Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

found things

a couple of photos i'd forgotten that i'd made. a series that died in its birthing stages...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

who needs to know

i have difficulty when i feel that i'm not making good things. that's how i felt tonight. it frustrated me. i don't have a specific vision for what i want to create, and i'm not even sure it's necessary. but i do know that i want to create things that i'm proud of. that would inspire me. that have the potential to inspire others. i want there to be a continuity in what i make and what i show. there's just a disconnect between the two that i am having a hard time reconciling. frustrating.

had a really good conversation with eddie tonight about precisely that, after i'd had my own personal thing. he asked me what inspires me. i thought for a minute. i told him; things that i never would have thought of myself. other people. nature. music and art, of course. those close to me that are creating beautiful, interesting, wonderful things. he told me that he'd been reading walden, and noticing the beauty in the words, became inspired himself to write. in order to re-imagine that beauty in his own way. he asked me what i did when i got stumped. i told him that i either pushed through it or gave up. that if i keep trying long enough, i'll find something. maybe not was i was originally looking for. but something. i told him he should write. not for anyone else, but for himself. he's a voracious reader. he wants to be creative with something. he's a very good writer actually. not surprising. i realized i should probably take my own advice. i'm grateful that we had that conversation, which in turn allowed me to finish something i'd been working on.

if i could decide something for myself and will its realization into being, i'd wish that i would envision something, a song, a series of photographs, whatever; that means something to me. DO it. make it real so that they all make sense. i know that i make things. but they are all so sporadic and spontaneous that nothing fits together. maybe it doesn't have to. maybe it will someday. but it feels like i want it to.

tis the season to be melting

melting season--beside the ferrymen


layman's philosophy of mind at a glance?

courtesy of :

The Philosophy of Mind, 1
March 8, 2010
By Stuart Kauffman

My purpose in the next several posts is to begin to explore major issues in the Philosophy of Mind. My hope is that it may be possible to bring to bear material from past posts to help resolve deep issues that have been with us at least since Descartes, in 1650. To do so, we need a brief outline of these issues.

Descartes famously postulated two kinds of "substance" in the universe, res extensa and res cogitans. Res extensa is, roughly the physical world. Res cogitans is, roughly, mind and consciousness. This view of two kinds of substances is called "dualism".

It was clear to Descartes that his dualism raised the deep issue of how mind/consciousness acts on the physical matter of the body, including the issue of how the mind can have a morally responsible free will. His own proposal was that the mind acted on the body via the pineal gland, a single gland in the brain.

With respect to res extensa, Descartes was an early mechanist: the world, and the bodies of animals and humans were conceived of as clock like machines, gears, escapements and so forth.

This early view was profoundly enriched by Newton's three laws of motion, universal gravitation, and the invention by Newton and Leibnitz of the calculus.

Recall that Aristotle had considered four causes, formal, material, final and efficient: the formal cause of a house is the blueprint, the material cause of the house are the bricks and mortar, the final cause of the house is your decision to build it, and the efficient cause is the actual process of building the house. As I have mentioned, Aristotle also offered a model for explanation in science: deduction: All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal. As Robert Rosen pointed out in 'Life Itself', with Newton's laws in differential equation form, initial and boundary conditions, one has, say for a table of billiard balls, the initial positions and momenta of all the balls, the boundary conditions of the billiard table, then the physicist integrates the differential equations to get the trajectories the balls will follow. But as Rosen points out, integration is exactly Deduction. So Newton mathematized Aristotle's efficient case as integration of the differential equations for a system, and that became the "new" mechanical world view", for example Celestial Mechanics.

Note two things about Newton's triumph. First, from the perspective of an Alfred North Whitehead, or myself, who are both interested in exploring ontologically REAL Possibles giving rise to Ontologically real Actuals that give rise to Ontologically real Possibles, Newton's and Einstein's worlds are only Actuals. Thus, for Newton, what IS the Actual state of the billiard ball system in terms of positions and momenta, causally determines the next Actual state of the system, as revealed by integration of his equations of motion. Second, for Newton all events have sufficient Actual causes. There is no uncaused event. The forward and past (due to time reversibility of Newton's laws) trajectories of the billiard balls is entirely determined by the present state of the billiard balls's positions and momenta, and a sequence of Actuals that beget the next or preceding Actual.

With this in mind, let's return to a Cartesian dualism: We have a res extensa, described by Newton's deterministic equations. Now pass to a deterministic set of equations describing the dynamical neural behavior of the brain. Then we confront the profound problem: How does mind/consciousness - as we exprience it with our sense of free will - cause matter, res extensa to change? The standard philosophy of mind arguments are straightforward: 1) The brain, as a physical system is causally sufficient to generate the next Actual state of the brain, so there is nothing for mind to do. 2) Besides, there is no causal means by which Mind/Consciousness can act on matter.

We're stuck! One response was Idealism: this was Bishop Berkeley's theory that all is Res Cogitans, and what seem to be Res Extensa are so because they are held in the mind of God. There are a variety of Idealist positions spawned by Berkeley.

The modern view is called the "mind-brain" identity theory. It holds that causal events in the brain, say circuits of neurons firing creating a nonlinear dynamical system among about 10 to the 11th power neurons, constitute the causal behavior of the (classical) neurons, much like Newton, where Actuals give rise to the next Actuals in a state space of the firing activities of all 10 to the 11th power neurons at each moment, hence a flow along trajectories in this state space. But, since the mind and brain are identical, this very dynamical activity is mind and consciousness.

The mind-brain identity view is dominant today, and I agree with it, although not as formulated above.

A subspecies of this mind-brain identity theory is called "connectionism". Here is the idea. A neuron firing or not can be thought of as the truth or falseness of a proposition, say, "An edge at angle X is here in the visual field". Then the firing of all the neurons is like a computer calculating, a Turing machine, and vastly many computable functions can be carried out by the brain, calculating the true or falseness of vastly many propositions.

The neurological correlate of this is easily seen by receptor fields. Hubel and Wiesel showed in the 1950s that a given neural ganglion at the back of your eye could be stimulated to fire by points of light directed at small spots on your retina, but inhibited from firing by directing the light at a small circle on your retina surrounding the central excitatory spot. This is an on center off surround receptor field. Later they showed that there are receptor fields that respond to short lines of light with specific spatial orientations, and these are called edge detectors, for it was soon realized that a set of these receptor fields firing together could detect a straight edge spanning a number of edge receptor fields oriented in the same direction.

This triumph led to the "grandmother" cell theory, in which a specific neuron would fire if and only if you looked at your grandmother. This theory has fallen into disfavor, as such cells have not been found. More, this Connectionist vision of the brain typically is associated with the claim that the mind is algorithmic, a computational machine like a classical computer. In a later blog I will suggest that this view is deeply wrong, the mind is not algorithmic. But that is for later...

So what are the philosophic problems with the mind-brain identity theory?

"Well", a philosopher of mind commonly says, "let's take the "meat-brain" part of the mind-brain identity. Once again, it seems as if the Actual state of the brain is causally sufficient for the next Actual state of the brain, so again, there is nothing for mind to do." (You may wonder why the philosopher gets to ask this question if mind and brain are identical, but an actual survey of a modest number of good philosophers shows that they do ask this question.)

Worse, there seems no way for mind to act on the brain - just as in dualism.

One response is to say the conscious mind is a mere "epiphenomenon", of no power on its own to cause anything in the world of matter. Here, consciousness is either an illusion, or in any case, ineffective in the real world. This may be the position of Tom Clark and Ursula, my co-blogger, in her recent post when she says of Ursula, "she did this and that", meaning her brain did it, not Ursula. (I may have misunderstood a very good friend, who will surely tell me if I've misunderstood.)

So what about morally responsible free will? Here is the standard dilemma. The mind-brain is a deterministic dynamical system, a la Newton, but different "neural" equations. So you were determined by that dynamics to kill the old man in the wheel chair. Not your fault. You didn't do it. No responsible free will.

Alternatively, we have a little or a lot of quantum chance, in the simplest case, like the random decay of a radioactive nucleus. So you are sauntering down the street, and by random chance, kill the same old man in the wheel chair. Not your fault, just a random event.

Again we are stuck. We can have no responsible free will.

I will offer an argument later about a coherent, decohereing-recohering mind-brain system that has consequences for the classical world via decoherence, but decoherence that is acausal, so mind can have consequences for matter without acting causally on matter. I think this is actually very hopeful. It answers cleanly one of the outstanding problems in the philosophy of mind - IF the mind-brain system is quantum coherent, decohering and recohering, which none of us knows as yet.

A responsible free will is harder.

But there are further problems:

Why did consciouisness evolve anyway? Suppose an algorithmic robot with sensors could calculate exactly what will happen in its world. Why bother to be "aware" of its world, just buzz around and plug yourself into power sockets and pop oil into your joints.

What use, if mind is a machine, such as a connectionist machine, is there in being conscious, having awareness, or "qualia"?

Now you might think that an answer is that the robot cannot compute its world exactly due to measurement error, or what is called "deterministic chaos", the famous butterfly effect where a butterfly in Rio can change the weather in Chicago because tiny changes in initial conditions lead to widely varying trajectories in state space.

But this answer won't do. The unconscious, but able computerized robot could sense the difference between its predictions about the world and the world, reset the initial conditions and recompute. Why be conscious? There seems no answer.

This blog is at the philosophy of mind 101 level, of course, but I hope it set in place the context of the problems we face. In my next blogs I hope to take up these issues.

Post Script: In a recent blog, 'Can a Changing Adjacent Possible Acausally Change History? The Open Universe, IV', I discussed 'Vast chemical reaction graphs' and the flow of a small amount of matter on such graphs. I claimed equilibrium would never be reached in the lifetime of the universe, that fluctuations would not damp out but be history dependent, due to those very fluctuations that do not damp out, and that, if we interpret Quantum Mechanics in terms of an ontologically 'real possible', the entire process is acausal. A new study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, of the famous Murchison meteorite that fell in Australia about 40 years ago, used high resolution mass spectrometry and NMR, able to detect mass differences of 1 electron. The study detected 14,000 organic compounds from which, the authors say, millions of organic compounds can be made. The data suggest the meteorite may be older than the sun and carry compounds from early in the formation of the solar system. My addition is that space chemistry may indeed be a flow on a hypo-polulated "vast" reaction graph as we have discussed.

With respect to the philosophy of mind for later blogs, this flow, if interpreted as I have done above, is acausal, lawless but non-random in its historical contingency, and offers a potential way out of the bind about free will as either deterministic, hence not free, or merely quantum random like the decay of a single radioactive nucleus, hence just random, so not morally responsible as we just happen to kill the old man in the wheel chair.

'Scientists say that a meteorite that crashed into Earth 40 years ago contains millions of different carbon-containing, or organic, molecules.'

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

welcome to good blurger

i never take good photos of my mom for some reason, but i found this one today. it was taken while my mom was visiting me in israel. pretty cute laughing lady, huh?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


my friend john-laurent re-sent this to me today. oh man. college...

Fascinating flames

Fire unites street-side spectators

John-Laurent Tronche

Issue date: 3/31/06 Section: News
  • Page 1 of 1
Students watch as Fort Worth Fire Department firefighters attempt to salvage the TCU Bookstore, which caught fire early Wednesday morning.
Media Credit: Andrew Chavez
Students watch as Fort Worth Fire Department firefighters attempt to salvage the TCU Bookstore, which caught fire early Wednesday morning.

Wednesday morning's "Bookstore Inferno" has quickly built a following and has become a conversation point among students and faculty.

The blaze, which a Fort Worth Fire Department official said was caused by a leftover, slow-burning fire from a workman's torch, produced an estimated $1 million in damage that might result in the required demolition of the building.

The fire itself, however, has become a bigger interest to students rather than what will become of the black and beige mess of metal and ash left behind.

Since the fire, TCU students have created 11 different Facebook groups, including "I saw the TCU bookstore burn!!!" and "RIP TCU bookstore."

The most popular group is "Bookstore Inferno" with more than 250 members.

Sally Glass, a senior psychology and philosophy major, said she watched the fire from her apartment porch on Cockrell Street for three hours.

After seeing flashing lights from her kitchen window, Glass went outside to find a student sitting on her porch watching the fire. After exchanging names, Glass offered "Perry" a beer, and the two watched the fire.

"It's like watching a train wreck," Glass said. "There's some human fascination with destruction. It's sort of beautiful."

Glen Ellman, 48, a commercial photographer, has made a career capturing fire on film.

Ellman's photograph of the TCU Bookstore bursting with flames made the front page of the "Fort Worth" section in Thursday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Within minutes of arriving at the bookstore, Ellman said, he saw more than 300 people running up to watch the action.

"Most people that you run into have never seen a building burn," Ellman said.

Ellman said he heard students cheer when the roof began to cave.

The TCU Bookstore "was a spectacular burn," Ellman said. He added that the photographs he took would be some of his better pictures.

Doug George, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Central Arkansas, said the students at the fire acted under "collective behavior."

"In certain circumstances, the normal way of doing things doesn't quite fit," George said. "A temporary society all of a sudden comes into existence."

George said the students who share a bond through the bookstore fire are a temporary society, complete with their own set of rules and ideas of how to act.

In other words, in the same way car crash victims bond together through mutual experiences, those students who saw the fire share a common thread.

Christina Davis, a senior English and political science major, said that after leaving The University Pub on Wednesday morning, an initial group of 10 people quickly grew to a crowd of about 100. She added that as the fire grew bigger, the crowd's excitement grew.

"It was a big mixer," Davis said.

Monday, March 1, 2010


from the weekend, in no certain order:

early mornings before swine

rainy night. sleepy time. full weekend. sly mind. worked hard on my photo project today; to get things right. underwater dreamscapes are more difficult to capture than i imagined...