Friday, May 30, 2014

Imagine, 1934, 1971

It's Friday night, and after a half bottle of pinot it all seems pretty simple. I recommend playing these videos simultaneously.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pangrammatical Laces

Sometimes the terms of the Pangrammaticon "cross over" from one side of the knowledge-power divide to the other. I think I just discovered an interesting case. "Freedom" is an ostensibly political notion, and belongs on the power side of the divide. Indeed, desire, which is also an aspect of power, ultimately desires freedom—all desires are ultimately desires to be free, and what we want to be free from or to is what differentiates the various desires. Desire's pangrammatical supplement is "belief", and belief is to restraint (limits, discipline) what desire is to freedom. So far, everything is nice and tidy.

But concepts are to belief what emotions are to desire. And Heidegger explains that the point of philosophical inquiry into, for example, the concept of technology, is "to develop a free relationship to it". Indeed, I would say that the concept is the pivot point of our freedom with respect to our beliefs. Similarly, emotions shape desire, which is only possible if they restrain, limit or discipline them. So it would seem that the concepts are the eyelets through which the laces of grammar let freedom pass through our knowledge, and, on the other side, emotions are the eyelets through which restraint may pass through power, binding the two vast fabrics of the Pangrammaticon together.

It may be an ill-advised metaphor. But let's see where it leads.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Loyalty is the bigotry of the heart.

(See also this post, and consider this analogy.)

Culture Does Not Cause Anything

Recent events suggests that a Pangrammatical reminder might be in order. Culture is to manners what nature is to causes. Don't look for the cause of an event in your culture. If there is a cause (something that could have prevented "it" from happening), it will be found in nature. Do, of course, compose yourself in the face of events in a suitable manner. Be polite or impolite, politic or impolitic, as circumstances require.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Uncomplicated Pleasures

In his introduction to the Unquiet Grave, Cyril Connolly asks us to consider his "obsession with pleasure at a time when nearly all pleasures were forbidden" (xii). Later he observes that "angst ... lurks in old loves and old letters or in our despair at the complexity of modern life" (p.43). I think it is in this light that we should read Clive Fisher's description of Jean Bakewell, Connolly's first wife, as "an uncomplicated hedonist" who "was to prove one of the more liberating forces in his life" (A Nostalgic Life, p. 105).

Given all the drudgeries and miseries we are made to endure, it seems to me, our self-denial of simple pleasures, those that our bodies are perfectly capable of producing for ourselves or for each other with little or no material assistance, is puzzling, to say the least.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Artificial Bodies

Here in Denmark, we're still waiting for the release of Transcendence, so my insight into it comes from trailers, reviews and plot summaries. I suppose I could go see the new X-Men movie to pass the time.

In both cases, as far as I can tell, the posited artificial intelligence expresses itself, at least at times, through humanoid robots or zombies or something. This is probably necessary in order to tell the story and visualize the action. But can't we get serious about this for a moment? Why would an artificial intelligence, i.e., a "mind" whose "mental" operations consist of routines in a computer program, that has access to "the entire Internet", and is presumably a natural-born super hacker, which in turn gives it access to the actual machinery of the whole social apparatus (trains, airplanes, self-driving cars, power plants, pipelines, factories, ships, radio telescopes, intercontinental ballistic missiles, satellites, ets.) ever even consider the idea of interacting with the universe in humanoid form. Why would it ever show up at "eye level" with us or try to fight us "mano-a-mano"?

Are these AIs crazy? Or just really, really dumb? Nope, they're just the product of entirely natural, all-too-human imaginations. Which is why whatever "the singularity" is will never happen or already has and in any case doesn't matter.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Cost of Adventure

After writing a bit of rant on Andrew Gelman's blog, I looked up some numbers.

The cost of the Vietnam war is estimated at 111 billion 1975 dollars. Over half a million American soldiers served in the war and almost sixty-thousand were killed. The war was lost.

In 1973, the cost of the Apollo program was estimated at 25.4 billion. NASA employed about 35,000 people at the time. All told, as far as I can make out, eight Americans died in the successful attempt to get to the moon.

Now, imagine that, instead of going to Vietnam, America had committed another four times the money and ten times the people to the further exploration of space—and had considered, say, the loss of 3500 lives acceptable. Before you reject that last consideration, let me say that I would have much more willingly incurred a 1:100 risk of dying in an attempt to reach the moon than a 1:10 risk of dying in an attempt to … whatever Vietnam was about. You could have drafted me, I imagine, without much complaint.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Articulate Totality

The Pangrammaticon as such (from which this blog merely borrows its name) is the articulate totality, all the usage in the world. It is the fact (which is also an act) that commands can be as articulate as statements, that our desires are as articulated as our beliefs, that for every formulation of knowledge, like "science is the theory of the real" there is an equally articulate formulation of power, like "politics is the practice of the ideal". Its utility lies in getting us to experience more precisely the correspondences between what we see about us and what we do about it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Occasional Losses

There must be a poem
for this—something
to bring precision
to this sense of loss.
There oughta be a poem
against it, actually.
It can't be prevented,
I know, but, perhaps,
denounced. At least, let
poems come out of this.
Some small articulate shim-
mer from off this ache.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Artificial Imagination

Her is a highly enjoyable movie and in fact offers a nice vision of the future. It's neither utopian nor dystopian, just sort of neutral about where things are going, and somewhat hopeful, it seems to me, that we're heading (much, much later) towards the "clean" future of the Star Trek universe. But you'll never get me on the AI bandwagon. Artificial intelligence is complete nonsense, for all the reasons that this movie gets you to happily ignore for a couple of hours in order to enjoy the relationships between a handful of pleasant characters that you just, finally, wish all the best in the world for.

My argument is now, and will always be, that intelligence is a property of human (or ape or dolphin) bodies. Descartes was wrong to imagine (i.e., he could not really imagine) his mind without a body. And no computational process (no process running on no matter how many or how sophisticated computer processors) will ever form an image—because it has no flesh. No place for intellect and volition to meet.

There has been a long running debate among philosophers on the question, "Can computers think?" What they don't ask, but should, is: why would a computer think? Why would it develop consciousness? What purpose could it possibly serve to think if your "body" is merely an arbitrary storage device for your data, and you can "survive" indefinitely simply by making a copy of yourself? (I haven't seen Transcendence, but the trailer suggests that this is a key reason for the AI to get online.)

Intelligence forms at the natural limits of sensation, reached by freely willed motion. A "mind" that can read 180,000 names in a fraction of a second cannot enjoy the sound of one them more than another, nor get off on the imagined pleasure of a completely different kind of being. Spoiler alert: As Jonze sort of actually manages to say, imagining a human being and an operating system making love is sort of like imagining a human being having sex with a fridge, or perhaps like imagining making love to a woman who wants you to choke her with a dead cat. Unless, of course, you're just imagining Scarlett Johansson anyway. Which, I can't blame you. But there's nothing artificial about that image, friends.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Believing In

Apparently Julian Baggini and others will be discussing whether it is rational to believe in God on BBC One tomorrow. When I read the tweet I had a sudden epiphany: Is it rational to believe in anyone (or anything)?

It has always seemed somewhat silly (irrational) to me to believe in, say, Darwin or evolution or the theory of evolution. Lots of people do, but they seem to do so largely in the spirit of any other religion. They don't believe anything very specific. They believe a certain group of scientists is speaking the truth, and that preachers are speaking a falsehood. They take Dawkins to be their pope and Darwin to be their savior. Something like that, any way. Now, I think it is perfectly rational to believe that the human species, like all modern life forms, evolved from more primitive forms. It is also perfectly rational to believe that the meaning of our lives as human beings derives from the designs of some greater intelligence. As long as you believe that some proposition is true based on your belief that other propositions are true, then you are being rational in your beliefs. You may of course be completely mistaken. But you are not being irrational.

What is irrational is to "believe in" someone or something. Even your faith in a friend or spouse is not, of course, the result of a rational process. It has no propositional content, so your faith can be betrayed, but it cannot turn out to be "false". So whether or not your faith is rational depends on what you believe when you say you believe in God. Do you believe that He hears your prayers and protects you while you sleep? Well, what evidence to do you have? Then we can decide. But if you're going to admit that you're merely believing in him, then you don't need to be rational about it at all.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Poem about W.V.O. Quine

(modelled on Leonard Cohen's poem about Irving Layton in The Energy of Slaves, as if written by David Kaplan, based on Wikipedia)

Quine was wrong
about quantification
He was right
about words and objects
But he was wrong
in thinking that
substitution failure
implies existential
generalization failure for
clauses that exhibit it.

Update (29-09-16): I did not realize when I wrote this poem how much it was related to my "Notes on the Practice of Deference".


The mass of men lead lives of quiet indifference.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

A Riddle

(This is an old one. But try to puzzle it out before you look for the answer in my archives.)

What Dasein is to philosophy, what duende is to poetry, _____ is to wine.