Listened Chris Aldrich on Cybernetic Communications from theinformed.life

Chris Aldrich has the most multi-disciplinary resume I’ve ever seen, with a background that includes biomedics, electrical engineering, entertainment, genetics, theoretical mathematics, and more. Chris describes himself as a modern-day cybernetician, and in this conversation we discuss cybernetics and communications, differences between oral and literary cultures, and indigenous traditions and mnemonics, among many other things.

The Informed Life Chris Aldrich on Cybernetic Communications


This is a fascinating conversation about memory, history and the changing of practices over time. I am intrigued by the discussion of ‘memory palaces’. I often find myself remembering where I was when I was listening to a book or a podcast, I am assuming that the memory palace is this in reverse. I also feel that Aldrich is someone who could easily speak for hours on these matters, unpacking each thread. As he says in closing:

Always leave ‘em wanting more.

Bookmarked Music on the brain: Listening can influence our brain’s activity (Ars Technica)

The “Mozart effect” isn’t real—but music does affect our mental processes.

Abdullah Iqbal unpacks some of the research into the benefits of music on the brain. One of the interesting points raised was that although music may aid with memory, there are some memories that are better forgotten.

it’s important to recognize that improving focus and memory aren’t always benefits. Laura Carbrera, a professor of engineering at Penn State, suggested, “Some memories you want to strengthen, but some memories you want to weaken. All memory is related.”

This reminds me of Steph Tisdell’s reflection on Future island’s Seasons and the way in which it reminds her of her ex. This also makes me wonder about the place of music in the art of forgetting.

Listened Forgetting, not memory, moves us forward from ABC Radio National

Forgetting is the only safe response to the world’s problems, from a geopolitical perspective, according to author and journalist David Rieff. And forgetting is also a good thing in your personal life, say scientists. It moves us forward.

Antony Funnell explores the importance of forgetting when it comes to memory. This includes finding balance between the mechanism of memory with forgetting. For example, PTSD is caused when emotional forgetting does not occur. In such situations, we have too many memories we need to let go of. One of the issues is One of the challenges is that fearful/bad memories are often prioritised. “Whiteness does not show up on the page” With this in mind, Alzheimer’s may actually be a lifestyle disease caused when our life is reduced to a small amount of choices where everything is forgotten. In this situation, rather than remembering things, the answer maybe adding more to life that can be forgotten.

Forgetting is also important on a communal level. Amnesty derives from the word to forget.

Borrowed from Latin amnēstia, borrowed from Greek amnēstía “forgetfulness, oblivion, deliberate overlooking of past offenses”

There are times when we all need to forget, rather than rubbing raw historical wounds. Communal forgetting is public silence on aspects that different people may not agree about. This is something explored by David Rieff.

David Rieff, an independent writer who has reported on bloody conflicts in Africa, the Balkans, and Central Asia, insists that things are not so simple. He poses hard questions about whether remembrance ever truly has, or indeed ever could, “inoculate” the present against repeating the crimes of the past. He argues that rubbing raw historical wounds—whether self-inflicted or imposed by outside forces—neither remedies injustice nor confers reconciliation. If he is right, then historical memory is not a moral imperative but rather a moral option—sometimes called for, sometimes not. Collective remembrance can be toxic. Sometimes, Rieff concludes, it may be more moral to forget.

What was interesting was the discussion of importance of having social links to aid with forgetting when it comes to cases of PTSD. This is one of the issues with COVID and lockdowns.

This discussion also had me thinking about wider discussions associated with memory and remembering. In particular, the place of technology and social media and the right to be forgotten. When it comes to big data, the focus is on remembering everything. What is the place for forgetting in this situation?

Read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Czech: Kniha smíchu a zapomnění) is a novel by Milan Kundera, published in France in 1979. It is composed of seven separate narratives united by some common themes. The book considers the nature of forgetting as it occurs in history, politics and life in general. The stories also contain elements found in the genre of magic realism.

I felt there was something haunting about this book. As the stories come and go, they seem to linger, always somehow incomplete whether it be in their telling or the actual story itself.

Marginalia

We write books because our children aren’t interested in us. We address ourselves to an anonymous world because our wives plug their ears when we speak to them.

LOCATION: 1203

The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: “We are all writers!” For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words. One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.

LOCATION: 1404

In one of his pensées, Pascal says that man lives between the abyss of the infinitely large and the abyss of the infinitely small. The voyage of variations leads into that other infinitude, into the infinite diversity of the interior world lying hidden in all things. Beethoven thus discovered in variations another area to be explored. His variations are a new “invitation to the voyage.”

LOCATION: 2166

Karel Klos represented music without memory, the music under which the bones of Beethoven and Ellington, the ashes of Palestrina and Schoenberg, are forever buried. The President of Forgetting and the Idiot of Music were two of a kind. They were doing the same work. “We will help you, you will help us.” Neither could manage without the other.

LOCATION: 2396

Arousal without climax is Daphnis. Climax without arousal is the salesgirl at the sporting goods rental shop.

LOCATION: 2664

Bookmarked How the Groundhog Day grind of lockdown scrambles your memory and sense of time (theconversation.com)
Adam Osth reflects upon lockdown and the impact that staying home has on our memory. He explains that the link between memory and the context in which it occurs, a theory known as contextual-binding theory.

As we link more and more memories to the same cues, it becomes harder to find a memory with those cues. This is like a Google search – it’s easiest to find what you’re looking for if your search term is unique to that particular thing.

Osth explains that the answer is to mix up your routines and surroundings where possible. Also, James Herman explains that the brain can recover:

“If you create for yourself a more enriched environment where you have more possible inputs and interactions and stimuli, then [your brain] will respond to that.”

In other words, as your routine returns to its pre-pandemic state, your brain should too. The stress hormones will recede as vaccinations continue and the anxiety about dying from a new virus (or killing someone else) subsides. And as you venture out into the world again, all the little things that used to make you happy or challenged you in a good way will do so again, helping your brain to repair the lost connections that those behaviors had once built

Bookmarked Ten Ways to Lose Your Literature by Ed Simon, Author at The Millions (themillions.com)

All literature is of a similar resistance against time, mortality, finitude, limitation. To write it to commit an act of faith, to pray that what words you’ve assembled shall last longer than you, and that they’ll hopefully be found by at least someone who shall be, however briefly, changed.

Ed Simon explores the world of lost literature. He breaks this down into ten ideas.

Literature as merely a fragment:

Literature as fragment, literature as rough draft, literature as the discarded. The history of writing is also the shadow history of the abandoned, a timeline of false-starts and of aborted attempts.

Lost literature as ‘wish fufillment’:

When it comes to such forgotten, hidden, and destroyed texts, Kelly argues that a “lost book is susceptible to a degree of wish fulfillment. The lost book… becomes infinitely more alluring simply because it can be perfect only in the imagination.” Hidden words have a literary sublimity because they are hidden; their lacunae functions as theme.

Literature as cultural memory:

In A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq by Fernando Baez argues that “books are not destroyed as physical objects but as links to memory… There is no identity without memory. If we do not remember what we are, we don’t know what we are.”

Literature and the hope of being found:

There is no discussing lost literature without consideration of that which is found. Just as all literature is haunted by the potential of oblivion, so all lost books are animated by the redemptive hope of their rediscovery.

Literature and the subline:

Because the gulf between printed word and the meanings which animate them is a medium for sublimity, the entirety of all that which we don’t know and can never read as infinite as the universe itself.

Literature and the rhizomatic revision:

A final copy is the result of writing, but is not writing itself. It rather represents the aftermath of a struggle between the author and the word, merely the final iteration of something massive, and copious, and large spreading its tendrils unseen backwards into a realm of lost literature. Revision is a rhizomatic thing, each one of the branches of potential writing hidden and holding aloft the tiny plant. A final draft is the corpse left over after the life that is writing has ended.

Literature and the limits of the inert:

A script is an inert thing, while the play is the thing forever marked by its own impermanence.

Literature, fairy tales and anonymous authors:

So many variations, so many lost stories, whispered only to infants in swaddling clothe over millennia. We can never know what exactly the earliest version of those stories was like; we’ll never know the names of those who composed them.

Literature, fairy tales and anonymous authors:

So many variations, so many lost stories, whispered only to infants in swaddling clothe over millennia. We can never know what exactly the earliest version of those stories was like; we’ll never know the names of those who composed them.

Literature and the tangent of translation:

Translation is feeling about in a darkened room and being able to discern the outline of the door, but it doesn’t give one the ability to step through into the other room (only perhaps to hear some muffled conversation with an ear pressed against the wall).

When a tongue has genuinely stopped moving there is an insurmountable difference separating us from its literature

Literature as a belief in the future:

Literature is a vote of confidence in the future, in the present, in the past – it’s a vote of confidence in other people. The Future Library Project is in keeping with those theorists who are concerned with “deep time,” with the profoundly long view and arc of human history as it rushes away from us.

There are so many interesting ideas in this piece about the purpose and place of literature. It is one of those pieces to come back to and dig into further and possibly beyond just ‘literature’. For example, the idea of the rhizomatic revision has me thinking about music and the act of remixing and remastering.

“Clive Thompson | @pomeranian99
in Clive Thompson on Twitter: “In @The_Millions, @WithEdSimon alerts me to two fascinating books which I’ve just ordered: https://t.co/2QJ5EsNqzm One is “The Book of Lost Books”, a study of literature that has been lost to time. The idea that Euripides wrote 72 more plays than we have is a gut punch (1/2) https://t.co/OLUe0cnEut” / Twitter ()

Bookmarked Are we losing our ability to remember? by Scott Taylor (Scott Taylor)

Is the Internet, and more generally, the computer, fundamentally impacting how our memory and brain function? In this post I explore the basic function of memory, and how some apps can help us build a second brain.

Scott Taylor unpacks the problems with memory. He talks about the way in which our short term memory is restricted to four-chunks.

We ‘can’t remember’ things because there is a limit to what we can hold in our working memory. Researchers used to think that it could hold around seven items or chunks, but now it’s widely believed that the working memory only holds about four chunks of information.

Two strategies that help counter this is: spaced repetition and offloading memory.

On the topic of memory, Tim Harford explains how without a physical change, new experiences all start to seem the same. Claudia Hammond and Clive Thompson talk about how we change memories to fit with the present. While this builds on Niklas Göke’s five steps to remembering what you read.

via Doug Belshaw

Bookmarked We won’t remember much of what we did in the pandemic | Free to read (Financial Times)

Covid-19 may be as significant an episode as any, but it will not trigger the same sharp memories. Where were you during the pandemic? At home. For months. And without a physical change of scene, even new experiences all start to seem the same.


“You need to get out more,” someone once admonished me. She was right. These days, we all do.

Tim Harford discusses the assocaition between memory and place, explaining why remembering the quarantine will be so hard.
Bookmarked Why an internet that never forgets is especially bad for young people (MIT Technology Review)

As past identities become stickier for those entering adulthood, it’s not just individuals who will suffer. Society will too.

Kate Eichhorn discusses the way in which the young people today are tracked and transformed through the use of algorithms. This strips them of any possibility of psychosocial moratorium. Young people are subseqeuntly becoming risk-adverse wgere they are becoming prisoners to perfection at a younger age.

LinkedIn originally had an age minimum of 18. By 2013, the professional networking site had lowered its age floor to 13 in some regions and 14 in the United States, before standardizing it at 16 in 2018. The company wouldn’t say how many middle and high schoolers are on the platform. But they aren’t hard to find.

As one 15-year-old LinkedIn user (who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her account) explained to me, “I got my first LinkedIn page at 13. It was easy—I just lied. I knew I needed LinkedIn because it ranks high on Google. This way, people see my professional side first.” When I asked why she needed to manage her “professional side” at 13, she explained that there’s competition to get into high schools in her region. Since starting her LinkedIn profile in eighth grade, she has added new positions and accomplishments—for example, chief of staff for her student union and chief operating officer for a nonprofit she founded with a 16-year-old peer (who, not surprisingly, is on LinkedIn too).

The fear is that:

In a world where the past haunts the present, young people may calcify their identities, perspectives, and political positions at an increasingly young age … The risk is that young people who hold extreme views as teenagers may feel there’s no use changing their minds if a negative perception of them sticks regardless. Simply put, in the future, geeky kids remain geeky, dumb jocks remain dumb, and bigots remain bigots. Identities and political perspectives will be hardened in place, not because people are resistant to change but because they won’t be allowed to shed their past. In a world where partisan politics and extremism continue to gain ground, this may be the most dangerous consequence of coming of age in an era when one has nothing left to hide.

Bookmarked What we get wrong about time (bbc.com)

Of course, although some physicists propose that time does not exist, time perception – our sense of time – does. This is why the evidence from physics is at odds with how life feels. Our shared idea of what the concept of “future” or “past” mean may not apply to everything everywhere in the Universe, but it does reflect the reality of our lives here on Earth.


Like the Newtonian idea of absolute time, however, our belief in how time works for humans can also be misleading. And there may be a better approach.

Claudia Hammond, the author of Time Warped: Unlocking The Secrets Of Time Perception, explores ideas of memory and time. It is often felt that memory is a library we can call upon whenever we like, however Hammond explains that we “forget far more than we remember”, instead every time we call upon a memory, we:

reconstruct the events in our mind and even change them to fit in with any new information that might have come to light.

The problems of memory is something Clive Thompson discusses this in his book Smarter Than You Think.

This continual revision of the past allows us to imagine the future.

The experience of time is actively created by our minds. Various factors are crucial to this construction of the perception of time – memory, concentration, emotion and the sense we have that time is somehow located in space. Our time perception roots us in our mental reality. Time is not only at the heart of the way we organise life, but the way we experience it … Instead of considering the past, present and future to be in a straight line, we can look on our memories as a resource to allow us to think of the future.

In regards to our sense of time going faster and slower, this comes back to questions of routine and novelty.

Some routine, of course, is unavoidable. But if you can create a life which feels both novel and entertaining in the present, the weeks and years will feel long in retrospect. Even varying your route to work can make a difference. The more memories you can create for yourself in everyday life, the longer your life will feel when you look back.

Bookmarked Why artists and neuroscientists aren’t OK with this new Netflix feature (ABC News)

The good news for speed-demons? Dr Horvath says that for speed listening and watching, anything up to x1.25 speed is “fine” in terms of recall and comprehension.

“As soon as you go above that, prepare to start just dropping key facts and … that’s just fact recall. Comprehension is [about] now how do you piece those facts together into a story.”

Hannah Reich gathers together a number of perspectives on Netflix proposal to introduce a new variable playback option.  She explores why people desire to speed things up, what this means for the film, the impact that has for comprehension and the ideal experience.

Rather than speed-watching, Dr Horvath suggests: “If you watch a show … don’t binge it, spend a day not watching the show, thinking about the episode you just watched, predicting what’s going to come next.”

Personally, I listen to podcasts at 1.5 – 1.7x the speed, unless they involve music. Then it is 1.0x. I feel the issue is not the speed, but whether I am concentrating when listening. However, I was also left challenged recently by whether it was really humane to listen at speed. I cannot imagine watching a film or a series at speed though.

Bookmarked Philip Glass Is Too Busy to Care About Legacy (nytimes.com)

“I won’t be around for all that,” the 82-year-old master of musical Minimalism said. “It doesn’t matter.”

In light of the performance of Akhnaten at the Lincoln Centre, Zachary Woolfe discusses Philip Glass’ career and legacy:

When it comes to talk of his legacy, and whether these prominent performances mean anything in terms of his acceptance into the canon, however that’s defined, he demurs.

“I’m pragmatic,” Mr. Glass said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in 10 years. We don’t even get to know what’s going to happen after someone dies. We need to wait until everyone who knew them is dead, too.”

This pieces is very much an extension on some of the discussions in Philip Glass’ memoir Words Without Music. I espcially liked the closing remark in regards to critics:

You don’t defeat your enemies, you just wait until they die.

Austin Klein and Jason Kottke have already reflected on this question of legacy.

Bookmarked Malcolm Gladwell Reaches His Tipping Point by Andrew Ferguson (The Atlantic)

I can’t imagine the typical Gladwell reader will be satisfied with this agnostic shrug. But Talking to Strangers can also be seen as an advance for the author—an unexpected step in the right direction. Rather than offering made-up rules and biases and effects, Gladwell has chosen to issue a plea, asking that we recognize how difficult it is for us to understand one another.

Of course, if Malcolm Gladwell had practiced epistemological humility for the past 20 years, he would have sold millions fewer books. But let’s pass over the irony. When you’re talking to millions of strangers, as Gladwell does, saying nothing in particular is better than telling them things that aren’t so. He may have embarked on an exciting new career.

In a review of Talking to Strangers, Andrew Ferguson unpacks Malcolm Gladwell’s pivot from rules and biases to questions. According to Ferguson, the thesis for the book is never actually achieved. Although Gladwell touches on issues with translation and default to truth, these never actually achieve the clarity of previous books.

In a separate piece, Tom Tey pushes back on Gladwell’s use of the Penn State scandal to prove a theory:

Gladwell’s after nothing more than his own gratification here, and the fact that he’s willing to use two infamous sexual assault cases as rhetorical springboards tells you all you need to know about how shallow his well of ideas has gotten.

After reading this section of Gladwell’s book, I was left with the impression of a writer furiously and desperately working backwards. It seems to me that Levine’s “Truth-Default Theory” captured Gladwell’s imagination, which sent him combing through recent history to find the sort of culturally important moments to which the theory could be applied in a way that would grab readers’ attention. The Penn State scandal! That was a big deal, right? Let’s take it for a spin!

Replied to Photographs in my mind by David Truss (daily-ink.davidtruss.com)

We seem so much more free to take photos now, always having a camera in our pocket, and not a concern of the cost of taking one more shot.

But of all the shots I didn’t take, the photographs that still linger in my memory. These come to me from an era when film was the only option and the cost of the next shot lingered in my mind.

This reminds me of Kin Lane’s questions about photography and why we take so many digital shots.
Liked Why forgetting is really important for memory: U of T research (University of Toronto News)

The big take-away from recent neurobiological research on memory is that the best thing for storing memories is to not memorize absolutely everything, notes Richards. If you’re trying to make a decision it will be impossible to do so if your brain is constantly being bombarded with useless information.

“We always idealize the person who can smash a trivia game, but the point of memory is not being able to remember who won the Stanley Cup in 1972,” he says.

“The point of memory is to make you an intelligent person who can make decisions given the circumstances, and an important aspect in helping you do that is being able to forget some information.”

via Katexic
Replied to Remembering the past through photos by an author (Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel)

A few weeks ago, I bought a Google Assistant-powered smart display and put it in our kitchen in place of the DAB radio. It has the added bonus of cycling through all of my Google Photos, which stre…

This reminds me of Clive Thompson’s discussion of memory in his book Smarter Than You Think. From memory his discovery is that our memory is never as good as we think:

Our brains are remarkably bad at remembering details. They’re great at getting the gist of something, but they consistently muff the specifics. Whenever we read a book or watch a TV show or wander down the street, we extract the meaning of what we see—the parts of it that make sense to us and fit into our overall picture of the world—but we lose everything else, in particular discarding the details that don’t fit our predetermined biases. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but scientists point out that there’s an upside to this faulty recall. If we remembered every single detail of everything, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of anything. Forgetting is a gift and a curse: by chipping away at what we experience in everyday life, we leave behind a sculpture that’s meaningful to us, even if sometimes it happens to be wrong.Page 28

Bookmarked The Comforting Fictions of Dementia Care by Larissa MacFarquhar (The New Yorker)

Many facilities are using nostalgic environments as a means of soothing the misery, panic, and rage their residents experience.

This lengthy read provides an interesting insight into the life and times of those with dementia. It reflects on the changes in care, with the move away from drugs and creating the conditions to support memory. Associated with this is the problem of lying and memory.

Marginalia

Fifty years ago, it was common in nursing homes to use physical restraints to tie a resident to a chair or a bed, to prevent them from causing trouble or coming to harm. Then, in 1987, a federal law was passed that limited the use of physical restraints to situations where the safety of the resident or someone else was at stake—they were not to be used for punishment or for the convenience of the staff. The physical restraints were then often replaced by chemical ones, and residents were tranquillized with powerful antipsychotics such as Haldol. Many people thought the use of such drugs was a terrible thing, so they began searching for non-pharmaceutical alternatives to quelling troublesome behaviors, and psychological placebos such as fake bus stops proved to be quite effective. One patient who had been given Haldol every night to stop him from screaming was so calmed by Simulated Presence Therapy that he no longer had to be tranquillized at all.

In dementia care, everybody lies. Although some nursing homes have strict rules about being truthful, a recent survey found that close to a hundred per cent of care staff admitted to lying to patients, as did seventy per cent of doctors. In most places, as in Chagrin Valley, there is no firm policy one way or another, but the rule of thumb among the staff is that compassionate deception is often the wisest course. “I believe that deep down, they know that it is better to lie,” Barry B. Zeltzer, an elder-care administrator, wrote in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias. “Once the caregiver masters the art of being a good liar and understands that the act of being dishonest is an ethical way of being, he or she can control the patient’s behaviors in a way that promotes security and peace of mind.” Family members and care staff lie all the time, and can’t imagine getting through the day without doing so, but, at the same time, lying makes many of them uncomfortable. To ease this “deception guilt,” lying in dementia care has been given euphemistic names, such as “therapeutic fibbing,” or “brief reassurances,” or “stepping into their reality.”

In order to keep a person safely inside their world, it was necessary to figure out the boundaries and contents of that world—who lived in it, what activities took place there, and in what era—so that there would be as little dissonance as possible when the person used information from that past world to interpret the present. If there was someone missing from the present, for instance—because that person had moved away, or died—it was necessary to arrive at an explanation for this absence that the person with dementia would accept. This had to be done by a careful process of trial and error. If, for example, the person asked often where their son was, it was necessary to find out, by experimenting with answers and watching their reactions, how old they believed their son to be at that moment. If they believed him to be a small child, then telling them truthfully that he was out of town at a medical conference, say, would cause bewilderment or suspicion; but if they believed their son to be a college student, telling them that he was playing in the garden would also be a mistake. Continuity was essential. Even a momentary glimpse of another reality that led patients to doubt their understanding of things could be horribly traumatic; all the more so because they would not remember exactly what they had been traumatized by, and so would be left only with a feeling that something was threatening and incomprehensible.

There is the issue of inconsistency among all the people with whom the person comes in contact. What if a person with dementia asks for his mother, and one person says, “She’s out shopping,” another says, “I’m afraid she’s dead,” and a third says, “Are you feeling sad?” This problem is not a minor one. Many people with dementia are already suspicious of those around them. Some suspect that people are lying to them (and, of course, they are often right), or that someone who claims to be a relative is actually an impostor. Some suspect that their belongings have been taken (they may be right about this, too—residents of nursing homes often wander into one another’s rooms and pick things up), or that they’re going to be attacked. Some believe that the care staff have abducted their children. Even if they don’t suffer from these more extreme fears, they will likely be aware that, since their diagnosis, other people suspect them of being confused whether they are or not, and so may be second-guessing what they say, or making decisions without consulting them. So the risk of arousing suspicion is a big risk to take, especially if the whole idea is to ease a patient’s anxiety.

via Austin Kleon

Liked HEWN, No. 282 (HEWN)

My mum remembers (age 10 or so) eating six Tunnock’s teacakes and feeling quite ill on the bus from the train station at Lairg. She caught a trout on that trip, she says, too small to keep or eat, but she refused to throw it back and kept it in the wash basin in her room.


The family has told the stories from these vacations in Scotland for years — the knitted bathing suit and my uncle’s near-death experience (age 3) on the railway turntable in Rosemarkie. But as we drove through hills and over bridges, my mum and uncle squinted and hesitated and had to admit several times that perhaps the “what” and the “where” were different than what they recalled. (There was never a railway station in Rosemarkie, the villagers told us.)