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Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Pretentiousness in Nature

Okay, I should be asleep by now - big trip tomorrow - but no, Dead Beat is still awake and worried about your writing.

Thing is, he still thinks that you most probably think he is distracted by science. Truth is he is distracted by nature.

Listen up to my pal David Quammen: "Let's broaden our thoughts by construing "nature" more carefully and inclusively. A volcanic eruption on Mars is nature. A black hole is nature. The atomic reactions occurring within the stars Mizar and Alkaid are nature. Dark matter is nature...By seeing nature big, seeing it as the realm within in which human enterprises such as science,m religion, and historiography occur, we may free ourselves from most of the old expectations and biases, positive and negative associated with what has commonly been understood by the term "nature writing."...Although nature writing in the traditional sense does include some clarion acts of literature (by Thoreau, Muir, and Leopold, for instance) and many other fine, steady, attentive works of observation and reflection, there has also been quite a lot of ethereal tripe. There have been too many purple effusions by one writer or another standing out in a forest or a meadow, misted by rain or spring pollen or pheromones and transfixed by the spectacle of his or her own sensitivity..."


Sorry folks but this is where this blog site came in, is it not?

She claims to dislike psychobabble and then engages in it ... much of her 'spiritual' intuition is a well understood cognitive process which she clearly does not understand. Don't get me wrong, she can write well, but there is no room for 'ethereal tripe'. As Quammen warns us "For the good of all concerned, we need the urban and trenchantly disposed to remain receptive to the subject of nature, in both its broad physical sense and its narrow biological senses, and we need the self-identified lovers of nature to maintain an edge of critical intelligence."

Otherwise the subtitle "An Apprenticeship in Nature" translates directly into "A Pretentiousness in Nature."

Quammen has his finger on the pulse. Too much tripe out there. Our job is to go deeper than that. I use Sharon Butula as a metaphor, but if even she cannot hack it (and she can't - she brings hysteria instead and contributes to our misunderstanding of 'nature'), then we have all a long way to go.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tentin Quarantino - Horace's Od(e)ious Gossip Column

Horace tears out of the tools shed.

"Did someone mention Quarantino?"

"Go back to your semi-comatose state, Horace. Quarantine. Quarantine."

Hudson Beefs up On Quarantine Law

So Hudson does a little research on this whole quarantine thing.

"I knew you were lying," he growls biting hard on his cigar glaring at the world wide web..


"Those quarantine laws went out years ago."

"I didn't know Hudson. I swear. We've been away a long time. That's what this trip is all about."

"Look here, Dad Beat."

He shows me the site - The Department of Agriculture and Food.

"Okay, okay."

"All I have to do is answer yes to all of the following questions, and they'll let me in."

"Sounds easy. Let's have a look:

To be able to travel into Ireland with your pet you must be in a position to answer 'yes' to all of the following questions:

1. Are you travelling directly from an eligible country?
Click here for a list of the qualifying countries
If you are travelling from a country, which is not eligible for the passport system your pet must undergo six months quarantine in Ireland. You should contact this Department to arrange an import licence.

2. Are you travelling with an approved carrier?
Click here for a list of approved carriers
Click here for information about un-approved carriers

3. Is your pet over three months old?
The system does not apply to pets under the age of three months.

4. Will your pet be accompanied?
The system does not apply to pets travelling unaccompanied. Pets travelling under this system must be accompanied either by the owner or by a person responsible for the pet on behalf of the owner.

5. Has your pet been micro-chipped?
All pets must be identified by means of a micro-chip. No other form of identification is acceptable. The micro-chip should comply with ISO standard 11784 or Annex A to ISO standard 11785 - if this is not the case you must carry your own scanner.

6. Has your pet, following micro-chipping, been vaccinated against rabies?
Subsequent to micro-chipping, your pet must have been vaccinated against rabies with an inactivated vaccine of at least one antigenic unit per dose (WHO standard) in a manner in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. This vaccination must have been carried out in an eligible country.

7. Has your pet been successfully blood-tested?
Subsequent to the first rabies vaccination (usually about a month later but your veterinarian will advise) your pet must be blood tested to confirm a neutralising antibody titration at least equal to 0.5 IU/ml. The test must be carried out in a laboratory approved for this purpose - Click here for a list of approved laboratories. If you keep your rabies vaccinations up to date you will only have to do this blood-test once. However if there is any break in vaccination the test must be repeated. Blood sampling must have been carried out in an eligible country.

8. Have you a passport/certificate completed by a veterinarian certifying to identification (section III), vaccination (section IV) and blood-test (section V)?
If you are travelling from a European Union country, you must have an EU passport for your pet, fully completed, signed and stamped by a registered veterinarian. If you are travelling from an eligible country outside of the European Union you must have the 'Veterinary Certificate for Domestic Dogs, Cats and Ferrets entering the European Community'. This Veterinary Certificate is available from your own Competent Authority or from the European Union website. However if you are travelling from a Non-EU European country/territory it may be possible to use the EU passport instead of the certificate. For details please phone the help-line, details below.

9. Has at least six months expired since a successful blood-test?

10. Has your pet been only in an eligible country during this six months?
Your pet may enter Ireland only when at least six months has expired since a successful blood-test. This provision is to ensure that your pet is not incubating rabies.

If your pet has had a break in its vaccinations and has had to repeat the blood-test, six months must pass from the date of the most recent test before your pet can enter Ireland.

If your pet has spent any time in a country that is ineligible for this system, please consult us (contact details below) about the conditions that will apply.
11. Has your pet been treated for tick and tapeworm between 24 and 48 hours before check-in at ferry terminal or airport?

Between 24 and 48 hours before you check-in for travel you must bring your pet to a registered veterinarian to be treated against tick and tapeworm. This is to prevent a risk of potentially serious disease entering Ireland. The tick treatment must be other than by a collar impregnated with acaricide. The tapeworm (echinococcus multilocularis) treatment must contain praziquantal as an active ingredient.

The veterinarian must complete the relevant sections of the passport/certificate, i.e section VI (tick) and section VII (echinococcus), noting down the time of treatment as well as the date.

If you are able to answer 'yes' to all eleven questions above, your pet may enter Ireland without undergoing quarantine."

"Pour me another port," Hudson growls. "I got lost back there somewhere around eligible country."

"You see Hudson. I was only thinking of you."

"You didn't want to fill out the forms, did you Dad?"


"You didn't."

"I already had the taxes Hudson. It's a lot of paperwork. I'm not good at this sort of thing."

"You don't deserve me. You truly don't."

Hudson's In A Huff

Hudson is peeved.

"What do you mean I am not going to Ireland with you?" He puts his port glass down harshly on the study.

"Well, Hud, you see old pal, it's this quarantine thing."

"Go on..."

"Dogs... well pets in general..."


"They have to... you know....cages and all that."


"Well not exactly."

"What do you mean, not exactly? Do I get access to a lawyer? Is water boarding outlawed?"

"Hudson it's this whole infection thing."

"Oh no, Dad, not more virus nonsense."

"No, Hudson. I'm talking rabies that sort of thing."

"They infect you with rabies...?"

"No Hudson, they are afraid you might infect them!"

"You Irish are weird, right? I've had my rabies shots, I've had every possible vaccination known to dog kind, I've even had my testic....."

"No, no, no, no. Don't go there Hudson. Don't go there."

"The wee Irish collie-eens are safe is what I'm saying."

"I don't make the rules, Hudson."

"You're afraid I'll upstage you."


"Yes, you are. Dead Beat arrives at Dublin airport with no one to meet him and the whole Irish Chapter of the Hudson International Fan Club are there to cheer me on."

"That's not it, Hudson."

"You're lying , Dad. I always know when you are lying."

Dead Beat Goes Home

Dead Beat as you well know has more than a little Irish blood in him (90% proof). So it should probably come as no surprise that with St Patrick's Day out of the way that he would find himself winging his way back home. But Dead Beat considers it quite the surprise.

In fact the Mrs Dead Beat and all the little Dead Beats are going with him - or is it that he is going with them?

So lest I get distracted and begin to neglect my blog - take it as an opportunity to explore the archieves. There is a wealth of learnings in there - plunder it as you would an Iraqi museum after an American liberation.

The Dump - Thom Gunn

He died, and I admired
the crisp vehemence
of a lifetime reduced to
half a foot of shelf space.
But others came to me saying,
we too loved him, let us take you
to the place of our love.
So they showed me
everything, everything
-- a cliff of notebooks
with every draft and erasure
of every poem he
published or rejected,
thatched already
with webs of annotation.
I went in further and saw
a hill of matchcovers
from every bar or restaurant
he'd ever entered. Trucks
backed up constantly,
piled with papers, and awaited
by archivists with shovels;
forklifts bumped through
trough and valley
to adjust the spillage.
Here odors of rubbery sweat
intruded on the pervasive
smell of stale paper,
no doubt from the mound
of his collected sneakers.
I clambered up the highest
pile and found myself
looking across not history
but the vistas of a steaming
range of garbage
reaching to the coast itself. Then
I lost my footing! and was c
arried down on a soft
avalanche of letters, paid bills,
sexual polaroids, and notes
refusing invitations, thanking
fans, resisting scholars.
In nightmare I slid,
no ground to stop me,

until I woke at last
where I had napped beside
the precious half foot. Beyond that,
nothing, nothing at all.

The Butcher's Son - Thom Gunn


Mr Pierce the butcher

Got news his son was missing

About a month before

The closing of the war.

A bald man, tall and careful,

He stood in his shop and found

No bottom to his sadness,

Nowhere for it to stop.

When my aunt came through the door

Delivering the milk,

He spoke, with his quiet air

Of a considerate teacher,

But words weren't up to it,

He turned back to the meat.

The message was in error.

Later that humid summer

At a local high school fete,

I saw, returned, the son

Still in his uniform.

Mr Pierce was not there

But was as if implied

In the son who looked like him

Except he had red hair.

For I recall him well

Encircled by his friends,

Beaming a life charged now

Doubly because restored,

And recall also how

Within his hearty smile

His lips contained his father's

Like a light within the light

That he turned everywhere.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What Is Art - Leo Tolstoy

So Leo old chum, what is art?

"Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man's emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity."

Metaphysicians, aesthetical physiologists... more Leo... more...

"Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications. To take the simplest example: a boy, having experienced, let us say, fear on encountering a wolf, relates that encounter; and, in order to evoke in others the feeling he has experienced, describes himself, his condition before the encounter, the surroundings, the woods, his own lightheartedness, and then the wolf's appearance, its movements, the distance between himself and the wolf, etc. All this, if only the boy, when telling the story, again experiences the feelings he had lived through and infects the hearers and compels them to feel what the narrator had experienced is art. If even the boy had not seen a wolf but had frequently been afraid of one, and if, wishing to evoke in others the fear he had felt, he invented an encounter with a wolf and recounted it so as to make his hearers share the feelings he experienced when he feared the world, that also would be art. And just in the same way it is art if a man, having experienced either the fear of suffering or the attraction of enjoyment (whether in reality or in imagination) expresses these feelings on canvas or in marble so that others are infected by them. And it is also art if a man feels or imagines to himself feelings of delight, gladness, sorrow, despair, courage, or despondency and the transition from one to another of these feelings, and expresses these feelings by sounds so that the hearers are infected by them and experience them as they were experienced by the composer."

So...? What is art?

"We are accustomed to understand art to be only what we hear and see in theaters, concerts, and exhibitions, together with buildings, statues, poems, novels. . . . But all this is but the smallest part of the art by which we communicate with each other in life. All human life is filled with works of art of every kind - from cradlesong, jest, mimicry, the ornamentation of houses, dress, and utensils, up to church services, buildings, monuments, and triumphal processions. It is all artistic activity. So that by art, in the limited sense of the word, we do not mean all human activity transmitting feelings, but only that part which we for some reason select from it and to which we attach special importance. "

Dead Beaters, if you are going to create art, the least you can do is figure out what it really is.

Tolstoy and Other Infections

So we were talking about Tolstoy. In his What is Art? he theorises that art is the contagion of feeling. Are we talking viruses by any chance? He infects the audience with the feelings he himself experiences. Indeed he wants to use this theory as a criterion for the evaluation of art. Well my old friend Anne Sheppard would tell us that, “much of Tolstoy’s condemnation of art derives from his moral outlook and he fails, or refuses, to make any distinction between the moral and the aesthetic.”

So up yours, Leo!

“She goes on to say, “It is often claimed that a characteristic feature of aesthetic experience is a certain emotional detachment, that in true art emotions are not directly aroused, we are not moved to immediate action but remain in a state of contemplative appreciation.”

Douglas Adams, Tolstoy, viruses, Art. Old Hof would be proud of.
Anyway think about it. Your words depend on this.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Real Solid Red Meat of Science - or - The Novel as Light Relief

Richard Dawkins and Dead Beat are old pals. So it should come as no surprise that he has been keeping tabs on D.B.' posts.

"Like what you are about D.B. Tell it as it is."

"Science really."

"I was talking to Douglas Adams some years back. He studied English literature at Cambridge, but he was telling me how his reading habits have changed: "I think I read much more science than novels. I think the role of the novel has changed a little bit. In the nineteenth century the novel was where you went to get your serious reflections and questionings about life. You'd go to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Nowadays, of course, you know the scientists actually tell us much much more about such issues than you would ever get from novelists. So I think for the real solid red meat of what I read I go to science books, and read some novels as light relief.""

"We're becoming vegetarians, Rich. That's the problem with us novelists. We need to kill more animals."

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Spirit of Kepler and other Celestial Matters

So Dead Beat isn't letting you away too easily. I know you wish he'd shut up about analogy and the creative process and just allow you all to get on with your writing, and for a while I thought I would, but just then who should materialise in the middle of a particularly cold and wintry night but Kepler himself. Yes that Kepler, Johannes.

Dead Beat props himself up on his down filled pillow. "Shut the screen door, Johannes."

"No time, no time."

"Speaking of time, what the hell time is it." Dead Beat notices that his clock has stopped upon his wall. The pendulum has ceased its motion.

"I know not the hour nor the year nor the century, Dead Beat."

"I know the feeling," D.B. groans wondering how many Guinness he had the night before.

"You speak of creativity and analogy."

"In a manner. Hof really."

"The roads by which men arrive at their insights into celestial matters seem to
me almost as worthy of wonder as those matters in themselves ."

Dead Beat rises to the bait.

"My thoughts exactly Johannes."

"In Astronomia Nova I say:
Here it is a question not only of leading the reader to an understanding of the subject matter in the easiest way, but also, chiefly, of the arguments, meanderings, or even chance occurrences by which I the author first came upon that understanding . Thus, in telling of Christopher Columbus, Magellan, and of the Portuguese, we do not simply ignore the errors by which the first opened up America, the second, the China Sea, and the last, the coast of Africa ; rather, we would not wish them omitted, which would indeed be to deprive ourselves of an enormous pleasure in reading ."

"Yes, you did, didn't you. The process of understanding being as important as the understanding itself."

"Dead Beat, we are kindred spirit."

"Did you mention spirits, Johannes? A wee tipple perhaps?"

"Just a small one," handing across his tumbler.

"Go on..."

"I therefore display these occasions [errors and meanderings] scrupulously, with, no doubt, some attendant difficulty for the reader. Nevertheless, that victory is sweeter that was born in danger, and the sun emerges from the clouds with redoubled splendour."

He sips from his glass. I sip from the bottle.

"I enjoy recognizing my errors, Dead Beat, because they tell me by what meanders, and by feeling along what walls through the darkness of ignorance,
I have reached the shining gateway of truth."

"We could all learn from this. Us scribes. Kep, you were a prolific analogizer, were you not? Not only in your books but also in your journals and letters, you used analogies constantly . In some cases the analogies seem simply playful . In other cases, analogizing is integral to your theorizing."

"Ah, yes D.B."

"We could, could we not trace your analogical processes, using structure-mapping theory to trace your inferences and analogical extensions. We could show that with reasonable representational assumptions we could simulate some, though not all, of your mapping processes."

"T'was my intention."

"T'was my intention to get a good night's sleep and to do the same thing for creativity in writing."

"Science, writing, D.B. What is the difference?"

And with that the clouds slid across the moon, the room went dark and the shutters banged emptily.

Slowing Down the Years - Dead Beat Discovers the Secret of Eternal Youth

So Hofstadter's second riddle:

“Why does each new year seem to pass faster than the one before?”

Hofstadter explains: The more we live, the larger our repertoire of concepts becomes, which allows us to gobble up ever larger coherent stretches of life in single mental chunks. As we start seeing life’s patterns on higher and higher levels, the lower levels nearly vanish from our perception. This effectively means that seconds, once so salient to our baby selves, nearly vanish from sight, and then minutes go the way of seconds, and soon so do hours, and then days, and then weeks...

“Boy, this year sure went by fast!” is so tempting to say because each year is perceived in terms of chunks at a higher, grander, larger level than any year preceding it, and therefore each passing year contains fewer top-level chunks than any year preceding it, and so, psychologically, each year seems sparser than any of its predecessors. One might, somewhat facetiously, symbolize the ever-rapider passage of time by citing the famous harmonic series:
1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/6 + 1/7 + 1/8 +...

by which I mean to suggest that one’s nth year feels subjectively n times as short as one’s first year, or n/5 times as short as one’s fifth year, and so on. Thus when one is an adult, the years seem to go by about at roughly a constant rate, because — for instance — (1/35)/(1/36) is very nearly 1. Nonetheless, according to this theory, year 70 would still shoot by twice as fast as year 35 did, and seven times as fast as year 10 did.

But the exact numerical values shown above are not what matter; I just put them in for entertainment value (who else but Hof and D.B. would throw in harmonic series for light relief?). The more central and more serious idea is simply that relentless mental chunking makes life seem to pass ever faster as one ages, and there is nothing one can do about it."

So what gives?

Chunking and analogy gives.

Your poem is built in chunks and so too are your stories and your novels, your memoirs and anything else you care to writer.

Your mind produces the words and the sequences of words, images etc through analogy.

Some sensory or abstract input triggers "prior mental categories". These categories "are quintessentially fluid entities; they adapt to a set of incoming stimuli and try to align themselves with it. The process of inexact matching between prior categories and new things being perceived (whether those “things” are physical objects or bite-size events or grand sagas) is analogy-making par excellence."

Creativity is not bestowed upon us by some airy fairy muse but by mental processes we re only now beginning to understand.

Spend some time exploring your own mapping systems. Who knows maybe you can slow down the years.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

March 14 - Dead Beat's Favouritest Day - Pi Day

Today, March 14, is Dead Beat's favouritest day - Pi Day.

No, not that wholesome American tart thing...

But the greatest number in the mathematical lexicon.

"Whatever happened to Infinity, Dad?"

"Shut up, Hudson!"

Pi, the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi is an irrational number meaning it will continue infinitely without repeating. The symbol for pi, , was first used in 1737 by William Jones, but was popular after it was adopted by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1737. It is approximately 22/7 which approximately equals 3.14. But remember it goes on infinitely (there Hudson, serves you right, you mongrel!)

So here's a treat for all you Pi lovers:

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679 214808651328230664709384460955058223172535940812848111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196 428810975665933446128475648233786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273 7245870066063155881748815209209628292540917153643678925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094 3305727036575959195309218611738193261179310511854807446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912 9833673362440656643086021394946395224737190702179860943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132 0005681271452635608277857713427577896091736371787214684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235 4201995611212902196086403441815981362977477130996051870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859 5024459455346908302642522308253344685035261931188171010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303 5982534904287554687311595628638823537875937519577818577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989 3809525720106548586327886593615338182796823030195203530185296899577362259941389124972177528347913151 5574857242454150695950829533116861727855889075098381754637464939319255060400927701671139009848824012 8583616035637076601047101819429555961989467678374494482553797747268471040475346462080466842590694912 9331367702898915210475216205696602405803815019351125338243003558764024749647326391419927260426992279 6782354781636009341721641219924586315030286182974555706749838505494588586926995690927210797509302955 3211653449872027559602364806654991198818347977535663698074265425278625518184175746728909777727938000 8164706001614524919217321721477235014144197356854816136115735255213347574184946843852332390739414333 4547762416862518983569485562099219222184272550254256887671790494601653466804988627232791786085784383 8279679766814541009538837863609506800642251252051173929848960841284886269456042419652850222106611863 0674427862203919494504712371378696095636437191728746776465757396241389086583264599581339047802759009 9465764078951269468398352595709825822620522489407726719478268482601476990902640136394437455305068203 4962524517493996514314298091906592509372216964615157098583874105978859597729754989301617539284681382 6868386894277415599185592524595395943104997252468084598727364469584865383673622262609912460805124388 4390451244136549762780797715691435997700129616089441694868555848406353422072225828488648158456028506 0168427394522674676788952521385225499546667278239864565961163548862305774564980355936345681743241125 1507606947945109659609402522887971089314566913686722874894056010150330861792868092087476091782493858 9009714909675985261365549781893129784821682998948722658804857564014270477555132379641451523746234364 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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Horace's Od(e)ious Gossip Column - Bob Shacochis is a Scallywag

Dead Beat was getting concerned. Horace was missing from the tool shed. The door was flung open but no wild expositories.

"Greece, Rome?" Hudson suggests.

But lo and behold I hear him wandering up the lane late at night muttering to himself, "Few cross the river of time and are able to reach non-being. Most of them run up and down only on this side of the river. But those who when they know the law follow the path of the law, they shall reach the other shore and go beyond the realm of death..."

"You Horace?"

" Great effort is required to arrest decay and restore vigor. One must exercise proper deliberation, plan carefully before making a move, and be alert in guarding against relapse following a renaissance..."

"Yeah, it's you."

Turns out he has been attending the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Bob Shacochis no less running a panel on: Literary Gossip: Do's and Don'ts. Salon C 2nd Floor.

"If you don't have anything nice to say, sit by me," Dorothy Parker supposedly said. Gossip can hurt, and yet who can resist it? Certainly not writers. Is gossip always backbiting and character assassination, or is it really just talk about people, talk that is interesting and honest? Why aren't men said to gossip? Certainly they do. Panelists provide infamous examples of literary gossip and discuss how to transform scandal into engaging fiction. Is living well- and writing well-the best revenge?

"So what did you learn Horace?"

"Yon Shacochis is a scallywag."

"Yup. What else?"

"Good sense is both the first principal and the parent source of good writing."

"You're bluffing, Horace. You didn't learn that from B.S."

"Geraldo Rivera is Kurt Vonnegut's ex-son in law."

"Now you're talking my language. What's the scoop on Bobby himself? How many brewskis?"

Jane Smiley and Dead Beat Spreading Viruses

So Jane Smiley has been reading Dead Beat (see I Bet You Can’t Repeat The Title Of This Blog) and pilfering his ideas. "The novel is like a virus," she said, "it moves silently around a culture; it either takes hold, or it doesn't."

Well never mind. Dead Beat reads Jane Smiley and has no problem pilfering her ideas about form.

Go ahead, read her. Learn a thing or two.

Oops, did I just spread a virus?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dead Beat Poses Some Riddles

Hof has two riddles for us. Well you know Dead Beat, he has a sense of humour. He likes riddles. So Hofs, sock it to us.

"Two Riddles

We begin with a couple of simple queries about familiar phenomena: “Why do babies not remember events that happen to them?” and “Why does each new year seem to pass faster than the one before?”

I wouldn’t swear that I have the final answer to either one of these queries, but I do have a hunch, and I will here speculate on the basis of that hunch. And thus: the answer to both is basically the same, I would argue, and it has to do with the relentless, lifelong process of chunking — taking “small” concepts and putting them together into bigger and bigger ones, thus recursively building up a giant repertoire of concepts in the mind.

How, then, might chunking provide the clue to these riddles? Well, babies’ concepts are simply too small. They have no way of framing entire events whatsoever in terms of their novice concepts. It is as if babies were looking at life through a randomly drifting keyhole, and at each moment could make out only the most local aspects of scenes before them. It would be hopeless to try to figure out how a whole room is organized, for instance, given just a keyhole view, even a randomly drifting keyhole view.

Or, to trot out another analogy, life is like a chess game, and babies are like beginners looking at a complex scene on a board, not having the faintest idea how to organize it into higher-level structures. As has been well known for decades, experienced chess players chunk the setup of pieces on the board nearly instantaneously into small dynamic groupings defined by their strategic meanings, and thanks to this automatic, intuitive chunking, they can make good moves nearly instantaneously and also can remember complex chess situations for very long times. Much the same holds for bridge players, who effortlessly remember every bid and every play in a game, and months later can still recite entire games at the drop of a hat.

All of this is due to chunking, and I speculate that babies are to life as novice players are to the games they are learning."

Now folks, I think we will leave the next riddle until another time since that has you rolling in the aisles. Seriously, stay with Dead Beat. Think about what Hof is revealing to us.

Complex chess moves, complex writing techniques. Chess masters, word masters. We have a 'giant repertoire of concepts in our minds' which we can utilize in the pulling together of the vast array of formal techniques available to us. Automatic intuitive chunking. We do it all the time. Let us learn to do it even better.

Great Writing and the Appreciation of Analogy


Mapping and analogy. Go back and re-read if you have forgotten. This is important stuff, Dead Beat does not lie.

Remember Hofstadter is concerned with developing computer models of how human thinking works. You see this is the core of it. We can talk about form in writing. We can 'instruct' in the craft - characters, setting, line, imagery, rhythm and so on, but how do we utilize it? What is happening in the minds of writers?

Why do two people with the same understanding of form produce different 'qualities' of work?

What makes a great poet great? We know what is happening on the page - we can see formally what has occurred? But what happened in the mind to allow this to occur? What processes were at work? And if we could model them, could we then 'teach' them?

Could we become better writers?

Dead Beat says, you bet!

Keep in mind that 'the great poet' probably does not really know what is occurring in his or her mind.

So analogy. Here is what Hofstadter says: One should not think of analogy-making as a special variety of reasoning (as in the dull and uninspiring phrase “analogical reasoning and problem-solving,” a long-standing cliché in the cognitive-science world), for that is to do analogy a terrible disservice. After all, reasoning and problem-solving have (at least I dearly hope!) been at long last recognized as lying far indeed from the core of human thought. If analogy were merely a special variety of something that in itself lies way out on the peripheries, then it would be but an itty-bitty blip in the broad blue sky of cognition. To me, however, analogy is anything but a bitty blip — rather, it’s the very blue that fills the whole sky of cognition — analogy is everything, or very nearly so, in my view."

So what is analogy and how can we utilize it to improve our writing abilities:?

Stay with Dead Beat, he has Hof''s ear.

Great Writing and the Appreciation of Analogy

Mapping and analogy. Go back and re-read if you have forgotten. This is important stuff, Dead Beat does not lie.

Remember Hofstadter is concerned with developing computer models of how human thinking works. You see this is the core of it. We can talk about form in writing. We can 'instruct' in the craft - characters, setting, line, imagery, rhythm and so on, but how do we utilize it? What is happening in the minds of writers?

Why do two people with the same understanding of form produce different 'qualities' of work?

What makes a great poet great? We know what is happening on the page - we can see formally what has occurred? But what happened in the mind to allow this to occur? What processes were at work? And if we could model them, could we then 'teach' them?

Could we become better writers?

Dead Beat says, you bet!

Keep in mind that 'the great poet' probably does not really know what is occurring in his or her mind.

So analogy. Here is what Hofstadter says: One should not think of analogy-making as a special variety of reasoning (as in the dull and uninspiring phrase “analogical reasoning and problem-solving,” a long-standing cliché in the cognitive-science world), for that is to do analogy a terrible disservice. After all, reasoning and problem-solving have (at least I dearly hope!) been at long last recognized as lying far indeed from the core of human thought. If analogy were merely a special variety of something that in itself lies way out on the peripheries, then it would be but an itty-bitty blip in the broad blue sky of cognition. To me, however, analogy is anything but a bitty blip — rather, it’s the very blue that fills the whole sky of cognition — analogy is everything, or very nearly so, in my view."

So what is analogy and how can we utilize it to improve our writing abilities:?

Stay with Dead Beat, he has Hof''s ear.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Prayer For My Daughter: Dead Beat Kow-Tows to Eavan Boland

Eavan has been back onto Dead Beat.

"Not many daughters in poetry, you know."

"Hadn't thought about it before," I tell her.

"Of course you haven't, you're a man. Took Yeats until he was in his sixties. So print it."

"Yes Ma'am," Dead Beat kow-tows.

A Prayer For My Daughter
by W.B. Yeats

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory's wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.
It's certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty's very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there's no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Isomorphic Writer and The French Lieutenant's Woman

"Analogy-hungry perceiving machine?"

"That I am." Hofs and his incessant smile.

"You like your job, don't you, Hofs?"

"Don't you like yours?"

"Writers are funny that way."

"Anyway, Dead Beat, the point is that "conscious being" need not be human or even organic. Actually I would carry the abstraction of the term "reference" even further, as follows. The mapping of systems and roles that establishes reference need not actually be perceived by any such being: it suffices that the mapping exist and simply be perceptible to such a being were it to chance by."

"I chanced by Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern in my local library."

"I am glad you did, Dead Beat."

"So am I."

"The French Lieutenant's Woman."

"Say what, Hofs?"

"The French Lieutenant's Woman."

"John Fowles."

"The very same. Let's consider the film version, however: It consists of interlaced vignettes from two concurrently developing stories both of which involve complex romances: one in the past, one in the present. The fact that there are two romances already suggests that a mapping is called for. But much more is suggested than that. There are structural similarities between the two romances: each of them has triangular qualities, and in both stories only one leg of the triangle is focused upon. Moreover, the same two actors play the same two lovers in both romances, so that you see them in alternating contexts and with alternating personality traits. The reason for this "coincidence" is that the contemporary story concerns the making of a film of the past story.

As the two stories unfold in parallel, a number of coincidences arise that suggest even more strongly that a mapping should be made. But it is left to the viewer to carry this mapping out; it is never called for explicitly. What is pleasant in this game is the fluidity left to the viewer: there is much room for artistic licence in seeing connections, or suspecting or even inventing them.

Indirect reference of the artistic type is much less precise than indirect reference of the formal type. The latter arises when two formal structures are isomorphic - that is, they have strictly analogous internal structures, so that there is a rigorous one-to-one mapping between the roles in the one and the roles in the other. In such a case3 the existence of genuine reference becomes as clear to us as the case of someone talking about their mirror image; we take it as immediate, pure self-reference, without even noticing the indirectness, the translational steps mediated by the isomorphism."

"I am writing a novel set in the past and present."

"I know you are Dead Beat."

"Each consists of a triangular romance."

"Of course it does."

"The same main character, but two different characters in the other parts of the triangle."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"Are you giving me advice here Hof?"

"Would you tell me how to do my job?"

"I guess not."

Hof shrugs.

"It's just that it sounds like you know more about the form of writing than I do. Even after all these years."

"Mapping, analogy."

"We're in the same business."

"I guess we are."
"It's fun isn't it?"

"Isn't this where we came in, Dead Beat?"


"You're learning my boy. We'll make a writer of you yet!"

The Writer as an Analogy-Hungry Perceiving Machine

What with Baudrillard ceasing to exist and all, you thought I had forgotten about old Hofs, didn't you. Well no. Hofs exists even if he has to tell us himself in a self-referential way.

Anyway he looks up from his desk in Indiana and sees me sitting there.

"It is I," I say.

"I say it is," he replies smiling broadly.

"Directly or indirectly?"

Broader smile. "I would say they are just distant points on a continuum. The question is one of reference in general. The essence is simply that one thing refers to another whenever, to a conscious being, there is sufficiently compelling mapping between the roles the two things are perceived to play in some larger structures or systems. Caution is needed here, Dead Beat. By "conscious being" I mean an analogy-hungry perceiving machine that gets along in the world thanks to its perceptions."



"I am a writer."

"That, my dear conscious being is precisely why I am telling you these things."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

That The Science of Cartography Is Limited - Eavan Boland

That the Science of Cartography Is Limited

—and not simply by the fact that this shading of
forest cannot show the fragrance of balsam,
the gloom of cypresses,
is what I wish to prove.

When you and I were first in love we drove
to the borders of Connacht
and entered a wood there.

Look down you said: this was once a famine road.

I looked down at ivy and the scutch grass
rough-cast stone had
disappeared into as you told me
in the second winter of their ordeal, in

1847, when the crop had failed twice,
Relief Committees gave
the starving Irish such roads to build.

Where they died, there the road ended

and ends still and when I take down
the map of this island, it is never so
I can say here is
the masterful, the apt rendering of
the spherical as flat, nor
an ingenious design which persuades a curve
into a plane,
but to tell myself again that

the line which says woodland and cries hunger
and gives out among sweet pine and cypress,
and finds no horizon

will not be there.

Eavan Boland

What A Poet Is - Eavan Boland

In case you ever wondered what a poet is... and in case you didn't, you should have...especially if you write poetry...and if you don't, shame on do you expect to become a better fiction writer anyway?

So Eavan is giving me a hard stare and kindly refuses my offer of a G&T.

"What we find in a poet," she says, "is always a volatile mixture of knowledge and self-knowledge. The best poems are anti-historic: they survive change. History fixes an experience in the moment. The good poem does the opposite. It takes an experience and builds a shelter for it in language and craft which protects it forever from the erosions of time and space."

Jean Baudrillard 1929-2007

So Jean Baudrillard no longer exists.

Remember: There are three orders of simulacra:
(1) natural, naturalistic simulacra: based on image, imitation, and counterfeiting. They are harmonious, optimistic, and aim at the reconstitution, or the ideal institution, of a nature in God's image.
(2) productive, productionist simulacra: based on energy and force, materialized by the machine and the entire system of production. Their aim is Promethean: world-wide application, continuous expansion, liberation of indeterminate energy (desire is part of the utopias belonging to this order of simulacra).
(3) simulation simulacra: based on information, the model, cybernetic play. Their aim is maximum operationality, hyperreality, total control.

Thoughts do not die.

We will think more on this.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Cybernetic Poet

Okay, Ray Kurtzweil, one of the great innovaters of Artificial Intelligence, gets on the phone.

"Is that you, Dead Beat?"
"Who you?"
"Sorry Kurt before you ask, no I don't have any intelligence to give away, artificial or otherwise."
"We all know that, D.B. It's not that I'm calling about. It's your last post on Creative Computing."

"Yeah, I like that one."

"Just to let you know I already did it."

"Did what?"

"Write a program for computers to write poetry."

"You kidding me?"

"No. The computer reads a selection of poetry and then creates a 'language model' and writes original poems from that model. So far it writes stanzas of poetry. A more difficult problem than writing stanzas of poetry is writing complete poems that make thematic, syntactic, and poetic sense across multiple stanzas, but that's on the way. Computer generated music and art is already well progressed. Oh yeah, Hofs knows what he is talking about. Don't you forget it."

"I don't intend to."

"By the way Dead Beat, you might want to download a free copy. In fact I read your need to download a free copy."

The Cybernetic Poet

Creative Computing

So, Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter. Computers. Babbage.

That's where we were. Hofstadter of course looking over our shoulder.

Well there is an old argument concerning Artificial Intelligence and whether computers can ever capture the essence of the mind.

Not so, Ada says, because a computer can never, in and of itself, be creative.

Not so! Old Hofs insists. He claims that the essence of creativity is pursuing a theme through all its possible outcomes and being clever enough to recognize a bright new possibility with the combinations that emerge. Others have similarly argued that creativity can be explained as a process combining exploration and recognition.

Margaret Boden, Cognitive Scientist with all the hoop-la distinguishes three degrees of creativity: 1) The simplest type of creativity occurs when one explores permutations and combinations exhaustively, hoping for an inspired change; 2) The next degree of creativity involves exploring an unknown space, that is, a dimension or variable that has not been used before; 3) The third and highest degree of creativity is again when one explores a space but this is a space that has been transformed in a way that others have not considered.

Can a computer be programmed to pursue these three stages? Why ever not?

And what about us, this vast pool of shoddy writers that we are? Can we pursue these stages more effectively? Or are we going to let our computers write better novels and poems than we do?

Yeah, you're right, most probably.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Byron's Daughter and Other Dangerous Poetic Tendencies

Dead Beat, that old Merry Prankster is leading you somewhere. Don't be afraid to follow along. You will be the better for it. Your writing will be the better for it. Remember he is peppering the space with dots.

So Byron? Yeah, I know you guys know everything about him, you're writers after all. He was a Lord right? Lived 1788-1824. Born with a club foot. Inherited the title and estates of his great-uncle, the "wicked" Lord Byron, at age 10. Harrow. Cambridge. Friendships with young boys....

"Dead Beat! Dead Beat! (Horace running out of the tool shed) The gossip is mine. Shake yourself to see whether nature planted your vices in you or, perhaps, your own bad habits did, for it's certain that in neglected fields grow weeds that must be burned...."

.... okay, okay! I'll stick to the details....

"Get to the poems, Dad (Hudson ). You did know he was a poet?"

Alright, The Bride of Abydos, The Siege of Corinth, The Prophecy of Dante and all those other puppies. Thing is, it's not so much Georgie Porgy I am interested in as his daughter, Ada. Lady Byron left with her a year after her birth and never did return.
"A bit like Jim Morrison and Paris."
"No Hudson, nothing like Jim Morrision and Paris....

Anyway all you so called Byron groupies out there, what can you tell me about her, Ada Lovelace? Humh?
"Did you say Linda Lovelace?"
"Hudson, leave it out...

Let Dead Beat tell you all about it, how Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, disciplines which would counter her dangerous poetic tendencies.

In 1828 she produced the design for a flying machine. When she was just 17 she met Charles Babbage, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, and became a lifelong friend..."

"Whoh Dad!"

"Y-e-s, H-u-d-s-o-n!"

"Is that the same Cabbage considered to have invented the first computer?"

"Babbage, Hudson, Babbage. But yes you're right. He was known as the inventor of the Difference Engine, an elaborate calculating machine that operated by the method of finite differences. He then made plans in 1834 for a new kind of calculating machine (although the Difference Engine was not finished), an Analytical Engine. In 1842, an Italian mathematician, Louis Menebrea, published a memoir in French on the subject of the Analytical Engine. Babbage enlisted Ada as translator for the memoir, and during a nine-month period in 1842-43, she worked feverishly on the article and a set of Notes she appended to it.
Ada called herself "an Analyst (& Metaphysician)," and the combination was put to use in the Notes. She understood the plans for the device as well as Babbage but was better at articulating its promise. She rightly saw it as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for "developing and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity."

Her Notes, by the way, anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.

"Good story, Dad."

"Thank you Hudson."

"And it's point?"

"It's point, Hudson! It doesn't have to have a point, does it? It's a dot. A Hofstadter dot."

"Poetry and math. That's what you're about Dad, don't think I don't know."

"So why ask, hot shot? Go eat your kibble."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Self-Referential Sentences - Dead Beat Lays Down A Challenge

So Dead Beat as you know has been chewing the fat with Douglas R. Hofstadter on Self-Referential Sentences - sentences which refer to themselves.

Here are a few D.B. enjoys:

- I have heard this sentence is a rumour.

- You have just started to read the sentence you have just finished reading.

- The only point of this sentence is to make clear what is the point of this sentence.

A variant of this: This sentence contains exactly threee errors.

Some of the sentences depend on the difference between use and mention - the use-mention distinction.

When a word is used to refer to something, it is said to be used. When a word is quoted (to be examined for its surface aspects - typographical, phonetic etc) it is said to be mentioned.

You can't have "your cake" and spell it "too".

Another possibility is the ambiguous nature of the first-person pronoun "I". does "I" refer to the speaker or to the sentence?

I am not the subject of this sentence.

I am simultaneously writing and being written.

Expanding on this ambiguity: As long as you are not reading me, the fourth word of this sentence has no referent.

Hey out there - is that you reading me, or is it someone else?

What about sentences with ambiguous referents?

Thit sentence is not self-referential because "thit" is not a word.

Then there are counterfactual conditionals - sentences which postulate in their first clause (the antecedent) some contrary to fact situation and extrapolates in its second clause (the consequent) some consequence of it (phew! - are you glad to get to the end of this sentence?)

If wishes were horses, the antecedent of this conditional would be true.

This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.

So Dead Beat thanks The Hofmaster and lays down a challenge for all you would be writers out there.

Am I the best sentence there is?

Please send your samples along.