Film Stock of Life (FSL)

January 26, 2009

Andrew Marshall on Religion:

“For me, the ideas in orthodox religion were something to celebrate; to play with and to subvert and to own. For most of my life I have considered the great questions about deities and afterlife to be beyond the jurisdiction of logic and sense. Instead of calling this out-of-bounds, as many do, I’ve welcomed the freedom. One can invent a different religion for every day of their life and never be wrong. So I have done this.”

-Fictional interview, ca. 2020

To make a great work of art one has to make a great mess. The intricate configuration that is left, after the mess has been cleaned up, is some fraction of the materials used. The rest goes to the scrap bin: ruined canvases, over exposed negatives, shreds of paper, 6 months of writer’s block, the lives of 99 out of 100 people, or 9999 out of 10,000, if we can be so crass. (I mean only to distinguish the gems, not to deny the value of human life). I have often found myself scripting and acting out the film of my life and though it is bound to be an entertaining feature-length production, the majority of it is spent on film stock destined for the incinerator, or more likely the dust covered catacombs beneath some Heavenly library.

The artists who print, control the number and quality of each edition. They have the ability to run unlimited editions, or offer blemished prints at discount prices, so that the poor can furnish their homes with the same artwork as the rich. But they do not do this, and when they do their work loses its value. I would not mind putting a director in charge of editing my life, but it would have to be one whose skill was undoubtedly better than my own. I’m tempted to allow for an immaculate director, the one who crafts the perfect film from the footage offered. But the more reasonable side of me acknowledges the impossibility of such a craftsman, so I begin to wonder if we can’t just keep all the stock around, and invite a new director every few decades, to make their own story from it.

Film Stock of Life (FSL) is quite different than actual film stock, of course. The primary difference is that FSL does not record a specific point of view. To illustrate this point: the difference between a film about person A and one about person B is a difference only in what is done with the footage. This is the difference between 2 points in a continuum. Many decades from now stories with no central characters may come into vogue and these will be examples along some such continuum. However, today there is still an appreciation for the hero narrative, and its many variations, and of the films which involve me, I am most interested in those that feature me as (at least) a central character.

In the afterlife I would like to be a director. I could spend as long as necessary learning the techniques, say a few years or perhaps a few decades. At some point I’d be ready to market my product. My chief export would be interesting and flattering biographical films, and I would sell them to the citizens of Heaven. But I would also work for the judicial system and probably also make films that would end up on the black markets of Hell. The judicial system pieces would be indictments against those I find reprehensible. I would juxtapose the most despicable aspects of the defendant’s life. I could get most of these down to 30 minutes or so, just a series of outtakes. A few confessional speeches, a few short actions of cruelty or cowardice. The Hell-bound films would be similar, but ridiculous, full-length features with narrative and plot and lots of antiheroes. A lot of John Waters, a bit of Todd Solondz. The audience would find the characters enjoyably loathsome or hilariously pathetic.

Documentaries would be very enjoyable to make, as well. “Origins in Technology,” stories of firsts from the rising civilization of mankind. I’d include the first fire deliberately built, the first seed deliberately sowed, discoveries of electricity, radiation, irrational numbers. It would have to be a series, there are a lot of firsts.

That’s all I have now, though I will keep planning for eternity. It’s not the kind of thing you want to just happen to you one day, before you’ve thoroughly prepared for it.

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Theory and Emergence in a Deterministic System

January 18, 2009

A cellular automaton is, in a clear sense, the simplest of universes. As such, it is a useful setting to apply and test ideas from philosophy. The cellular automaton universe (CAU) seems the least allowing for emergence (without considering trivial universes, e.g., an empty universe), since every phenomenon follows from the evolution rule. I will argue, here, that in some sense language–and therefore theory and thought–organizes and communicates structure which is emergent, even in a cellular automaton universe.

Context-dependent definitions
Suppose our CAU contains a large number of collections of contiguous on cells, which are roughly the same size. Suppose these groups move in different directions and at different rates and that their design and the rule of evolution is such that when two collide either they are both destroyed (every cell is turned off) or they bounce off of each other. In this setting we could define a term particle for these groups of cells which appear to move. How do we define particle so that we can make unambiguous statements about the nature of particles? We might specify size: particles are between 1 and 10 billion cells. We could specify shape, say in specifying the size of the boundary, or in specifying the ratio of longest diameter to shortest diameter. Of course, there is necessarily some structural requirements for the property that particles bounce or mutually annihilate, but it may not be clear what exactly these requirements are. Even without these requirements known, we consider it meaningful to observe the bouncing and annihilating of particles.

If, on the other hand, our CAU had every possible bounded arrangement of cells, each an infinite number of times, (e.g., a random initial state on an infinite space) it would be extremely tedious to have a theory about large groups of cells and in fact it would not be of any use, since for any two differing bodies there would be many bodies which were intermediate (a geodesic might be a path of single flips which never flips a cell twice) and different macro behavior would necessarily come down to the difference of a single cell. In that setting a macro theory is pointless. In a more limited CAU, as the first described here, a macro theory is useful and meaningful.

We might notice that roughly half of the particles are hollow, that is, have a cavity of off cells near their center, and that particles are only annihilated when exactly one is hollow.

When a hollow particle and a non-hollow particle collide, the two are annihilated, otherwise a collision results in the particles bouncing off of each other. (1)

Are the terms of this statement shorthand for statements about individual cells? They are not. To reiterate, in translating this statement in terms of individual cells, one necessarily gets a ridiculously cumbersome statement which contains no more information than the rule for evolution, which we may imagine is a very small piece of information.

What happens if the cells are too small to be observed or detected? Certainly here the best we can do is make empirical statements, such as (1) above. We are unable to discern two arrangements which differ by a single cell, but frequently we don’t need to, because a vast set of arrangements is absent from our universe. In our universe we recognize some objects as existing on a continuum, such as photons, but do not concern ourselves with the continuum connecting any two objects, such as a continuum connecting photons to protons, because such continua do not exist in nature. With the absence of said continua, nature suggests particular objects for naming. We have a name for a species, say horse, and we do not have names for each intermediate object, say between horses and cows. In hypothetical contexts, the proposition “X is a horse” is fuzzy, not well defined. Yet in the context of animals on earth, this proposition is perfectly well defined.

Things are further complicated if you imagine the scientist and the audience to be immense arrangements of cells. Supposing our universe is a CAU, the human eye cannot detect a single cell, by a long shot, but recognizes a discrete alphabet on this page. The human ear is never hit with two identical sounds, yet discerns discrete phonemes of speech from extremely complex and subtle patterns of changing air pressure. The brain is in two distinct states every two utterances of the same word and every letter ever printed is a different configuration of ink on a different surface of paper. It’s a bit of a miracle we discern discrete structures at all.

What is the observation that some particles are hollow and some are not, if it is not shorthand for arrangements of individual cells? We’ve said it is somehow dependent on the observable arrangements of cells, it must also be dependent on the available variety of people and the fact that each one is affected similarly by viewing a picture of a hollow cell and by holding an aerobie frisbee, that some abstract quality is registered in both cases. In this way we can view the quality of being hollow not just as a simple property–albeit fuzzy–about a particular physical object, but in fact an extremely complex property of affecting the human brain in a particular way. Abstractly we can say hollow is a property of shape; contrasted with solid; it describes objects which are lacking a large part of their interior. In any of these definitions we need not make the mistake that those terms are well defined solely in terms of the physical form of the object. We can recognize that these terms, too, are meant to reference the experience of the reader, and that although there is a relationship between solid and hollow, it only makes sense to define hollow in terms of solid if the reader has had some experience with solid, and can conceive of its opposite.

A theory that has simple words with simple relationships (e.g., of hollow and solid particles), which is deconstructed into a much finer physical system (e.g., cells of an automaton) only in an incredibly complex and intractable way (e.g., by including the nature of human observation, consciousness and language itself, each having to be further described in terms of cells) is emergent in some sense, is it not?

The objection could be raised that “emergence” is just a point of view, a priori as valid as its contender: “all effect is the cause of the rule of evolution.” I don’t disagree that recognizing “emergence” is merely a point of view. Yet science is in the business of choosing an appropriate point of view. And the people interested in science are extremely complicated, physically. To these people, some layers of cause and effect are easy–easy to understand, with limitations. From these a foundation is lain, from which to understand the other layers. So “emergence,” as far as I understand, is not just the state of things being incomprehensibly complex, but also the fact that from incomprehensibly complex systems, simple structure can emerge.


For Lack of a Word

January 7, 2009

This from an encyclopedia entry:

*** is a notyetcoinedologism which refers to the practice of imposing structure on or between sets of data, in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Generally certain semantic cues are followed, resulting in a theory which is partially natural, while many connections will be found only after the choice of structure has been chosen. In its most natural degree ***ing is the process of observing structure that would be similarly observed by any from some large pool (e.g., humankind). As such, it is the bedrock for scientific theory of any kind. In its less natural degrees ***ing can be used to author mnemonic devices. It can also be used to mine new relationships between disparate sets of objects for the purpose of creating artwork, literature, music etc. An instance of *** is called a *** map. Pseudosciences may qualify as bodies of ***, although usage of the term *** presupposes a motive of playfulness and creativity. One does not *** to produce an irrefutable theory.

The origins of the word date to the year 2009 from a blog posted by Andrew Marshall, although the actual term was suggested by one of the blog’s readers. It may be a portmanteau of, or take inspiration from, the following words: algorithm, supervenience, append, arbitrary, map making, giving birth, theory weaving, superlogic, artificial, imposing, forcing, analogy, metaphor.

Examples where the modeling is mathematical include the imposition of a total or partial ordering on a set of real world items (or categories of items); the assignment of numbers to the members of a set, where qualities of the numbers are taken into consideration; the use of directed graphs to account for and suggest adjacency or local partial ordering. However, the product of *** is not usually entirely mathematical, as the natural language value of the objects involved is not forgotten. Frequently two sets with some similar interrelationships will be identified, whereby the modeling is almost entirely at the natural language level.

Concrete example: a piece of music with n movements will be identified with a region R containing n counties. The (standard) duration of each movement gives a natural order to the movements, and the land mass of the counties gives a natural order to the counties. The two are identified accordingly. It is then noted that duration and note count are roughly correlated, as land mass and population are. We may then ask to what accuracy is population correlated with note count. As we scour the data relevant to the music and the land we might find that the number of sections in each movement corresponds precisely to one greater than the number of large rivers passing through the interior of each county. Upon such an observation, we will find a way to identify the land masses between rivers with sections of movements, perhaps still according to our land mass:duration correspondence, perhaps according to some other distinction. Having made such an identification we will observe moods of the movements and find ways of seeing each county as embodying that mood. We might, finally, write a short story involving n people, each from a different county of R. These characters’ personalities will share perceived moods of their corresponding musical movements. We will give a clue or two in the story, possibly referencing the piece of music in some telling context, but the *** map is regarded, here, as scaffolding around a building or the wax prototype of a bronze sculpture. Some of it will not survive.