Archive for the ‘determinism’ Category

And I have to start this essay with a simple statement that it is not lost on me that all of the above is 100% derived from my own history, studies, jobs, art works, and everything else that goes into me.  So maybe this is just a theory of myself or not even a theory, but yet another expression in a life time of expressions.   At the very least I enjoyed 20 hrs of re-reading some great science, crafting what I think is a pretty neat piece of art work, and then summarizing some pondering.   Then again, maybe I’ve made strides on some general abstract level.  In either case, it’s just another contingent reconfiguration of things.

At the end I present all the resources I read and consulted during the writing (but not editing) and the making of the embedded 19×24 inch drawing and ink painting (which has most of this essay written and drawn into it).   I drank 4 cups of coffee over 5 hrs, had 3 tacos and 6 hotwings during this process. Additionally I listened to “The Essential Philip Glass” while sometimes watching the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” and the latest SNL episode.


There is a core problem with all theories and theory at large – they are not The t=Truth and do not interact in the universe like the thing they refer to.   Theories are things unto themselves.  They are tools to help craft additional theories and to spur on revised dabbling in the world.

FullSizeRender (4)

We have concocted an unbelievable account of reality across religious, business, mathematical, political and scientific categories.  Immense stretches of imagination are required to connect the dots between the category theory of mathematics to radical behaviorism of psychology to machine learning in computer science to gravitational waves in cosmology to color theory in art.  The theories themselves have no easy bridge – logical, spiritual or even syntactically.

Furthering the challenge is the lack of coherence and interoperability of measurement and crafting tools.   We have forever had the challenge of information exchange between our engineered systems.   Even our most finely crafted gadgets and computers still suffer from data exchange corruption.   Even when we seem to find some useful notion about the world it is very difficult for us to transmit that notion across mediums, toolsets and brains.

And yet, therein lies the the reveal!

A simple, yet imaginative re-think provides immense power.   Consider everything as network.  Literally the simplest concept of a network – a set of nodes connected by edges.   Consider everything as part of a network, a subnetwork of the universe.  All subnetworks are connected more or less to the other subnetworks.   From massive stars to a single boson, all nodes in a network and those networks of networks.   Our theories are networks of language, logic, inference, experiment, context.  Our tools are just networks of metals, atoms, and light.   It’s not easy to replace your database of notions reinforced over the years with this simple idea.

But really ask yourself why that is so hard but you can believe that blackholes collide and send out gravitational waves that slightly wobble spacetime 1.3 billion light years away or if you believe in the Christian God, consider how that’s believable and that woman was created from a guy named Adam’s rib.    It’s all a bit far fetched but we buy these other explanations because the large network of culture and tradition and language and semiotics has built our brains/worldviews up this way.

Long ago we learned that our senses are clever biological interpreters of internal and external context.  Our eyes do not see most of “reality” – just a pretty course (30 frames per second) and small chunk of electromagnetic waves (visible light).   in the 1930s we learned that even mathematics itself and the computers we’d eventually construct can not prove many of the claims they will make, we just have to accept those claims. (incompleteness and halting problem.).

These are not flaws in our current understanding or current abilities.  These are fundamental features of reality – any reality at all.  In fact, without this incompleteness and clever loose interpretations of information between networks there would be no reality at all – no existence.   This is a claim to return to later.

In all theories at the core we are always left with uncertainty and probability statements.   We cannot state or refer to anything for certain, we can only claim some confidence that what we’re claiming or observing might, more or less, be a real effect or relation.   Even in mathematics with some of the simplest theorems and their logical proofs we must assume axioms we cannot prove – and while that’s an immensely useful trick it certainly doesn’t imply that any of the axioms are actually true and refer to anything that is true or real.

The notion of probability and uncertainty is no easy subject either.   Probability is a measure of what?   It is a measure belief (Bayes) that something will happen given something else?  Is it a measure of lack of information – this claim is only X% of the information?  Is it a measure of complexity?


Again, the notion of networks is incredibly helpful.  Probability is a measure of contingency.   Contingency, defined and used here, is a notion of connectivity of a network and nodes within the network.  There need be no hard and fast assignment of the unit of contingency – different measures are useful and instructive for different applications.  There’s a basic notion at the heart of all of them: contingency is a cost function of going from a configuration to another configuration of the network.

And that leads to another startling idea.   Spacetime itself is just a network.  (obvious intuition from my previous statement) and everything is really just a spacetime network.    Time is not the ticks on a clock nor an arrow marching forward.  Time is nothing but a measure of steps to reconfigure a network from state A to some state B.   Reconfiguration steps are not done in time, they are time itself.

(most of my initial thinking comes from Wolfram and others working on this long before my thinking about it: http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2015/12/what-is-spacetime-really/ – Wolfram and others have done a ton of heavy lifting to translate the accepted theories and math into network terms).

This re-framing of everything into network thinking requires a huge amount of translation of notions of waves, light, gravity, mass, fields, etc into network conventions.  While attempting to do that in blog form is fun and I’ve attempted to keep doing it, the reality of the task is that no amount of writing about this stuff will make a sufficient proof or even useful explanation of the idea to people.

Luckily, it occurred to me (a contingent network myself!) that everyone is already doing this translation and even more startling it couldn’t go any other way.   Our values and traditions started to be codified into explicit networks with the advent of written law and various cultural institutions like religion and formal education.   Our communities have now been codified into networks by online social networks.  Our location and travels have been codified by GPS satellites and online mapping services.  Our theories and knowledge are being codified into Wikis, Programs (Wolfram Alpha, Google Graph, Deep Learning networks, etc).   Our physical interpretations of the world have been codified into fine arts, pop arts, movies and now virtual and augmented realities.   Our inner events/context are being codified by wearable technologies.    And now the cosmos has unlocked gravitational waves for us so even the mystery of black holes and dark matter will start being codified into knowledge systems.

It’s worth a few thoughts about Light, Gravity, Forces, Fields, Behavior, Computation.

  • Light (electromagnetic wave-particles) is the subnetwork encoding the total configurations of the entire universe and every subnetwork.
  • Gravity (and gravitational wave-particles) is the subnetwork of how all the subnetworks over a certain contingency level (mass) are connected.
  • Other 3 fundamental Forces (electromagnetics, weak nuclear, strong nuclear) are also just subnetworks encoding how all subatomic particles are connected.
  • Field is just another term for network, hardly worth a mention.
  • Behavior observations are partially encoded subnetworks of the connections between subnetworks.  They do not encode the entirety of a connection except for the smallest, most simple networks.
  • Computation is time is the instruction set is a network encoding how to transform one subnetwork to another subnetwork.

These re-framed concepts allow us to move across phenomenal categories and up and down levels of scale and measurement fidelity.  They open up improved ways of connecting the dots between cross-category experiments and theories.   Consider radical behaviorism and schedules of reinforcement combined with the Probably Approximately Correct learning theory in computer science against a notion of light and gravity and contingency as defined above.

What we find is that learning and behavior based on schedules of reinforcement is actually the only way a subnetwork (say, a person) and a network of subnetworks (a community) could encode the vast contingent network (internal and external environments, etc).   Some schedules of reinforcement maintain responses better than others, and again here we find the explanation.  Consider a Variable Ratio schedule reinforcing a network.  (see here for more details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement#Intermittent_reinforcement.3B_schedules).   A variable ratio (a variations/compositions on this) schedule is a richer contingent network itself that say a fixed ratio network.  That is, as a network encoding information between networks (essentially a computer program and data) the variable ratio has more algorithmic content to keep associations linked after many related network configurations.

Not surprisingly this is exactly the notion of gravity explained above.  Richer, more complex networks with richer connections to other subnetworks have much more gravity – that is they attract more subnetworks to connect.  They literally curve spacetime.

To add another wrinkle in theory, it has been observed in a variety of categories that the universe seems to prefer computational efficiency.  Nearly all scientific disciplines from linguistics to evolutionary biology to physics to chemistry to logic end up with some basic notion of “Path of Least Effort” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_least_effort).  In the space of all possible contingent situations networks tend to connect in the computationally most efficient way – they encode each other efficiently.  That is not to say it happens that way all the time.  In fact, this idea led me to thinking that while all configurations of subnetworks exist, the most commonly observed ones (I use a term: robust) are the efficient configurations.  I postulate this explains mathematical constructs such as the Platonic solids and transcendental numbers and likely the physic constants.  That is, in the space of all possible things, the mean of the distribution of robust things are the mathematical abstractions.  While we rarely experience a perfect circle, we experience many variations on robust circular things… and right now the middle of them is the perfect circle.


Now, what is probably the most bizarre idea of all:  nothing is actually happening at the level of the universe nor at the level of a photon.  The universe just is.   A photon, which is just a single massless node, everything happens to it all at once, so nothing happens.

That’s right, despite all the words and definitions above with all the connotations of behavior and movement and spacetime… experience and happening and events and steps and reconfigurations are actually just illusions, in a sense, of subnetworks describing other subnetworks.   The totality of the universe includes every possible reconfiguration of the universe – which obviously includes all theories, all explanations, all logics, all computations, all behavior, all schedules in a cross product of each other.   No subnetwork is doing anything at all, it simply IS and is that subnetwork within the specific configuration of universe as part of the wider set of the whole.

This sounds CRAZY.   until you look back on the history of ideas, this notion has come up over and over regardless of the starting point, the condition of the observational tools, the fads of language and business of the day.  It is even observable in how so many systems “develop” first as “concrete” physical, sensory things… they end up yielding time and time again to what we call the virtual – strangely looping recursive networks.   Here I am not contradicting myself, instead… this is what exists within the fractal nature of the universe (multiverse!) it is self similar all the way up and down scales and across all configurations (histories).

Theories tend to be ignored unless they are useful.   I cannot claim utility for everyone on this theory.  I do find it helpful for myself in moving between disciplines and not getting trapped in syntactical problems.   I find confirmation of my own cognitive bias in the fact that the technology of loosely connecting the dots like GPS, hyperlinks, search engine, social media, citation analysis, Bayes, and now deep learning/PAC have yielded tremendous expansion of information and re-imaging of the world.


Currency, writing, art, music are not concrete physical needs and yet they mediate our labor, property, government, nation states.   Even things we consider “concrete” like food and water are just encodings of various configurations.  Food can be redefined in many ways and has been over the eons as our abstracted associations drift.   Water seems like a concrete requirement for us, but us is under constant redefinition.  Should people succeed in creating human-like (however you define it) in computers or the Internet it’s not clear water would be any more concrete than solar power, etc.

Then again, if I believe anything I’ve said above, it all already exists and always has.




Chaitin on Algorithmic Information, just a math of networks.

Platonic solids are just networks

Real World Fractal Networks

Correlation for Network Connectivity Measures

Various Measurements in Transport Networks (Networks in general)

Brownian Motion, the network of particles

Semantic Networks


Probably Approximately Correct

Probability Waves

Bayes Theorem


Locality of physics

Complexity in economics


Gravity is not a network phenomenon?

Gravity is a network phenomenon?

Useful reframing/rethinking Gravity

Social networks and fields

Cause and effect

Human Decision Making with Concrete and Abstract Rewards

The Internet

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This week my 11 year old daughter asked if she could download and join snapchat. I immediately nixed that idea. I haven’t nixed her getting involved in much else technically where the EULA allows it. Snapchat touched a chord and got me to thinking (again) about identity – how we identify ourselves – who we think we are – and who others think we are. I think about this deeply every so often, sometimes becoming unglued when I think too hard about it. It’s a complicated concept.


So many things contribute to the patterns that are what we are. Our identity and sense of place in this world – undoubtedly conditioned by the modern world – is built around physical place (and now virtual places) and social circles (and now virtual social networks) and status within established networks of influence. This was probably not always the case when people were far more nomadic and identity wasn’t tied to a hometown or a home school or a 150 person social network. But now, more than ever, identity is a thing.

I personally have moved residences over 20 times in my life. 13 of them different cities (social networks) and 5 across state lines.

Non Existence -> Born (don’t remember)
Littleton, CO (don’t remember, sorta remember)
Colorado Springs (k – 2nd grade)
Aurora, CO Laredo Circle House (2nd grade – 3rd grade???)
Aurora, CO Laredo Court House (4th grade??? – 7th grade)
Miami, FL Kendall House (8th grade)
Miami, FL Baptist Hospital House (9th grade – 10th grade)
Aurora, CO Salsaleto House (11th grade – 12th grade)
Aurora, CO Some Apartment I Forget Where (Summer before college)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Freshman year college)
Aurora, CO Buckingham Mall House (Summer between Freshman and Sophomore Year)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Sophomore year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Apartment (summer between sophomore and junior year)
Chicago, IL Blackstone Building/University Chicago (Junior year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Co-Op Apartment (summer between junior and senior year)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (1999)
Chicago, IL Roosevelt and Michigan Apartment (2000 – 2002)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (2002 – 2005)
Playa Vista, CA Fountainhead Apartment (2005 – 2006)
Venice, CA Abbot Kinney House (2006 – 2010)
Austin, TX Travis Heights House (2010 – 2011)
Austin, TX Deep Eddy House (2012)
Marina Del Rey, CA (2013 – present)

My own children have now moved 5 times (the oldest one) and twice across state lines.

And these are just the residence moves – not all the jobs, schools, social circles, life phases and other changes that go into making up our context and our history. I have 692 friends on facebook, a couple hundred followers on twitter, tens of followers on instagram, one attempt at snapchat, fifty pinterest followers and so on. Sometimes I think of this all as an audience, which is quite insane to me as a concept but I doubt I’m the only one that feels like they have an audience online. I’ve done speaking engagements at conferences, I’ve written 8 years of blogs, somehow I authored several whitepapers, I think i have a patent or three, I’ve performed in 40+ live theater shows, I built hundreds of websites and mobile apps with between 1 and 50 million users a month…. WHAT THE F*** DOES IT ALL ADD UP TO? WHO AM I? and WHY IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION?

It’s a question because my daughters keep finding new ways to “express themselves” and “connect to others.” They “identify” with my wife or myself by saying “oh, i’m so like mom!” They intellectually get the ideas of genetics and art and fashion and learning and the delineation between it all.  They are very keen at telling me I don’t “get” them…. I keep waiting for the day when the TSA finally says they are full human identities and require proof of the case (driver’s license/passport).

It’s also a question because everyday the Western world bombards each other in ways such as:
“what am I worth?”
“tell me about your past.”
“are you this ism or that ism?”
“what party are you?”

and every other variation of class, job history, race, culture, language, outward appearance…

Anchors is my best guess at identities. Us, limited beings, pattern creating and recognizing beings find ways to lay anchors and say THIS IS ENOUGH – THIS IS WHERE I’M DROPPING ANCHOR and REMEMBER THIS. We drop these anchors – which are complex patterns we simplify – and label them as classes, races, job titles, cultures, state lines, political parties, etc. We drop anchors to save energy. That is, we hope the anchors keep us from having to remember all of the context and history that lead us to here when we are in the heat of the moment of making a decision. We want to save time when working out who we hire, with whom we partner, with whom we commune, with whom we war…


Identity is an illusion.

We are not the isms, the races, the classes, nor the anchors we drop. We all are ever evolving changing masses of organs, cells, and atoms that respond to the changes around them. We are connected – to each other, to the Web, to the world, to nature, to everything that passes gamma rays into us – EVERYTHING.

And this isn’t a ZEN kind of thinking i’m talking about. It’s a very simple, real concept that *WE* don’t EXIST. and the idea that WE EXIST is a major reason why “we” all end up fighting and destroying and gloating and taking credit and paying dues and every other manner of paying homage to an illusion. We do this because the delusion of singular identity is efficient in many respects. Capital markets reward identities. Democracies, despite their conceptual idea of the masses, reward identities. Social media and the internet reward identities.

And in all this efficiency created by identities we actually end up destroying things. Identities are the most efficient destructive concepts we’ve collectively devised. They shut everything down. They allow entire populations to be ignored. They tune our attention out. They tune our own senses out.

It makes sense this is so and that it persists.

Can it be resisted? *I* don’t know. Can we live without it?  I don’t know.

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I got into a discussion this week with a fellow technology focused person about whether CREATION is a thing. That is, do we actually create anything. My position is that there is no creative act. No source of creativity. There is search and selection by consequences. Everything in existence, and particular our lives from our gene code to our behavior to the software we write is a search through the space of possibilities and a relentless selection by consequences that maintains possibilities that survive more consequences. The creative act is a notion that’s perhaps useful to communicate unfamiliar or low frequency of occurrence possibilities but it’s not a fundamental thing into itself.

Why I care about this argument? Assuming CREATION as a thing leads to all sorts of false notions that anyone or thing is responsible or should get credit for what happens in the universe. And this practically played out is the source of most of our inequality and makes sure we don’t actually explore possibilities without bias. Exalting the “creative” and the “creators” blinds us to the infinitude of possibilities, most lurking right under our very confused senses and conditioned context.

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The idea of progress is a flimsy concept.  Nothing in the universe comes for free.  So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere.  It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress.  We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness.  But this progress is mostly an illusion.  It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.

Some conflicting reports:

http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)

http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)

http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)

http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)

http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)

(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist.  The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)

Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write.  All progress right?

To what end?  Where is all this progress going?  How is this progress measured?  Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?

Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter.  Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment?  If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change?  Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment?  And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking.  The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live?  Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?

To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline.  Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?

I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress.  Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life.  Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce.  One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output.  We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI.  We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.

So the question remains.  What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?

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As I watched some of the Republican National Convention, gear up for the DNC, get through my own daily work, read essays, strategize about business, talk to friends and family and synthesize all the data, I just come back to this question What Are We So Afraid Of?

I decided to write this post today specifically because I saw this ridiculous commercial yesterday for ADT Pulse.   http://www.adtpulse.com/  This commercial made it clear that if you aren’t monitoring your home in real time with video all the time everything you know and love was in grave danger!    So, I’ve decided to figure out just how afraid of everything I should be.

Here’s some of what we seem to be afraid about as a culture.

Our jobs: 




Our economy: 




Our government: 




People different than us: 












Technology and Media:





Cancer, Disease:



Medicine, Shots, Vaccines:



God, Heaven and Hell:







Our Children’s Safety:









Large Hadron Collider:



Everything else:


Nothing to Fear?

So is there anything to fear?   are the fears valid?  well, I guess they are valid fears if you don’t have information.   So here’s some information.


Most fears drilled into us aren’t founded on evidence – at least not at the level we fear them:




Unemployment isn’t really that high in this country (or most western countries), especially if you get an education:



You’ll probably have 5-10 employers in your working lifetime so assume you’ll get laid off, fired or go out of business.  There will be other businesses to hire you or you can just make something yourself:



Economy will have short term blips but ultimately continues to churn ahead:



You’re unlikely to be murdered



Children aren’t taken very often (at least in Colorado)



In fact, violence has long been on the decline:



It’s ok if you forget to pray, chances are it probably doesn’t change outcomes:



And humans have been getting tattoos for a long time and the world hasn’t ended:



Oh, and, humans aren’t that different from Bonobos or Chimps, much less other humans.  So, maybe we should rethink that worrying about people that aren’t just like us:



Almost every one of common fears are unwound through perspective changes aka education aka realizing it’s not black and white.    Again, see the S. Pinker History of Violence link above to get an idea of the real impact of just literacy and access to information and what it does to fear.

Is it a big deal that people fear the wrong things?   Yes!   Especially if it leads to suicide bombing, racial profiling, not getting an education and so on.


But, c’mon, aren’t there some things we should fear?



and maybe this too


well maybe this too



In the end, methinks fearing too much is a waste of time because in the end we just don’t know what’s going to happen, right?


Knowing you can’t predict it all (thus prevent it) what’s the point in worrying to the point of being truly scared?



So, no, ADT, I won’t be buying your Pulse product.



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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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I completed my Elegance of the Hedgehog experience.  Indeed, this is a heartbreaking story.  It’s more than your average outcast meets cool stranger finds redemption.

The story asks the big question: does life have any meaning?

The book does the only thing you can do with that question… contextualize it, swirl it around, test it.  Ultimately it remains non-answered with a tilt towards “just when you think life does have meaning something happens to make you question it.”

This is book is loaded.

* All humans carry mystical bagage (fate!, rights!, free will!, God’s way!, rain god!)
* Western society romances the truth for children (where there’s a will, there’s a way!)
* Humans do what the environment shapes them to do (social circles, castes, roles in life, culture, family)
* Changing course requires changing the environment (circle of friends, physical change…)
* Beauty is…really hard to define
* Being lonely sucks but false relationships might suck worse
* Intelligence is not an end in itself, it is a biological tool to help us survive

About that last bullet point this passage from page 165-167 haunts me.  And, yes, it’s personal.

“Fascination with intelligence is in itself fascinating, but I don’t think it’s a value in itself. There are tons of intelligent people out there and there are a lot of retards, too.  I’m going to say something really banal but intelligence, in itself, is neither valuable nor interesting.  Very intelligent people have devoted their lives to the question of the sex of angels, for example.  But many intelligent people have a sort of bug: they think intelligence is an end in itself.  They have one idea in mind: to be intelligent, which is really stupid. And when intelligence takes itself for its own goal, it operates very strangley: the proof that it exists is not to be found in the ingenuity or simplicity of what it produces, but in how obscurely it is expressed… It is not a sacred gift, it is a primate’s only weapon.”

Ouch.  This is what I mean about this book non-answering the big questions.  The author drives a stake through intelligence as a good to possess and recasts it as the simple tool it is. AND… here we are reading a philosophical book with poetic characters that wax about the meaning of life and profound thoughts!

So… is it just a biological weapon? and if so, how is this book a wielding of that weapon?

This is a trickier question than it might seem regardless of your take on the matter.

And on that note… I’m going to a giant book festival now to wield my weapon and probably keep this pathological search for meaning going for another day. and maybe that’s just it.  if I stopped looking for or ceased creating meaning, how would I survive?

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Please listen to this file. It’s called the Shepard Risset glissando.  It’s very unnerving to me.

If I were to put sound to  various cause and effect data trails from complex systems (like human behavior), I imagine it would sound a lot like that.

  • What is the cause/are the causes and effects of human behavior?
  • is stimulus a cause?
  • is it an effect?
  • can a behavior be a reinforcer at the same time as being reinforced?
  • Are schedules of reinforcement causes AND effects?  are they exhausted from the behavioral system as much as they are determinants?

Perhaps these questions are just Saturday afternoon philosophical/blog musings.  However, I do think the strange loopiness of animal behavior (humans in particular) is what makes almost all models of behavior inconsistent and mostly wrong.  Or maybe just my understanding and application of them is wrong.

I have another question.  Human memory is not like computer memory.  it’s definitively fuzzy… so…

is there a difference between remembering  the past inaccurately or predicting the future inaccurately?

in both cases aren’t we just modeling context/situation/filling in details based on limited inputs?

and the biggest question is… DOES ANY OF THIS HELP UNDERSTANDING?

for fun, more about strange loops here and here.

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What? How could that be?… Here are some more dazzling examples of “putz-on-a-page” concerning fMRI and neuroscience:

First, here’s the good news…

Brain’s blood surge doesn’t match activity

  • Based on the 28 January 2009 article by the same name by David Robson
  • All [….. ] are comments and edits of jhb

CONTRARY to popular belief, a rush of blood to a certain brain region [as seen in an fMRI study] is not always linked to neural activity there, a finding that may guide future brain scan experiments.

Functional MRI scans measure blood flow in the brain. Neuroscientists interpret this as a sign that neurons are firing, usually as someone performs a task, [observes or senses the environment in some way] or experiences an emotion [implied due to reports and periphery recordings]. This enables them to link the emotion to the brain region where there was [a change in the area’s] blood flow.

Now, Aniruddha Das from Columbia University in New York and colleagues have shown that blood flow can occur without accompanying neural activity. Das used separate techniques to measure blood flow and neural activity in the visual cortex of two macaques trained to carry out a visual task.

Sitting in darkness except for a light that switched on at regular intervals, the monkeys were trained to look away if it was red, and fix their gaze on the light if it shone green.

When the timing [interval] of the pauses between the light flashes [were] changed, blood flow still increased when the macaque expected [would have normally received the timed] flash, but [without a colored light cue] there was no [‘escape’ or orientation movement] or subsequent increase in electrical activity from firing neurons [in those neural areas that were shown to be involved] (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature07664). Das suspects that the brain sent the rush of blood in anticipation of the neurons’ firing.

Christian Keysers from the BCN Neuroimaging Centre in Groningen, the Netherlands, does not believe the result is relevant to the design of previous fMRI experiments and so is unlikely to have an impact on their results. But Das says care needs to be taken in future to ensure that this misinterpretation does not lead to errors.


The Journal of Neuroscience, December 31, 2008, 28(53)

BOLD (blood oxygenation level-dependent) Signals Do Not Always Reflect Neural Activity

Behavioral/Systems/Cognitive (see pages 14347–14357)

Anna Devor, Elizabeth M. C. Hillman, Peifang Tian, Christian Waeber, Ivan C. Teng, Lana Ruvinskaya, Mark H. Shalinsky, Haihao Zhu, Robert H. Haslinger, Suresh N. Narayanan, Istvan Ulbert, Andrew K. Dunn, Eng H. Lo, Bruce R. Rosen, Anders M. Dale, David Kleinfeld, and David A. Boas

Each year, thousands of publications present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data that suggest that a particular brain region is active during a particular cognitive task. Casual readers [casual readers and some less casual readers] of such papers might forget [presume or not attend to the fact] that this technique does not actually measure neural activity, but rather blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrasts.

Synaptic transmissions require large energy expenditures, and increased energy metabolism has been hypothesized to act directly on blood vessels to increase blood flow and alter BOLD signals.

This week (Feb-09), however, Devor et al. report that this hypothesis is not always the correct one. [One can only imagain that new neural pathways being laid down show somewhat different blood flow than neural activity from repetitive or redundant activities as measured by neural activity.]

As expected, stimulating the forepaw of rats increased blood oxygenation, vessel diameter, glucose uptake, spiking, and synaptic release in the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex [associated with sense reception on the forepaw]. In the ipsilateral cortex, however, neural activity and glucose uptake increased, but blood oxygenation and blood flow did not.

These results indicate that blood flow is not directly tied to metabolism, and BOLD signals do not always reflect neural activity as recorded by various fMRI devices.


Conditioning works even if you don’t know about it…

The brain, as a physical organ, has shown classical conditioning without an agent, autonomous man or the need for an interpreted purpose.

Some other experiments have shown that monkeys fire “anticipation” neurons in different areas before they perform a movement itself. There must be some neural circuits that cause vasodilation in these areas of the brain in anticipation of the light. Reducing things down to cell membrane transport to find the ‘cause’ starts to get a little like trying to find the soul or the personality when those things are mere metaphors that allow us to communicate and, after use and misuse, come to be personified and be the thing we are trying to understand rather than the behavior of the organism.

All in all this type of reduction approach has led us to some strange interpretations for headlines in magazines and pop science-shizzle articles to attract readers but not many have the cohunes of NewScientist, a normally damn good resource who boldly stated on their recent cover: Darwin Was Wrong!

More examples of “putz-on-a-page” concerning fMRI and neuroscience:



To Trust or Not to Trust: Ask Oxytocin

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan 49 participants who were given…
July 15, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Mauricio Delgado

Monkey Mating Requires Lots of Brainpower

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the brains of male marmoset…
February 02, 2004 – News – By Sarah Graham

Is Your Brain Thinking on its Feet?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor their subjects’ brain…
November 09, 2000 – News – By Harald Franzen

Escape from the Insipid: Our Brains May Be Wired for Daydreaming

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While the subjects were not performing…
January 18, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Why the Brain Follows the Rules

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to see what parts of the brain…
June 10, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Caroline Zink

Scientists Identify Brain Region Responsible for Calculating Risk versus Reward

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how 14 healthy subjects…
June 15, 2006 – News – By David Biello

Right Brain May Be Wrong

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). As a first step, psychologist Markus…
March 24, 2005 – Scientific American Mind – By Steve J. Ayan

MRI Study Shows Lying Brains Look Different

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of volunteers…
November 14, 2001 – News – By Sarah Graham

Politically Correct: Why Great (and Not So Great) Minds Think Alike

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Researchers focused their examination…
March 19, 2008 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

The Dope on Dopamine’s Central Role in the Brain’s Motivation and Reward

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to examine the normal human brain…
September 15, 2008 – News – By Tabitha M. Powledge

The Political Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study shows where in the brain the…
June 26, 2006 – Scientific American Magazine – By Michael Shermer

Can You Believe Your Shifty Eyes?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), if the behavior she had observed was…
April 19, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Your iBrain: How Technology Changes the Way We Think

…placed. To make sure that the fMRI scanner was measuring the neural…
October 08, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Gary Small, Gigi Vorgan

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Thinking about Morality

…a hypothesis stemming from previous fMRI investigations into the neural…
July 29, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Adina Roskies, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Searching for God in the Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Beauregard seeks to pinpoint the brain…
October 03, 2007 – Scientific American Mind – By David Biello

Neuroscientists Take Important Step toward Mind Reading

…on functional MRI data. By analyzing fMRI scans of viewers as they looked…
May 29, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Christopher Intagliata

Saying no to yourself: The neural mechanisms of self-control

…button press). On each trial of the fMRI study, subjects were given three…
September 11, 2007 – 60-Second Science Blog

Five Ways Brain Scans Mislead Us

…at the capabilities and operation of fMRI, perhaps the most commonly…
November 05, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Michael Shermer

Brain-Scan Cell Mystery Solved

…until now the mechanism underlying fMRI’s robust success has been a…
October 06, 2008 – Scientific American Mind – By Nikhil Swaminathan


…resonance imaging (fMRI). Unlike other imaging methods, fMRI allows…
March 21, 2000 – Scientific American Magazine – By Carol Ezzell

Fact or Phrenology?

…magnetic resonance imaging–or fMRI–has made quite a splash since its…
March 24, 2005 – Scientific American Mind – By David Dobbs

Freeing a Locked-In Mind

…with the advent of functional MRI (fMRI) scans, it became possible to…
April 04, 2007 – Scientific American Mind – By Karen Schrock

Are You a Liar? Ask Your Brain

…Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology to determine whether someone…
November 15, 2007 – News – By Larry Greenemeier

Hypnosis, Memory and the Brain

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They carefully selected 25 people to…
October 07, 2008 – Mind Matters – By Amanda J. Barnier, Rochelle E. Cox, Greg Savage

Can brain scans read our minds?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze changes in the flow of blood…
December 12, 2008 – 60-Second Science Blog

Does fMRI See the Future?

…magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to chronicle the brain in action….
January 22, 2009 – 60-Second Science

Can fMRI Really Tell If You’re Lying?

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) purports to detect mendacity by seeing…
August 13, 2008 – Scientific American Magazine – By Gary Stix

The Brain Is Not Modular: What fMRI Really Tells Us

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We have all seen scans with…
May 13, 2008 – Scientific American Magazine – By Michael Shermer

The Sound Track of Our Minds

…headphones while lying in an fMRI machine; each of the musical tapestries…
August 03, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

Brain Images Make Inaccurate Science News Trustworthy

…magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI)—the tool that creates a…
April 07, 2008 – 60-Second Psych

Partial Recall: Why Memory Fades with Age

…imaging magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine whether those…
December 05, 2007 – News – By Nikhil Swaminathan

When Craving Is Better Than Getting

In a recent article about brain cells, Joshua Freedman a U.C.L.A. neuroscientist, noted that a monkey feels maximal reward not when he eats a grape but rather when he gets it in his possession, anticipating he can eat it. Reward anticipation is very strong and can have a negative impact, (think: addiction), according to researchers from Rutgers and New York universities. They studied the effect of cognitive therapy on the physiological reactions to anticipating positive reward, and the results are published in Nature Neuroscience this week. To get a handle on these cravings, researchers presented human subjects with cues for a monetary gift. For each presentation, they were asked to either think of the reward or think of something calming  that was the same color as the cue (which was blue).   The calming strategy cut the physiological arousal (measured by skin conductance response) nearly in half. Additionally, they found marked reductions in the activity of the left and …
June 30, 2008 – 60-Second Psych

Magnetic Revelations

…magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become the leading research tool…
October 16, 2001 – Scientific American Magazine

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