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Archive for the ‘anthropology’ Category

What is art?

Art isn’t anything.  It’s everything and nothing.  Art is pattern.  It’s narrative.  It’s expression.  Anything we do someone else could consider as art.

What’s most important is that someone else can experience us, this art, the source of art.   And art doesn’t suppose an audience in its creation.  We all create art, constantly, regardless of whether we think someone else will view it, watch it, hear it, taste it. And everyone we interact with directly or indirectly (though culture, rules, laws) influences our personal art.

Is there ART?  that is, is there something that we’d all say that’s a clear expression of art?  No.  No there isn’t.  Even when people start out with the intent to make art and they make it clear they are making ART it’s no more or less art than anything else anyone does all day.  Art is simply that which we do that becomes noticed.

The key is Does Someone Notice.  Even if that someone is YOURSELF.  Art is that thing that makes you notice, that makes you change your perspective.   That’s it.  and that’s everything.

Art’s role in life is to be noticed.  Art is about creating audience.  The more entities that notice a new perspective because of it the more relevant the art (in American culture terms).

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The first essay presented in IMPASSES “On Questions and Answers: Some Notes on How To Do Ideas” offers a compelling call to reject all ideologies and to engage in “continued experiments in ways-of-life.” (page 23).

“Ideology is theory that has escaped study” (page 18) is an excellent working definition of ideology.   It specifically captures the main issue with any and all ideologies – a truth reduction.   Ideologies are not representative of how anything completely works except in only the most trivial of cases.   Figuring out what is a trivial case is much harder than one might think.  Take an example from mathematics – is arithmetic consistent?  Meaning is the whole of arithmetic free of any internal contradictions.   It’s still unresolved.   Yes, there are a couple of proofs of the consistency of arithmetic but they are complicated and not 100% accepted as final proof.  If we can’t be 100% sure of something as “simple” as arithmetic what hope is there of assurance of truth about concepts as vague as God, country, knowledge, etc.

As beings with finite resources (lives and means) we must take shortcuts aka make assumptions and have representations.   We wouldn’t get through a day in our life if we tried to work out the complete truth of everything around us.   Truth reductions are useful to survival in that we have to behave with imperfect information.   But truth reductions can also be extremely dangerous, particularly around complicated issues involving how we relate to the planet and each other.   We must always question and re-question what we’ve decided advertently or inadvertently as an acceptable truth reduction.  Not doing so may make it such that we miss key information about the world around us and do things that increase suffering and/or reduce the possibility of survival.   Consider that for thousands of years slavery was mostly unquestioned and that it took a massive effort in 20th century to educate the population that inhaling tobacco was generally bad for your health.

Our methods of questioning must also be critically analyzed.  For a stale approach to questioning may be as misleading as truth reductions.  A biased approach to asking questions, such as at a biased university, whose primary objective is to keep operating as a university and needs to “[produce] results that maintain the university.” (page 19)   Confirmation biases seep into a huge chunk of scientific research and policy creation (great paper here.).   Even when our research is relatively free of flaws we certainly are all guilty of not knowing what we don’t know and are likely not even asking the best questions in which to go research.   It seems like a worthwhile approach to “increase our capacity for experimentation.” (page 24).

The essay itself poses a great critical question about methods of study but also confuses the matter with a muddled discussion about Politics and dualism.  While certainly useful topics to question and discuss the details covered add little to the main point of the essay other than to be examples of reductionist thinking in a pool of infinite examples.   It actually does something I believe the author specifically would like not to do – it politicized the essay a little into a bit of anti-government reduction.   There’s simply no need to single out politics as any more reductive and misleading than religion or a billion other ideology laced approaches to going through life.

Math and science as tools comes up a couple of times in the essay and with the questions at the end of the essays.  Math and science are also under constant review for their usefulness in not reducing truth.  There certainly have been many periods in history where math and science have gone through shocks calling into question their validity as truth seeking approaches.  Mathematics, in particular, was shaken very much when Godel unveiled his incompleteness theorems.   Far from destroying mathematics as a useful paradigm to form worthwhile questions and work towards useful and true solutions “incompleteness” actually enriched mathematical thinking’s capacity to ask important questions.

The questions at the end of the essay are worth a response. and offer an opportunity to “test out” the ideas of the essay and my own ideations.

1) If theory is merely a tool, how do we prevent it from becoming an apparatus (of control, of power, of ideology) like math and science?

This question seems to misunderstand the main points of the article.   The question is reducing the concept of theory established in the essay.  Labeling theory with a word phrase like “merely a tool” suggests that there’s something more useful than a tool or that a tool is mere.   Theories help us establish models and experiments in which we can go falsify or confirm and refine.   The prevention the question asker seems to seek is some prescription for not letting theories turn into ideologies (truth reductions).  And it seems the essays answers that quite clearly – always study, always question.  In other words there isn’t a single prescription.   The prevention of reduction is about re-questioning in every changing ways.

Secondly math and science CAN be apparatuses of control but that doesn’t mean they are a priori.   Math and science are various questioning and experimentation approaches also subject to refinement.

2) Academic study (and perhaps this could be said of study more generally) is oftentimes just a regurgitation of previously thought-up ideals.  Is novelty as a result of study necessary or is fluctuating between already-done ideas enough?

Again here the questioner assumes too much.   Where is the source of this novelty?   All thoughts and knowledge are the evolution of previous thoughts and/or responses to the environment.   The novelty suggested is emergent over time through the transmission and mutation of information.   It’s a non question when thought/ideas are viewed that way and it’s a confusing question period without a definition of thought and ideas.

3) Is study solitary or communal? What is the relation between “spreading anarchy” and others participating in critical studying?  Is there a set of values being set up around study whereby those who don’t participate in it (or participate in the “proper” ways) are seen as less credible, or is the questioning of this itself falling into the trap of movement-building?

This is a juicy set of questions.  Study is both a solitary and communal (and environmental activity).   We are all people within a world of other people.  I think it would be useless contradiction to define proper way of studying.   There are an infinite number of ways to explore this world.   The end goal being finding ever changing experiments on ways-to-live.   Particular methods of study might be viewed as inconsistent or improper within their method but it doesn’t invalidate them in the general idea of “studying”.   Fiction is a useful critical synthesis of the world.  So is non fiction and a painting or a music piece or a poem or science experiment.   The keys seem to be participation and being ever critical.  The more variation the more possible a real exploration of possibilities.

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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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I’m obsessed with big questions.  What is life?   Why are we here? How did we get here?  Why do we experience time the way we do?  Why haven’t we seen another planet teeming with life?  What is mathematics?  What is currency?   Why does learning work the way it does?   How do we come to understand each other or anything at all?  Is there free will? How should we live? If not democracy, then what? and so on!

We all start our intellectual life focused on the big questions.  As children we’re unconditioned to censor our questioning of how and why things work.   We are also natural experimenters of theories and are able to quickly absorb new views/ideas.

We’re such good learners as kids that it doesn’t take too many years before the process of turning kids into responsible adults destroys most of our original questioning and critical thinking ability.     Instead of taking advantage of the amazing sponge like years, we teach our children not to think, not to question, not to risk.  We teach them to follow rules, not think and write their own rules.  Our culture is so adept at squashing original, inquisitive thinking that many of us then need 4 years+ in higher education to “learn how to think.”

It happens moment by moment.  From TV, movies, books, our schools, our homes, our politics, the things we say, the way we are.  (Ever caught yourself telling your child, “That’s just the way it is.   You ask why a lot.” …

It happens because we get tired. and having dogma and previously used answers keeps it simple and saves energy, in the short term.

Big Questions take energy.  Lots of energy.  And kids have a lot of that.  Adults don’t, in general.   Adult life seeks order.  Keep the disturbance to a minimum.

If you stop asking the big questions your actions become small, orderly, understandable.   but!   the engine of progress is mutation.  Exploring strange intellectual places.  and, I believe, those strange places can only be reached in ones lifetime by never ceasing to ask and attempt to answer the big questions through thought and deeds.

Kids make big strides quickly for many many reasons, and I believe fearlessly asking big questions and not looking for intellectual order is one of the bigger reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Online social networks as a dominant medium for ideas, relationships and communication is not a fad. Online communities not based on something substantial in the offline world are a fad or rather were the easiest types of networks to get up and running. Today’s leading social networks from Facebook to linkedin to eharmony and other niche communities thrive because they are based on meaningful relationships/structures in the offline world – workplace, school, dating, religion, community activity, teams The social networks in decline or already gone have been based on virtual or entertainment only connections between members – music group fans, gossip, breaking news, Internet memes, pro sports, etc.

The online networks based on offline structures benefit greatly from built in relationships, hierarchies, and connected behaviors. It is much easier to invent functions and services based on well established behaviors and objectives. Additionally the offline structures mentioned above are more important to people in their daily lives than purely virtual communities. This deeper importance leads to better engagement and commitment to the online counterpart of that institution. E.g. Few users maintain a sloppy or misleading linked in or Facebook profile (this isn’t constrained to any age group either). As the online and offline components become more intertwined activity in either becomes reinforcing.

The downside of building an online community based on something offline is that can take considerable resources to get it right and achieve critical mass, the user must do more to get the value – fill out a profile, be real, have substance in interactions, be interesting offline etc.

There are other reasons virtual only communities suffer… Because the interactions have few offline consequences the interactions quickly grow out of sync with offline norms and values. The more out of sync they get the harder it is for their to be lasting connectedness between larger and larger groups of members. The network fractures and often gets too abnormal for mass consumption.

I am definitely making the claim that celebrity worship, loving the same bands, seeing the same movies, disliking the same athletes, being simply in a similar career are not strong enough connections to build a social network around. Shared offline experiences is the basis of long lasting online communities. Last I checked humans still lived, ate, made babies, earned money and died in the real world. And the things most essential to doing those activities are what were all going to post, blog, take pictures, comment and like.

As an aside to those working in the internet biz…. Not all unique users are created equal. Very quickly this industry will have a metric system based on unique people with real names interacting in your system. Of course publishers, networks, media companies will always attempt to shroud those numbers in mystery, but it’s getting harder and harder to hide how many real people use a system. Once the industry makes this shift the offline connectedness becomes more essential.

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Don’t let me sit on the sidelines.

Never let me watch others make the world go round.

Never let me watch others dance the night away.

Never let me see the band play on without me.

Never let me… wait for others to suck it all in.

This is all there is.

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