Reaction to Zen TV article

Zen TV Experiment
I've taken the advice of the article and tried observing my own computer use. I notice the sounds of people around me and my spatial position in the room, as well as the sensations of my body. It is difficult to maintain this state of awareness, though, like trying to stay conscious while falling asleep. In other words, I can't do it. Yet.

The part about relaxation and renewal resonated with my experience. I find that being in front of a computer jams my ability to think. I come up with ideas whenever I'm free to be by myself, whether I'm walking around or just getting a snack. Well, maybe writing on the computer is different, but the kind of web browsing that is similar to TV creates a mental state that inhibits my creativity and understanding. It's like the computer presses down and holds my mind, and once I escape to the outside I can see myself and think again. Even observing myself use the Internet gives only a limited context. I know that once I get up and go outside my mind will be much more free.

I have thought about this before. I remember noticing how draining an electronic screen can be. I contrasted this with sound, which is all around and more relaxing for me. My idea was to make a game of only sound, which would incorporate the sounds occurring naturally in the player's environment, and to increase the player's appreciation for the sound that always surrounds us. Here's how I described it in my journal on 2005/01/03:

A game or experience that widens perception rather than focusing on a small screen. Sound is a good example of expanding perception. Focusing is tiring, gives headache, etc., expanding is relaxing.

Sound is all around you and inside you. (You can focus your perceptions on particular sounds though.) Sight is restricted to your field of vision in front, and is often focused - on a page, or a screen. It is also more difficult to produce expanded sight perceptions (VR helmet) than sound (headphones). So sound is a better medium.

It should make people want to find new sounds and take the game to different places to explore new worlds (Pokemon effect). Then they would think differently about sound and all places they go, because they have that extra layer of meaning or pattern recognition attached to different soundscapes (one of the learning principles).

Also, see this essay for elaboration on that last point.

"We no longer do, we watch, and reality is someone else's creation."
I have also noticed a feeling that I am not in control of my own actions, that I am watching my senses, my feelings and thoughts. Especially my voice is something which can seem foreign to me at times. For me, writing is a much more faithful transcription of my thoughts. So you're getting the real deal here! This is a common idea for me, playing with the idea of free will and personality. I don't think this was due to TV or the Internet, as I rarely watch TV, and I never really used the Internet much then.


Reaction to Online Credibility paper

The main idea of this paper is that the old ways of determining credibility, by checking sources, is becoming obsolete with the rise of the Internet and particularly collaborative sites such as Wikipedia. Instead, users find various cues on the site which give an overall impression of credibility. For example, on Wikipedia there is recent information, many images to complement articles, and external links, all of which make the site seem more credible. The perceived credibility of a site like Wikipedia also depends on the users' view of the process by which its content is created. A user who does not believe that a collaborative encyclopedia is feasible is not likely to give much credibility to the information in Wikipedia.

I think that source credibility actually can become an important factor though. A distinguished website or the author of a popular blog can hold credibility on their own. People may think an article on Wikipedia is credible simply because it is on Wikipedia. Basing the credibility of some information on its source is a way to avoid the work of analyzing it. I think it makes as much sense to attach source credibility to a website like Wikipedia as to a person. Both are, in a sense, distributed knowledge networks. One is made of webpages, while the other is made of neurons. Actually the distinction is fuzzier than that, as people rely on the external memory of papers and websites, while human contributors are integral to the knowledge network of Wikipedia.


Wikipedia Case Study

Evolutionary creationism
This is a Wikipedia article about the belief that evolution is compatible with creationism. It was first created as a stub on 2003/09/27 and has been edited by roughly thirty people so far.

Here are some frequent contributors to the page:
A contributor to a wiki on evolutionary biology who has Google bombing links suggesting an anti-Bush and anti-Christian viewpoint.

A computer programmer who also maintains a Catholic website.

A person who seems to be interested in the possibilities for group intelligence, of which Wikipedia is an example.

A youth worker for an Anglican church, who also has a Ph.D. in archaeology and geochemistry.

The main source of debate in editing this topic has been the distinction between evolutionary creationism and theistic evolution. Currently the consensus is to redirect the theistic evolution links to the evolutionary creationism page. Apparently they are not different enough to warrant separate articles for each.

The way discussion seems to work is that someone brings up a suggested change, and then people respond to it or ignore it. When they respond to it, they may either discourage the action or add their own suggestions. If a suggestion is ignored, its originator is free to carry it out. Most disagreements build up until one side accepts defeat and stops posting.

In general, many changes are carried out by a few people who are regular Wikipedia users and also have an interest in the subject. These people often act as editors who maintain the quality of the article. But both small changes and new additions are made by people passing by.


Reaction to Google Bomb Paper

Deconstructing Google Bombs
Google bombing is a cool idea that I would like to try once I think of a worthy subject. But the purpose of this paper is to determine whether Google bombing can be considered a "social movement." Apparently some cases are social movements, but some are not. The miserable failure Google bomb is not a social movement because it arose from a general dissatisfaction and not specifically to put Bush's biography at the top of a search for "miserable failure." But the Jew Google bomb was specifically organized in response to the appearance of an anti-Semitic website as the first result of a search for "Jew." I'm not sure if the distinction is so clear-cut though. Is "miserable failure" not a social movement because it reflects an existing state of mind, while "Jew" is because it was a new creation?

The issue of who controls media and reality reminded me of The Third Wave, a book which predicts and describes the fall of industrial society and the rise of a new, decentralized society. One interesting topic in the book is the distinction between producer and consumer that industrialism created, which the third wave is supposed to reunite. The Internet is part of that change. Instead of monolithic television stations controlling our representations of reality, media is splitting up into a more democratic form.

Blogs are a relatively new way to bring production back to the people. And Google bombing is a way for groups of loosely connected people to influence the Internet's equivalent of monolithic media producers. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The danger lies in tipping the balance too far from conformity to the side of diversity, where search engines are no longer trusted to provide objective results. Google bombing is an agent of diversity because it increases the number of viewpoints in what makes an objective result. When Google is upholding the objectivity of their search, this underlying conformity enhances the effectiveness of communication; it is a common language. Hopefully Google will remain balanced.

A similar concept is Douglas Adams' idea about communication and the fourth "age of sand" from his speech Is there an Artificial God? There is the conversational one-to-one communication, the hierarchical one-to-many, the democratic many-to-one, and finally the chaotic many-to-many. This many-to-many flavor of communication is now being made possible on a large scale by the Internet. We are still dominated by an industrial one-to-many format by newspapers, television and public education. This separation of production and consumption is unhealthy and stressful. We can't easily do much about the disasters we hear about or the policies of our centralized government. Fixing this problem is the promise of the third wave and the fourth age of sand.


Kevin Kelly Quote on Thinking and Evolution

Tunneling through randomness
"Some students of the human mind make a strong argument that thinking is a type of evolution of ideas within the brain. According to this argument, all created things are evolved. As I write these words, I have to agree. I began this book not with a sentence formed in my mind but with an arbitrarily chosen phrase, "I am." Then in unconsciously rapid succession I evaluated a headful of possible next words. I picked one that seemed esthetically fit, "sealed." After "I am sealed," I went on to the next word, choosing from among 100,000s of possible ones. Each selected word bred the choices for the next until I had evolved almost a sentence of words. Toward the end of the sentence my choices were constrained somewhat by the words I had already chosen at the beginning, so learning helped the breeding go more quickly."


"What will the next words be that I write in this chapter? In a real sense I don't know. There are probably billions of possibilities of what they might be, even taking into account the restriction that they must logically follow from the last sentence. Did you guess this sentence as the next one? I didn't either. But that's the sentence I found at the end of the sentence."

You can't know exactly what you are going to think next in your head, because if you did you would have already thought it. But you still think; the thoughts make sense and you know that you made them yourself.

Kevin Kelly Quote on Ecology and Evolution

Ecosystems: between a superorganism and an identity workshop
"Because evolution is such a symbolic process, we now can artificially create it and attempt to govern it. But because ecological change is so body bound, we cannot synthesize it well until we can more easily simulate bodies and richer artificial environments."

Ecology is what happens in systems like Tierra, where the evolving species can interact with each other. The evolutionary landscape is the space of possible genomes, while the ecological landscape is the space of interactions between genes, species and the environment.

Kevin Kelly Quote on Networks

What came first, stability or diversity?
"Biology suggests that in addition to regulating the numbers of connections per "node" in a network, a system tends to also regulate the "connectance" (the strength of coupledness) between each pair of nodes in a network. Nature seems to conserve connectance. We should thus expect to find a similar law of the conservation of connectance in cultural, economic, and mechanical systems, although I am not aware of any studies that have attempted to show this. If there is such a law in all vivisystems, we should also expect to find this connectance being constantly adjusted, perpetually in flux."

Hmmm, that sounds familiar. Ecosystems are like neural networks.

Kevin Kelly Quote on Exploration and Exploitation

Cooperation without friendship or foresight
"Every complex adaptive organization faces a fundamental tradeoff. A creature must balance perfecting a skill or trait (building up legs to run faster) against experimenting with new traits (wings). It can never do all things at once. This daily dilemma is labeled the tradeoff between exploration and exploitation. Axelrod makes an analogy with a hospital: "On average you can expect a new medical drug to have a lower payoff than exploiting an established medication to its limits. But if you gave every patient the current best drug, you'd never get proven new drugs. From an individual's point of view you should never do the exploration. But from the society of individuals' point of view, you ought to try some experiments." How much to explore (gain for the future) versus how much to exploit (sure bet now) is the game a hospital has to play. Living organisms have a similar tradeoff in deciding how much mutation and innovation is needed to keep up with a changing environment. When they play the tradeoff against a sea of other creatures making similar tradeoffs, it becomes a coevolutionary game."

This is the tension between diversity and conformity. Also, exploration and exploitation are the two key words I came up with for adventure and strategy games.

Kevin Kelly Quote on Body and Mind

No intelligence without bodies
"For better or worse, in reality we are not centered in our head. We are not centered in our mind. Even if we were, our mind has no center, no "I." Our bodies have no centrality either. Bodies and minds blur across each others' supposed boundaries. Bodies and minds are not that different from one another. They are both composed of swarms of sublevel things.

We know that eyes are more brain than camera. An eyeball has as much processing power as a supercomputer. Much of our visual perception happens in the thin retina where light first strikes us, long before the central brain gets to consider the scene. Our spinal cord is not merely a trunk line transmitting phone calls from the brain. It too thinks. We are a lot closer to the truth when we point to our heart and not our head as the center of behaviors. Our emotions swim in a soup of hormones and peptides that percolate through our whole body. Oxytocin discharges thoughts of love (and perhaps lovely thoughts) from our glands. These hormones too process information. Our immune system, by science's new reckoning, is an amazing parallel, decentralized perception machine, able to recognize and remember millions of different molecules."

Chris Crawford Quote on Innocence

"Cool versus innocent -- they define the polarity I seek to examine in this essay. Let's begin by noting the associations of each term:

Innocent: Sweet, childlike, naive, unsophisticated, simple, trusting, open, vulnerable

Cool: unflappable, knowledgeable, sophisticated, distant, Arnold Schwartzenegger, savvy, clever, tough, adult, cynical, skeptical

Next, I'd like to develop these concepts more formally. I'll begin with an easy concept: the innocent is more easily awestruck than the cool. Can you imagine Joe Cool gaping open-mouthed at a tall skyscraper the way a child would? To express awe would be an admission of unsophistication. Moreover, to project coolness convincingly, Joe Cool must not merely mask feelings of awe, he must internally suppress them. He must savage his ability to feel awe.

Where awe goes, so goes wonder. How can we let our minds soar in grand wondering flights of fancy when we lack the awe-feelings that power our imaginations? What objects of wonder can there be for a sophisticate, who already knows everything?

Awe launches our wonder; wonder feeds our creativity. The wondering search for combinations that make sense, for explanations that work, for relationships between the awe-inspiring and the familiar -- these are the efforts that trigger flashes of inspiration. Awe, wonder, and creativity are root, stem, and flower."

I find myself on the innocent side.

Chris Crawford Quote on Nounism

The Operational Approach
"An easier way to recognize the prejudice of nounism is to note the historical trends in some of the above-mentioned fields. In computer science, for example, we have seen an explosion of creative activity in the last decade arising from the wide availability of PCs and the Internet. But has anybody noticed that the preponderance of this creativity has expressed itself in -- and been measured by -- the huge number of bits that have been made available. Between CD-ROMs and the Web, we now have Humonga-bytes of images, sounds, text, numbers, and all manner of other facts. But consider this: we have also built enough computers (and made them so fast) that every day, civilization expends Humonga-cycles of processing time. And what are all those cycles doing? I'd guess that almost ALL of those cycles are wasted in wait-loops, as the computer sits for eternities waiting for the rare keypress or mouseclick. And even the cycles that aren't wasted are used almost entirely for shuffling bits around: moving an image from a CD to the screen, a sound from memory to a speaker, and so on. An infinitesimal fraction of the cycles we generate every day are used to actually PROCESS anything. We push numbers around a lot, but we seldom crunch them. It seems a great shame to use this wondrous processing machine to shuffle bits around; is it not unlike using a Chinese peasant, a human being with character and feelings and soul, to bail water from a canal to a field? It would seem that, in terms of truly utilizing the power of the computer, we still have a long way to go."

I have been heading toward this direction. How to make nearly infinite worlds with finite memory? Cellular automata tiles are an example of using cycles instead of bytes.