detail of the context is important. To begin answering the question requires the environment to be staged and the materials provided for answers to emerge.

There is no real completion without a constant re-asking of the question. Does this answer the question? Did that answer the question?

So bring it to something a lot of people associate me with: web and software development. In the traditional sense I haven’t written a tremendous amount of code myself. Sure I’ve shipped lots of pet projects, chunks of enterprise systems, scripts here and there, and the occassional well crafted app and large scale system. There’s a view though that unless you wrote every line of code or contributed some brilliant algorithm line for line, you haven’t done anything. The fact is there’s a ton of code written every day on this planet and very little of it would i consider “doing something”. Most of it lacks a question, it’s not asking a question, a real, big, juicy, ambitious question.

Asking the question in software development requires setting the entire environment up to answer it. Literally the configuration of programmer desks, designer tools, lighting, communication cadence, resources, mixing styles and on and on. I do by asking the question and configuring the environment. The act of shipping software takes care of itself if the right question is seriously asked within an environment that let’s answers emerge.

Great questions tend to take the shape of How Does This Really Change the World for the User? What new capability does this give the world? How does this extend the ability of a user to X? What is the user trying to do in the world?

Great environments to birth answers are varied and don’t stay static. The tools, the materials all need to change per the unique nature of the question.

Often the question begs us to create less. Write less code. Tear code out. Leave things alone. Let time pass. Write documentation. Do anything but add more stuff that stuffs the answers further back.

The question and emergent answers aren’t timeless or stuck in time. The context changes the question or shape of the question may change.

Is this to say I’m anti shipping (or anti performance as Irwin put it)? No. Lets put it this way we move too much and ask too little and actual don’t change the world that much. Do the least amount to affect the most is more of what I think is the approach.

The question is The Thing much more than thing that results from work. The question has all the power. It starts and ends there.

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Dr. Tim Maudin posits in his “BIGTHINK.COM” article, that there is not much procedural difference between how one arrives at philosophical axioms for life and scientific ones.

However, let’s not wax Pollyannaic to the gods of ‘blog’; there are major processes that are different.   The philosophical axioms of life that one distills along the way are private and not amiable to testing or any type of validation or falsification.  That’s good for the individual according to those that traffic in concepts, metaphors, mysticism and similes, but it is not so relatively good for the species and the universe.  Those philosophical interpretations, rules, axioms and beliefs die with the owner.

Scientific ones may have, but don’t necessarily have, a similar etiology.   But scientific content is converted from private to public by the bridging of communication that can be scanned for a value proposition by anyone exposed who is attending to it and, in so doing, gets to tests the content in their reality as well as the public reality that science serves.

Our belief frame out behavior and when those beliefs don’t have any course correction available they can lead to good and less good consequences for the owner and the community that owner inhabits.  We all are stuck with some very outdated concepts; mostly tied to the Judeo-Christian-Newtonian World view, as some have pointed out responding to philosopher Maudlin’s article. No attempt or clue is offered how we all have these albatross’ of folk science, folk psychology and folk folklore and that, for some, make this Dr. Maudin’s video an opinion piece rather than an information piece.

What is unbounded is the need for explanation of relationships in ways that are general or conditional.  Private or covert neural patterns that equal what we call “cognitive” is not been a productive place to look to find out what the heck is going on in the world.  It is unbounded because of the complexity.   Staring at our belly button is one relationship that, while interesting to many philosophically, medically or technically, is not particularly relevant scientifically other than how it fits into existing context of those who value understanding a broader set of relationships. A scientific “explanatory crisis” is critical only because there is so much to do and behavior is complex. The philosophical procedures that have been around for 2500 years have left us wondering and wanting.  Scientific approaches have provided the Gore-Tex to suit the astronauts on the moon, if you get the difference in meaning. The differences are literally mind boggling because we’ve spent so much time in the ‘mind’ idiom that is marginal if not, blatantly unfruitful.  Current philosophical journals and entries validate this one-liner’s contributions to “our ordinary life”.

in starts and sputters science handles the changes in content understanding.  Philosophical approaches hang on using the metaphors and mysticism that was oh, so trendy in 1200 BC (interesting way to reference, ah!?). Thus, we have a similar explanatory crisis in our individual daily lives right now.  It could be called a dichotomy between those that ‘Get it” and those that “Don’t Get it” concerning myth, gods, premonitions, intuitions, feelings, motivations and the private axioms we treat as real (reification).  These reified concepts keep us ginned up recycling tattered messages rather than focused on the infinite simple relationships that make up the complex relationships that contribute to figuring out what the heck is going on out there.  Many people just gave up, are giving up, to become atheists, agnostics or vaccumists musing the antics of the “–isms” which are the stock and trade of philosophy as well.  But the quest to make sense of things is valuable and will find a course it finds rather than one based on ‘should-ought,’ or truth, beauty, right, wrong, etc., ad nauseum.

It is ironical that those that want to disagree with this piece are right now looking for a scientific-looking way to frame their Judeo-Christian-Newtonian folklore arguments to make them so strong that it will launch their careers… as philosophers.   Lol.

  1. Thursday, June 23, 2011; http://bigthink.com/ideas/24170

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Good sunday morning thought cycles about “work”, organization, the big “laws”, theories of all sorts of things.   I really like Stuart Kauffman.  Not afraid to say “I’m stuck.” and keep working.

The life cycle of a cell is simply amazing. It does work to construct constraints on the release of energy, which does work to construct more constraints on the release of energy, which does work to construct even more constraints on the release of energy, and other kinds of work as well. It builds structure. Cells don’t just carry information. They actually build things until something astonishing happens: a cell completes a closed nexus of work tasks, and builds a copy of itself. Although he didn’t know about cells, Kant spoke about this 230 years ago when he said that an organized being possesses a self-organizing propagating whole that is able to make more of itself. But although cells can do this, that fact is nowhere in our physics. It’s not in our notion of matter, it’s not in our notion of energy, it’s not in our notion of information, and it’s not in our notion of entropy. It’s something else. It has to do with organization, propagation of organization, work, and constraint construction. All of this has to be incorporated into some new theory of organization.

We don’t know what Darwinian pre adaptations are going to be, which supplies an arrow of time. The same thing is true in the economy; we can’t say ahead of time what technological innovations are going to happen. Nobody was thinking of the Web 300 years ago. The Romans were using things to lob heavy rocks, but they certainly didn’t have the idea of cruise missiles. So I don’t think we can do it for the biosphere either, or for the econosphere.

I can begin to imagine making models of how the universe gets more complex, but at the same time I’m hamstrung by the fact that I don’t see how you can see ahead of time what the variables will be.

The same question applies to the economy. How can human beings assemble this increasing diversity and complexity of ways of making a living? Why does it work in the common law? Why does the common law stay a living body of law? There must be some very general conditions about co-evolutionary assembly. Notice that nobody is in charge of the evolution of the common law, the evolution of the biosphere, or the evolution of the econosphere. Somehow, systems get themselves to a position where they can carry out coevolutionary assembly. That question isn’t even on the books, but it’s a profound question; it’s not obvious that it should work at all. So I’m stuck.

From “The Adjacent Possible“, Stuart Kauffman

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“Tripping over Buddha” is an expression about not recognizing the obvious…or important stuff.

“If you were looking for Buddha [or insert subject of VALUE here], you could trip over him and be unaware of whom you had encountered.”

Such a statement can be pejorative or it can be about nothing more than the difficulty in not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Likewise, if we’re looking for a way to understand what the hell is going on in the world and we need some place to start, the recommendation is for you to start with “The Man in the Mirror” (thank you, Michael Jackson).  Us.  Homo sapiens.

By starting with ‘us’ then there’s a chance that you’ll learn how frustratingly complex organisms we are. For starters, perhaps you’ll be amused that we all

  1. sense things that aren’t there (do we really need examples?) and
  2. don’t sense things that are there (do we really need examples?)
  3. but continually muster outrage, violence, and retribution when we aren’t taken serious about our interpretations of life – from art to asinine and politics to potentates

So, as a starting place for getting to know what makes us tick, what makes us frail and what is the best hope we have of recognizing Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] if we should trip over him (or her), START HERE.

www.g2conline.org/#

This is by far the best site I have ever come across with regards to what’s going on about ‘us’. Yes, great for sorting out the complexity from the hyperbole. No, it can’t be watched and absorbed in a week, or on YouTube.   So go look, mess around, add it to your computer’s links, find what you are interested in or just gape at the wonders of it all but do it.

And, if you do, I hope you enjoy it.

But, like the Earl Nightingale once recounted, if you do take the time and effort to examine only a spat of the rules that govern you, in the end you’ll find you’re alone because the effort to grasp even the simple rules was too great a challenge for pretenders.  You know, those who claim to be looking for Buddha [or what the hell is going on] but don’t recognize what is there in front of them when it’s encountered.

If you do process what is there and you come away convinced there is something more or better or of greater value, then fine.  Now you know some serious empirical stuff you are rejecting and Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] may be right around the corner.

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Our society wastes a lot of time crafting clever but completely inaccurate models of the world looking for shortcuts to wealth, fame, power, peace, prosperity, liberty, or whatever…

That strategy can never work.  All things that lead to the above goals are computationally irreducible systems.

The most efficient strategy, and here comes the bad news… is to jump in, do stuff* and see what happens.

 

*stuff =  take to the streets, code something, write that book, run the marathon, quit that job, join the peace corps, send the letter, have the talk, etc.

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I think the fundamental explanation of everything is going to come down to that.

No more.

and certainly no less.

networks of networks.   just the relation of nodes to other nodes to other nodes.

Uncomputable.  Never ending.  Always changing.

Spacetime = network.

mass ~ energy ~ network

humans ~ network

here’s some stuff to consider:

Networks of the brain

Space as a network

Graph Theory Background

A History Chart

network of tennis pros research paper

 

 

 

 

 

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From Decision Science News:

What of the adage “the best predictor of future performance is past performance”? It seems less true than Sting’s observation “History will teach us nothing“. Let’s continue the investigation.

DSN did a nice analysis on a ton of baseball game out comes to see whether a team who had just won a game was more likely to win the next game.   There have been other studies like this involving basketball players “hot streaks.” Similar results revealed… well, it’s a crap shoot shot to shot, game to game.

Now, over the long haul winning records, shot percentages indicate there is some skill involved.  But at the micro level it just ain’t true!

Now why do we as fans, observers, interested parties believe in hot streaks, win streaks, etc. etc?   is it a side effect of some other useful thing we do in associating events?  or is there really some direct value in assuming immediate past performance indicates a similar future performance?

what can we test to figure that out?

the nba hot streak article has some insights….

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Almost all humans do all the following daily:

  • Eat
  • Drink Water
  • Sleep
  • Breath
  • Think about Sex/Get Sexually Excited
  • Communicate with Close Friends and Family
  • Go to the bathroom
  • People Watch
  • Groom

Almost all humans do the following very regularly:

  • Work (hunt, gather, desk job, factory job, sell at the market)
  • Have sex or have sexual activities
  • Listen to or play music
  • Play
  • Take inventory of possessions (count, tally, inspect, store)

A good deal of humans do the following regularly:

  • Go to school/have formal learning (training, go to school, college, apprenticeship)
  • Cook/Prepare Food
  • Read
  • Compete for social status
  • Court a mate

Fewer humans do the following occasionally:

  • Travel more than a few miles from home
  • Write (blog, novel, paper)
  • Eat away from home
  • Stay somewhere that isn’t their home
  • Exercise outside of work tasks (play sports, train, jog)

I’m sure we can think up many more activities in the bottom category probably not many more in the top 3 categories.

For a technology to be mass market successful it has to, at its core, be about behaviors in the top categories.   And it has to integrate with those behaviors in a very pure way, i.e. don’t try to mold the person, let the person mold the technology to their behavior.

I define mass market success as “use by more than 10% of the general population of a country.”   Few technologies and services achieve this.   But those that do all deal with these FHAs.  Twitter, Google, MySpace, Facebook, Microsoft, TV, Radio, Telephone, Cellular Phone…. the more of those activities they deal with the faster they grow.   Notice also that almost all of these examples do not impose a set of specific use paths on users.  e.g. Twitter is just a simple messaging platform for that you can use in a bazillion contexts.

It’s not about making everything more efficient, more technologically beautiful.   It is about humans doing what they’ve done for 100,000+ years with contemporary technology.  If you want to be a successful service, you have to integrate and do a behavioral evolution with the users.

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This question, and its variants, might be the most common question asked in literature, storytelling, laws, history and philosophy (less so in daily conversations!).  This question defies an answer not because it is too complicated or out of our reach.  There is no such thing as Man (with a capital “M”), so the question is non-sense.

There is man – in the Linnaean taxonomy sense – you know, man is the creature with two hands, two feet, a biggish brain, two eyes and so on.  Though if we push hard enough on that – trace the evolutionary line back a couple of million years or push it forward a bit – we’ll find that pin pointing the precise animal known as “man” gets increasing hard to pin point.

This is definitely not a new idea or clever statement on my part.  I call attention to this in attempting to synthesize the impact of improving technology to augment our biological weaknesses, confusion over shifts in religious beliefs, global warming concerns, health care reform and other big things going on in our world that call into question some universal sense of Man.   My thesis is that clinging to a belief in Human Nature gets in the way of knowledge and impedes the progress of society on many fronts.  It is also can have grave consequences for each individual.

Cultures, societies, governments and various other collections of humans struggle to integrate big shifts within their lifetimes because learning is a long term exercise (some patterns of behavior take a lifetime to integrate).  The schedules we grow into throughout a lifetime are incredibly hard to change and sometimes require dramatic changes to the environment and/or our relation to it (body changes, for example).   It’s made every more difficult for most humans because our “blank slate” is so quickly filled with bad data, false assumptions, false positive patterns (aka superstition, religious dogma, good vs. evil, old wives tales, urban legends, irrational fears).   All of these things get associated with more and more behavior patterns very early and throughout life so much so that we all spend a life time UNLEARNING and DISASSOCIATING the falsehoods, inefficient behavior, and counter productive patterns.

The biggest false positive belief humans have is that there is Human Nature and definitive ideal of Man.  Our cultural narratives and norms claim that there is some Platonic form, some universal concept of Man and if we look hard enough, think deep enough, and/or believe enough we will understand Man and figure out how to really live.  This false positive concept of Man isn’t confined to religion or fading cultures – it pervades every modern institution too!   Top universities teach it (“liberal arts”).  Science chases it (google for scientific papers’ references to human nature).  Art celebrates it (the thinker!).  Churches preach it (man was made in the image of God).  Governments and courts enforce it (e.g. all men are created equal).  This belief is maintained over generations because it mostly “works” to keep people alive and procreating (at least, I think it does). A useful fiction, perhaps.  Truth, no.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

If we give up on Man what changes?  what contingencies go away?  what schedules are no longer maintained?

Does stem cell research pick up?  Do we march ever more quickly towards machine enhanced bodies and brains?  Do robots really start to pervade our workplaces? Would we really continue to worry so much about global warming destroying the sensitive environment we require?

How much does this false belief really change our behavior or is it just “exhaust” we spew out when trying to synthesize all the behavior around us?  That is, does a well defined and earnest belief in Man actually contribute to what we do or don’t do?

It’s an important discussion.

  • Health care reform tend to fall into two camps:  health care is a human right (Man is real and necessary) or health care is essentially an economic issue (Man is not relevant)
  • The penal system are built on a concept of perhaps not Universal Morality, but certainly a very strong concept of Character.
  • The debate on global warming rides on whether people believe the we should keep the earth at a stable temp for our current species biology (if we’re machines or just digitized versions or in space, global warming isn’t as concerning???)
  • Abortion rights are obviously about whether you think a bundle of cells in a woman’s body constitutes Man
  • End of Life decisions – is the life supported body still a Man when the lights have gone out?

Beyond these big issues consider many of the plots of recent pop culture smashes (all are about What is Man?):

  • Avatar
  • Terminator
  • Twilight
  • Heroes
  • Harry Potter
  • The Secret
  • Eckhart Tolle

If we lose the belief in Man (the soul, autonomous man, in God’s image, human nature) is there a negative impact personally and in society?  Do we all just become nihilists? Do we stop passionately pursuing things? do we devalue our relationships?

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