Thursday, May 17, 2007

11 New Senses

Mixed Feelings - Wired

Grant Morrison wrote a fifth-week event for DC called DC One Million, wherein the characters from a supposed 'one millionth' issue of the series interacted with contemporary characters. What was so interesting though wasn't the characters themselves but the telling of new senses opening up to the human mind some eighty thousand years in the future. I've tried to think about what a new sense would be like but I keep translating any thought into an existing sense. What I try to do is nigh impossible for the human mind, to imagine something that has no previous frame of reference. We have trouble imagining a new sense because we rework any data of such a new sense into the framework of our old ones. How do you explain vision to a blind person, or sound to a deaf person? It's outside of their basic knowledge. They can only interpret that kind of information through their existing senses. But just imagine that there is phenomena out there which we can't sense right now but could in the future. God I love this stuff.

Seeing Red

Ceiling Height Can Affect How a Person Thinks, Feels, Acts - Science Daily

I have ten foot ceilings in my house and lots of windows in my room specifically. I like a lot of open space and my mind tends to think that way as well. To top it off, I consciously chose my current wall color (ruby red with a semi-gloss finish) as a representation of my mind. Not that I'm seeing red but that I want shiny fierce thoughts.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Offloading Your Brain

Shaping the Future - Charlie Stross

I'm being lazy and not reading the entirety of Stross's speech but thought it was an interesting tidbit nevertheless. The U.S. has long led the rest of the world in information trading. The idea that we could eventually carry around devices that are customized for our individual way of thinking is quite revolutionary. It's not so much that we could carry around that load of information but that we would have programs that understand how our brains work. I joke about being the back-up brain for a friend of mine, knowing what she is talking about even if she doesn't remember the exact words, but a device like this would become a constant back-up brain. We, as a species, have always found new tools to enhance our natural abilities but we are coming to a point where we are creating tools that enhance our minds in a very direct manner. I like this.

Informational Experience

Web 2.0 Distracts from 'Good Design' - BBC

Part of the problem with Web 2.0 is that there are many people out there who understand the fundamentals of user-generated content design but there are far more who don't understand how to present a web page that takes full advantage of the Web 2.0 idea. Customization is all well and good if it provides a good user experience but when the design is more focused on customization versus content delivery then the user will feel lost. However, I don't think the entire problem rests with web design per se but also with the accustomed way users search and use content. Web 2.0 and the coming Web 3.0 revolution will, I think, produce a series of new ways users interact with content. But this requires as much a change in user perception as it does web design. A lot of site will get this wrong and a lot of users will misunderstand the design. My fear is that if too many sites offer poor designs then users will become disinclined to adopt new search and content manipulation techniques. Web 2.0 and 3.0 have a lot of potential to radically change the way people think about information. But if web designers don't take user perceptions into account then the whole thing could fall flat. If done wrong, Web 2.0 will become just another lost opportunity and I do not want to see this happen.

The Rebel

Revolt on the Way? - Bradford Plummer, The Plank

I think the month of September will prove spectacularly interesting. If the generals on the ground are beginning to realize they can actually ask for what they need then you might have a growing noise coming out of Iraq that reinforces the perception that the war is lost. It's not that I believe the general can't pull a victory out, it's simply that I don't believe the Bush administration will put the necessary resources into such a victory. To ask more from the American public at this point is inviting active revolt.

Comment Abuse

Enabling Hate-Mongers - Tom Gruisich, WaPo

Online anonymity is an interesting issue for the moment. I've noticed a rise in the calls for people to use their real names on message boards and blog comments in recent months. Gruisich here seems to get some of the balancing act that board moderators and bloggers are wrangling with. How does one deal with trolls, sock-puppetry and other forms of comment abuse? Calling for the use of real names is one means but I don't think it is a universal solution. What I think we will see in the future is a informal segregation of boards between those who allow anonymous posters and those who request the use of real names. Personally, I don't see a problem with such an arrangement. I continue to use the analogy of the English coffeehouses of the seventeenth century and their use of posted rules. Each coffeehouse would have their own set of rules that those who entered the coffeehouse had to obey. No one was really prevented from going to as many coffeehouses at they wanted to and if the conversation in one place was dull then they could move on. I think what we will see with the issue of abusive comments is the marketplace of ideas come into full effect. Those moderators who are too persnickety will chase off most commentators while those who hardly moderate at all will invite only the worst of the worst. The market will shift most people into a sort of middle ground while the fringes will still exist and still cater to an extreme element. No one gets locked out but you see a shifting of voices that flattens out the shrill extremes while accentuating the measured center. I don't think I will have a problem with this.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Contradictory Nature

After reading Camus' The Rebel many years ago I was struck by the contradictory balance Camus imposes on the concepts of justice and freedom. Camus was arguing that no one could legitimize murder and used the examples of revolutionaries and rebels to illustrate his point. Particularly with the French Revolution, murder was frequently employed in the name of preservation of the state. Absolute justice is what Camus called it. At the same time, Camus points to the surrealists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to note how absolute freedom leads to the same murderous result. At either extreme you have an absolute Yes or an absolute No. For the man who says Yes to everything he cannot then deny someone the right to murder. For the man who says No to everything murder becomes the best means to ensure that all laws are followed. Of course, Camus doesn't buy any of this. Instead, Camus argues that either extreme leads to a moral and logical fallacy. To say Yes or No to everything is to say its opposite as well. It's a tautology where Yes=No and No=Yes because there isn't any discernible difference between the two at that point. You need the ability to say Yes or No. In other words, you need a value system.
With the concepts of justice and freedom, Camus argues that you must maintain both, for freedom without justice is anarchy where everything is permitted and justice without freedom is tyranny where nothing is permitted. It's this contradictory balance that I find fascinating. For the human condition, this contradiction is one of those subtle ways that I believe one can witness the divine. I don't believe that nature or physics is contradictory. And yet, we have minds that continually uncover contradictions. Our minds hold both rational and irrational thoughts, our lives are filled with logical and illogical aspects, and we are still able to get up in the morning. For physics, there are instances of apparent contradictions but I believe this is simply an example of where our minds can't quite cope with the concept. The wave-particle duality of light, the Schrödinger's Cat question, the very idea of virtual particles, all of these examples are instances of apparent contradictions but they do have rules and logic.
The whole point of these apparent contradictions, the contradictory balance that Camus strikes between freedom and justice, is that our minds can only deal with so much. My personal belief is that such contradictions are necessary in the Wittgensteinian sense of showing the fly the way out of the flybottle. They are ways to break us out of our natural human logic and see something differently.