Monday, January 31, 2005

The Lady in the Light

I slide my hand into the Emotional Entity to ascertain that it is real. I feel a jabbing sensation beneath my lowest left rib. The Entity has a robust existence and a rust brown colour, and I let my hand feel and probe it at will. Its texture is paradoxical, soft and watery when I move, but more substantial - like a blanket - when I probe and touch it.

A tingling sensation in my hand starts spreading from my wrist up through my palm. Soon it flames in both hands while, as if in answer to a conductor's call the glands throughout my body start to open and throb in a surging biological symphony.

The Lady in Light appears. I can never tell whether she is standing in a clearing, or next to a river - perhaps she is by the sea: the light approaches her like waves rolling in from the sea. I never see her face, which is turned away from me. Well, I say that as if she is aware of me - perhaps. I do not know why she appears to me. Everything is light and billowing white and yellow, so bright that I almost have to shield my sight. Almost.

Nothing ever really changes. The wallowing waves of light are always there, an endless energy. And she stands there, shielded from me and wholly unknown to me, just the fringes of her dark, wound hair lifting and whipping in the wind. That is how I know she is outside, because of the wind. Or is it the power of the waves that generates the movement in the air around her? Again I am not sure. Her coat is pulled around her tightly, and over it she clutches a woolly shawl which the wind tugs at at the edges.

Sometimes when I look at her for long enough I notice that the waves never really move much closer. They are like clouds of vapour or steam that expend themselves upon their approach. And I get the feeling that she guides them, shifting them into complex patterns that, despite their size and force, evolve quickly and without clumsiness before they dissipate.

When, like now, she disappears again I am always surprised. I retain the memory of her and the light glowing warm on my face, but that is all.

I raise my hand in front of me. There is nothing. The Emotional Entity has gone and there is only thin air, clear and fresh, like the air on top of a mountain.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The accursed share

"Humanity exploits given material resources, but by restricting them as it does to a resolution of the immediate difficulties it encounters (a resolution which it has hastily had to define as an ideal), it assigns to the forces it employs an end which they cannot have. Beyond our immediate ends, man's activity in fact pursues the useless and infinite fulfillment of the universe." - Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share

Echoes of Judeo-Christian God. But Bataille is so fascinating.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Saw 2046 today. Wong Kar Wai ... wow.
[there is a sense in which]
That is a lame statement. The ideas take shape in movement and colour, forming a visual collage of events.
[this is noise]
Each scene encapsulates its truths visually the way beautiful prose sometimes does in words.
Like in Pascal Bruckner's Evil Angels (but no exploration of perversions here).
[this is an authorial intrusion]
Or a more sensual Milan Kundera.
[The individual moments are more than the sum of the parts]
I made it onto the page, hi ...
[What the man manages to put onto those film negatives - is breathtaking. He learned a few tricks from Lynch in the use of bright and neon colours.


There is a scene where the visual distribution of blue and red is out of a Lynch movie. Or did Lynch learn from Wong Kar Wai?]
Wong must be his surname.
[In another scene the main character walks up a staircase. The visual frame is literally broken into two parts: an area of complete darkness, between one half and two thirds of the frame, to the left; and the staircase, to the right. Soft lighting and the slightest blur. And the camera angle. Brilliance]
They speak for me. I have nothing more to say.
[Or another scene, in the clear foreground a woman's hand, blur of lights and colours in the background on the right. Wong Kar Wai understands that beyond the semantic meaning of a scene, i.e. what it represents or signifies, an impression may itself become meaningful without attempting to represent or even symbolise. The impression goes beyond the symbol. At least one thing that sets a great filmmaker apart from an ordinary one]
this is noise
[The simple cohesion of In the Mood for Love has, in 2046, dispersed into recurring impressions of the incommunicable at the end of ITMFL. They emphasise the main character's experience of incompleteness, of loss and the irretrievable in memories of Ms. Chan]
[thus 2046 speaks into the metaphorical hole of incommunicability and the impressions, the affairs, are like sunlight on water, beautiful undulations on the veil of an unrelenting silence. These movies are companion pieces]

[My thoughts are rather less than footnotes to the movie]




Monday, January 24, 2005

Love styles

From an article by Hendrick and Hendrick(1986):

Lee (1973/1976) created a theory of love that focuses on different approaches to love - there are 3 primary types or styles:

1. Eros: Romance and passionate love. Physical love, early attraction, and intensity of emotion are usually evident. Strong commitment to the lover as well. Engaging in Eros love requires considerable ego-strength and research found that self-esteem correlates positively with Eros love.
2. Ludus: Game-playing love. Love is a game of interaction that can be played with several partners at the same time. In Ludic love a certain amount of deception is allowed. Intensity of emotion in the other is viewed cautiously. Depth of feeling is usually absent in the Ludic lover. Manipulation. In research, a high number of ludic subjects answered that they had either never been in love, or had been in love five times or more.
3. Storge: Friendship love. Storgic love merges love and friendship. There is little fire, but it can last and is fairly stable.

Lee further indicated 3 secondary love styles:

1. Mania: Possessive, dependent love. It is more of a "symptom love", with an underlying uncertainty about the self and the lover. Most prominently found in adolescents, it also occurs often enough in older lovers. It correlates negatively with self-esteem.
2. Pragma: Pragmatic love using logic. Rational calculation that is aimed at finding a partner with the right attributes. "Shopping list" love.
3. Agape: Selfless giving and nondemanding love.

A few gender differences showed up in research results: Males were on average more ludic than females, whereas females were on average more storgic, pragmatic, and manic than males.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

An unpresent surprise

And then it hit me, suddenly, like something unpoetic and terribly real and humiliating. I haven't lost my marbles, my senses are not screwed - i'm just: not able to understand at first. I wasn't born this way. My core self, my chronically accessible thought and behavioural tendecies have not allowed for me to operate within its framework. So it catches me, my blindspot, my beautiful thing, my desire. Takes me hostage and terrorises me, makes me offer up my freedom, then lets me be ... just the ghost of my absence. Gone. Left to my own painful re:creation.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The road to failure

Quoting from patternHunter's blog who quoted Seth Godin who strokes William Beatty's beard ("paraphrases" seemed so - boring, suddenly):

"William Beatty was writing for amateur scientists, but it's pretty global: The road to failure often contains:
1. Secrecy
2. The conviction that someone is about to steal your idea.
3. Focus on selling your idea to the government or a big corporation.
4. Loss of humility and focus on fame
5. Belief that scientists and businesses (the smart ones) will hail your discovery."

Although interesting, I was curious why exactly these characteristics should correlate with failure. I came up with one or two ideas.

1. Secrecy: A lot of important creations are hulled in secrecy - take major corporations' latest products, or patents. In fact, secrecy is what allows them to be successful (by ensuring that someone else will not steal the idea or derail it). But perhaps secrecy becomes counterproductive when more effort goes into it than in growing the creation. Or worse, not allowing it to grow because it is so secret. This could include sharing it with peers who could give constructve feedback.
2. The conviction that someone is about to steal your idea: can be related to the first. Again, a bit of paranoia may not be entirely unhealthy, depending on your circumstances ("just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you" - the X-Files). On the other hand, paranoia and fear go hand in hand, and too much paranoia can hold the mind hostage. Especially the creative mind . Project stalls. Jean-Jacques Rousseau became paranoid later in his life, and lost the plot. On the other hand, Newton was very protective of his ideas, which may have been a good thing.
3. Focus on selling your idea to the government or a big corporation: presumably because you are about as likely to succeed as an ant is to walk through molasses. I.e., wasted effort. Actually, it is funny how many people try to get to the top (for instance) by climbing a corporate ladder in a large bureaucratic organisation. If heading a business is your goal, why not start your own? Then again, maybe it's not your thing ... and you're just doomed to failure. Heh.
4. Loss of humility and focus on fame: The sentence seems to make of humility and fame as an either/or, whereas success can come to someone who has neither. Anyway - I suspect the problem with focusing on fame is that it tends to take you away from working on something that is by itself good, to creating something that is merely good in effect, and for the purpose of winning over a fickle public. I.e., again wasted effort.
5. Belief that scientists and businesses (the smart ones) will hail your discovery: I'm guessing that this applies when the belief means you are making the value of your discovery dependent on your peers hailing it. This creates two problems, firstly if exaggerated you are shifting your attention away from your work towards something outside the area of your direct (or even indirect) influence. Secondly, by paying it heed you may lose confidence and so stop working on your discovery/creation/whatsit. Many writers, for instance, can get really down when there works aren't received favourably by the public or their intended audience. Tender folk, these writers. Nevertheless some great thinkers and scientists maintained confidence in the importance of their discoveries despite not receiving much recognition in their lifetime. If they'd given up, we'd be the poorer for it.

And that ends today's text transmission.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Romancing life

For an alternative, unusual - aye, cryptic - view of oneness and a Romance with Life, I offer a spoken poem (you need sound) by Stephentree aka Paul Steven Spence.

I suggest listening to it more than once and trying to hear all the words. The recording quality isn't great but hearing it I had the feeling that as an auditory artefact this is the closest experience to finding a forgotten poem that's been out of print for years, somewhere on a dusty bookshelf in a rundown secondhand bookstore.

The art of happiness 2: human relationships

In conversation with Howard C. Cutler, the Dalai Lama continues to explore the art of happiness. In part 2, human warmth and compassion are discussed. So far the discussion has centred around human relationships.

To start off with, the narrating psychiatrist (Cutler) asks the Dalai Lama if he ever gets lonely - to which the latter's unexpected answer is: no, never. The Dalai Lama explains that he does not get lonely because he always finds connections with other people, by sharing himself with other people and finding commonality.

This conversation soon gains interest as it proceeds to explore relationships, in particular romantic relationships, in the light of compassion. More of that soon.

Peppered with Cutler's questions on recipes for happiness in human relationships, the Dalai Lama time and again responds by first emphasising that human interactions are complex, with complex contexts, and cannot be reduced to simple methods or recipes for success. Nevertheless, he suggests empathy as an important way to enhance compassion. In conjunction with that the ability to understand others' backgrounds. These are very important. He also explains that at first, when approaching someone (whom he doesn't know well), he tries to keep in mind the simple basic things we all have in common as human beings: we have a physical nature, a mind, and emotions, we want happiness, we start life as babies, and one day we will die. He tries not to emphasise differences. Lastly, he advocates an honest, open-minded attitude.

Cutler then observes that romantic relationships are a bit mixed in terms of lasting happiness, and asks why this is so. The short answer, in the words of the Dalai Lama, is that there are two types of sexual relationships: those based on sexual desire, which want immediate gratification and thereby treat people as merely objects - with the consequence that when the good times blow over, so does the relationship. And then those that are based on an underlying appreciation of the other person's value, recognising that person's kindness, goodness, and gentleness. Here the emphasis is on affection, compassion, and mutual respect.

Cutler goes on to delineate a short history of romance, starting with Eros, and then the myth of Aristophanes in which self-sufficent beings with backs and sides that formed a circle, arrogantly challenged the gods and were cut in half by Zeus' thunderbolts. From then on, the halves longed to be united with each other. Hence people's yearning for a Special Someone who can make them feel whole. He also cites Romanticism as the movement that has made this a popular ideal up until the present. He does not mention that industrialisation has helped make this an acceptable and feasible requirement for marriage (notions of romantic love in literature and art stretches back much further than Romanticism, unto Sappho and beyond), but that may be besides the point.

What I take from this is the sense that (a) by itself romance is for temporary fun (b) a lasting, happy relationship can have romance, but is unlikely to be based on it, (c) although a happy relationship may have started with romantic notions, the glue that keeps it together is the qualities of affection, compassion, mutual respect and caring.

In the final instance, keeping in mind that the Dalai Lama is completely celibate, I remind myself that happiness, and deep, satisfying connections with other human beings does not rely on finding only a Special Someone, but can be realised in honest, genuine connections with other human beings on all levels.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Hegemony or survival 2

The bombing of Libya on prime-time TV, circa 1986. The USA uses Aticle 51 of the UN Charter as justification - it apparently gives the right to "self-defense against future attack". Chomsky cites this as "perhaps the first explicit formulation of the doctrine of 'preventive war'".

In a section on the domestic agenda, one of the most telling insights is how the age-old method of inspiring fear in the public has been used (for instance in the Reagan era) to maintain political power. It is telling because reading how the media becomes the ally of the state to pound people with the language and images of fear, I realise again how much of what I have in my head was put there on purpose. But not my own purpose, most of the time ... Thus the leader must become the hero and saviour of a self-created crisis. That's one way to write history.

I see that as pretty much what happened when Iraq, a conveniently defenseless country whose destructive threat to the world remains to be proven to this very day, was pumped up as this terrible monster with the face of Senor Saddam. Both the American people and the Iraqi people needed a saviour, apparently. And who would he be? Is it a bird, is it a plane ...? Well, yes and no. They call him: The Cowboy!

Stories of drug trafficking and the imminent terrors associated with drugs in order to invade a country and depose its dictator - and to make the country "democratic" - Panama and one Manuel Noriega is a case in point. The real story appears to have had more to do with instating a USA-friendly business elite who were as corrupt. I guess this is in part what's meant by that famous phrase: "lies and propaganda".

Virtual characters

Fun and games with virtual characters for marketing solutions at noDNA. Aimee, retro image in a grainy black and white. Eyeball yummy.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Poetic feeling, dream feeling

Thoughts about poetic feeling vs. definition.

To make sense of dreams I have tried several strategies, and ended up with: re-entering the dream when I remember it. That is, I try to re-experience it in order to make sense of it, not reduce it to preconceptions about symbols (in formal terms this probably amounts to a phenomenological approach).

Especially in some dreams (the ones that feel very real) a transmission of meaning or experience seems to be taking place. When I re-enter the dream in a state of normal consciousness, the transmission restarts. The dream itself doesn't restart, but the discharge of the dream continues.

It reminds me of Blanchot's observation that in the poetic mode there returns in the future what remained unstated in the present. Perhaps the dream mode and the poetic mode have this in common.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Frustration fantasy

I am smitten with the whore.
Who doesn't care, I feel tricked.
Memories of gentle words before
she told me - well hand-picked

by the bar. I blame bright lights, booze,
that Greek girl's cleavage. Each word's
unspoken ::sigh:: : a luxury cruise,
a croon of daisies in my hand. And lures

unbroken dreams, a kiss that's light.
So I just fuck her, out of spite.

Friday, January 14, 2005


Some of the coolest shit I ever heard. Need sound.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

An alienated office worker foresees his redundancy

The articles around me in this room
(an office of others' designs)
show their essence in my mind:
brittle, ephemeral, good for work.

I puppet the nature of my choice
people are friendly and kind
yea but really, what would I find
if I gave their rules the shirk?

I round up the puppet, the items
and the workspace in my mind
then I hold back - I stay in line.
Stay in line's all I keep when I go.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The birth of obsession

Old habits die hard, I just don't act on them anymore. So much for appearing well-behaved. Take the need for acknowledgement. No, I mean it like this: you are looking through the window of someone else's life. You see her there, a beautiful woman. She is complaining and looks distressed. Your heart breaks. Do you knock on the window and draw attention to yourself, saying that, well, you have no clue what her problem is but you'd really help if you could ...? Idiot! She wasn't talking to you.

So I see it as my need for my need to be acknowledged. A recursive need. The birth of an obsession.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Then, without another thought, ...

I look back at my life and there is this moment where I gaze at my hand which has become strangely detached from me, and wonder what it would feel like if I touched it underneath. My hand is gross and deformed, like a bulbous root, dark and nebulous, and fuzzy at the edges. I close my eyes and an image appears, it is of a mirror in which I see myself: arm outstretched, looking at my hand: a normal hand. I close my hand in a fist, admiring the strength of the tendons, the muscles in my hands, the fine bone structure. It is clear to me that I am very familiar with this action.

Then it is midday and I am at the theatre again, selling tickets outside. I am uttering some sing-song phrase repeatedly, but people continue to walk straight past me. One of the skateboarders stop. He wants a ticket for free. He doesn't look well, his eyelids are flaky and his skin is bleached pink and dry. His friend laughs, a girl who looks as ill as he. They offer me a ride to the tube station and I accept - I've had enough. On the way she shows me the puppy in her bag. Its tail moves but its eyes have a glazed look that tells me it is dying, like its owner. The girl offers to swap the puppy for a ticket but I refuse, giving her one anyway. And one for the boy. The tube station is crowded. I tell my companions to take good care of themselves and go to the gates without looking back.

As the image dissolves I struggle to adjust myself. I touch my face, but the sensation is too vapid and soft to stabilise my perceptions, and when I try to retrieve my thought images I find that I can't remember them.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Short stories

On Saturday I happened to notice a short story compilation for only £4 at Waterstone's - contains contributions from hot new UK writing talent and the winning entries in 2004 - of what? (and this is where I failed to read the last bit: "of Waterstone's and Bliss magazine's Teen Writing Competition 2004"). Well I got sidetracked. But for the most part I also admirably restrained myself from buying anything on impulse. For the most part. Finally, just before launching out of the door to have lunch with K in Chinatown, I decide, hey, when last did you read a short story? and bought the little book - aptly titled: "Short stories". Well dear reader, I'd best not lie to you, it's not what I expected. Not far in I started realising my mistake (but further in than you would imagine!). Can you guess what it is? Wait, here's a hint: "Scott followed me up the steps to the Schraeders' front door. I hoped he couldn't see how hard my heart was beating beneath my T-shirt. The truth was, I was totally nervous. My stomach hurt. My hands were still all sweaty - but not because I was afraid of Kurt." (In "You Rock, Jen Greenley", by Meg Cabot)

That's right! Someone is trying to imitate Teen Hormones (tm)! Being a good citizen of the word I finished the first story, seeing if it goes anywhere interesting. It doesn't really. In the end the narrator is exalted when taking some sort of moral stand - and Scott suddenly likes her for it. Presumably there is a market for this fluff, but all three of the first three stories (yes, I am the hero, I read 3) moralise the bejeesus out of any real interest they could have had. Except as kitsch. And that's what I realised when, sitting on the tube later and trying to read it I felt it would be appropriate to blush. So instead of giving it to a charity organisation now (hospitals etc. are always looking for books at their reception), I plan to write boldly in pink marker on a sticker: "British kitsch", paste it on the cover and give it a proud place in my bookrack.

Speaking of which, has anyone noticed how popular pink is with English girls? Especially "teenagers". Weird! Correction: weird to me. "Pink and the feminine in chav society", a nice little post-industrial essay about burning social issues ...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Hegemony or survival

Noam Chomsky: Hegemony or Survival

What I am reading seems to echo some ideas that have already taken hold in the general public's minds. To what extent has Chomsky's book already contributed?

The Penguin publication describes Chomsky's achievements - he is regarded as having (helped to) revolutionise modern linguists, and is also the author of several best-selling political books. He is also noted to be working as a professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. Well, I've known about his linguistic contributions since my days as an undergraduate - I'm just wondering what makes him an authority in politics. Surely not the fact that the books are best-sellers ...?

I'm trying to read quickly, since the main ideas aren't too heady. Two ideas have stuck with me so far - firstly the description of war on Iraq as a preventive war (as opposed to a preemptive war), and the biased rationalisation process the defenders of that strategy use to support it. Chomsky's contention is that "preventive war falls within the category of war crimes".

Secondly the fact that the US administration is completely at ease with the use of international force in international disagreements at the expense of international law. From the descriptions in the book, the current US administration's view of international affairs is that the US is above any international law, and not subject to the same procedures of law it imposes on others. And the motive, so far, appears to be the protection of the USA as the world's superpower. Any threat to its status and there is trouble.

PS: A reminder that a nation and its people should not be judged by the deeds and thoughts of their country's administration. The psyche of the "average American" is much bandied about, often in an anecdotal way - in the latter form it often looks like a strategy to prop up the speaker's self-esteem ...

Does The Average American qualify as a stereotype yet? Just wondering. The stereotype's characteristics appear to be: (a) uninformed about international affairs and goings-on in other parts of the world, (b) a sophisticated consumer of artificially diverse and superficial things, (c) fat, (d) stupid in the myopic sense of the word (similar to (a)), (e) arrogant and over-confident (esp. about American values).

Well, apart from (b) and (e), the rest could describe an average anybody from just about any country, I guess. Although "fat" is disputable as well. But if that is even a vaguely accurate reflection of the stereotype, I can see why the American retort might be: "You are just jealous of our way of life!" Hmmm, now before we get too deep into something I know too little about - adieu!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Probing postmodernism

Reading Lyotard I've been reminded that art can represent reality (understood as interpreted constructs), or the rules of reality; but this is not what art does today. Instead art now stands in a paradoxical relation to the future, in that it creates the rules before they exist. With that sort of thing in mind I decided that the-not-really-royal we will not try to make sense in today's poetry effort. Instead it is an exercise in rearranging (its own) whateva rules - "teasing the neurons", if you will.

If with his nose in the air he stood
in a yellow coat
oh, beauty, in the window she stands
his rose in her hands

I digress. It is enough that in a restaurant
see a moving face on a TV screen
a slightly mechanical oval
oh, my! it is beautiful in that space

"Hav u Cn, wot woz it?" She laughs,
so pretty when she clamps her mouth "Demon-
seed" she smiles
so pretty, my, my, my, "I"I"I"I"I"
am somehwere in a crowded club now
dancing to a deep dark beat
neon faces black boots, loud
metal music is my pet peeve, wow!

I bet he tells himself
- something or other -
standing in his raincoat there
like a stupid elf
tap-tap-tap, asking for coffee

fuck it, why bother

If with his pose and his air he stood
in a raincoat
tap-tap-tap, asking under an umbrella
beauty, in the clearing where she stands
her ring in his hands

I transgress. It is in love that in a restless rant
blame Jurgen Haas on the seedy scene
for a mighty tyrannical ogling
but sigh, is it beautiful in that face?

Can't make out a thing. Someone laughs
then her mouth says "Demon-
seed" and smiles
way pretty, my oh my, "I"I"I"I"I"
am totally mutha-knackered now
prancing on my feet
these paper-whatsit-faces yellow neon out
settle as the rest goes pow!

I bet I'll tell myself
- something, tomorrow -
lying in a bed somewhere
worrying my health
rat-tat-tat, asking for coffee

fuck it, bother!

Bad Thoughts: revisited

To insist that the other particpant in an argument (for instance a politician advocating a certain policy) displays evidence and reason implicitly acknowledges (a) the power that that participant has (to take a certain action, perhaps to make a decision) and (b) by that token, that the other participant is not obliged to have recourse only to reason in taking action. From this one can deduce that one is also alluding to (one's own) power in making an appeal to consider certain matters (for instance evidence, or lack thereof) in the other participant's decision-making process.

The implication of this is that in that situation one's own power may be as important (and possibly more important) as one's ability to reason and submit evidence.

It is not too difficult to contextualise this further (I will stop here), but it is interesting that a minimal amount of reasoning reveals reason to be deployed with a certain pretense - even as it makes an appeal to reason.

Thus one might think of saying that Jamie Whyte's exercise (in the form of the book Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking) attempts to teach reasoning for situations in which he experienced a lack of power of (pure) reason . That would account for his ire (a lack of power in those situations). But in that case his book is not a compelling argument to change the status quo, merely a demonstration of reason, where, and how it can be applied. One could then imagine that he would like people to be more like himself and appeal only to reason and evidence in all sorts of matters (wherein reason may or may not have a first priority status).

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Lyotard: The legitimation of knowledge

All sorts of interesting articles of information on the blog of the patternhunter - "tracking the spread of ideas, technologies and social change".

On a different note, I am (still) busy reading Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. It's taking time to digest, but it's fascinating. For instance, Kurt Godel proved that some propositions (axiomatic consistency in particular) in an axiomatic mathematical system cannot be proved. This undermines one of the requirements for properties of a formal system. Expand this to be the case for formal systems in general, and you have a situation where legitimation (of a formal system and denotative statements derived from it) is not legitimised by the axiomatics of the system, but by a tacit agreement among experts.

Lyotard argues that this is true of scientific knowledge as well. He mentions Nietzsche as the thinker who noticed, in the 19th century, that European nihilism arose as a result of the truth requirement of science turning on itself. This happened in part because the legitimation of science as a whole was found to be on less solid ground than previously supposed. Science's only recourse to legitimation was through narrative knowledge, and science does not acknowledge narrative knowledge as a legitimate form of knowledge. Problem!

Lyotard's report is all about the problem of the legitimation of knowledge in current thought (well, circa 1979 anyway), and he uses the idea of language games to describe the localisation of truth. I'm simplifying of course, but that gives some idea of it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

IQ: The Flynn effect

There has been an interesting tendency in measured human intelligence (IQ) over the past century: average IQ has risen 3 points every decade. This was first observed during the 1980s by James Flynn, and is now called the Flynn effect. The tendency was never taken seriously before simply because the current group is always taken as the basis for the average IQ (100).

The implications are interesting, for instance in explaining the commonly held belief that IQ tends to drop as people grow into old age. It has now been found that comparing the person's score with the corresponding group, the expected score is more or less accounted for.

No one really knows why this happens but the author of the article contends that factors like the general improvement in nutrition and health, reinforced by a surplus of leisure time, increased wealth and education, allow parents better to care for their children and attend to their learning needs, and children to better be able to teach themselves.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

With a swagger

Swaggering mouth, walking along the Thames again
I've fallen through a trapdoor in my mind
out of my life, into another place ordinary
along other people with their beauti

full coats, tour boats, girl with pretty smile
frost outside a window and the world outside,
especially near the water, is so cold in winter.
My companion tugs the door and lets me enter

and inside the operatic halls of culture
riven from spinning words we slowly volunteer
a friendly fire for a day, to each a friend
to chat and have a beer - and soon to meet again.


The British music scene is alive. The Streets, Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand - these are just three of the bands currently making musical significance (I've listened to them, which is why they get the mention - but there are others I'm aching to get my grubby hands on).

Well that's it for today. Sleep duty calls.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Garden State

Saw Garden State yesterday (Saturday). Warning, spoilers. Parts of the audience really took to the comedy bits and laughed a lot. I found myself thinking: "There is a new style of comic acting emerging - a kind of wooden pose during action. Act wooden when you're doing or saying something funny because ... it's funny." That goes for several characters, including the main character played by Zach Braff, who also directed. So it took me a while to warm up to the film and the story. Finally it was Natalie Portman who started impressing me. I've seen her in the Star Wars movies and The Professional, but here she had to play a kid from a supposedly dysfunctional family who lies a lot and talks a lot (often just to kill the silence). So I threw a critical eye on her performance and, hey! after a while I started to admire what she was doing. Of course, her being pretty and all helps to keep one's attention ... Despite the film not thoroughly working in every department, knowing (now) that Mr. Braff is also the director makes me think that there are good things to come. I will remember the movie. The ending was appropriate (he was acting a real jerk just before it - I actually thought that if it is going to end like that he should be slapped - hard), but contrived. A different ending, please! The earlier climax - the catharsis on the vehicle roof next to the canyon - was good. If I sound a little critical, I actually mean to say it is well worth watching, especially if you like your movie fare slightly off-beat.

Positive illusions revisited

Found additional research that bears on the support for positive illusions in well-adjusted people (to summarise: normal people - as opposed to depressed people, who exhibit a kind of "depressive realism" - overestimate their good qualities and successes; overestimate the amount of control they have; and are slightly more optimistic than reality would suggest is feasible). Gollwitzer and Kinney (1989) found that confidence is useful when behaviour is a matter of performance, but dangerous when behaviour involves making decisions. The reason for this is that during performance, confidence (positive illusions) has self-fulfilling prophecy effects which enhance the performance. During decision-making, however, confidence can be detrimental because it causes the individual to overcommit. Apparently the normal, well-adjusted individual is automatically able to switch from one frame of mind to the other, enabling or disabling positive illusions as necessary.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Bad thoughts: a last word

In the last instance I would like to place Whyte's rationalism in the context of a contemporary view of rationality. My attempt is sketchy but here goes. There is a sense in which his empowerment of people (vs. politicians or religion) through rationality resembles a famous view by Habermas known as the "legitimation crisis". I don't pretend to have read it, but I know that solving it Habermas' way presupposes some kind of ideal discourse based on rationality. The ideal discourse is in turn reminiscent of the Enlightenment ideal of a rational society (see: S.F. Schneck on the State/Society Dichotomy). If widely successful, Whyte's propagation of rational power to the people could increase the number of people who would engage rationally in discourse with the State. I.e., society may become a little more like this ideal rational society.

But to put my own view here in better perspective, it may be true that the requirement for discourse (between diverse realms) is the metalanguage of logic. But each realm constitutes a different language game, and has its own axioms, rules, and correct language usage. Thus if the private individual's language game (legitimated by the democratic institution's constitution etc. - I lack the legal knowledge to elaborate) includes the rule that a private individual has a right to question the state, then it may or may not be true that the state is required to respond, or respond truthfully for that matter. In particular, if it is in the State's interest to withhold the truth, to deceive the public in other words, it may well do so and attempt to find a legal clause legitimating its action.

I don't pretend this to be a conclusive proof, but suppose that the rules of one language game may provide for an inherent inconsistency in the application of its language. Such an instance would be a rule that provides for a particular language participant to lie. If another participant demands proof, and the participant that lied remains silent, i.e. does not submit proof, that participant may well still retain its position until a more opportune moment to play its next hand (in the meantime it may lose credibility with the public). Moreover, if bogus proof is submitted, its (false) case may even be strengthened for the time being. If certain desired courses of action can be legitimated through such tactics, clearly there is good reason for the interested participant to use the tactics.

In this framework, Whyte's rationality allows citizens to be better participants in a conceivable discourse (or dinner party arguments) with the state, friends, scientists - as the case may be. That is, to expose reasoning that does not bear (properly) on the issue at hand. To go further and condemn the position taken (but erroneously supported) is not by the same rationality justified. To put it differently, if politician X's plan was to get issue Y (say, poverty) higher on the political agenda, then using an argument of equivocation was justified from its point of view. Exposing it does not invalidate the attempt to push "poverty" higher on the political agenda using unconventional means (whether the means used is legal is a different matter). That is the limit of rationality.

Bad thoughts 6

Two more bad thought issues are tackled in the last two chapters.

11. Bogus statistics. Statistics can sound very convincing, but it is a good habit not to believe them too quickly. Sometimes it does not in fact measure what the newsworthy conclusion says it does. A good example is, again, the news that "35% of British children live in poverty" which turned out to depend on an unusual understanding of "poverty": those who earn less than 60% of the national median income. Another typical example of bad statistics is the biased sample - if the statement reads that "15% of men use the Ecstacy drug" but the sample was drawn from people at rave parties (a scene that is somewhat notorious for use of Ecstacy) of youths aged 18 to 25, you have a biased sample.

12. Morality fever. I found this one useful. Something bothers you when you hear it, but you're not quite sure what the real problem is ... To summarise, it amounts to the idea that "what is wicked is false" and "what is beneficial is true". Jamie Whyte's simple example of belief in God highlights the point (religion and politics seem to top the areas he draws examples from). Apparently in debates about the existence of God, believers often cite the fact that they find comfort in their beliefs during distress. Logically though, comfort can be found in that belief regardless of whether it is true (i.e. that God exists). It is, in short, irrelevant to the issue of the existence of God. (A child finds joy in the existence of the Tooth Fairy - but does that make the Tooth Fairy objectively real? That was not merely a leading question. The answer is in fact: no.) Another example may be Giordano Bruno's contention that the earth revolves around the sun. "It is heresy!", they said. And burned him at the stake. The fact that heresy is bad seemed to be all the refutation needed. I just found this quote of Bruno's which I think is relevant in this context: "Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people."