Strategy, Tactics, Operations and Doctrine: A decision-language tutorial

Note: the ideas in this post have been significantly refined and turned into a book. The treatment here is somewhat obsolete as a result, but the spirit of my revised arguments remain the same.

Suppose a job candidate walks into your office and hands you a resume. It proclaims, “strategic, systems thinker.” You wince, and almost throw her out right there, but since other parts of her resume look promising, you decide to give her a chance and proceed with the interview. Now ask yourself, how would you actually probe if there is any substance behind the candidate’s claim to strategic abilities? Here is a very good answer: ask the candidate to tell a story. Not any old story, but a relevant one, like how she views the history of development of her field. Or how she views her own personal trajectory. If you can’t figure out why this is an excellent question, read on.

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Digital Philosophy II: Are Cellular Automata Important?

The assertion that the universe is a computer (or rather, a computation) might seem like an egregious category error — computers after all are things made from the ‘stuff’ of the universe. To take digital philosophy seriously we need to get past this non-trivial barrier to comprehension. The idea is that computation is not a metaphor for the universe, nor is the physical evolution of the universe analogous to computation. The idea is that the universe can be said to be a gigantic ongoing computation just as it can be said to be a bunch of particles interacting energetically via some laws. In the first part of this series, we looked at the prerequisite idea that the continuum (or real line) might not be so real. In the next part, we’ll get to the latest ideas, from quantum computing scientists like Seth Lloyd. But before we get there, we need to talk about Von Neumann, Stephen Wolfram and Cellular Automata, an approach to digital philosophy (and physics) that I think is wrong, but nevertheless very illuminating.

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Meditations on Cataloging the Telluride Library

In the winter of 2001, for a variety of deep and compelling reasons, I found myself faced with the prospect of spending yet another vacation alone in Ann Arbor. Having previously learned everything that being miserable and bored has to teach, I doughtily resolved to explore other dimensions of enforced solitude. So, with an inspiring vision of myself as a latter-day Thoreau in mind, I made myself a plan for living a life of soul-cleansing monastic discipline within the confines of Telluride house for two weeks. [Read more…]

Digital Philosophy – I: The Real is Unreal

In a previous article, I reviewed some of the troubles ailing superstring theory, as chronicled by two prominent and articulate discontents. Among the more radical suggestions for fixing physics is to get away from continuous models altogether and ask if the universe is fundamentally a discrete entity in some way. Proponents of this view — called digital physics or nearly-equivalently, digital philosophy— take on not one but two terrifying tasks. Not only must they reconstruct centuries of physics built on top of calculus (a fundamentally continuous sort of math) but to finish the job at a satisfying level, take on continuum mathematics itself and reconstruct it in discrete terms. The debate has relevance even further afield, to questions about the nature of consciousness. I’ll talk about three books that develop this approach in an accessible manner, and about one formidable one that I think confuses the issues in pointless distracting ways.

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The Parrot

This piece was written in Ithaca, in 2005, and is as accurate a phenomenological report of an actual mental response to real events as I am capable of. At the time I thought — and still do — that a very careful observation of your own thoughts as you react to sensory input is a very useful thing. Not quite meditation. Call it meditative observation. Stylistically, it is inspired by Camus.

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Breadth-Depth Metaphors and Beyond

We commonly use a set of dynamic spatio-temporal orientation and observation conceptual metaphors to talk about knowledge, its communal organization, and individual styles of knowing. We use depth-versus-breadth to talk about track records and abilities, “long-term” versus “short-term” (and “upstream/downstream”) to talk about intentions and decision-making, and “big-picture” versus “details” to talk about the scopes of discourses. All these will come up for critique and more analysis as I continue developing the themes of this blog. But I want to start off this fresh new week with a question for you to ponder: how do you organize your view of knowledge, and how much faith do you have in your organization?

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Framing the Consciousness Debates

What David Chalmers calls the “Hard Problem” of consciousness has been among the main reasons I started this blog. If you view it honestly, it is the last remaining fundamental mystery and, were I to be as extreme as Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus, I would go so far as to label it the only problem worth studying (Camus said that about suicide though). I meant to segue into this topic slowly, by first posting reviews of a bunch of relevant books as anchor points for my views, but blog readers have an unsettling habit of jumping the gun, and derailing the best-laid roll-out plan with untidy comments. So here we go. I’ll frame and circumscribe my approach, state my axiomatic commitments, bluntly partition the landscape into the relevant and irrelevant, and we’ll get set for exploring the Last Great Mystery.

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The Third Dimension is Not Simple

Ever since Einstein got us thinking about the fourth dimension and string theorists got us worried about ten and eleven dimensions, we have not really given serious thought to the mundane old third dimension. Several things, ranging from the emerging three-dimensional Internet over at Second Life, to the delightful modern religion of Parkour and the Nintendo Wii controller, have made me think seriously about the third dimension in recent weeks. It isn’t just badly-developed characters in movies and books that are two dimensional — you and I are as well, in fundamental ways.

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Harry Potter and the Concept of Magic

The upcoming end of the Harry Potter series demands piggyback attention, especially from a new blog like mine. Since I have been talking lately about concepts and definitions using toy examples from geometry, I thought I’d take on a more complex concept: magic. In this first of a series of posts aimed squarely at piggybacking the Potter phenomenon, I’ll attempt a definition of the concept of magic that explains why we delight in imagined realities that depend on it.

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How to Define Concepts

Let us say you are the sort of thoughtful (or idle) person who occasionally wonders about the meaning of everyday concepts. So there you are, at the fair, laughing at yourself in a concave mirror, when suddenly it hits you. You don’t really know what “concave” means. You just recall vague ideas of concave and convex lenses and mirrors from high school and using the term in general conversation to describe certain shapes. So you decide to figure out a definition.

What do you? How do you make up a definition? Let’s get you into some trouble.

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