July 27, 2009

Self similar and out of sight

Ringo playing bongos, Paul and someone else in the glass

When my friend John started going to the Bronx High School of Science, he was surprised to find that it contained the same cliques that his former, neighborhood school had had-- the jocks, the geeks, etc. He figured that because the student body consisted of all the geeks taken from other schools, he would only find geeks there. But no-- and when he got to know the school's Chess Team, the geeks among geeks, he saw that they paralleled the same divisions.

Humans and human groupings always seem to break down into the same archetypes, and this also seems to happen at all levels of granularity, from national character to impulses within an individual.

We are Fractal Sheep, Paul Spinrad

The post isn't very long, and the good stuff is mostly extracted above, but I like it a lot. I like it because I lean toward the society of the mind, but also because of the social aspects of the above, the similar iterations at all scales of the same types and conflicts. Think of The Beatles: the cute one, the quiet one, the smart one, the funny one.

Of course, those labels were too glib, they were all cute, quiet, smart and funny, but everyone gets labeled in a group, and everyone ends up playing a role or two. The self is socially constructed, which is why solitude has traditionally been a tool to break it, either as punishment or spiritual discipline.

From another angle, the perceptions others have of you are obviously the reality of how you're perceived. If the people who know you think that you're a jerk, then you're a jerk, and only a change in your behavior is likely to alter that perception to any significant degree among any significant number of people. And I write this as someone who has often, and with good cause, been seen as a jerk.

Plants have many qualities, but we tend to focus on only one or two for even species of considerable interest, defining them solely in those terms. The reality of all plants - and by extension, all animals, including [naturally] all humans - is far richer than perceived by even the most patient and generous observer. But somehow that doesn't seem to matter.

July 24, 2009

Head spaces

Peripetics by ZEITGUISED from NotForPaper.

Beautiful video [worth enlarging] described like this at the source:
Zeitguised made a piece in six acts for the opening exhibition at the Zirkel Gallery. It entails six imaginations of disoriented systems that take a catastrophic turn, including the evolution of educational plant-body-machine models and liquid building materials.
The section with the grass, plane and cloud [0:30 - 1:00] looks / sounds / feels / like entering salvia space.

July 20, 2009

All life is a process of breaking down

crack-up cut-up by they poured fire on us from the sky [click to enlarge]
Fitzgerald, in contrast, comes across as a well-meaning but annoying fellow who hero-worshiped the wrong people, and who consistently sabotaged himself by getting drunk and behaving like a fool.
From Michiko Kakutani's review of Hemingway vs Fitzgerald

Related: Full text of The Crack-Up here

July 18, 2009

From practice to theory


Back in Osaka for two days before Taiwan, with the [real] joy of karaoke waiting at the end of the day.

The first paragraph of the excerpt, below, overstates the case in suggesting that theoretical knowledge can never lead to practical applications, but the rest adds some modifiers to soften this claim.

The biggest myth I’ve encountered in my life is as follows: that the road from practical know-how to theoretical knowledge is reversible—in other words, that theoretical knowledge can lead to practical applications, just as practical applications can lead to theoretical knowledge. After all, this is the reason we have schools, universities, professors, research centers, homework, exams, essays, dissertations, and the strange brand of individuals called “economists.”

Yet the strange thing is that it is very hard to realize that knowledge cannot travel equally in both directions. It flows better from practice to theory—but to understand it you have nontheoretical knowledge. And people who have nontheoretical knowledge don’t think of these things.

Indeed, if knowledge flowed equally in both directions, then theory without experience should be equivalent to experience without theory—which is not the case.
Nassim Taleb, excerpted from a forward to a book, pdf here
Some related posts:
Practice / Theory
Theory / Practice
Big fat lie

July 17, 2009

We eat death

Ecosystem on a tree near a temple in Himeji

Went to a temple in one of the hills around Himej. Every time I visit a temple I get more into the plants around the place than the buildings. At the moment I have a thing for mosses and ferns - the early plants, before flowers.


They also have some good cacti - the most recent addition to the plant kingdom [I've read] - at the Himeji Botanical Garden, as the town is twinned with Phoenix, Arizona, and on my last trip I bought two very mature Lophophora williamsii, each as big as a fist. Taking them through customs was as much excitement as I can bear, although cleaned of soil they're probably legal, as the same plants can be bought in Taiwanese markets at three or four times the price.

Above is a picture of moss growing on a tree stump and around a stone that was cut for the temple. These plants are relentless. They bear a lot of weight and bounce back and just keep growing. I took some from the gardens at the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Nara, and with any luck I'll get it through customs and it'll take in Taiwan. I play for team DNA.


Replace the suit and tie with jeans and an aloha, and the hair with a shaved head, in true Mishima style, and you have me eating salami and drinking beer in Japan as much as possible. I eat death.

July 16, 2009

Memory loss

The Chinese character for alcohol [jiu], photographed from an Osaka restaurant sign and cleaned up on a computer, with the face and bottle added to make it mine

Was walking in Himeji and managed to lose a small folder of index cards full of notes. I retraced my steps, but no luck, and then the only thing I wanted was for it to be found by someone with no English abilities and / or immediately trashed.

I bought a notebook and tried to remember what I'd written, but there was too much and it was gone. Before writing there were oral traditions, and at other times people worked on complex mnemonic systems and memory palaces, but I've always been too lazy to try any of these methods, and, like nearly all skills, have worked on the assumption that just knowing how something is done is good enough. I have plenty of theories, but little practical experience, which explains a lot about who I am and how I came to be.

I bought a notebook and began writing again. Pen and paper are an extension of my brain, as much an augmentation as a memory chip, regardless of how little visible progress is actually made.

Related: To the brain, tools are temporary body parts [Discover]

July 12, 2009

Cultural differences in the fundamental attribution error

Osaka cab view

In Himeji, on total down time, riding a simple bicycle and doing nothing. I think I may've outgrown the idea that a vacation should be judged by how many intoxicants are consumed and how much sex is had. All of this just ahead of my [next] mid-life crisis, which should see a tremendous regression on all fronts.

The contrast with last summer could hardly be greater, when I was working all the time and feeling wasted. I have work with me here, but it's an hour or so in the morning, an hour or so at night.
Previous research has shown that cultural differences exist in the susceptibility of making fundamental attribution error: people from individualistic cultures are prone to the error while people from collectivistic cultures commit less of it. ...

These discrepancies in the salience of different factors to people from different cultures suggest that Asians tend to attribute behavior to situation while Westerners attribute the same behavior to the actor. ... One explanation for this difference in attribution lies in the way people of different cultural orientation perceive themselves in the environment. Particularly, Markus and Kitayama (1991) mentioned how (individualistic) Westerners tend to see themselves as independent agents and therefore prone themselves to individual objects rather than contextual details.
Excerpted, cut and pasted from Wikipedia

July 09, 2009

The creature that wins against its environment


Walking my legs to stumps in Kyoto and Osaka. The picture is of the woodwork in part of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which I'll write up later.

I've had the quote below in my notebook and ready to post for some time, and at first I thought it was unrelated to the temple, but going over it there's a connection with some of the ideas that play out again and again in Mishima, with the hero finding victory in self-destruction.

....the ideas which dominate our civilization at the
present time date in their most virulent form from the
Industrial Revolution. They may be summarized as:

(a) It's us against the environment.

(b) It's us against other men.

(c) It's the 'individual' (or the individual company, or
the individual nation) that matters.

(d) We can have unilateral control over the environment and must strive for that control.

(e) We live within an infinitely expanding "frontier."

(f) Economic determinism is common sense.

(g) Technology will do it for us.

We submit that these ideas are simply proved false by the great but ultimately destructive achievements of our technology in the last 150 years. Likewise they appear to be false under modern ecological theory. The creature that wins against its environment destroys itself.
Gregory Bateson, cut/pasted from here, and also in Steps to an Ecology of Mind [my bold].

July 03, 2009

Knowing when to stop

freelancers operate unconstrained by dress codes and other workplace conventions

Have burned through various systems & schedules in the last seven months of freelancing. The current iteration is to get up at 8am and work through until a bike ride / lunch, then work again until somewhere between 4pm and 6pm, when it's clear that nothing more can done at a decent speed or in good spirit, and then I just quit and forget about work until the next morning.

What's striking to me is how, after all the strange schedules I've tried, the most conventional one, essentially 9-to-5, is the one that feels and works best

Apart from a few months in 1992, I've never had a 9-to-5 job. The novelty has yet to wear off.

July 01, 2009

Away from home


Will be in Japan for two weeks from July 6th - Osaka, Kyoto and Himeji.