======================================================================= Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 2 Number 5, May 2003 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com =======================================================================

Some Postscripts

I have a friend from high school, Thaddeus Spae, who has a sort of "blog" (web log) called "the Thaddeus Gazette" at: tspae.home.attbi.com/tg/index.html In his December 2003 edition he wrote: Doing a column of any kind is something of a management activity -- you develop a venue and some kind of style for your little standup act, then you go out subject-hunting in a timely manner. Being under the gun is always both a stimulus and a burden -- I used to have two opposing mottos: "Deadlines are for the dead." and "Deadlines keep you alive." I've noted before my intention of using the Gazette to get me off my duff and write, but it also trains me in the values of hitting a schedule. Assembly lines may make good widgets, but they're a little hard on art. One writer offered up the prayer, "Lord, thank you for today's column, and please forgive me for yesterday's." Oftimes I've been tempted to revise a Gazette after the fact, but I try to resist the urge. This way lies madness. When somebody wants to make a book out of the stuff, then I'll rewrite. Well, madness or no, I also have the urge to revise my e-Zines after the fact, and so I'm going to indulge myself this month with a few Postscripts to previous months. (Didn't Martin Gardner do this in his "Mathematical Recreations" column in "Scientific American" on occasion?) If you need to refer to the past issues, see the archives link at the bottom of this issue. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Postscript to Vol. 1 Num. 5: "War of the Worldviews: Manipulating Visual Myths" In many ways the "fake news" show such as "The Daily Show" is the cultural descendant of the court jester, who in a system without free speech sometimes served as an outlet for criticisms of the ruler and other banned expressions. In the masterpiece of cinema, Akira Kurosawa's "Ran" (1985), set in feudal Japan, we see this at work. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00008973Q/hip-20 ) The recent Oscar-nominated movie "Adaptation" (2002) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JLRE/hip-20 ) contains a line of dialog in which -- if memory serves -- it is claimed that director Fellini invented the "mockumentary" with his semi-autobiographical "8 1/2" (1963). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005QAPH/hip-20 ) I've heard claims that Walt Disney's "True Life Adventure" nature films had faked footage; that the lemmings were lured off of the cliff, for example. In cataloging "fake news" I forgot to include the satirical presidential campaign of comedian Pat Paulsen on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and its 1968 summer replacement show, "The Summer Brothers Smothers Show" with host Glen Cambell. Paulsen began his campaign with repeated denials throughout the summer that he was running, "and if elected I will not serve!" In the fall show host Tommy Smothers confronted him with videotape footage of these denials, and also Paulsen making a campaign speech about "when I'm elected president" all the great things that would happen. When asked how he explained this contradiction, Paulsen replied, "I was misquoted." This sort of withering satire continued right up to the November 1968 election, in which Nixon barely beat Humphrey and brought the Republicans back into the White House for the first time since Nixon lost to JFK in 1960. I was reminded of this whole story when cable channel Bravo ran the documentary "Smothered - The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (2002) on December 4, 2002. (It is now available on DVD: www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00007CVSP/hip-20 ) The Smothers brothers had been doing an hour-long cornball variety show (with a sprinkling of left-wing political humor) on the CBS television network since January of 1967, when they were put in the Sunday night lineup opposite "Bonanza," where they were expected to go down in flames. Head writer Tommy Smothers negotiated creative control on the way in, and the desperate network agreed. Ironically, the first skit the CBS "standards and practices" department actually censored was a skit about censorship, written by comedian Elaine May. The network didn't want the American people top know they were censoring TV. Tommy told the New York Times, and it became big news. Over the two years of the show the sprinkling of left-wing humor became a downpour, and CBS tried to stop them. The far-left anti-war Smothers were frequently lampooning the southern Democrat president Lyndon Johnson, a centrist who was escalating the war in Viet Nam and was friends with CBS chairman Bill Paley, expecting him to deliver satire-free television. But because of their high ratings the brothers' antics were somewhat tolerated. Then in 1969 Nixon came to the job of president with an enemies list and a pit-bull of vice president, Spiro Agnew, who he gave the job of leaning on the networks -- through the FCC -- to get any anti- administration viewpoints taken off TV. By May the Smothers were gone. So lets review: two presidents, from both parties, moved to suppress contrary political views being expressed on television in a funny way by comedians. (Isn't this the very type of speech the First Amendment is supposed to protect?) The one who used a personal connection failed; the one who used raw Federal power succeeded. Fast-forward thirty years in the future. In what is surely the symptom of a massive cultural over-reaction, we now find the CBS network news anchor, Dan Rather, the subject of accusations of distorting the news to favor a left-wing agenda, in the new book "Bias : A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News" (2003). Veteran CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg -- also a self-described Liberal -- sacrificed his career as an electronic journalist by becoming a whistle-blower about deliberate, politically-motivated misinformation being broadcast to the public. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060520841/hip-20 ) Another insider, self-described Liberal feminist lesbian Tammy Bruce, sacrificed much as well to become a whistle-blower against the use of lies, character assassination, threats and blacklisting to enforce political correctness in the American left today, in "The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds" (2003). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0761563733/hip-20 ) A book that started the ball rolling in this barrage of attacks on the Left's tactics was "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right" (2002) by Ann H. Coulter. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400046610/hip-20 ) I haven't read it so I can't offer an intelligent critique, but from reading excerpts, reading columns on her web site, and seeing her interview hawking the book on C-SPAN, I gather that her thrust is: "hey fellow Conservatives, the Liberals have been calling us names for years, so let's call them some back." More on this later. Also, a counter-point book has come out, "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News" (2003) by Eric Alterman. I haven't read it either, but I am eager to, because this issue is too important (to me and to America) to study from just one point of view. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465001769/hip-20 ) At this point my readers, especially those of you who are inclined to be more partisan, may be asking yourselves what my politics are. There's a growing sentiment in America, on the Right and the Left, that "you're either with us or agin' us." Personally, I think this is nuts, and it can result in "cult of personality" politics as practiced especially by supporters of FDR, Reagan, and Clinton, and now this new guy. I recall an underground comic I enjoyed during my college years called "Odds Bodkins" by Dan O'Neill, collected in "Hear the Sound of My Feet Walking, Drown the Sound of My Voice Talking" (1971). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0912078138/hip-20 ) In it the two heroes die, and discover at the Pearly Gates that if they had ever voted Republican they would go straight to Hell, but if they hade ever voted Democrat they would go to Purgatory for as long as it took them to eat a huge ocean of tapioca pudding. But of course, there are more than two parties in America. And the current two didn't always have a stranglehold on American politics. The political party I belong to, support and believe in is the Libertarian Party. (There -- now you know my bias.) One of the greatest contributions the Libertarian Party has made to American political discourse is to pry the notion of a political "space" out the one dimensional "Left-Right" line. Regardless of your politics, I encourage you to take the "world's smallest political quiz" as a clarifying experience. ( www.lp.org/quiz/ ) As a result of your answers your political convictions will be graphed in a two-dimensional political "space," with personal self-government on one axis and economic self-government on the other. If you scorer high on both you're a Libertarian; if you score low on both you're an Authoritarian. If you score high on personal self-government but low on economic self-government you're a Left Liberal, and the opposite makes you a Right Conservative. It angers me when Liberals talk as though they're entitled to my vote simply because I favor gay rights and reproductive freedom. It likewise angers me when Conservatives talk as though they're entitled to my vote because I favor lower taxes and reduced government regulations. I got so teed off after the 2002 election that I did some research on the history of America's political parties. I ended up producing the following visualization. It shows the percentage of popular vote for president going to various political parties from 1824, when the Electoral College began being elected by the people, not state legislatures, until the nearly 50/50 election of 2000. I hoped to show that a number of different parties had controlled America over the years (remember the Whigs?), and the majorities had often shifted dramatically in a few years ("easy come, easy go"), as a round about way of reminding Americans that we don't really need the Democrats or Republicans to have a great country. Unfortunately, the facts didn't cooperate. As the plot shows: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/parties.jpg The Democrats (brick red) and Republicans (dark blue) have controlled American politics since 1860, with the other nineteen parties barely making a dent, except for some impressive Socialist numbers (brown) early in the 20th century. I would love to add the parties' control of Congress and the Supreme court to this display, and maybe even state legislatures, governors and high courts. But facts or no facts I'm sticking to my story. I claim that since "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," no single party will always protect your rights. Politicians will always abuse power and attempt to restrict free speech if it's aimed at them. Whether the guise is The War On Terror or Campaign Finance Reform, the assault will come from both (or all) sides. In California in the 19th century when the legislature gave the railroads sweetheart deals and the newspapers published satirical cartoons, the legislature responded by outlawing satirical cartoons. Of course the courts struck it down. Gregory Bateson once told Stewart Brand, in an interview in "Mother Jones" magazine, that "Capitalism and Communism each have their own hells." I believe Democrats and Republicans each have their own hells as well. I lived in Massachusetts from 1977 to 1979, as the commonwealth was emerging from a multi-generational hell that was caused by one party (the Democrats) having a stranglehold on state politics. Corruption had flourished. (Everybody knew the potholes weren't fixed because of nepotism.) This is why it is so dangerous for CBS news to institutionalize reporting misinformation to advance liberal agendas. I'm for gay rights and AIDS research, but I'm not for inflated AIDS death statistics being reported. It is a corrupting influence. But the people are figuring it out, bless them. Consider two recent news stories: * From Playboy Magazine January 2003, cable news commentator Bill O'Reilly writes: The Death of Network News ... Here are the stats, and they're not pretty. Since 1982, viewership for the three nightly newscasts has fallen almost 40 percent, and the demographics have totally collapsed. According to the Nielsen ratings, the average age for Americans watching Dan Rather is 60. -- 209.157.64.200/focus/news/800184/posts * From the Daily Nonpariel's Online Edition, "Your source for southwest Iowa news" ( nonpareilonline.com ), 05/03/2003, columnist Greg Jerrett writes: Humor is our greatest weapon I have to confess, I watch "The Daily Show" more than the national news on any of the networks though I still check in with cable news first and last thing every day. And I am not alone in this. More people watch "The Daily Show" on an average day (4 million) than watched Fox News at the height of the war (3.5 million), according to Douglas. On CNN International, "The Daily Show" is compiled into a weekly segment viewed around the world by 160 million people. And what are they watching? They are watching fake news that has more truth in it at times than the real news... -- www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?BRD=2554&dept_id=507131&newsid=7902417&PAG=461&rfi=9 This last week, in coverage of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate, the Daily Show decided to "call" the 2004 election: with zero precincts reporting, George W. Bush is the projected winner. Imagine me, with the voice of grumpy Squidward from "Sponge Bob Square Pants" (the most popular cartoon in America) saying: "Oh, boy. Welcome to Republican hell." ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Postscript to Vol. 2 Num. 1: "Why I Think Wolfram Is Right" There was one section of Wolfram's book I would have advised him to omit. In it he applies the lessons of his "new kind of science" to the problems of exopysychology, and the widespread belief that if you are attempting to communicate with aliens you should use the "universal language of mathematics." He argued that our particular kind of earth math is idiosyncratic, dependent on the way we discovered it, and aliens would not be likely to recognize it. Wolfram recommended using the insights from his work on theorem-proving to work out a more universal math that aliens would recognize. I thought it was interesting, and he might even be right, but I couldn't see how this was going to help him move away from his "crackpot" image any. Given this, it is interesting that I found some many interesting correspondences between Wolfram's work and the science fiction novel "Contact" (1985) by Carl Sagan, about first contact between earthlings and an alien civilization. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671004107/hip-20 ) I used several of these in that issue. But there was one more I hesitated to mention. At the risk of giving away the whole story, the hero Ellen receives the first signals from aliens near the star Vega, and helps to decode it. It turns out the be instructions for building a huge mysterious machine, purpose unknown. After much politicking and a huge expense plus some tragic loss, Ellen gets to ride in the machine -- which of course is a kind of star-gate vehicle -- to meet the aliens. One of the things they tell her is that they, the super-intelligent aliens, found a message, presumably from the creator of the universe, hidden in the digits of Pi. At the very end of the book, Ellen's supercomputer verifies this discovery. The anomaly showed up most starkly in Base 11 arithmetic, where it could be written entirely in zeroes and ones... The program reassembled the digits into a square raster, a an equal number across and down. The first line was an uninterrupted file of zeros, left to right. The second line showed a single numeral one, exactly in the middle, with zeroes to the borders, left and right. After a few more lines, an unmistakable arc had formed, composed of ones... Hiding in the alternating pattern of digits, deep inside the transcendental number, was a perfect circle, its form traced out by unities in a field of naughts. The universe was made on purpose, the circle said... In the fabric of space and in the nature of matter, as in a great work of art, there it is, written small, the artist's signature. I can't seem to shake this intuitive hunch that we will find something startling (though maybe not as startling as graffiti from God) that informs our philosophy and changes our view of intelligence, buried deep in the computations of cellular automata. I also compared Wolfram's work to Herman Hesse's "Magister Ludi, or The Glass Bead Game" (1943). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/022461844X/hip-20 ) It has since occurred to me that though Hesse provided no explicit description of the game -- he focused on the psychology and organizational politics of the players -- he did provide enough clues to suggest a real game, based on cellular automata, that could easily be programmed and played today in the post-Pentium era. For the sake of argument let's say we will use only one-dimensional nearest-neighbor multicolor (i.e., mutli-state) cellular automata. (For an explanation of these terms, see "A New Kind of Science" by Stephen Wolfram: www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1579550088/hip-20 ) The players are presented with two strings of cells, say 256 cells long, and told that one is a sequence of notes from a Bach's "Crab Canon," and the other a sequence of DNA from a hermit crab. The players each attempt to build a sequence of cellular automata to convert one string into the other. Each step of cell evolution using the current automaton rule costs a small number of points. Each new automaton rule set costs a larger number of points. The one with the lowest score wins. The winning games (displayed with cells across and time going from top to bottom) are strung onto beads like in the old days and hung in the great hall at Castalia, where the Glass Bead Game masters live and the annual championship is played. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Postscript to Vol. 2 Num. 1: "Biological Computing: The Next Big Thing? (Part Two)" Some excellent analysis of trends in biotech appear in Bruce Sterling's nonfiction book of the future, "Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years" (2002). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679463224/hip-20 ) ... let me introduce you to a biotech world [95 years in the future]. Here you are, let us say, reading a book... Let me make a few impolite personal observations as you sit there reading. By twentieth century standards, you don't look very clean. In fact, you look rather greasy, and you're somewhat odd smelling... You don't look especially scholarly. On the contrary: basically, you look like an athlete or supermodel. You look that way because ... that is the norm. ... You have no tooth decay, no dandruff, no enlarged pores. Though you read too much, you have no glasses. ... "Sterility" is what people do need when they don't know what's happening on a microbial level. In a biotech world, sterility is a confession of ignorance. It's a tactic of desperation. ... Even though this is a genetically altered world, there are no weird-looking "mutants" or "monsters" in your house, neighborhood or city. You don't, for instance, have a six-legged dog.... Expressing DNA in the genomes of large organisms is slow and clumsy... It doesn't take efficient, industrial advantage of the raw power of DNA as a means of production... All the real DNA action is in single cells... ... White lab coats are absurd to you, hopelessly old fashioned. Lab coats were designed to show spills, so that they could remain sterile. For you that garb is like the armor of a medieval knight. If you spill anything remotely dangerous or bioactive on yourself, the doorway will tell you; the bathroom will tell you; a taxi, an air conditioner, a stove can tell you. ... You're into germs. Oh, sure, you've got a cat. People who read books like cats... But you'd never expect your cat to do any industrial heavy lifting. Besides, your cat doesn't live inside of you. In a biological savvy world, inside of you is where it's at. And so on. There is also an incredibly wise 50,000 foot view in the essays "Digibabble, Fairy Dust and the Human Anthill" and "Sorry, Your Soul Just Died" in the collection "Hooking Up" (2000) by Tom Wolfe. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312420234/hip-20 ) It includes a summary of the life and accomplishments of a man whose name was unknown to me, Edward O. Wilson, author of "The Insect Societies" (1974), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/_/hip-20 ) "Sociobiology: The New Synthesis" (1975), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674002350/hip-20 ) and "On Human Nature" (1988). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067463442X/hip-20 ) Of course he has written other books, but Wolfe calls these three his "Sociobiology trilogy." (I also just discovered, thanks to Amazon.com, that Wilson has a new book out in 2003: "The Future of Life" www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679768114/hip-20 ) Wolfe chronicles the struggle, both academic and political, between Wilson and one side and a collective including Stephen Jay Gould on the other, over the scientific truth and social morality of the study of DNA's influence on behavior. Gould and company won some of the early political battles, but Wilson seems to have won the scientific war, due largely to the successes of biotech. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Postscript to Vol. 2 Num. 4: "What Ever Happened to Cybernetics?" I had meant to include the following anecdote: When I taught my student-directed seminar course in "Understanding Whole Systems" at Kresge College, UCSC in 1975, I had Gregory Bateson as a guest instructor one week. He moderated a conversation about feedback and observers, edging towards the notion of "second order cybernetics." At one point Bateson admonished us that there was no way we young folks could understand this, but "thirty years ago we couldn't have had this conversation." (Of course, it is always very difficult to imagine the absence of ideas.) So perhaps the most important legacy of cybernetics is that we can have certain conversations now that we didn't used to be able to have. This issue of C3M also generated some interesting email responses. Here are two: Greetings! I was triggered by your newsletter. I work for the Dutch railways. I have been able to find a Rumanian course on railway cybernetics. And the Rumanian railways once had a cybernetics department, according to a resume I found. I have tried to explain parts of Stafford Beer's "Brain of the Firm" to my innovation colleagues here. It is clear to me that a cybernetician needs to take the insights of cybernetics and translate them closer to the world of the receiver. And that is hard work but the results are encouraging. Our traffic management experts are finally appreciating Ashby's Law. And the first cybernetics projects I leader are finally finding sponsors in higher management. But it does take a lot of effort in communicating and convincing people. Cheers, Jelle van Luipen Also: You can find my contribution on A Curriculum for Cybernetics and Systems Theory in France at: Une Histoire de la Cybern├ętique en France on: paris.siggraph.org/CyberFR/CybernetiqueSommaire.html This version is in French and can be translate with SYSTRAN (but...). I try to finish the translation after the installation of the SIGGRAPH Traveling Art Show at Laval Virtual in Mayenne (2h30 west of Paris in train). Have a good day. See you soon Patrick Saint-Jean ======================================================================= newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/ ======================================================================= Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M unless you opt-in to receive occasional commercial offers directly from me, Alan Scrivener, by sending email to abs@well.com with the subject line "opt in" -- you can always opt out again with the subject line "opt out" -- by default you are opted out. To cancel the e-Zine entirely send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. I receive a commission on everything you purchase during your session with Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ======================================================================= Copyright 2003 by Alan B. Scrivener 8:29 PM 5/23/2003