Moulton Lava

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Last Thing in the World

In a conflict of biblical proportions, Larry Lessig finds himself pitted against his Harvard colleague, Phil Heymann, the father of the US Assistant Prosecutor, Stephen Heymann, whose remorseless persecution of the young Internet activist ended in the tragic suicide of Aaron Swartz.

The elder Professor Heymann has delivered a paper at a Harvard faculty workshop criticizing the views of Professor Lessig and others.

In a recent blog post, Professor Lessig has directed his followers to his response to Professor Heymann, comprising a somewhat technical point-by-point commentary and rebuttal.

The gist of Professor Lessig's response is that he is not persuaded by Professor Heymann's legalistic arguments defending the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. In closing, Professor Lessig writes, "I desperately await the time when the need for me to confront and address this tragedy will have passed, even though I recognize, as I suspect you would as well, the loss never will."

Here is my follow-up commentary on Larry's Lessig's blog:

The Last Thing in the World

There is an insightful model of the Five Big Personality Traits of Successful Managers. They go by the acronym OCEAN:

• Openness

• Conscientiousness

• Extraversion

• Agreeableness

• Neuroticism

Of these, the second one is the one particularly interesting to me.

When I was in grammar school, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, wrote on my report card a big word that I didn't know. I had to ask my parents what it was. The word was "Conscientious". It was the first 4-syllable word I ever learned.

There is a Sixth Trait not listed among the Big Five.

The Sixth Trait is Insight.

The Seventh Trait is Compassion.

Put them all together, you get OCEANIC.

I reckon that successful business managers, academics, and government officials have at least five of those seven traits.

There are two more character traits that are worth mentioning, elusive as they often are. The Eighth Trait is Absolution.

The Ninth is Love.

Put all nine together, you get OCEANICAL.

Many of us are still looking for the last two.

Five of Seven, meet Seven of Nine

Larry, in your recent TED Talk, you ended on the Ninth Note.

Please help me out here, Larry. How do we evolve to Absolution and Love, when we are reckoning a collegial (if not congenial) adversary whose unshakable core philosophy has lamentably annihilated our spirit and sacrificed our beloved child?

How big of a tsunami will it take for our culture to become OCEANICAL?


Blogger Higs; said...

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9:48 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

In case it's not obvious, I was applying apostasy and emunah to secular beliefs such as pedestrian belief that the Rule of Law is the key to Law and Order.

The clue, of course, was that I was proposing to trade in the (secular) Pledge of Allegiance for the Dithyramb of Doubt.

What I like about Bloom is that he makes me think. I don't automatically adopt his thoughts as my own.

For example, I had no reason to dismiss his work on Shakespeare or the Canon of Western Literature. For me, his ideas provided a jumping-off point that didn't depend on whether his model survived peer-review.

For another example of riffing off Bloom, see Sheesh and Oy Vey: The Geshrais Sublime

12:35 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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9:01 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Quoting from Finnegan's Wiki:

The Viconian cycle consists of three recurring phases:

(1) The Theocratic or Divine Age, represented in primitive society by the family life of the cave, to which the thunderous voice of God has driven mankind;

(2) The Aristocratic or Heroic Age, characterized by incessant conflict between the ruling patricians and their subject plebeians;

(3) The Democratic Age, in which rank and privilege have finally been eradicated by the revolutions of the preceding age.

These three ages are typified by the institutions of birth, marriage and burial respectively.

In Vico, they are followed by a short period of Chaos caused by the collapse of democratic society, which is inherently corrupt.

Out of this Chaos a new cycle is initiated by the ricorso, or "recursive return" to the Theocratic Age.

In Finnegan's Wake, Joyce elevated the lacuna between successive cycles into a fourth age: The Chaotic Age.

Vico's theory is applied to the image of the history of mankind as depicted in dream.

The four phases also symbolize the four evangelists, the four points of the compass and the four provinces of Ireland.

And now it makes sense to resolve Vico's loopy recursion by introducing the Cybernetic Age in which the otherwise mind-boggling math of recursive loops is tamed and tuned to converge to the long-dreamed of Omega Point.

Any chance of translating that theory into a narrative that Umberto Eco would be proud of?

12:52 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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4:51 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

I'm not yet convinced there is a reliable way to convey the mathematical concept of recursion to a lay audience that isn't already primed to apprehend STEM subjects.

If you have the math, all the narrative attempts seem like a strange way to reveal the math without actually doing the math.

And if you don't have the math (as was true for me before I learned the math), the narratives seem utterly irrelevant except perhaps as literature or entertainment.

For my money, Doug Hofstadter did it better than anyone else, but I also suppose his books are read mainly by people who have some chops in STEM subjects.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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10:29 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Here's what astonishes me about the story in Genesis 2.

Let's say I were living in the Fertile Crescent some 3500 years ago. Let's say I had the intuition that a binary dichotomy dividing the spectrum ranging from Saintly Good to Demonic Evil was problematic, because it's not obvious that there is any basis for selecting the location of the dividing line, where the response switches abruptly from Blessing to Curse.

Suppose I wanted to suggest a gradual transition with shades of gray between the extremes of Blessing and Curse. That is to say, I want to illustrate the S-shaped (sigmoid) curve. Casting about for something to use as a visual aid, my best choice is a the body of a dead snake. I reckon they are a shekel a dozen in the Middle Eastern desert.

So what better critter to use in an allegory than the very reptile who, being a mendacious spokesmodel, is selling something he cannot model with his own body. Had Adam and Eve inquired of the Good Sage what a better model might have been, all they had to do was to put wax in their ears and merely gaze upon the physique of the serpent, whose body suggested the S-curve as the Better Idea.

Now, it's quite possible that someone out there in Theology Land has already pointed out this remarkable mathematical observation. But if so, it's never shown up on my radar screen.

I tend to agree with you that tuning up the exact parameters of the S-curve to converge to the stable equilibrium (Fixed Point or Omega Point) is probably a personal calculus rather than a crowd-based computation, but if mimesis works for thought processes, eventually the idea of the method could catch on.

I very much want to get the Artists involved in mapping the math to storytelling media. That is I want to expand STEM to STEAM.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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9:28 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

I wrote a piece about the Caduceus a few years ago ...

Don't Tread On Me

5:08 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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9:40 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

Hrmmm... Never really thought about the double helix snake vs single helix version.

I was not familiar with the Myth of Tiresias, but it does explain the reason for intertwining two snakes in the Greek Caduceus.

It is fascinating to reckon the geometric similarity with the Double Helix of DNA, but I presume one would have to chalk that up to fractal similarity, rather than to a Raëlian Theology

5:59 PM  
Blogger Higs; said...

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8:47 AM  
Blogger Nancy Williams said...

What a pile of Swiss cheese.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Moulton said...

I was able to recover the deleted comments from my original E-Mail notifications.

Find all the above recovered comments here.

7:56 AM  

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