Archive for September 2006

Saturday Book Quote

September 30, 2006

From Chaos: Making A New Science by James Gleick.

  “Feigenbaum knew what he had, because geometric convergence meant that something in this equation was scaling, and he knew that scaling was important.  All of renormalization theory depended on it.  In an apparently unruly system, scaling meant that some quality was being preserved while everything else changed.  Some regularity lay beneath the turbulent surface of the equation…”

  “But what made universality useful also made it hard for physicists to believe.  Universality meant that different systems would behave identically.  Of course, Feigenbaum was was only studying simple numerical functions.  But he believed that his theory expressed a natural law about systems at the point of transition between orderly and turbulent.  Everyone knew that turbulance meant a continuous spectrum of different frequencies, and everyone had wondered where the different frequencies coming in sequentially came from.  Suddenly you could see the frequencies coming in sequentially.  The physical implication was that real-world systems would behave in the same, recognizable way, and that furthermore it would be measurably the same.  Feigenbaum’s universality was not just qualitative, it was quantitative; not just structural, but metrical.  It extended not just to patterns, but to precise numbers.  To a physicist, that strained credulity.”


The Joys of Torture

September 29, 2006

How should I torture? Let me count the ways.
I torture to the depth and breadth and height
Thy body can reach, when pain blinds all sight
For the ends of ticking bombs and commanding thy days.
I torture to the level of abject submission
With excess humiliation when given permission
I torture freely, as sadistic measures proceed
I torture purely, as instinct begets vulgar need
I torture with a passion for suffering and sensitivity
In my attempted deconstruction of terrorist activity
I torture in many awkward positions
With my moral compass in a broken condition
Groans, tears, and spittle will not suffice
To end this torture, not in this life.


September 27, 2006

Expression has multiple purposes, but some purposes are more refined than others.  One of the primary achievements of Greek culture was to distill by reason the nature of the world.  The echoes and correspondences of the universe are elegant and mystifying.  Although we may bow to the unknowable ultimate question of why, we should advance with determination upon the merely unknown mechanism of how.

Fuzzy versus Formal

September 26, 2006

The title refers to types of logic.  Another way of saying it is continuous versus discrete.  The approach among nearly all philosophers is that one or the other type is irrelevant or that these types converge on a single answer.  To paraphrase, truth is one but error is infinite.  As Nietzsche puts it, supposing truth is a woman – what then?

Suppose that truth has more than one side to her nature.  In that case, her allure and mystery is revealed through complexity rather than simplicity.  Truth can be reduced to a crude true or false dichotomy, or it can be a synthetic, dynamic process of integration and possibility.

Saturday Book Quote

September 23, 2006

A look at the Big Easy through the eyes of a comic tragic figure named Ignatius.  New Orleans lives up to its reputation as the place where the Bible Belt is unbuckled.  From A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

Dear Reader,

A great writer is friend and benefactor of his readers. – Macaulay

  Another working day is ended, gentle reader.  As I told you before, I have succeeded in laying a patina, as it were, over the turbulence and mania of our office.  All non-essential activities in the office are slowly being curtailed.  At the moment I am busily decorating our throbbing hive of white-collared bees (three).  The analogy of the three bees brings to mind three b’s which describe most aptly my actions as an office worker: banish, benefit, beautify.  There are also three b’s which describe most aptly the actions of our buffoon of an office manager:  bait, beg, blight, blunder, bore, boss, bother, bungle, burden, buzz.  (In this case, I am afraid that the list gets somewhat out of hand.)  I have come to the conclusion that our office manager serves no purpose other than one of obfuscation and hindrance.  Were it not for him, the other clerical worker and I would be quite peaceful and content, attending to our duties in an atmosphere of mutual consideration.

Paranoid Predator

September 22, 2006

I would comment about this, but I might end up on his Orwellian “enemies list.”

Thoughts on Metapolitics

September 22, 2006

Looking at the previous post, there are some interesting tensions between the various ideals.  The goal of liberalism over radicalism has some implications that I thought should be explained.  In some ways, this is really about information integrity, because a fair, democratic process has the benefit of allowing objective review of facts, although partisans will inevitably spin those facts to their liking.  Radicalism, if it bothers to deal with facts at all, is so highly selective that the big picture is distorted beyond belief.  The only reason I did not choose a one on that scale was because the areas of rights should be immune from democratic whims.  No matter what the public sentiment is, if a right exists it cannot be trumped by a plurality.  Obviously, this means we should be careful when using rights language.

The other areas that I deviated from the mean were a slight emphasis on aggregation over deliberation, authoritarianism over libertarianism, and wealth redistribution.  Even though I am fond of deliberation, I have seen too many cases where it is used to obfuscate the issue at hand.  So I favor a small amount of deliberation, where two or three competing visions present their case, and then the majority votes. 

My emphasis on authoritarianism is based on two separate goals: universal justice within a society and the potential anarchy of severing cultural bonds.  By far, the concept of social justice carries more weight, but the atomization of society into enclaves and city-states does have a deterrence value.  One need only look to Iraq to see how a lack of authority has created total chaos.

The wealth redistribution question is also a matter of social justice and keeping inequality from permanently stratifying society.