Archive for October, 2008

There is no reason to believe that we would have a common point of discussion about science or mathematics with intelligent extra-terrestrial life-forms. Or so says André Kukla in his now not-so-recent (I started writing this a while back) BJPS article, worth reading in full if you’ve access through your institution or someone else’s, & if not then this post offers a poor man’s précis anyway. Myself, I do not agree with Kukla, & raising as he does a slew of innovative arguments against a position I recently held on the grounds of intuition alone, I am moved to sustain it by reasoning instead.


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  1. What do think of replacing the current author list (links to brief summaries of the individuals involved; presently at top of sidebar) with a similar looking list of names that instead link to a page with the posts by that author, perhaps with a couple of recent posts displayed in the bar too (like the one at the bottom of the sidebar now)?
  2. The category cloud is not as cool in practice as it really should be. But it might still be a nice idea for the long-term given that the number of categories is a significant fraction of the number of posts.
  3. Lastly, is it time for a change of site theme?

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Concluding today was the unified World Chess Championship, with the Russian not winning. I’m delighted to see Anand victorious in what must be the most important match of a career noted for inventive play; his is a style I would particularly enjoy emulating, though it is doubtful that my play would not be more greatly improved by studying Kramnik’s style in further depth.

My favourite game in the match was the third, with Anand developing (successfully, I think) a new idea (albeit, on move 17, but that is how things are these days) in the fairly well-trodden Meran Variation of the Semi-Slav, to which Kramnik replied with acumen: in short, the sort of thing we should expect from top-level chess! There was a fair bit of coverage over the web, though given the explosion of the interface between the web and the real world in the last few years, it seems a bit more could be done next time around. Kudos, though, particularly to Dennis Monokroussos, whose coverage both during the matches and in the form of analysis afterward has been informative and enjoyable. I, for one, hope that his plans to develop that writing into a retrospective of the event come to fruition.

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Thirty-second iTunes samples for hour-long minimalist compositions. Thanks, chumps.

Music With Changing Parts

Later on, that is.

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Ah, McSweeney’s:

This brings us to the housing crisis, for which you and you alone, Pamela, are responsible. When you choose a Chance card and Rich Uncle Pennybags orders you to pay taxes on your houses, then, damn it, Pamela, you pay taxes. Instead, you decide you’re not going to pay, because you only have $7 left. It’s just a game, you say. Stop taking it so seriously, you tell me. Well, maybe that’s what the millions of Americans caught in the subprime-mortgage crisis should have done.

Then you offered a solution—that we dole out my money and resume play. When I heard you suggest a redistribution of wealth in front of the children, I thought my head would explode. What type of example are you setting during Monopoly night, Pamela? Next, you’ll encourage Warren to smoke dope. Or Brittany to get a liberal-arts education.

I realize that, since the layoff, I’ve been obsessed with the economic crisis. Admittedly, I’ve been watching too much CNN. Which is, perhaps, what led me to suggest a government bailout of our Monopoly crisis. I figured we needed about 40 Monopoly games to accrue the necessary funds. I don’t know where you thought that kind of liquidity would come from, but I believe you overreacted to my suggestion of going door to door and borrowing all the neighbors’ Monopoly money. Perhaps you’d had too much wine. Or perhaps you are against foreign investment, although I happen to think the Chinese are saving our asses.

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Via O. X. Dive comes the following short feature:


I saw Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes a little while back at the Steve Reich Evening dance performance at the Edinburgh Festival. Another intriguing offering was used as an opener: a drum speaker is placed face up in the centre of the stage with two microphones suspended as pendula above it. The performers draw the microphones toward the horizontal and, after switching them on, let go. They produce two different frequencies of feedback buzz as they pass over the speaker; starting out in phase they diverge based on slight differences in initial conditions and the work lasts until both microphones have returned to rest.

Both this work and the Poème Symphonique test the patience of the audience a little. One has understood the idea after only a short time, and the rest of the piece is spent exploring the aural variations that emerge, which becomes tiresome once one’s concentration is exhausted. G. R. Mamatsashvili, with whom I attended the Steve Reich Evening, lent across to me at one point during the work and remarked, not really whispering, “Berian, they are trying to hypnotise us.” Indeed.

I look forward, therefore, to our one day attending a performance of Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2.

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In his sardonically-titled First Person Plural, Paul Bloom (h/t Sullivan) draws my attention to an interesting current in applied identity metaphysics (a.k.a. psychology):

But what’s more exciting, I think, is the emergence of a different perspective on happiness itself. We used to think that the hard part of the question “How can I be happy?” had to do with nailing down the definition of happy. But it may have more to do with the definition of I. Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another.

He proceeds to rattle off a series of wonderful examples with which I couldn’t identify more:

Examples abound in our own lives. Late at night, when deciding not to bother setting up the coffee machine for the next morning, I sometimes think of the man who will wake up as a different person, and wonder, What did he ever do for me? When I get up and there’s no coffee ready, I curse the lazy bastard who shirked his duties the night before.

Yes, curse you, evening Berian, for your wastrel ways! Also, for your ambitious setting of alarm clocks at 5am; morning Berian has his revenge with the snooze button.

However, after delighting me with this introduction, Bloom for some reason decides to insist that all this is tied to the relationship between personality and time: over short time scales, he says, we intuitively see our personalities as reasonably persistant, but over decades we generally think of ourselves as different people (cf. what I wrote about people on Sydney trains). He’s not completely wrong, but of course there are loads of exceptions. Here is how I would describe it in the preferred nomenclature: the first derivative of personality with respect to time is a partial derivative; the full derivative is with respect to ‘circumstance’, which is of course time-dependent, or, as I would rather have it though of, t is a function of c and not the other way around.

I’m not always opposed to getting out of bed at 5 in the morning; I am generally opposed to getting out of bed when I’ve just been asleep for a long while and the covers are nice and warm, regardless of what time of day it is. I concede, though, that time is a rather more tangible variable than circumstance.

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