Posts Tagged ‘albert-einstein’

Rothko with A Side of Bacon

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Philosophy blog: Albert Einstein ideas imagination knowledgeIn a 1929 interview, Albert Einstein apparently said: “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge.”

In order to have an opinion on Einstein’s statement, we first need to decide what he means by “more important.” Einstein was speaking of his own process. He had been asked whether intuition or inspiration accounted for his theories. Certainly, when devising a new theory, imagination plays a very significant role, and without it a new theory can’t emerge.

Einstein’s contribution to science was creative. For him, then, imagination was more important that knowledge.

As my wife and I visited our newborn son in the ICU today we talked about the role of the nursing staff. So much of what they do is routine — they learn how to care for the newborns and follow the instructions they’ve been given. But the difference between a competent nurse and a nurse who contributes something important is the degree to which she is engaged with the baby and his parents.

The competent nurse follows the correct procedures, attends to her tasks with care and dedication. The engaged nurse does this too, but also sees things, listens, and reacts.

Philosophy blog: Mark Rothko ideas art languageArtist Mark Rothko said this about art: “It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.”

Rothko could have been speaking about nursing. One looks at Rothko’s paintings and one could be forgiven for asking what they are about. But does this mean that they aren’t about something?

Rothko’s children are suing to have his remains unearthed and moved to a Jewish cemetery. I don’t know how Rothko would feel about this. Judged as a creative act, one imagines that he would find it rather obvious. Judged as an action in the world, one imagines he would find it somewhat depressing.

Philosophy blog: Oswald Mosley Max Mosley FIA sex prostitutes nazi german formula oneAnother child of a famous person — Max Mosley, son of Oswald Mosley the notorious British Nazi — has been in trouble for exploring his imaginative world in a sadomasochistic orgy with prostitutes in London. Apparently, shades of Nazism can be detected in the role-play. Mosley is the chief of the Formula One motor racing federation and has been asked to resign.

The thread that I’m trying to mine is the concept of engagement. A nurse engaged with her role as caregiver. A scientist engaged with his role as a pursuer of new ideas. A painter engaged with the direct communication of otherwise uncommunicable ideas. And a man engaged with his legacy and its demons.

But what does any of this have to do with Bacon? Stanley Fish writes about deconstruction and Sir Francis Bacon.

Philosophy blog: Sir Francis Bacon ideas knowledge legacies engagementBacon predicted that rational thought would eventually win out; that we would one day have a consistent , complete understanding of the world we live in, but that we would go through tough times to get there. He predicted that language would get in the way. That the terms we use to talk about and define things would become recursively problematic.

Rothko sought to eliminate words. Bacon recognized their challenges. Einstein sought to subjugate knowledge.

There is a reason, I think, for such struggle. Rothko, Bacon and Einstein all felt painfully the distinction between ideas and reality. We experience reality, and we conceive of ideas.

Ideas can be consistent and whole and concrete. Reality must be felt and experienced and can never be pinned down. Einstein eluded language, Rothko avoided it, Mosley seeks to bend it, and Bacon wanted to wrestle with it, but found it stronger than him. Language, I would argue, can be accurate and complete when it expresses ideas, but not when it seeks to represent the world and our experience of it.

Multiple Intelligences - Evolution of the Mind

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

On the evolution of multiple intelligence facets.

Spotted Hyenas Kay Holenkamp Multiple Intelligences Social AnimalsKay E. Holekamp’s impressive work studying the social intelligence of spotted hyenas tells us that animals living in relatively large social groups, reliant on complex, coherent hierarchies and cooperative social relationships to improve their survival, tend to have a larger frontal cortex — the region of the brain where much of the most sophisticated thought takes place. Holenkamp studied spotted hyenas, the most social of four hyena species, but then compared the spotteds to their less social cousins. Analyzing skull samples of these four species, she found that the spotted hyenas had the largest frontal cortex, and, further, that the size of the frontal cortex of each species varied in direct relation to its degree of social sophistication.

Despite the years she’s dedicated to studying this connection, Holenkamp shrewdly warns against simply equating social sophistication with intelligence — “There’s a tremendous support for the social brain hypothesis,” Holenkamp says, “but I think that in order to understand the origin of intelligence we have to think more broadly than that.”

Hear, hear.

bat flight creates vortex for lift multiple intelligencesScientists studying the mechanical complexities of winged flight have discovered that some bats create a vortex by the particular way that they flap their wings. The vortex creates lift and keeps them aloft. This is similar to the mechanism used by other small, winged animals (and, most likely, insects) that can hover.

The study of animals tells us a great deal about the evolutionary paths that those animals have followed: Bats and other flying animals have given up a set of limbs to be able to fly. Hyenas have kept their four legs, allowing them to run down prey and flee predators. Human beings and other primates have exchanged forelegs for arms and opposable thumbs that allow them to grasp and easily manipulate objects. These evolutionary artifacts came about not randomly but because they proved advantageous for some reason.

Northrop Grumman Defense Contract Congress Questions Boeing CompanyIn awarding a significant air defense contract to Northrop Grumman and its European partner EADS, the Pentagon has riled Boeing and its supporters in Congress. The chief argument against the decision seems to be that it denies an American company a lucrative contract.

If the Pentagon followed the procedures for such contract awards, as they claim, what right does Boeing or anyone have to complain?

The excruciating study of bat flight and the arcanery of arguments over defense contracts make me wonder: Can we learn anything about the possible origins of human intelligence from its applications?

After all, evolution cares nothing about the origin of intelligence, per se. It cares only whether intelligence confers some advantage.

Of the species that exhibit intelligence, human beings seem to exhibit a remarkably broad and deep range of intelligences. For instance, the social intelligence required to negotiate the pros and cons of awarding defense contracts at home or abroad must navigate all kinds of abstract and inferred social contracts — contracts of loyalty, risk, employment, pride.

But what of the range and depth of intelligences that goes into designing and building the aircraft themselves — from aerodynamics, to aeronautics, metallurgy, propulsion technologies, and on, and on… Can these deeply creative and exacting mental disciplines be explained by the advanced development of social skills? It seems unlikely. multiple intelligences albert einstein socially inept asbergerThe ability to focus on creative problem solving, the kind of focus rewarded by innovation and mastery of abstract insights, falls in a field that seems to have no bearing on social intelligence. Some of the most intelligent and creative people in history were socially awkward. Creative intelligence seems to be if not inversely proportional to social intelligence then at least seldom overlapping. This makes rational sense. Someone focused on social subtleties will be less likely to forgo social thinking for introverted mechanical or creative thinking.

Just as the connection between particularly social animals and a large frontal cortex tells us that when negotiating social hierarchies the smarter beast has an advantage, so, too, the development of deep mechanical intelligence tells us that for human beings the ability to manipulate mechanical concepts must have conferred an advantage.

If we were to elaborate, catalog, and categorize the kinds of intelligences exhibited by humans or other species, it would doubtless help us understand the origins of those intelligences. This would provide a good adjunct to the work of Holenkamp and others who are coming at this from the other direction.

LIFE Why We Exist and What We Must Do To Survive Rational Science-Based Book About Meaning and Purpose of ExistenceFor more rational, science-based explanations of life’s meaning and purpose, please refer to my book: LIFE! Why We Exist… And What We Must Do To Survive.

Follow The Money

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Hugo Chavez Defeated in Referendum Vote Socialist Polices and Term LimitsNews of Hugo Chavez’s narrow referendum defeat brought a decidedly unexpected relief. His proposals, in line with his former policies and stated goals, would have moved the Chavez administration toward a Castro-style dictatorship. But whereas Castro possesses an enduring charm, even if warped and spoiled by time and power, Chavez has all of the charm of a pit bull. At the conclusion of CNN’s story on the referendum result, the reporter offers a fascinating financial footnote: Venezuela’s oil-fueled prosperity, which has helped enrich Chavez’s popularity and solidify his power (the country’s wealth allows him to fund his social programs) accounts for as much as 90% of the country’s export economy. Two guesses as to who buys most of venezuela’s oil… Us. Apparently, the United States is one of the few countries that can refine Venezuela’s low-grade crude and we pick up about a million barrels per day. So, America then, Chavez’s nemesis, has been funding his regime.

Ahmadinajad Iran maybe stopped weapons program in 2003 A so-called National Intelligence Estimate issued today — a consensus view of “all 16 American spy agencies” (but who’s counting?) — concludes that Iran quite probably stopped its weapons program (if it had one) back in 2003, and that as of the middle of this year had probably not resumed that program (if it ever existed). Although couched in all kinds of provisos and qualifications, perhaps the most striking conclusion of the NIE is the estimate that sanctions and international pressure probably caused Iran to halt its program (if it did and if it had one). Of course, the White House has been quick to point out that this makes the President right again in seeking to maintain and increase pressure on Iran, rather than being wrong to pressage military action, since military action would have been not his error but someone else’s error for issuing a National Intelligence Estimate like the one that got us into the Iraq war. (Not that that was a mistake, but if it had been a mistake it would have been someone else’s mistake, too.) In any case, money seems to have been a key factor in making bringing to a halt the Iranian weapons grade fuel enrichment centrifuges (if they weren’t just nuclear energy centrifuges).

Malawi prevents famine by subsidizing fertilizer subsidies in 2006, 2007 In Malawi two seasons of good crops have helped prevent famine. After the country’s most recent miserable crop failure in 2005, the president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, decided to ignore the financial strings attached to foreign subsidies and to subsidize himself the use of fertilizer and good seed. The U.S., Britain, and the World Bank have disfavored fertilizer and seed subsidies in countries such as Malawi because… wait for it… “foreign-aid fashions in Washington [and elsewhere] featured a faith in private markets and an antipathy to government intervention.” Let me get this straight, while the U.S. government subsidizes fertilizer purchases for our own farmers it’s been preaching and practising free-market ‘no subsidy’ religious policies overseas that have effectively been starving millions of people in Africa and elsewhere. The shamefulness of such self-righteous arrogance seems reprehenisble.

(There’s also a good op-ed piece about Goldman Sachs along similar lines, but I don’t have space to write about that.)

Money, money, money… But what about principles, what about good sense, what about logic and reason, why does money seem to lurk behind everything like a pesky accountant with an irrevocable pen poised to fall?

Albert Einstein energy mass equivalence Allow me a quick detour into energy and matter. When Einstein equated mass with energy he unlocked a mysterious secret about the universe. The question: What is this stuff that things are made of? Einstein’s answer: Call it what you will, but you may as well call it energy.

A similar, humbler equation exists of course between money and power. Money and power are two ways of thinking about the same thing. You can convert one into the other and vice versa.

(My wife and I, for another instance, were discussing the presidential race and my wife pointed out to me the reason Mike Bloomberg could still run for president having skipped the abrasion of the primaries: He doesn’t need the money.)

Rather than just throw up my hands at this point, I’m struck by the question of what we as observers of the machinations of money and power can we do to make a difference? It seems to me that armed with the awareness that money churns away like a sump pump in the basement of every important political edifice, we’ll always be better able to judge things for what they are if we pop our head down the stairs and take a sniff. “Follow the money,” as Deep Throat apparently said, and we’ll be richer for it.

Schrodinger's cat how observation affects realityAnd if we doubt that paying attention to this will be enough to make a difference, we can be heartened by another discovery of science, famously encapsulated by the thought experiment of Schrodinger’s cat, that observation by itself is enough to change the outcome of a process.