Archive for May, 2008

simultaneous kitty mind

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

I’m still mulling over the Piaget talk I stumbled on last week. What lead me to it was a recollection of a Piaget quote that was something like “speed is a more primary instinct than time.” that quote is contained in the article I’ve been reading.

Also included in the same lecture are these words:

“…how is it that Einstein was able to give a new operational definition of simultaneity at a distance? How was he able to criticise the Newtonian notion of universal time without giving rise to a deep crisis within physics? Of course his critique had its roots in experimental findings, such as the Michelson-Morley experiment – that goes without saying. Nonetheless, if this redefinition of the possibility of events to be simultaneous at great distances from each other went against the grain of our logic, there would have been a considerable crisis within physics. We would have had to accept one of two possibilities: either the physical world is not rational, or else human reason is impotent – incapable of grasping external reality. Well, in fact nothing of this sort happened. There was no such upheaval. A few metaphysicians (I apologise to the philosophers present) such as Bergson or Maritain were appalled by this revolution in physics, but for the most part and among scientists themselves it was not a very drastic crisis. Why in fact was it not a crisis? It was not a crisis because simultaneity is not a primitive notion: It is not a primitive concept, and it is not even a primitive perception. I shall go into this subject further later on, but at the moment I should just like to state that our experimental findings have shown that human beings do not perceive simultaneity with any precision. If we look at two objects moving at different speeds, and they stop at the same time, we do not have an adequate perception that they stopped at the same time. Similarly, when children do not have a very exact idea of what simultaneity is, they do not conceive of it independently of the speed at which objects are travelling. Simultaneity, then, is not a primitive intuition; it is an intellectual construction.

Long before Einstein, Henri Poincare did a great deal of work in analysing the notion of simultaneity and revealing its complexities. His studies took him, in fact, almost to the threshold of discovering relativity.”

Peter Galison said:
“In his famous philosophical article of January 1898, Poincaré says that simultaneity is really just the exchange of signals, like two telegraphers trying to determine how much longitudinal difference there is between them.”

I’m preparing to move, and the closer I get to the move date the more my cat has been following me around and screaming at me. All my cleaning, boxing, and shuffling things around is affecting her strongly – and I can’t seem to convince her that we’re just moving.

She’s acting as if I’m shuffling her memory as I rearrange the things in my apartment. This is not the first time that I’ve felt the desire to teach her how to see things my way to allay her concerns – but nothing I can figure out helps.

It occurs to me that my cat’s sense of place is the result of a persistent “exchange of signals” between her and her environment. As she is connecting with other active elements this exchange of signals seems simultaneous. I’m simply much more aware of her end of the interaction.

I wonder if she really remembers much at all, in the sense that I do. To repeat, she seems, as do other animals, in a state of simultaneity with her environment where her sense of being and what I understand as memory, is always the result of a persistent, primarily realtime exchange of signals between other elements engaged in similar exchanges with other, and perhaps different parts of the whole. Her consciousness is really distributed around wherever she is and my understanding of her as having all of who she is bundled up and focussed in her small body is actually more a mapping, or reflection of my own, different experience.

I’m reminded of Piaget’s idea above that we humans have no primitive notion (which I think of as a primal instinct) for simultaneity. He states that this lack of a sense of simultaneity can be demonstrated experimentally. My sense of memory and my reliance on intellectual constructions (of which memory seems to be one example, and relativistic simultaneity is another) is clear to me when I compare my experience of moving to another apartment: planning, anticipating, making lists so that i can remember what to do when, etc., with my cat’s: an increase in the scope of the persistent change within her space, and a profound break from the daily rhythms. Her behavior has changed because the space has changed. My behavior has changed in anticipation of a future state, or series of future states. I feel and observe us to be very different in the way we interact with our environment.

I observe my lack of primal instinct for the simultaneity of which she is an active part.

About ten years ago I was installing an art work in a storefront window in Santa Fe, NM. The piece was a group of three robots that were programmed to try to imitate the sounds each of them made. I seeded each circuit with some preliminary sounds, along with a crude program to listen to, and then attempt to repeat the sounds from their robotic neighbors. I was using some PIC chips that I knew didn’t have the proper speed or internal memory to really imitate. Instead they would create a hybrid of sounds that was a mixture of what each of them started out with. The resulting experience sounded like, according to the people who ran the shoe store that hosted the piece, ‘Bill Gate’s Chickens’.

While I was setting up the project an elderly couple walked by, watched me for a while, and then asked me what I was up to. I explained the work as I did above, and turned it on for them to hear. They listened for a few minutes, and then the man said:

“I’m a retired e.e. it’s all delay.”

Everything is delay?” I said, smiling, not really sure what he was talking about, and not knowing what he meant by ‘e.e.’

“When it comes to human communication and our replications of it, it’s all delay. Think about that, and have a nice life.” And he and his partner walked away.

About ten minutes later I realized that e.e = electrical engineer. His comment about delay has stayed with me a long time and every once in a while i think I see what he was getting at.

robot uses electro-adhesion to climb walls

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

wall climbing robot

from popular mechanics:

“Ever rub a balloon and stick it to a wall? If only larger objects could defy gravity the same way.

Later this week, researchers from the non-profit group SRI International will unveil the design of a wall-climbing robot at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Pasadena, Calif. It can clamber up all common building materials, the scientists told Popular Mechanics—and proved it to us with this video:

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The as-yet-unnamed robot uses electro-adhesion to cling to the wall, generating electrostatic charges between the wall substrate and itself to keep from falling. “The principle of operation is similar to electrostatic chucks used to hold silicon wafers, or other specialized grippers for robotic handling of materials,” senior researcher Harsha Prahlad explained to PM in an email last week. “The technology uses a very small amount of power … and shows the ability to repeatedly clamp to wall substrates that are heavily covered in dust or other debris.”

SRI has tested a variety of Spider-Man-style bots with tracks and legs, but the charge method could turn a new leaf if buyers line up. Applications could include military and law enforcement surveillance sensors, inspection droids, building maintenance robots … and toys capable of scaring your little sister into psychotherapy. —Joe Pappalardo”

Lessig on “orphan” artworks

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Lawrence Lessig has a piece in the nytimes on orphaned artworks. a few days ago i had another post about this subject.

the final sentences of lessig’s writing are:

“In a digital age, knowing the law should be simple and cheap. Congress should be pushing for rules that encourage clarity, not more work for copyright experts.”


“digital…law…simple…cheap” + “congress should be pushing for rules that encourage clarity…” = hilarious.

the excalaber is a swod you can buy

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

so long, class of ’08, i’ll miss you.

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Saturday, May 17th, 2008

from Peirce:
“Nature is a far vaster and less clearly arranged repertory of facts than a census report; and if men had not come to it with special aptitudes for guessing right, it may well be doubted whether in the ten or twenty thousand years that they may have existed their greatest mind would have attained the amount of knowledge which is actually possessed by the lowest idiot. But, in point of fact, no man merely, but all animals derive by inheritance (presumably by natural selection) two classes of ideas which adapt them to their environment. In the first place, they all have from birth some notions, however crude and concrete, of force, matter, space, and time; and, in the next place, they have some notion of what sort of objects their fellow-beings are, and of how they will act on given occasions. Our innate mechanical ideas are so nearly correct that they needed but slight correction. The fundamental principles of statics were made out by Archimedes. Centuries later Galileo began to understand the laws of dynamics, which in our times have been at length, perhaps, completely mastered (The General Theory of Probably Inference was written in 1883). The other physical sciences are the results of inquiry based on guesses suggested by the ideas of mechanics. the moral sciences, so far as they can be called sciences, are equally developed out of our instinctive ideas about human nature. Man has thus far not attained to any knowledge that is not in a wide sense either mechanical or anthropological in its nature, and it may be reasonably presumed that he never will.” pp 214-215 Philosophical Writings of Peirce, edited by Justus Buchler. Available (kind of) via Google Books.

Mircea Cantor: Deeparture
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Derren Brown Zombie
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Peirce/Piaget coordination

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

two days ago i quoted Peirce:
“It is a matter of real fact to say that in a certain room there are two persons. It is a matter of fact to say that each person has two eyes. It is a matter of fact to say that each person has two eyes. It is a matter of fact to say that there are four eyes in the room. But to say that if there are two persons and each person has two eyes there will be four eyes is not a statement of fact, but a statement about the system of numbers which is our own creation.” p. 59, from Philosophical Writings of Peirce, edited by Justus Buchler. Available (kind of) via Google Books.

now Piaget, from here:
“In cases involving the physical world the abstraction is abstraction from the objects themselves. A child, for instance, can heft objects in his hands and realize that they have different weights – that usually big things weigh more than little ones, but that sometimes little things weigh more than big ones. All this he finds out experientially, and his knowledge is abstracted from the objects themselves. But I should like to give an example, just as primitive as that one, in which knowledge is abstracted from actions, from the coordination of actions, and not from objects. This example, one we have studied quite thoroughly with many children, was first suggested to me by a mathematician friend who quoted it as the point of departure of his interest in mathematics. When he was a small child, he was counting pebbles one day; he lined them up in a row, counted them from left to right, and got ten. Then, just for fun, he counted them from right to left to see what number he would get, and was astonished that he got ten again. He put the pebbles in a circle and counted them, and once again there were ten. He went around the circle in the other way and got ten again. And no matter how he put the pebbles down, when he counted them, the number came to ten. He discovered here what is known in mathematics as commutativity, that is, the sum is independent of the order. But how did he discover this? Is this commutativity a property of the pebbles? It is true that the pebbles, as it were, let him arrange them in various ways; he could not have done the same thing with drops of water. So in this sense there was a physical aspect to his knowledge. But the order was not in the pebbles; it was he, the subject, who put the pebbles in a line and then in a circle. Moreover, the sum was not in the pebbles themselves; it was he who united them. The knowledge that this future mathematician discovered that day was drawn, then, not from the physical properties of the pebbles, but from the actions that he carried out on the pebbles. This knowledge is what I call logical mathematical knowledge and not physical knowledge.”

old space rocks

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

the discovery of a 140 year old supernova reminds me of a statement i heard julian barbour make – but i can’t recall where it was. to paraphrase, he said that we have come to know the age of the earth by studying rocks that exist right now.

last semester i asked some students to consider these quotes by C.S. Peirce:

The following quotes are from Charles S. Peirce, American Philosopher, 1839 –1914, and come from Philosophical Writings of Peirce, edited by Justus Buchler. Available via Google Books.

“It is a matter of real fact to say that in a certain room there are two persons. It is a matter of fact to say that each person has two eyes. It is a matter of fact to say that each person has two eyes. It is a matter of fact to say that there are four eyes in the room. But to say that if there are two persons and each person has two eyes there will be four eyes is not a statement of fact, but a statement about the system of numbers which is our own creation.” p. 59

..for the real is that which insists upon forcing its’ way into our recognition as something other than the mind’s creation. The real is active; we acknowledge, in calling it the actual. (This word is due to Aristotle’s use of action to mean existence, as opposed to a mere germinal state.)” p. 79

The reality of things consists in their persistent forcing themselves upon our recognition. If a think has no such persistence, it is a mere dream. Reality, then, is persistence, is regularity. In the original chaos, where there was no regularity, there was no existence. it was all a confused dream. This we may suppose was in the infinitely distant past. But as things are getting more regular, more persistent, they are getting less dreamy and more real” p. 358

Nassim Taleb, from The Black Swan:
Platonicity[ed. you’ll notice julian barbour’s site is called platonia]: the desire to cut reality into crips shapes….Categorizing is necessary for humans, but it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising their categories.” p. 15

these thoughts are with me now while considering the different but related acts of the geologist (or anyone, for that matter) holding something in their hands (actual) and then studying (germinal) that thing, and then struck by how the result of that study, in this particular case, is a numerical value. …But to say that if there are two persons and each person has two eyes there will be four eyes is not a statement of fact, but a statement about the system of numbers which is our own creation.

the recent image of the supernova is actually a composite of two images, a radio image from 1985 (blue), and an x-ray image from 2007:


here’s an article

the past isn’t even past” Faulkner

Orphaned Works Act approved

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

I’ve culled this post together from a bunch of recent emails from various sources:

In 1930 Woody Guthrie asked that the following be printed below his published songs.

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.

For Immediate Release: May 7, 2008

Background: The House Intellectual Property Subcommittee today approved H.R. 5889, the Orphan Works Act of 2008. Orphan works are works, such as photographs, music or film, or other works for which the copyright holder can’t be found by someone who wants to use the work in a way that normally would require permission. Works can become “orphaned” for a number of reasons: the owner did not register the work, the owner sold rights in the work and did not register the transfer, the owner died and his heirs cannot be found.

The following statement is attributed to Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge:

“We are pleased that the Subcommittee has approved this legislation with the promise to continue to discuss issues of concern with stakeholders before a full Judiciary Committee markup. Overall, we believe the bill would restore much needed balance to copyright law by freeing up for use by follow on creators so-called orphan works.

“We recognize there are some issues going forward on which we would like to work with the subcommittee before the bill is considered by the full Judiciary Committee. The ‘notice of use’ archive provision, would impose onerous filing requirements on users without providing any real benefits to owners by requiring users to submit summaries of their searches along with a notice of intended use. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on behalf of herself and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), noted during the markup that there are already provisions in the bill that obviate the need for such an archive.

“We thank Subcommittee Chairman Berman, Ranking Member Coble and their staff for taking the time to work with us. We look forward to working with them on these issues of concern.”

more info >>

Definition of an Orphan Work:

Sir Ken Robinson in Baltimore on Thursday, May 22

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Ken Robinson will be in Baltimore as a part of the Creativity Summit at Center Stage,
and there is a free lunch of some sort. He’s consented to let Radar Redux stream the event – and i’ll be doing some of the streaming with Jack Livingston.

Thursday May 22 – 9:30 to 3:30.

To register to attend for free go to GBCA site and click on the registration.

Here is his TED talk, entitled: Do Schools Today Kill Creativity?
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this is a robot

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

…and if there was a chair, desk, papers, and a cat inside it would look just like my studio. without a cat it would look like my office.


here are its’ relatives.