Bigsley the Oaf

Regulation and Non-linguistic Abstract Thought

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 29, 2010

To an extent, social interaction dictated by a sufficiently rigorous set of principles has a role in regulating the beliefs of entities involved in that interaction.

Take as a prototypical example mathematical discourse. In discussing a conjecture, two mathematicians could make a series of statements whose individual properties are examined. A consequence of this examination is that statements are discarded for one reason or another; perhaps a discarded statement is inconsistent, intuitively unappealing, aesthetically displeasing, etc. In this way, the interaction of the mathematicians is a regulating force acting on the mathematicians’ thoughts.

A sufficiently rigorous thinker might be able to regulate their own thought process on any topic in a similar way. Perhaps when they make a statement they can decide whether or not that statement is acceptable. If the statement implies something false, for example, it could be discarded. If the statement implies too many things or too few things, it might be discarded. In this way, the thinker is in some sense having a conversation with himself.

One can extract an abstraction from both of the above examples: namely, the abstraction of creator/regulator. Lots of things can be said about this dichotomy.

To what extent does this abstraction play a part in non-linguistic thought*?

Characterizations of thought seem to fall along nearly the same lines as activities. To name a few**, thought can be destructive/critical, generative/creative, exploratory/speculative, transformational/deductive.

Each of these characterizations carries with it a metaphorical lower-level description in terms of interacting entities. What I mean by this is that I don’t think of “creative thinking” as a monolithic activity, incapable of dissection and examination. I think of it as being very rich and complicated.

Now, the question that I’m driving at is to what extent regulation can be made to play a part in this inner life of a thought process. So far, I’ve specifically examined the mechanism by which regulation arises in social interaction and in individual (linguistic) thought, but what’s missing from the picture is the question of how one improves the quality of their non-linguistic modes of thought.

Minsky might say that these modes of thought should themselves be thought of as semi-linguistic interactions of brain-bound “entities” which are having conversations in symbolic languages which are not usually thought of as “languages.” Perhaps this is the case, but I’m afraid that if it is then it’s just pushing the solution that I’m working towards “down” by one level. Namely, how do these entities think and regulate their thought?

If I had to guess as to what the solution to the question of non-linguistic regulation would look like, I’d say it probably looks something like the regulation inherent in discussion between rigorous mathematicians. A project that I’d very much like to work on, and that I’ve repeatedly started (though obviously never concluded), is the creation of an idealized/formal framework for describing such regulation.

One intuition that jumps out at me when I think about this question is that regulation is learned at a “location.” This is equivalent to the idea that someone “notices” they’re doing something wrong. E.g. suppose you notice that you’re producing art that looks too similar. “Learning” a regulation is then the extremely complicated process whereby this immediate awareness is translated into a complex process for classifying non-linguistic low-level thought as leading to something “too similar” to what has been done before, coupled with a process for shutting down such thought, followed finally by the re-adjustment/normalization of other cognitive processes to take into account the higher order effects of such elimination.

Metaphorically, this action might vary along a number of characteristic dimensions.

One such dimension is “violence.” When a problem is noticed at one location***, the action of eliminating that problem is generally located elsewhere. Is that action violent? Does it vary from person to person? Perhaps when I notice that I’m thinking incorrectly I rip that shit out. Perhaps I attenuate its emitted signals slightly.

Another is “distance.” Is the action from afar, abstractly? Do I notice that my music is dull and thus change my hand position? Does my hand hurt from overuse in some way and so I change my style?

A final question to keep in mind, though perhaps of somewhat more general interest, is the question of whether or not or to what extent such actions exist totally. Namely, is such an action an Action which the Brain Performs, or is it simply just some effect which we notice because in its total form it can be described, but which can be incompletely performed, etc. This is too hard to talk about and probably you don’t know what I mean, so I’m going to stop here.

* I don’t believe a distinction exists between conscious and sub-conscious thought. I’m much more interested in understanding the differences between thought whose stuff is language and thought whose stuff is somehow otherwise composed.

** It’s certainly not my desire to claim that this constitutes an ontological basis for the description of thought, I’m merely trying to describe modes that one might intuitively agree a person is engaged in. E.g. when a person is drawing they are being creative, when they are doing math they are being deductive, when they are looking for a mate they are being exploratory. These modes can mix and mingle and perhaps they’re the same thing – whether this is the case or not is not within the scope of this essay.

*** I’ll use the metaphor of cognitive “location” freely since it has been used in the past. I wonder whether a consistent/interesting theory of computational “location” could be created in the field of computer science? That is, can we think of a statement in the lambda calculus as occupying “space?” Can we think of such a statement as consisting of “parts” which are in different “locations” in that “space?” Etc.

Squirreling Thread

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 18, 2010

I am the empty sky
I am two empty skies
I am the Yes

When amateurs play at go
Their stones clump in corners
They pick their noses and compute
Their computations are misguided

When experts play at go
They smile at the empty sky
They drown themselves in wonder
They turn a finger under

I’m a squirreling thread running
Between trees through oceans
Down past the distinction between
Cat and fountain and loving
Every stinking moment

In Defense of Critical Theory

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 13, 2010

Do you know what it is to listen and hear? To feel the words of another person and trust them?

Perhaps some of you have had this experience with your parents, with a religious leader, while reading some book or something. I’m taking it as a premise that this sort of experience exists, so if you disagree maybe you shouldn’t continue reading.

It’s different from the feeling you get when you watch the news, say. I suppose there’s a bit of it in there, but if you’re anything like me, when you hear the news you’re always interpreting it. There’s so much qualification that the news becomes just another data point stored away to be dealt with later.

I’m talking about a feeling like looking at a mountain. When you take it in and absorb it and can’t help yourself because you agree so much. Instead of questioning or thinking complex linguistic critical thoughts you’re just shouting YES YES YES YES

Well anyway, for me it’s really painful to listen to most people. There’s so much qualification and thought inherent in that act. I just can’t buy it. I always think to myself that maybe I don’t understand what people are -really- saying, as if there’s something hidden deep under their words. Maybe I’m projecting meaning on to them. More likely, and what I really do believe, is that the world is just way more complex than what your average person can cope with.

I mean, the way you cope with complexity is by acknowledging it as a flaw inherent in your model. If you have time, once your model is done, you can start recruiting more complexity into it.

The way most people deal with complexity is by denying its existence. I cannot communicate with such people. I cannot trust or respect them.

And there is a world of difference between the two approaches.

Anyway, I digress. But my point is that the former typeare people who I can listen to and scream YES YES YES whereas the latter I can barely bring myself to listen to in a sober state.

My defense of critical theorists is that they often get the difference. Perhaps this is even what is meant by “theory” in this case. The critical theorists that I’m somewhat familiar with (Adorno, Foucault, Zizek, Chomsky, Lacan [does he count?]) all seem to get this. They’re committed to their own frameworks, but they know how to drop them. They are bothered by the inconsistencies in their ideas.

I suppose that the most common criticism of theory/philosophy which I hear coming from the layman/non-intellectual/pseudo-intellectual is that somehow all philosophical claims are equivalent. Besides the extremely low-brow notion that more or less everything is just “opinion” there is the somewhat more subtle idea, closely paralleled by the problem of induction, that there’s no real way to “know” what’s true in some deep sense. Any two philosophical claims are equal under this idea since, when we get down to it, we can’t really “know” if something’s true or not. Everything’s up for interpretation.

Take for example, this quote from Zizek’s debate on “What does it mean to be a revolutionary today?”

“My god, let’s look at the history of anti-semitism. You know that, if you look at when it started in 11th/12th century, it was, unfortunately, from below. And this is not in any way to dismiss or make fun of so-called lower classes but this is the tremendous force of ideology exerted on people in desperate situations. Did you know, for instance, that when violent anti-semitism started that the Pope and the kings tried to control it.”

Now, there are some really strong conclusions which fall naturally out of this, one of which he elucidates in his next statement:

“Don’t fall into this trap – the worst favor you can do to real workers is to make them into these naive good idiots manipulated by some [puppetmaster?]”

The contrarian (and I’m occasionally guilty of this, too) would say things like “oh, how do we know that anti-semitism started among the lower classes? oh, how do we know that they weren’t force to be anti-semitic? etc.” I mean, it’s easy to see how an argument would be constructed that would reduce the status of this provocative statement to “mere opinion.”

It’s only one small step further to start appreciating that such an approach can be brought to bear on more or less any claim that a philosopher/theorist makes. Just deny all of the assumptions of the statement and require further justification. Those justifications will have assumptions which you can deny and so on. At some point the whole thing becomes so confused, at which stage you put your index finger in the air and go “ah ha! so there really IS no basis for your claim!”

Now don’t get me wrong, the pseudo-intellectual contrarian is completely correct. But what he doesn’t get is that the intellectual is not an idiot. They have not ignored the fact that all abstract claims are more or less impossible to completely ground in unquestionable fact.

They have all more or less mastered the art of making a claim, believing the claim fully, recruiting it almost to the level of an ontology, but maintaining a willingness to drop it at the last moment.

Two observations:

First, note that this process itself has side-effects. For one thing, if you know that this is what you are going to do then this automatically limits the complexity and modularity of the belief systems you choose to (temporarily) integrate. What I mean is that you can’t go whole-hog into something crazy and unwieldy like Christianity.

Second, there’s a remarkable analogy framework:theorist :: language:speaker :: computer language:programmer. Languages are super complex and have deep emotional connections to the people who speak them, but one can shift amongst them or drop one (though it is admittedly uncommon to “drop” a natural language).

So theorists are these people who have mastered a set of skills related to self-regulation (rigorousness) and self-analysis (the ability to drop a thought-system once it’s become untenable or displeasing in some way). These skills seem fairly necessary to the individual’s pursuit of a life which is mentally free.

This is the reason that I can listen to these people with respect. This is the reason that their words flow into me, thank god. Without such a flow this would be a miserable, lonely life indeed.

Reach Out

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 12, 2010

I have two new pages:

http://about.me/chris.bisignani

http://bigsley.tumblr.com

I think I’m going to try to reach out, more.

Programming

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 9, 2010

Work such as this is the stuff of quieter souls than mine.

How can I sit in the dark, eyes warm, hands warm, unblinking, room dark, plodding through, soggily plodding, when there are ducks cutting sharp autumn air over bright ponds, cliffs singing and surging beneath thriving trees, an inner chaotic warring world to be conquered and yearning to be brought to oblivion. How can I make miniscule changes to documents left to gather in folders on disks in distant hills, silently, infinitesimal transistor flips signifying nothing.

Work as quiet as this dims my light and I slip into a dimness. Perhaps it’s the nature of programming. Perhaps it’s too requiring of rigour. Perhaps it’s a dulling thing to make things this precise. Perhaps perhaps.

Greatness/Life

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 9, 2010

The greatness of man follows immediately from his ability to perceive something as being there regardless of whether it really is.

Life follows immediately the ability of a complex system to act as if something is there regardless of whether it really is.

When what is perceived as there is really there this is unrelated to its perception.

In this way, Greatness/Life arise as a wave on a still ocean.

Maybe Vote

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 2, 2010

I’m really annoyed by my last post’s lack of clarity.

I really don’t mean to rail.

I suppose this point makes me a bit emotional because, as I explained in that post, some of my friends who are otherwise intellectually satisfactory turn into real drones when it comes to voting.

My entire point is just that there are real and good reasons for not voting which I don’t think people understand or appreciate. Perhaps if you understand these points and agree that they are valid but still believe voting is right then it’s possible that I’ll think highly of your stance. My entire point is that parroting “what if no one voted?” does not constitute an intellectual position.

This is not a game. People live and die by this shit.

Do Not Vote

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 2, 2010

Every election year we’re bombarded with a million variants of the same message:

“God am I sick of all of this electioneering – but make sure you vote!”

Well I am taking a stance – the stance I have taken for 7 years now – that not only am I not going to vote, you shouldn’t either.

For one thing, it takes time. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. Even if all you’re doing is going to the polls and filling in random circles, that takes time. But let’s assume you’re conscientious and actually read up on everyone’s positions and back stories – suppose you read all the propositions and come to a reasonable mix of opinions, something you’re happy with. How many hours will all of that take you?

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to make a probabilistic argument. Said argument makes sense* but it’s not the reason you shouldn’t vote. I just wanted to get it out there that there are some more-or-less concrete, unequivocle downsides to voting.

But the real problem with voting is the submission of it. When you vote you are submitting. You are submitting to peer pressure. You are submitting to a culture that is mad with power – a culture that believes that the collective can somehow magically act better than the sum of its individuals – a culture dominated by anti-intellectuals and ingrates. You are submitting to a discourse which you did not pick – you did not pick the topics, you did not pick the candidates, but by submitting that vote you are validating choices which you have had no part in. Prop. 19 legalizes marijuana in California. Why aren’t we voting to legalize LSD? Well, because the discourse must creep forward. That’s the way of it. That’s the only way it can be.

The real problem with voting is that you are validating Their power. Do you believe in their right to power? These smiling shit-eaters who you’ve never and you will never meet?

The problem with voting is that it marginalizes the rational. Since the popular vote wins the popular vote must be simple and easy to understand. A complex problem requires either a complex or elegant solution, neither of which can win since the public cannot and will not understand them. Neither of which has won, historically. It’s a joke that marijuana isn’t legalized. The point is simple and straightforward. The fact that the public is overwhelmingly incapable of ingesting them is telling.

The problem with voting is that it is a tool of corruption and power. Any ideas why the GOP spent more than $2 billion on campaigns this year? Do you think they’re idiots? Do you think that they will not recoup this money tenfold once they’re elected? By voting, you are giving politicians just one more target for their manipulative electioneering.

The problem with voting is that it is an excuse for you, yes you, to put on the blinders and ignore what is going on around you. When you vote you submit to the role of voter and citizen. You have done your duty, now go back to work. Feel good about yourself! You voted!

It boils my blood when my otherwise liberal and somewhat free-minded friends go into idiot-zombie mode about this shit. With their “you should just vote!” or “what if nobody voted!?!” bullshit incoherent rhetoric. Fuck you! I wish no one voted. Then we could stop squabbling over power and fix some real fucking problems. If you believe that our government is corrupt – if you believe that politicians do not deserve the trust we give them, then why the fuck do you believe we should vote people into office? If we can’t find anyone who we can trust with power then how about we just elect -no one-.

The problem with voting is that it validates the myth that government can solve our problems. Problems come from all sectors, sectors that the government has no information about, no idea how to deal with. And the government has a really shitty track record of dealing with them. The idea that who we vote into office in California will turn this sorry state’s economy around is belief in a magic bullet – child’s stuff. It will not work. Concentrate on real problems.

The corollary to the last point is that it validates the idea that we CANNOT solve our problems. “Oh but the public roads.” No, fuck you! You think there’s absolutely no way to fix the public roads except by appointed some slimy smiling motherfucker to tell us how to do it?

If, instead of voting, everyone took 10 hours out of their week and did some work around their neighborhood – talked to neighbors, cleaned up their streets, planted a goddamn tree, fed a homeless person, whatever – imagine the difference we could make.

And here we have the black and twisted backbone of the Voter’s argument. Here is the Crux. The Voter is lazy. The Voter wants to sit back and watch the information go by and decide. The Voter wants to be a decider, not a doer. The Voter wants to change the world – but doesn’t want to get her hands dirty doing it. Push the button, go home, turn on the TV.

If you really believe in collective action SO much then why the fuck does your contribution to it consist of pushing a button?

Pathetic.

* If EV = Sunk Time Cost + Value of Winning a Vote * Probability Your Vote Made a Difference then EV is pretty damn sure to be less than zero.