Constellating




Order                         -                      Chaos
Simple                      -                      Complex
Few                           -                      Many
Life                           -                      Death
Known                      -                      Unknown
Complete                   -                      Incomplete
Conscious                 -                      Unconscious
Light                          -                      Dark
Procedural                 -                      Creative
Conventional             -                      Novel




At the centre things are known, the ground is firm. Data points have been firmly connected, woven into enduring stories that are continually repeated. Procedures are accepted and followed without question. Code is run, not created. In the centre we accept what is known and we help it endure by repeating the requisite forms and patterns.

The periphery edges onto an infinite roiling sea of chaos. We are confronted by an infinity of unconnected points, units, data. At the periphery our role is creative - we must make connections, join dots, weave parts into wholes. We create new stories, and if they are good enough, useful enough, then these stories may one day become embedded at the centre.





Dreams, religious experience, art, love - these were the phenomena that still had power, Bateson thought, to undermine the rash/rational purposeful mind.

Of these four, art enjoyed the special role of fusing different "levels of mind" together:

there was necessarily consciousness and purpose in the decision to create, but creativity itself involved openness to material from the unconscious, otherwise the work would be merely schematic and transparent.

Discussing a Balinese painting that at the most immediate level shows a cremation procession, but can also be read as a phallic symbol (the tall cremation tower in the centre has an elephant on each side at the base) or as an account of Balinese social organisation (the etiquette and gaiety of the funeral crowd smoothing the turbulence of grief), Bateson remarks that the painting is profound because not "really" about one or the other, or even all three, but about their connectedness. "In a word, it is only about relationship and not about any identifiable relata."

Similarly, a novel whose characters develop in a mutually defining play of identities, each changing in response to the others, expressing together a collective ethos of which none is fully representative - one thinks of the Karamazov brothers and their appalling father - undermines the notion that anyone can grasp the overall pattern of which they are a part.

So, quite apart from any political content, narrative can induce a contemplative respect for the mysterious interconnectedness of the world, something that, hopefully, might lead to more cautious behaviour and a little less enthusiasm for dramatic intervention.

[Tim Parks]
Everything is connected, article about Gregory Bateson published in The Guardian. Can be found here.




The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them.

Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. 

Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb] 
The Black Swan
 


Such is the power of the Narrative Fallacy — the backward-looking mental tripwire that causes us to attribute a linear and discernable cause-and-effect chain to our knowledge of the past.

[...] there is a deep biological basis to the problem: we are inundated with so much sensory information that our brains have no other choice; we must put things in order so we can process the world around us. It’s implicit in how we understand the world. 

What might we be missing?

It is very difficult to understand cause-and-effect chains, and this is a simple example compared to a complex case like a war or an economic crisis, which would have had multiple causes working in a variety of directions and enough red herrings to make a proper analysis difficult.

Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression.

'The Narrative Fallacy and What You Can Do About It'



Simple facts are meaningless out of some context. [They] tell us nothing intrinsically useful, and we always need to weave them in some kind of story to make sense of them. 

There can be good stories and bad stories, valid stories and invalid stories, stories we like and stories we dislike, and there is certainly a hyuge market in the political world for spinning simple facts into ridiculous stories that satisfy agendas. Even physics is a way of wrapping physical observations into sophisticated mathematical stories about the behavior of materials. 

One can have a fallacious narrative, but one must have a narrative of some sort to make reasoning possible.

[Ted Wrigley]
'What is the narrative fallacy?'






Another important characteristic of perception is the tendency towards closure, that is, towards identifying a comprehensible figure.

Provided data, we will instinctively try to make meaning of it or to create some sense of understanding or familiarity. 

A circle of unconnected dots, for example, will become a complete, bounded image when the perceiver mentally fills in the gaps.

[Herb Stevenson]
'Paradox: A Gestalt Theory of Change'





The ability to make or spot analogies has long been of interest to people who try to judge intelligence. Candidates for graduate work in certain fields, for instance, must take an exam called the Miller Analogies Test, which contains multiple-choice questions such as the following:

Lion
is to Pride as Horse is to:

Vanity
Herd
Corral

In making an analogy, we apply a concept learned in one context to another one. Such a mental operation is in itself mindful. Architects who can see how one setting, say, a hospital, resembles another, say, a hotel, can come up with designs more responsive to complex needs.

Intentionally mixing metaphors with an eye toward finding similarities can spark new insights. Comparing people, businesses, and religions, across and within categories, for example, can lead to a greater understanding of both sides of the comparison.

Jean Piaget wrote that his work on the child's conception of time, motion, and speed was inspired by Albert Einstein's work in the domain of physics and relativity. According to the physicist Gerald Horton, one of Einstein's many contributions was to generate ideas that lent themselves to "further adaptation and transformation in the imagination of similarly exalted spirits who live on the other side of disciplinary boundaries."

This ability to transcend context is the essence of mindfulness and central to creativity in any field.

[Ellen Langer]
Mindfulness, p.130, 131




The Principle of Correspondence

This principle embodies the truth that there is always a Correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of Being and Life. The old Hermetic axiom ran in these words: "As above, so below; as below, so above."

The Kybalion, Chapter 2: "The Seven Hermetic Principles"




On the same great agility and power of transmission of their brains depends precisely the fact that, with them, every thought so readily evokes all those that are analogous or related to it.

In this way the similarities, analogies, and relations of things in general come so rapidly and readily into their minds, that the same occasion that millions of ordinary people had before them brings them to the thought, to the discovery.

Other men are subsequently surprised at not having made the discovery, because they are certainly able to think afterwards, but not before.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.29




We chose to know more about less and less. We may have expanded what we as a society know - but it was at the price of no single individual being able to truly know it all.

Now we obviously require specialized experts (as opposed to dilettantes) to solve specific problems [...] Even though the information storage capacity in our brains is vast, we eventually bump up against what we can truly understand - or we just can’t hold all the relevant knowledge in our heads.

[...] machines can help, acting as partners in generalism [...] 

As knowledge grows, we must increasingly rely on computers. This is not a new insight; in 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote the seminal “As We May Think” essay in The Atlantic describing the need for a machine:

But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. 

The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers — conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial…

The difficulty seems to be… not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record.  

The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships.

The problem of hidden knowledge continues to grow. And now we have the Internet, and search, and big data which both surface, and hide, knowledge. As a way of addressing this problem of growing knowledge, Bush proposed a “memex” device, a type of rudimentary web browser.

[Samuel Arbesman]
Let’s Bring The Polymath — and the Dabblers — Back 





I have my own problems with 'hidden knowledge'.

Take my music collection. Because it has become so easy to amass large quantities of music I now have a (digital) record collection that extends beyond my ability to interact with it effectively. I find myself having to come up with 'ways in' to it; methods by which I can access those songs that otherwise will never get played. These include playlists, shuffle mode, and limiting my access through arbitrarily defined boundaries (such as only playing artists that begin with the letter 'A'). It is too big; too complex.

This blog offers another example. As I write, there are a total of 526 posts on foreverbecoming. I do my best to link posts up to one another; and in so doing create threads - or constellations - that make (to my mind) greater sense out of the information.

These threads act in much the same way as a playlist in itunes. By linking things up - gathering separate elements together to make larger wholes - we create a higher, more abstract layer on top of that which already exists. I see this as akin to building a pyramid, where every subsequent layer of blocks gets larger and fewer in number.

It culminates in a single block at the top - the capstone - which is akin to a universal binding truth (such as the golden rule, "harm no one, help others as much as you can"). A true capstone is something that can in some way encapsulate everything beneath it, albeit in a very general way. It contains no details. I'm not sure what the capstone of foreverbecoming is, although I think the golden rule is as good as any. Maybe it is something like "L O V E."

The process of linking posts to each other is very similar to the process of creating constellations. It is also similar to a dot-the-dot puzzle, albeit one with many dots and no numbers. Essentially, I am using specifics to get at generalities. Every star is a picture - a constellation - in itself; but by joining stars to one another we gain access to a new level of understanding.

But inevitably posts get lost. Many of the posts on this blog will have no "Related posts:-" They are 'hidden knowledge', lost until they can be weaved into a bigger picture. They are like those towns and villages that haven't yet been linked up to the arteries of the modern world; those that aren't near a motorway, and don't have a train station. They get no traffic, and have terrible hit-counts. Advertisers go nowhere near them.

Looked at from that angle, perhaps they would prefer to stay hidden after all ...

 



This is artificial general intelligence (AGI), with the emphasis on “general”. In his vision of the future, super-smart machines will work in tandem with human experts to potentially solve anything.

“Cancer, climate change, energy, genomics, macroeconomics, financial systems, physics: many of the systems we would like to master are getting so complex,” he argues.

“There’s such an information overload that it’s becoming difficult for even the smartest humans to master it in their lifetimes. How do we sift through this deluge of data to find the right insights? 

One way of thinking of AGI is as a process that will automatically convert unstructured information into actionable knowledge. What we’re working on is potentially a meta-solution to any problem.”

[Demis Hassabis]
The superhero of artificial intelligence: can this genius keep it in check?




When people ask for education they normally mean something more than mere training, something more than mere knowledge of facts, and something more than a mere diversion. Maybe they cannot themselves formulate precisely what they are looking for; but I think what they are really looking for is ideas that would make the world, and their own lives, intelligible to them. 

When a thing is intelligible you have a sense of participation; when a thing is unintelligible you have a sense of estrangement. “Well, I don't know' you hear people say, as an impotent protest against the unintelligibility of the world as they meet it. If the mind cannot bring to the world a set - or, shall we say, a tool-box - of powerful ideas, the world must appear to it as a chaos, a mass of unrelated phenomena, of meaningless events. Such a man is like a person in a strange land without any signs of civilisation, without maps or signposts or indicators of any kind. Nothing has any meaning to him; nothing can hold his vital interest; he has no means of making anything intelligible to himself. 

All traditional philosophy is an attempt to create an orderly system of ideas by which to live and to interpret the world. 

‘Philosophy as the Greeks conceived it,' writes Professor Kuhn, 'is one single effort of the human mind to interpret the system of signs and so to relate man to the world as a comprehensive order within which a place is assigned to him.' 

The classical-Christian culture of the late Middle Ages supplied man with a very complete and astonishingly coherent interpretation of signs, i.e. a system of vital ideas giving a most detailed picture of man, the universe, and man's place in the universe. This system, however, has been shattered and fragmented, and the result is bewilderment and estrangement […]

Science cannot produce ideas by which we could live. Even the greatest ideas of science are nothing more than working hypotheses, useful for purposes of special research but completely inapplicable to the conduct of our lives or the interpretation of the world. 

If, therefore, a man seeks education because he feels estranged and bewildered, because his life seems to him empty and meaningless, he cannot get what he is seeking by studying any of the natural sciences, i.e. by acquiring ‘know-how'. That study has its own value which I am not inclined to belittle; it tells him a great deal about how things work in nature or in engineering: but it tells him nothing about the meaning of life and can in no way cure his estrangement and secret despair.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p.68-9, 71





Fresh analogies allow all of us, not just jurors and judges, to understand, if not quite sympathize with, different contexts and experiences. 

If grounded in the particular and concrete, unfamiliar analogies also allow us to see connections among things ordinarily conceived as different. Unexpected analogies, especially those making connections across contexts, "scrape off barnacles of thought" and "challenge views so settled that they are not thought to be views" (Minow 1987, 87). Metaphors can make an obvious contribution to this process because metaphors are like compasses: one leg is anchored in the familiar, the other free to float and connect with the unfamiliar (Hayles 1990). 

In each of these cases the purpose of using concrete imagery and metaphors is to induce the explainer or interpreter to "see it fresh" by recognizing that criteria used to identify "similar" and "different” reflect the particular shared experience from which they are formulated. 

Metaphors and analogies become specially necessary when explainer and explained do not share a common tradition. Far from abstracting from context, the aim of vivid, detailed narrative is precisely to bring the background of a forum - its context - to the fore and make it the issue being explored.

Once we recognize the astronomical multidimensionality of human experience and the context-dependence of dynamical self-organization, we can use vivid detail and fresh analogies to explain action. Doing so highlights the complexity of human behavior instead of abstracting it away to simplicity.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.239




The orderly context in which the components are unified and embedded constrains them. Constraints are therefore relational properties that parts acquire in virtue of being unified - not just aggregated - into a systematic whole.

For example, the physical link between the tibia and the peronei on the one hand and the knee joint on the other systematically constrains the movement of the lower leg [...] In this example, a constraint represents a contraction of the lower leg's potential range of behavior: the lower leg has less freedom of movement, given its connection with the knee, than it would have otherwise. Limiting or closing off alternatives is the most common understanding of the term "constraint."

But if all constraints restricted a thing's degrees of freedom in this way, organisms (whether phylogenetically or developmentally) would progressively do less and less. However, precisely the opposite is empirically observed. 

Some constraints must therefore not only reduce the number of alternatives: they must simultaneously create new possibilities. 

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.133