Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Four-square brightness

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Computational Thinking and the Digital Critic: Part 1, Four Good Books

This is about computational thinking. But computational thinking is not one thing. It is many, some as yet undefined. What can it become for students of the humanities?

How, you might ask, are we to engage a computational understanding of literary process, if computation isn’t well-defined?

With care, I say, with care. We have to make it up.

* * * * *

As Stephen Ramsay pointed out in a post, DH and CS (where DH = digital humanities and CS = computer science), computer scientists are mostly interested in abstract matters of computability and data structures while programmers are mostly concerned with the techniques of programming certain kinds of capabilities in this or that language. Those are different, though related, undertakings.

Further, the practical craft has two somewhat different aspects. One faces toward the end user and is concerned with capturing that user’s world in the overall design of the program. This design process is, in effect, applied cognitive anthropology. The other aspect faces toward the computer itself and is concerned with implementing that design through the means available in the appropriate programming language. This is writing, but in a very specialized dialect. But it’s all computational thinking in some meaningful sense.

Though I have written a computer program or three, that was long ago. I have, however, spent a fair amount of time working with programmers. At one period in my life I documented software; at a different time I participated in product design.

But I also spent several years in graduate school studying the computational semantics of natural language with the late David Hays. That’s an abstract and theoretical enterprise. Though he is one of the founders of computational linguistics, Hays did no programming until relatively late in his career, after he’d left academia. He was interested in how the mind works and computation was one of his conceptual strategies. I studied with Hays because I wanted to figure out how poetry worked. All the members of his research group were interested in the human mind in one way or another; some of them were also programmers of appreciable skill.

Computational Thinking and the Digital Critic: Part 2, An Ant Walks on the Beach and a Pilot is Alone

Simon’s ant is a well-known thought experiment from Chapter 3, “The Psychology of Thinking: Embedding Artifice in Nature,” in Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1981. It’s a parable about computation, about how computational requirements depend on the problem to be solved. Stated that way, it is an obvious truism. But Simon’s thought experiment invites you to consider this truism where the “problem to be solved” is an environment external to the computer – it is thus reminiscent of Braitenberg’s primitive vehicles (which I discussed in Part 1).

Think of it like this: the nervous system requires environmental support if it is to maintain its physical stability and operational coherence. Note that Simon was not at all interested in the physical requirements of the nervous system. Rather, he was interested in suggesting that we can get complex behavior from relatively simple devices, and simplicity translates into design requirements for a nervous system.

Simon asks us to imagine an ant moving about on a beach:
We watch an ant make his laborious way across a wind- and wave-molded beach. He moves ahead, angles to the right to ease his climb up a steep dunelet, detours around a pebble, stops for a moment to exchange information with a compatriot. Thus he makes his weaving, halting way back to his home. So as not to anthropomorphize about his purposes, I sketch the path on a piece of paper. It is a sequence of irregular, angular segments--not quite a random walk, for it has an underlying sense of direction, of aiming toward a goal.

Monday, July 24, 2017

More synch: Firewalking (performers and spectators), Romantic partners (& empathy for pain)

Pavel Goldstein, Irit Weissman-Fogel, Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory. The role of touch in regulating inter-partner physiological coupling during empathy for pain. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-03627-7
Abstract: The human ability to synchronize with other individuals is critical for the development of social behavior. Recent research has shown that physiological inter-personal synchronization may underlie behavioral synchrony. Nevertheless, the factors that modulate physiological coupling are still largely unknown. Here we suggest that social touch and empathy for pain may enhance interpersonal physiological coupling. Twenty-two romantic couples were assigned the roles of target (pain receiver) and observer (pain observer) under pain/no-pain and touch/no-touch conditions, and their ECG and respiration rates were recorded. The results indicate that the partner touch increased interpersonal respiration coupling under both pain and no-pain conditions and increased heart rate coupling under pain conditions. In addition, physiological coupling was diminished by pain in the absence of the partner’s touch. Critically, we found that high partner’s empathy and high levels of analgesia enhanced coupling during the partner’s touch. Collectively, the evidence indicates that social touch increases interpersonal physiological coupling during pain. Furthermore, the effects of touch on cardio-respiratory inter-partner coupling may contribute to the analgesic effects of touch via the autonomic nervous system.

Ivana Konvalinkaa, Dimitris Xygalatas, Joseph Bulbulia, Uffe Schjødt, Else-Marie Jegindø, Sebastian Wallot, Guy Van Orden, and Andreas Roepstorff. Synchronized arousal between performers and related spectators in a fire-walking ritual. PNAS, May 17, 2011 vol. 108 no. 20 8514-8519, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1016955108
Abstract: Collective rituals are present in all known societies, but their function is a matter of long-standing debates. Field observations suggest that they may enhance social cohesion and that their effects are not limited to those actively performing but affect the audience as well. Here we show physiological effects of synchronized arousal in a Spanish fire-walking ritual, between active participants and related spectators, but not participants and other members of the audience. We assessed arousal by heart rate dynamics and applied nonlinear mathematical analysis to heart rate data obtained from 38 participants. We compared synchronized arousal between fire-walkers and spectators. For this comparison, we used recurrence quantification analysis on individual data and cross-recurrence quantification analysis on pairs of participants' data. These methods identified fine-grained commonalities of arousal during the 30-min ritual between fire-walkers and related spectators but not unrelated spectators. This indicates that the mediating mechanism may be informational, because participants and related observers had very different bodily behavior. This study demonstrates that a collective ritual may evoke synchronized arousal over time between active participants and bystanders. It links field observations to a physiological basis and offers a unique approach for the quantification of social effects on human physiology during real-world interactions.

How's this for enlightenment?

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Remembrance of Christmas past

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Computational Psychiatry?

Psychiatry, the study and prevention of mental disorders, is currently undergoing a quiet revolution. For decades, even centuries, this discipline has been based largely on subjective observation. Large-scale studies have been hampered by the difficulty of objectively assessing human behavior and comparing it with a well-established norm. Just as tricky, there are few well-founded models of neural circuitry or brain biochemistry, and it is difficult to link this science with real-world behavior.

That has begun to change thanks to the emerging discipline of computational psychiatry, which uses powerful data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to tease apart the underlying factors behind extreme and unusual behaviors.

Computational psychiatry has suddenly made it possible to mine data from long-standing observations and link it to mathematical theories of cognition. It’s also become possible to develop computer-based experiments that carefully control environments so that specific behaviors can be studied in detail.
The article then goes on to discuss research reported in:

Sarah K Fineberg (MD PhD), Dylan Stahl (BA), Philip Corlett (PhD), Computational Psychiatry in Borderline Personality Disorder, Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports, March 2017, Vol 4, Issue 1, pp31-40: arXiv:1707.03354v1 [q-bio.NC]
Purpose of review: We review the literature on the use and potential use of computational psychiatry methods in Borderline Personality Disorder.

Recent findings: Computational approaches have been used in psychiatry to increase our understanding of the molecular, circuit, and behavioral basis of mental illness. This is of particular interest in BPD, where the collection of ecologically valid data, especially in interpersonal settings, is becoming more common and more often subject to quantification. Methods that test learning and memory in social contexts, collect data from real-world settings, and relate behavior to molecular and circuit networks are yielding data of particular interest.

Summary: Research in BPD should focus on collaborative efforts to design and interpret experiments with direct relevance to core BPD symptoms and potential for translation to the clinic.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Language boundaries & surface tension

In his new study, Burridge presents a deliberately minimal model of language change, which focuses on explaining dialect distribution solely in terms of topographical features and speaker interaction. The model assumes the existence of multiple linguistic variants for multiple linguistic variables, which effectively define different dialects. In determining whether a given speaker adopts a specific variant, the model does not consider “social value” factors. Instead, it assumes that speakers interact predominantly with people living in their local environment (defined by some radius around their home), and that they will conform to the speech patterns of the majority of people in that geographic vicinity. Such local linguistic alignment favors the emergence of distinct dialect areas, with dialect boundaries tending to shorten in length in a way that mimics how surface tension minimizes the surface area of a water droplet (see Fig. 1). In a region with uniform population density, this language-based surface tension will cause the boundary between two dialects to form straight lines. Densely populated areas, however, interfere with boundary straightening by repelling boundaries and effectively creating new dialect areas around themselves. Furthermore, topography can have an imprint on dialect spatial distributions. In systems with irregular perimeters, Burridge shows that boundary lines tend to migrate to places where they emerge perpendicular from the edge of the system, such as indentations in coastlines.
Original research HERE (PDF).

Monday, July 17, 2017

Organic sphere of latticework

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Where is the never ending (medieval) text? [#DH]

I checked in at Academia.edu today and found another article by medievalist Stephen Nichols. I've not finished it, but wanted to blog a passage or two anyhow.
Stephen G. Nichols, Dynamic Reading of Medieval Manuscripts, Florilegium, vol. 32 (2015): 19-57 DOI: 10.3138/ or.32.002 download at Academia.edu. https://www.academia.edu/33907842/Nichols_Dynamic_Reading_flor_32_002
Here's the abstract:
Abstract: Digital manuscript and text representation provides such a wealth of information that it is now possible to see the incessant versioning of works like the Roman de la Rose. Using Rose manuscripts of the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon MS 763 and BM de Dijon MS 525 as examples and drawing on Aristotelian concepts such as energeia, dynamis, and entelecheia, the copiously illustrated article demonstrates how pluripotent circulation allows for “dynamic reading” of such manuscript texts, which takes into consideration the interplay between image, text, and the context of other texts transmitted in the same manuscript.
What caught my attention was his statement about the unexpected impact of digital technology. It made it possible, for the first time, to examine a number of different codices of the same title and to compare them. And THAT led to a sea-change in understanding of what a text is. The normative concept of the Urtext as the author's original version is in trouble. What happens to the so-called critical edition? Thus (p. 22):
that the critical edition represents a construct based on selected evidence is neither exceptional nor particularly shocking. More problematic is the fact that expediency decrees that manuscript mass be accorded short shrift. Not all manuscripts are equal in this scenario. Indeed, the purpose of manuscript selection—the choice by the editor of a small number of manuscripts deemed reliable — lay precisely in minimizing the number of manuscripts. The more versions an editor could eliminate as defective or uninteresting, the greater the probability that one had located the few copies closest to an original or early version of a work. The select copies could then be closely scrutinized for variant readings. And ‘variant’ meant precisely that: readings of lines or passages differing from what the editor determined to be the normative text. It was in reaction to such a restrictive treatment of manuscript variation that New Philology emerged. Initially, we argued that manuscript copies bore witness to a dialectical process of transmission where individual versions might have the same historical authority as that represented by the critical edition.
And so (pp. 24-25):
Perhaps the most startling question posed by the specular confrontation of manuscripts concerns the status of textuality itself. With unerring perspicuity, Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet pinpoints the issue by asking the simple, but trenchant question: “what, exactly, is ‘a text’ in the Middle Ages, and how do we locate it in a manuscript culture where each codex is unique? [. . .] More radically still,” she continues, “we might legitimately ask just where we’re supposed to nd the text in the manuscript. How does it come to instantiate itself materially as object? And how is its literary identity realized?”

If such questions seem disorienting, it is because they underline how much print editions of medieval works have shaped our expectations. We have grown accustomed to finding the ‘text’ of a medieval work before our eyes whenever we open an edition. In the critical edition, the text is a given; that is why the work is called ‘textual scholarship.’ The editor works hard to establish a text on the basis of painstaking study of the manuscripts that he or she determines to be authoritative. The point, of course, is to circumscribe or close the text to from continuing to generate additions or variants. As we know, that is a modern practice grounded in concepts of scientific text editing.

But as Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet observes, the very concept of a definitive text, a text incapable of generating new versions, is an illusion propagated by its own methodology. Authentic medieval texts, she observes, are never closed, nor, I would add, would their mode of transmission allow them to remain static. And, as a corollary, she observes: “Where are the boundaries?” How do we “identify the borders of a text”? She means that the manuscript folio has a very different ecology from the page of a printed edition. Textual space on a folio is not exclusive, but shared with other systems of representation, or — why not? — other kinds of ‘texts.’ These include rubrics, miniature paintings, decorated or historiated initials, bas-de-page images, marginal glosses, decorative programmes, and so on. In other words, the medieval manuscript page is not simply complex but, above all, an inter-artistic space navigated by visual cues.
We are far from the world of "distant reading" a large corpus of texts and thereby beginning to see patterns in literary history that had been but dimly envisioned before. But the change is equally profound. For example (26-27):
To understand the astonishing virtuosity and variety we find in manuscript versions of the ‘same’ work — such as the Roman de la Rose, for example, for which we have some 250 extant manuscripts produced between the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century — we need to identify imminent factors responsible for generating multiple versions of a given work throughout the period. Here again, digital manuscript study offers reasons to move beyond conventional explanations.

Whereas increased manuscript production might intuitively be explained by such external causes as rising literacy among the merchant and artisan classes and the growth in the number of booksellers, the great variation we see in manuscripts, even those contemporaneous with one another, suggests the possibility of inherent forces of variation at work. Put another way, whereas the increase in literacy and leisure certainly contributed to the growing market for manuscripts to which Parisian booksellers responded, the efficient cause generating multiple manuscripts of a given work lay in the nature of the manuscript matrix itself.

It is not by chance that versions of a given work vary. Literary prestige derived in part from a work’s ability to renew itself from generation to generation by a dynamic process of differential repetition.
And so it goes. And we bring in Artistotle (p. 30): "But whereas we might think of striving for perfection as linear and directed, Aristotle sees it as continuous and open-ended." Is Nichols going to be arguing, then, that the production of version after version is a "striving for perfection" the extends through a population of scribes and readers? I suppose that's what I'll find out as I continue reading.

Thus, p. 32: "In other words, manuscripts are, by their very nature as eidos, ergon, and energeia, predisposed towards actualizing the works they convey not as invariant but as versions in an ever-evolving process of representation.  Against those who would see manuscript copies as regressions from an authoritative original to ever fainter avatars of that primal moment, we must recall Aristotle’s notion of form as atemporal actuality. "

* * * * *

Here's an earlier post about Nichols: Mutable stability in the transmission of medieval texts. And here's a post about the three texts of Hamlet that's relevant: Journey into Shakespeare, a tedious adventure – Will the real Hamlet stand up?

Early history of digital creativity (James Ryan)


And so he's been digging up all sorts of interesting things, not just computer storytelling. Here's some recent stuff he's dug up.



Sunday, July 16, 2017

Luxury real estate & Trump: International networks of power crossing public and private boundaries


Bloggingheads.tv – Published on Jul 14, 2017
00:26 Alex’s book Dictators Without Borders
04:29 Oligarchs and autocrats and kleptocrats, oh my!
10:52 Luxury real estate’s illicit money problem
22:11 The globalization of money laundering
30:12 Trump and networks of power
45:28 How Trump is blurring lines between business and politics
56:07 The slippery slope to kleptocracy

Daniel Nexon (The Duck of Minerva, Georgetown University) and Alexander Cooley (Columbia Harriman Institute, Barnard College, Dictators Without Borders)

Recorded on July 14, 2017

A most interesting discussion about how luxury real estate is a vehicle for money laundering & Trump's network extends into this world. "The lines between business and politics are not how we think about them."

Friday, July 14, 2017

"Lawfare" comes of age [@lawfareblog]

I first became aware of Lawfare through a wonderful March 3 post by Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic, What Happens When We Don’t Believe the President’s Oath? It seems that a lot of people discovered Lawfare about the same time and its readership has blossomed until
Obviously it is the Presidency of Donald Trump that made Lawfare's commentary so salient. Trump's bull-in-a-china-shop style begged for informed legal analysis, and Lawfare was there to provide it.

Congratulations Ben Wittes, Robert Chesney, Jack Goldsmith and the rest of the team!

Friday Fotos: Five Views of a Painted Reptile on the Rocks

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July 9, 2017

Once more, a history of American Lit Crit, this time with politics

Writing in the LA Review of Books, Bruce Robbins reviews Joseph North, Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History (Harvard 2017). An interesting review of what sounds like an interesting book. Robbins reads the recent politics of lit crit as conservative rather than radical, which is how such criticism styles itself; and we get once more universals.
The broad strokes of his narrative are familiar enough, at least to literature professors. As everyone knows, the radicals of 1968, when they turned their attention to the university, insisted that academic attention be paid to race, gender, sexuality, colonialism, and other measures of historically inflicted injury. In literary criticism, these were contexts that had been missing from the everyday practice of interpretation. Moving into the ’70s and ’80s, it became obvious to much or most of the discipline that to read a work of past literature without asking what sort of society the work emerged from was as reprehensible, in its way, as ignoring those who were currently suffering injustice all around you. This is how close reading, little by little, went out of fashion — a momentous shift that, like so much else that later came to be associated with the ’60s, I was somehow living through but not really registering.

Most of the academics who advocated for historicism thought of themselves as radicalizing an apolitical or even crypto-conservative discipline. In North’s view, though, this gets the story backward. The politicization of the discipline that seemed to follow the eclipse of close reading was actually its depoliticization. In the period that began in the late 1970s “and continues through to the present,” North writes, “the project of ‘criticism’ was rejected as necessarily elitist, dehistoricizing, depoliticizing, and so forth; the idea of the ‘aesthetic’ was rejected as necessarily Kantian, idealist, and universalizing.” Yet
it was in fact quite wrong to reject the project of criticism as if its motivating concept, the aesthetic, could only ever be thought through in idealist terms. What was being elided here was the fact that modern disciplinary criticism had been founded on an aesthetics of just the opposite kind. In our own period, this historical amnesia has allowed a programmatic retreat from the critical project of intervening in the culture, back toward the project of analyzing the culture, without any mandate for intervention.
The newer style of interpretation recognized context, oppression, and injustice, yes, but it also masked a movement away from “criticism” and toward what North calls “scholarship.” Criticism, as he sees it, aspires to intervene in social life. Scholarship, as he sees it, is knowledge-production that has no such aspiration. Scholarship gets off on interpreting the world but can’t be bothered to do anything non-scholarly to change it. Since close reading, as North sees it, was a way of changing the world, if only reader by reader, what looked like a lurch to the left was actually a subtle move to the right.

For North, the production of analytic knowledge about the past, whatever its political motives, amounts to complacent non-interference. It’s a way of comfortably inhabiting a present that we ought to see, ethically speaking, as unfit for human habitation, hence requiring us to get up from our desks to do something about.
OK, so all the political critics have been hoisted on their own petards as it where. A call for revolution uttered from the comfort of one’s study is no call at all. Let’s just leave that alone.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Walter Murch on being immersed in a film project and then pulling yourself out

Walter Murch is perhaps best-known for his work on Apocalypse Now, where he did the sound design (for which he won and Oscar) and much of the editing. This is a passage from an interview about his craft and his career that he did with Emily Buder in 2015:
To be an editor, you have to be the kind of person who can be in a room for 16 hours at a time. You are working alone a lot of the time, but there are also times when you’re working with a director in the room. You have to be able to accommodate that. For feature-length pictures, it’s like running a marathon. You have to pace yourself over a year. When I’m considering a film, that’s in the back of my mind. You have to really like the project. Also, you are frequently away from home. You go where the director is. I was working in Argentina for a year, a number of years ago. Before that, I was in Romania, and before that I was in London, and then after that about 2 years ago I was in New York for a year. If you’re married, you have to find ways of coping with that and that’s a whole chapter unto itself.

At the end of the film, it can be very disorienting when the work is suddenly finished. This is not exclusive to film editing; I’m sure it’s true of many other areas of human activity. Soldiers have this problem, actors who are acting in a play when the play is suddenly over, it’s like you’ve been cut loose: “Now what?!” This was never explained to me at film school. So when it first happened, I felt something was wrong with me. It’s the equivalent of a kind of seasickness; if you’ve never been on a ship before and somebody warns you about it, it’s okay. You’ll still feel just as sick, but you won’t feel like killing yourself. This is not that intense, but it is that kind of disorientation. And it passes, but it takes anywhere from two to six weeks to go away. During that time I would be very reluctant to try to decide what to do next. It’s like a love affair where you don’t want to bounce from one relationship to another; that’s dangerous. So, you should just let that project fade away and get back to normal, and then you can decide what to do next. We frequently don’t have the luxury of that, but that’s a goal.
That seems like a kind of mourning. When you work that long and with that intensity, you become attached to the film. When it's over, you've got to unattach yourself. That requires something very like mourning.