DejaNews records more than 10,000 posts archived for this newsgroup. Behind its somewhat alarming name is a forum where both anti-technological and pro-technological forces discuss what might be considered one of the central questions of our time, 'Should we allow technology to destroy our society?'

One of most remarkable members of the forum is the legendary John McCarthy (72 years of age and still Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, a position that he has held since 1962). DejaNews records at least 260 postings from McCarthy to McCarthy is extremely optimistic about humanity's (technological) future. His 'Progress and its Sustainability' pages can be found here.

Jonah and the Whale

TOP: The technopath's cabin after being swallowed by the industrial-military warehouse. Kaczynski's wilderness cabin, originally situated in the woods of Lincoln, Montana in storage at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento.

BOTTOM: Advertisement for Kosta Boda Crystal

And now behold Jonah taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea; when instantly an oily calmness floats out from the east, and the sea is still, as Jonah carries down the gale with him, leaving smooth water behind. He goes down in the whirling heart of such a masterless commotion that he scarce heeds the moment when he drops seething into the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale shoots-to all his ivory teeth, like so many white bolts, upon his prison.

--Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)


The phone rang and a voice invited me to teach at 3 day workshop at the TU Delft in March. The theme: pluralism (aka Experiments in Living!)

Had a very nice dinner with Arno van Roosmalen this evening at Zilt. The restaurant is visible from my window but it is the first time that I've eaten there. The seafood was good. The ambience loud. At our table we discussed multi-ethnic Rotterdam and its future.

Melting Pot Not!

We talked about cultural assimilation and diversity, Hanif Khoreshi's portrait of reverse racism in London and the Hong Kong phenomenon in Vancouver. And of course the 'claiming' tactics of today's youth: white Dutch kids speaking with a Surinam or Turkish accent. If my palm pilot was equipped to browse Alamut I'd have shown Arno Reason Magazine's interview with Richard Rodriguez which I've added below.

BTW: Arno was very enthusiastic about our Amsterdam 2.0 presentation in De Appel (up until the 21st of March). He seemed to delight in Treanor's adage: Cities are for change, not for people.

Excerpts from an Interview with Richard Rodriguez

Rodriguez: I'm horrified that the left in America is as intolerant as it is these days. The level of incivility among people who are otherwise engaged in discussion of ideas also is surprising to me.

Question: Where do you think it comes from?

Rodriguez: Individual students are required to think of themselves representing a cause. Their admission is in the name of a larger population for whom they feel responsible. If you have a different opinion then you are not of the people.

Multiculturalism, as it is expressed in the platitudes of the American campus, is not multiculturalism. It is an idea about culture that has a specific genesis, a specific history, and a specific politics. What people mean by multiculturalism is different hues of themselves. They don't mean Islamic fundamentalists or skinheads. They mean other brown and black students who share opinions like theirs.

Question: In 'Days of Obligation' you suggest that Mexicans in America have become optimistic side of the United States, and that it is actually blond California that is getting pessimistic.

Rodriguez: That's part of the great irony. We've always assumed that America somehow belonged on this land. Well, maybe you can put America in a suitcase and take it to Hong Kong. And maybe our Scandinavian ancestors of the 19th century would recognize as America, or as an American city, what they would now see in Tijuana rather than San Diego.

Question: What do you mean by the America that you could take to Hong Kong?

Rodriguez: The notion of self-reliance, of re-creation. More and more I'm sensing that that kind of optimism belongs now to immigrants in this country--certainly to Mexicans that I meet--and less and less so to the native born.

Americans seem to be tired. They talk a lot about problems. I'm not depressed about the problems on the horizon, because I think that's where you get solutions. What I worry about is that when you talk about zero population growth and that sort of thing you are really talking about a sort of stopped time, where the whole process of evolution gets called into question.

Rodriguez: The majority of reviewers ignored the fact that this book (Days of Obligation) was primarily about being Catholic in America, not about being Hispanic in America. I'm not Catholic to them, I'm Hispanic. And I'm not gay to them, I'm brown. And I'm not Indian to them, because they know who the Indians are--the Indians live in Oklahoma.

The issue of the Indian, which very few people have remarked on, is a public issue. My rewriting of the Indian adventure [into a story in which the conquistador's culture was in effect conquered, absorbed, and transformed by Indians through conversion and miscegentation] was not only to move the Indian away from the role of victim but to see myself in relationship to Pocahontas, to see myself as interested in the blond on his horse coming over the horizon. It occurred to me there was something aggressive about the Indian interest in the Other, and that you were at risk in the fact that I was watching you, that I wanted you, that I was interested in your religion, that I was prepared to swallow it and to swallow you in the process.

Maybe what is happening in the Americas right now is that the Indian is very much alive. I represent someone who has swallowed English, and now claim it as my language, your books as my books, your religion as my religion--maybe this is the most subversive element of the colonial adventure. That I may be truest to my Indian identity by wanting to become American is really quite extraordinary.


The last few days I've trundled up to Groningen and back while slowly (and carefully) reading Theodore John Kaczynski's manuscript 'Industrial Society and its Future' (aka the Unabomber's manifesto) which was published by the Washington Post and the New York Times in 1995. What I've read so far has deeply surprised me-- I find many of Kaczynski's arguments both sensible and sympathetic--despite the fact that Kaczynski is a technopath and I'm a technogogue (terms courtesy of John Zerzan) and that I abhor Kaczynski's acts of bombing.

Excerpts from the Unabomber's Manifesto, 'Industrial Society and its Future':

"Almost everyone will agree that we live in a deeply troubled society. One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism, so a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society in general." (6)

"Art forms that appeal to modern leftist intellectuals tend to focus on sordidness, defeat and despair, or else they take an orgiastic tone, throwing off rational control as if there were no hope of accomplishing anything through rational calculation and all that was left was to immerse oneself in the sensations of the moment." (17)

"The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. For example, we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everyone hates somebody at some time or other, whether he admits it to himself or not. Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin. We use the term "oversocialized" to describe such people." (25)

"The problems of the leftist are indicative of the problems of our society as a whole. Low self-esteem, depressive tendencies and defeatism are not restricted to the left. Though they are especially noticeable in the left, they are widespread in our society. And today's society tries to socialize us to a greater extent than any previous society. We are even told by experts how to eat, how to exercise, how to make love, how to raise our kids and so forth." (32)

"Human beings have a need (probably based in biology) for something that we will call the "power process." This is closely related to the need for power (which is widely recognized) but is not quite the same thing. The power process has four elements. The three most clear-cut of these we call goal, effort and attainment of goal. (Everyone needs to have goals whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his goals.) The fourth element is more difficult to define and may not be necessary for everyone. We call it autonomy..." (33)

"We suggest that modern man's obsession with longevity, and with maintaining physical vigor and sexual attractiveness to an advanced age, is a symptom of unfulfillment resulting from deprivation with respect to the power process. The "mid-life crisis" also is such a symptom. So is the lack of interest in having children that is fairly common in modern society but almost unheard-of in primitive societies." (74)

"...Take us (FC) for example. If we had never done anything violent and had submitted the present writings to a publisher, they probably would not have been accepted. If they had been accepted and published, they probably would not have attracted many readers, because it's more fun to watch the entertainment put out by the media than to read a sober essay. Even if these writings had had many readers, most of these readers would soon have forgotten what they had read as their minds were flooded by the mass of material to which the media expose them. In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we've had to kill people." (96)

David Gelernter describes the morning of June 24th 1993 in his book, 'Drawing Life: Suriving the Unabomber':

"We had just gotten back from a vacation in Washington, where the museums and carousel on the Mall turn the tourist-packed downtown into a giant amusement park. Naturally mail accumulates when I'm away, and my assistant had stacked most of it on my desk and put a package on my chair. It looked like a dissertation, I remember thinking; I didn't recognize the name in the return address, but newly graduated Ph.D.s are always sending their dissertations around. As a rule these are not particularly welcome and are quickly consigned to a "nonurgent reading" pile--"nonurgent" meaning "before hell freezes over, circumstances permitting"--but despite being invariably unpromising, they rarely actually explode.

"It was a book package with a plastic zip cord. When I pulled the cord acrid white smoke billowed out--I remember the hiss and the strange smell--and moments later, a terrific flash. My first thought was along the lines of: Bombs must be going off all over campus this morning. It is a strange thought, but I assumed that I had to be part of a large-scale event. It didn't occur to me that I could possibly have been singled out as a target. I was not in a murder-prone line of work; I had no personal enemies, on account not of being lovable but of being obscure. That very morning, my wife told me later, she'd heard New York Senator Al D'Amato on the radio talking about a death threat he'd gotten--he was peeved--and she had reflected that it was good we had nothing to do with politics. Just a quick, thankful thought of a type you would ordinarily never recall.

"I couldn't see out of my right eye, and my first thought was that I ought to wash it out, because it might have been sprayed with something that could destroy it. I traipsed to the bathroom in the middle of the building, thinking as I went that a certain graduate student--his office was midway down the hall--usually came in early, and I could get him to call the police; but his office was dark, so I figured I had better call them myself. It hit me as I entered the bathroom that I was bleeding buckets and should come up with another plan. The university health clinic was nearby, up a short rise and across the street to the rear of our building. I spent only a moment in the bathroom, went to the stairs at the front corner of the building and--breathing with difficulty, in pain and royally annoyed--made my way down the 5 1/2 stories to level ground.

"FBi men told me later that they had found a shoe in my office and my shirt on the staircase. They asked whether I had torn off the shirt to rig a tourniquet. Possibly, but I don't remember. My recollections feel continuous, but it turns out they are not.

"A person's first impulse when he is faced with this sort of thing is to try to fit it into the ordinary events of the day: "You have just, out of the blue, been gravely hurt and all bets are off" is a message the mind doesn't want to hear. By the time I made it outside, I understood I was in bad shape, maybe dying, but was still not absolutely clear on whether I would have to cancel my appointments for the whole day. When I woke up after surgery and saw my wife hours later, my first thought was: Did they have to go bother her? I'd rather have called her myself and de-emphasized the more alarming aspects. I knew at the same time that my condition was critical. That's what the hospital reported, and it certainly felt that way. The mind is like a bottle of salad dressing, capable of operating in mutually incompatible layers.

"They told me later that my blood pressure when I arrived at the clinic across the street measured zero; that it was lucky I had decided to walk and not wait for a ride, because I would likely have bled to death otherwise. But it was a very difficult walk. When I looked down at my right hand I saw the bones sticking out in all directions and the skin crumpled like paper.

"It could only have been a two- or three-minute walk at the outside, but the possibility existed that I would pass out or just stop, and I didn't want to. Providentially an old Zionist marching song with a good, strong beat came into my head. Music is valuable."


It's my mother's birthday. And serendipitously Jouke baked a Tarte Tatin last night at

Note: it appears that the xs4all mail server crashed seriously yesterday. In a message to all xs4all users Cor Bosman said that the server at times receives 20 megabytes of incoming mail a minute! Whew!

Mismatch Theory

I tracked down and uploaded an elusive article by the evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright entitled The Evolution of Despair. This piece was originally published in Time Magazine in 1995 but is no longer to be found on their website. In it Wright, author of 'The Moral Animal' discusses the validity of paragraph 46 of 'Industrial Society and its Future':

We attribute the social and psychological problems of modern society to the fact that society requires people to live under conditions radically different from those under which the human race evolved and to behave in ways that conflict with the patterns of behavior that the human race developed while living under the earlier conditions...

Wright talks about a new field called 'mismatch theory'

...which would study maladies resulting from contrasts between the modern environment and the "ancestral environment," the one we were designed for.

Some years ago (1992?) I read a book called 'New World, New Mind' by the psychologist Robert Ornstein and the environmentalist Paul Ehrlich which echoed this concept. Ornstein and Ehrlich described the evolutionary development of our sense organs and the environment in which they evolved. For example our eyes evolved to detect sudden changes (differences) in light levels and warn us of danger, such as when a bear or a sabre tooth tiger moves past the mouth of our cave. Our sense of sight, however, does not do very well when it comes to registering extremely slow changes and neither does our 'mind'. Ornstein and Ehrlich accuse the news media (news IS change) of exploiting our 'twitch' reactions to sudden changes (air crashes, murders) while neglecting slower and perhaps more critical changes (global warming).


Valentines Day

Took a strange little 'mind' walk this morning, starting at 'sacred and pierced hearts', carrying on from there to heart disease and atherosclerosis (by way of a new germ theory that proposes that heart attacks are caused by an infection) and concluding with the contemplation of the various opposing concepts of health and disease (medical dialectics).

To what extent is Darwinian evolution a dialectic process? To what extent are dialectics quantifiable as dynamical (cybernetic) processes?

"Once the organism reaches equilibrium, it is dead."

The Dialectical Process

Dialectics expresses the view that development depends on the clash of contradictions and the creation of a new, more advanced synthesis out of these clashes. The dialectical process involves three moments: thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

A Hegelian Lexicon

The tendency of philosophical schools to reduce items, through repeated reduction and isolation, to "nothingness" -- parts without inherent meaning.

The act of changing or evolving. "Becoming is the fundamental feature of all existence."

Isolated facts or factors, individually meaningless without context.

A set of related facts or factors; the smallest meaningful groupings.

The act of finding a new concept via the comparison of two opposites. Hegel's negation is active dialectical thinking.

Perceptible, measurable via human observation or with human-designed instruments.

Dealing with ideas or concepts.

thesis, antithesis, synthesis
A concept, its opposite, and the resulting "solution" to the contradiction.

Welt Geist
The World Spirit; the guiding reason behind the evolutionary progress of the universe and mankind.


Existence = change. The rate of change is accelerating. Thus the rate of existence is accelerating. "Once the organism reaches equilibrium it is dead."



Started the day reading an online interview with Colin Wilson. I keep thinking that I've got to re-read 'The Outsider' -- I'm sure I borrowed it once from the library... 'The Outsider' was his first book. It was written in 1956--he was 24.

"You can see from the piece on Van Gogh in The Outsider and the references to Cezanne and other painters in my work that there was a period in my teens when I was fascinated by the visual arts. Before I went into the RAF I spent all my time borrowing books from the library on painting and on particular painters that I'd admired very much like Van Gogh, El Greco, Cezanne, Michelangelo and Leonardo. When The Outsider came out I became friendly with painters like Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon. And whenever I'm in a foreign city the first thing I do is to make for the nearest art gallery. But on the whole I haven't written as much about visual arts simply because it seems to me that to be a great artist is a kind of natural talent that doesn't require the kind of obsession with ideas that interests me so much. I have known a few painters who have been interested in ideas, but if anything it's weakened their work."

What's the difference between an author and a publicist? An author writes and a publicist publicizes (draws our attention to current public topics...). Colin Wilson is clearly a publicist. In 1956 'The Outsider' was (and remains today) a social and public topic.

What's the difference between an artist and a cultural engineer? Between an artist and a bricoleur?

A bricoleur is a kind of intuitive technician who plays around with concepts and objects in order to learn about them. [Howard Rheingold].

What about me? What am I?


Ended the day reading a short biography of Count Alfred Korzybski by Steven Lewis. I'm hoping that Gabrielle Marks (one of our design students at Media-GN) can do something with Korzybski's assertation that it is our mis-use of language which makes us ill.

'Science and Sanity' contended that humans progressed ('time-binding') largely as a result of our more flexible nervous systems capable of symbolism. Language allowed us to summarize or generalize our experiences and pass them on to others, saving others from having to make the same mistakes or reinvent what had already been discovered.

This linguistic generalizing ability of humans, Korzybski contended, accounted for our amazing progress over animals, but the misuse of this mechanism accounted for many of our problems as well.

Korzybski suggested humans needed to be properly trained in the use of language to prevent misevaluation of non-verbal realities. He formulated his law of non-identity, also called the law of individuality, which states that no two persons, or situations, or stages of processes are the same in all details. Korzybski noted that we have fewer words and ideas than unique situations, and this tends to lead to the identification ("confusion") of two or more situations. For example, the word 'apple' is commonly applied to millions of different objects, to the 'same' object at different times, to scientific events on submicroscopic levels, to objects of everyday experience, to our mental images, to illustrations, and even to the combined letters a-p-p-l-e.

Korzybski developed a training program to teach people how to burst through their language habits to appreciate the unique characteristics of their daily experiences. His goal was to help people evaluate less by the implications of their everyday language (by intension) and more by the unique facts of a situation (by extension).


Drama: a language not of words but thrills...

Eva Knutz (one of our MFA students) found Georges Polti's 'The 36 Dramatic Situations' at the university library and photocopied it. I copied her copy and have been reading it over the last few days (in Groningen and on the train home). Polti's examples refer mainly to Greek tragedy which I (and I suppose most folks today) have little knowledge of--but his classification system is illuminating and his comments delightful.

Eva pointed me to the following paragraph (two sentences!) in Polti's introduction:

Now to this declared fact that there are no more than thirty-six dramatic situations, is attached a singular corollary, the discovery that there are in life but thirty-six emotions. A maximum of thirty-six emotions,--and therein we have all the savor of existence; there we have the unceasing ebb and flow which fills human history like tides of the sea; which is, indeed, the very substance of history, since it is the substance of humanity itself, in the shades of the African forests as 'Unter den Linden' or beneath the electric lights of the Boulevards; as it was in the ages of man's hand-to-hand struggle with the wild beasts of wood and mountain, and as it will be, indubitably, in the most infinitely distant future, since it is with these thirty-six emotions--no more--that we color, nay, we comprehend, cosmic mechanism, and since it is from them that our theogonies and our metaphysics are, and ever will be, constructed; all our dear and fanciful 'beyonds;'--thirty-six situations, thirty-six emotions, and no more.

Is Polti's classification useful to artists? We hope to say more on this later. I'm attending the Innovation Design Workshop (a meeting between Industry (new technology) and Culture (new media)) this afternoon and have to dash...


Managed to find a copy of 'The Outsider' yesterday afternoon at 'The Book Exchange' on the Kloveniersburgwal. (I had a few minutes before the workshop in the Waag started.)


Downloaded and played a demo of 'Grim Fandango' (first seen at the Film Festival) on Loes's PC. Very cool game. Unfortunately its not available for the Mac.

General Semantics and NLP

Bought Bandler and Grinder's 'The Structure of Magic' and a copy of Matt Ridley's 'The Red Queen' (deemed by some to be 'The Selfish Gene' of the 90's) in a used book store on my way back to Rotterdam. Spent the evening reading the first 3 chapters of 'The Structure of Magic'. This book was written in 1975 and is subtitled 'a book about language and therapy'. Bandler and Grinder argue that our representations of the world (our maps or models) are linguistic and as such have a structure which can be formalized (both made explicit and observed independent of content). NLP appears to borrow heavily from Alfred Korzybski's 'General Semantics' and Noam Chomsky's 'transformational grammars'.

Interesting to note that the acronym NLP stands both for Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Natural Language Processing...

Other news: On the way home my Palm Pilot crashed again. Monday morning I'll call tech support and have it replaced.


Getting to know you...

Two very bright characters in the field of interactive fiction are Chris Crawford and Andrew Plotkin. Jorn Barger maintains an extensive Chris Crawford/AI fan page which indexes Crawford's work, kicking off with the following introduction:

Abstract: Chris Crawford has spent fifteen years trying to identify the fundamental psychological dimensions needed for interactive fiction, and with his new (1998) story engine-- the Erasmatron-- he's spelled out his discoveries in extensive Web-based documentation. Crawford's inventions seem to fill a gap that even Doug Lenat's Cyc project had left only vaguely sketched. This webpage will offer a detailed summary of Crawford's approach, along with alternative links to his own pages.

Jorn Barger's page:
Crawford's Erasmatazz Site:

Andrew Plotkin is a gamer, a programmer and IF writer. I like his style. His pages on IF are indexed here:

Out of Print

A lot of the books I'm interested in at the moment are out of print. This morning on the web I found 'Advanced Book Exchange' which dubs itself the 'World's Largest Source of Out of Print Material' URL:

Google Mining

I do most of my searches now-a-days with Google.

Google Inc. was founded in 1998 by Sergey Brin and Larry Page to make it easier to find high-quality information on the web. The company is based on three years of research in web search and data mining done by the founders in the Stanford University Computer Science Department.

More GS

Found some interesting trees in the forest of GS documents. Korzybski's point: Our use of the verb 'to be' can make us ill. In other words if language is a virus (William Burroughs) then General Semantics is the understanding that the virus can make us ill and 'E-prime' would be a potential vaccine.

Three papers by Alfred Korzybski:

General Semantics

What I Believe (1949)

The Role of Language in the Perceptual Processes (1950)

And two good introductions by others:

Paul Dennithorne Johnston: What is General Semantics?

D. David Bourland Jr.: To Be or not To Be: E-Prime

Note: I was surprised to see that Eric S. Raymond (author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar) has also written a number of essays on General Semantics.

Solitude as Strategy

Felis rufus as the Cheshire Cat

We've been working to reconstruct an old work called 'Predator Mark' for an upcoming exhibition 'Private Room/Public Space' curated by Esther Agricola in the Paviljoens in Almere.

Predator Mark was done in 1995 for an outdoor exhibition entitled 'Infections' in the park Wolfslaar in Breda. The work was essentially a small autonomous device that used pneumatic pressure to spray bobcat (Felis rufus) urine against a tree. The urine was sprayed for only a second or two about once an hour but had a profound effect on the 'scent' ecology of the park. Most mammals instinctively 'shy away' from predator urine. Predator Mark evolved out of my curiousity as to why African lion shit (collected from 'Safari Parks') is so extraordinarily effective in keeping deer away from the marijuana plants that some folks grow in the backwoods of California. Why should a Californian deer recognize the smell of an African lion?

Bobcats themselves are extremely territorial:

Space is extremely important to these solitary animals. The presence of a home range system limits the amount of energy that the animal has to spend searching and competing for food (when prey populations are stable) if the cat only has to look within its range, as well as establishes a social system and influences dispersal. Bobcats can spend their entire life within their home range as long as prey species are abundant. However, once prey populations drop, the bobcat must go on extraterritorial forays, where he is likely to encounter other bobcats with whom he will have to compete for a higher quality habitat (Knick 1990).

...Bobcats will allow the opposite sex's home range to overlap slightly with theirs, but they do not tolerate sharing their territory with the same sex (Knick 1990). Most bobcats seem to tolerate the infrequent passing through of an adolescent animal looking for a home range with out any incident (Koehler 1988). In northern areas, females maintain private home ranges through scent-marking and prior right (Anderson et al. 1995).

...The idea of home range and social structure are quite related and important in the overall survival of the bobcat. Adherence to these social laws limits energy losses from territorial fighting, and allows each cat to have its own prey resource where it does not have to directly compete with the other bobcats in adjoining territories (Anderson et al. 1995). Bobcats are loners (Dalrylmple 1994), and this system benefits them greatly. This type of system may also aid in the prevention of disease spreading, although no information has been found on the subject. Once a bobcat becomes a territory holder, it remains so until its death. If independent offspring are abandoned due to the death of the mother, the young automatically "inherit" the land that was within their natal range. Once a bobcat must leave its home range in search of food, which in a sense is the collapse of the social system, it puts itself at risk. New predators, new territory, and new competition all become increased chances that the bobcat will not survive.

What advantages do solitary behavior confer? Is it possible to consider the choice between 'private room' and 'public space' from the perspective of conserving energy and preventing disease?

Could public space be considered more an issue of 'crowding' than access? Think: Ted Kaczynski's critique of over-socialization... It is easy to expand the idea of crowds to include not only the physical (spatial) but also the psychological (mental) and even the temporal if we include 'reaction time' (i.e. the more crowded the situation the greater the requirement for quicker linguistic responses).

If language is a virus then solitude can be an amazing prophylatic. It would be interesting to investigate and compare the behavioral ecology of orangutangs (very solitary) to chimpanzes and gorillas (very social).

This entire line of thought reminds me of that wonderful and prophetic line (i.e. pre-AIDS) from Paul Morrisey's classic 1973 film 'Blood for Dracula' when the 'Count' (Udo Kier), vomitting miserably, says to the 'Gardener' (Joe Dallesandro): 'The blood of the whores is making me sick...'


Come Hell or High Water

Very high tide this morning in the Entrepothaven. At 7:45 the Gemeentelijk Havenbedrijf Rotterdam measured the following hydrographic data for the two harbors nearest to mine:
Eemhaven +232 cm. N.A.P
Parkhaven +203 cm. N.A.P

How high is high? To compare now with then here's where you can find 'realtime' numbers (Eemhaven and Parkhaven are near the bottom of the table):

Envisioning Information: It would be interesting to create applications that take realtime data such as cosmological data (sun spots), wind speed readings, market data, plague indicators, bacterial counts in lakes and an individual's medical readouts (your 'Girlfriend in Coma'?) and mix all together into multi-sensory maps--as living and moving amalgams. The art of course would be what you put 'in the mix'. Think: Edward Tufte + Joseph Cornell.

Joseph Cornell, The Hotel Eden
c. 1945, construction, 15 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 4 3/4 inches

How could anyone have arranged these bits, this garbage, in such a way that it caught at the heart, snagged in the soul like a fish hook?
William Gibson, Count Zero 1986


To Capture a Culture...

Read online this morning (by chance) that Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead 'pioneered the field of visual anthropology'. Despite giving a workshop to students of the department of Visual Anthropology in Miskolc Hungary in 1995 (and subsequently being offered the job to 'head' the department there!!!) I never knew what the term referred to. So now I had the chance to look it up.

From the Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology:

There is an obvious relationship between the supposition that culture is objectively observable and the popular belief in the neutrality, transparency, and objectivity of audiovisual technologies. From a positivist perspective, reality can be captured on film without the limitations of human consciousness. Pictures provide an unimpeachable witness and: source of highly reliable data. Given those assumptions, it is logical that as soon as the technologies were available, anthropologists attempted to produce with the camera the sort of objective research data that could be stored in archives and made available for study by future generations.

...Contemporary thought is more tentative than positivist theory about the nature of cultural knowedge and about what film can record. In a postpositive and postmodern world, the camera is constrained by the culture of the person behind the apparatus; that is, films and photographs are always concerned with two things-the culture of those filmed and the culture of those who film. As a result of viewing pictures representations of an ideology, it has been suggested that anthropologists use the technology in a reflexive manner, alienating viewers from any false assumptions about the reliability of the images they see, and that visual anthropologists seek ways to share their authority with the people they study.

...Visual anthropology has never been completely incorporated into the mainstream of anthropology. It is trivialized by some anthropologists as being mainly concerned with audiovisual aids for teaching. The anthropological establishment has yet to acknowledge the centrality of the mass media in the formation of cultural identity in the second half of the twentieth century. Consequently, visual anthropologists sometimes find themselves involved with the research and thinking of professional image makers and scholars from other disciplines-visual sociology, cultural studies, film theory, photo history, dance and performance studies, and architectural theory-rather than with the work of other cultural anthropologists.

...The earliest ethnographic films-one-reel, single-take episodes of human behavior were indistinguishable from theatrical actualities. Anthropologists, like everyone else, were fascinated with the technology and its promise to provide an unimpeachable witness. Felix-Louis Regnault, perhaps the first anthropologist to produce researchable footage, proposed in 1900 that all museums collect "moving artifacts" of human behavior for study and exhibit. Scholars, explorers, and even colonial administrators produced footage for research and public display. The crude technology, the lack of familiarity with the equipment, and the vagueness of the makers' intentions greatly limited its use.

...or do Magic with It?

We accept that the map is not the territory but what to think (1) of the artist synthesizing new maps in order to 'conjure' up new territory? Or what to think (2) of 'perfect software models' (1-to-1 models or isomorphic models) such as David Gelernter describes in 'Mirror Worlds'--which can leave their referents behind and begin to lead a life of their own? Or what to think (3) of the neurologically perfect model of a 'brain upload'? Would that not 'transcend' what Korzybski considers 'pathological language'?


Today's Meaningful Phrase:

We have noticed this peculiar trait about human beings. If they find something they can do that doesn't work, they do it again.

Bandler and Grinder: Frogs into Princes (1979)

BTW: I've just got around to publishing last Sunday's entry.

The Clothing Arms Race

Robert H. Frank's new book 'Luxury Fever' sees luxuries as an evolutionary arms race (courtesy of Salon by way of Honeyguide):

[E]ven though all elks would clearly do better if every animal's rack of antlers were trimmed by half, it would not be advantageous for any single animal to trim his antlers." And so it is with our job seeker or house hunter.... The job applicant has an advantage in a $1,000 suit as long as everyone else spent less than that. As soon as everyone shows up for the interview in a $1,000 suit, the ante goes up, and the applicant who wants a competitive advantage has to buy a $2,000 suit, and so on. Frank calls it a "fruitless mine-is-bigger consumption arms race."

Think: Garrett Hardin's 'The Tragedy of the Commons'


Artificial Human Languages

Gabrielle Marks is interested in the relationship between phonetics and sanity. Her work (which she calls 'typorality') explores the cultural and linguistic differences between human languages.

Our casual net search this afternoon revealed a dizzying quantity of information on the creation of new languages for human communication. This activity goes by many names: artificial languages, constructed languages, model languages, planned languages, auxilliary languages, universal languages etc.

An artificial language is a simple model of a natural language. It is used for communication like natural languages, simpler, more regular, and relatively uncontaminated by culture effects. Unlike most natural languages, an AL has not evolved through naturally processes of internal change or contact with other languages. In addition, to the extent to which details of an AL is pre-defined, the internal structure of the language is far better known than that of any natural language.

A priori languages are those which do not borrow their vocabularies from existing languages, but rather invent words artificially to meet certain criteria. Philosophical languages are a priori projects in which the letters of a word indicate its category of meaning; for example, all words pertaining to liquids might begin with the letter L. Languages of the mixed type have a blend of a priori and a posteriori features.

The strength of these languages lies in their systematic methods of word creation and derivation. While many of the a posteriori languages are monotonously similar to each other, the a priori and mixed languages often show great creativity.

Cultural Relativism

I'm personally interested in Loglan/Lojban, a logical language begun in the 1950's to test the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It would appear to offer many advantages over existing natural languages as a medium for human-computer communication (as it is unambigious) but one wonders whether it offers any protection from Korzybski's 'semantic traps'? There is definitely a connection between Korzybski and Sapir-Whorf. For a short introduction see:

Lojban and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf are accredited with 'helping set forth' the idea of cultural relativism or the idea that beliefs are relative to a particular society and are not comparable (or truly translatable) between societies.



Mailed my Palm Pilot away for repairs last Tuesday. Received a brand new replacement today by courier (actually DHL tried to deliver it yesterday but I wasn't here). That's fast!

A Train Ride

Travelled home with Mike Tyler yesterday evening. I told Mike that I was rereading Colin Wilson's 'The Outsider' and he told me that he had just finished Angus Wilson's 'The Old Men in the Zoo' which he thought I'd like (because it included both a zoo and a quantity of uranium...)

A search for references to the book online revealed that Anthony Burgess included it in his own '99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939' which was published by Summit Books in 1984.

At one point our conversation turned to the 'Alhambra' in Granada and from the Moors it was but a short step to life today in Islamic countries. Mike mentioned something rather suprising about Turkish law legitimizing blood vengence when someone kills a family member. I could find nothing online this morning which referred to this but did discover that the study of cultural difference in law is called 'Legal Anthropology' and that there are a number of organizations and sites dedicated to this field.


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First created: 30/12/98; 19:05:23 CET
Last modified: 14/2/00; 09:32:53 CET