Tuesday 18 June 2024

Brain Stuff and Heart Stuff

Being cerebral is an academic affliction. Being in touch with emotions, speaking from the heart, is not something that comes easily to academics. This may be because brain-stuff resides in words which can be codified, and used (sometimes as weapons) in articulating and defending ideas. Heart-stuff has to be experienced, and sometimes it hurts. Nobody likes to be hurt, and so we tend to inoculate ourselves against heart-stuff in favour of brain-stuff, which is where the academic affliction begins. Freud would call it "sublimation". Even Freud's label is brain-stuff rather than heart-stuff.  

I'm about to travel to China, and I'm reminded of the last international trip I made to Morocco a couple of months ago. I came back emotionally hurt in a way that hasn't happened for a very long time. I wasn't alone in experiencing pain, which made it worse. I'm naturally apprehensive about this trip, although I'm sure it will be fine, and I like China. I'm returning to Beijing Normal University's Zhuhai campus to deliver a course on "Non-Linear Learning" (it's really about AI), and then to Manchester's academic centre in Hong Kong to deliver a masterclass on AI and Cybernetics. The masterclass is deeply related to my Morocco experience. I need to think of a way of making it "sing" - so I'm taking my Roli Seaboard as a pedagogical tool. 

One thing that I've reflected on in recent weeks is that heart-stuff may be very uncomfortable, but it is extremely important to experience and be reminded of the central importance of our emotions. It is in fact a privilege to experience it and I am "lucky" to feel the pain. It's all a bit like Orpheus's severed head floating down the river Hebrus, refusing to stop singing. It would be far worse to succumb to emotional inoculation and live merely cerebrally - then the singing stops. 

Academics don't sing enough. This is probably why they get into silly battles with each other about concepts that few understand. The "Cyprus experiment" in Brave New World is the classic example - the experiment by a utopian society to gather the most brilliant minds on the island of Cyprus to create an intellectual powerhouse. What happened? Civil war - they all killed each other.

Saturday 15 June 2024


Nature is asymmetrical. But its asymmetry is critical in its maintaining of life. Big animals eat small animals. But they never eat all of them. Only we are mad enough to even think of doing that. 

Communication is also asymmetrical. This blog is public.. (although what I say is often quite personal) Sometimes I get quite personal responses to it from friends. It is a kind of conversation - a public act, a private response. It occurred to me that the relationship is a bit like planets and the sun. The sun, for example, illuminates and heats everything. He's (any harm in gendering this?) pretty public. A planet like venus on the other hand internalises the sun's heat. The sun's heat is public. Venus's heat is private. 

But there are things which the internal heat of venus can say which the sun can't - partly because it is private. But there is a conversation. They can understand each other. All they need to do is to understand the context of the other. What venus says she knows will be understood by the sun. What the sun says he knows will be understood by venus. It is a story. A dialogue. More than this it is an ecology - an asymmetric relationship of mutual understanding. 

Now there is more to say about this communication and the story it unfolds. It is not about words. Of course, both the sun and venus (if we see them as people) choose words - the sun's public words, venus's private words. But if it was just words, the relationship wouldn't work. The words are really a vehicle for expressing the deep insides of each person (planet!) . Relationships work by revealing how we're made to each other. Sometimes we might think "God I didn't realise you were made like that!!" and the relationship will stop. But sometimes something magical happens in these asymmetric situations and the relationship nourishes each person and grows, despite all the barriers presented by the symmetrical imbalance. 

Words are not the thing. Maturana and Varela were right to say there is no such thing as "information" in the sense of messages or signals which are exchanged. What we conceive of as information is the result of the internal biological processes of organisms coordinating their development in an environment which they could not know objectively. But we can know each other by revealing how each of us is made. 

Nature's asymmetry works like this. The flower reveals how it is made to the bee and vice versa. Each know each other deep down because they are made of the same cell-stuff which has a common origin. I think that without that common origin, no relationship would be possible. 

But there's a refinement to Maturana which I think is important. It is common among constructivists to say that "information" and "knowledge" are constructed. But the construction process must arise somehow. It is the mechanism which selects actions, utterances, movements, etc, which is constructed, and a selection mechanism must be able to anticipate the likely consequences of its selection. It must, in other words, contain a model of itself and its environment. To not have this would render any selection impossible. To select a word is to be able to anticipate the likely effect of that word in a world which we only have a model of. What is such a model? I think it is a fractal recursion of everything in everything. 

But I began with planets, not plants. Planets are not made of cells. But the stuff of planets gives rise to plants and cells. So the asymmetry of nature must extend back to physics and chemistry, and from physics it becomes biology. Does the sun understand venus and venus understand the sun? Well, planets do not appear to have an internal selection mechanism: they obey what appear to us to be deterministic laws. Yet behind those deterministic laws lie the profound asymmetries of quantum mechanics. Conscious rocks? I'm not sure any more. But the relationship between the local and non-local in quantum mechanics would suggest that nothing that happens in a rock locally doesn't have some non-local correlate. That's the asymmetrical balance of everything. We humans are merely manifestations of it.

Thursday 13 June 2024

Beautiful things

I've got a longer post to write, but some things are just very beautiful. In the meantime here is a picture on the theme of "hot words"...

Sunday 9 June 2024

Breathing Poetry

This is a bit geeky, but I haven't played with my Roli Seaboard for some time - partly because it developed a fault which required some delicate soldering. Now it's back, and I am rediscovering it. Also the music technology to support it has got a lot better. Ableton Live now supports Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression (without the trouble of creating lots of independent tracks) and that is a bit of a game-changer for me.

When I first ran the Global Scientific Dialogue course in Russia in 2018, the Roli seaboard was a key tool that I used to illustrate the point about redundancy (which I have always seen as key to machine learning). Now I see it as a powerful demonstration of geometric algebra, which I think is the deeper structure within which redundancy fits. It is the geometric algebra of the Roli seaboard which makes it so expressive - and which makes all music making expressive. 

When I wrote this paper on music with Leydesdorff (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/sres.2738) I was interested in the multidimensional data of expression produced by the instrument and did some simple analysis. Now I think I could do more to illustrate the point. The action of playing the instrument perfectly illustrates the distinction between scalars and vectors. Noise of the environment or feedback from the instrument informs the note selection, which is constrained in various ways, and which expands itself through interaction with itself and with others. And the really important thing is: it breathes. 

AI is driven by redundancy, but it doesn't breathe. And we tend not to breathe when we get excited about the technology. But not breathing is death.

Good poetry, music and art always breathes. AI can write clever poems, but they don't breathe like the work of great artists. In poetry, it is love poems which illustrate this most clearly. Consider this love sonnet by Pablo Neruda:

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,   
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:   
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,   
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries   
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,   
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose   
from the earth lives dimly in my body. 
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,   
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,   
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,   
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

The breathing in this is powerful and visceral. How do words (mere words!) do this? I think it is because when we speak, and particularly when we talk about deep feelings, the words just illuminate how we are made inside. Poets reveal their inner physiology to others. That is also why we love the people we do. We don't love them for their turn of phrase! We love them for the way they're made.

AI can only do words. But all that is illuminated by its word selection is the ingenuity of its mechanism, and the breathless enthusiasm of its proponents. For proponents like me I must remember this. To have been blessed by love is to be reminded of what really matters.

Saturday 8 June 2024

Gathering Strangers

Every morning I walk through Whitworth Park on my way to work. At night it's quite an eerie place, the light from the art gallery shining like a beacon among the trees, and there is a sign above the gallery which says "Gathering of Strangers". Increasingly I feel that there are no strangers in the world. We are all connected. 

I had a weird and sad experience the other day because I had been watching the videos from the ANPA conference in 2020 (about which I wrote in the last blog). Why was I thinking about ANPA? Because I was thinking about astrology and physics and knew that Colin Rourke had presented on this. Why was I thinking about astrology? Because I'd had some powerful experiences for which astrological explanations are helpful and soothing. All of these things were necessary for me to start thinking particularly about how brilliant the contributions were from John Williamson - a remarkable physicist from Glasgow. I was first introduced to his work by my PhD supervisor Oleg Liber, who met John at the UK cybernetics society conference. John had been presenting on the fundamental importance of light in physics which formed the cornerstone of his work. I also knew John was ill. Very sadly, and almost at the same time as I was thinking about all this, he died. Far too young. 

He'd been doing remarkable work - particularly in chemistry. (That too is connected to my astrological interest). This is him talking at the 2021 ANPA conference about sub-quantum chemistry. Very noticeable how he sees quantum mechanics as music. We got on very well! The physics is not easy stuff though - but he had spent his life thinking about it, and he definitely knew what he was doing. He was also very interested in education, and wanted to work with me on developing a learning platform around his ideas. We never got around to it.  But now we have AI... and the transcripts from these talks can be easily processed, and re-explained by the technology. This may be important as we move away from traditional forms of academic communication towards more human and trust-oriented scientific practices.  

So I suppose this has put me in a mood which is both optimistic, and melancholic. There are people I am missing very deeply at the moment. And there is a lot going on which is stopping me getting too morbid. It will all work out ok. We are all connected after all. I even started something called "Gathering strangers". No strangers have gathered yet though... But maybe they will. 

But here is "Whitworth Park in the Dark" in the "Claire de lune"...

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Sun, Moon and Venus

A few years ago during COVID I hosted the Alternative Natural Philosophy conference online (see ANPA 41 Web Conference – Alternative Natural Philosophy Association). It was a great event, with many contributions from leading physicists and mathematicians, touching on really profound issues in science. One of the participants, Prof. Colin Rourke (see Colin P. Rourke - Wikipedia -  Colin Rourke's WWW Homepage (warwick.ac.uk)), gave a presentation on astrology and physics ("Intertial Drag, Dark Matter and Astrology") which was very thought provoking. Interest in the esoteric in modern physics has a surprisingly long history, with Wolfgang Pauli's collaboration with Carl Jung about synchronicity being perhaps the most significant engagement. Of course, nobody tells you this stuff in university. Why not?

Colin's presentation starts with an exploration of the structure of the arms of galaxies (for which a theory of intertial drag is proposed), alongside important critiques of the idea of a singularity (what's that, exactly?), and the big bang (didn't happen - "there are things in the universe which are older than the big bang"). He then turned to astrology, using some fascinating and convincing examples using astrological charts (see https://youtu.be/BVIWEXBEcqg?t=3326). Rourke's argument focuses specifically on gravity and gravity's effect on physiology (he discounts electromagnetism because it is too weak). The focus on gravity is an argument that has also been made by John Torday. Because of gravity, the relative positions of planets is important. Importantly, he sees the gravitational effects as largely independent of distance. Rourke mentions Liz Green (Liz Greene | The Centre for Psychological Astrology (cpalondon.com)) and her unnervingly accurate predictions about the fall of the Soviet Union, and more recent Russian history.

The discussion at the end of Colin's presentation is well worth listening to. One by one, the sacred cows of modern physics are sacrificed, from the standard model to the state of modern science, and particularly the role of money in scientific institutions. The discussion centres on what academics are no longer allowed to talk about (John Williamson - "all the money goes on old shit, not new shit"). John also makes some interesting comments about the future of modern chemistry. Lou Kauffman argues that science should be pursued for science's sake. 

I was updating my CV the other day, and feeling a bit depressed about the range of publications I have. It's so diverse, from cybernetics, to education, to biology and music. It makes sense to me, but it doesn't fit the modern paradigm of the university. And yet, it is precisely in the space of the deep arguments for science that this web discussion focusses on. 

But back to astrology... I was pulled back to this presentation because I've experienced my own astrological experiences recently - particularly a Sun-Venus conjunction. That's a very powerful attractive force and when you experience this in ordinary life, you tend to think "Wow! what is that about?!". Astrologically, the Sun is all about the self, while Venus is (broadly) about love. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to image what happens when they come together. It's an explosive combination, particularly when other factors might present complex or conflicting signals. The dynamic of strong attraction and complex interactions mean that when this kind of thing happens, it can't be ignored. Why does this happen? For that, we would have to look at Jung and Pauli's stuff on synchronicity. 

The remarkable thing about this is (whatever one might think about the astrological theory), its effects are palpable. That means that consciousness is (or consciousnesses are) in some sort of dance with the universe. That would contribute to an explanation of telepathy, for example (see Improvisation Blog: Telepathy (dailyimprovisation.blogspot.com)). Is this coordinated by gravitational forces? Perhaps the moon, which clearly and unambiguously have a direct impact on the physical environment, is a good place to start. That's about the waxing and waning of emotion...

Saturday 1 June 2024


I went for a long walk this evening, through our local park, and into the city. I don't often do this - but the evening was beautiful, and I was reminded of many past beautiful evenings. Walking is very therapeutic - it helps calm my mood - there's so much going on at the moment. 

In a few weeks I'll be back in China in Zhuhai at the campus of Beijing Normal University, and then in Hong Kong to deliver a "masterclass" on AI and cybernetics for Manchester University. The latter came about through a connection made by a close friend who was on my mind during my walk. Everything good happens through friendship. 

I was also thinking about my blog, which in recent weeks has taken on a new lease of life. I've always seen my blog as a testament of my life - it's a cross between a memoir, a diary, and a notebook for ideas. There's everything in there from quite personal stuff to pretty abstract academic ramblings. In the 18th century, people kept "commonplace books". My blog is closest to that. 

Recently I've been asking for feedback in a novel way. Some people have responded, and it means a great deal to me when they do. But I want to know if I should continue with my experiment. Can you help?