Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Beside the Light, everything is in shades of grey. But it is in the grey that we live and move and have our being; we cannot exist except by the Light.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Terminus: SF&F

Often, this blog has posts about the boundaries between different areas of knowledge. In memory of Roger Zelazny, this post will quote from the dialogue between the god Yama and the monkey Tak. They discuss the nature of the beings known as demons, and this is how the discussion goes:
They sat in Yama's chambers, having taken a light meal there. Yama leaned back in his chair, a glass of the Buddha's wine in his left hand, a half-filled decanter in his right.

"Then the one called Raltariki is really a demon?" asked Tak.

"Yes – and no," said Yama, "If by 'demon' you mean a malefic, supernatural creature, possessed of great powers, life span and the ability to temporarily assume virtually any shape – then the answer is no. This is the generally accepted definition, but it is untrue in one respect."

"Oh? And what may that be?"

"It is not a supernatural creature."

"But it is all those other things?"


"Then I fail to see what difference it makes whether it be supernatural or not – so long as it is malefic, possesses great powers and life span and has the ability to change its shape at will."

"Ah, but it makes a great deal of difference, you see. It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy – it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either."

It is that curious last paragraph to which I must draw the reader's attention. Four points of the compass? It is interesting indeed, and perhaps it shows more insight into the mind of Zelazny's Death-god than anything else. Four choices, and the one choice Death would never choose. But that begs the question, "Which one would Death choose?"

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 29, 2011

Low Points

We all have them. Sometimes, they all come at once. That is all right. But it can be quite a pain. No, this is not Twitter nor Tumblr.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Atlantis Ego

Here I sit, with the realisation that, whereas men will say certain kinds of victory are important or that some victories are losses because not absolute, these things are not true. Victory is where you find it; victory is sometimes the avoidance of loss and sometimes the acknowledgement of truth.

Sometimes, the pagan poets saw this first. Shelley in his unbinding of Prometheus said, "This then is Life, Joy, Empire and Victory." They are all the same thing, given the right context.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 27, 2011


The reason that the moon has cakes more often than the sun is that the moon waxes and wanes much as a cake increases and decreases. Artemis, and her successor Diana of the Ephesians, had sweet cakes dedicated to her. And at this time, the Chinese eat their own such cakes.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 26, 2011


It's always bemused me when people think of figureheads as something or someone that is 'only for show'. A hundred years before the word first came to mean 'leader without real authority', it meant the ornament at the prow of the ship which symbolised the mission of its crew, their deity or source of moral guidance. It was the pre-literate version of a mission statement.

Even before this, sailors have always had superstitions about their figureheads. It was always unlucky to change one if the old one had not been lost to natural causes. It always had to be something the crew felt comfortable with, and a captain who chose an unlucky or ill-omened figurehead was not one that a seasoned crew would want to sail with.

If I had had to choose a figurehead in those pre-literate days, I'd choose one which gave my ship a sense of dignity, of beneficial omen, and of calm guidance. The reason that these ship ornaments were called figureheads is because, at the very least, such ornaments bore heads with clearly marked eyes to find the way through the dread and danger of the wine-dark sea.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I am smoking all-British cheese biscuits. This is because I am what I eat. Today also has brownies, mooncakes, lentils, prawns, flat rice noodles, hot milky tea, black coffee without sugar, and a bowl of cereal. I am smokin'. Or at the very least, steamed.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Tonight I had occasion in my studies to think about the Greek word stephanos. This word is often translated 'crown' in English, which has always seemed an iffy gloss to me. Historically and etymologically, the word means something more like 'wreath of glory', 'encompassing field effect' or some such.

Thus, when koinë texts use the word 'crown' in translation, it's good to bear in mind that it can idiomatically mean 'reward', 'aura', and many other concepts to do with something bestowed as a visible sign of acclaim and/or approval. And that should crown this short post.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Systemic or Societal?

Last night I was having one of those interesting Facebook intercommentarial episodes — things that aren't quite conversations or discussions but approximate them through roughly alternating comments on a post. The Thunderer's get was protagonist, so I suppose in a sense I was antagonist, although not in the modern sense.

The underlying issue was whether a certain system was crazy or not. Personally, I always go for etymology before thinking about significance. The word 'crazy' means 'fragmented', and it is in this sense that things are 'cracked', 'flawed' or otherwise 'broken'. It implies a lack of consistency at the very least and a lack of coherence or integrity at more subtle levels. Clearly, a system can be crazy.

But the overall issue seemed to be whether crazy people had made a crazy system or whether a crazy system had made crazy people. And here I paused to think.

The real conflict was that, in the kinds of systems we were discussing, people were integral components. If the people were nuts, the system (no matter how designed) would behave sub-optimally. But this, in the long term, is true of any system — it slides into increasing entropy. The Thunderer's get averred (perhaps with some sarcasm) that it was easy to say this, since the Second Law said as much.

My point was that empirically, systems collapse not in the very long heat-death-of-the-universe sense but in the much shorter span of generations. If a generation is 30 years, evolving systems like the American experiment in constitutional democracy have only lasted less than 10 generations. The first of my ancestors to leave eastern Eurasia and move to south-eastern Eurasia did so around that time; he lived from 1751 to 1801. The local mercantile/political experiment of my forefathers is thus an experiment just as old and I have empirical knowledge of it.

In the much smaller system of my clan, we have diversified pretty broadly (although not as much as the American system, with vastly greater numbers of inputs and functions). But I am absolutely certain that none of us hews closely to the attitude of our patriarch. If he had drafted a constitution, it might have slowed the entropy and diversification; if we had spent more time planning (as if we'd been a corporate institution) we might have kept the focus narrower. But neither of these possibilities is easy to evaluate.

The Thunderer's get also pointed out that certain systems obviously produced better (more rational, more useful etc) results than others. This is certainly true. But it is also about as useful as the finding that all systems fail because it is also a truism. No two systems can be alike, or they would not be two systems; they'd be one. If they were not alike, their outputs would be different either in terms of process or product, and hence different in impact on their implementors, environments and users.

Of course, in a purely mathematical system, this might not be true; you can indeed produce the same result by different process, and if a machine does it, there is little or no impact on human users. But that particular qualification — human — is the nub of the issue.

In any system, the tendency to entropy is greatest in the most complex element. The higher the level of development, the greater the distance from the baseline and the harder it is to sustain. This can be empirically and experimentally verified. In most of the systems under discussion, humans are involved, and they are the most complex elements of these systems.

This then was the process by which I reached the following point of contention: I said that all systems tend towards the mediocre and the Thunderer's get disagreed, citing the fact that some systems were better than others. I think that both of us were true in a very trivial sense (see above) but that taken together, these two truths give a higher truth: no matter how hard you strive to make something better, it will one day, in the not-so-distant future, be made less good by humans.

The challenge therefore is to overdesign systems so that humans can't mess them up. And of course, the more you overdesign a system, the more potential for entropy you create and the more effort you spend. You are taking away resources from somewhere else to do that work. You are fighting the inevitable, perhaps in a very laudable way, but mediocrity lurks nearby, always at your shoulder. It is the dark twin.

It is right to resist mediocrity. But this can only be done by changing the system every now and then. The other challenge is to know when to expend that effort and suffer that pain.

In all, one should conclude that the main point of human striving, systemically speaking, is to expend effort in setting up systems that resist entropy to some continuing and useful end. Society, on the other hand, cannot be that end in itself. So what is?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lemming Pentametric

Quite like a furry lemming to the sea
Is this the mythling that we learn to be,
Not real destruction nor unreal decay,
Just acting out somebody else's play?

Is education meant to be a crutch
Or might we see it more than this by much?
Break down the walls and let the tide sweep clean
The stables of the Augean Cattle Scene.

A mything link, a weakness in the soul,
The artificial lacking of a goal,
Thank God, for this new man at work; we see
A better age: the best is yet to be!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Words From Old

Tonight under the yellow light I read by, I am learning the old anew. I learn that the word 'ginger' comes from Greek zingiberis, a transliteration of Sanskrit srngavera (from a town on the Ganges); I learn that 'pepper' comes from Greek péperi, transliterated from Sanskrit pippali (a berry); even 'sugar' is not safe, it is from Greek sákkharon, transliterated from Sanskrit sarkara (grit).

I learn that it goes further back, and even further. Most of the languages I have studied come severely altered by, or have their origins in, the obsessive-compulsive disorder that was Sanskrit. Sanskrit grammar was based on super-encoded Vedic sutra-learning which only the brilliant could master; all else was dialect, with no dialectic synthesis.

And there were indeed four Chinese pilgrims who went in search of western learning. They journeyed to their west on a quest to find authentic Buddhist scriptures. They were also separated across a period roughly from 400 AD to 671 AD. The last of these returned to Sri Vijaya to transcribe what he had learnt until 695, translating from Sanskrit to Chinese.

On page 195 of this tome I am earnestly studying, Ostler tells us that Krishna's advice to Arjuna could as easily have been given to Achilles at Troy a thousand years before or Cú Chulainn at Connacht a thousand years later. What continuity of sentiment and philosophy!

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hymn to Speech

The concept of the logos is not a new one, and not even as newly ancient as most believe. Here is a hymn from the Rig Veda, originally in the Sanskrit:
When, O Lord of the Universe, the Wise established
Name-giving, the first principle of language,
That which was excellent in them, that which was pure,
Hidden deep within, through love was brought to light...

Many a man who sees does not see the Word,
And many a man who hears does not hear It.
Yet for another it reveals itself,
Like a radiant bride yielding to her husband.
Sometimes, there is an unlooked-for beauty in the earliest roots of things. Those who dig around in the Greek and Aramaic, the Latin and the Hebrew of the Book should also look elsewhere.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, August 19, 2011

Masculine and Feminine

I remember Lewis's description of the eldila; they were not merely male nor female, but masculine and feminine. It is now fashionable to denigrate and deride Lewis's Space Trilogy as naïve and simplistic, moralising and overly Christian. But some of his insights remain; one has only to read Ransom's translation of Weston's speech to the Malacandrans to realise how profoundly our world has affected our values.

We are not just man and woman, but masculine and feminine. All that we are is all that is human, and yet what we think of as human is less that what we were, are, and can be. This is what I think when I look at my fellow humans with my grandfathers' eyes, with my grandmothers' eyes. I see now with deeper and deeper sight as my eyes see less and less. I was taught to look for the good and the real in everyone else, as well as in myself.

And there it is: men can be more than merely men; women more than merely women. We can be many things, and some of those things do not necessarily fit the world's own simple conceptions of man and woman. What were our Adam-father and Eve-mother like in Eden, before they fell into knowledge of good and evil? For a while, they ruled all creation, and named all living things.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 18, 2011


As the market statistics (note, not 'markets) fall across the boards and bourses, I feel happy. I feel happy whenever these funny things happen because they amuse me and I am fortunate not to be directly involved, thus fulfilling at least two meanings of the word 'happy'.

What has always bemused me from a rational perspective is the way people sink huge funds into gold and diamonds. Gold is not particularly rare; there are 200,000,000 kilos of it lying around in the world today. Diamonds are not particularly rare; there are so many of them (and so many kinds and varieties and ways of making them) that it seems odd to think of them as stable investments.

What distinguishes these two elemental resources is chemical stability (for gold) and physical stability (for diamonds), you might think. But the most important quality they have is attractiveness. Gold is golden; diamonds scintillate when cut aright. They have wonderful optical behaviours under the right conditions. Beauty, for them, is not just skin deep; they are beauty crystallized, whether as metallic crystals or covalent crystals.

And yet, their elevation causes anomalies in value for other worthy substances. Take ruthenium, a harder and more durable cousin of gold. It is tough and chemically resistant, beautiful in a cold silvery way, more silver than silver and more valuable in chemistry. It is selling for USD170 per ounce right now, a tenth of gold's current price. But there are only 5,000,000 kilos of it lying around. The same kind of problem exists for tanzanite; it's a more beautiful and much rarer stone than diamond, and once it's been mined out of the three mines in Tanzania, there will be none left. But diamond, that simple structure every high-school chemistry student must know, is made in ton-loads by geological activity.

So what is the weight of glory? The glory of the world passes, and yet we invest in it. The glory of man is like the flower of grass; the grass fades and the flowers fall, and the wind blows them all away. What is seen is only what there is to be seen; what is unseen abides forever.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Today was a host of fragments, splinters of the mind's eye, as Alan Dean Foster once put it.

Primus: breakfast, with interesting ladies and a priceless look of startlement on the face of one gentleman of long-standing acquaintance.

Secundus: lunch, where the hands do the burgers, and many shirts were bought.

Tertius: a memory of Luca Pacioli, patron saint of double-entry accounting.

Quartus: an inscription given to King Merikare — "be a craftsman in speech, that thou mayest be strong; the tongue is a sword to a man, and speech more valorous than any warfare."

Quintus: a quiet night, and the scent of forgotten jasmine in the cold hills.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pass Times

How long does the pass last, how many passes is that? The swiping wipes the slate, the swipe moves the page, the moving finger having written is no longer part of time.

I realise that information, once discrete and chunked, is now indeed a flow, a river, a torrent like the one which rampaged into the Mediterranean Basin when Gibraltar gave way. There is no thinking about it, and even the coasts are drowned.

Many centuries later, Phlebas the Phoenician learnt something about that. Very, very briefly did he know it. And then, it was all pearls and coral.

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Cigarette-Smoking Man

There were two men waiting in my office. As I walked in, they stood. My secretary mouthed, "I have no idea."

These guys were odd. Together, they would have made one 6'6" bald guy with large hands and a warm heart. Individually, a different story. Tall, balding and skinny hands said, "Benson." Not-so-tall, bald, and large hands said, "Hedges." Both sounded half-hearted.

"What can I do for you gentlemen?" I asked. My left nostril was blocked, and I hadn't had my morning coffee yet.

"We'd like to know..."
"... what we should know..."
"... as the new head... "
"... of the Fortress."

Yeah, they had that irritating complete-the-other-guy's-sentences thing.

And then I woke up. Something about Benson, Hedges, cigarettes, and consonantal and vowel shifts drifted out of the dream and left before I could catch it.

But it got me thinking. What to tell the non-cigarette non-smoking man?

Labels: ,

Sunday, August 14, 2011


In Latin, sator means 'sower'; it is also the first word of the most famous 5x5 alphabetic magic square in history. It also has by all reasonable consideration nothing to do with satori, that curious Zen concept that translates roughly to 'sudden enlightenment'.

Yet, the difference between sator and satori is only 'I'. Or perhaps, as St John the Evangelist puts it: "Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true." He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Today Sir Wolff sat with me. He had been put in mind of an old rhyme:
One for the money
Two for the show
Three to get ready
And four to go!
This was in connection with several events, all held a few hours ago, at which Sir Wolff's former Lords Inquisitorial of the Magisterium had been spread thinly throughout — trapped in gold laurels, or with gold ingots, or dealing with the gold of youth, and so forth.

I asked him, "Wolff, were you always inclined to be so irreverent of your superiors?"

He chuckled. "No, rather say that I was never more reverent than usual of the banal or mundane; the quotidian, secular or ephemeral. What is there to revere especially of those who breathe the air we breathe and use the same conveniences that we do? I respected their rank, and avoided their authority."

I tsked at him. "Avoidance of authority shows some disrespect, surely."

Soberly, he replied, "But this was sometimes the only way to serve the higher calling and the grand endeavour. At the end of my days, I often felt nothing more than a mercenary."

And that was our cue for the wine and cheese.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 12, 2011


Writing is an exercise for mind and fingers. You trap the elusive fact with the gossamer web. You construct the tapestry. You knit and knot. You sieve and strain. When we talk about settings, you realise we will have to decide between a single great gem or several small ones, or none at all; when we talk about plot, you realise we will have to decide what to grow on the allotment.

The moving finger writes, and having writ, one sees it doesn't really give a sh.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Notes to Self

Things to remind other people about:
  1. It's A4, not 'foolscap'. Foolscap (originally, fool's cap) is F4.
  2. Prime numbers are good, because they resist division.
  3. Fruits rich in vitamin C are also rich in antioxidants for a reason: vitamin C triggers the peroxide cascade.
  4. Fish is good. And if eggs were no good, why are they the beginning of life?
  5. Life is unique, from the empirical point of view. There are barbarians, but no aliens.
  6. There is no point to school unless you make excuses for it.
  7. Entropy is the way to go.
  8. But energy is what lets you go there.
  9. Cats are smarter than dogs, but the raven is even smarter.
  10. There are too many things to remind other people about. And none of them are important.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Areas of Knowledge

Too often these days, it seems, I am asked what a way of thinking is, or what a way of knowing is. There is a whole group of terms that need defining here, but yet they cannot be defined narrowly.

'Thought', to begin with, is the process of data transfer in the brain. Whether this is thought of as a chemical phenomenon or an electrical one (it is both), conscious or subconscious, the fact remains that all would agree that the state of a brain before a thought, and the state of the same brain after, cannot be the same. Something has changed, and we prefer to think of it in terms of data (at the very least).

A 'way of thinking' is therefore a pattern (or process, or procedure) involving data transfers that bear similar characteristics and follow (or appear to follow, or are aimed at, or appear to be aimed at) the same direction, intention, purpose or goal. In the abstract, a way of thinking is a pattern that exists with or without real data transfers. It can be hypothetical or actual, practical or not.

'Knowledge', according to at least one theory, is the contextualised framing of validated information. 'Information', in turn, arises from data that have been structured (formulated or 'informed', that is, placed in a formation) or given form. 'Data' (singular = 'datum') are elements processed by a system that change the state of a system. We can be more exacting in our definitions, especially if we are cognitive scientists or computer scientists, but these definitions are deliberately broad in order to allow for more possibilities.

A 'way of knowing' is therefore a pattern (or process, or procedure) involving the collection of data which can be made into information and then contextualised into knowledge. There are many ways of knowing, but for humans these can be divided into two groups: intrinsic (i.e., involving processes taking place entirely in the human body) and extrinsic (i.e., with some attempt at processing outside the human body or which need external standards for validation).

Generally, sensory perception and emotional response are intrinsic ways of knowing and cannot be shared very efficiently, while formal reasoning and language are extrinsic ways of knowing and can be shared a lot more efficiently. One way of looking at this might be that we have developed the extrinsic ways of knowing in order to share the intrinsic ways of knowing. You can argue that reason is intrinsic, and this is probably true, but there's no way to tell that a person engages in formal reasoning unless it's expressed; everything about human reasoning, strictly speaking, is a 'black box' effect without external validation.

Which brings me to 'areas of knowledge'. As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, an area of knowledge is defined in terms of parametric characteristics. Essentially, an area of knowledge is an array of knowledge chunks or pieces that share common characteristics such that they can be connected together into a 'body of knowledge'. This can normally described in some short general definition, e.g. 'History is about chaps while geography is about maps' or something like that.

There are larger areas of knowledge which follow very general paradigms, and smaller sub-areas. For example, 'aesthetics' is a huge area of knowledge that is based on the emotional response to sensory perception. Within 'aesthetics' are sub-areas such as 'music' or 'sculpture'. Within 'music' you would find smaller areas concerning its historical basis, instrumentation and instrument use, works and description and analysis of works, and so on. You can have a very tiny area of knowledge such as '17th-century musical works performed by double-reeded instruments and workmen's tools in anechoic chambers' or something like that.

And there I will stop for a while to gather my breath. I suspect that with the coming round of TOK topics, I will need all the creative energy I can store. If such energy does indeed exist and can be stored, that is.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Whenever I'm stealing snow
I go around it in the flow
Displacement stays important to me
Wherever I may choose to go...
I always blame serendipity
For what washes up on shore
But ice-reaver gnomes are born to strife
And the greed of collecting more!

We are gnomes truly, pointy-eared and drooly,
With a red nose shiny, and our liver always glows!
We are gnomes surly, as the censors tell me;
Each of us says he's not a clone,
But looks so much like other gnomes...

When there is rubble to blow through
We can plant explosives too,
There are mushrooms in the larder
And we have toadstools in the loo.
We have gilded seams of leather
Just like we've done before
As the carpenters and shoemakers realise
We gnomes are beyond the law.

We are gnomes truly, pointy-eared and drooly,
With a red nose shiny, and our liver always glows!
We are gnomes surly, as the censors tell me;
Each of us says he's not a clone,
But looks so much like other gnomes...

(With apologies to my fourth cousin once removed.)

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 08, 2011

Conserve or Liberate?

Most humans hate to follow things to logical conclusions. Or so one might conclude when listening to human debates. There are rabid conservatives and rabid liberals, whose two polar arguments may be described as, "No movement," and "Everything must move."

The physical laws of the universe appear to support conservative liberalism or liberal conservatism, but not the extremes. If nothing moves, no work is done, the system does not change state, the womb of the universe remains barren. If all things move, then we hasten towards entropic leveling (which is what would happen if all things were equal, if information flowed without hindrance, and energy could be used at will without impedance) and the heat death of the universe.

I don't think humans are born equal or should be treated equally. Yet I believe in the attempt to create a broad equality of treatment and access, which like any spectrum, has limits and gradual differences. All may be enjoined to abide by the same rules; all may have the same choices; but not all may have the same resources. If all did, then the game should be rigged to allow for no dominant strategy, because if it did, everyone should converge to the same behavioural norm and that would be stultifying because nothing would move.

Another way of looking at it: if all were equally rich, nobody would be rich. That is why Jesus said, "The poor you will have with you always." That was a rich and very loaded statement. A simple illustration will suffice.

Let us say that God decided to distribute all the world's riches evenly to all humans, so that everyone had the same amount. Then each human was given the same habitat, in terms of opportunities, aesthetics, resources. And each human was given the same skills, same capacities, same drives and physical structure. And all genders and races were made physically identical. And immortal. Wherever the Omnipotent could make identical and sustainably so, It did so.

What do you think would happen if this state was maintained?

Obviously, nothing would happen. For no creativity, no value, nothing depending on difference would remain. Birthrates would be zero, because a newborn manifestly is not competent and wouldn't be able to be an equal-human. Unless they were born from pods which generated equal-humans.

Equality is a bad thing, egalitarianism a somewhat worthy thing in a grossly unequal world. But just like Sartre's idea that choice is the highest moral good came from a gross fear of totalitarianism, so too does ultraconservatism arise from the gross fear of rapid change.

What conservatism and liberalism need is the opportunity to intersect and balance each other in a world that throws up challenges that neither can tackle alone. But this will often fail because of physics. The only way out is thus... metaphysical.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, August 07, 2011


For years we watched the Bleed flow past. We thought there was a world worth saving, but some days told us that perhaps it was not so. Those days depressed us.

And there were always the carriers of tales, the spinners of barbed stories and poisoned webs. These were often trusted by the wrong people at the wrong time. With the thinnest of threads, they span the broadest of tapes. Many were ensnared.

But slowly, the silk was rewound, the chrysalis remade. It is no rough beast that slouches towards Bethlehem to be born, but a strange and fiery thing that rises from the ashes. Watch the nest! Scent the burning herbs! And do not place your gaze upon the sun.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

Crunch Time

Crunch, as some might see it, is what lies between croissants and lunch. The week ahead, however, will show what lies between the sons of the wyvern and the daughters of the laurel. We all hope for the best, and there is great hope that Wisdom (or Sophia, as the Greeks named her) will prevail.

Yet there are always the derailments of the deranged to worry about. Who knows if some old nag will break down and need to be turned to glue? Who knows if some madness will catch fire and turn dry tinder to blazing ash?

The best thing to do is commit all things to the eternal hands, the mighty rock, the almighty. And that is what we will do for the days ahead.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 05, 2011


An old joke, which I have not been able to adequately source, says this: "The effective IQ of a committee is the highest individual IQ divided by the number of members." This, of course, goes against memes like the wisdom of crowds or the virtues of democracy. But that is only because it is the flip side of such memes: crowds are also mobs, and democracies can be tyrannies from a majority which might be less qualified to make decisions.

I have been in meetings at which reasonable, intelligent and articulate members have cobbled together compromises which are untenable and inadequate; at which said members seem to have consumed too many cream-puffs, which seem to have gone to their heads; at which said heads have turned to gossip-churning mush incapable of strategic planning. And thus, anecdotally, the old joke can indeed seem true.

The world has invested itself in faith of a secular kind — money, machines, meritocracy. This is not surprising, since 'secular' means 'worldly'. What is surprising even though it should not be is that this faith relies on a system of the world that could only be held together by perfect knowledge delivered without mediation — literally 'immediate' — but such a system does not exist. We have put our faith in illusion, as a Buddhist might say; the ancient Israelite would say, "He hangeth the world upon nothing."

The system has never worked, but the closest approximation of its perfect working has been to benefit of those possessing the most powerful means of attaining knowledge. Knowledge is indeed power, although its sinews might be illusion and materiel.

But nobody has perfect knowledge, and that is why, as we come asymptotically closer to that point, we teeter ever more precariously at the abyss of the catastrophe. Should we fall into it, it is not singularity we will achieve, but nullity. The sky will unfold, the scroll will unroll.

And that will be an end to reason, or any pretense at reasoning.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 04, 2011


The idea of the shield as symbolic of values and beliefs, of history and philosophy, is an ancient one. A good herald 'reads' a shield, and knows at once the biography of the knight behind it.

However, there is one caveat. The shield must be properly blazoned. It must have true heraldry behind the choice of field, the choice of divisions and quarterings, the choice of charges. Then only can the reading be proper.

It looks like I must blazon the Shield of the Wyverns for posterity now, reading it as the Dauntless might have, had he lived to see it. I am to be a herald, a teller of life stories, a semiotic reader who transforms symbols into narrative.

And all this, in the space of 24 hours. Joy can be beyond belief.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Anglo-Chinese State

I was recently informed that I had been working for the East India Company for the last few years. It was not as much of a shock as you might think. 'John Company' has been, in its necromantic post-mortem days, very much a part of life in the city at the Gate of the Dragon's Teeth.

Today, I head towards yet another reunion of sorts. This time, I intersect with the wings of the raptor, the third and often unmentioned element of the Wyvern heritage. That omission is sad, because without those wings, often said to resemble the soaring excellence of the Spirit of God, the Mission would not have begun in 1885.

And here, we begin on yet another mission. It will be most exciting. Truly, when God kicks you out of the nest, it is because He wants you to fly.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Knowledge Claims and the Theory of Knowledge

As I walk into the stream
For cerebral hygiene
The pollution of the meme
Seems pungently too keen.
What we claim is essentially both an assertion about reality and our assertion of will over reality. If we believe our claims are likely, there must be reasons. These are often couched in terms of evidence.

But note well: 'evidence' comes from the Latin for 'what I see', and 'couched' is about sleeping. Our claims are sometimes adventitious growths planted in a flowerbed, and as defining of reality as a pilchard is definitive of sharks. This last point is something that you might get from Hall's The Raw Shark Texts, by the way.

When you claim something, or add your clamour to the din (or clams to your dinner), you are trying your best to reclaim order from the sea of chaos. You are like one of Moorcock's von Beks, living in a citadel on a spur of solidity and holding things together by ritual and will.

Without underpinnings, a justification and framework for your claims, your claims will fall flat and be washed away in chaos. Hence be very careful when making claims, and also understand that the affirmation or denial of your claims will decide your answer to your knowledge issue.

For example, if your knowledge issue is, "How do we know if bees understand honey?" then your claims might be: 1) bees have cognitive ability to make sense out of chemical perception, 2) honeys have differences that can be distinguished by chemical perception. Your conclusion (after presenting the evidence) might be 1 - yes, 2 - also yes, 3 - the bees' ability and perception are sufficient to note those differences and their behaviour will change because of this. Hence, bees do indeed understand honey, in at least one sense of the phrase.

The bees are yes, the best.

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 01, 2011

Knowledge Issues and the Theory of Knowledge

In some old and troubled dream
I load my magazine
Thirty cartridges now seem
Too much for what they mean.
The true test of reality is death, because termination falsifies the dream. The problem then is subjective observation, because if you're dead, you have no way to personally verify the test outcome. It is a terrible situation to be in, which is why ontology should always precede epistemology.

That said, the question "How do we know (that)... ?" is the most important question of knowledge. It is possible to begin all knowledge issues with these words. More importantly, answering such questions requires the verification (or falsification) of claims, and the exercise of attempting to do this always tells you something more than you knew before.

Therefore, when stuck for a way to start an essay, ask yourself the question of how you would find out the answer to it. This applies both to explicit questions (e.g. "Freedom of speech is a necessary human right. Why is this (not) so? Discuss.") and implicit questions (e.g. "Write short notes on garlic cultivation and its significance to human existence.").

The second question, of course, is: "How do we conceive, construct and communicate a convincing answer to an unknown target audience?" This is something for another day.

Labels: , , ,