The Oak and the Stream





Oak                                     -                      Stream
Robust                                -                      Resilient




In this year's Celebrity Big Brother we've witnessed a number of the contests being condemned for being "two-faced," and for "sitting on the fence." These concepts are often employed as a means to criticize, but is it possible that they could have other, more positive, uses?

If we look at the images that lie behind these criticisms we see that they're concerned with the same idea. To be two-faced is to fail to be one-faced; in other words, it is to fail to present a consistent face, to stick to an image. So the two-faced person may present a certain face in this situation (and with these people), yet may present an entirely different face in that situation (with those people). The criticism seems to take for granted that to have one face is the favoured way to be, the "right" way.

When we are one-faced we are faithful to a single image, a single way of being. The one-face is a monotheistic mode, borne from the notion that to be one way - and to be certain of this way - is the ideal way to be. In Celebrity Big Brother perhaps the most stringent advocate of the mono-face mode is Vinnie Jones.

Jones represents the image of the Great Oak; rooted firmly into the earth, it would take a truly catastrophic event to move the Oak; its thick bark protects it from the elements; its trunk does not bend or sway in even the strongest of winds; the Oak can be leaned upon for means of support, and provides a sturdy shelter for those who seek it.

Jones's language and behaviours give us clues to his nature. In a conversation with Alex (a sapling to Jones' Oak, swaying this way and that, but yet to become immune to the breeze) he urges him to become something (to put down firmer roots). Supported by Steven (a classic American Hardwood) he criticizes Alex for being "a bit of everything" whilst being "none of them." For Jones, to be a bit of everything is to be nothing at all. He sees no value in being in-between; to be in-between is to be ineffectual.

Jones is sure of who he is and of his opinions. Like the Oak, he is firmly rooted and immovable. Yet, in Jones we see an Oak that detests anything that does not mirror its own sturdy nature. He is the one to most frequently bring down the label of "two-faced" upon the heads of his fellow housemates, and it is he who seems most irked when they "sit on the fence" or "go between camps." He is bothered by ways of being that present contrary images to his own.

To be two-faced, to sit on the fence and to go between camps all bring to mind images of fluidity and flexibility; as with Alex, the two-faced person - the fence-sitter, the go-betweener - suggests a tree that sways, that gives. They also bring to mind the image of water or oil, its tendency to slip and slide and to evade solid form. Indeed, the two-faced person is often seen as slippery - assuming one form in this instance and another in that - and as such they cannot be relied upon (leaned upon) or trusted (to maintain a singular form).

When - like Jones - we attribute a negative value to fluid images, we risk overlooking the positive value that they can bring us. If we view two-faced from another angle, then we may see it as having two languages. Thus, to sit on the fence, or to go between camps is to carry messages, from one Oak to another. The Oak - so proud of its strength, its surety - does not realise that because it is so firmly rooted it may have lost the ability to move, and thus to communicate with other equally well rooted neighbours. If it is too enamoured by its own image, it may not realise how much it needs a go-between, to bring news from afar and to carry its own communications.

And so the go-between becomes the stream, weaving through the forest and carrying messages within its water. When we are two-faced we become like the stream, extending our repertoire - our languages - so we are able to speak to more people. In our two-faced mode we are able to communicate more widely than in our one-faced mode. In fact, we could probably go further and describe the stream as multi-faced, because it does not limit its faces to only two. It wants to communicate with as many things as it can - it feels the importance of this duty for the harmony of the forest - and so it adopts as many faces as it is able, doing its best to open lines of communication with everything it meets.

The Oak has much to be proud of, and within the eco-system his role is an important one. Of course, we are not Oaks, and we needn't be as firmly rooted. But like the Oak, our danger is in holding our own way of being in such high esteem that we forget how vital other modes are to our eco-system, to the harmony of our society. If the unshifting element of our character - our mono-face - takes its mask too literally then we will have difficulty in communicating with those who contradict this mask; our opposites. In times like these we would be well advised to remember the stream and its multi-faceted nature; because it does not literalize any of its faces, its masks, the stream has no opposites, no enemies.

The forest is our eco-system, our environment and society. But its multiplicities - all of its different forms of life, including both Oak and stream - exist as potential within each of us. All play their role, and all must be remembered, and respected.


Still Waters




Still                           -                      Volatile
Permanent                 -                     Transitory
Life                           -                      Death
Solid                         -                      Liquid
Order                         -                     Chaos




Nothing is truly still.

In trying to keep things too still, too serene, too perfect, we must repress anything that may cause a disturbance. Things are pushed under the surface - out of sight, out of mind - and we are afforded the comforting illusion of tranquility. All appears to be well.

But really we know that those disturbing and pesky data points aren't really gone, they are merely forgotten. And the longer we keep them in the dark the more of a debt we accrue. Their power grows - slowly, silently - until it can no longer be contained; at which point it bursts forth, catastrophically.

What is the alternative? Robustness, or resilience.

In becoming resilient we are able to tolerate an amount of volatility - we don't allow disturbances to disturb us too much. We accept that perfection is an illusion, that nothing in life is truly still, and that the need to make it still is pathological. We accept that at times we will be sad, unsettled... imperfect. We come round to Dionysus, become less fixated on Apollo.

Where there is too much stillness - a peace that lasts too long - there is too much repression. If things seem too good, then they likely are. Low volatility is paid for with greater exposure to catastrophic risk.




I don’t trust [Steven Pinker’s] optimism […] more and more kinetic energy, like war, has been turned into potential energy, like unused nuclear weapons - [but] if you don’t have a potential energy term, then everything’s just getting better and better.

[Eric Weinstein]




[...] we may need to intervene to control the iatrogenics of modernity - particularly the large-scale harm to the environment and the concentration of potential (though not yet manifested) damage, the kind of thing we only notice when it is too late.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 121




[…] we can see how the fear of volatility […], leading to inference with nature so as to impose “regularity,” makes us more fragile across so many domains [...] Reducing volatility and ordinary randomness increases exposure to Black Swans - it creates an artificial quiet. 

Preventing small forest fires sets the stage for more extreme ones; giving out antibiotics when it is not very necessary makes us more vulnerable to severe epidemics - and perhaps to that big one, the grand infection that will be resistant to known antibiotics and will travel on Air France.

Which brings me to another organism: economic life. Our aversion to variability and desire for order, and our acting on those feelings, have helped precipitate severe crises. Making something artificially bigger (instead of letting it die early if it cannot survive stressors) makes it more and more vulnerable to a very severe collapse - as I showed with the Black Swan vulnerability associated with an increase in size.

The idea is simply to let human mistakes and miscalculations remain confined, and to prevent their spreading through the system, as Mother Nature does.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 322, 329





A story

A man marries a woman and they settle down.

They buy a house, decorate and furnish it. Eventually they have a child together.

All seems relatively well, until the man’s behaviour begins to change. Perhaps he begins to drink more, or drinks with less control. He gets drunk and stays out, gets into trouble. He becomes more distant from his wife, and child. Maybe he has an affair. Perhaps he does other troublesome, disruptive things.

And for his actions he faces recriminations.

“Why are you doing this?” he is asked. And perhaps he cannot come up with an answer, and he feels bad; but he does not know if he feels bad because he did those things, or because he cannot say why he did them.

And so our hero becomes a villain; his name muddied, his image tarnished.

And he sees the pain that he is causing, and he feels the judgements that are cast upon him. And, whilst he may not show it, somewhere within him he is hurt. He does not like being the one to bring about all this pain, and he does not like the weight of shame that has been hung around his neck. And so he makes efforts to change his ways, to do less of these things that have caused pain. He pares himself down, becomes “good”.

People begin to notice a change in him.

In becoming good he seems to have lost something. He seems dulled, muted. Neutered. At certain points of the day he can be caught staring into the distance, empty-eyed. And people wonder, “What is wrong with him?” “What happened to him?”

Some people, those with eyes to see, sense a deep rumbling within him; and they know that something is very wrong.

A story about a story

We started with a fantasy, one that was presumably shared by both parties; a fantasy of “everything is alright.” An image of a still lake, of balance and harmony. But for some reason this fantasy lost its truth for our hero, and he began to desire new images, and different stories.

His abandoning of the initial fantasy – the shared fantasy – caused pain; not only to his beloved, but to those in the community who were also invested in it. They could not understand his new stories, the sense of them; and, unfortunately for him, neither could he.

All he “knew” was that they were in some way necessary. To keep his own private lake still he seemed to have to cast stones upon communal waters. But he knew that these stones were not thrown out of malice, just to see the splashes and disruption that they would cause. There was an unconscious logic in his actions, a balance was being preserved.

Unfortunately for our hero his lack of insight into his own behaviour – his lack of language, of concepts; his inability to explain himself, to make himself known – meant that it became illegitimate. Lacking an advocate, it was forced underground, into the depths, where it could no longer disrupt the fantasy of “everything is alright”.

In forcing his devils underground he was able to once again to become “good”, the communal lake restored to stillness. But he did not realise that the devils do not disappear; they came to him with an important message, and it is their duty to make sure they are heard. Forced into the darkness, they still sing and dance, only he can no longer see them, or hear their song.

Perhaps our hero even begins to think of himself as “bad”; after all, he can see the consequences of his behaviour, and he is not blind to its effects. And so he is forced into a corner, given an ultimatum; to deny his devils, and to force them underground, or to remain the “villain,” and to live with the label of “bad.”

But perhaps an understanding of his actions – of their sense – would make the choice irrelevant.

Because he could not defend himself, he was forced into an act of self-amputation; an act that – seen from a certain angle – is perhaps the most horrific of this whole tale.





Things that can't be said or thought within a relationship/marriage.

The marriage becomes a normalising structure, marking out a safe area within which we can live. Each keeps tabs on the other to make sure that they aren't straying too far from safe ground.

But the structure cannot stop us dreaming; it cannot halt the flow of fantasy. We see what happens when fantasy enters the marriage, when messy, foreign madness is brought into the home, muddying the carpet and disrespecting the rules.

The question is: will fantasy be allowed in here? Will we open our door to it, or will we turn our back on it; deny it, or vilify it? Does fantasy have a place within our safe structure? Perhaps we made it too safe, too secure. Or perhaps we were wrong to build it in the first place.

"We should be grateful that we've managed to survive our dreams [...] The important thing is, we're awake now."

And so, we're back to normal. We're both back on safe ground, and let's put an end to our dreaming. It was too messy, too painful.




Frozen in time

The marriage begins with an image - the wedding photo - and asks the couple to remain faithful to this image. It asks them to keep smiling, to maintain harmony.

But perhaps the marriage needs to be able to allow other images within its borders; images of tears, and bared-teeth; of dreams, mistakes, regrets.

In asking its participants to stick to a single image it does not allow them to be fully human, condemning them to the immovability of rigor-mortis. Its foundational image is two-dimensional; pathology free, all smiles and great expectations. But if we decide that pathology is an important aspect of flourishing - an aspect of a balance - then it must be let in.

In this case, the mark of the strong marriage is its ability to adapt to changing waters, to allow the roiling seas as well as the calm lake.


Middle World




Middle                       -                      Extreme
Newtonian                 -                      Einsteinian
Euclidean                   -                      Non-Euclidean
Gaussian                   -                       Mandelbrotian
Classical                    -                       Quantum
Classical                    -                       Postmodern
Rational                     -                       Non-rational
Whole number           -                       Decimal place
Digital                        -                       Analogue
Noun                          -                       Verb
State                           -                       Process
Noun                          -                       Verb
Order                           -                       Chaos
Known                          -                     Unknown
Conscious                   -                       Unconscious
Familiar                      -                       Novel
Consolidate                -                       Explore
Conservative              -                       Transgressive
Reductionist              -                       Synergistic
Parts                            -                       Wholes
Universal                    -                       Contextual
Absolute                     -                       Relative





-                                        0                                       +
Wrong                               Right                                Wrong
Deficient                           Balanced                          Excessive
Low resolution                 Correct resolution             High resolution
Macro                               Meso                                Micro
'Reality'                            'Illusion'                            'Reality'






Middle World, a term coined by Richard Dawkins, is used to describe the realm between the microscopic world of quarks and atoms and the larger view of the universe at the galactic and universal level.

This term is used as an explanation of oddity at both extreme levels of existence. There is a lack of understanding of the quantum and molecular universes, because the human mind has evolved to understand best that which it routinely encounters.

'Middle World'




Within the Darwinian conception of how we got here, there is no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties have evolved to put us in error-free contact with reality.

We did not evolve to be perfect mathematicians or logical operators, or perfect conceivers of scientific reality at the very small, sub-atomic level, or the very large, cosmic level, or the very old cosmological level. We are designed by the happenstance of evolution to function within a very narrow band of light intensities and physical parameters. 

The fact that we are able to succeed in creating a vision of scientific truth and the structure of the cosmos at large that radically exceeds those narrow parameters, that is a kind of miracle.

[Sam Harris]
‘Waking Up With Sam Harris #62 - What is True? (with Jordan B. Peterson)’




The universe is always one thing tumbling into the next, one form becoming another. It is a constant interchange, an unending rhythm.

Our perspective gives us the impression - a momentary snapshot - that it is this thing or that thing; a 'person',  a 'tree', a 'chair'.

A lifetime is a snapshot of this sort. Something is captured and held still long enough to identify it, to label it. Yet, while we may think that the thing is still - that is has boundaries and definition - really it is moving: growing and shrinking, flourishing and decaying. At either end of its life it tears at its definitions, and is not quite what it is - the half-formed nature of the fetus and the hollowed out shell of the nearly-dead.

But change your perspective and it may cease to be at all.

Zoomed in, we are atoms. Zoomed out we are specks.
Sped up we are sparks. Slowed down we are statues.

The right distance makes you what you are.
The right time keeps you what you are.

Thus, your perspective is the way in which you interpret the infinite tumbling mass of the universe, and it is the right way (for you at least).




Relating to or denoting the system of geometry based on the work of Euclid and corresponding to the geometry of ordinary experience.

'Euclidean'


An implication of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity is that physical space itself is not Euclidean, and Euclidean space is a good approximation for it only over short distances [...]

For example, if a triangle is constructed out of three rays of light, then in general the interior angles do not add up to 180 degrees due to gravity. A relatively weak gravitational field, such as the Earth's or the sun's, is represented by a metric that is approximately, but not exactly, Euclidean.

Until the 20th century, there was no technology capable of detecting the deviations from Euclidean geometry, but Einstein predicted that such deviations would exist. They were later verified by observations such as the slight bending of starlight by the Sun during a solar eclipse in 1919, and such considerations are now an integral part of the software that runs the GPS system.

It is possible to object to this interpretation of general relativity on the grounds that light rays might be improper physical models of Euclid's lines, or that relativity could be rephrased so as to avoid the geometrical interpretations. However, one of the consequences of Einstein's theory is that there is no possible physical test that can distinguish between a beam of light as a model of a geometrical line and any other physical model.

Thus, the only logical possibilities are to accept non-Euclidean geometry as physically real, or to reject the entire notion of physical tests of the axioms of geometry, which can then be imagined as a formal system without any intrinsic real-world meaning.

'Euclidean Geometry'




In his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Bohm uses these notions to describe how the same phenomenon might look different, or might be characterized by different principal factors, in different contexts such as at different scales.

The implicate order, also referred to as the "enfolded" order, is seen as a deeper and more fundamental order of reality.

In contrast, the explicate or "unfolded" order include the abstractions that humans normally perceive.

'Implicate and explicate order'






By definition, a category (and we would say, a presumptive object) contains things of a kind, considered in relationship to a goal. Things of a kind may be treated as if they were identical.

The inner workings of an answering machine may all be treated as homogeneous and identical “parts,” for example – as elemental atoms, metaphorically speaking – as long as the machine is performing as planned, expected or desired. This makes the answering machine something that may be treated as a unit, as a “single thing,” occupying limited cognitive, categorical, emotional and perceptual resources.

This means that the object category “answering machine,” and object categories in general, might be regarded as functional, low-resolution images of the reality they are attempting to encapsulate. 

It is frequently the case, however, that one or more of our current categories or presumptive objects contains things that may not successfully be treated as a kind, for the purposes of our immediate goal-directed operations. This happens, for example, when a “thing” does not perform its implicit, desired, and predicted duty, because of its inherent and often invisible complexity.

Such failure indicates the inadequacy of our current low-resolution take on the world.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 440-1






[There is a phenomena] which seems to be almost universal when man commits the error of purposive thinking and disregards the systemic nature of the world with which he must deal.

This phenomena is called by the psychologists "projection."

The man, after all, has acted according to what he thought was common sense and now he finds himself in a mess. He does not quite know what caused the mess and he feels that what has happened is somehow unfair.

He still does not see himself as part of a system in which the mess exists, and he either blames the rest of the system or he blames himself.

If you look at the real situations in our world where the systemic nature of the world has been ignored in favour of purpose or common sense, you will find a rather similar reaction. 

President Johnson is, no doubt, fully aware that he has a mess on his hands, not only in Vietnam but in other parts of the national and international ecosystems; and I am sure that from where he sits it appears that he followed his purposes with common sense and that the mess must be due either to the wickedness of others or to his own sin or to come combination of these, according to his temperament.

Similarly, in the field of psychiatry, the family is a cybernetic system of the sort which I am discussing and usually when systemic pathology occurs, the members blame each other, or sometimes themselves.

But the truth of the matter is that both these alternatives are fundamentally arrogant. Either alternative assumes that the individual human being has total power over the system of which he or she is a part.

Even within the individual human being, control is limited. We can in some degree set ourselves to learn even such abstract characteristics as arrogance or humility, but we are not by any means the captain of our souls.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Conscious Purpose versus Nature'), p.442-4





The researchers showed that in simple models of neural networks, the amount of effective information increases as you coarse-grain over the neurons in the network—that is, treat groups of them as single units.

At a certain macroscopic scale, effective information peaks: This is the scale at which states of the system have the most causal power, predicting future states in the most reliable, effective manner. Coarse-grain further, and you start to lose important details about the system’s causal structure.

Tononi and colleagues hypothesize that the scale of peak causation should correspond, in the brain, to the scale of conscious decisions; based on brain imaging studies, Albantakis guesses that this might happen at the scale of neuronal microcolumns, which consist of around 100 neurons.

For any given system, effective information peaks at the scale with the largest and most reliable causal structure. In addition to conscious agents, Hoel says this might pick out the natural scales of rocks, tsunamis, planets and all other objects that we normally notice in the world. “And the reason why we’re tuned into them evolutionarily [might be] because they are reliable and effective, but that also means they are causally emergent,” Hoel said.

“But if we do find that causal emergence is happening, the reductionist assumption would have to be re-evaluated, and that would have to be applied broadly.”

One rejoinder is that perfect knowledge of the universe isn’t possible, even in principle. But even if the universe could be thought of as a single unit evolving autonomously, this picture wouldn’t be informative. “What is left out there is to identify entities—things that exist,” Albantakis said. Causation “is really the measure or quantity that is necessary to identify where in this whole state of the universe do I have groups of elements that make up entities? … Causation is what you need to give structure to the universe.”

Treating causes as real is a necessary tool for making sense of the world.

[Natalie Wolchover]
New Math Untangles the Mysterious Nature of Causality





Marking out the right distance.

‘The largest and most reliable structure’ - akin to Peterson’s lowest resolution image that we can get away with. Do not include any more complexity than is necessary, because, in Hoel’s terms, complexity is noise: too much of it stops us from making sense of things; from seeing the outlines of things.

The reductionist assumption is that more detail is better; and for the more zealous reductionists there may be another assumption: that the further we dig, the closer we get to the truth (i.e. to the original cause, to God). But perhaps God is at every level, every scale, and no amount of digging will bring us closer, or further away.





If the material world appeared simpler in the past it was because we were looking at it through the perspective of classical physics.

When we choose to direct our sight only toward simple systems (for example, those close to equilibrium or that are acted on by small forces, and that behave in regular ways) then naturally the world appears simple.

[...] classical physics created a travel brochure of the cosmos, one that emphasized regularity and simplicity. Galileo idealized his observations of the way a ball rolls downhill by ignoring, or bracketing out, the effects of bumps and friction. Newton asked how an apple falls in the absence of air resistance. Chemists investigated reactions where everything was close to equilibrium. Scientists were interested in what they termed "closed systems," systems insulated from the perturbations of the outside world.

[...] In each case science was filtering the world.

[...] Carefully designed experiments, well insulated from the contingencies of the external world, provided clear data that would fit easily onto a graph without too much scatter or experimental error.

The world of classical physics was free from uncertainty, ambiguity, and chaos [...] As we move into this new century we realize we have been guilty of oversimplifying the world in so many fields of knowledge.

[F. David Peat]
From Certainty to Uncertainty, p. 200-1





When we're too young, our judgment isn't sound, and it's the same when we're too old.

If we don't think enough about something - or if we think too much - we're inflexible and get stuck. If we take a look at our work as soon as we've done it, we're not able to be objective; but if we wait too long, we can't get into it any more.

It's like looking at pictures from too near or too far away.

There is only one place that is exactly right: the others are either too far, too near, too high or too low. In the art of painting it's perspective that determines where that point should be.

But who's to say where it is when it comes to truth and morality?

[Blaise Pascal]
Pensées





[...] the left hemisphere's version of reality works well at the local level, the everyday, on which we are focussed by habit.

There Newtonian mechanics rules; but it ‘frays at the edges’, once one pans out to get the bigger picture of reality, at the subatomic, or at the cosmic, level. 

Here uncertainty replaces certainty; the fixed turns out to be constantly changing and cannot be pinned down; straight lines are curved: in other words, Einstein's laws account better than Newton's.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 177





[…] Nietzsche denies that we can ever read the structure of the world from the structure of the means we have developed in order to make it livable by beings like us: 

“One should not understand the compulsion to construct concepts, species, forms, purposes, laws […] as if they enabled us to fix the real world; but as a compulsion to arrange the world for ourselves in which our existence is made possible.”

This is just the assumption that Nelson Goodman has more recently also denied: “Philosophers sometimes mistake features of discourse for features of the subject of discourse. We seldom conclude that the world consists of words just because a true description of it does, but we sometimes suppose that the structure of the world is the same as the structure of the description.”

The world we construct, Nietzsche repeatedly insists, is absolutely necessary, and we could not live without it; for us it is as real as can be. We are not in error to live in it, to think and talk about it as we do, and to continue to do so.

Our error is to believe that the ways in which we think and talk about it make by themselves any commitment about the real nature of the world, the world that is the common object of all the different perspectives on it. Our error consists in believing that our logic, language, mathematics, or any other practice is metaphysically loaded in the first place, that any such practice can be our guide to the nature of reality.

[Nietzsche] argues that even if the grammatical categories of subject and predicate are categories that are essential to us, this does not imply that the ontological categories of substance and attribute, or any others, are correct […]

Nietzsche tries to reinterpret them in order to bring this point out, and he tries to accomplish this goal by offering a reinterpretation of these categories themselves, by trying to show that neither substances nor attributes, neither agents nor effects, are as we commonly take them to be.

We cannot […] stop talking of objects that remain the same through change and that persist in remaining distinct form their effects. But this way of talking, Nietzsche believes, does not reflect the world’s underlying reality.

From a synchronic point of view, as we have seen, an object is given by an interpretive hypothesis that best allows us, given our particular ends, needs, and values, to group certain phenomena together. Such groupings are often themselves reinterpretations of earlier groupings and enable us to live as best we can.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 95-6, 99





The Cynefin model allows us to see knowledge as both thing and flow, and this allows us to continue to use the insights and practices of scientific management, while embracing the new learnings and insights from the new sciences of complexity and chaos.

Cynefin focuses on creating the conditions for the emergence of meaning.

In its two complicated domains – known and knowable – these conditions are rationalist and reductionist, and the SECI model works. In the complex and chaotic domains new science and new approaches are required.

[Dave Snowden]
'Complex Acts of Knowing: Paradox and Descriptive Self-Awareness'





I am looking at the rug in my study.

If I examine it with a microscope, I will see a very rugged terrain. If I look at it with a magnifying glass, the terrain will be smoother but still highly uneven. But when I look at it from a standing position, it appears uniform - it is almost as smooth as a sheet of paper.

The rug at eye level corresponds to Mediocristan and the law of large numbers: I am seeing the sum of undulations, and these iron out. This is like Gaussian randomness: the reason my cup of coffee does not jump is that the sum of all its moving particles becomes smooth.

Likewise, you reach certainties by adding up small Gaussian uncertainties: this is the law of large numbers. 

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 259-60





Note the central assumptions we made in the coin-flip game that led to the photo-Gaussian, or mild randomness.

First central assumption: the flips are independent of one another. The coin has no memory. The fact that you got heads or tails on the previous flip does not change the odds of your getting heads or tails on the next one. You do not become a “better” coin flipper over time. If you introduce memory, or skills in flipping, the entire Gaussian business becomes shaky.

Recall [the theories of] preferential attachment and cumulative advantage. Both theories assert that winning today makes you more likely to win in the future. Therefore, probabilities are dependent on history, and the first general assumption leading to the Gaussian bell curve fails in reality.

In games, of course, past winnings are not supposed to translate into an increased probability of future gains - but not so in real life, which is why I worry about teaching probability from games. But when winning leads to more winning, you are far more likely to see forty wins in a row than with a photo-Gaussian.

Theory shmeory! I have an epistemological problem […] with the need to justify the world’s failure to resemble an idealised model that someone blind to reality managed to promote […] The ubiquity of the Gaussian is not a property of the world, but a problem in our minds, stemming from the way we look at it.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 250-1




Categories form a hierarchy, with three vaguely bounded tiers: superordinate, basic, and subordinate.

At the top stand the superordinate categories, like furniture. They are abstract and no one object clearly represents them. Instead, they are collections of basic categories, such as chair, sofa, lamp.

The basic categories fit in between. They are fundamental. A basic category is the largest class of which we can form a fairly concrete image, like chair. People tend to recognise their shape and use the same motor movements with them. They are the first classifications children make.

At the bottom lay subordinate categories, the divisions of basic classes, such as kitchen chair and deck chair. These tend to share most of their attributes with others in the basic category. For instance, kitchen chair and deck chair overlap much more than chair and table.

[…] people begin forming concepts in the middle. We grasp immediate classes like chair, cat, and apple, and both add them together synthetically to form larger categories and carve them up analytically to make smaller ones. 

From an evolutionary perspective, this approach makes far more sense than the atomism of Locke. Animals need to identify concrete objects above all else. The cat must recognise the mouse at once, as a whole, because if it mentally assembles parts, the rodent escapes. A focus on […] basic categories has survival value.

[Daniel McNeill & Paul Freiberger]
Fuzzy Logic, p. 87-8


The Death of Meaning

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Chaos                       -                    Order
Nature                      -                    Culture


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For someone who knows how to give meaning to life, every instant is like an arrow flying toward its target. Not to know how to give meaning to life leads to discouragement and a sense of futility that may even lead to the ultimate failure, suicide.

[Mathieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p. 348


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The Road (2009)

The Road shows a world in which most structures of meaning have broken down; in which those ideas that make us human - morals, ethics, love, compassion - have been thrown out the window in favour of a single imperative: to survive.

We see humanity in the process of losing its "humanity," people becoming animals. Animals have no meanings, they do not imagine themselves to be something; they cannot craft themselves into one image or another, a saint or a sinner. They do what they must, to survive.

The Father's meanings have shrunk down to one: "Keep the boy alive," and in this sense he is not far from becoming animal. His vision is centred on the boy, and he does not see anyone else. It is his job to care for the boy, and it is left to the boy to care both for his father and for the Other (to keep alive the idea of relatedness, of the Whole). He may be his father's keeper, but he is also his brother's.

The boy is left to carry the fire, a flame from which meanings spark and ignite. In a world in which humanity is dying, both in body and in spirit, the boy's capacity to imagine - to give life meaning - keeps him alive, and keeps him human.

The Road shows us how vital it is that we are able to breathe meaning into life, and reminds us that our ability to imagine helps form the bedrock of our humanity.

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Related posts:-
Guiding Fiction

Break-down

There is a Power greater than the self.

A favourable relationship with this Power is discovered through "hitting bottom" and "surrender."

It is possible [...] that "bottom" is reached many times by any given individual; that "bottom" is a spell of panic which provides a favorable moment for change, but not a moment at which change is inevitable.

Friends and relatives and even therapists may pull the alcoholic out of his panic, either with drugs or reassurance, so that he "recovers" and goes back to his "pride" and alcoholism - only to hit a more disastrous "bottom" at some later time, when he will again be ripe for a change.

The attempt to change the alcoholic in a period between such moments of panic is unlikely to succeed.

The panic of the alcoholic who has hit bottom is the panic of the man who thought he had control over a vehicle but suddenly finds that the vehicle can run away with him. Suddenly, pressure on what he knows is the brake seems to make the vehicle go faster. It is the panic of discovering that it (the system, self plus vehicle) is bigger than he is.

The alcoholic works on the discomforts of sobriety to a threshold point at which he has bankrupted the epistemology of "self-control."

[There is a double bind] founded upon the alcoholic's dichotomous epistemology of mind versus body [[...] "the obsession of the mind that compels us to drink and the allergy of the body that condemns us to go mad or die."]. He is forced by these words back and back to point at which only an involuntary change in deep unconscious epistemology - a spiritual experience - will make the lethal description irrelevant.

If a man achieves or suffers change in premises which are deeply embedded in his mind, he will surely find that the results of that change will ramify throughout his whole universe. Such changes we may well call "epistemological."

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('The Cybernetics of "Self": A Theory of Alcoholism'), p.329-32, 336

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If it were works, springing from motives and deliberate intention, that led to the blissful state, then, however we may turn it, virtue would always be only a prudent, methodical, far-seeing egoism.

But the faith to which the Christian Church promises salvation is this: that as through the fall of the first man we all partake of sin, and are subject to death and perdition, we are also all saved through grace and by the divine mediator taking upon himself our awful guilt, and this indeed entirely without any merit of our own (of the person).

For what can result from the intentional (motive-determined) action of the person, namely works, can never justify us, by its very nature, just because it is intentional action brought about by motives, and hence opus operatum.

Thus in this faith it is implied first of all that our state is originally and essentially an incurable one, and that we need deliverance from it; then that we ourselves belong essentially to evil, and are so firmly bound to it that our works according to law and precept, i.e., according to motives, can never satisfy justice or save us, but salvation is to be gained only through faith, in other words, through a changed way of knowledge. This faith can come only through grace, and hence as from without.

This means that salvation is something quite foreign to our person, and points to a denial and surrender of this very person being necessary for salvation.


Works, the observance of the law as such, can never justify, because they are always an action from motives.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.407

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Max: I think you're having a breakdown, require treatment.

Howard: This is not a psychotic episode. This is a cleansing moment of clarity. I am imbued, Max. I am imbued with some special spirit. It's not a religious feeling at all. It is a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing as if suddenly I had been plugged into some great electro-magnetic field.

I feel connected to all living things, to flowers, birds, to all the animals of the world and even to some great unseen living force, what I think the Hindus call prana.

It is not a breakdown. I have never felt more orderly in my life! It is a shattering and beautiful sensation! It is the exalted flow of the space-time continuum, save that it is spaceless and timeless and of such loveliness! I feel on the verge of some great ultimate truth. And you will not take me off the air for now or for any other spaceless time!

Dialogue from the film "Network"

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[Anonymous]

[...] anonymity is "the greatest symbol of self-sacrifice that we know."

It must be understood that anonymity means much more in AA thinking and theology than the mere protection of members from exposure and shame [...] the twelfth of the "Twelve Traditions" states that  

"anonymity is the spiritual foundation of our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."

To this we may add that anonymity is also a profound statement of the systemic relation, part-to-whole.

[...] the single purpose of AA is directed outward and is aimed at a noncompetitive relationship to the larger world.

The variable to be maximized is a complementarity and is of the nature of "service" rather than dominance.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('The Cybernetics of "Self": A Theory of Alcoholism'), p.333-5

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....................

I must reduce myself to zero.

So long as man does not by his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him.

Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.

[Gandhi]
The Story of My Experiments With Truth, p.454


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....................

If the sage refuses to be proud
Then people won't compete for his attention:

If the sage does not buy treasures
Then the people won't want to steal them:

If the sage governs with vision
Then his people won't go wrong.

So in his wisdom, he restrains himself:

- by not being greedy for food

- by not dominating the State

- by keeping himself healthy and fit.

The sage always makes sure
that the people don't know what he's done,
so they never want to take control -
and are never driven by ambition.

He keeps them in truth like this acting invisibly.

You see, if there is nothing to fight for
then there is nothing that can break the flow.

[Lao Tzu]
Tao Te Ching, Chapter Three

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Related posts:-
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Walter
Positive Space
Masked Hero
Rights and Responsibilities
Negative Space
Everything and Nothing
Buddhism and Psychoanalysis
Forget Your Self
Part of a System
Structural Integrity
Self-preservation
Assume a Position
Empty Container
Maturity 

Stay with the Image

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Known                        -                    Unknown
Conscious                   -                    Unconscious
Manifest                      -                    Latent


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....................


[...] the point is that consciousness floats; a psychic fluidum, as Mesmer might have called it, wrapping around and all through the analytical session.

It doesn't belong to either party.

Sometimes the patient has an insight, and another moment the analyst is conscious by simply being reticent, and another moment the consciousness is really in the image.

For instance, a black snake comes in a dream, a great big black snake, and you can spend a whole hour with this black snake talking about the devouring mother, talking about the anxiety, talking about the repressed sexuality, talking about natural mind, all those interpretive moves that people make, and what is left, what is vitally important, is what that snake is doing, this crawling huge black snake walking into your life [...]

[...] and the moment you've defined the snake, interpreted it, you've lost the snake, you've stopped it, and then the person leaves the hour with a concept about my repressed sexuality or my cold black passions or my mother or whatever it is, and you've lost the snake.

The task of analysis is to keep the snake there, the black snake, and there are various ways for keeping the black snake [...] see, the black snake's no longer necessary the moment it's been interpreted, and you don't need your dreams any more because they've been interpreted.

But I think you need them all the time, you need that very image you had during the night.

For example, a policeman, chasing you down the street [...] you need that image, because that image keeps you in imaginative possibility [...] if you say, "Oh, my guilt complex is loose again and is chasing me down the street," it's a different feeling, because you've taken up the unknown policeman into your ego system of what you know, your guilt.

You've absorbed the unknown into the known (made the unconscious conscious) and nothing, absolutely nothing has happened, nothing.

You're really safe from that policeman, and you can go to sleep again.

[James Hillman]
A Blue Fire, p.74


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The content of the symbol is not easily replaceable by content one already knows. Its manifestation is its most appropriate expression. There is no way to replace it.

[Jung] disliked for anyone to forget this point and just interpret dreams according to ready-made theories or known ideas. His warning, "Do anything you like, only don't try to understand [dreams]," reflects his attitude well.

[...] we would appreciate the importance of both understanding a dream and nonunderstanding a dream.

Or we might spend our entire effort on interpretation, while also remembering nevertheless that that is not the primary importance of the dream.

Amplification [...] is an effective method. Similarly, using the contents of amplification also has two directions, understanding and nonunderstanding. We cannot forget that both are important.

[...[ by the amplification of nonunderstanding, we open ourselves to discovery.

[Hayao Kawai]
Buddhism and the Art of Psychotherapy, p.134-5


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Amplification.

Elaboration and clarification of a dream-image by means of directed association and of parallels from the humane sciences (symbology, mythology, mysticism, folklore, history of religion, ethnology, etc.)

Since the unconscious, as the result of its spatio-temporal relativity, possesses better sources of information than the conscious mind - which has only sense perceptions available to it - we are dependent for our myth of life after death upon the meagre hints of dreams and similar spontaneous revelations from the unconscious.

As I have already said, we cannot attribute to these allusions the value of knowledge, let alone proof. They can, however, serve as suitable bases for mythic amplifications; they give the probing intellect the raw material which is indispensable for its vitality.

Cut off the intermediary world of mythic imagination, and the mind falls prey to doctrinaire rigidities. On the other hand, too much traffic with these germs of myth is dangerous for weak and suggestible minds, for they are led to mistake vague intimations for substantial knowledge, and to hypostatise mere phantasms.

[C.G. Jung]
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.348, 411


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He had told Richard that his Hopi friend was involved in a very vast and complicated struggle that was taking place on many levels. The old man's cancer was only a small part of this whole struggle, and he explained that things like this needed to be seen in a wider context.

It is always necessary to be aware of and consider the entire situation. 

It is always necessary to be cognizant of what the spirit wants.

It is a mistake to think that the only way to help a sick man is to take away the illness.

[Doug Boyd]
Rolling Thunder, p.202


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[...] the label gives the viewer [...] too much, it pacifies him too soon.

To see a poem or a picture as fulfilling a category is to reach a premature sense of it. Naming or labelling is important because it is the most effective means of making something familiar, and familiarity is necessary if the arts are to be managed.

The snag is that the familiarity comes too soon, the label imposes local clarity by ridding the work of its mystery and releasing the viwer from his hesitation. But it's hard to make this point without giving the impression that I want people to remain hesitant or insecure forever.

I want them to postpone their security.

Most cultural forces are working towards making the arts comfortably familiar. The problem is how to break off the impression of familiarity in time to let the force of the artistic vision come through.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 77


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A lot of hostility against art is based on people's misapprehension that they're supposed to be understanding it, and failing to.

Actually, this failure is a sort of success, because it leads us away from habit, from repetition, from recognition.

[Momus]
'Derstand, understand, un-understand'


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My idea about ideas [...] is that we burn them up too quickly. We get rid of them by immediately putting them into practice. We only know one thing to do with an idea: apply it; convert it into something usable. And it dies right there in the conversion. It loses its generative power.

This sterilizing of ideas happens often when I give a talk. Someone in the audience asks, "How does that work?" "Can you give an example?" These are questions from what's classically called the Practical Intellect, whereas my talk was ideational, another aspect of reason altogether.

Explain means to lay out flat [...] when a speaker puts out an idea and then answers a question about how it works, he or she is depriving the listener of the full impact of the idea and where it might carry the listener if pondered. My answer tends to channel the thought only in one direction, generally my direction.

Again, it's that latent child in the head who believes himself, herself, unknowing (innocent), who asks questions and expects someone else to carry the work of thinking.

[...] we don't have places for entertaining ideas. And that is precisely what we're supposed to do with an idea: entertain it. This means having respect for ideas in themselves: letting them come and go without demanding too much from them at first [...]

That word "entertain" means to hold in between. What you do with an idea is hold it between - between your two hands. On the one hand, acting or applying it in the world and on the other hand, forgetting it, judging it, ignoring it, etc. So when these crazy things come in come in on you unannounced the best you can do for them is to think them, holding them, turning them over, wondering awhile.

Not rushing into practice. Not rushing into associations. This reminds of that: this is just like that. Off we go, away from the strange idea to things we already know. 

Not judging. Rather than judging them as good and bad, true or false, we might first spend a little time with them [...] Putting the idea in practice stops the play of ideas, the entertainment from going on.

[Ideas] give you eyes, new ways of seeing things. Ideas are already operating in our perspectives, the way we look at things. We take our usual ideas for granted, and so, ideas have us rather then we have them.

For ideas to be therapeutic, that is, beneficial to the soul and body politic, they must gather into themselves, garnering force, building strength, like great movers of the mind's furniture, so that the space we inhabit is rearranged. Your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories have to move around in new ways, because the furniture has been moved.

Viable ideas have their own innate heat, their own vitality. They are living things too. But first they have to move your furniture, else it is the same old you, with your same old habits trying to apply a new idea in the same old way. Then nothing happens except the loss of the idea as "impractical" because of your haste to make it "practical"

A long-lasting idea, like a good poem or a strong character in a movie or a novel, continues to affect your practical life without ever having been put there. Ideas that live, live in us and through us into the world.

[James Hillman]
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.142, 143, 144, 145, 146


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[My artworks are] numbered for a reason. They’re numbered because you should have your experience.

Why should you be bogged down with my titles and how I thought about it and my poetic reasoning? No, that’s not necessary. Either you’re going to be drawn into it [or not]. It’s a black hole; gravity should pull you in and you should have that experience. Why should I actually infringe and dictate? It’s ridiculous.

I learn more from people who have lived with the works. … They go out, people get to live with them, security guards get to stand around them in museums, and they know more in the end about that whole experience, and they tell me things. I listen and I hear and it’s like, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.” It’s beautiful.

But if I were shut off, and said, “This is what it’s supposed to be about, this is how are you supposed to think about it,” that’s stupid as hell. Why would I want to get in the way of that?

In a way, I’m also being educated. It should be not only a synergy, but a complicity between the viewer and the artist, and so I’m wide open to that.

[Leonardo Drew]
'Leonardo Drew and The Mother'


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[...] what deconstruction finds at work in Mallarmé's text is the very reverse of a rich multiplicity of sense attaching to certain privileged 'themes'.

It is the effect of an endless displacement of meaning, one that constantly baffles and frustrates the desire for some assurance of thematic unity or grasp.

A phenomenological reading would assimilate these words to a complex of themes which could then be traced back - at the end of many fascinating detours and delays - to some ultimate source of interpretative unity and truth.

But this is to ignore the problems that arise as soon as one follows out the intricate logic that relates each of these terms in a series of endlessly self-effacing gestures.

[...] It is only by a certain conceptual strategy - a move to repress or contain these effects - that writing can be held within the limits laid down by any kind of thematic or phenomenological approach.

[Christopher Norris]
Derrida, p. 59, 60


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Goethe, whose scientific writings are fascinating and too little known today, warned against the tendency immediately to reduce observation to conception, thus losing the power of the object in all its newness to help us break out of the otherwise unbreachable defences of our conceptual systems.

He wrote that the student of nature ‘should form to himself a method in accordance with observation, but he should be careful not to reduce observation to a mere concept, to substitute words for this concept, and to proceed to treat these words as if they were objects’.

In general language is the route by which this conceptualisation occurs: ‘how difficult it is to refrain from replacing the thing with its sign; to keep the object (Wesen) alive before us instead of killing it with the word.’

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 373


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"In astonishment we restrain ourselves"

We step back, as it were, from being, from the fact that it is as it is and not otherwise. And astonishment is not used up in this retreat from the Being of being but it is simultaneously drawn to and, as it were, held fast by that from which it retreats. Thus, astonishment is a disposition [...] in which and for which the Being of being unfolds.

For Descartes, truth is determined and validated by certainty. Certainty, in turn, is located in the ego. The self becomes the hub of reality and relates to the world outside itself in an exploratory, necessarily exploitative, way. As knower and user, the ego is predator.

For Heidegger, on the contrary, the human person and self-consciousness are not the center, the assessors of existence. Man is only a privileged listener and respondent to existence. The vital relation to otherness is not, as for Cartesian and positivist rationalism, one of "grasping" and pragmatic use, it is a relation of audition. We are trying "to listen to the voice of Being." It is, or ought to be, a relation of extreme responsibility, custodianship, answerability to and for.

Of this answerability, the thinker and the poet, der Denker und der Dichter, are at once the carriers and trustees. This is because it is in their oneness to language (to the logos), in their capacity to be spoken rather than to speak that the truth, or can we say with Wordsworth and Hölderlin "the music of being," most urgently class for and summons up response.

[George Steiner]
Heidegger, p. 31-2


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Do Not Disturb
Do Not Disturb (essay)
This, Not That 
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Open Wound
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Small Mind/Large Mind 
Psychic Hermaphrodite
Dangers of Dogmatism
Guiding Fiction
Rational / Irrational
Approaching Conceptual Art | Ideas and Other Forms of Art
My Advice? No Advice!
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