Hofstadter and the Singularity

May 16th, 2008

I got a copy of Douglas Hofstadter’s “I Am a Strange Loop” (Amazon) for my birthday and spent the next month puzzling over why this inane book ever got written, other than to make a few bucks from aging technohippies with fond memories of Godel, Escher and Bach. It’s basically a random collection of unstructured jottings, boring personal stories, and contentless musings. Try as he might, Hofstadter never manages to convince us of the connection between Godel’s proof and some kind of loop that supposedly lies at the basis of our consciousness. Oddly, there’s almost no reference to any of the actual research in neuroscience or related fields which has started to cast light on the phenomenon of consciousness in recent years.

Hofstadter’s treatment of Zen in the book is emblematic of its problems. In a dialog between “Strange Loop #641”, a believer in the ideas of I Am a Strange Loop (such as they are), and “Strange Loop #642”, a doubter, he has them saying: Read the rest of this entry »

Music can cause your brain to grow

May 16th, 2008

Italian neuroscientists have that bombarding mice with easy listening music increases levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor ( ), in their hypothalmus specifically. However, levels of another neurotropic factor, NGF (nerve growth factor), declined. The findings suggest, according to the authors, that physiological effects of music, such as lowered blood pressure and heart rate or mood improvements, “might in part be mediated by modulation of neurotrophins.”

“First Dogen Book” now available in print

May 11th, 2008

I am pleased to announce the print availability of “First Dogen Book”, a brand new book containing extensively annotated translations of selected fascicles from Dogen’s Shobogenzo.

First Dogen Book is available for $19.95 from:

  • , the publisher

The fascicles included are:

  • Bendowa (Dialog on the Way of Commitment)
  • Genjo Koan (Truth Unfolding)
  • Uji (A Particular Hour)
  • Soshi Seirai I (Why the First Patriarch Came from the West)

Read the rest of this entry »

You know the sea nourishes life

May 9th, 2008

In the middle of Genjo Koan, Dogen introduces an analogy involving fish, birds, sea, and sky. This was actually the first bit of Dogen that I ever translated.

Swim as they may, fish find no end to the sea; fly as they may, birds find no end to the sky. Yet fish and bird still remain in the sea and sky as they have for ages…birds would perish instantly if they left the sky, fish would perish instantly if they left the sea.

This all seems rather understandable by Dogen’s standards. But just when we’re ready for some kind of insight or conclusion, Dogen launches into an opaque series of Chinese anagrams:

以水為命しりぬべし、以空為命しりぬべし。以鳥為命あり、以魚為命あり。以命為鳥なるべし、以命為魚なるべし。

What do they mean?

Read the rest of this entry »

Numenware–the book

May 9th, 2008

2006 postings to Numenware are now available in book form for the low, low price of $19.95. What better belated Christmas present for your loved one or even yourself to read in the tub.

From the intro:

2006 was the year with the greatest density of neurotheological content on the blog, and these articles, taken as a whole, would I hope represent a meaningfully significant, if somewhat quirky, overview of the field.

Loyal readers of Numenware who read posts as they went up may have missed the discussion in the comments section, many of which are extremely informative. These comments have been included in the book, typos and all.

Buy Numenware 2006 from Lulu.com now . 140 pp., with an extensive (10 page) index. Digital version available for three bucks and change.

Why I Believe "Why We Believe" is Mush

May 6th, 2008

The word must be out about what Daddy’s interested in because under the tree for me at Christmas-time were two, count ’em, two books by Andrew Newberg, MD , namely “Why We Believe What We Believe” and “Why God Won’t Go Away”. Picked up the first one and started in on Chapter 1, “The Power of Belief”. The first story was about a guy for whom a cancer drug worked when he believed it would and didn’t when he didn’t. That seems a little off-topic–the book’s supposed to be about “Why We Believe”, not “What Belief Does”, but hey, let’s give Andy the benefit of the doubt. But then he undercuts his own case by quoting estimates that such spontaneous remissions occur only one in 3,000 or perhaps as few as 100,000 medical cases. And that’s even before you’ve eliminated spontaneous remissions not associated with “belief”. Why exactly are we supposed to be so concerned with something that might, or might not, be responsible for healing some infinitesimally tiny fraction of sick people?

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The Tale of Nathaniel the Toad

May 6th, 2008

Douglas Crockford is the oracle of Javascript and holds the right position on Javascript 2.0. He also writes the quirky Department of Style blog. Here’s today’s post:

Once upon a time there was a small toad named Nathaniel. Nathaniel was despised by everyone who knew him. Not because he was a toad, or because he pulled the wings and legs off of flies before he ate them, but because he could not be trusted.

One day at the forest tavern, where all the small forest creatures went nightly to get drunk, Nathaniel announced that he was never going to pay back the money he had borrowed from his little woodland friends. And he borrowed large sums of money from just about everyone.

So they killed him. And then they pulled his legs and arms off and ate him.

Representing branching sequences in XML

May 4th, 2008

Branching sequences are common in real life. For instance, a recipe can be represented as a sequence of steps, with branches corresponding to variations. Games of go or chess , of course, are the classic example of branching sequences, where branches handle the “could have/should have played there” comments. Branching sequences can even be used to handle linear text , with branches used for optional or alternate material.

If we have complete control over the programming environment we can implement branching sequences in any way we want, most of them quite obvious. But in today’s web-based world, there are good reasons to represent such structures using XML (for transformations, interoperability, or even storage in XML databases) and HTML (for display). What is the best way to do so?

Read the rest of this entry »

IEEE Special on the Singularity

May 4th, 2008

The magazine IEEE Spectrum is running a Special Report on the Singularity . Well worth glancing at.

Go program reaches shodan?

May 1st, 2008

According to a post to the computer-go mailing list, Tei Meikou 9-dan (pictured; GoBase bio), known for his expertise in computer go, characterized the Monte Carlo-style go program Crazy Stone (earlier post ) as “at least 1-dan”, based on its winning performance at the First UEC Cup Computer Go Tournament. This is a huge milestone. Tei characterized moves 86 and 88 as “almost professional level” (see SGF game record).