18.220 Nash's hope

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty ) <willard_at_mccarty.me.uk>
Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2004 07:59:38 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 220.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2004 07:18:16 +0100
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Re: 18.127 Nash's hope

Nash's hope OR the hope of Nash


I am wondering if the "and" in your comments on John Forbes Nash's
biography were to represent a disjunctive conjunction. Or is
that "and" representing another sort of conjunction that bridges the world
of the shared beliefs and practices of scientific reasoning and the world
of idiosyncratic beliefs and practices of the what one may call the
"disconnected-yet-searching" mind at work?


Those of us here, though we may not equal Nash's powers of rational
thought "in the style that is characteristic of scientists" and thankfully
not his immersion in that other style of thought, can share something of
his hopes for creative thought after long deviation. Those of us who are
autodidacts wish of course for proper curricula, but perhaps our
wanderings have some unique value.


I of course betray a certain hypothesis in the formulation of shared and
seeking above, that is, that scientific skepticism (the readiness to
question and test) is akin to the thought patterns at work in some forms
of acute psychosis [playing on the border of what is and could be]. I
venture to speculate it is this very set of thought patterns and habits of
reality testing that that both trigger an episode and assist in the return
from the manic state. I now read your "and" as a coordinating conjunction.

I came to ponder the nature of the styles you set as states not always
equaled by the reader who would occupy the diectic space of "[t]hose of us
here". I recalled the classic thought experiment of the imitation game
and found an example of a machine that can "do" madness. Dan Lloyd in
_Radiant Cool: A Novel Theory of Consciousness_ concludes the fiction with
a realist description of ... well, let me quote one of the characters:


His eyes searched all over the room, trying to lock onto us. I realized
what a simple thing it was, to meet the gaze of another, to recognize. I
realized that in the exchange of glances, that in one look back and forth
you could see the unreeling of life stories, distilled into a single frank
gaze, or an averting of eyes. I noticed all that because his look had none
of it, because his look did not find us, did not find the wall behind us,
did not find the empty space in which we stood. He was without eyes,
without face, without mind. We were standing on the edge of a vast


The pathos is touching. Particularly touching since the narration holds
the reader enthralled because of the depiction of a continuing search, an
attempt to lock on, to orient a way to connection. That search and attempt
is as much a projection of textual desire to make sense of the poesis
under observation (that of the mad subject) as it is an observation of the
mad subject's desire.

What has this to do with computing machines, you may ask. Dan Lloyd
describes in a note how the chapter was composed.


Max Grue's most jumbled ravings are derived from his less jumbled speeches
using text-morphing software found in the McPoet Dadaist software
package, written by the multitalented Chris Westbury. [...] The
text-morphing process takes each word in an actual text and calculates
which words from that text are most likely to follow. Morphing then
generates a new text preserving the same word-to-word probabilities, but
random otherwise. Such texts are enjoyable nonsense, but seem strangely
haunted by the style and logic of the original.


In reading this and re-reading your comments on the unique value of
wanderings, I recall back at the beginning of March 2004, John Bonnett
recommend Alicia Juarrero's _Dynamics in Action : Intentional Behaviour as
a Complex System_. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999) and wonder if in the
case of Nash, Princeton didn't serve as a strange attractor bringing him
round and round to the sanity threshold which he eventually crossed
again. See Sylvia Nasar's biography of Nash in particular where basing
herself on an interview with James Glass she argues "that, for Nash,
Princeton functioned as a therapeutic community. It was quiet and safe;
its lecture halls, libraries, and dining halls were open to him; its
members were for the most part respectful; human contact was available,
but not intrusive. Here he found what he so desperately wanted in Roanoke:
safety, freedom, friends." Sounds a bit like Humanist, for some of us
out here.

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance
A calendar is like a map. And just as maps have insets, calendars in the
21st century might have 'moments' expressed in flat local time fanning out
into "great circles" expressed in earth revolution time.
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Received on Thu Sep 16 2004 - 03:09:21 EDT

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