Friday, June 26, 2009

Boo to Beauty

Roger Scruton, "Beauty and Desecration," City Journal 19.2 (Spring 2009)

"We must rescue art from the modern intoxication with ugliness."
At any time between 1750 and 1930, if you had asked an educated person to describe the goal of poetry, art, or music, “beauty” would have been the answer. And if you had asked what the point of that was, you would have learned that beauty is a value, as important in its way as truth and goodness, and indeed hardly distinguishable from them. . . .
At some time during the aftermath of modernism, beauty ceased to receive those tributes. Art increasingly aimed to disturb, subvert, or transgress moral certainties, and it was not beauty but originality—however achieved and at whatever moral cost—that won the prizes. Indeed, there arose a widespread suspicion of beauty as next in line to kitsch—something too sweet and inoffensive for the serious modern artist to pursue.
Beauty is what artists and philosophers since the Renaissance say art aims at. But artists and philosophers, like most other human beings, often say and do very different things. Donatello's "David" is "beautiful"; his "Mary Magdalene" very much not (unless you extend the definition of beauty to include the beauty of suffering, or something of that ilk, which move would make Grosz's grotesques beautiful too).

To be obsessed with beauty, to see beauty as truth—and somehow transcendental, is to side with Plato against Aristotle, who sees beauty as form, and to ignore other aims for art, like catharsis in Aristotle's reading of tragedy or ecstasy in Longinus's reading of the literary sublime - rather more "earthly" notions. Scruton, the (early modern) lover of beauty, is as reductive as the (late modern) lovers of ugliness. Surely art does a lot of stuff—unless you want to subsume a whole lot of stuff under "beauty," as I think Scruton does (or "truth," as Heidegger does).

See Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" (1939) or Vilem Flusser, "Taking Up Residence in Homelessless," a.k.a. "The Challenge of the Migrant" (1985; 1993; 2003).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kenosis: Dying a Criminal's Death

κένωσις (kénōsis), means an "emptying," from κενός (kenos), "empty."

Phillipians 2.5-8 (KJ):
2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
2:6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
2:7 But made himself of no reputation [made himself nothing or emptied himself (ἐκένωσε, ekénōse)], and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

[5] Think like Jesus: [6] Though he was God, he didn't cling to his God-ness. [7] Instead, he gave up his status, choosing to become a servant and to be made human. As such, [8] he humbled himself before God and died a criminal on a cross.

In Christian theology, kenosis is the concept of the 'self-emptying' of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God. The kenotic ethic is the ethic of Jesus, considered as the ethic of sacrifice. The Phillipians passage urges believers to imitate Christ's self-emptying.

Something similar might happen in peak experiences like flow in art or sport, a syncope of the self. But, paradoxically, the self-emptying seems to be accompanied by a sense of self-fulfilment, a sense that the peak experience expresses the self (hence, for Maslow peak experiences are characteristic of the self-actualized). (Alternatively, some feel that once the self is emptied the void fills with "the world," hence the sense of plenitude that often accompanies peak experiences.)

The issue here is what is emptied in the self-emptying: the history of the self (not usually, because artistic and sporting experience is based on internalised practice and learning, i.e. they utilise memory), the sense of self (yes, if you mean the focus on an external object [thing or goal]; no, if you are an "autobiographical" artist), etc.?

Less lofty, but as beholden to this dynamic, are tropes like the trainee artist as apprentice, art as mere craft or a kind of slavery, experience (human or bodily) as the material of art, etc., etc.

syncope: in rhetoric, cutting letters or syllables from the middle of a word (a metaplasm, i.e. an orthographical figure); in medicine, a faint or loss of consciousness
but also, perhaps, a "bracketing" (ἐποχή, epokhé) of the self.

epokhé: the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, is suspended. This concept was developed by the Greek skeptics, in particular, Metrodorus of Lampsacus, and plays an implicit role in skeptical thought, e.g. Descartes' method of doubt. The term was popularized by Husserl, who elaborates the notion of "phenomenological epoché" or "bracketing" in Ideas I. Through the systematic procedure of phenomenological reduction, one is thought to be able to suspend judgment regarding the general or naive philosophical belief in the existence of the external world, and thus examine phenomena as they are originally given to consciousness.

What I am suggesting here is a kind of inverse epokhé, but we might go one step further: on the basis of claiming that we do not know anything, Pyrrho, the Skeptic, argued that we should suspend judgment or withhold assent. It is not that we have no rationale to choose one way of action or another; rather, one kind of life or action cannot definitively be said to be "correct." Instead we ought to live according to custom, law, and tradition.

Noli me tangere

Noli me tangere, meaning "don't touch me," is the Latin version of words spoken, according to John 20:17, by Jesus to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. The original phrase, Μή μου ἅπτου, in the Gospel of John, is better represented in translation as "stop clinging to me."

The touch-me-not suggests the tendency to "cling to," i.e. mourn, dead ideas etc. But when does remembrance (narcissistic object-identification) become fixation (disavowal of an object) [see below on Freud]? Assuming a preference for embodied cognition, perhaps when it ceases to be bodily/affective, when it becomes transfigured into something merely mental/ideal. [= the not]

But does that eliminate faith, which keeps alive a dead idea, or does it just capture the tendency of remembrance to fix a thing to identify it? Or are there just better and worse ways to remember something: recollection, nostalgia, worship, obsession, forgetting (that is not forgetting), etc.?

Or maybe the touch-me-not is actually an injunction from the Father, suggesting that the idea etc. in medias res of its transfiguration is off limits, especially to embodied cognition [= the not-yet] . . .

Or maybe it suggests (reality-)testing the idea etc. by taking it out to your "brethren," rather than dwelling on it in isolation [= the yet] . . .

John 20:17: "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."

Freud, "Mourning and Melancholia": Mourning is characterised by a loss of interest in the outside world, melancholy by a(n apparently unjustified) loss of self-esteem: "In mourning the world has become impoverished and empty, during melancholia, it is the ego itself [kenosis: the 'self-emptying' of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God]" (246). However, the melancholic loss of self-esteem is actually directed at the love object itself. The subject, instead of withdrawing cathexis from the object, unconsciously identifies with the now-hated object to which he or she remains ever more firmly attached.

[identification:] O loved
O identified with, thus S = O [= regression]
[abandonment: ] O lost, thus S lost [= ambivalent choice]
[disavowal:] O hated [sadism], thus S hated [masochism]

This pathological development stems on the one hand from the narcissistic nature of the initial object choice, which by its nature promotes narcissistic regression, and on the other hand from the ambivalence of the choice and the predominance in it of the sadistic impulse, which here assumes masochistic form.

But in melancholia as in mourning, it is essentially the work consisting in finishing with the object (by degrading it or declaring it dead) that will "strike dead" the dead and release the subject.

(Sigmund Freud, "Trauer und Melancholie,"
Intern. Zschr. ärztl. Psychoanal 4 [1915]: 277-287; G.W. 10, 428-448; "Mourning and Melancholia," SE 14 [1916-1917g]: 243-258)

Innovation has always depended less on how smart you are than how connected you are (apparently)

"Late Pleistocene Demography and the Appearance of Modern Human Behavior"
by Adam Powell, Stephen Shennan, Mark G. Thomas
Science 324.5932 (5 June 2009): 1298-1301.

Abstract: The origins of modern human behavior are marked by increased symbolic and technological complexity in the archaeological record. In western Eurasia this transition, the Upper Paleolithic, occurred about 45,000 years ago, but many of its features appear transiently in southern Africa about 45,000 years earlier. We show that demography is a major determinant in the maintenance of cultural complexity and that variation in regional subpopulation density and/or migratory activity results in spatial structuring of cultural skill accumulation. Genetic estimates of regional population size over time show that densities in early Upper Paleolithic Europe were similar to those in sub-Saharan Africa when modern behavior first appeared. Demographic factors can thus explain geographic variation in the timing of the first appearance of modern behavior without invoking increased cognitive capacity.

Greater population density → increased "cultural [symbolic and technological] complexity" or "development." Social networking, i.e. the transmission of ideas and skills, fostered the emergence of more and more complex innovations.

It has often been thought that boosts in brain power or advances in language in homo sapiens led to modern human behaviour. But it seemed to take a long time for these resources to pay off.

That is, "you can have individuals who are really great at inventing ideas and concepts and ways of approaching the world, but you need a certain population density to be able to have that stuff catch hold and spread," as Richard Potts of the Smithsonian told

Is this a clue that reciprocity, i.e. sociability, might be the precondition of human cognition, that humans are smart(er) because they collaborate (better than other animals) [= embedded cognition]? (It's not because we are smart and decide to work together.)

For a critique, see John Hawks on "Learning, Population Size, and 'Modern Human Behaviour.'"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Fumblerules are writing rules that contradict their advice, such as "don't use no double negatives" and "eschew obfuscation" (they are thus self-referential paradoxes).

The alt.usage.english FAQ, quoting George L. Trigg, "Grammar," Physics Review Letters 42.12 (19 Mar 1979) 747-48 and William Safire, "The Fumblerules of Grammar," New York Times (11 Apr. 1979): SM4.

Here are some of Trigg's:
  1. Make sure each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
  2. Just between you and I, the case of pronoun is important.
  3. Watch out for irregular verbs which have crope into English.
  4. Verbs has to agree in number with their subjects.
  5. Don't use no double negatives.
  6. Being bad grammar, a writer should not use dangling modifiers.
  7. Join clauses good like a conjunction should.
  8. A writer must be not shift your point of view.
  9. About sentence fragments.
  10. Don't use run-on sentences you got to punctuate them.
  11. In letters essays and reports use commas to separate items in series.
  12. Don't use commas, which are not necessary.
  13. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
  14. Its important to use apostrophes right in everybodys writing.
  15. Don't abbrev.
  16. Check to see if you any words out.
  17. In the case of a report, check to see that jargonwise, it's A-OK.
  18. As far as incomplete constructions, they are wrong.
  19. About repetition, the repetition of a word might be real effective repetition - take, for instance the repetition of Abraham Lincoln.
  20. In my opinion, I think that an author when he is writing should definitely not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that he does not really need in order to put his message across.
  21. Use parallel construction not only to be concise but also clarify.
  22. It behooves us all to avoid archaic expressions.
  23. Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and ought to be weeded out.
  24. Consult the dictionery to avoid mispelings.
  25. To ignorantly split an infinitive is a practice to religiously avoid.
  26. Last but not least, lay off cliches.
Erratology encourages students to make (and teach) their own fumblerules to break (and learn) the disabling rules of the institution. By thus risking the authority they are lent by the institution, they exercise their sovereign right to write.

erratology: Erratology uses as a heuristic the principle that rules exist to be broken/that exceptions disprove the rule (against Cicero's exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis in his defence of Balbo [56BCE]); through erratology you can learn by making mistakes rather than proceeding by trial and error - or learning from your mistakes. It is a variant on Winston Weathers' deformative grammar, "Grammar B" (see Peter Elbow's essay, "Collage: Your Cheatin' Art").

And the same goes for writing teachers: they too must risk mistakes—and their authority . . .

Cf. Muphry's (or Merphy's) Law:
"In neither taste nor precision is any man's practice a court of last appeal, for writers all, both great and small, are habitual sinners against the light; and their accuser is cheerfully aware that his own work will supply (as in making this book it has supplied) many 'awful examples'" (Ambrose Bierce, "Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults" [1909]).

The law, as set out by John Bangsund, states that:

  1. if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written;
  2. if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;
  3. the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault;
  4. any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.
("Scenes of Editorial Life: Muphry's Law," John Bangsund's Threepenny Planet [Mar 1992])

The Fern as an Iterated Function System

From Curran Kelleher, "Recursive Structures and Processes," MIT Open Courseware (24 Aug. 2007) 10-12.

1.2.7 Iterated Function Systems [= "a method of constructing fractals; the resulting constructions are always self-similar" (wikipedia)]

Iterated Function Systems (IFS) take a single point and move it around re­peatedly, plotting a point on the screen for each move. The point is moved according to a mapping function, which is chosen probabalistically from several possible mapping functions.

["The fractal is made up of the union ['collage'] of several copies of itself, each copy being transformed by a function (hence 'function system'). . . . The functions are normally contractive. . . . Hence the shape of an IFS fractal is made up of several possibly-overlapping smaller copies of itself, each of which is also made up of copies of itself" (wikipedia).]

[Barnsley's fern, cf. Michael Barnsley, Fractals Everywhere (Academic P, 1988)]

The fern IFS is a system of four mapping functions. Each of these functions is a mapping from the outermost rectangle to another, smaller rectangle. The system is comprised of the following four functions, which map from any point inside the outermost black rectangle . . .

1. to a point on the green part of the stem (1% of the time)
2. to a point in the red rectangle, the lowest left branch (7% of the time)
3. to a point in the dark blue rectangle, the lowest right branch (7% of the time)
4. to a point in the light blue rectangle, which spirals everything upwards and smaller (85% of the time)

Figure 1.1: The rectangles used in the coordinate transformations (approx­imately), and the image generated by our program.

Here is Java code which implements this IFS:

Is this algorithm recursive? The code itself is not recursive, it is just repetitive. However, the mappings are recursive, because they are applied to themselves eventually. The filling in of the fractal object happens because of the randomness introduced by selecting probabilistically which of the four mappings to apply.

See wikipedia.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Strange loop

A strange loop arises when, by moving up or down through a hierarchical system, one finds oneself back where one started.

An example: the endless apprenticeship of University life, i.e. how when, after years of drudgery as an ignorant slave to an all-knowing master or masters, you take a step (by dint of many tiny steps) up the ladder, only to find yourself ignorant slave to another all-knowing master or masters. Commonly known as the academic smackdown.

There are more productive strange loops like the Shepard tone, named after Roger Shepard is a sound consisting of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves. When played with the base pitch of the tone moving upwards or downwards, it is referred to as the Shepard scale. This creates the auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet which ultimately seems to get no higher or lower (see example).

See also M. C. Escher's Ascending and Descending.

The Writing Zone according to Ecological Systems Theory (addendum)

"Successful" writing in the institutional system of the University takes two forms, one "positive," one "negative."
  1. In the "negative" form, the student, like Schreber in his paranoia, fends off disaster by appeasing the mysterious forces of the powers-that-be, producing writing by trial and error that mimics the conventions of academic style (as we know, the more "successful" students are those skilled in mimicry who learn the conventions without scruple and produce entirely what the institution says it expects from them).
  2. In the "positive" form, like Schreber in his Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, the student produces writing by courting disaster, by making mistakes their own in an effort to remake the institution in their own image.
(Does this characterisation sound right? If it sounds like paranoiaand wishful thinkingit aptly captures the institutional environment in which it was written.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Writing Zone According to Ecological Systems Theory

See Urie Bronfenbrenner, The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979).

The theory (see wikipedia) specifies four types of nested environmental systems, with bi-directional influences within and between the systems.

The four systems:

1. Microsystem: the individual's immediate environments (family, school, peer group, neighborhood, and childcare environments);
2. Mesosystem: the direct connections between immediate environments (i.e., a child’s home and school);
3. Exosystem: the environments that only indirectly affect the individual (such as parent's workplace);
4. Macrosystem: the larger cultural context (Eastern vs. Western culture, national economy, political culture, subculture).

Later, a fifth system was added:

5. Chronosystem: the patterning of environmental events and transitions over the course of life.

Cf. Te Whariki version ("ECE" = Early Childhood Education):

One version of the ecology of the writing zone of the academic writer relies on a simplified version of this diagram—with only three systems: the microsystem of the individual, the exosystem of the institutional writing classroom, and the macrosystem of the social/national context.

Students come to the institutional writing classroom aiming to learn what they take to be the rules of that system and easily become trapped in that system, to the exclusion of their self (interior life: personal/cultural history, etc., i.e. experience and expertise) and the "real world" (life outside the institution, i.e. society, national history, etc, i.e. context).

(Obviously, insofar as we take students to be embodied and embedded "cognizers," and these aspects of their selves to be socioculturally determined, the micro- and exosystem overlap in an inside-outside relationship [like a Klein bottle].)

This entrapment takes the form of paranoid rule-following, most of which is untaught, i.e. received wisdom, and improvised, i.e. learnt by trial and error (unconsciously erratological).

Freud's "Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)," i.e. The Schreber Case, trans. Andrew Webber, intro. Colin McCabe (Penguin, 2003). The psychotic Schreber suffers a "world catastrophe," after which he disavows reality (Umwelt) and invents an alternative reality (Eigenwelt) with its own logic, where symbols become concrete and symptoms are projected as real.

Oddly, students misread the institutional clues about the rules in relatively consistent ways (which might suggest that the institution supplies or
conditions these mis-rules, thus providing a mix of information and mis- or disinformation, probably because its existence depends on students assuming the position of ignorance). In other words, there is a definable set of transformations of academic style, much as the elements of Schreber's delusions seem to mirror (i.e. consistently and inversely)—and their relationships to mimic—conventional ones.

The task of the writing teacher is to enable the student to see, adapt to, and make use of the mesosystems that mediate between their microsystem (Innenwelt) and the exosystem (writing class within the academic institution, i.e. their immediate Umwelt), and between that exosystem and the
social/national context (the "real world," i.e. their mediate Umwelt; this is a modification of the idea of a mesosystem). To do so is to allow students to see the system as a system: to get distance on it by dint of thinking from the outside in or inside out, thereby turning its vicious circle into a virtuous one (i.e. setting up a positive rather than negative feedback loop).

a Klein bottle, orig.
Kleinsche Fläche (Klein surface), misread as Kleinsche Flasche (Klein bottle):

Reflecting on the Craft of Writing

Excerpts from Richard Sennett on the craftsman in us all in "Labours of Love" (see The Craftsman [Yale, 2008]—and Kalefa Sanneh on the return of craft, i.e. slow thinking/learning):

The "end" [telos] of craft is engagement [flow] . . .

The carpenter, lab technician, and conductor are all craftsmen because they are dedicated to good work for its own sake. Theirs is practical activity, but their labour is not simply a means to another end. . . . It's certainly possible to get by in life without dedication, but the craftsman exemplifies the special human condition of being engaged. [. . .]

It requires deep thinking, i.e. problematising and reflexivity . . .
All craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree. By one commonly used measure, about 10,000 hours of experience are required to produce a master carpenter or musician. As skill progresses, it becomes more problem-attuned, such as the lab technician worrying about procedure—whereas people with primitive levels of skill struggle just to get things to work. At its higher reaches, technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply about what they are doing, once they do it well. [. . .]

One learns a craft by making mistakes on purpose (i.e. the path to truth goes by error ["erratology" or, strictly, hamartology]) . . .
[T]he principle of reasoning backwards, from effects to causes, underlies all good craftsmanship. . . . Sometimes, in discussions of education, this recognition is reduced to the cliché of "learning from one's mistakes." Musical technique shows that the matter is not so simple. I have to be willing to make errors, to play wrong notes, in order to get them right eventually. This is the commitment to truthfulness. . . .

Thus, learning a craft requires "dwell[ing] in waste" [argos] . . .
This musical quest addresses one of the shibboleths in craftsmanship: the ideal of "fit-for-purpose." In tools, as in technique, the good craftsman is supposed to eliminate all procedures that do not serve a predetermined end. The ideal of fit-for-purpose has dominated thinking in the industrial era. Diderot's Encyclopedia in the 18th century celebrated an ideal paper-making factory at L'Anglée, in which there was no mess or wasted paper [!]. Today, programmers similarly dream of systems without "dead ends." But the ideal of fit-for-purpose can work against experiment in developing a tool or a skill. . . [A] craftsman . . . has instead to dwell in waste, following up dead ends. In technology, as in art, the probing craftsman does more than encounter problems; he or she creates them in order to know them. Improving one's technique is never a routine, mechanical process.

And the path to/of craft is roundabout [and aggregrative] (not direct [and cumulative]), i.e. "arduous and erratic" . . .
To develop skill requires a good measure of experiment and questioning; mechanical practice seldom enables people to improve their skills. Too often we imagine good work itself as success built, economically and efficiently, upon success. Developing skill is more arduous and erratic than this.

Craft involves three key dispositions: "to localise [concretise], to question [qualify] and to open up [contextualise and evaluate]" . . .
Three abilities are the foundation of craftsmanship: to localise, to question and to open up. The first involves making a matter concrete; the second, reflecting on its qualities; the third, expanding its sense. The carpenter establishes the peculiar grain of a single piece of wood, looking for detail; turns the wood over and over, pondering how the pattern on the surface might reflect the structure hidden underneath; decides that the grain can be brought out if he or she uses a metal solvent rather than standard wood varnish. [And it is "synaesthetic"—or, to extrapolate) embodied and embedded . . .] To deploy these capabilities the brain needs to process visual, aural, tactile and language-symbol information simultaneously.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cupid's Evil Twin: Amor/Eros and Thanatos/Mors

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.470-74. Cupid = Eros = Kama. See wikipedia.

Cupid's cult was closely associated with that of Venus; in fact, his power was supposed to be even greater than his mother’s, since he had dominion over the dead in Hades, the creatures of the sea and the gods in Olympus. Some of the cults of Cupid suggested that, like Mors/Thanatus/Letus, he was the son of Night (Nox) and Hell (Erebus), and that he mated with Chaos to produce both men and gods.

He is frequently invoked as fickle, playful, and perverse, and thus often depicted as carrying two sets of arrows: one set gold-headed, which inspire love; and the other lead-headed, which inspire hatred.

His twin by (Freudian) affinity would be Mors or Letus/Letum, i.e. Thanatus [Thanatos], god of non-violent death. (He too is the son of the goddess of night, Nox [Nyx; see (Hesiod, Theogony 212, Homer, Iliad 14.250, Pausanias 5.18.1, Seneca, Hercules Fur. 1068] or Nox and Erebus (Hyginus, Preface, Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.17); strictly speaking, he is the brother of the personification of sleep, Somnus [Hypnos].) In Roman sculptural reliefs, he was portrayed as a youth holding a down-turned torch and wreath or butterfly (symbolising the soul of the dead).

See Freud on Thanatos (a.k.a. destrudo or mortido), a fundamental death instinct or drive that counterbalances the instinct or drive of beings to do only what they find pleasurable (Eros, a.k.a. libido), and by which organisms are driven to return to a pre-organic, inanimate state; this is an entropic principle (entropy being the idea that nature tends from order to disorder in isolated systems; entropy = a measure of disorder, multiplicity, or unavailable energy). It manifests itself as destruction or aggression, self-directed (masochism) or otherwise (sadism).

See also Statius, Thebaid 5.155ff.:

"When Somnus [Hypnos, sleep], shrouded in the gloom of his brother Letus (Death) and dripping with Stygian dew, enfolds the doomed city [of the island of Lemnos], and from his relentless horn pours heavy drowse, and marks out the men. Wives and daughters are awake for murder . . . they fall to their horrid work [murdering their husbands in their sleep]."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


(The Information Systems Foundations: Constructing and Criticising Workshop at the ANU, 16-17 July 2004 + stigmergy)

The term "stigmergy" was originally proposed in 1959 by the French scientist, Pierre-Paul Grasse, in his study of social insects, and more specifically, while observing termite building behaviour (1959).

For example, ants exchange information by laying down pheromones on their way back to the nest when they have found food. In that way, they collectively develop a complex network of trails, connecting the nest in the most efficient way to the different food sources [= navigation].

Other eusocial creatures, such as termites, use pheromones to build their complex nests by following a simple decentralized rule set. Each insect scoops up a mudball or similar material from its environment, invests the ball with pheromones, and deposits it on the ground. Termites are attracted to their nestmates' pheromones and are therefore more likely to drop their own mudballs near their neighbours'. Over time, this leads to the construction of pillars, arches, tunnels and chambers [= construction].

Grasse defines stigmergy:

the coordination of tasks and the regulation of constructions does not depend directly on the workers, but on the constructions themselves. The worker does not direct his [sic] work, but is guided by it. It is to this special form of stimulation that we give the name Stigmergy (stigma, wound from a pointed object[, i.e. mark or sign]; ergon, work, product of labour = stimulating product of labor). (In [and tr.] Holland and Melhuish [1999] 2)

The term stigmergy describes the influence that information derived from the local environmental effects of the activities of previous individuals has on the current behaviour of individuals [= feedback "in action"].

Camazine et al. (2001) refer to stigmergy as the process of information gathering from work in progress from the environmental effects of the work rather than directly from fellow workers. As they describe it, in continuing with the social insect analogy:

instead of coordination through direct communication among nestmates, each individual . . . adjust[s] its building behaviour to fit with that of its nestmates through the medium of the work in progress. (24)

Stigmergy is the way a system organises itself through the collective behaviour of individuals within its environment. As the individual moves through the environment, it gathers or emits information, or interacts with the environment, i.e. leaving traces, i.e. cues, in work or otherwise, that stimulate the work of other individuals, who do the same in turn. Over time, a pattern of construction emerges out of this coordinated action. [It is also known as swarm intelligence.] (The theory does not explain how or when construction ends or how errors made during construction are dealt with.)

Stigmergy can explain the transfer of information among individuals, when each individual needs to determine what to do and where a direct line of information from one individual to another individual does not exist; transfer instead occurs through

  1. the stimulus of previous individuals’ information [sematectonic (A - T - ?): from sema (sign, token) and tecton (craftsman, builder) (Wilson 186)] and
  2. construction activities embedded in the environment [stigmergic (A - T - A): acc. to Wilson, stigmergy is a subset of sematectonic behaviour].

Figure 9.3, "Stigmergy information flow" summarises this process. Here the work previously accomplished by one or more individuals is imprinted in the environment as a cue/stimulus for other individuals.

Figure 9.3. Stigmergy information flow.

Note that stigmergy is not restricted to eusocial creatures, or even to physical systems. On the internet there are many emergent phenomena that arise from users interacting only by modifying local parts of their shared virtual environment.

Such self-organised ucs intelligence or collaboration = deep thinking (generated unawares), like deep learning (delivered unawares). Can it be mobilised? Perhaps. It can perhaps be "fed back." The teacher activates the feedback process by "imprint[ing] . . . information via cues and/or stimulus" on the environment.

See Pierre-Paul Grasse, "La reconstruction du nid et les coordinations interindividuelles chez bellicositermes natalensis et cubitermes sp. La theorie de la stigmergie: essai d’interpretation du comportament des termites constructeurs," Insects Sociaux 6 (1959): 41-80.

E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975; Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000) 186.

Also: distributed cognition, extended mind, situated cognition.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Honeymoon Killers

G – Bm – F#sus4 – GM7.F#7
G – Bm – F#sus4.F#7 (12/8)

Murder most foul in the kitchen:
you shot me down
when I was in for the kill,
with another drink in my hand
and a line on my lips.

“So who were you stalking outside?”
you said to my frown.
“Well, I was . . . she was a friend.”
“What were you doing with your hand?”
wiped the smile off my lips.

G5 – D/F# – A7sus4 – Bm –

Oh, bury me in the garden
cos I want to come up roses—
things are getting messy in the house
party as the shit flies.
But as we said all along,
we’re not Adam and Eve,
living for the sweet Hereafter.
We don’t want tears and laughter,
it’s sex and slaughter for the Honeymoon Killers.

[chords as verse]

A lonely heart can kill like a suicide pill,
so suck it up and do what you will—
kiss her goodbye . . .


Oh, the lights are much too bright in here
under the grill,
as she roasts me slowly:
“Oh, it was just the vodka talking
when I gave her the lip.”

"Bury Me in the Garden": "Bury me in the garden, mother, mother. Bury me in the garden, mother, mother, mother dear. Bury me in the garden." "O, the moonlight shines so bright, way down in the garden ’neath the sycamore tree."

“In the Garden”:,

Friday, June 5, 2009

Writing in the Zone

The drama of the writing room

The writing teacher enables learners to explore the limits of their writing zone (cf. Vygotsky: zone of proximal development; scaffolding), perhaps to understand, perhaps to enlarge or deform it.

They should learn where their writing zone fits within - or rather, overlaps with - the institutional zone (IZ), or, speaking in terms of writing per se, how their idiom maps onto the institutional idiom (II).

An aside:
  1. The writing teacher is not a mentor, i.e. who knows more, i.e. has access to distal knowledge beyond the proximal knowledge of the student [the hand-up or or hands-up model].
  2. Instead they model an exploratory or open mode of being within the writing zone [the many hands make light work model].
The writing room becomes a place of drama (Gk "action, deed"), where everyone actively learns by enacting what they know, rather than a place of edification, where learners passively receive and rehearse knowledge from the teacher. This is in keeping with the principle of the distributed intelligence of the writing room, i.e. we're all in this together: teachers are learners; learners teach the teachers and each other; we all at once teach and learn.

Learning—and the writing of—Grammar B enables one to deform the Ii, as:
  1. a "negative" (or privative) method: learning to do right by doing wrong, i.e. learning the rules of Ii by making conscious "errors" (un-errors) that make them explicit, a.k.a. erratology
  2. a "critical" (or private) method: learning, through this process, to deform Ii, i.e. to find a space of freedom (a private or temporary autonomous zone) within the IZ, a.k.a. ?

Thus, they learn the rules of the Ii/IZ to be able to break or bend them in their own interests.

The writing teacher as guide

The writing teacher is like Stalker (Guide) in Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979), who works as a guide to bring people in and out of the Zone to the Room [the writing room as hypertopia], which is said to grant "the deepest, innermost" wishes [the desire of writers].

He guides a sceptical writer (Writer [radical learner]) and a credulous professor (Professor [conservative learner]) out of the city into the Zone, in which the residual effects of an unspecifed visitation or catastrophe have transformed an otherwise mundane rural area scattered with ruined buildings into an area where the normal laws of physics no longer apply [the unreal world of the IZ].

Once in the Zone, he tells them that they must do exactly as he says to survive the dangers that are all around them [the leap of faith into the chaotic hypertopia of the writing space]. No harm comes to any of the three men; there is a tension between disbelief of the need for his elaborate precautions, and the possibility that they are necessary. He alone knows the rules of the Zone, having learnt them from his mentor "Porcupine" and can sense the dangers around them.

As they journey, the characters share their reasons for wanting to visit the room: Writer wants inspiration [freedom]; Professor wants recognition [affirmation]. Interestingly, Stalker takes on faith the powers [enchantment] of the room (because he says he's never been in there, i.e. his job is just to lead) - and bemoans the loss of faith in society [the disenchantment of modernity].
(See and

Stalker, Writer and Professor (and the fourth figure is Tarkovsky, a.k.a. Porcupine):

Zone of proximal development [зона ближайшего развития; ZPD]: the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help, i.e. "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes [Harvard UP, 1978] 86).


"ZPD": zone of personal and/or professional development

Scaffolding: a process through which a teacher or peer supports the student in his or her ZPD as necessary, and tapers off this support as it becomes unnecessary, much as a scaffold is removed from a building during construction, i.e. "Scaffolding refers to the way the adult guides the child's learning via focused questions and positive interactions" (Nancy Balaban, "Seeing the Child, Knowing the Person," in W. Ayers, To Become a Teacher (Teachers College Press, 1995) 52)

Porcupine: a.k.a. hedgehog, see Isaiah Berlin, "The Hedgehog and the Fox" (after Archilochus: πόλλ' οἶδ' ἀλώπηξ, ἐχῖνος δ'ἓν μέγα, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing"). Hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single defining idea; foxes do not, drawing on a wide variety of experiences to understand the world. The Fox may be the black dog of Stalker. (See

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Three Kinds of Inference

Figure 1. Three Kinds of Inference

The terms “Fact,” “Rule,” “Case” are medieval nicknames for the propositions that would be called the “conclusion” (C), “major premiss” (MP) and “minor premiss” (mp) respectively, in the simplest form of deductive syllogism.

Thus, we have the following scheme:

1. Deduction takes a Case, a mp of the form X => Y,
matches it with a Rule, a MP of the form Y => Z,
then adverts to a Fact, a C of the form X => Z.

2. Induction takes a Case of the form X => Y,
matches it with a Fact of the form X => Z,
then adverts to a Rule of the form Y => Z.

3. Abduction takes a Fact of the form X => Z,
matches it with a Rule of the form Y => Z,
then adverts to a Case of the form X => Y.

Even more succinctly:

Table 2. Three Kinds of Inference