Playing By the Rules

Comment on: “Is It Art?” Dan Falk, Saturday, October 15 2005

In 1843, Lady Lovelace (Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada) made her famous objection to Charles Babbage’s prototype computer, “The Analytical Engine,” that it “has no pretensions to originate anything. It can [only] do whatever we know how to order it to perform.”

Harold Cohen (the artist who wrote AARON, the computer programme that paints pictures) agrees that AARON is not “creative” because it is just mechanically following the rules Cohen wrote. (Cohen may be creative, but not AARON.) Yet Cohen thinks his newer program, which is “no longer ‘rule-based’ in the old sense” may be creative because it is capable of modifying itself. But what difference does that make? The self-modifying capability is itself rule-based! And even if a random element were thrown in, that would just be rules plus a bit of random shake-up, and still no more creative than the “malfunctioning toaster [that can produce] a piece of toast with burn marks completely unforeseen by the toaster’s builder.”

In any case, none of this has anything to do, one way or the other, with the “consciousness and intentionality and subjectivity” (all really just synonyms for the same thing: feeling) that Toronto’s cognitive scientist John Vervaeke invokes. The real point is that we don’t yet know the rules underlying most of our abilities, whether creative or uncreative. The paradox will come if and when cognitive science does discover the rules underlying our “creative” abilities, for then there will be no degrees of freedom left for creativity (other than chance).

So perhaps we should focus on “giftedness” rather than on creativity: Perhaps the genius is the one who has the ability to master and play according to rules that none of the rest of us can master,
rather than just the one who can modify them.

Harnad, S. (in press) “Creativity: Method Or Magic?
Harnad, S. (2001) Spielberg’s AI: Another Cuddly No-Brainer.

A Temetetlen Halott 2005-09-03

The irony of “A Temetetlen Halott” (“Unburied Remains” or “The Uninterred Corpse,” woodenly translated “The Unburied Man”) is buried in its one good metaphor: that what tormented Imre Nagy (the abettor of the ill-fated and short-lived Hungarian uprising of 1956) the most at the end was that his (inevitable) posthumous rehabilitation would be at the hands of his own assassins (rehabilitating themselves).

The film ends on the note that Imre Nagy’s exhumation and reburial with honours was not done until 1989, after the remains of the post-1956 regime had faded out (and on the very day his successor/executioner János Kádár died). But it seems to be lost on the film-makers and the nation that the internecine squabbles among the true-believers (few) and the opportunists (many) about whether 1956 was a revolution or a counter-revolution had itself been just another incarnation of Hungary’s unburied cycle of red/white — previously black-yellow/red-white-green) oscillation and carnage. The same archetypes keep re-emerging, out of the self-same mother-soil and blood-types that the film is here whitewashing (in accordance with the current cycle), if not beatifying.

But Hungary is perhaps no worse than the rest of the planet in this regard, and certainly not the worst.

The film itself, apart from a few moments of good character acting, is dead dialogue and dreary docudrama throughout.

(full disclosure)

Genesis 9:7

Genesis 9:7
Even as we make it a little less worse here,
it becomes more worse, or just more,
somewhere else.
And what guarantees that it just keeps growing is just one thing
— not our cruelty, though it’s there, in abundance,
not our cupidity, there too,
nor our apathy aplenty:
it’s our relentless prolificity
— a variant of our cupidity, I suppose…
The more there is of us, the more they suffer.
And we are even more prolific in making more of them
than in making more of us.
Is it madness or mercy to yearn for the Big Bang?
So easy to counsel patience
for us, who are not the ones trembling.
But to invoke Darwin is surely bogus:
It is not our survival that is at stake,
just our cupidity.


Bible-belt Yahoos
and the Darth Vaders of Wall Street
elect a Manhattan mobster
as President.

Yes, the law of large numbers
may still ensure
he’s routed,
this time.

But can anything rout
the rot?

On Enlightened Plutocracy


(1) George Soros has done — or tried to do — incomparably more good than harm.

(2) The hatred fomented against him is not only undeserved, but unpardonably shameful and despicable.

It cannot be left unsaid, however, in response to “if he hadn’t gone after the British pound or the Thai baht, someone else would have” that not only can this be used as a justification for humanity’s worst sins, but he could have given the money back (as others would not have done).

As to “the difference between my engagement in the markets, where my only interest is to get it right and make money, and my political engagement, where I stand for what I really believe in” — this is a classical example of cognitive dissonance. Self-deprecating irony — “I was a confirmed egoist but I considered the pursuit of self-interest as too narrow a base for my rather inflated self” — does not resolve the profound contradiction. Neither does centrism; nor theorizing, whether by Karl Popper or by George Soros. Nor does enlightened plutocracy.

But (1) and (2) remain true. In the scheme of things, George Soros is squarely on the side of the angels, or has at least tried to be. The same cannot be said of most people with resources on the Hampton end of the human scale.

Caution about making obligate carnivores vegan

Re: Feeding cats plant-based diet

As a vegan, I am against breeding animals to be pets; companion “domestic” animals should only be rescued ones, and the aim should be to phase out the pet industry and mentality altogether. But the reality is that astronomical numbers of purpose-bred animals are living, and being bred today. The obligate carnivores among them are being fed a small fraction of the body parts of a far more enormous number of animals that are being purpose-bred for human consumption.

By not eating meat, vegans (still well under 2% of the world’s human population today) are, through a “trickle-down” effect, reducing by a tiny amount the total number of animals being bred and slaughtered for consumption. But it is by working to transform the other 98% of the human population by informing them about the enormity of animal suffering and the safety and health of a plant-based diet for humans that vegans are helping animals, especially in the future — not by trying to make their cats vegan.

Both sides of the question agree, as they must, that the long-term health effects of a vegan diet for cats are not certain. Short-term health is no proof that it will not sicken them eventually. And even if it were possible to keep them healthy, it would clearly need life-long blood and urinary testing of the sort that does not scale to all vegan rescuers.

Vegans need to look into their hearts to ask themselves whether they are doing the right thing for animals whose lives and health depend on them in taking risks with their health instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt and working instead to open people’s eyes and hearts to plant-based diets for themselves rather than their obligate-carnivore rescues.

Yes, being vegan is not just about what people eat, but, again, working against animal breeding and selling, and for the adoption of rescued animals only, is far more likely to help far more animals in the long run than taking chances with the health of purpose-bred cats who did not ask to be human pets, and who depend on our judgment and care for their survival.

The same applies to the humane care of large obligate-carnivore rescues (lions, tigers, seals, orcas, alligators) in sanctuaries today. Sterilization is far more merciful to all than putting their health at risk. (But none of this rules out the importance of continuing research efforts to synthesize animal protein without harming animals.)


But see also: