All posts made the week commencing Sunday 14 Sep., 2003:

What I love about getting lost:

Let's see, the first time I came to London on my own, or rather the first time I came to London and explored, so this was after the time we saw the man being beaten up and the prostitute who looked and talked like a friend from home, but wasn't, and that night ended up with us sitting near the South Bank all night and talking, not knowing where to go, run out of cigarettes. After that time.

But before the time it all snapped into place and I knew how it fit together. We were looking for a particular bar in Soho, designed by the person who did the cover of the Bjork album that had - at the time - just come out. It's changed now. But all the streets look the same. And the more you walk the more you get lost because after a while you're not sure whether the streets do indeed all look the same, or if you're walking down the same street again and again.

Now I wasn't really lost because I knew I was firstly in London and, secondly, somewhere between Shaftsbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road, Oxford Street and whatever it is on the west end, Regent Street I think, so I knew where I was, to within a resolution of a thousand metres of so.

In terms of finding my way to a given place on the outside however, Leicester Square, say, where one trip we watched a man threatening to throw himself from the top of the building opposite the Swiss Centre but still on the square at 5 am or thereabouts, people milling around shouting Jump!, I was more than the physical distance between point A - me - and point B, point B being Leicester Square itself. Because to cross that distance, A to B, I'd have to know where A was, which way A should face, etc, so I was a long, long way from anywhere.

To begin with I'd known that I was in the north-east corner of Soho, but I gradually became more unsure. Was I heading north or west? Had I been past that particular sex show before? How about that broken phone box? After nearly an hour of this I could've been anywhere.

And then I looked up.

My god, I looked up. Never again have I seen anything like it. The moon, which was full that night, no longer appeared as a flat disc against the sky, but a vividly three dimensional sphere floating in a vaulted heaven, parallaxed against the stars, with mountains and gulleys, a rich and fractal landscape. I saw satellites closer still, like fireflies infront of my face, and I could distinguish their antenna and solar panels. Suddenly an almost black spyplane darted out across the sky, so close I tried to brush it away before it hit me.

Then I realised what had happened. I had total uncertainty about where I was, and so my position had been blurred out over the whole of Soho, my corporeal form smeared over central London. When I looked up it was as if my eye had grown to the whole length of Old Compton Street, I had become a much wider lens. And just like a very large telescope, my resolution had increased, and my stereo vision too.

And if I was smeared out all over Soho, I should be exhibiting interference effects! Indeed, I looked back down and saw the whole of Soho simultaneously from every road junction -- in every place my waveform was coherent with itself, wherever two roads met, a peak would form: I manifested in a hundred places, and in one of them saw the bar I need to find. I reached out and touched the door, collapsing the wavefunction to a single point, and increasing my probability of being there to 100%. Then I went in to meet my friends, and, belatedly, get a drink.

The question is: why do teenage boys look like monkeys?

The human species is highly neotenic. That is, a fully mature human is actually still immature compared to what the genes could do -- an adult person is much like a chimp child: hairless, playful. Like dogs are neotonic too: a fully grown modern dog has unfolded its genes as much only as a puppy wolf.

This implies that during some period of humanity's evolution, the species' neoteny increased from nothing to where it is now. Say for example it took a thousand years, it doesn't matter what the evolutionary pressure was. During that thousand years, the mature adult of each generation would look more like a younger chimp than the mature adult of the generation before.

Now. Consider that, to reproduce, men both young and old would prefer to mate with young women: Women bear children best when they're younger, are less likely to die and more likely to nourish the child properly, etc (the grandparents are more likely to be alive when the mother is young).

Whereas women will prefer to go for older men: Having a child is a large investment for a woman, and an older man has proven survival skills: The fact that he's actually got older means he's intelligent, strong, canny and so on.

So the older man has no trouble, but it's in the young man's interest to trick the woman. He can't just evolve to look older when younger -- or rather he can, but this isn't an evolutionarily stable state, because old men and young men will get in an arms race to look older, which the old man will always win, and so the race peters out.

However, the young man can take advantage of the fact that older men are also of the generation before, who are less neotenic and look more like apes. This won't actually mean the young man will genuinely become more ape-like - this would leave him vulnerable to the evolutionary pressure which is promoting neoteny to begin with - but it means he will attempt to appear more like an ape.

The old man - who is old and apish - and the young man - who simply appears apish - can now compete on equal ground to mate. As the young man gets older, he competes with those of his own generation, so the monkey-characteristics recede. Although the constant increase of neoteny has now ceased, we're left with its effects.

That's why teenage boys look like monkeys. And what of the young woman? Having lost an important discriminator between old and young men, she moves on to secondary characteristics of age, such as: does he have a car, is he old enough to get served in pubs.

One of the reasons I've been so quiet recently is I've been working on a piece of software called Glancing. It's intended to enable, online, the everyday, background noise of affirming social transactions amongst groups of friends. It's by no means finished, but I've got far enough to know that it's pretty much going to work, technically and socially.

I've written a short hypertext on the rationale and thoughts behind it, covering the theory and details of the functionality, interface and purpose: Glancing notes. It's a bit of a braindump, and I'll welcome any feedback (also pointers to places that need clarification/explanation) or thoughts.