Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Didion on Her Notebook

Joan Didion wrote a famous essay "On Keeping a Notebook
... the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day's events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about "shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed"? Shopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E? Was this "E" depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?
In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. "That's simply not true," the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. "The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn't that way at all." Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.
Notebooks are kept for many different purposes. Let's call Didion's notebook a "literary notebook," that is a resource for stories and essays. Insofar as I have kept and do keep notebooks, they have a different purpose: they are scholarly notebooks. I also tried (try) to keep "pointless entries" to a minimum, nor am I primarily interested in having "an accurate factual record of what I have been doing and thinking," but I try to avoid what Didion calls "lies." The distinction between "what happened" and what "might have happened" matters for my purposes, even if (or perhaps just because) it is difficult.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Can Spiderwebs Think?

The idea of "thinking spiderwebs" is suggested by the title of an article: The Thoughts of a Spiderweb. Based on an article in Animal Cognition, they suggest that some spider webs are "at least an adjustable part of its sensory apparatus, and sensory apparatus, and at most an extension of the spider’s cognitive system." This, it is further suggest: "would make the web a model example of extended cognition, an idea first proposed by the philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers in 1998 to apply to human thought. In accounts of extended cognition, processes like checking a grocery list or rearranging Scrabble tiles in a tray are close enough to memory-retrieval or problem-solving tasks that happen entirely inside the brain that proponents argue they are actually part of a single, larger, 'extended' mind." Apart from the fact that the idea of an "extended mind" or "extended memory" does not originate with Clark and Chalmers, it is also questionable whether talk of "thoughts" is appropriate with regard to spiders, let alone with regard to their webs.

The author of the article knows these criticisms and suggests that we "more traditional theorists label these structures and spiderwebs alike as extended phenotypes, a term proposed by Richard Dawkins. Extended phenotypes are information from an animal’s genes that they express in the world. For example, bird nests are objects that are somehow encoded in the avian genome. And as with niche construction, natural selection affects the structure — different kinds of birds have evolved to build different kinds of nests, after all. But in the extended phenotype perspective, that selection ultimately just works inward, to tweak the controlling information in the animal’s genome."

I would put in my lot with the more traditional theorists, but I tend to agree with the critics who say "the only really strong case is the one with the most metaphysical baggage: us. “It is conceivable for cognition to be a property of a system with integrated nonbiological components.” I also agree that seems to be "where Homo sapiens is headed” or rather has been heading in this direction for a long time.

Luhmann's idea of "communicating" with Zettelkästen that has pre-occuupied this blog since its beginning is certainly one iteration of this idea.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Uploading and Dowloading Thoughts

Elon Musk's new company "Neuralink is pursuing what Musk calls the "neural lace" technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts, the Wall Street Journal reported." This is interesting, if only because it presupposes a rather naïve view of what thoughts are, namely that they are discrete (software) objects or data structures "in the brain" that can be manipulated in the way in which any digital information can be manipulated.

Biologically speaking, thoughts may well be described as neurons firing together in certain patterns with certain brains. And there may be different patterns for the "same" thought in different brains. These patterns may be more dependent on independent external objects than this view suggests. As Howard Rheingold suggested "[T]he human organism is linked with an external entity in a two-way interaction, creating a coupled system that can be seen as a cognitive system in its own right. All the components in the system play an active causal role, and they jointly govern behavior in the same sort of way that cognition usually does. If we remove the external component the system’s behavioral competence will drop, just as it would if we removed part of its brain. Our thesis is that this sort of coupled process counts equally well as a cognitive process, whether or not it is wholly in the head."

This may mean that notes on paper or the computer are at least as important for "uploading" or "downloading" thoughts than what's in the brain. I am sure this will be figured out eventually.

Just a thought!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Read Today

I read about Gaussian processes today on Wired: "deep neural networks" and "Gaussian processes". The following quote caught my attention: "Gaussian processes are a good way of identifying uncertainty. 'Knowing that you don’t know is a very good thing,' says Chris Williams, a University of Edinburgh AI researcher who co-wrote the definitive book on Gaussian processes and machine learning. 'Making a confident error is the worst thing you can do.'"

This is obviously also very important for note-taking. Any relevance to recent political developments is, of course, purely accidental.

Back Links

Back links are a standard Wiki Technology. A list of back links is the same as the list of all pages that refer to the page you are viewing. This makes the navigation in the Wiki much easier. See here.

There are quite a few "wiki" apps that do not have this capability.[1]


1. See previous post (plus comments).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bear

Bear is a relatively new application. It seems to be very popular.

I have fooled around with the desktop application, but I have no real need for the iPhone and iPad apps at this time. This might be the reason why I find it less than compelling.

It has a clean interface, and I like it. Whether it is "beautiful," as they claim, I do not know. To me, it looks like many other note-taking apps on the Mac.

They claim: "Link notes to each other to build a body of work. Use hashtags to organize for the way you think. All notes are stored in portable plain text. Yes, it allows you to link notes--very much the way that nvAlt allows you to do it: You enclose words in double brackets, and if those words correspond to a note title, it links to the note. This looks like a wiki-link, but it has only some of the characteristics of a wiki-link. Chhange the title of the note and the link is broken. No back links either.

Bear supports its own version of Markdown and has a "Markdown compatibility" mode. It handles pictures very well, and it also exports to PDF and Word, and it has many other interesting and useful functions. It is a good applications. I recommend it, but I myself would have liked a stronger linking capability.

I would very much like to see something like "ConnectedText for Windows," and I had some hopes "Bear" might be it. But it isn't. To be sure, this is a very esoteric expectation, but I cannot help myself.

If you would like to see a more thorough review of Bear, see here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

20,000 Notes in Evernote

It appears that Evernote can handle 20,000 notes with relative ease. That is good to know, even if I don't use Evernote extensively. I am very worried about putting that much trust into an online system that is under someone else's control.

Still, it is interesting that it can be used as a heavy-duty note-taking system.