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Claudio Monteverdi

Alexander Johannesen

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Tue, 20 Apr 2004 13:00:00 GMT

Notice! This blog is no longer updated as such, and the new spot to point your feedreaders and blurry eyes are https://shelter.nu/blog/

This also means no more comments here, and especially not you spammers, you filthy floatsam of the internet!

There is only so much oomph!

It is hard to be under pressure; there is no secret to this, it is acepted by all and one as a normal part of being a human being. But being human suggests so much more at the same time, so how do we get to "under pressure" as a state of things when it is only a part of things?

Did all of that sounds a bit cryptical? Possibly, but it underlines a very human trait; we overexadurate. How are you today? "Boy, I'm pooped" they say. Normal greetings are often met with such things as "good", "tired", "excited" or "bored" or some other one to two word explanation of the overly complex status of being alive. They are, as so many things in life, too easy and at times an outright lie. How come we have to meddle in the simplistic black and white of things? It isn't interesting, does not lend itself to learning, is poorly guided and hold no long-term values.

It is all about rituals and traditions, I'm afraid. It is tradition that if someone asks you how you are, you lie and tell them "good" or "sad" or "alright". it is part of living in a society that doesn't really care one bit about how you are, but have developed this technique to seem like it cares. Here are two versions of the same conversation in two different countries;

"Hi Alex, how are you?"

"Oh, pretty good. How about you?"


"Hi Alex, how are you?"

"Oh kinda alright, but I have this gnashing sadness these days eating away at my very soul, probably due to being so far away from all things that are familiar to me and matters to my life. I'm sure it is a passing stage, though. How's things with you?"

Can you guess which one is the Australian one and which is the Norwegian one? That's right; the one with the full truth in it is Norwegian, because it isn't expected nor wanted in Australia. In Norway your actual status is important, and the questions are important. If they don't want your actual status, they won't ask it. In Australia it is the other way around; they are asking because they don't want your actual status. This shall stand as the example of cultural differences that you should try to understand before you launch into your life's story to people who mostly couldn't give a toss to wheter you live or die.

I am under pressure these days; work have a project deadline coming up, I have a Topic maps tutorial to finish, two Topic maps projects to finish in prototype status, a new house full of little projects to complete with two small kids who don't know what being under pressure even means. And now for the fulcrum; do I? Do I know what "under pressure" means?

I use it to describe myself these days. A friend asked me in the general Australian manner "How are you?" and I answered him in the Norwegian manner "under pressure", totally confusing him of course, but I had the good excuse of being under pressure and hence choosing the wrong version. He understood.

But what does it mean? Does it mean that all the time I'm under pressure, not being able to think straight or do good deeds in the presence of anyone, because they are pressuring me in this or the other way? Of course not. Last night I even had a rather plesant conversation with my lovely wife, and then a wonderful bed-time conversation with my oldest daughter. And I listened to some Bach Recorder Sonatas. And I went to bed, listening to cicadas for a little while. All wonderful and nice experiences, hardly classified as "under pressure." I didn't feel "under pressure" during these happenings, yet I classify myself as such. What goes?

Part one : Human perception

We humans suck at complexities. We can remember a handful of data about one given thing, but without tiresome repetition, we can't hold the info long enough to understand it. We need to write it down, look at it, study it, think about it, and then we can start to grasp it, but only start. This is why most debates are a total waste of time; people can't get their heads around the info to a grasping level, which is why debates always end up in "black is wrong, white is right" bullshit. Any intelligent person knows that it is never black and white, yet we all seem to push black and white as our underlying protocol of understanding. "How are you" "Good, thanks." Black and white.

Within science, there is black and white, which is why all good scientists must publish a million articles and win a dozen awards before they can say that all our knowledge about a certain fraction of the universe is wrong. In religion, you have to be the hardiest and most devout follower, a publisher of million copies of "this is how it is" before you can write your "this is how it's not". We must build our credentials and reputation on wrongs before we can try to set them right. No, I'm not talking about things that are gray, like "the missing link" or "gospel of Thomas", but the backbone of the given line of culture; what if there really was a God, or what if God really is made up? To both camps, these truths would be pretty earth-quakal.

Human perception and epistomology combined gives us some-part genetics and some-part environment beings learning through behavior of themselves and others, guided by the simplicity of the data we're given. We perceive things very much like a computer; there are options one, two or three, and our backbone knowledge is based on these simplicities. Add 100 options to any complex problem, and the human can't possible perceive anything, crawl into a corner and yell "under pressure."

Part two : Human knowledge

We know because we think, some say. Others point out that we know things before we think, like instincts. Ah, says others, what some call "thinking" others call "feeling" and vice-versa. And, shouts yet others, knowledge is the explicit result of thinking, and can't possibly be mistaken.

Epistomology is a lot fun and a lot of bullshit. The fun is thinking about it, and the bullshit is when you formalise it, and as such I won't even dare to confront it; for me it just is. Now, that is a pretty vague and spineless statement as any, I'm reminded by voices of past encounters. But is it? Is it spineless that something just is? First of all, philosophy - in its basic form - are questions, and for most humans, questions demand answers, and answers comes from thinking about the question with all your knowledge. Do you know how you think? I personally can "think" in several languages, and a lot of other people do to. Do I think alike in two languages? Is dreaming thinking, a possible third language? What is thinking? Can you - off the top of your head - formalise just where a thought begins? Is it that you see a cow, and think "Heh, a cow" or is it that out of nowhere - assumed by random - you think "Hey! A cow! Now that's a cool animal." What is the process from "blank" to "cow"?

For me, it just is. There might be a myriad of things affecting how the thought appears, but to formalise it? Forget it. It just is. It just happens. For me. And, let me ask, why do we need it to be anything else?

Just like religious people say "Why does God have to be a man or woman or anything resembling a physical being? It just is." Or in science when asked about what gravity is. It just is. there are many things in this world where I'm happy to say "it just is", like how they make perfectly round chocolate marbles with biscuit inside; shouldn't there be a deformation where the marble cooled off, or something? I don't know, yet my life goes on, and I can write complex articles about the influence of Basso Continuo in Monteverdian Operas at the beginning of the 17-th century. I'm willing to accept "it just is" with this, same with trying to formalise any thought. I often call it bullshit, because "it just is" and "bullshift" so often are interchangable. try it; a methodic formalisation of thought processes leading from void to idea. Bullshit. The best you can do is to get at some core stimula in which you might - might! - have come to some idea.

Human knowledge is a lot about bullshit; we filter it, extend it, dwell on it and suck it in. Black and white. Simplicity vs. complexity.

Part three : Stupid idiots

What stupid idiot asks "Can I have some cake?" without wanting some cake? According to the general state of things, a great lot of them. So many of us have some principle, some political agenda, philosophical standing or stubborn opinion that asks for cake, but it comes down to it, when it comes down to actually eating the stuff, what happens?

There is capitalists that wants social rights. There are communists that enjoy commercial success. There are socialists that wants to get rid of the whingers and leaches of society. There are warmongers that really wants peace, and peace doves that tells funny war-jokes and laughs about them. In short; there are highways with little intersections running off it in all directions. This is the human mind. the highway give people a sense of direction, but they take an intersection if they feel that the direction is somewhat bumpy, crowded, wrong, slow, mellow, dramatic, hard, etc. Just like the human mind. We have a hypocrit mind, let's make no mistake about it. the most devout human mind has hypocritical tendencies.

Does that make them a stupid idiot? Not at all; it makes them human. It is the people who think that there should be no intersections and smaller, less-travelled roads that are stupid idiots. Why can't a capitalist also hold certain socialist values? Why can't science have a bit of religion in it? Why can't politics have a bit of sense in it? Why must we insist on the classification of simplicity?

Ah, I bet you didn't see that coming!

Well, I actually bet you did; classification is a large part of how we perceive things, how knowledge works, and how I can put people in a box labelled "stupid idiots." It makes it easy. Simple. Thinking is a real-time ever-changing query language to a massive graph of simple knowledge. Why does simplicity persist? Because most knowledge is simple in form, and complex in relationships. "A house" is a simple construct. "Houses" is a complex relationship with several simple "A house" constructs.

Now, this is why graph theory is so appealing to Artificial Intelligence researchers, and possibly why Topic maps was so appealing to me. it makes sense. Isolated topics; simple and good. Context; complex and difficult.

How can we simplify context? A lot of people are creating ontologies for this purpose. It might work for some things, but for the most parts you can't fit it all in. Even the Cyc ontology is rather complex, and it isn't so intuitive that any human can whiz out their thoughts in it just like that. Specialist tools and processes are needed, and unfortunately that leads us back to the tries to formalise the human thought patters. Ugh.


We've brushed gently on the side of languages, and let's go back; inside a language are constructs to thinking and knowledge. The mix of audiovisual stimulants with language is - as I've thought for a long time - the key to successful AI systems. A lot of research has gone into this, but there is that step which seems to drag it all down - logic and formalisation - which essentially stop things being human.

Is that a philosophical stand? More like a principle? Well, no; it is all about how human perception goes. We perceive things, and know things, and have instincts on top, and if the system designed hasn't got all of this, it isn't going to represent any human trait. It might be a good mockery, it might even pass a Turing test and make some good estimate on the odds of something or other, but will it be viable? Oh, there are lots of practical things that can be done, but by viable I'm referring to "gather that messages from Liz and Elisabeth are the same person, but has different implications as going to friends (Liz) and others (Elisabeth), and how to use this in writing a first draft letter of admiration.


If you've come all the way down here, I congratulate you; it was something of an experiment, having watched "Finding Forrester" a few days ago, I decided to try to write with my heart, and no editing before publishing, just to see what comes out the other end.

And the conclusion is clear; I'd better go and classify and formalise my thought processes before I publish the edited version!

Permalink (Tue, 20 Apr 2004 13:00:00 GMT)| Comments (4) | Knowledge and information Topic maps
Aine / ( Tue, Apr 20 2004 )
It just is.
Seriously, I enjoyed this essay. You touched on a lot of points I've thought about over the years. Where thoughts come from... that's a topic unto itself about which books could be written. And then there's the whole notion of where artists and writers come up with their ideas... I've heard (and said) many times that they perceived those ideas as coming from some place or thing or being beyond themselves, as if they were only the tools to manifest . I've heard (and said) many times that they perceived those ideas as coming from some place or thing or being beyond themselves, as if they were only the tools to manifest them in tangible form. That particular idea fascinates me.
matti ( Wed, Apr 21 2004 )
Great essay, once again.
http://maadmob.net/donna/blog/ ( Sat, Apr 24 2004 )
Gosh - lots of interesting things all at once...perception, cognition, categorisation and linguistics all in one post
I care how you feel - next time I say how are you, you can damn well answer me...
Carlo ( Wed, Apr 28 2004 )
Very nice essay. Here are my thoughts also as a stream of consciousness:
Thinking just is? Hmm. Things just are? Yes, in that our work is to understand their nature, studying the causality among things (and not judging them in the process).
I describe thinking as establishing associations and relations among the stimuli one receives. In this sense, the brain is a pattern recognition engine, though these days I prefer the term relation engine.
The first time we see a cow, we likely won't know what to make of it. But once we see it moving, feeding, etc., we recognize that such observation, both in general and nuanced ways, suggest 'animal'. 'Animal' would of course have to be part of our existing repetoire of knowledge (experience) in order to make such a relation quickly. Otherwise, such as in the case of a young child, the learning process will be much longer.
I see the function of the brain as something extremely primitive. We just marvel at how such primitive functionality can lead to such complexity and sophistication. Consider a painting. Is it not assembled from a series of brush strokes? And consider the modern computer chip. Is it not simply millions of transisters through which electricity can be directed in an enormous number of different and complex ways the sum of which can produce calculations or generate images?
Sure, one can also say the brain is incredibly complex, what with all of the physiological detail one can get into; for example, certain parts of the brain seem to be specialized in handling certain types of stimuli. But the physical description of something (what much of science seems to be) normally does not provide a useful answer to a substantive question. What we as human beings need to know is: What is the nature of (X) so that I can understand how to interact with it.
I suspect that even (what we call) memory is not a special or distinct process of the brain, but rather an identical and integral process of our other 'thinking' or 'reasoning'; it consists of relations among things as before plus the temporal context. Where does the temporal context arise from? Probably from the recognition of sequence: 'I saw the cow graze, then poop, then lay down,... then graze, then poop, then lay down'. 'What did it do before it pooped?' 'Uh, it grazed'. Sequence is just another relation type.
What attracted me to the topic map concept is how intrigingly closely it relates to this thinking.
Alex ( Thu, Apr 29 2004 )
Thanks for all the comments and praise. And to Carlo; yes, you're simply continuing where I left off. :) I agree, and I talk a lot about what you're talking about here in an upcoming tutorial on Topic Maps I'm currently writing. But let me tell ya; writing anything on Topic Maps these days is hard, because I dive straight into the philosophical side of things instead of hardcore technical facts.
Anyways, thanks for the Time pointer; very timely.
Danl ( Tue, May 4 2004 )
Intresting, but then think how lucky you are to live in an imperfect world. The challenge and self imposed pressure is to achieve an elegant understanding of our existence. Topic Maps are just ONE of several aids that can help our perception of that existence (and having come across your site I will probably try and see if they suit my way of thinking), only time and effort can provide the answer.
As to the differences in attitude (ie. how are you, Norwegian vs Australian), there is a commonality in what you say but its not because the Australian ethos does not care; but rather that the male is brought up in an aggresive role and taught to repress any feelings that may show any form of weakness. The price paid is the lack of real networking, and reliable friendships that should endure over many years; except in rare circumstances (ie. war or combatant situations) the Aussie mateship that is said to exist as part of the nation's culture never rears its head, and even then only at times of extreme pressure. Many regards and remember - there is good pressure and bad pressure, one must avoid the latter at all costs as it is destructive to thr soul.
Alex ( Tue, May 4 2004 )
Danl : Thanks for those comments, and I agree with what you say, without totally ignoring that even if the male agressive mateship created the sphere of 'false advertising' it is now fully and well its own culture and ongoing tradition. It is the shackles of tradition I here really have a go at.
miles thompson ( Tue, Sep 28 2004 )
Hey Buddy,
I'm pretty sure the 'gnashing sadness' 'eating away at my very soul' shouldn't be put down to distance from all things familiar. It is, I think you will find the problem is Canberra. As the Chinese proverb goes - In Canberra, gnashing sadness. Away from Canberra, soul in flight.
But hey I'm just a kiwi in new york so what would I know. ;-)
Con ( Tue, Nov 29 2005 - 02:11:51 )
" - So... Where're you living these days?
- Well, you'd hardly call it living. I've lost my job,
I'm having quite a few emotional problems..."