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Salvador Dalí with anteater Paris 1969

I don’t do drugs. I am drugs” ~ Salvador Dalí.

The photo, which dates from 1969, depicts the 65-year-old Catalan surrealist Salvador Dalí emerging from a Paris subway station led by his trusty giant anteater. Surrealism‘s aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.” Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. [from Wikipedia, link above].

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Baudrillard Simulacra and Simulation 1981 book

According to Baudrillard, Simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original. While, Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. “Simulacres et Simulation” is a 1981 philosophical treatise by Jean Baudrillard seeking to interrogate the relationship among reality, symbols, and society:

[…] Simulacra and Simulation is most known for its discussion of symbols, signs, and how they relate to contemporaneity (simultaneous existences). Baudrillard claims that our current society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience is of a simulation of reality. Moreover, these simulacra are not merely mediations of reality, nor even deceptive mediations of reality; they are not based in a reality nor do they hide a reality, they simply hide that anything like reality is relevant to our current understanding of our lives. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the significations and symbolism of culture and media that construct perceived reality, the acquired understanding by which our lives and shared existence is and are rendered legible; Baudrillard believed that society has become so saturated with these simulacra and our lives so saturated with the constructs of society that all meaning was being rendered meaningless by being infinitely mutable. Baudrillard called this phenomenon the “precession of simulacra”. […] (from Wikipedia)

Simulacra and Simulation” is definitely one of my best summer holiday readings I had this year. There are several connections to areas like Collective Intelligence and Perception, even Self-Organization as the dynamic and entangled use of symbols and signals, are recurrent on all these areas. Questions like the territory (cultural habitats) and metamorphose are also aborded. The book is an interesting source of new questions and thinking about our digital society, for people working on related areas such as Digital Media, Computer Simulation, Information Theory, Information and Entropy, Augmented Reality, Social Computation and related paradigms. I have read it in English for free [PDF] from a Georgetown Univ. link, here.

Oscar Niemeyer  by Ludovic Lent

Photo – Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) photographed by Ludovic Lent for L’Express, France.

First were the thick stone walls, the arches, then the domes and vaults – of the architect, searching out for wider spaces. Now it is concrete-reinforced that gives our imagination flight with its soaring spans and uncommon cantilevers. Concrete, to which architecture is integrated, through which it is able to discard the foregone conclusions of rationalism, with its monotony and repetitious solutions. A concern for beauty, a zest for fantasy, and an ever-present element of surprise bear witness that today’s architecture is not a minor craft bound to straight-edge rules, but an architecture imbued with technology: light, creative and unfettered, seeking out its architectural scene.” ~ Oscar Niemeyer, acceptance speech, Pritzker Architecture Prize (1988).

Fig. – (book cover) “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software” (additional link) is a book written by media theorist Steven Berlin Johnson, published in 2001,  Scribner. New York, NY.

The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffee houses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle; reinvent. Build a tangled bank.” — Steven Johnson.

What bothers us about primordial beauty is that it is no longer characteristic. Unspoiled places sadden us because they are, in an important sense, no longer true.” – Robert Adams.

Living and working mostly in Colorado for nearly 30 years, Robert Adams was mostly concerned about a palimpsest of alterations, unfolding in front of his camera in plain western America. Even if unperceivable for so many, the landscape in turmoil was his medium. And it was there, he found out what beauty is not. In 1975, New Topographics encapsulated an evolving Man-altered landscape in an exhibition that end-up by signalling a pivotal key moment in American landscape photography. His sensibility and aesthetic approach remains pertinent today among us. One needs to only replace random and lost inanimate landscapes with random lonely people.

Recent research have increasingly being focused on the relationship between Human-Human interaction, social networks (no, not the Facebook) and other Human-activity areas, like health. Nicholas Christakis (Harvard Univ. research link) points us that, people are inter-connected, and so as well, their health is inter-connected. This research engages two types of phenomena: the social, mathematical, and biological rules governing how social networks form (“Connection“) and the biological and social implications of how they operate to influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviours (“Contagion“), as in the self-organized stigmergy-like dynamics of Cognitive Collective Perception (link).

Above, Nicholas Christakis (in a 56m. documentary lecture produced by The Floating University, Sept. 2011) discusses the obvious tension and delicate balance between agency (one individual choices and actions) and structure (our collective responsibility), where here, structure refers not only to our co-evolving dynamic societal environment as well as to the permanent unfolding entangled nature of topological structure on complex networks, such as in human-human social networks, while asking: If you’re so free, why do you follow others? The documentary (YouTube link) resume states:

If you think you’re in complete control of your destiny or even your own actions, you’re wrong. Every choice you make, every behaviour you exhibit, and even every desire you have finds its roots in the social universe. Nicholas Christakis explains why individual actions are inextricably linked to sociological pressures; whether you’re absorbing altruism performed by someone you’ll never meet or deciding to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, collective phenomena affect every aspect of your life. By the end of the lecture Christakis has revealed a startling new way to understand the world that ranks sociology as one of the most vitally important social sciences.”

While cooperation is central to the success of human societies and is widespread, cooperation in itself, however, poses a challenge in both the social and biological sciences: How can this high level of cooperation be maintained in the face of possible exploitation? One answer involves networked interactions and population structure.

As perceived, the balance between homophily (where “birds of a feather flock together”) and heterophily (one where most of genotypes are negatively correlated), do requires further research. In fact, in humans, one of the most replicated findings in the social sciences is that people tend to associate with other people that they resemble, a process precisely known as homophily. As Christakis points out, although phenotypic resemblance between friends might partly reflect the operation of social influence, our genotypes are not materially susceptible to change. Therefore, genotypic resemblance could result only from a process of selection. Such genotypic selection might in turn take several forms. For short, let me stress you two examples. What follows are two papers, as well as a quick reference (image below) to a recent general-audience of his books:

1) Rewiring your network fosters cooperation:

“Human populations are both highly cooperative and highly organized. Human interactions are not random but rather are structured in social networks. Importantly, ties in these networks often are dynamic, changing in response to the behavior of one’s social partners. This dynamic structure permits an important form of conditional action that has been explored theoretically but has received little empirical attention: People can respond to the cooperation and defection of those around them by making or breaking network links. Here, we present experimental evidence of the power of using strategic link formation and dissolution, and the network modification it entails, to stabilize cooperation in sizable groups. Our experiments explore large-scale cooperation, where subjects’ cooperative actions are equally beneficial to all those with whom they interact. Consistent with previous research, we find that cooperation decays over time when social networks are shuffled randomly every round or are fixed across all rounds. We also find that, when networks are dynamic but are updated only infrequently, cooperation again fails. However, when subjects can update their network connections frequently, we see a qualitatively different outcome: Cooperation is maintained at a high level through network rewiring. Subjects preferentially break links with defectors and form new links with cooperators, creating an incentive to cooperate and leading to substantial changes in network structure. Our experiments confirm the predictions of a set of evolutionary game theoretic models and demonstrate the important role that dynamic social networks can play in supporting large-scale human cooperation.”, abstract in D.G. Rand, S. Arbesman, and N.A. Christakis, “Dynamic Social Networks Promote Cooperation in Experiments with Humans,” PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (October 2011). [full PDF];

Picture – (book cover) Along with James Fowler, Christakis has authored also a general-audience book on social networks: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, 2011 (book link). For a recent book review, access here.

2) We are surrounded by a sea of our friends’ genes:

“It is well known that humans tend to associate with other humans who have similar characteristics, but it is unclear whether this tendency has consequences for the distribution of genotypes in a population. Although geneticists have shown that populations tend to stratify genetically, this process results from geographic sorting or assortative mating, and it is unknown whether genotypes may be correlated as a consequence of nonreproductive associations or other processes. Here, we study six available genotypes from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to test for genetic similarity between friends. Maps of the friendship networks show clustering of genotypes and, after we apply strict controls for population strati!cation, the results show that one genotype is positively correlated (homophily) and one genotype is negatively correlated (heterophily). A replication study in an independent sample from the Framingham Heart Study veri!es that DRD2 exhibits signi!cant homophily and that CYP2A6 exhibits signi!cant heterophily. These unique results show that homophily and heterophily obtain on a genetic (indeed, an allelic) level, which has implications for the study of population genetics and social behavior. In particular, the results suggest that association tests should include friends’ genes and that theories of evolution should take into account the fact that humans might, in some sense, be metagenomic with respect to the humans around them.”, abstract in J.H. Fowler, J.E. Settle, and N.A. Christakis, “Correlated Genotypes in Friendship Networks,” PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (January 2011). [full PDF].

How wings are attached to the backs of Angels, Craig Welsh (1996) – Production by the National Film Board of Canada (nfb.ca): In this surreal exposition, we meet a man, obsessed with control. His intricate gadgets manipulate yet insulate, as his science dissects and reduces. How exactly are wings attached to the back of angels? In this invented world drained of emotion, where everything goes through the motions, he is brushed by indefinite longings. Whether he can transcend his obsessions and fears is the heart of the matter (from Vimeo).

Figure (click to enlarge) – Time dependence of FAO Food Price Index from January 2004 to May 2011. Red dashed vertical lines correspond to beginning dates of “food riots” and protests associated with the major recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. The overall death toll is reported in parentheses [26-55]. Blue vertical line indicates the date, December 13, 2010, on which we submitted a report to the U.S. government, warning of the link between food prices, social unrest and political instability [56]. Inset shows FAO Food Price Index from 1990 to 2011. [From arXiv:1108.2455, page 3]

Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” ~ Aristotle.

By crossing data on food price, and food price peaks with an ongoing trend of increasing prices, as well as the date of riots around the world, 3 of my colleagues at NECSI – the New England Complex Systems Institute (link), Boston,  found out a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely. By doing so, unveiled a model that accurately explained why the waves of unrest that swept the world in 2008 and 2011 crashed when they did. That was the past. NECSI team however, expects a perilous trend in rising food prices to continue (link). Even before the extreme weather scrambled food prices this year, their 2011 report predicted that the next great breach would occur in August 2013, and that the risk of more worldwide rioting would follow. So, if trends hold, these complex systems model say we’re less than one year and counting from a fireball of global unrest riots.

The abstract and PDF link into their work follows:

[…] Social unrest may reflect a variety of factors such as poverty, unemployment, and social injustice. Despite the many possible contributing factors, the timing of violent protests in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food prices. We identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely. These observations suggest that protests may reflect not only long-standing political failings of governments, but also the sudden desperate straits of vulnerable populations. If food prices remain high, there is likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption. Underlying the food price peaks we also found an ongoing trend of increasing prices. We extrapolate these trends and identify a crossing point to the domain of high impacts, even without price peaks, in 2012-2013. This implies that avoiding global food crises and associated social unrest requires rapid and concerted action. […] in Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand and Yaneer Bar-Yam, “The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East“, arXiv:1108.2455, August 10, 2011. [PDF link]

Photo – Rover’s Self Portrait (link): this Picasso-like self portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover was taken by its Navigation cameras, located on the now-upright mast. The camera snapped pictures 360-degrees around the rover, while pointing down at the rover deck, up and straight ahead. Those images are shown here in a polar projection. Most of the tiles are thumbnails, or small copies of the full-resolution images that have not been sent back to Earth yet. Two of the tiles are full-resolution. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (August, 9, 2012). [6000 x 4500 full size link].

video – tshirtOS is the world’s first wearable, shareable, programmable t-shirt. A working, digital t-shirt that can be programmed by an iOS app to do whatever you can think of (by CuteCircuit, link).

It takes you 500,000 microseconds just to click a mouse. But if you’re a Wall Street algorithm and you’re five microseconds behind, you’re a loser.” ~ Kevin Slavin.

TED video lecture – Kevin Slavin (link) argues that we’re living in a world designed for – and increasingly controlled by – algorithms. In this riveting talk from TEDGlobal, he shows how these complex computer programs determine: espionage tactics, stock prices, movie scripts, and architecture. And he warns that we are writing code we can’t understand, with implications we can’t control. Kevin Slavin navigates in the “algoworld“, the expanding space in our lives that’s determined and run by algorithms (link at TED).

Figure (clik to enlarge) – Applying P(0)=0.6; r=4; N=100000; for(n=0;n<=N;n++) { P(n+1)=r*P(n)*(1-P(n)); } Robert May Population Dynamics equation [1974-76] (do check on Logistic maps) for several iterations (generations). After 780 iterations, P is attracted to 1 (max. population), and then suddenly, for the next generations the very same population is almost extinguish.

Not only in research, but also in the everyday world of politics and economics, we would all be better off if more people realised that simple non-linear systems do not necessarily possess simple dynamical properties.” ~ Robert M. May, “Simple Mathematical models with very complicated Dynamics”, Nature, Vol. 261, p.459, June 10, 1976.

(…) The fact that the simple and deterministic equation (1) can possess dynamical trajectories which look like some sort of random noise has disturbing practical implications. It means, for example, that apparently erratic fluctuations in the census data for an animal population need not necessarily betoken either the vagaries of an unpredictable environment or sampling errors: they may simply derive from a rigidly deterministic population growth relationship such as equation (1). This point is discussed more fully and carefully elsewhere [1]. Alternatively, it may be observed that in the chaotic regime arbitrarily close initial conditions can lead to trajectories which, after a sufficiently long time, diverge widely. This means that, even if we have a simple model in which all the parameters are determined exactly, long term prediction is nevertheless impossible. In a meteorological context, Lorenz [15] has called this general phenomenon the “butterfly effect“: even if the atmosphere could be described by a deterministic model in which all parameters were known, the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings could alter the initial conditions, and thus (in the chaotic regime) alter the long term prediction. Fluid turbulence provides a classic example where, as a parameter (the Reynolds number) is tuned in a set of deterministic equations (the Navier-Stokes equations), the motion can undergo an abrupt transition from some stable configuration (for example, laminar flow) into an apparently stochastic, chaotic regime. Various models, based on the Navier-Stokes differential equations, have been proposed as mathematical metaphors for this process [15,40,41] . In a recent review of the theory of turbulence, Martin [42] has observed that the one-dimensional difference equation (1) may be useful in this context. Compared with the earlier models [15,40,41] it has the disadvantage of being even more abstractly metaphorical, and the advantage of having a spectrum of dynamical behaviour which is more richly complicated yet more amenable to analytical investigation. A more down-to-earth application is possible in the use of equation (1) to fit data [1,2,3,38,39,43] on biological populations with discrete, non-overlapping generations, as is the case for many temperate zone arthropods. (…) in pp. 13-14, Robert M. May, “Simple Mathematical models with very complicated Dynamics“, Nature, Vol. 261, p.459, June 10, 1976 [PDF link].

Video Documentary – Code Rush (www.clickmovement.org/coderush), produced in 2000 and broadcast on PBS, is an inside look at living and working in Silicon Valley at the height of the dot-com era. The film follows a group of Netscape engineers as they pursue at that time a revolutionary venture to save their company – giving away the software recipe for Netscape’s browser in exchange for integrating improvements created by outside software developers.

” (…) code (…) Why is it important for the world? Because it’s the blood of the organism that is our culture, now. It’s what makes everything go.“, Jamie Zawinski, Code Rush, 2000.

The year is early 1998, at the height of dot-com era, and a small team of Netscape code writers frantically works to reconstruct the company’s Internet browser. In doing so they will rewrite the rules of software development by giving away the recipe for its browser in exchange for integrating improvements created by outside unpaid developers.  The fate of the entire company may well rest on their shoulders. Broadcast on PBS, the film capture the human and technological dramas that unfold in the collision between science, engineering, code, and commerce.

Video – Lynn Hoffman (social worker, link) talks about a shift that has been taking place in our world, a shift that simmered in the background for many years and has recently erupted onto the world stage. This shift is akin to a revolution, and often gives a renewed impetus to contemporary revolutionary movements. The shift is related to what Lynn sees as a move from the system metaphor, with its emphasis on symmetry, order and a return to the same, to the rhizome with its more messy and horizontal plane of endless relations.

Gregory Bateson and the Rhizome Century” is an interdisciplinary event inspired by the vision of family therapy pioneer, Lynn Hoffman. The conference is for anyone who: Appreciates the pressing significance of honoring the complexities of our interrelations with one another, with nature, and also with our technologies; Understands that a primary responsibility for our generation is to move beyond the individualism’s and negations so prominent in Western thought, towards a work that generates sustaining and sustainable webs of relationship. [http://www.therhizomecentury.com, Vancouver, Canada, Oct. 2012].

[…] Swing music, also known as swing jazz or simply swing, is a form of jazz music that developed in the early 1930s and became a distinctive style by 1935 in the United States. Swing uses a strong rhythm section of double bass and drums as the anchor for a lead section of brass instruments such as trumpets and trombones, woodwinds including saxophones and clarinets, and sometimes stringed instruments such as violin and guitar, medium to fast tempos, and a “lilting” swing time rhythm. The name swing came from the phrase ‘swing feelwhere the emphasis is on the off-beat or weaker pulse in the music (unlike classic music). Swing bands usually featured soloists who would improvise on the melody over the arrangement. The danceable swing style of bandleaders such as Benny Goodman and Count Basie was the dominant form of American popular music from 1935 to 1945. The verb “to swing” is also used as a term of praise for playing that has a strong rhythmic “groove” or drive. […] from Wikipedia (link).

nota bene – tomorrow is Jazz day, isn’t it?!

 

I met Death today. We are playing chess. (…) My life has been a futile pursuit, a wandering, a great deal of talk without meaning. I feel no bitterness or self-reproach because the lives of most people [plague] are very much like this. But I will use my reprieve for one meaningful deed.”, Antonius Block.

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet). Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Sweden 1957 – (…) Disillusioned knight Antonius Block and his squire Jöns return after fighting in the Crusades and find Sweden being ravaged by the plague. On the beach immediately after their arrival, Block encounters Death, personified as a pale, black-cowled figure resembling a monk. Block, in the middle of a chess game he has been playing alone, challenges Death to a chess match, believing that he can forestall his demise as long as the game continues. Death agrees, and they start a new game. The other characters in the story do not see Death, and when the chess board comes out at various times in the story, they believe Block is continuing his habit of playing alone. (…)

(…) In the confessional, the knight says “I use a combination of the bishop and the knight which he hasn’t yet discovered. In the next move I’ll shatter one of his flanks.” Death (in disguise as the priest) replies “I’ll remember that.” When they play by the beach, the knight says: “Because I revealed my tactics to you I’m in retreat. It’s your move.Death captures his opponent’s knight. “You did the right thing“, states the knight, “you fell right in the trap. Check! Don’t worry about my laughter, save your king instead.Death‘s response is to lean over the chess board and make a psychological move. “Are you going to escort the juggler and his wife through the forest? Those whose names are Jof and Mia and who have a small son.” “Why do you ask?” says the knight. “Oh, no reason”, replies Death“. (…) from Wikipedia [link] (Nota bene – bolds and underlines are mine).

Fig. – A Symbolical Head (phrenological chart) illustrating the natural language of the faculties. At the Society pages / Economic Sociology web page.

You have much probably noticed by now how Scoop.it is emerging as a powerful platform for those collecting interesting research papers. There are several good examples, but let me stress one entitled “Bounded Rationality and Beyond” (scoop.it web page) curated by Alessandro Cerboni (blog). On a difficult research theme, Alessandro is doing a great job collecting nice essays and wonderful articles, whenever he founds them. One of those articles I really appreciated was John Conlisk‘s “Why Bounded Rationality?“, delivering into the field several important clues, for those who (like me) work in the area. What follows, is an excerpt from the article as well as part of his introductory section. The full (PDF) paper could be retrieved here:

In this survey, four reasons are given for incorporating bounded rationality in economic models. First, there is abundant empirical evidence that it is important. Second, models of bounded rationality have proved themselves in a wide range of impressive work. Third, the standard justifications for assuming unbounded rationality are unconvincing; their logic cuts both ways. Fourth, deliberation about an economic decision is a costly activity, and good economics requires that we entertain all costs. These four reasons, or categories of reasons, are developed in the following four sections. Deliberation cost will be a recurring theme.

Why bounded rationality? In four words (one for each section above): evidence, success, methodology, and scarcity. In more words: Psychology and economics provide wide-ranging evidence that bounded rationality is important (Section I). Economists who include bounds on rationality in their models have excellent success in describing economic behavior beyond the coverage of standard theory (Section II). The traditional appeals to economic methodology cut both ways; the conditions of a particular context may favor either bounded or unbounded rationality (Section III). Models of bounded rationality adhere to a fundamental tenet of economics, respect for scarcity. Human cognition, as a scarce resource, should be treated as such (Section IV). The survey stresses throughout that an appropriate rationality assumption is not something to decide once for all contexts. In principle, we might suppose there is an encompassing single theory which takes various forms of bounded and unbounded rationality as special. cases. As with other model ingredients, however, we in practice want to work directly with the most convenient special case which does justice to the context. The evidence and models surveyed suggest that a sensible rationality assumption will vary by context, depending on such conditions as deliberation cost, complexity, incentives, experience, and market discipline. Beyond the four reasons given, there is one more reason for studying bounded rationality. It is simply a fascinating thing to do. We can mix some Puck with our Hamlet.

Photo – (Stairway to…) Lisbon April 2012.

Sound/Video – willterminus (YouTube link) says: “I was bored so I wanted to see if I could get free dial up internet so I found that NetZero still has free service so I put in the number and heard the glorious sound of the Dial-up. Remind me of years gone. Unfortunately I was not able to make a connection“.

Video – Finland’s educational system: Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian discuss the revolutionary educational system Finland has instituted and the results of that system on the education of their children. Read more about it at: Anu Partanen, “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success“, The Atlantic magazine, US, Dec. 2011.

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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