Archive for August, 2010

occam’s razor

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

As appealing as Burroughs’ vision of Electronic Revolution is, it is worth considering the other side…

from Taking the broooooaaaaad view of things: A Conversation with James Grauerholz on William S. Burroughs and Magick at Pop Damage:

SF: William’s magickal experimentation, the aspects of recording what he called “Danger Sounds” and replaying them in proximity to his target, or using collage to hit a specific target has become the stuff of legend. Some attribute the closing of one particular establishment to William’s hexes. Is there another specific instance which you can recall that is as dramatic and apparently self-evident?

JG: Nope, not really. You are likely referring to the Moka Bar in London, where William said he received snide, snotty service and lousy, weak tea — and his tape-recorders-and-cameras mock-surveillance routine, back and forth on the sidewalk of Frith Street, and how the Moka Bar failed and was shuttered not too long after that.

Forgive me please, but my cast of mind leads me to suspect the Moka Bar, if it really did sell lousy tea with terrible service, might have been headed out of business, with or without the sound-text-tape-film sidewalk-pacing routine…

This all might sound terrible to you, as if I was a bringdown — in fact, William and I were beautifully balanced. He appreciated that about me, and I appreciated his love for the fantastic and extravagantly-explained. Which is funny, when I remember now that it was William’s own mention of “Ockham’s Razor” in my 1966 copy of Naked Lunch that first alerted me to the existence of Occam’s principle of parsimony….

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completely random

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

from Glench’s Consumption, Noise, and Creativity:

One way to understand the static mindset and the type of consumption that brings this about is through the metaphor of signal processing. Specifically, signal noise. In this concept, noise is unnecessary “filler” information. Media that is passively consumed is like this noise: it is ultimately worthless. It is just coherent enough so that the mind can latch onto it and not think, not take the hard path of making signal, the kind of growth we’re looking for. Unless consciousness is structured or directed, silence can be a terrifying experience. When the mind is undirected by external stimuli or media, feelings of boredom, depression, and existential angst spurt from the mind’s cracks*. Its effects closely mirror the effects of extended sensory deprivation. One way of dealing with unwanted silence, then, is to constantly fill up one’s life with relatively meaningless noise, or passively consume media, as I call it**.

Now, what is noticeably lacking in his behavior is any expenditure of real energy. It seems that whenever he could experience any amount of boredom, he crammed some type of media into his brain. Growth is an inherently energy-intensive process; most things that lead to positive feelings in one’s life are going to take work. A useful notion is the endergonic reaction in chemistry. This type of reaction uses energy to make new chemical bonds, thus creating structure. This is the essential difference between active consumption/creation and passive consumption. Whereas the former requires energy input, the latter requires nothing, and can, in fact, take energy. Extending the chemical metaphor, passive creation is entropy, the dissemination and random distribution of energy. Chaos. It is watching every episode of The Simpsons and starting over once the end is reached. It leads nowhere, only in ever-constricting circles. Instead of contributing to chaos by passively consuming, we should be using our energy to make something, whether it’s connections in our minds or the physical or quasi-physical representation of an idea realized through creation.

This is where I differentiate between active consumption and creation. Active consumption, while not explicitly making something, requires energy input. If one is actively consuming media, they are analyzing, comparing, contrasting, imagining, and most importantly, learning from the experience to achieve higher levels of thinking. Creation, then, is the process of using this knowledge to make something. What is interesting is that making something is almost always a learning process, as well. The entire routine creates what Douglas Hofstadter might call a strange positive feedback loop, where the process of creating, in turn, contributes to learning, and can then be used in further creating*** (and so on). Taken all together, the dual processes of learning and creation lead to a higher complexity of self, and a rewarding sense of personal improvement and growth.

from A Paranoid Companion to Thomas Pynchon: The Early Stories and Novels, Chapter 2: The Unity of Pynchon’s Allegory of the V:

“Low-Lands” signals the beginning of Pynchon’s parody of metaphor as life. In each of his early novels, Pynchon’s heroes lose their identity in symbolic structures they confuse with life. In the novel V, Herbert Stencil pursues the V-metaphor as if it were real and loses his life. In Gravity’s Rainbow, Tyrone Slothrop is in love with “the Word”–the logos–and fails to realize that symbolic structures created by the mind to comprehend “reality” are not the same as the apprehended experience they are designed to explain. Thus, systems of symbols assume a life of their own, independent of the experience they are supposed to represent. Getting lost in the interaction of symbols means mistakenly treating theoretical models (fictions) as if they were allegorical truth. Only what fits the symbolic model can be real. Experience that does not fit the model cannot be real. This sort of closed reading or interpretation asserts that words equal things, that symbolic structures are the same as the experience they represent. For Pynchon, this mistake is one of the symptoms of Modern thought.

In Pynchon’s “Entropy,” lack of real communication causes entropy in social relationships along with a growing inanimateness–the decline of humaneness–of human beings. Failure to communicate is the rule in V, The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow. Further, there is an inverse ratio between power and communication: the more power is increased and consolidated, the less communication occurs. However, Pynchon offers a possible alternative to convergence in The Crying of Lot 49, where the struggle of the Tristero to create an alternative postal service becomes a force of dialectical opposition to the increasing monologue (the diminishment of new and original voices) caused by the merger of mass media into a single corporate voice. Here, Pynchon comes close to predicting the creation of the Internet in dialectical opposition to the increasing entropy of traditional media.

from Steve Mizrach’s Philip K Dick: The First Cyberpunk UFOlogist?:

But perhaps the best proto-cyberpunk novel of PKD’s is his most under appreciated-Radio Free Albemuth. It is full of metaphors and concepts derived from electronics, communication, and information theory, some of which Phil probably picked up from his stint in a record store. PKD conceived of the idea of a universal Matrix-something which Gibson was only beginning to hint at towards the end of his first book, Neuromancer -an information “web” spanning entire galaxies and linking them in rational harmony. The problem was that this “Network’s” links were broken and therefore the pure signal of the cosmos was being distorted on this planet by the noise of the smothering Black Iron Prison. The Firebrights previously traveled openly between their world and ours, descending on select humans; now the lines of communication had been cut off. Since the B.I.P. arrives in 70 CE, it is clear that PKD considered the main “communication receiver” on this planet to be the Temple of Solomon. The three-eyed race of Albemuth took it upon themselves to heal the Matrix and to restore the Net through VALIS. Clearly, when one node in this cosmic Matrix is cut off from the rest, they are apparently all disturbed by it.

“Nicholas Brady” (an alter ego of PKD) and Silvio Sadassa overcome the Empire and its tyrant “Ferris Fremont” through a clever manipulation of signal and noise. The noise of Fremont’s lies will be cut into by the subliminal signal that they will put into musical recordings telling the American people he is really a Communist puppet. Similarly, a signal is sent out at the end of the novel VALIS : a juxtaposition of TV commercials for Food King and Felix the Cat gives the world the great words: “KING FELIX,” the joyous king. The suggestion is that Zebra/VALIS is constantly projecting a small, subliminal signal in unsuspecting areas to penetrate the overwhelming noise of the Empire. Perhaps this “still small voice” can even be found in the din and confusion of a genre of trash writing known as “science fiction…” or the great provider of trash called TV. PKD often heard voices through his radio insulting him and telling him to die. Many schizophrenics experience the sensation of being “talked” to by electronic devices or being controlled by electronic beams. But what validated PKD’s VALIS experience for him was the feeling that he was receiving pure, undistorted, rational information; not irrational urgings or unintelligible voices. He could not help but feel he was seeing the “invasion” of rationality and a pure signal into an increasingly cacophonous and dissonant world.

The “Great Soviet Dictionary” defines it thusly:

“A perturbation in the reality field in which a spontaneous self-monitoring negentropic vortex is formed, tending progressively to subsume and incorporate its environment into arrangements of information. Characterized by quasi-consciousness, purpose, intelligence, growth, and an armillary coherence.”

(…) in his definition he has stumbled onto one of the great discoveries of 20th century information theory: the link between information, energy, and entropy. Maxwell’s Demon can reverse entropy (dispersal) by being given the information of the state of molecules in his little box; the problem is that every time information is acquired, the overall entropy of the system increases. Unless that information comes from outside the closed system. The negentropic vortex that PKD speaks of maybe similar to the “strange attractors” of chaos theory or the punctuated equilibria of thermodynamics-a whirlpool of order in the midst of increasing chaos.

Working in a music store, PKD inevitably encountered the problems of distortion and bias-for music lovers, this refers to the crackling “white noise” that cuts into music enjoyment. The source of distortion is not the musical recording itself, but instead the speakers or equipment it passes through. A good electrical engineer tries to reduce the bias of equipment. He also was probably aware of the problems of feedback, when minor sonic perturbations are amplified to where they overwhelm the music itself. Communication theorists have noted that the signal/noise ratio is fundamental to intelligibility, so their goal is also to try and eliminate distortion as well-linguistic distortion; “doublespeak” of politicians and tyrants, if you will. Cybernetic theorists like Norbert Weiner, in examining self-correcting electronic systems, also point out that one of the problems is that “bottlenecks” in the system arise, where the control mechanism becomes “frozen.” PKD might have had some familiarity with cybernetics as well, especially its central importance in music amplification.

from Odd Edges’ Consciousness Explorer 1.0: Logging onto The Reality Wide Web:

[[ Getting to OTHER ]]

Fredkin’s “A New Cosmogony” suggests that reality is best explained as an evolutionary process/system branch that is computed from a super-system outside of physical reality, which is referred to as Other [13]. This isn’t too far fetched considering the standard Big Bang miracle physics, which is more-or-less: everything appeared at once from no where for the hell of it. It was assumed, or not even considered, that even if Other is a higher-dimensional, nonphysical, evolutionary computational processing reality system (inhale) that is running simulations of multiple virtual realities of various physical rule-sets (inhale), the data-stream (experience) of these other virtual realities are not available to us. In other words, one is restricted to the physical matter reality one was dealt. However, this is not the case. Bum bum baaaaaaa……….

At a lecture given at the London School of Economics in 2008, NASA/DoD physicist and consciousness pioneer Thomas Campbell bluntly stated, “I’ve been there.”[14] On a radio interview Campbell said, “I’ve been lots and lots of places. There are lots of different physical realities. This is just one.” [18] Campbell states that he has experienced virtual realities of various physical constraint architectures—some like this one, some not, all of which were accessed via his individual conscious awareness (AND SO CAN YOU!). The experience of being, interacting, and observing these other virtual realities is reportedly as real as engaging this VR. [10][12]

[[ Entropy: The physics of consciousness systems ]]

The criteria for evolution (modification into a more profitable state) in a biological system are survival and procreation. “For consciousness system that criteria (for evolution) is entropy reduction.” Entropy can be thought of as “a measure of disorder…if you have high-entropy you have more disorder…if you have less entropy you have more order and energy that can do work and have an effect.”[12] High entropy results in “dysfunctional internal constraints” within a consciousness system that reduces “functionality and efficiency.” [11]

[[ Deep Reality Hacking ]]

Deep Reality Hacking (DRH, or Dr.H) constitutes extra-physical hacks (aka: psi phenomenon, psychotronics, out of body experiences, remote viewing, healing, precognition, etc.) which can only be achieved if there exists enough available processing, memory, and energy for Consciousness Explorer to execute a given command. This is the testimony of scientists. Scientists can’t run around publishing lies like the rest of us. Their careers depend on non-falsified data, un-like just about everything that will be on the tele.

Deep Reality Hacks include but are not limited to: expanded awareness, expanded decision space, reality feed switching, parallel processing, healing, remote viewing, remote influencing, remote diagnosis, nonphysically visible data sensory (aura detection), telepathic rapport, “out-of-body” travel, precognition, postcognition, surfing the RWW, etc., All of which are a kind of database accessing. All of this is available to low entropy Consciousness Explorers.

The use of reality hacking is already vogue within the artistic activists of the culture jamming underground. Jammers use cognitive, meme-art-warfare, mindfuck works largely aimed to the illuminate the toxic/rigid/shallow practices, philosophy, and value system that has beset all sides of earthly physical existence by of the social takeover of legally recognized corporate “persons”. Deep Reality Hacking Info Art is dissimilar to reality hacking in the sense that the message will not strictly be a response to the hideous corporate landscape but rather the target intention will be a means by which to upload fact or curiosity into observes regarding their positions as largely unconscious Consciousness Explorers in a virtually unrecognized Virtual Reality—So arts to act as an avatar/icon informing and referring observes to the Bigger Picture or the real dope data (i.e. MBT).

from David Porush’s Prigogine, Chaos, and Contemporary Science Fiction:

It’s 1855. Babbage’s own daughter, Lady Ada Babbage, a mathematical prodigy, has developed a viral, recursive computer program that is so powerfully paradoxical that it effectively sabotages any difference engine which tries to run it. This is another Gibson-Sterling insider’s joke: Ada’s program is what 20th-century members of our own parallel reality might recognize as Kurt Gödel’s mathematical proof of his Incompleteness Theorem (a fact we discover only in the epigraph to the novel). It also slyly fulfills William Burroughs’s dictum for any intellectual guerrilla-neo-Luddite-anarchist-pomo-cyberpunker-hacker who wishes to sabotage the Ellul-technique of Culture: program the machine with the simple positive feedback message, Dismantle Thyself.

Let me end with a scholarly note that underscores the intellectual feat and power of The Difference Engine. Our cybernetics—the cybernetics of Wiener, Turing, Shannon, Weaver, and von Neumann—was born in reaction to the devastation of the positivist project by Gödel’s Theorem and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Wiener, von Neumann, and (to a certain extent) Turing were attempting to rescue rationality itself from powerful attacks on its foundations. The goal, and the route to it, was to build a brain on mechanical principles that could think with strict and formal rationality. Such a brain, they assumed, would “think” anything that could be thought, thus conquering the twinned demons of incompleteness and uncertainty. Yet as the AI theorist Herbert Simon has said, “All systems of reasoning are grand tautologies, but only God can make use of that fact” (15).

The point is that cybernetics was essentially a technical response to a philosophical challenge, an incipient—if reactionary—half of what has emerged as the postmodern dialectic: the battle between humanity and its mechanical systems of description. Gibson and Sterling have contributed to this postmodern drama or dialogue by imagining it all backwards. Their cybernetics is birthed by a machine, which incubates its culture with a nascent postmodern philosophy—including the paradigm of chaos—to match. Their cybernetics begins with an overgrown slide rule, a technical innovation, and ends with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. It begins in determinism and predictability and ends in groping intuitions about feedback loops and autopoetic self-organization and the anagenetic sentience of machines—in short, in postmodern concerns. In the end, Sterling and Gibson intimate (in the 1990 of this alternate history), you need chaos dynamics and the sensibility of Gödel’s insufficiency of formalism in order to grow a fully intelligent brain from mere brass and steam—or any other mechanics, for that matter.

To take a phrase from Norbert Wiener, The Difference Engine “banishes to the limbo of badly posed questions the mechanism-vitalism duality” (44). The novel leaves me with no doubt that the proper models for artificial intelligence in our time line cannot rely on formal logic alone. The part of our brain that controls and grows in locked looping with our tools and the part that makes connections among everything to formulate grandiose world-building hallucinations of philosophy and fiction and science are at least isomorphisms of the mysterious and chaotic activity of our complex biological evolution itself, which relies on chaos. There it is, the human brain, that great difference engine, frothing and sputtering away like a mass of leaky coaxial cable drowning in a synaptic bath.

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Situationists and Pervasive Gaming

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment

from :

The example drawn by Causey contrasts the illusion of Gulf War I – of cut together clips, narrators, and news packages – to the rolling embedded coverage of Gulf War II. ‘This is happening now’, the spectacle says, ‘there is no room for editing or cutting, we use embedded reporters, there is no room for simulation; this is reality’. In this age of celebrity and self-deluding X factor hopefuls, we no longer only find our desires maintained as needs, we find our dreams regulated too. This corruption of the data-flow of contemporary life extends beyond ‘reality TV’ to 24-hour rolling news, the advent of the ‘real-time’ and ‘social’ web. We are led to believe that the data we receive is live, uncut, and true. Through these tools the spectacle embeds itself in our lives. And in our Technoculture capitalism has a new currency: information. Facebook, Google, Youtube, we are now data packages, not only are we consumers, but we are consumed. It is the ‘interior body of the material subject’ where the battle for subjectivity must now be fought, in our selves.

A heavy task indeed, and a harder one as the remnants of reality are fundamentally altered rather than hidden by the spectacle. But we have a fight-back on our hands. The advent of the social-political online world, the wiki, and the prevalence of online gaming, also points towards a trend in narrative consumption and rebellion – this is the player as protagonist, everyone as editor, this is a gasp, a cry, a demand for the opportunity for us to eschew our bit-parts in the spectacle. To take control, to remake our selves, our surroundings, our ways of seeing.

This is the movement from audience to participant.

A new way of being is starting to emerge, it is imperative to bring the arts to that world to report from it. (Thompson 2009)

The situationists, I suggest, have provided us with the tools to deal with the spectacle, and phenomenology the way of seeing how we are embedded.

Phenomenology was the first movement to focus on the specific conditions of human embeddedness in an environment, and to make visible the phenomenon of the environment itself. (Moran 2002, 5)

Phenomenology emphasises “world-constituting consciousness” (Moran 2002, 22) – an understanding of world-constituting processes is important in order to examine all aspects of the spectacular world. Art is the realm of the double – of re-representation. Nowhere has this been truer than of the theatre. But it is also true, now, of a new world: the virtual.

In virtual worlds, technology is widely allowing us to reclaim the reporting of our world, to take control over data, our information. Online spaces must be reclaimed, prevented from being colonised. It may currently be a place where our data is bought and sold, but it is also a place where we can take control, trade data on our own terms.

The online world is deeply involved in new trends of narrative and world-constituting. We see echoes in the avatar/online game, of theatre’s actor/play, and on discussion and image boards – we find the void, anonymity.

Anonymity is fuelling subversive attempts to opt out of the organisation of myth, to bomb the spectacle. Just as the Angry Brigade of the 60s and 70s

Cultivated an image of a large, diffuse, and unidentifiable collection of dissenters: ‘The AB is the man or woman sitting next to you. They have guns in their pockets and anger in their minds.’

Now we are too many to know each other […]‘THEY COULD NOT JAIL US FOR WE DID NOT EXIST’ (Plant 1992, 126-7)

In the last century the situationists called for the

Invention of a new species of games. The most general aim must be to broaden the nonmediocre portion of life, to reduce its empty moments as much as possible. […] The situationist game stands out from the standard conception of the game by the radical negation of the ludic features of competition and of its separation from the stream of life. (Debord 2004, 45)

This is exactly what Pervasive Games do. Pervasive Gaming is a fluid term for location (often) urban-based games. The Pervasive Gaming collective Hide&Seek describe their work as “social games and playful experiences” (Hide&Seek 2010). They are somewhere between computer games, and the games you used to play as a child, they have also worked with pioneering theatre companies such as Punchdrunk on what they term ‘Multiplatform Immersive Theatre Experiences’ or MITE – using virtual and real worlds, and exploring narrative in the spaces between them.

In this study I am widening the definition of ‘Pervasive Gaming’ to include all performance strategies that involve augmenting personal or environmental reality from a player-as-protagonist perspective.

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OT: derive and spectacle

August 20, 2010 Leave a comment

from Alan Shapiro’s “Social Choreography: Steve Valk and the Situationists”:

Like winning and losing at a subtle divertissement, the two key ideas of the Situationists, an avant-garde artistic and radical leftist political movement which thrived in Paris, London, and northern California in the mid-20th century, are like a perpetual Möbius strip which appears at all points to have two sides but really has one. The two crucial Situationist ideas – wandering and the spectacle – have often been regarded as contradictory and at odds with each other. Wandering or le dérive, which literally means “the drift,” is connected with the early Parisian Situationists of the 1950s, who were influenced by Dada, Surrealism, and Lettrism, with the collage art of the Dutch painter Asger Jorn, and with the utopian theories of city planners Constant Nieuwenhuys and the Algerian Abdelhafid Khatib.2 The dérive, a group technique of transient passage through varied ambiences, evokes activity, creativity, and cultural optimism; new encounters and the exploration of territory; and psycho-geographical defamiliarization. It conjures up free association and the rediscovery of fascination; the construction of stimulating “situations;” and an adventurous playing with architecture and urban space.

The notion of “the society of the spectacle” was first elaborated in Guy Debord’s 1967 text La Société du spectacle, and it attained prominence during the French student uprisings and workers’ factory and office occupations of May 1968.3 The spectacle denotes a certain critique of consumerism, the mass media, simulations, and “commodity fetishism.”4

It implies a degree of resignation and cultural pessimism faced with the widespread domination of images over reality, and in the wake of prevailing contemporary social phenomena such as television, advertising, cybernetics, and organized leisure time. “Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation,” wrote Debord. The generalized reduction of the citizen to spectator status and the alienation of the worker from the product of his labor are developments which the Situationist International saw as common to the advanced capitalist countries of the West and the state socialism of the East. The spectacle is the dominion of the mode of mere survival of economics as separating category, ruling over life itself and the festival of culture. It is “the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity.”5 But in the active critique and transformation of everyday life, as in the system of red and black in roulette, the concepts of wandering (or the dérive) and the spectacle are revealed as being deeply inter-connected and non-separated from each other.

The permanent circulation of automobile traffic, semiotic messages, commodities commerce, and shopping everywhere is the ceaseless organization of universal isolation, the unremitting production of “lonely crowds,” and the antinomy of encounter. “Spectacles compensate for the participation that is no longer possible.” For Guy Debord, the spectacle is the incessant auto-justifying and self-legitimating speech of the established society. “The spectacle is the dominant order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue.”8 As designer lifestyles get manufactured as palettes of niche products, the spectacle also becomes a system of separation from one’s own life, an integrated complex of specialization and fragmentation into widely separated instances of social existence. But the spectacle is instantiated, brought into renewed being at each moment by its actors. We partake in the spectacle, and we can change it. There is nothing outside of the spectacle and that is good. Digital technologies, online interactive networks, and “reality TV” have not in themselves dismantled or altered the spectacle. Technophoric claims along such lines tend to miss the point. It is not about taking the side of wandering or of the spectacle. They are not in opposition. They have always been, and will always be, intertwined elements in a continuum, like winning and losing. We are always in process in the wandering spectacle, and the urgent question is precisely how do we choose to live our relationship to that, as fluid consumers or as creators.

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August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

from The Situationist’s The Situation of Confabulation, quoting from a New Scientist piece:

The kind of storytelling my grandmother did after a series of strokes . . . [n]eurologists call . . . confabulation. It isn’t fibbing, as there is no intent to deceive and people seem to believe what they are saying. Until fairly recently it was seen simply as a neurological deficiency – a sign of something gone wrong. Now, however, it has become apparent that healthy people confabulate too.

Confabulation is clearly far more than a result of a deficit in our memory, says William Hirstein, a neurologist and philosopher at Elmhurst College in Chicago and author of a book on the subject entitled Brain Fiction . . . . Children and many adults confabulate when pressed to talk about something they have no knowledge of, and people do it during and after hypnosis. . . . In fact, we may all confabulate routinely as we try to rationalise decisions or justify opinions. Why do you love me? Why did you buy that outfit? Why did you choose that career? At the extreme, some experts argue that we can never be sure about what is actually real and so must confabulate all the time to try to make sense of the world around us.

* * *

So confabulation can result from an inability to recognise whether or not memories are relevant, real and current. But that’s not the only time people make up stories, says Hirstein. He has found that those with delusions or false beliefs about their illnesses are among the most common confabulators. He thinks these cases reveal how we build up and interpret knowledge about ourselves and other people.

* * *

What all these conditions have in common is an apparent discrepancy between the patient’s internal knowledge or feelings and the external information they are getting from what they see. In all these cases “confabulation is a knowledge problem”, says Hirstein. Whether it is a lost memory, emotional response or body image, if the knowledge isn’t there, something fills the gap.

Helping to plug that gap may well be a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex, which lies in the frontal lobes behind the eye sockets. The OFC is best known as part of the brain’s reward system, which guides us to do pleasurable things or seek what we need, but Hirstein . . . suggest that the system has an even more basic role. It and other frontal brain regions are busy monitoring all the information generated by our senses, memory and imagination, suppressing what is not needed and sorting out what is real and relevant. According to Morten Kringelbach, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford who studies pleasure, reward and the role of the OFC, this tracking of ongoing reality allows us to rate everything subjectively to help us work out our priorities and preferences.

* * *

Kringelbach goes even further. He suspects that confabulation is not just something people do when the system goes wrong. We may all do it routinely. Children need little encouragement to make up stories when asked to talk about something they know little about. Adults, too, can be persuaded to confabulate, as [Situationist contributor] Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and his colleague Richard Nisbett have shown. They laid out a display of four identical items of clothing and asked people to pick which they thought was the best quality. It is known that people tend to subconsciously prefer the rightmost object in a sequence if given no other choice criteria, and sure enough about four out of five participants did favour the garment on the right. Yet when asked why they made the choice they did, nobody gave position as a reason. It was always about the fineness of the weave, richer colour or superior texture. This suggests that while we may make our decisions subconsciously, we rationalise them in our consciousness, and the way we do so may be pure fiction, or confabulation.

More recent experiments by philosopher Lars Hall of Lund University in Sweden develop this idea further. People were shown pairs of cards with pictures of faces on them and asked to choose the most attractive. Unbeknown to the subject, the person showing the cards was a magician and routinely swapped the chosen card for the rejected one. The subject was then asked why they picked this face. Often the swap went completely unnoticed, and the subjects came up with elaborate explanations about hair colour, the look of the eyes or the assumed personality of the substituted face. Clearly people routinely confabulate under conditions where they cannot know why they made a particular choice. Might confabulation be as routine in justifying our everyday choices?

* * *

Even when we think we are making rational choices and decisions, this may be illusory too. The intriguing possibility is that we simply do not have access to all of the unconscious information on which we base our decisions, so we create fictions upon which to rationalise them, says Kringelbach. That may well be a good thing, he adds. If we were aware of how we made every choice we would never get anything done – we cannot hold that much information in our consciousness. Wilson backs up this idea with some numbers: he says our senses may take in more than 11 million pieces of information each second, whereas even the most liberal estimates suggest that we are conscious of just 40 of these.

Nevertheless it is an unsettling thought that perhaps all our conscious mind ever does is dream up stories in an attempt to make sense of our world. “The possibility is left open that in the most extreme case all of the people may confabulate all of the time,” says Hall.

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X Spot on “Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie”

August 15, 2010 Leave a comment

X Dell is currently running an ongoing series called Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie. So far X has covered: Alan Abel, Joey Skaggs, video news releases (VNRs), Nayriah, and bovine growth hormone. Worth checking out if you are interested in such things.

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Sonderbüro Nr 13 and Project Uranus

August 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Ufology remains one of the best fishbowls in which to observe fact/fiction reversals and ostension. From forgetomori on the Brazilian Air Force X-Files:

Air Force Minister falls for “Uranus” joke

So what is in those released files? Well, what one finds is actually extremely revealing, but not about aliens. It’s revealing about humans. In particular, those working as military men in Brazil.

The recent regulation revokes two previous ones about UFOs, and one of them just shocked this author. It’s note #C-002/MIN/ADM, April 13, 1978, signed by none other by then Air Force Minister Joelmir Campos de Araripe Macedo.

There, Minister Macedo recommends to the Higher Command the creation of a “secret UFO record, where phenomena would be archived chronologically … at the same time, an Evaluation Comission would give each record a grade of credibility”.

Later records, which make reference to this note, suggest that the recommendation was put into effect. The damning thing is, to give support to this recommendation, the Minister wrote that:

“Though speculations about UFOs date as long before as the existence of the humankind, acquiring traces of pure fantasy, the truth is that in the last years of the Second World War, in 1944, the Luftwaffe High-Command created a specific control to investigate several reports made by war pilots about UFO sightings. Said control was denominated ‘Sonder Buro Nr. 13’, and the codename was ‘Operation Uranus’.”

I was shocked to read the terms “SonderBuro 13” and “Operation Uranus”, as I had read Kevin McClure’s work on the Nazi UFO Mythos. Quoting Andy Roberts:

“We have at least one outright hoax in foo-fighter lore. For years rumours had been flying round that the Germans had been fully aware of the foo-fighter phenomenon and that they had a special study group formed to look into the problem under the name of “Project Uranus”, backed by a shadowy group by the name of Sonderburo 13. This was first detailed in La Livres Noir De Soucoupes Volantes (The Black Book of Flying Saucers – 1970) by French ufologist Henry Durrant. … When I checked this out with Durrant he informed me that the whole “Project Uranus” affair was a hoax which he had inserted in his book precisely to see who would copy it without checking. The hoax apparently had been revealed in France some years before but hadn’t percolated its way through to English speaking ufologists.”

The hoax was revealed in English in Roberts book along with David Clarke, “Phantoms of the Sky” (1990). Clarke kindly confirmed the hoax and shared the letter Durrant addressed to Roberts:

“Here in France, when I informed [the] ufologists, by means of an ufological bulletin, that ‘Sonderbüro Nr 13’ was a trap, it was suddenly a real furor, and I was accused [of hiding] the truth and [of releasing] false information. … For me, it was very funny [and] very instructive, because I had there the [opportunity] to see where were the serious ufologists… and the others!”.

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