Friday, June 05, 2009

from Plato/The Republic

Book X

Socrates - GLAUCON

""""Of the many excellences which I perceive in the order of our State, there is none which upon reflection pleases me better than the rule about poetry.

To what do you refer?

To the rejection of imitative poetry, which certainly ought not to be received; as I see far more clearly now that the parts of the soul have been distinguished.

What do you mean?

Speaking in confidence, for I should not like to have my words repeated to the tragedians and the rest of the imitative tribe --but I do not mind saying to you, that all poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers, and that the knowledge of their true nature is the only antidote to them.

Explain the purport of your remark.

Well, I will tell you, although I have always from my earliest youth had an awe and love of Homer, which even now makes the words falter on my lips, for he is the great captain and teacher of the whole of that charming tragic company; but a man is not to be reverenced more than the truth, and therefore I will speak out. """"
One reason why I am no poet (or, a fortiori, lyricist, singer, troubadour, etc.--Chopin doesn't need words, ese). That does not mean one supports philistines of whatever sort, however. Ezra Pound offers other reasons--one being that the AUTHENTIC poet, like a composer, dedicates years to learning his craft, to the study of languages, starting with Latin, a romance tongue or two, tal vez pinche aleman: Español creo que es superior francés o italiano--o pinche aleman--y también más exótico. Pound apparently considered Anglish best suited to sea-shanties, even when a Schackaspeare's singing (tho' the bard--or royal AKA the bard--was certainly a competent latinist, probably knew phrench, italian, un poco espanol).

Pound would probably require the Possum-to-be to know classical greek, and an asian language or two as well (those nubes who hate ser y estar--- try arabic verbs). So master those 7 or 8 tongues, and start over, grasshoppah (we might recall that until about 1789 or so poets, like composers, or, belle-artistes, worked for the royals). OR forgettaboutit, be content with small spanglish, less dutch, stick with the pulp splendor of a Dash Hammett, or newspaper, or the rough effective prose of Marxy Marx and pals: Herr Marx most likely agreed with Socrates' somewhat iconoclastic sentiments in Book X, I wager. .

Friday, March 06, 2009

(2.1. Determinism and predictability. Jean Bricmont)

""""A major scientific development in recent decades has been popularized under the name of “chaos”. It is widely believed that this implies a fundamental philosophical or conceptual revolution. In particular, it is thought that the classical world-view brilliantly expressed by Laplace in his “Philosophical Essay on Probabilities” has to be rejected <4>. Determinism is no longer defensible. I think this is based on a serious confusion between determinism and predictability. I will start by underlining the difference between the two concepts. Then, it will be clear that what goes under the name of “chaos” is a major scientific progress but does not have the radical philosophical implications that are sometimes attributed to it.

In a nutshell, determinism has to do with how Nature behaves, and predictability is related to what we, human beings, are able to observe, analyse and compute. It is easy to illustrate the necessity for such a distinction. Suppose we consider a perfectly regular, deterministic and predictable mechanism, like a clock, but put it on the top of a mountain, or in a locked drawer, so that its state (its initial conditions) become inaccessible to us. This renders the system trivially unpredictable, yet it seems difficult to claim that it becomes non-deterministic <5>. Or consider a pendulum: when there is no external force, it is deterministic and predictable. If one applies to it a periodic forcing, it may become unpredictable. Does it cease to be deterministic?

In other words, anybody who admits that some physical phenomena obey deterministic laws must also admit that some physical phenomena, although deterministic, are not predictable, possibly for “accidental” reasons. So, a distinction must be made <6>. But, once this is admitted, how does one show that any unpredictable system is truly non-deterministic, and that the lack of predictability is not merely due to some limitation of our abilities? We can never infer indeterminism from our ignorance alone.

Now, what does one mean exactly by determinism? Maybe the best way to explain it is to go back to Laplace : “ Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings who compose it- an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit these data to analysis- it would embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atom; for it, nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present before its eyes.” [67] The idea expressed by Laplace is that determinism depends on what the laws of nature are. Given the state of the system at some time, we have a formula (a differential equation, or a map) that gives in principle the state of the system at a later time. To obtain predictability, one has to be able to measure the present state of the system with enough precision, and to compute with the given formula (to solve the equations of motion). Note that there exist alternatives to determinism: there could be no law at all; or the laws could be stochastic: the state at a given time (even if it is known in every conceivable detail) would determine only a probability distribution for the state at a later time.

How do we know whether determinism is true, i.e. whether nature obeys deterministic laws? This is a very complicated issue. Any serious discussion of it must be based on an analysis of the fundamental laws, hence of quantum mechanics, and I do not want to enter this debate here <7>. Let me just say that it is conceivable that we shall obtain, some day, a complete set of fundamental physical laws (like the law of universal gravitation in the time of Laplace), and then, we shall see whether these laws are deterministic or not <8>. Any discussion of determinism outside of the framework of the fundamental laws is useless <9>. All I want to stress here is that the existence of chaotic dynamical systems does not affect in any way this discussion. What are chaotic systems? The simplest way to define them is through sensitivity to initial conditions. This means that, for any initial condition of the system, there is some other initial condition, arbitrarily close to the first one so that, if we wait long enough, the two systems will be markedly different <10>. In other words, an arbitrarily small error on the initial conditions makes itself felt after a long enough time. Chaotic dynamical systems are of course unpredictable in practice, at least for long enough times <11>, since there will always be some error in our measurement of the initial conditions. But this does not have any impact on our discussion of determinism, since we are assuming from the beginning that the system obeys some deterministic law. It is only by analysing this deterministic system that one shows that a small error in the initial conditions may lead to a large error after some time. If the system did not obey any law, or if it followed a stochastic law, then the situation would be very different. For a stochastic law, two systems with the same initial condition could be in two very different states after a short time <12>.

It is interesting to note that the notion that small causes can have big effects (in a perfectly deterministic universe) is not new at all. Maxwell wrote: “There is a maxim which is often quoted, that ‘The same causes will always produce the same effects’ ”. After discussing the meaning of this principle, he adds: “There is another maxim which must not be confounded with that quoted at the beginning of this article, which asserts ‘That like cause produce like effects.’ This is only true when small variations in the initial circumstances produce only small variations in the final state of the system” ([77], p.13) <13>. One should not conclude from these quotations <14> that there is nothing new under the sun. A lot more is known about dynamical systems than in the time of Poincaré. But, the general idea that not everything is predictable, even in a deterministic universe, has been known for centuries. Even Laplace emphasized this point: after formulating universal determinism, he stresses that we shall always remain “infinitely distant” from the intelligence that he just introduced. After all, why is this determinism stated in a book on probabilities? The reason is obvious: for Laplace, probabilities lead to rational inferences in situations of incomplete knowledge (I'll come back below to this view of probabilities). So he is assuming from the beginning that our knowledge is incomplete, and that we shall never be able to predict everything. It is a complete mistake to attribute to some “Laplacian dream” the idea of perfect predictability <15>. But Laplace does not commit what E. T. Jaynes calls the “Mind Projection Fallacy”: “We are all under an ego-driven temptation to project our private thoughts out onto the real world, by supposing that the creations of one's own imagination are real properties of Nature, or that one's own ignorance signifies some kind of indecision on the part of Nature” <16> ([57], p.7). As we shall see, this is a most common error. But, whether we like it or not, the concept of dog does not bark, and we have to carefully distinguish between our representation of the world and the world itself.

Let us now see why the existence of chaotic dynamical systems in fact supports universal determinism rather than contradicts it <17>. Suppose for a moment that no classical mechanical system can behave chaotically. That is, suppose we have a theorem saying that any such system must eventually behave in a periodic fashion <18>. It is not completely obvious what the conclusion would be, but certainly that would be an embarassment for the classical world-view. Indeed, so many physical systems seem to behave in a non-periodic fashion that one would be tempted to conclude that classical mechanics cannot adequately describe those systems. One might suggest that there must be an inherent indeterminism in the basic laws of nature. Of course, other replies would be possible: for example, the period of those classical motions might be enormously long. But it is useless to speculate on this fiction since we know that chaotic behaviour is compatible with a deterministic dynamics. The only point of this story is to stress that deterministic chaos increases the explanatory power of deterministic assumptions, and therefore, according to normal scientific practice, strengthens those assumptions. And, if we did not know about quantum mechanics, the recent discoveries about chaos would not force us to change a single word of what Laplace wrote <19>.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Heidegger for kix


""'Hegel clarifies: " With him (namely with Descartes) we enter into autonomous philosophy proper... Here we can state we are at home and can as a navigator after a long journey in a stormy sea cry out 'Land'; ..." (WW. XV, 328) With this image, Hegel means to state: The "ego cogito sum', this "I think, I am" is the secured base upon which philosophy can establish itself truthfully and thoroughly. With Descartes' philosophy, the ego becomes the measure giving subiectum, that is, that which is deployed beforehand. This subject however will not be taken possession in a proper manner, namely in the Kantian transcendental sense, and fully, in the sense of speculative idealism, until the whole structure and movement of the subjectivity of the subject unfolds and becomes elevated into the absolute knowledge of itself. In so far as the subject knows itself as the knowledge that conditions all objectivity, it is as this knowledge: the absolute itself. Being in its truth is thought thinking itself absolutely. For Hegel, being and thought are the same, and that in the sense that everything is taken in by thought, and by that becomes determined by what Hegel simply names "Der Gedanke"."""

Der Gedanke, eh

Friday, February 06, 2009

Reconciling the Snovian Disjunction

""""To insist on the miraculous is to deny to the machine at least some of its claims on us, to assert the limited wish that living things, earthly and otherwise, may on occasion become Bad and Big enough to take part in transcendent doings. By this theory, for example, King Kong (?-1933) becomes your classic Luddite saint. The final dialogue in the movie, you recall, goes, "Well, the airplanes got him." "No. . . it was Beauty killed the Beast." In which we again encounter the same Snovian Disjunction, only different, between the human and the technological.
But if we do insist upon fictional violations of the laws of nature -- of space, time, thermodynamics, and the big one, mortality itself -- then we risk being judged by the literary mainstream as Insufficiently Serious. Being serious about these matters is one way that adults have traditionally defined themselves against the confidently immortal children they must deal with. Looking back on Frankenstein, which she wrote when she was 19, Mary Shelley said, "I have affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words which found no true echo in my heart." The Gothic attitude in general, because it used images of death and ghostly survival toward no more responsible end than special effects and cheap thrills, was judged not Serious enough and confined to its own part of town. It is not the only neighborhood in the great City of Literature so, let us say, closely defined. In westerns, the good people always win. In romance novels, love conquers all. In whodunits, murder, being a pretext for a logical puzzle, is hardly ever an irrational act. In science fiction, where entire worlds may be generated from simple sets of axioms, the constraints of our own everyday world are routinely transcended. In each of these cases we know better. We say, "But the world isn't like that." These genres, by insisting on what is contrary to fact, fail to be Serious enough, and so they get redlined under the label "escapist fare."
This is especially unfortunate in the case of science fiction, in which the decade after Hiroshima saw one of the most remarkable flowerings of literary talent and, quite often, genius, in our history. It was just as important as the Beat movement going on at the same time, certainly more important than mainstream fiction, which with only a few exceptions had been paralyzed by the political climate of the cold war and McCarthy years. Besides being a nearly ideal synthesis of the Two Cultures, science fiction also happens to have been one of the principal refuges, in our time, for those of Luddite persuasion."""""

Capn Tom's complex and informed zaniness, while at times a bit tiresome, always outperformed Updike's sludgy prose (RIP John Updike. May he rest in sludge).

King kong, you say?????????????????

monthly FZfix

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Miracle of the Sun

October 13, 1917, Fatima, Portugal.

"The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceeding fast and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat." ― Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, writing for the newspaper Ordem.[19]
"…The silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds… The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands… people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they." ― Reporter for the Lisbon newspaper O Dia.

"The sun's disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamor was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible." ― Dr. Almeida Garrett, Professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra University.

"As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor. It began to revolve vertiginously on its axis, like the most magnificent firewheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colors of the rainbow and sending forth multi-colored flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This sublime and incomparable spectacle, which was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees." ― Dr. Formigão, a professor at the seminary at Santarem, and a priest.""

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Composer John Adams on Frank Zappa's music

From [Adams'] recently published autobiography, Hallelujah Junction....:

During the early 1980s, while I was doing concerts in San Francisco, a friend who had been copying music for Frank Zappa sent me several large orchestra scores by Zappa with the hint that perhaps I might lobby for performances of them with the San Francisco Symphony. They were part of a rapidly growing number of Zappa’s compositions for conventional classical orchestra. Although they still bore the familiar mocking, in-your-face Zappa titles like “Bogus Pomp,” “Mo’n’ Herb’s Vacation,” and “Penis Dimension,” they also included passages of dissonant, thickly orchestrated material, sometimes featuring perversely difficult rhythmic groupings that all but dared a big-time orchestra to take them on and wrestle with the knots and tangles of their polyrhythms. Nothing came of my perusal of those orchestral scores, but ten years later I began to program some of Zappa’s works for smaller orchestra, and over a period of time I did performances of his works in many cities throughout Europe and the United States, both on symphony orchestra programs and with special virtuoso ensembles like Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern and the London Sinfonietta.

Zappa’s admiration of Edgard Varese was deep, genuine and oft proclaimed. Even my own wife had said that Freak Out!, Zappa’s first best-selling album with the Mothers of Invention, had changed her life, introducing her to Varese and launching her on a long voyage of discovery in the world of experimental music. Varese himself was a lonely outsider, an émigré composer whose visionary futurism and stubborn individualism had kept him apart from the conventional classical music community, a community that Copland so expertly navigated. Varese’s outlaw persona coupled with the radical constructivism of his music provided the perfect model for Zappa, who himself played the role of outlaw, angry individualist, and musical radical within the context of American pop music. But unlike Varese, who seemed to care little for public notoriety, Zappa was an immensely clever self-promoter gifted with perfect pitch when it came to identifying the absurdities and vulgarities of American popular culture. The music he made with his bands was advanced by the standards of rock music, but in comparison to what was being accomplished at the same time by other contemporary composers, it was hardly more advanced than what had been around already for half a century. Zappa the snarky social critic, the taunting homunculus who ridiculed the vacuousness and stupidity of American culture, was very much in the lineage of our best social satirists—Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, H.L. Mencken, and Hunter S. Thompson. With his snarling, potty-mouthed titles and song lyrics he had a gift for appealing to the eternal six-year-old in all of us. “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” “Alien Orifice,” “G-Spot Tornado” were musically interesting enough to beg multiple listenings, more at least than most of what was being produced at that time.


"""Zappa’s engines were driven by his savagely critical animus against commercial pop and the market-oriented, image-conscious, media-driven world of rock. Shortly after the 1966 release of Freak Out! He broke with the money-driven corporate world of commercial music, took control of all aspects of his work, and from then on entirely self-produced his music. Everything, the composing, recording, editing, mixing, packaging, marketing, and licensing, was under his personal direction. This of course gave him enormous creative freedom, and with the knowledge that there was no corporate middleman to answer to, his individuality flourished. He stayed outrageously productive, almost maniacally so, right up to his early death at the age of fifty-two.

I was always uncertain about Zappa and remain puzzled by him. His autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, is one of the best of its kind written by a composer. Only Berlioz’s memoirs give such a delicious taste of the life and times of its writer without resorting to pomposity or self-promotion. What other composer would feel compelled to begin his memoirs with a statement denying the long-standing rumor that he had once taken a shit onstage? How can one not be impressed by his outgrowing the imaginative poverty of a childhood in the bleak desert town of Lancaster, California, where the signal cultural events were sock hops and car thefts?

Zappa’s creative life played out during the same time as the birth and flowering of rock, and much if not most of his work was a commentary on it. Having educated himself in contemporary classical techniques, he introduced phrase and metric irregularities to the boilerplate symmetries of pop music. In the 1980s he was one of the first, or possibly the first, to compose works exclusively on electric instruments, in his case the Synclavier, a precursor of computer-controlled technology, and the experience appears to have even further liberated his creativity. Zappa’s cool yet curmudgeonly persona and his hard-won maverick status brought him a huge and appreciative audience. He was a hero in the USA, but his fame was even larger in Europe, where his image as cultural icon continues to occupy a status not unlike that granted to Charles Bukowski in poetry.

I knew I ought to be grateful to Zappa for his going head-to-head with the worst vulgarities in American popular culture and satirizing them with a flair worthy of Panurge. But I struggled to stay involved when I listened to his music, whether it was his canonical early Mothers of Invention songs, his Synclavier compositions, or the “avant-garde” instrumental works of his late Yellow Shark compositions. Too often the butt of his humor turned out to be something I didn’t much care about—bad pop music, Los Angeles car culture, or adolescent complexes of not being popular. What one of his fans acknowledged as an “aggressive defensiveness concerning ‘high art’” sounded right to me. Zappa’s vein of wary, almost paranoid suspicion of cultural elitism runs very deep in the American psyche and often for good reason. But what he ridiculed as bogus pomp was also something he deeply desired to possess, a cachet in the world of serious art music, although strictly on his own terms. Curiously, despite their composer’s huge name recognition and popularity, Zappa’s “classical” works have yet to be taken up as part of the regular repertoire. They are difficult and require much rehearsal time. But so are the works of Ives, Carter, Ligeti, and Ades, and conductors—at least some conductors—will accept the challenge of those composers. There seems to be a quality issue with Zappa’s serious music that cannot be gotten around."""

Sunday, December 07, 2008

PK Dick

""""One long-past innocent day, in my prefolly youth, I came upon a statement in an undistinguished textbook on psychiatry that, as when Kant read Hume, woke me forever from my garden-of-eden slumber. "The psychotic does not merely think he sees four blue bivalves with floppy wings wandering up the wall; he does see them. An hallucination is not, strictly speaking, manufactured in the brain; it is received by the brain, like any 'real' sense datum, and the patient act in response to this to-him-very-real perception of reality in as logical a way as we do to our sense data. In any way to suppose he only 'thinks he sees it' is to misunderstand totally the experience of psychosis.""""

"Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest for Reality" (1964) quoting an unknown psychiatric text

""""In one of the most brilliant papers in the English language [David] Hume made it clear that what we speak of as 'causality' is nothing more than the phenomenon of repetition. When we mix sulphur with saltpeter and charcoal we always get gunpowder. This is true of every event subsumed by a causal law - in other words, everything which can be called scientific knowledge. "It is custom which rules," Hume said, and in that one sentence undermined both science and philosophy."""

"The Day the Gods Stopped Laughing," unpublished article written in the late 60's

"""Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups...So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing."""""