All posts made the week commencing Sunday 29 Jun., 2003:

Science historians ponder naming 'enemies' in science literature [via robotwisdom]. For example,

"The kind of rhetoric that is used in the context of invasive species is completely ghastly. No one thinks very much about what all the metaphors mean. Haven't species moved around the globe all the time? Isn't it a prime example of evolution at work when a 'invasive' species comes in and actually out-competes a so-called 'native' species? Isn't this the competition that we teach everyone about in introductory biology that leads to adaptation?" Laubichler said. "Yet the metaphors lead us to assume that this is 'unnatural.' This can easily turn into something that gets completely out of hand."

(Related thought: We use the word 'expect' for unconscious unexpectations, or rather, implicit understandings of the behaviour of things, even though we shouldn't: we don't 'expect' the sound from the radio to devolve into pack struggle, alpha phonemes dominating words, re-packing into different meanings as the constitution of the pack changes according to the echo pattern of the room. That's not an axis of variation. But whereas I positively expect to be hungry later (if I don't eat), I don't 'expect' in the same way the absence of all the constraints that make radio radio, and I don't have an 'expectation' of radio (expectation is too active), but I can recognise it when it's there. New word needed.)

Cyberspace as a paratactic aggregate:

So the virtual worlds constitute a strand of thought that stretches back through history, a mindset that produces and complexifies a whole series of worlds, the latest being cyberspace, and virtual meaning these aren't within the real world: A virtual world has to be brought into being by explicit statements (this means this, that means that), as with cyberspace which itself is an offshoot of cybernetics, and so the statements are cybernetic feedback loops: this means (read: causes) this, that means (read: causes) that. The driving force of virtual worlds is towards replicating the real world in a describable way, associating semantic handles with everything, and the power of the virtual world (in the current case: cyberspace, which is the internet and more) is that these handles are programmatically available - in the past, oral culture put handles on human nature; the great scientific models put handles on the physical universe - and the drive to do this [the continuing evolution because of incremental benefits] is called the semiotcracy. This however is also the weakness of the virtual world because the selection of handles is dependant on the worldview of its authors (so we have email addresses for individuals and not groups, not properly) which shapes the reality of people living within the world.

And people do live within the virtual worlds! or at least partially. Once the nest of statements grows beyond a certain complexity, individuals can no longer comprehend it logically, and so the structure of the brain itself, which has adapted to the physics of the real world (distance means dilution of causality, is one such adaption), is utilised: the design of the virtual world must now therefore take its clues from humanity's interfaces with the pre-existing universe, and build in equivalents. The virtual world may then re-merge with (deterritorialize back into) the real world.

Early virtual worlds: On the subject of Archaic art: "The picture becomes a list. Thus a charioteer standing in a carriage is shown as standing above the floor (which is presented in its fullest view) and unencumbered by the rails so that his feet, the floor, the rails can all be clearly seen. No trouble arises if we regard the painting as a visual catalogue of the parts of an event rather than as an illusary rendering of the event itself (no trouble arises when we say: his feet touched the floor which is rectangular, and he was surrounded by a railing...)" -- the picture is a series of statements: "We have what is called a paratactic aggregate: the elements of such an aggregate are all given equal importance, the only relation between them is sequential, there is no hierarchy, no part is being presented as being subordinate to and determined by others".

(Aside: If you think as semantic distance as the online equivalent as distance, and each statement building that world is therefore a difference, then "Distance is therefore a set of ordered differences, in other words, differences that are enveloped in one another in such a way that is it possible to judge which is larger or smaller, but not their exact magnitudes", which is from D&G's 'A Thousand Plateaus', and this also sounds like trails in Xanadu.)

Unlike present day art where it makes sense to ask about the almost accidental meaning behind choices, influences, this wasn't the case then: "Not every feature of an archaic list has representational value just as not every feature of a written sentence plays a role in articulating the content. This was overlooked by the Greeks who started inquiring into the reasons for the 'dignified postures' of Egyptian statues (already Plato commented on this). Such a question 'might have struck an Egyptian artist as it would strike us if someone inquired about the age or mood of the king on the chessboard'". (These quotes all from Paul Feyerband's 'Against Method'.)

It would not be possible now to make Archaic art. It would carry more signifiers. My implicit choices could be criticised; why had I chosen to make something that looked like Archaic art?; so on. This form of art [a virtual world] has been reabsorbed into the real world, and so it can have implicit qualities, widely dispersed associative meaning -- just like the real world in fact.

Cyberspace is still a paratactic aggregate. This is a bad thing -- this particular manifestation of the virtual worlds is now complex enough to shape thoughts, but tyrannised by the minority who are the only ones able able to state the propositions to shape it.

The real world at least is shaped democratically: Walking down the street I exist within a crowd. I cross the road to go to a coffee shop, a ripple moves through the crowd, it becomes marginally easier for others to cross at the same point as me. I have helped shape a social feature; this is extelligence. The storing of knowledge and tools in the environment (which in this case includes other people, society). On a grander scale, we vote with our feet (and wallets) at stores. We face away from people, stare at people, shape their personalities (and social position). Our every accidental movement and action influences reality. Contast this with the web: Aside from recommendations at Amazon and sites that monitor their traffic, the only way people affect the virtual world they live in is by creating new handles (new nouns), that is, URIs, that is: creating their own content. It's too explicit! Where is the implicit shaping?

Cyberspace is characterised by parataxis - defn: "The mere ranging of propositions one after another, without indicating their connection or interdependence; -- opposed to syntax" - and yes we're discovering the syntax (what if we could build cyberspace using the fuzzy statements of a pattern language?) gradually, but how much longer will we be building a world which continutes to exclude the vast majority of humanity, pretty much by design?

It's possible there's some trend in our virtual worlds: from the creation of a new medium as a paratactic aggregate, how long does it take for it to become part of the real world again, complete with the implicit nothing-is-wasted qualities of the universe? Is this period decreasing? How long did art take, how long did other media take, and by extrapolating this line, can we tell how long before cyberspace becomes a fair place to live?

(Three incidentals. 1. The pyramids were a virtual world, a society facing towards constructing their cyberspace of very nearly just a single statement: Here we are. (The most basic social transaction: I'm OK, You're OK.) 2. Virtual worlds are often artifacts, things that enter time, after-images of humanity, and it's unfair that the virtual world we're building now is preventing such a large number from contributing to the pyramids of our age. 3. From Feyeraband again, a warning against taking abstracted thought too far: "Many years later Galileo cautioned against this way of reasoning: rainbows, he said, cannot be caught by triangulation".)

Funky/not-funky RSS. It doesn't seem wise to put in place a social pressure to remove evolvability from the living RSS spec. A reason additions haven't taken off so far is that extra elements have only been used for simple metadata. Whereas, if modules (in either RSS 1.0 or 2.0) were used to structure previously unstructured data, say: including the comments or Trackbacks information in XML rather than just in the description tag somewhere; breaking out the hyperlinks embedded in the description so it's simple XML parsing rather than hard HTML parsing to figure out what the post is linking to; any other supplementary information that it doesn't make sense to include as the post itself but could be interesting not just to aggregators but other RSS consumers (lowering the bar for Technorati-a-likes); a link to an RSS feed of all posts in that category, that can be spidered; experimental ways of addressing posts-in-RSS rather than in HTML; [more ideas here]. If a tool provider who constituted a significant portion of the market were to add useful, structured data to RSS feeds as a matter of course, properly modularised of course, how long would it be before consuming applications began to take advantage of it? Aggregator authors want to make cool reading environments, not get involved in politics.

(If these views weren't about RSS, they could be about Echo, it doesn't matter. An ecology in which the format can evolve is key. Besides, I've got more to say about the software architecture.)

(Structuring previously unstructured data is equivalent to putting handles on previously unhandled things, or making an address space for things that never used to have URIs. It's the grand sweep of virtual worlds through the ages, from the beginning of literature culture -- oh, and earlier still, rhymes and verbal patterns to handle concepts, to get around the complexity exchange limit. It's the big tide, the semiotcracy we're living in. Whether or not it's obvious how in an individual case it could be useful, it's how to allow unintended consequences, how to even talk about things. If something doesn't exist in an address space, it's like speaking without nouns [and there's a whole other story here, about the internet class system and who can and who cannot create those nouns, the URIs].)

(some notes start)

  1. distance is the half-life of causality
  2. what i mean is/
    where we are going with this is
  3. there are certain properties to the universe, certain aspects of the isness, that we could call "ways it operates". distance is one
  4. actually, it's the isness+our_physics
  5. anyway
  6. we relate to these things in our own way
  7. [implicature]
  8. and extract hints and useful information,
  9. so
  10. over all those 100000s years before the holocene
  11. distance => transformations get diluted && transformations getting diluted => distance
  12. it goes both ways!
  14. so when an artifact passes a certain level of complexity
  15. [similar to when a machine passes a certain level of complexity and the mind just starts treating it as another person]
  16. then we start treating things like the universe
  17. and this is why we have to understand what the brain expects from the universe (distance) and how to build that in (to our virtual worlds) and what this means.
  • the continuous strand of reality we call the virtual world is anything that exists above this level of complexity, anything that is constructed from statements, and the people who work with/in it.
  • we shape the real world by extelligence the whole time, this is another thing that is built in. however this is not built into cyberspace so it is being shaped only by certain people who are making it awful in the hinternet. it's like a fourier transform: adding together lots of ways to make a shape within certain bounds -- but what happens outside those bounds? anything. this is a problem with the virtual world.
  • the pyramids were virtual worlds. they were our cyberspace.
  • a five thousand year vapour trail of humanity.

(some notes end)

(New loop starts today.)