The circular relationship between knowledge and reality

The cognitive system and its representational structure or knowledge cannot be understood properly if they are treated in isolation from the environment or as a static system. Rather they have to be seen as a part of a circular feedback process: the generated behavioural output influences – mediated by environmental structures – parts of the sensory input. The sensory input influences – mediated by the non-linear representation system – the motor output. Abstractly speaking, two feedback loops are involved, each interacting with the other and trying to achieve a state of equilibrium or homeostasis. From a biological perspective, the internal loop is responsible for keeping the cognitive system alive and coupled to the environmental dynamics in a stable manner via the external loop. Epistemologically speaking, this process can be interpreted as trying to achieve an epistemological equilibrium between the internal knowledge structures (embodying behavioural strategies) and external environmental constraints and perturbations (Maturana and Varela, 1980).

An excerpt from Organising Knowledge (Palgrave Macmillan)


Gah, Postmodernism overload….

A virtual island was bought over a year ago in the MMORPGs game Project Entropia for £13,700. Even stranger, the geezer has recently claimed that he’s made all his money back plus profit by:

selling land to build virtual homes as well as taxing other gamers to hunt or mine on the island

Aright, but it doesn’t exist! Its virtual, and run by a company that could turn off the servers any day. My worry for such ventures is probably in equal measure to my lack of understanding of this virtual world. However it does make me nervous, I mean lets face it there are a few things in this world that could do with developing, let alone the virtual. But although that’s a fairly valid point, the wheels of commerce care little for those issues if money can be made, virtual or real world.

I guess its a fairly natural progression for MMORPGs. They attempt to mimic the real world – so why shouldn’t every facet, including commerce and trade be part of it. But the trust network intrinsic in the game (which appears to be mostly about killing ones online opponents) must be immense for this to work.

Firstly the games people must be trusted with creating a fair and just world (which it probably must to ensure the gamers stay).

Secondly, that it does not constantly create islands and other such artefacts so saturating the market, thus unbalancing the online economy (although it does not profit directly from the acquisitions, a higher GDP of the game world the money and time invested is invested back into the world).

Thirdly, the users selling the artefacts to one another. Even with the use of mechanisms such as ebay (the online insurer/financial regulator?) there must be a huge risk in buying a virtual island.

Last month, another of Entropia’s virtual properties – a virtual space station – sold at auction for £57,000.

Where will this take us, poorly managed games ravaged by viruses are sent electronic aid packages from more successful online worlds. Worlds sick on power and success invading over online worlds. Virtual dictators, virtual capitalist giants, virtual philanthropists?

As our old friend Baudrillard once said

Virtuality, being itself virtual, does not really happen. One lives in the very Rousseauistic idea that there is in nature a good use for things that can and must be tried. I don’t think that it is possible to find a politics of virtuality, a code of ethics of virtuality because virtuality virtualizes politics as well: there will be no politics of virtuality, because politics has become virtual; there will be no code of ethics of virtuality, because the code of ethics has become virtual, that is, there are no more references to a value system

Indeed, but does he mean that there are no online politics in their own right as they have become virtual or that they simply mimic real politics? Whatever his exact point (which often escapes me with the big B) there probably is little point in arguing the toss over what should and shouldn’t happen in these worlds. Simply put – what will be will be.

Damn, it still bugs me though – 57000 Benjamins!

When Nerds attack – Google Print

I have been following the recent debate on Google print from both inside and outside the bubble. You see I work for a publisher, and although this naturally biases me towards one side, I feel I am rational enough to be able to look at the argument….well, rationally.

Some of the vitriol that is coming from both sides of the electronic fence is frankly harsh. In an almost teenager-ish paddy the nerds are claiming that Google is lovely and they just want to put all print works online for everyone’s benefit including the authors and publishers.

On Forbes, Nick Schulz responds with an op-ed of his own, “Don’t Fear Google,” in which he masterfully deconstructs Schoeder and Barr’s crazy-talk

Crazy-talk? I though this was meant to be a debate? Yes Google, so far, are lovely and they genuinely want to do good. However they are also now a public company and those shareholders have to be kept happy. What if Google one day decides to do something a little more with that material.

Indeed it ain’t all fluffy bunnies on the other side:

And so we find ourselves joining together to fight a $90 billion company bent on unilaterally changing copyright law to their benefit and in turn denying publishers and authors the rights granted to them by the U.S. Constitution. – Source

Indeed offering snippets isn’t really changing copyright at all.

It seems to me, that like in many arguments, the real issues aren’t being addressed. Instead nasty insults and insinuations are thrown about trying to make the other side cry.

I think the main problem has been that Google just announced they were going to start up this project with the disclaimer that if you tell us exactly which books you don’t want published then we won’t do it. The publishers and authors were probably more miffed that they weren’t consulted on Google’s new venture. Now ofcourse the Nerds are saying that the publishers and authors are just looking to make money out of this whereas lovely Google simply wants to teach the world how to sing.

I see the arguments on both sides and genuinely feel that if Google works with the publishers and listens to the authors then everyone will probably be happy. Google will provide more eyeballs for titles, thus increasing sales for Publishers and thus author royalties and Google will make a stack of cash from the ads placed next to them.

All of this rather nasty speak is really just clouding the issue.

Information vacuum

Little late for commentary on Katrina. But hey why not….

I was intrigued by an article in the Grauniad concerning some of the initial stories that emerged soon after the disaster in New Orleans. The article lists examples of terrible things such as corpses in the toilets and extreme violence in the convention centre.

The interesting thing about these stories, and similar ones that occurred after the 11th of September U.S. attacks and 7th of July London bombings, is that they are generally unsubstantiated and little evidence after the event exists:

Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found. And while the floor of the convention centre toilets were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian found no corpses.

During a week when communications were difficult, rumours have acquired a particular currency. They acquired through repetition the status of established facts.

Indeed as on 9/11, and the London Bombings, when there was an information vacuum immediately after the event many stories emerged. I remember that there were stories of 7 unidentified planes over London not responding to air traffic control. Also about passports being found a few blocks away from the WTC. Ofcourse I am not saying that these stories aren’t true but it does raise the issue of the validity of information and how it is presented to us.

In the age of 24 hour rolling news there is a need to these channels to present ‘new’ information as often and as awe inspiringly ‘Breaking’ as possible. Thus often news items, which would otherwise have not been reported due to little evidence, are presented as fact. Subsequently these ‘facts’ go down in the history of the event and thus accepted as true by the general public.

None of this is particularly new, when people generally don’t have much concrete information at hand, we will tend to conjecture about the possible causes of situations. Essentially this is gossip. Often Local History (including myth, legend and fact all intertwined) is based around gossip. It just now seems that Sky News, Fox et. al. are now employing gossip as a major news source, thus enabling a ‘Local History’ on a global scale and all of the imperfections that go with it.

The Top Ten Design Mistakes

So Jacob has listed another top ten. This time concerning what mistakes bloggers make. The suggestions are sensible and helpful, list a biog, post an author photo, irregular posting frequency…etc.

Most of the suggestions make sense, but I can’t but help think that the suggestions are a little robotic in their nature. In my opinion blogs and blogging are not so much type of website, more a reflection of the users of the internet. Surely by rationalising the users, we are rationalising the diversity of content, which seems to me to be the selling point of the blogosphere. A democracy of content production where the best/worst/strange/obscure/funny bubbles to the top regardless of who, where, why and how that content got there.

Ofcourse accurate listing, tagging and understanding of content helps it bubble up much easier in the frantic semantics of the blogosphere. But damn it some of the best stuff comes from the absolute nutters with only a very basic understanding on FrontPage 98. If we scrub out the websites of Comic Sans fonts, badly marked up, fusia backgrounded, frankly horrific navigation are we not taking out some of the soul of blogging?

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