I’m deciding to take advantage of “structured procrastination” (I should be studying for a French test) and write about simplicity – again. A recent digg article shot to the front page about webdesign simplicity. It wasn’t particularly insightful or newly informative. But it did practice what it preached: Link. Mirror(png). Noticed how it was technically in the common five paragraph essay format/structure.

This common format is taught around 6th or 7th grade and then internalized throughout high school where it becomes enforced in college and a necessity for intellectual life. A quick google search produces a simple to understand guide for this: JCU.edu

This past year I read “A Hacker Manifesto” and its unusual aphorismic format was immediately appealing. It succeeds in its brevity where the common 5-paragraph system fails. It does this by breaking the monogamy of argument-example. The main argument to maintain this relationship for the 5-paragraph format is to allow for ‘further understanding’ or “support” of the argument. It allows the reader to more appropriately understand the meaning and context of the body’s premise. But, for certain information, this is not a necessity.

Before I proceed: I recognize the irony in having to utilize the 5-paragraph format in my own writing and I also recognize that I’ll have to use an example to further explain my previous statement. This is only a handicap because I haven’t internalized the aphorismic method, yet. So: For instance, in the above digg article the main argument statements in each body is in bold. You may if you need further clarification/understanding read the body’s non-bolded text. But you could read and understand the entire essay’s point by simply reading those short one-sentence arguments.

This setup makes the logic of the essay more explicit. One of the first challenges schoolchildren have in understanding a block of text in an essay is by recognizing what and where the thesis statement is. In the previous example, there is no interconnected logic but rather an abundance of one-liner arguments. But most other essays, particularly philosophical ones, require step-by-step argumentation.

Consider a simple syllogism:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Now, if this logic was to be put under the two structures previously described, then you shall see which has its flaws.

Very simplistically, in the 5-paragraph structure you’d have something like this. The obviousness of the supporting statements may come off as stupid but this yet another unnecessary flaw in 5-paragraph sytem.

It is no mystery we humans live and die. Socrates was no different in this distinction. In this essay, I will argue that since men die, and that Socrates is a man, that Socrates has the potential to die.
All men are mortal. This is evidenced by numerous graves and the fact that there are no men who have lived forever. All the decedents of men have died. Since we are living things, we must be vulnerable to death. For example, etc. This manifestation of humanity allows for the analysis of one such man, Socrates.
Socrates is a man. This can be shown in so many ways such as the certain traits that compose “man” which are shared by Socrates himself. For example, he has a beard. Another example, is that he has male genitalia. It is now imperative I describe the most important trait Socrates shares with mankind: mortality.
Thus, because Socrates is a man and that all men eventually die, Socrates will eventually die. It is possible to see the effects of death by his deteriorating health and lack of pulse. The trail and eventual willful execution by poision was the proverbial final nail in the coffin.
I have thus shown the intricate reasons for Socrates’s own mortality. It is taken syllogistically from the major premise that all men are mortal to the minor term that Socrates is a man and finally to the conclusion that Socrates is mortal.

How unbefuckinglievably laborious was it to wade through that dumbfounded essay only to point out the obvious syllogistic logic that Socrates is mortal? This has to be done for virtually every argument presented by anyone. It is beneficial to do this for rather complex arguments and arguments which may require such laborious support but this is only mainly done to cater to the possible stupidity and ignorance of the reader. It is not something that is necessitated by the form or argument itself. In “A Hacker Manifesto” Wark employs a slightly different approach. It is a little synthetic in that it is between the extended form of the 5-paragraph essay and the minimalistic form I’m arguing which would be an Wittgensteinian essay composed entirely of propositions. Wark will have an abundance of propositions in regard to a central idea/subject. He will also support those propositions with sub-propositions which could be separate but are kept within a single paragraph due to their relevance to the main topic sentence. Quote:

In the frontline states of the old cold war, the forces of revolt were most successful. In Tawian, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines; in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and the Baltic States, the forces of revolt pushed the old ruling classes toward a new state form, in which further movements toward abstraction at least have a fighting chance.

Revolt [237]

Two propositional statements. That whole paragraph could be dissertation. A dissertation analyzing the revolts in all those countries described, in support of a main thesis to describe the success of them as a movement toward Wark’s conceptualization of “abstraction.” Wark modeled his writing for “A Hacker Manifesto” on Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle” Debord was influenced by Isidore Isou (here is his manifesto) and his hypergraphology theory and Lettrist movement. Another writer’s style whose relevance is undeniable is Wittgenstein. In his magnum opus, Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein dissolves philosophy by logical atomism through arguments about language and reality. In 80 or so pages it critiques philosophical analysis, language, logic, reality, with some ethical overtones and develops a ‘picture’ theory of propositions. Each theses is numbered (1 through 6, with a 7th and last proposition being his famous dictum: “Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent.” or sometimes translated as “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”) and sometimes has sub-theses which are comments or elaborations on the main theses.

 

In fact, the entire ‘book’ can be simplified into 7 direct statements:

1. The world is all that is the case.

2. What is the case – a fact – is the existence of states of affairs.

3. A logical picture of facts is a thought.

4. A thought is a proposition with a sense.

5. A propositions is a truth-function of elementary propositions.

6. The general form of a truth-function is [p, E, N(E)].

7. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

 

That’s it. If Wittgenstein had been forced into the 5-paragraph structure the book would be monumental. His simplicity highlights another flaw in the 5-paragraph paradigm which I consider to be a manifest contradiction. In English writing classes we are taught two things: critical thinking skills and essay writing skills. But, the ideology behind both in regard to the reader-writer relationship is contradictory.

 

The reader is taught to be skeptical and critically analyze the information presented in an essay. They are taught to avoid logical fallacies, and not become victims of persuasion. But, the writer is given intellectual tools which he/she is supposed to utilize to convince the reader that the writers arguments are not only valid but sound and true. Writers are also urged to utilize writing which is not explicitly intellectually dishonest but is just as a persuasive in trying to convert the reader to the writer’s philosophy. This doesn’t make sense. Everyone is a writer and a reader. If you are a writer, you must use as many tools at your disposal to ‘trick’ the reader into adopting your view with the least resistance. If you are a reader, you must use as many tools at your disposal to be critical and open minded so as not to fall into the writer’s ‘traps’.

 

Aphorismic writing is not illusory. It presents a proposition within a logically flowing piece of literature and it is up to the reader to critically analyze it. Analyze it on its own merits and its relation to other propositions in the text. In Aphorismic writing, the potential intellectual dishonesty of the 5-paragraph method is avoided while the information and logic of the argument is maintained.

 

I wrote this entry in part to ‘do’ something today. But I also wrote it to allow myself to synthesize all these thoughts which bounce around in my mind loosely tied together. I didn’t write an outline for this, I just sat and wrote. I feel that I have convinced myself that I want to convert to writing aphorismically. However, first, I’ll have to start internalizing that method.

Plain Language: What is Plain Language?

I’ve wanted to find minimalists authors so that I can understand their economy of words in relation to the structure of their stories (plots, climaxes, descriptions and so forth) because I feel I’ve grasped a basic understanding of minimalism and simplicity in most other spheres (art, music, politics).

A few minimalist authors would be: Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Chuck Palahniuk, Emily Dickinson, Amy Hempel, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Grace Paley, Sandra Cisneros, Mary Robison, and Frederick Barthelme, Samuel Beckett.

Linguist and political critic Noam Chomsky developed a syntax theory based on minimalism. In fact he wrote a book on it: The Minimalist Program

For more: http://www.hikaripub.com/tips.htm#Mini

However, this seems oriented toward minimalism in technical writing especially when it sites theĀ  Nurnberg tunnel series by John Carro.

Untitled

February 25, 2007

Stunning wall murals – a photoset on Flickr

I think I’ll start blogging all these little tidbits of links I go through throughout the day.

technorati tags:

Absolutely beautiful.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdUUx5FdySs

It’s practically a constant of human nature to bypass a system of one’s own limitations. Man was born without wings, yet he flies. Not to sound so high and mighty, but we see this all the time in society and political atmospheres. When the social system is insufficient to your needs – you bypass it or take over the system or change it from within. To bypass it is to break the law. Immediately we think breaking the law is inherently unjustified. But it should be no mystery that when a person is in a situation where, despite their best efforts, society does not fullfill their basic needs. When a man has tried the unemployment line, when he’s tried to apply to welfare and financial help, and when he’s tried all the legal recourses at his disposal and when all those attempts fails – he is justified in breaking the law. It is the conundrum that an illegal act against an illegal system is thus, a justified act. It is the conundrum of commiting an immoral act so as not to commit a more immoral act, is thus a moral act – or at least a morally permissible one. For instance, stealing bread (an immoral act) in order to feed one’s family is a morally permissible act because letting your family die is much more immoral than stealing.

When politics doesn’t do what we request of it, we rebel and then we revolt. When nature doesn’t allow us to do what we desire, we build contraptions to bypass those biological limitations. It is our ingenuity and our unrelentless determination to be more than what limits us that makes us human.

Slobodkin’s Simplicity

October 22, 2006

Here’s a good book: Simplicity and Complexity in the Games of Intellect. However, there is only about 4 pages of written material that would benefit someone studying the philosophy of simplicty (like me). 90% of the book is laborious and overly florid exposition about numerous examples of simplicity. But what Slobodkin truly argues and what he writes in the introduction and conclusion are truly noteworthy and noble insights.

That’s not to say that his examples are unecessary though. They are great examples and there are many of them. They are imperative to an understanding of simplicity but the extend to which he describes and outlines them is unnecessary. Instead of focusing on defending insight Slobodkin is determined to make sure that his examples are pertinent to simplicity or complexity or intellectual life.

The book isn’t deceptive either. Well, maybe the introduction is a little deceptive but the conclusion admits only too late in the reading that a development of a general theory of simplicity was not accomplished. The book only provides the reader with an abundance of examples which aid in understanding extremely vague and undetermined concepts. The title is accurate – the book is really about simplicity and complexity (or rather more accurately “simplistic things and complex things”) in the “games of intellect” (ie. science, art, mathematics, and oddly enough, dinner).

For me, the book uncovers a few paradoxes in the study of simplicity. In one sense, there is an arbitrariness to simplicity. Aesthetically it relies on subjective perspectives – only certain things appear simple to certain people. Is simplicity just a qualitative description of something? A qualitative description that could apply to virtually anything? Is it just an adjective that can be used to describe an object just as easily as the word “green” can be used (his example)? Or is simplicity a symptom?

In the conclusion he says (but doesn’t backup) that it’s imortant to recognize that simplicity can be dysfunctional. Which is true. There can be simplistic things that are themselves uncessary, devoid of purpose or function. I see this as being a great methodological problem. If someone wants to create a universally applicable philosophy of simplcity they must be able to distinguish functional simplicity and simplistic things that aren’t functional. Functionalism, as understood in sociology, had a big slippery slope problem in that it defended everything because everything could have a function. Non-functionalists would get pissed off with functionalists because functionalists would argue how rape, crime, and poverty helped social stability. It was only later when Robert Merton introduced manifest and latent functions and dysfuntions. Now poverty could be examples as helping and destorying society purposfully and unpredictably.

Simplicity might suffer the same fate. If anything can be described as simplistic – or worse yet, everything as a threshold of simplicity (meaning: there is a certain level or value of simplicity that everything has) – under current understandings of simplicity there must be developed a way of suggesting how something can’t be simplistic or ‘shouldn’t’ be.

A Facial Change

September 18, 2006

I’ve decided to use a custom image header as you probably have noticed. The astounding artwork can be found, among other astounding artworks, at VHM-design: http://vhm-design.com/

You may also notice a peice by Bristol street stenicilist Banksy – an another artist who I’m interested in.

The piece spurs memories of Calvin from Bill Waterson’s comic Calvin and Hobbes. It also reminds me of a quote from a book I’m reading now – Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder: “The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder.”(page 15) And when have we been more filled with wonder than when we were children?

Social Change

September 3, 2006

Well, I just finished a textbook that I read for intellectual pleasure. I took it with me while I was on a mule trip on the High Sierras of Yosemite. That was weeks ago and I originally thought of bringing A Hacker Manifesto instead but I felt it would be a little too weird to be reading about techno-politics while being completely isolated from that entire atmosphere. Then again, reading about society was probably just as silly. Either way, both books were enlightening.

After reading this textbook on interdisciplinary studies of social change (albeit with a an emphasis on sociological studies, obviously) I wonder just how hungry the US is for change. However, I bet non-US citizens are hungry for the US to change its ways than its citizens themselves. “Terrorists” surely, but Europeans, Venezuelans, and surely those in the Pacific theatre.

Right now there are accusations against the administration in regards to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The people seem to want an impeachment. But I think that the Clinton impeachment proceedings pretty well established that the impeachment process is not a process that involves “the people” anymore. It’s a closed-circuit process completely contained within those in power. The republicans impeached Clinton. Not the people. Since the democrats make up 50-60% of the people but hold only 10% of the power, the chances of a Bush impeachment or any kind of transitory organizational change is just not going to happen.

Besides, who the hell wants Cheney to have more power than he already does? The guy wants to ban homosexuality (note: not just homosexual marriage) even though his daughter is one.

If I were to give a forecast of the possibility of some dramatic planned (or at least “conscious”) social change at the hands of the American people I’d say “fat chance.” Political apathy is greater than it’s been in decades, the iron cage of rationality is exploding (remember hearing about the passenger mutiny? – granted that was Australia but the irrationality is everywhere), a gross misunderstanding of the Islamic faith (and when coupled with irrationality the conclusions people make are absurd: “We value religious freedom. Islam does not value religious freedom. Therefore, we must control Islam.” – What the fuck?) and the fact that since there is also a rise in paleo-conservatism and paleo-liberalism (and neo-liberalism too) people are just waiting for social change to “happen” come election time.

But screw that. The programmer admitted to electronic tampering (even though his book was coming out at the same time he testified). We shouldn’t have to wait for society to change. That’s not how it works. Get up. Stop being apathetic and unnecessarily patient and ask for change. If they don’t answer your request. Demand it. If they don’t obey – make the change yourself. You’ve gone through the system and the system failed. Secondly, when the system is considered a failure and when the system is viewed as illegal then illegal actions are permissible.

Like the guerrilla artist Banksy says (actually, it might be the other guerrilla artist, Simon Munnery):

The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It’s people who follow the orders that drop bombs and massacre villages [and uphold holocausts].

And what is really gross is that guerrilla art is more offensive to people. It “destroys property”, “ruins the beauty of the city”, and in some ways affects people’s intellectual property. And yet, guerrilla art is just non-violent civil disobedience. Since civil disobedience exists in all civil atmospheres, I’d much rather have graffiti than the L.A. riots. Maybe they don’t view graffiti in the way that I do – urban folk art; modern civilian calligraphy; and something that simultaneously makes a statement about branding through art and a statement about art through branding.

ahh… pessimistic sociological rants are so healthy.

Before this information dissolves from my memory, I just want to give a tender-hearted recommendation for Richard B. Gregg's 1936 essay, "The Value of Voluntary Simplicity" (if you want to read it yourself just to a google search of the title and you'll find plenty of PDFs). It's not a perfect essay on simplicity but it's a prophetic starting point for living a simpler and innerly richer life. It has a few pitfalls, like that of commiting to fallacies: correlations as causation and appealing to authority. He particulary appeals to authority when he implicitly, although repeatedly, suggests that simplicity should be practiced because great minds like Ghandi, Jesus, and Buddha, as well as great civilizations like China, Babylonia, "the country", did as well or at least had simplicity much more cherished than he sees it is in our culture. Overall though it has some brilliant insights and adequately responds to the some criticisms against simplicity. 

 Also, he loosely defines simplicity. It's hard to tell if by simplicity he means "purity" or "refinement", or merely "less complexlity". I think though, the best characterization would be somewhat of a linkage between these synonyms and also with that of the "essential". Simplicity, thus can be defined as a refinement of the essentials for living. If we remove that which we only use to be a surplus to our livelihood, such as television or artificial flavoring, we will thus have less "property" (physical and intellectual) and because of a less complex property attain a better association with the property we do have but without the materialism. He gives a great example of his treatment of a homeless starving man coming to his door. If he is not simplistic he will be less hesitant to let the man in, near his furniture, his precious rugs, artworks and electronics and may not be willing to give up his time, space, energy, or food for the man. However, if he treasures simplicity, he will have a better connection between not only his so-called precious materials but also a connection with the homeless man. If he values the importance of his materials less and more on the simplicity of his livelihood he will be less hesitant, or not hesitant at all, to feed the man. 

Read it. http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0304spiritpsych/030409simplicity/simplicity.text.htm 

Mathematical Pornography

June 12, 2006

It should be no mystery that I like mathematics when it's used for something beautiful – a painting, an argument, sculpture, building and so forth. But I never expected that I'd ever see mathematics being used for pornographic purposes.

http://www.perpetualocean.com/amgallery8.html

This shouldn't be shocking. They are merely visual representations of mathematical algorithms. If "math" corrupts a children's mind just as much as actual pornography then we are either doomed or our puritanical morality is terribly out-dated. I hope that nobody can deny it's visual and intellectual beauty. 

Style Wars was a PBS documentary broadcast in the early 80s about graffiti, hip-hop, breakdancing, rap, and a few other emergent cultural memes of 70-80s New York. 

 I've got to say that the most hilarious part of the documentary is the dumb-ass way Ed Koch went about "solving" the problems caused by bombers and taggers wreaking havoc on the subway system. There are two solutions highlighted in the documentary. The first was a shameless ad campaign with boxers (no doubt that it was a gibe at pandering to the Puerto Rican community) with two slogans: "Take it from the Champs, Graffiti is for Chumps." and with "Make your mark IN Society, not ON Society." At a press conference Koch botches the second slogan. Near the end of the documentary Koch enlightens us on his best idea yet – a pair of razor wire fences, with a guard dog inbetween them, outside the train depot. But to hear how he tells the whole story of how he warred with the idea with the transit commision is just priceless. 

About three years ago I decided to.. uh.. suggest to uh.. to Ravitch that they put a uh.. dog in the yard to keep the graffiti vandals out. The MTA originally rejected it and they said, "No, if you put a dog in the yard he'll touch the third rail." Now I don't happen to think the dogs would touch the third rail but my response to that was, "Well if you think the dogs would touch the third rail then build two fences, and have the dog run between the two fences. And that will keep people out and protect the dog from stepping on the third rail." And the response was, "Well somebody will climb over the fence and the dog will bite them." and I said, "Well I thought that's what the dog was for but if you're afraid of having the dog bite such a vandal" and here I called upon my prodigious memory "what you should do then is instead of using a dog, you should use a wolf and have a wolf run between the two fences. Because there is no recorded case in history where a wolf has ever attacked a human being unless the wolf were rabid – mad." Now, as a result of telling that story innumerable times I embarrassed the MTA into building the fence. … And it was so successful they now claim it as their own idea and they are building 18 more fences. 

It's just brilliant how Koch has a dumb idea to begin, refines it to even greater magnitudes of stupidty, and in the end feels he deserves recognition for this astoundingly retarded idea. He does certainly deserve the recognition. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. The guy starts with a dumb idea and when met with opposition instead of swallowing his pride and thinking up a better idea he backpeddles but never steps down and remedies the opposition by just putting up another fence. Then with a second opposition he does the same thing by calling on his "prodigious memory" about something that is in no way a fact, that of no "recorded case in history" of a non-rabid wolf attack on a human. Hysterical, just hysterical. I couldn't believe it. And his whole idea that he and the MTA spent so much time and effort formulating is torn to shreds by a one sentance made by a bomber: "They got guys out there that are mugging people on the subways, stabbing people, throwing people onto the tracks and all that and they are wasting their bullshit money on trying to get us." 

Richard Ravitch at the time was the intermediary between the higher ups of the New York beauracracy and the artists (and it is an art). He said he met with a group of them, according to him out of "intellectual curiosity", to find a common ground. Obviously they didn't find common ground but most likely because Ravitch wasn't caring enough to find the common ground in the first place. His interview is the most emotionally detached about the issue. Every graffiti bomber/artist interviewed is energetic and informative but every interview with Koch and Ravitch is watching a monotone dead-eyed soulless wonder spew the same stubborn "property rights this" "misguided morals that" crap. I garauntee you if the politicans actually embraced graffiti as a form of city-wide diverse cultural expression the public would have swallowed it whole. 

Graffiti is an art form. End of discussion about that debate. Whether it's a "high" or "fine" art form is debatable and whether or not it is classified as New York cultural "kitsch" is also arguable. Either way, it is art. It's a form of expression and communication which uses textual and symbolic imagery through a chemical medium. It's a modernization of calligraphy and what is most interesting is how the meme became organically powerful. Tagging started in the 60s with "Julio 204" but popularized by "Taki 183". Both of Julio's and Taki's tagging styles were nothing more than a simplstic single line text – no more creative than print-style handwritting. However nowadays the calligraphy of modern day graffiti has three-dimensionality, Picasso-esque abstractions, a myraid of colors, chamoflague, and it's own inner symbology (ex. text-embedded arrows). Secondly it has an interesting characteristic that most art forms don't – mobility. A tag can be broadcasted across an entire city while traveling on a subway train or it can be a static image on the side of a convenience store. The portable images on trains have their important factors and the static images which can use the brick-wall architecture of the convenience store as the images texture. 

The other interesting thing about the graffiti meme is how it reflects absurdism. I've just read a small Camus biography but his ideas on absurdism are quite interesting. Camus' favorite example of absurdism was suicide how it is not only a backlash against the lack of meaning in life but also a product of meaninglessness in life. Graffiti as an absurdist by-product is evidenced by the fact that it was born out of a need to inject meaning into a meaningless culture but also a backlash against the meanings of the predominant culture. Graffiti was here to bomb the lines as one tagger says in the documentary.