Saturday, December 29, 2007

What isn't Science?

Growing up one of my favourite books was "The Five Biggest Ideas in Science." They are: physics' model of the atom, chemistry's periodic law, the big bang, plate tectonics, and evolution. It struck me recently that only the first two of these were the result of experimentation. That is to say they are big ideas in science, though they may not be ideas of science.

Darwin had been studying plate tectonics when he took his voyage on the HMS Beagle. That helped instill the idea that things change slowly over time. As he toured the islands of South America he made meticulous observations that came to help him develop his ideas of evolution.

I would be hard pressed to call what Darwin did 'science'. Is it science because his work was meticulous? I have known meticulous biblical scholars and historians. They are not scientists. Is it science because it applies to life/biology? The bible has something to say about where life came from but is certainly not science. Is it science because he was right? I know it is creeping into our culture that science has a monopoly on truth, but we all know that isn't so. Nor do I believe that any combination of the above qualifications are sufficient for science.

There are many ways to investigate the world. Science is one of them. Dogmatism is another. But there seems to be room for yet another. I like to call it relational analysis. That method of investigation that is rooted in observation and theory, is open to revision, but lacks the experimentation, the transparency and repeatability of science. This would include that which Darwin did on the Galapagos Islands.

Perhaps he was doing philosophy. His thoughts were a delicate balance between the empiricism of science and the rationalism of philosophy. I would like to think that science is a form of relational analysis, is a form of philosophy.

I have already contrasted it with science in that it doesn't use experimentation. If you consider the experiment as the highest quality observation, you can say relational analysis makes use of quantity.

As science is one form of relational analysis, the questions of science are a subset of the questions of relational analysis. Relational analysis can also be concerned with other relationships that do not lend themselves to scientific inquiry. "How do the books I read affect how I interact with my family?" This question is important, but far too specific to qualify for laboratory time. However, casual observations over time can reveal deep insight into this question and thus how to tweak family relationships by wisely choosing literature and an appropriate amount of reading time. Questions like "What sort of citizen make for a stable society?" are far too general to get a handle on with science. Relational analysis can help give science a starting point.

It is possible for people to not do relational analysis as it is possible for people to not do science or philosophy. Some people do not trust themselves to interpret the world around them, and leave it to others to figure out what is going on. Others believe they have figured out what is going on and are no longer revising their paradigms. Still others believe the world cannot be understood and don't try.

As one can do science, philosophy and theology poorly, one can be a poor relational analyst. A trailing indicator of a good analyst would be whether they have health, happiness and influence. The leading indicators would be the types of observations they make and how they are synthesized into theories. Do they weight history to heavily, or too lightly? Do they under or over generalize? Do they focus on non-essential elements? These are all leading indicators of a quality analyst.

While it is possible to do relational analysis rigorously it is unnecessary. Narrative is a really good tool to develop analyst skills. Internalizing narratives, fantastic, absurd or true to life, help one to grow a vocabulary of natural mechanisms that can be extrapolated to the real world and help make sense of it. And in the end that is what it is really all about.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Obama’s Digital Policy

Syndicated from Freedom to Tinker

The Iowa caucuses, less than a week away, will kick off the briefest and most intense series of presidential primaries in recent history. That makes it a good time to check in on what the candidates are saying about digital technologies. Between now and February 5th (the 23-state tsunami of primaries that may well resolve the major party nominations), we’ll be taking a look.

First up: Barack Obama.
(Read More)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Trust Chaining

I might finally get a chance to use it. Trust Chaining is an idea I had a few years ago during my West Wing phase. I was big on political theory, governance and public policy.

One of the things that didn't make sense to me was why people wouldn't vote. I knew so many people who told me they didn't vote but couldn't give me a reason as to why. Out of frustration I said 'If you're not going to use your vote, do you mind if I do?' And there it was born.

The idea is to let people vote for anybody they want. When I vote for you, you then are given the power of my vote, and all others that voted for you. As each person votes for somebody they trust that is slightly more informed than they were, there is a chain created from the people to an informed decision that reflects their interests.

I know you are squeamish about the idea. So is everybody else. Until they consider themselves having to be represented by somebody they don't know, rather than somebody they have a long trusting history with.

And since you asked, no I am not so naive to think there aren't a few technical issues. I'm sure you can think of a few. I have a plan for all that I have thought of and all that have been brought to my attention. There are a lot, and I won't get into them now.

I would really like to see it put into action. Most know that there is a need for something a little more nuanced than what we currently use to make collective decisions. I would really like to see how Trust Chaining stacks up against other solutions.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Recommended Viewing - Story of Stuff

full movie link

The entire presentation is so simple it really is a testament to the power of minimalism. I wouldn't be surprised to find she was wearing homespun hemp.

It is a brilliant introduction to the vocabulary we need to talk about this sort of stuff. If you don't have to words how do you talk about fixing it?

She talks about:
]|[ Materials economy
]|[ Planned obsolescence
]|[ Perceived obsolescence
]|[ Externalized costs and more.

If you are looking for the meat of the information it is all neatly documented in the annotated script in the resources section. Also be sure to check out the blog and subscribe to the feed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I am Legend Review

Intro: A news cast explaining how cancer had been cured by re-engineering a virus. Then a flash to the post-apocalyptic New York City. From the peanut gallery a voice rang out, "Maybe they should bring back cancer!" The entire theater laughed. It was a good initiation into the humorously sincere sci-fi film. It was too bad the guy next to me took it as a license to editorialize the rest of the movie.

Writer, Mark Protosevich, made really good use of Smith. The quiet drama. The syncopated humor. Exactly what you would expect from a Smith film. What I didn't expect was the treatment of time. Protosevich interplayed the back story with the main line in a way that most wouldn't have, but it was effective.

What I really liked about the writing was the use of the volume of literature that has been generated about "I am Legend". Protosevich used it all, but he used it to tell a minimal narrative that was rich in imagery. He didn't feel the need to tell all of the stories, but rather he let a few subtle details find their way into the background. It was an excuse to really engage yourself in the environment.

There was also an unconventional depiction of the zombies. They weren't the typical mindless automatons. They were intelligent and innovative, if not resourceful. It spoke of the new world paradigm that an enemy to be defeated must be respected.

I recommend this film to those that appreciate sincere story telling. Yes, there are zombies and action sequences, but it always comes back to an honest examination of Robert Neville.

Super Mario Forever

Watch, laugh, play.

Game: Rom and JNes Emulator in WinRar Archive
WinRar: To open WinRar Archive

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Philosophical Node

It is not uncommon for anybody to be faced with the situation to want something they can't have. For whatever reason many go through life without the things they want most. When I see these things I can't have I am often tempted to wish I could step outside of the reality that is keeping us apart and take it.

I see big screen TV's, mobile electronics, clothes, books and wonder why I can't have them. Then, conversely, I sometimes wonder why I have the things I do.

A way that helps me to understand both questions is the idea of the philosophical node.

To understand the philosophical node imagine you cannot leave your house. Even more, other people cannot come into your home. Your only method of communication is the phone. Now you know what a node is. It is a communication station. You can send messages out, others can send messages in. And you can make records of all communications, in and out.

Imagine further now. You are a very rich person. You can make calls to people and get them to do anything you need. They can bring things to the house for you, they can take things away for you, they can tell you what is happening outside of the house, or anything else you tell them to do.

As you spend money you also need to earn money. If you don't you will eventually not be able to get people to bring you food. You learn to earn money over the phone too. You could do this by trading stocks. You could do this by consulting on various types of issues. There are unlimited ways you could do this.

I am getting close having you in the mindset I am hoping for. There is just one more alteration that needs to be made to the illustration. Your windows are frosted over and you cannot see outside of the house.

You now have four channels of interaction with the outside world: your bank account, your phone, delivery, and pick up. It may seem like a strange sort of existence, but you might be surprised to know that you are doing it now. So to speak.

This house is you.

Your bank account represents everything you own including your real bank account. Pick up and delivery represent various bodily functions. The speaker on the phone is analogous to your senses. And you in the house is similar to your mind or spirit (please ignore the recursion).

I go to my house occasionally to help me answer questions about my assumptions and prejudices. What you can do by living in this house for a while is understand your perception. Consider how while in your house you get phone calls and use them to create an image of what is happening outside of your home.

I find it interesting that a person without a phone book in their house will behave very differently than one that does. A person who knows short hand will behave differently than one that doesn't. Seemingly small things that will have very large effects on how the four channels of interaction will connect with the world outside.

To connect back to my opening point, having or not having what you want is a larger effect of these patterns of interactions. What you have access to, and what you don't, happens because of the resources in your house. Understanding what is getting in the way, what resources you lack, and how to use what you have are ways to create new ways of interacting with the world outside.