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    feedwordpress 14:21:33 on 2018/12/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , biology, , , , , , , , , distrust, distrustworthy, document, documentation, documents, , , , , evolution, , , gatekeeper, homo sapiens, , , , , information and communications technology, , , , , , ordinary language, plain language, plain talk, , , , publication, , , , , , , , , , , , , transparent, , trustworthiness, , vernacular, ,   

    Some Reflections on the Revolution in Propaganda 


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    More or less exactly ten generations after Edmund Burke’s treatise concerning the French Revolution and roughly about twenty generations after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, I would like to give you a small update on the state of news, media and publishing following the advent of modern computers on the dissemination landscape.

    In this endeavor, I will utilize a case study involving a podcast video on the interwebs, in particular youtube.com, which I hope will help by providing a graphic illustration of what’s going on right now. The case in point is a discussion between an evolutionary biologist, William von Hippel, and a media magnate, Joe Rogan, concerning the publication of Mr. von Hippel’s new neato book titled “The Social Leap”. I shared a link to the entire discussion a couple weeks ago, here I wish to focus on a short segment starting at 2:08:55.

    Originally, my fascination with the topic centered on the origins of human language, but unfortunately there was hardly any discussion of this during the podcast. Although there are many fascinating points regarding the evolution of homo sapiens, very little (if anything at all) was directly related to the genesis of human language. I have often noted that the very first line in the Bible’s book of Genesis directly indicates “the word” as being at the beginning of human history, but exactly how this first word was ever spoken remains an enigma. My own hunch is that it followed other types of expression – such as body language, facial expressions and the like – and that several rather complex communicative norms needed to become institutionalized (and that language was therefore perhaps far more difficult to develop than other technologies). I imagine that three evolutionary developments might have been particularly advantageous, namely: 1. increased brain size; 2. “whites” of eyes; and 3. improved vocal apparatus. Mr. von Hippel also mentions the first two of these developments.

    I have heard Noam Chomsky give a ball-park estimate of ca. 75 thousand years ago for the approximate beginnings of language. Most of the developments mentioned by Mr. von Hippel predate that by a longshot, but the segment I mentioned above (2:08:55) has to do with a development that is undoubtedly much newer, since it is about reasoning and argumentation (which as far as I know must require language). The segment begins with a discussion of confirmation bias, and Mr. von Hippel then mentions a 2011 paper written by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, saying the paper shows that humans actually evolved to use confirmation bias to persuade each other of their own opinions rather than actually trying to find out what is actually true. I was shocked by this statement and read the original article. Upon doing so, it became clear to me that Mr. von Hippel had misrepresented the original findings – and I have contacted Hugo Mercier and he assures me that my shock was indeed warranted.

    Mercier & Sperber (2011), on the contrary, contends that while the confirmation bias may very well be active when producing arguments, it is largely inactive during the evaluation of arguments. This symbiotic relationship is crucial, and to overlook it is a gross distortion of the findings. Why did this happen?

    I believe the answer to this question involves yet another development in the history of human languages, perhaps even newer than the “Why do humans reason?” development of argumentation proposed by Mercier & Sperber. Perhaps the earliest records of writing date back to cave paintings and sculptures made by humans tens of thousands of years ago, but the development of writing systems standardized enough to be used for communication across larger stretches of space and time required the development of more advanced social institutionalization – perhaps dating back no further than just about 10,000 years (in other words, only ca. 500 generations).

    For most of this time, writing was extremely limited and was only available to the most educated classes. Therefore, any ideas shared would only be written down if they passed the muster of such highly educated gatekeepers. In my humble opinion, this recurring process led to the development of something I wish to refer to as a publication bias – a “believability” of ideas that have been written down. Shortly after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press a little over 500 years ago, the world up to that point was shaken up briefly… but that came to an end when copyright law was established and the production of large-scale printing presses became prohibitively expensive. For the past several hundred years, the publication bias has largely been reinstitutionalized, though the publishing industry became highly fragmented (from a church monopoly before 1500 to a plethora of publishing gatekeepers thereafter). The new gatekeepers were governed by many laws, and thereby it was possible to control the dissemination of information. Early modern information technologies such as telegraph, telephone, radio, television, etc. did little to change that.

    What did change it was the advent of the personal computer. Desktop publishing was hardly a challenge to traditional publishing, but electronic publishing is marching forwards in leaps and bounds on its way to completely eradicating the titans of the paper era. Day after day, the cost of publishing information across the entire globe continues to new record-setting lows. It is a well-known, commonplace fact that publishing technology has now also been birthed from Pandora’s box, and that it is now nearly everywhere, cheap and easy to use… for anyone.

    And therein lies the rub: The days of publishing gatekeepers are finally over. Clicking a button is not at all difficult to do… and so everyone’s doing it.

    The result we need to face today is that the publication bias – the naive trust in written information – is (or at least should be) also gone, probably forever (or at least for the “foreseeable future”).

    And yet likewise we see virtually on a daily basis that the publication bias is actually very far from gone. On the contrary: not only do old habits die hard, but now we have even more, new and improved, of such biases. Perhaps leading the pack is the modern brand name – completely vacuous and empty, but highly valued, exclusive and nearly impenetrable to most rational thought processes. Brands carry the weight of innumerable imaginary people, built up over years, decades if not centuries. Such colossal weight bogs the average human’s mind, and the most popular brands are revered as gods, never to be doubted or questioned. What previously had been delegated to print, today can fly as high as Coca-cola, Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google or YouTube or untold other brands. No longer is the sky the limit, either – no, these fantastic companies will fly to the moon, Mars and far beyond into space, reaching for the stars.

    Will ordinary humans ever come back down to earth? How will we ever be able to re-introduce a modicum of rationality into our species? Perhaps we should untie ourselves from our slavery to brands, brand names, megalithic monopolistic enterprises and such. Maybe we should return to ordinary communications – straight talk, free of mumbo jumbo.

    Luckily, the founders of the Internet apparently did have enough foresight to foresee the potential dangers of centralized information resources. The technology at the basis of modern civilization today is actually not the problem. The problem is modern human behavior, especially the way modern humans behave in groups. We have seen this time and again throughout the 20th Century, now we must “human up” and become more reasonable.

    We must learn to recognize the difference between fake and real. This is actually not as difficult as it sounds. What makes it relatively simple is when we simply recognize that the human languages we use on a daily basis are our own, and that we are free to communicate our ideas, wants and needs as we please. We don’t need no central authority to control our thoughts. We don’t need no dictator to figure out the truth. We can rely on what we understand from humans, and also that we will be understood by humans. Humans are rational beings – and that means they will rationalize their ideas, each according to their own language. Mutual understanding among humans is the primary goal we must strive for. Regular ordinary straight talk is the basis of human rationality, and it is time we recognize this fact and reestablish regular ordinary straight talk into our daily lives, our information and communication technologies and our entire media landscape.

    We should not trust that Joe Rogan or William von Hippel are right. We should not feel secure that the big data algorithms of YouTube or Google will watch out for us. We need to open our own eyes for ourselves and take a good hard look at reality – because that is what matters.

    One last point I wish to address is an issue that I feel could easily lead to a misunderstanding. While I argue that brand names are inadequate as symbols of trust or reliability, brand names do serve a constructive purpose, function and useful role in the modern social order. These labels and identifiers enable us to refer to individuals, individual entities, individual processes and distinct, unique phenomena we engage with and participate in on a daily basis. Therefore, they serve an integral role in our entire social fabric. Note, though, that our ability to reference such entities and phenomena has very little to do with the trustworthiness of the entities or phenomena themselves, but rather with the trustworthiness of the social order – for example, a well-functioning legal framework that forms the basis of such well-established social institutions as private property, fair trade, open communications, etc.

    Meaningful information requires language, and meaningful accounting requires itemization. Bringing both of these phenomena together is a matter of dovetailing information organized via language with the accountability of big data bases. If you would like to participate in helping to make this happen, I invite you to get up and sign up with phenomenonline.com!

     
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    nmw 18:14:30 on 2015/09/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , , evolution, intelligent design, , , ,   

    Artificial Intelligence, Intelligent Design, Evolution and Comedy 


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    I have some friends who have launched a new podcast. I don’t want to talk about it — I feel it speaks for itself. I will say that I consider it to be quite funny here and there.

    One thing I do want to do is to respond to it (and BTW: if you’re not well-versed in Frank Zappa, then now might be a good time to consider “Call Any Vegetable” 😉 ).

    There are 2 things that have happened in the story so far — I mean: 2 things I wish to remark on. First, Ted and Brandon decided early on that making small changes among huge populations was something they weren’t going to consider — because they were afraid something like that wouldn’t work. The second thing they did was to mention Ray Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil is considered by many to be an AI guru. In my opinion, his influence is rather limited… because his work is primarily about pattern recognition (and because the patterns that are supposed to be recognized are patterns that are defined by so-called “intelligent” beings). No AI I know of can recognize any pattern that has not been defined by such an intelligent being beforehand.

    Evolution, however, is precisely such a process which “discovers” new patterns. It does this via trial and error — and crucially: small changes. In my opinion, Ted and Brandon may be making a huge mistake by ignoring the possibility that humans may be able to make some huge strides in very small steps. I also find it comical that two grown men would still believe that only people that seem to have immense power (like Superman) would be able to make momentous change happen.

     

     
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    nmw 08:43:05 on 2015/08/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , describe, description, descriptive, , , , , evolution, , , , , , , , , specification, specifications, specify, , , , ,   

    Names vs. Words: Strings for Identity vs. Strings for Information 


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    There is a long-standing tradition of distinguishing names from words — although it is not formally codified (even language itself is not “set in stone”, but rather is undergoing constant evolution — much like a living being), it can be roughly said that whereas words are in the (or a) dictionary, names are strings listed on specialized lists (e.g. baby names, trademark names, names identifying a company, product, service, etc.

    The purpose of names is to identify, and ideally a name should uniquely identify something (or someone). In an ideal world, a name would signify just one thing and exclude everything else. Try to explain that to John or to Joe or to Jane Doe and you will quickly realize we do not live in an ideal world. It seems that so-called “last” names were introduced several hundred years ago in order to more specifically exclude other Johns and other Joes … and perhaps some day soon we will again have to figure out how to make names like Jane Doe uniquely refer to this Jane and not that Jane.

    Such thinking is what leads many to think that the most perfect name is a name which is the most extremely exclusive. Rare is good, unique is best.

    Names have some similarity to words in selecting particular things, but they are also crucially different. Certainly no one would ever want to confuse eating with sleeping, and to mix up sex with rex would make many actors and tyrransauri in heaven rather “most irate”. Language does aim to specify, but it does not aim to specify uniquely. We eat many times over, we sleep many times over, we do and experience all sorts of things over and over again — more or less.

    Therefore, although rare words exist (as do common words), I do not know of a single word that could be described as unique. Likewise, I very much doubt that a universal word ever existed (though it seems as though this is alleged to be the beginning of everything, as we find in the very first book the Bible, Genesis, the statement that “in the beginning, was the word”).

    Today, we have a much more refined understanding of language. We understand that languages are not formed by decree or by other kinds over government regulation or state control. Instead they evolve according to the needs, wishes, whims and rational preferences of living people — in a sort of evolutionary process guided by principles much like “supply” and “demand” (and also the physical dexterity of the vocal apparatus, etc.). In some ways, language may perhaps be understood to evolve in symbiosis with humans, rather than being a technology devised by humans.

    There is little doubt in my mind that so-called natural language is the most basic of all information technologies, especially if you include such messages as are conveyed by intonation, gesticulation, facial expressions, body language, etc. into your notion of natural language. The importance of this fact is usually overlooked when people discuss “information technology” (IT) today.

    The main point I wish to make with this post is the following: It is very important to discern between names and words. The information technology (IT) functions referred to as “search”, and also “community”-oriented information retrieval must rely heavily on words (as only words/language can function as the basis of communication). In sharp contrast, identity is the opposite of  what is commonly referred to as “social” — it must be exclusively private, and ideally it would actually be unique.

     

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 10:10:38 on 2015/07/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , alive, , , dead, , evolution, , , fashion, , formless, formlessness, forms, , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    WANTED: Is Written Language DEAD OR ALIVE? 


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    We are constantly altering the forms we have inherited from previous generations, and these changes are signs of life and vitality. Indeed: The things that don’t change, the forms that rigidify, come to look to us like death — and we destroy them.

    Robert Greene (“48 Laws of Power”)

    One of the sayings I find particularly enticing is the notion that “Written language is dead”. It appeals to our experiences of printed materials, tomes that appear as tombstones of bygone ideas. Yet today, this dogma itself is no longer valid.

    Today, written language exists in the present. Written language lives and breathes according to the whims of an invisible hand that sweeps our attention from hither to thither. “Bells and whistles” give way to “ringtones”, and “ringtones” also succumb to other newfangled applications of fashion.

    More and more writing is becoming less and less etched in stone, it increasingly billows among flyers scattered by the winds of change, becomes evermore formless, ephemeral and transient. Fixed data points give way to fluid data streams.

    There is no need for remorse or backwards oriented attachment to the dead tomes of yesteryear or the innumerable generations dating back to the ancient past. We are not amoeba. We are, here and now, living in the present… — and constantly changing in order to better adapt to the future.

     
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