Envisioning Information

“The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; the paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?

(…) To envision information – and what bright and splendid visions can result – is to work at the intersection of image, word, number, art. The instruments are those of writing and typography, of managing large data sets and statistical analysis, of line and layout and color. And the standards of quality are those derived from visual principles that tell us how to put the right mark in the right place. (…)

Escaping this flatland is the essential task of envisioning information — for all the interesting worlds (physical, biological, imaginary, human) that we seek to understand are inevitably and happily multivariate in nature. Not flatlands.”

Edward R. Tufte


etahpsohp negordyhid [ly-4-lodni-H 1-(lyhteonimalyhtemiD-2)-3]


inner space of comfort
willing to sacrifice?

goes up with fight
allow it to go up
otherwise TENSION

body experience
it is also daunting
energized muscle tone beyond

left hand very tired

this is not like happy

SMS from alien
ja! x way to y?
real in the end

without narrative thread?

ability to hear
which means speak


cutre surrender
steady MIND

head behind the BRAIN
thought faster fast


|—– (mind)

you see the heart running
show up a disposition


tendency to cavar

how many stairs do you want to walk down?
like alarm clock

why can’t I perceive well?
is it my presence? no
what do I recollect?

siempre algo a acontecer!

Knots: Selected Works

They are playing a game.
They are playing at not playing a game.
If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.
They are not having fun.
I can’t have fun if they don’t.
If I get them to have fun, then I can have fun with them.
Getting them to have fun, is not fun.
It is hard work.
I might get fun out of finding out why they’re not.
I’m not supposed to get fun out of working out why they’re not.
But there is even some fun in pretending to them
I’m not having fun finding out why they’re not.
A little girl comes along and says: let’s have fun.
But having fun is a waste of time,
because it doesn’t help to figure out why they’re not having fun.
How dare you have fun when Christ died on the Cross for you!
Was He having fun?

R. D. Laing


Turtle Geometry

“… our real aim is to establish a notation for the range of complicated things a turtle can do in terms of the simplest things it knows.

… whereas we normally measure geometric figures by their interior angles, turtle turning corresponds to the exterior angle at the vertex. So if we want to draw a triangle we should have the turtle turn 120°. You might practice “playing turtle” on a few geometric figures until it becomes natural for you to think of measuring a vertex by how much the turtle must turn in drawing the vertex, rather than by the usual interior angle. Turtle angle has many advantages over interior angle, as you will see. (…)

One major difference between turtle geometry and coordinate geometry rests on the notion of the intrinsic properties of geometric figures. An intrinsic property is one which depends only on the figure in question, not on the figure’s relation to a frame of reference. The fact that a rectangle has four equal angles is intrinsic to the rectangle. But the fact that a particular rectangle has two vertical sides is extrinsic, for an external reference frame is required to determine which direction is “vertical.” Turtles prefer intrinsic descriptions of figures. (…)

The turtle representation of a circle is not only more intrinsic than the Cartesian coordinate description. It is also more local; that is, it deals with geometry a little piece at a time. The turtle can forget about the rest of the plane when drawing a circle and deal only with the small part of the plane that surrounds its current position.

A final important difference between turtle geometry and coordinate geometry is that turtle geometry characteristically describes geometric objects in terms of procedures rather than in terms of equations. In formulating turtle-geometric descriptions we have access to an entire range of procedural mechanisms (such as iteration) that are hard to capture in the traditional algebraic formalism. Moreover, the procedural descriptions used in turtle geometry are readily modified in many ways. This makes turtle geometry a fruitful arena for mathematical exploration. Let’s enter that arena now.”

Harold Abelson and Andrea DiSessa

The Reach of Imagination

“We start with the simplest vocabulary of images, with “left” and “right” and “one, two, three,” and before we know how it happened the words and numbers have conspired to make a match with nature: we catch in them the pattern of mind and matter as one.”

Jacob Bronowski

Reality is composed of interrelated events

The modern world settled on a view of nature modeled on a clock.  The great medieval clocks not only gave the time but also, some of them, on the hour, provided a show composed of moving figures that appeared lifelike.  This suggested that living things could ultimately be explained along with inanimate objects as complex mechanisms.  The task of science was to discover this mechanism.   The whole world consists, in this vision, of objects in motion.  Science based on this model learned a great deal about the world, a very great deal.The main point that gave it pause was that we humans, including the scientists themselves, did not fit readily into the world of objects operating according to mechanical laws.  The founder of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, was clear that human thinking was something very different from this world of objects.  Alongside matter, he posited mind as a fundamentally different kind of entity.  By limiting mind to human beings, he left the rest of the world to mechanistic science.For practical purposes most moderns are dualists.  When scientists experiment, make new discoveries, and formulate new principles, they do not really suppose that they are in fact doing so as part of the mechanical world that they study.  But to consider themselves radically different from the rest of the world, including their own bodies created theoretical problems that deeply troubled subsequent philosophers.

The success of mechanistic science led to enormous confidence on the part of many that it could encompass even human experience in its domain.  Evolutionary theory showed that human beings developed by gradual stages out of pre-human beings that were much like the other animals.  This made it difficult to continue to affirm a radical difference between the human mind and everything else.  The currently dominant version of modern thought theoretically affirms that all reality can be explained mechanistically.

Mechanistic thought is generally atomistic.  The atoms are understood to be tiny bits of matter that cannot be analyzed into smaller bits.  These atoms are thought to move and to cluster together, and all the complex entities studied by science are thought to be explained by these clusterings and movements.  In such a world, qualities and values, feelings and beliefs, hopes and purposes play no causal or explanatory role.  They are, at most, epiphenomenal.  That is, they occur, but only as adjuncts to what is truly real.

In addition to the problem of fitting actual human experience into this world of objects in motion, this worldview experienced another shock.  It turned out that what had been called atoms were not atomic.  That is, they could be broken up into smaller entities.  These subatomic entities did not behave in ways that science understood little lumps of matter should behave.  Nor were they as independent of one another as little lumps of matter should be.  They even seemed to relate to each other when spatially separated in ways that were generally forbidden by the principles of mechanistic science.  The general response of science has been to retain its basic understanding and regard these problems, like those with human experience, as anomalies that will eventually be explained.

However, another response is possible.  When evolutionary theory showed that human experience and thought are part of the natural world, some thinkers declared that nature is richer and more complex than the dominant model allowed.  If human beings have feelings and hopes and purposes, then it seems likely (1) that their animal ancestors also had something of this sort and (2) that other animals today also share them.  Perhaps to be part of nature does not mean to be only an object for human experience.  Nature seems to possess experiential characteristics in itself.  Quite remarkably and surprisingly, what scientists have found about the subatomic world fits better with a nature that has experiential characteristics than with a purely material one.

Perhaps science as we know it is forced to ignore this feature of nature.  But if so, it should be very clear that much of what is most important about the world it studies is excluded from its grasp.  Scientists should be careful not to treat their findings as exhaustive of the natural world.  Alternately, perhaps science might free itself from subservience to the model derived from medieval clocks.  Perhaps a different model would be able to include all the data.

Those who follow Whitehead adopt the latter alternative.  To begin with, he proposes that we shift away from supposing that reality consists most fundamentally of things that endure through long periods of time.  This is the idea of material substances.  We actually have no idea what these can be, and philosophers have pointed out that they are posited as a convenience but with no actual evidence.  Another approach is to imagine that the world is made up of events.  There are great big events like wars or elections.  These can be analyzed into many, many smaller events, ultimately into moments of animal experience, on the one side, and quantum events, on the other.  These are examples of the indivisible events out of which the big ones are composed.

A moment of human experience is an event, and it is this event that we are in best position to analyze.  Of course, it has many features that we would assume are absent in subatomic events, such as abstract thought and consciousness.  But Whitehead discerns other features that may be shared with all events.  It comes into being as the synthesis of elements of preceding events.  It becomes a contributor to the events that lie beyond it.  It participates in the act of its own becoming, so that if we explain why the event happens just as it does, the event must be included as one of its own causes.

This means the event is a subject in its own becoming as well as an object for future events.  It is a subject both in that it is acted on and in that it acts both in its own becoming and in future events.  As a subject, it has subjective characteristics.  Whitehead proposes that it is primarily appetitive and emotional.  It aims to achieve an emotional state that is satisfying.  Whereas in the mechanistic worldview each entity is external to every other entity, Whitehead’s events are largely characterized as including features of past entities, and each event participates in constituting future events.  Internal relations are primary.

Whitehead does not question that there is a distinction between the physical and the mental.  But he holds that there are no events that are purely physical and none that are purely mental.  Every event is in part physical.  This means that it inherits much from its past.  Every event is in part mental.  This means that it includes possibilities among which it chooses.

For many of us who have studied both the dominant conceptuality underlying most modern science and Whitehead’s philosophy, it becomes impossible to doubt that Whitehead’s thought is more inclusive of the evidence.  It has been adopted by a scattering of scientists in various fields.  But most scientists want to pursue their research in the patterns to which they have been socialized.  As long as they can develop new data in the established ways, they have no interest in considering a different approach.  Our argument is that continuing in the present pattern underlies the many practices and policies that are leading toward a disaster of unimaginable proportions.  There is very good reason for considering an alternative.”

John B. Cobb, Jr.

Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet — Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization

The Continuity of Mind

“Given the tumultuous history of psychology and its relatively late application of mathematical techniques from dynamical systems theory, one could argue that the symbolic-computation approach to cognition, spanning from the 1960s to the 1990s, was a necessary first approximation at characterizing mental activity—a first approximation that has run its course and served its purpose. For the new psychology on the horizon, perhaps we are ready to discard the metaphor of the mind as a computer, because its drawbacks now outweigh its advances, and replace it with a treatment of the mind as a natural continuous dynamical event—whose decidedly nonmetaphorical substrate consists of the brain and body and the environment with which they interact.”

Michael Spivey

Growing together (“concrescence”): a unique understanding of causality

“It is arguably this inseparable connection between processuality and internal relationship that also creates the biggest difficulty in Whitehead’s ontology: The process which gives rise to relations of experience exists prior to them neither logically nor temporally. The processual subject only comes into being through its relations with other subjects. This is something that can only be grasped intuitively, if at all, as it requires overcoming the boundaries of language, which demands that a subject exists before its predicates. (…)

Whitehead does not conceive of “concrescence” as the recombination of prehended contents to a new conglomerate as if they were atomic modules. ‘Growing together’ means that the integrated contents are broken down into their elements, which are then synthesized into a new whole. The process is controlled neither by deterministic efficient causation nor by unchangeable ideological final causation. The processual essence of actual entities consists in a self-creation for which the rules and facts of ideal and physical reality (i.e., maths, logic, mental content, the laws of nature, physical facts etc.) only provide the general framework of possibilities without determining the form of its self-creation. Therefore, every process contains a non-reducible spontaneity which results in its autonomous determination of its essence being unpredictable for ontological and not just epistemological reasons.

The idea of concrescence reveals an understanding of causality unique in the history of philosophy.”

Spyridon A. Koutroufinis

Life and Process — Introduction: The Need for a New Biophilosophy

The function and importance of explanation

What do we mean by ‘explaining’ anything? This is a problem of considerable theoretical and practical importance. First of all, every science is concerned with explanation, and it should be as important to ask what is being done, in attempting to explain a phenomenon, as to ask what particular explanation is most satisfactory. Secondly, it has practical importance in that men differ as to what explanations are satisfactory, and whether it is necessary every to go beyond the bounds of one science to find a satisfactory explanation of a phenomenon which at first sight seems clearly to belong to that science.

Perhaps the hardest blow was struck at the the theory of explanation by Hume and later by quantum physicists. Previously, it had at least been held that explanation was concerned with finding the causes of events. Hume denied that we could ever point to any ideas of ‘causality’, i.e. ‘necessary connection’ as apart from mere continual succession; and modern physics seems to say, in effect, that it has no use for causality since causality would hold only for immeasurable quantities and unobservable objects, if it held at all; and the purpose of science is taken to be the making of verifiable statements and predictions, rather than hypothesis about unobservables.

It is possible that the meaning of ‘explanation’ is different for different people (…). His particular ideal, felt rather than known, determines the kind of experiments he will choose to do, and the kind of answer he will accept. Nevertheless, there is a large field of explanation that is common to most men. Explanations are not purely subjective things (…).

The question why one explanation or another should seem satisfactory involves the prior question why any explanation at all should be sought after and found satisfactory. It is clear that, in fact, the power to explain involves the power of insight and anticipation, and that this is very valuable as a kind of distance-receptor in time, which enables organisms to adapt themselves to situations which are about to arise. Apart from this utilitarian value it is likely that our thought processes are furstrated by the unique, the unexplained and the contradictory and that we have an impulse to resolve this state of frustration, whether or not there is any practical application (…).

There are, then, five main attitudes to the problems of knowledge and explanation: A priorism, which asserts certain facts and principles to be self-evident or certain, and deduces a great body of supposed knowledge therefrom; Scepticism, which denies the legitimacy of these first principles, and questions some or all of the foundations of the belief in an external world and causal interaction; Descriptive theories, which assert that explanation is ‘generalized description’ but never tells us anything about the causes of events; Relational theories (represented by modern physics), which declare themselves to be uninterested in whether causal action between supposed ultimate units may be taking place, on the ground that things are unobservable and hence unpredictable; and that the aim of science is to find relations between observable entities which are constantly obeyed and hence permit successful predictions to be made. The foundation of this method is the association of definite probabilities, smaller than unity, with events. Finally, there are Causal theories, which hold that the events we see are the consequences of the interaction of external objects according to definite and certain rules.”

Kenneth Craik

[The Nature of Explanation]

A different conception of causality – self and Umwelt

“The logic of this conception of causality is practically diametrically opposed to the logic of classical physics, in which efficient causes determine the course of an event. This means that the prehended facts of the past do not “push” the process into the future in the way in which the causality of classical physics does (including the theories of relativity, thermodynamics and dynamic systems theory). With Whitehead’s idea of process, the present of a process has a special meaning: The more complex a process is, the less of what is happening in the present is a simple continuation of the past. The present is not the passive and trivial transition from a completed past into a predetermined future. This is because the process decides, in its present, which factors from the past are to be considered relevant and which role the selected factors will have in forming the future. It is also because of this creative decision-making process that an actual occasion persists for a certain amount of time, as a creative act cannot be infinitely short like the infinitesimal time interval dt in physics. To put it simply, creativity takes time.”

Spyridon A. Koutroufinis

Life and Process — Introduction: The Need for a New Biophilosophy