Notes From Saturday Night

So I was with the Usual Gang at a wedding reception and we were trying to decide which male character, out of all of Fantasy Literature, in any media, was the most ‘bad-ass’. Science fiction and superheroes needed not apply. It couldn’t be just strength — personality and ability counted equally. Ultimately it came down to which character would do ‘whatever it took’ to win in situation X. We had to decide, finally, that it was the character that passed the ‘Kidmail Test’.

Huh?

The Kidmail test is as follows: Say Mr Bad Guy has sewed several small children together, alive, to make himself some armor. In order to vanquish Mr. Bad Guy, would Mr. Good Guy be willing to hack through that Kidmail? Upon that question lay the answer to Who Is the Most Bad-Ass Male Fantasy Character.

We finally went with Raistlin. Gandalf , we felt, would not willing hack through children in order to get The Bad Guy. Raistlin might make it a requirement. Also in the running were Elric , Richard Cypher , and Pug/Milamber .

Science Fiction characters will have to wait for another day, as will Comic Book characters. However!!! If you have ever wondered who would win a fight between, say, Moses and Yoda, or a Borg Cube and the Death Star, or even Steve Irwin and Godzilla, check out Electric Ferret’s Comic Book Universe Fight Pages . Comic books and oh, so much more.

Raven Hill, A Novel About Kung Fu

I have studied martial arts for 13 years; two bouncing around from school to school, and the last eleven as a student of Master Lee, Hoa Yen. Having studied one style for so long, I sometimes lose track of what else is out there, so now and then I will spend a few hours surfing, seeing what Google has to say about the state of the Martial Arts in America.

While surfing yesterday I rediscovered Raven Hill , a site which I first came across a couple of years ago. Back then, it was just a link to a story. Now it is a full-blown martial arts website, put together by someone who wields at least a little mojo.

I was delighted to find that the original story is still up, and has been added to significantly. Basically one of the students of this school sat down and wrote a historical/fantasy novel about a group of 17 young men who go off on their own to learn 17 different styles of kung fu, then from what they learn create a new style. Someone put a great deal of time and thought into these stories. The writing is decent; not Pulitzer material but better than most anything you will find on the New York Times rack at the local McBookstore. Where these stories truly shine is in the descriptions of the training these young men go through in the course of learning their kung fu. As a serious martial artist myself I can say that the methods used in the stories make good sense, and to utilize them for eight, ten, fourteen hours a day, as the characters do, would indeed create martial artists of the highest calibre.

So if you feel like being inspired to practice hard, read these stories. The first, Chu Jeng, can be accessed from the link above. The rest can be found linked to the resource page of the Raven Hill site.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go stand in horse stance for a few hours.

Thoughts on Reality and Perception

Notes from a conversation with Scott , instigated by William James :

Perception and it’s effect on reality. Sensory deprivation. Mysticism. Phantom limbs. Consensual reality.

Scientific discoveries so subtle, so far down the scale of physical things, that they exist as almost pure potential, waiting only for observation to give them shape. Going from here to the principle that the observer affects the observed, and scientific discovery approaches the level of metaphor, or creation. As a self-fulfilling prophecy, we discover what we expect to discover, because it comes into being when we look for it.

Leaving aside what this does to the freedom vs. predestination argument, this very much calls for a hard look at the scientific method, with reference to quantum physics.

More after the thunderstorm.

The Post-Apocalyptic 1800s

Have finished Son of the Morning Star. Now working on Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. I am 60 pages into this beautiful, hellish book, and I know, I just KNOW, that when I finish I will wish I had never read it, so I could discover it, again, for the first time. Consider this excerpt, in which a group of men are traveling through the southwestern desert:

“That night they rode through a region electric and wild where strange shapes of soft blue fire ran over the metal of the horses’ trappings and the wagonwheels rolled in hoops of fire and little shapes of pale blue light came to perch in the ears of the horses and in the beards of the men. All night sheetlightning quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a bluish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geography was not stone but fear.”

Again, when I re-create my book page, I will post a small review.

A Small World Experience

Today I took advantage of a gift certificate and went to the local bookstore for my weekly fix. I picked up a couple of collections of Roger Zelazny’s short stories, and a copy of Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin .

This particular edition was translated by Douglas Hofstadter. As I was checking out, the clerk froze for a moment, then spun Eugene Onegin around and said “Why this edition of this book?” I mentioned my recent Hofstadter spree, and the clerk — who spoke with a very slight accent which might have been French — said he had helped with the translation, and had worked with Hofstadter on one of his other books, Le Ton Beau De Marot : In Praise of the Music of Language.

So now I am only one degree of separation from Hofstadter. Well, one degree and about ten thousand IQ points…

If you look to the right you will see a link to a page where I have collected all of the book references which I post on this site. I expect to have reviews up soon.

Ellipsis

I have been crazy busy at work. A project which we started this past Thursday needs to be finished tomorrow night. This will not be a problem. I am just that good.

Nothing new to report of the memetics front, other than this: Have you ever noticed that when you develop an interest in something, that something seems to pop up all over the place? I am reading The Cassini Division by Ken MacLeod, wherein memetic viruses are used as a kind of instant post-hypnotic suggestion to either frighten enemies or keep servants in line. And get this: They seem to be transmitted by ‘swirling patterns’ on the hulls of ships, or in visual broadcasts. Could they be using archetypal symbols to cause this effect?

In other news my two Hofstader books ( Metamagical Themas and Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies ) have arrived. I started reading FCCA yesterday.

The chapter titled “To Seek Whence Cometh a Sequence” explores the methods by which patterns are recognized, and the processes we use to extend those patterns beyond the information we are given. The idea being, I suppose, that what humans and computers consider meaningful are not at all the same thing. If I see a sequence {1,2,3,5,7,11,13} I know from experience that these are prime numbers. A computer doesn’t care if they are prime numbers. It won’t discover that they are primes unless we ask it to test the sequence for the possibility that they are primes.

And that is the fundamental conceptual stumbling block in building a thinking machine. Computers don’t out of habit, attach significance to symbols. Things are not “interesting”. They don’t have subconscious biases toward recognizing familiar patterns.

Or maybe they do. What do I know?

Schrodinger’s God

Added a couple of links to the LINKS page. See if you can guess which ones.

Participated in a long discussion over at Something Awful a few days ago, concerning “The Worst Modern Religion”. To sum up the entire fourteen-page, two-hundred-post-plus shebang, I posted, on or around page nine, words to the effect that there are no arguments to be had, either for or against the the existence of God, which are not either self-referential, or self-contradictory, or both. In a weird inversion of the Schrodinger’s Cat problem, God neither exists nor doesn’t exist until we die.

Schrodinger’s God. Has a nice ring to it

The Meme Machine is turning out to be a damn fine read. What started out as a simple inquiry into the use of memetics in the manipulation of the Social/Information sphere is quickly branching out in several fascinating directions. The most compelling/disturbing option is probably the one which hints that memes, being essentially metaphors and therefore symbols, may exist at any point up and down the spectrum of consciousness (cf. Ken Wilber). Therefore it is possible that memetics could operate on the level of the Jungian Archetype/racial memory, with the very real effect that a meme, a product of the information sphere, could directly affect the physical body of the recipient. This idea was used to some effect in Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson), and may be witnessed in the occasional health-destroying nervous breakdowns of those who allow conscious mental stress to bleed over into unconscious/autonomous biological systems.

The flip side of this is the use of memes and memeplexes (memeplexi?) to essentially hard-wire behavior into individuals or groups. A suitable subtle, deep-reaching meme could cause changes in behavior which lead to changed in physical ability, either enhancements or regressions. While these changes would obviously not happen at the genetic level, they could easily be passed as viral information from generation to generation. Couple this to a shift in consensual reality and something resembling a cult may arise.

The use of memetics in conjunction with a deep understanding of levels of psychology could therefore be extremely powerful. One could develop the ability to directly access and manipulate the archetypal/symbolic core of a society.

Frightening

Now I need to grab yet another book:The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. I am rapidly running out of room at my desk.

In With the New

I am putting together my first reading list of the year. The theme, I think, is Social Patterns in the Infosphere. Here is a short list:

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson
Godel, Escher, Bach by Dougles R. Hofstadter
The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore
Flesh Machine by the Critical Art Ensemble
Eye to Eye, by Ken Wilber

I am not sure what I am looking for, exactly, but somehow, I think these books point to it. And most likely to other books.