Mayer Spivack (1936 - 2011) is @MayerSpivack on Twitter. He was a consultant and advisor on organizational behavior, innovation, and learning, based near Boston, Massachusetts. He was also an artist working in a variety of media. All writing and artworks presented here are the original work and are the copyrighted property of Mayer Spivack. Nothing on this weblog is aggregated from other sources. Reasonable use involving copying with attribution, and limited sharing not for profit, are allowed. Your comments are invited. This blog is now maintained by his son, Nova Spivack. We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your interest.
Nan–Nan! Please listen! You’re just my older sister, You’re not my mother. You could not have prevented any of it so try not to blame yourself. It all just happened, things happen. Sometimes they are just a chain of unconnected events. Think about all the good—no, the great—stuff you have done, the stuff you have done for us, for me, try to think about that for a minute. For example—if it weren’t for you, because of you, me and the sibs would not have learned to love the small animals that live near the stream back at the old house. But you know that already—it has been one of your gifts to us all. You have never harmed any of us.
But there has been a kind of family secret that we need to get out from under, and I guess that it’s partly out now. You know some of it, and that’s the part your worrying over, and the others know some, but there is a part that only I know anything about. It has a bit to do with animals.
We now accept that voice activated computers have come of age. There are many applications of voice input that are used by people wishing to avoid using their keyboards. We read about direct brain control of the computer interface and have seen convincing demos of this in action as a prosthetic assist and as research effort. Soon that too will seem commonplace.
The profusion of technologies that offer novel ways for people to enter information into their computers will continue to amaze us. But will the keyboard ever disappear? I strongly doubt it.
Why would we not want to abandon a mechanical kluge, that is noisy, prone to repetitive stress injuries, ergonomically ridiculous in it’s qwerty modality, and slow? Even so, we writers will hang onto our keyboards with our aching fingers even as technical wizards and early adopters call us luddites.
We like our keyboards for the same reasons that we like musical instruments. They serve nearly identical purposes. Human language has deep roots. Early primate language was very likely a mixture of gesture and musical vocalizations. Imagine a lot of hand and finger waving with sounds that are part singing and part muttered intonations. Other species and evolutionary branches are much the same using body position, vibration, arching, puffing, color, and ritualized ‘dance’.
Penmanship and cursive writing served us well and fulfilled some of the same purposes for hundreds of years, just look at the fancy almost carved letter work in a handwritten document from the past several centuries. The visual text supported and illustrated the meaning of the text.
Almost every developed society has it’s own unique version of sign language for the deaf. These expressive languages are rich in meaning, art, and subtlety—and they are gesture languages. They are languages of the body, the arms, the hands and fingers, the face, eyes and mouth.
What does this collection of apparently unrelated examples tell us about keyboards? That they are a continuation of hand gestures and signing, they are in a way related to music and music making. When we type many of us ‘run’ a parallel soundtrack of the written language in our mind’s-ear as it appears on the screen. Nobody else can hear it, but it must sound right to us. This is an integral part of the creative process for writers like myself.
Is there much difference between my Mac Book Pro laptop keyboard and a pianist’s keyboard? My keyboard holds many aesthetic pleasures for me. It has a satisfying ‘feel’ that is rich in kinesthetic feedback to my fingers and hands. It is klicky and tub-thumpy. It makes satisfying sounds for my ears to use in judging if keys have been properly struck. It is warm to the touch and the keys are softly sculpted to cradle my fingertips. I usually don’t like other keyboards. Most importantly, when I use my keyboard in a writing project, I feel free. The freedom of expression that the keyboard offers to a trained touch-typist is a great pleasure. It is a freedom machine for the mind. There it is— what a good keyboard offers is pleasure in creating a musical and meaningful text. You can’t take that away from me.
(Please follow me at @MayerSpivack on Twitter for further articles and discussion)
Perhaps I am overreacting to a query at the end of an article discussing the implications of Quantum entanglement in organic environments—Technology Reviewby K. Birgitta Whaley et al. at the Berkeley Center for Quantum Information and Computation as published in Quantum Physics — but writing from the bottom of my limbic system, here goes —.
If there ever was an organ
that might benefit from quantum entanglement it is the brain. If there is a system in the brain that would benefit most from entanglement it will involve associative process. Consider:
Quantum entanglement for
information storage at the origin and terminus of nerve fibers in the brain
might allow instantaneous signal processing at multiple locations within the
brain that have in the past become associatively categorized and connected. This
would make the brain operate as a far more energy-efficient organ. It could run
cooler, require less sugar-fuel, and have a faster response-time and be free of
the time-lag that is a product of transmission speed as a function of nerve
fiber length. Cells located a few inches apart could be called upon to fire
instantaneously (speed of light? no measurable speed?) and perhaps also to act
simultaneously (seizure? migraine? consciousness?).
Pushing the envelope of the
possible, credible and the probable:
Were it possible that
entangled particles could be found at both ends of nerves, and that this
entanglement could be produced not only in entangled pairs, but among great
entangled families or multiples (think of: neural web), in other words—that
they could be replicated, and their tangled-together potential to interconnect could
be maintained over time by some yet unknown and unobserved mechanisms—then—quantum
entanglement might yield advantages in associative processing power and speed within the brain.
that associative memory and recall processing, (including processes of
attention direction, memory formation, and memory recall) involves a great
number of cerebral cortex end-point locations that are discrete and
separate cells. The origins (in space, time, and entanglement) of these
connections would lie somewhere among sensory systems and within the limbic
For associative connections
to be made among many such end-points, transmission and process speed would
benefit from (and perhaps require) multiple simultaneous real-time connections among
a plurality of distal end-points that were first entangled when sensory, attention
or thought stimuli first originated at a sensory organ or from within somewhere
in the limbic system, or within the cerebral cortex itself (as in the case of
thought and imagination).
Linear/logical processes (think
of: tax accounting) would not require such massive investment in cellular
connections or wiring as would associative / syncretic processing (think of: scientific
hypothesis-making, art, invention).
Hypothesis: most untrained
(unschooled), or ‘native’, ‘spontaneous’
thought process is associative, not linear.
A corollary hypothesis: education deals with almost exclusively with teaching
and training in linear / logical
processing at the expense of associative / syncretic processing.
This emphasis on logic
eventually suppresses associative / syncretic processing, causing associative
neural connections to devolve or disappear.
If quantum entanglement
among a myriad of endpoint memory cells and attention systems or cortical cells
were possible, then it might allow the communication structure of the brain to
bypass the expensive problem of wiring and wire-maintenance among all these
points. This would mean that the actual dissectable structure of the brain
would diverge from how information travels within it. The brain is complex
enough already and we are still stumped by it all.
This divergent independent
network of fast linkages would allow a kind of 'wireless neurological network'
with instantaneous interconnections and throughput to create what we call thinking and consciousness (two quite different phenomena, neither of which has
been proven to exist, at least for many people).
There is nothing outrageous
about a suggestion that quantum entanglement may be operating within the brain,
except that I am the clearly unqualified person discussing it with you.
What may be unique about my spin (intentional pun) on the subject is that I emphasize the advantages for the highly interconnected requirements of associative processing and memory as differentiated from logical, cognitive, or other operations.
Please watch the video about
the work of the artist Esref Armagan at the end of this posting.
It presents a credible
record of the process of a Turkish artist, Esref Armagan, born blind, who
nonetheless draws and paints. Despite the ‘common sense’ impression one might
have that this is a trick, his is not a ‘supernatural’ ability or parlor trick in
which he attempts to convince us that the blind can see. The video demonstrates
quite solidly how he is able to conceive of and draw what he can only touch and
This calm and humble man has
the desire, as does any artist, to make images. What is unusual and provokes
our interest is that he cannot see because he was born blind. Yet, he makes
images of objects and places that he can only know by touching and moving
through and around them, and presumably by hearing sound reflected and
refracted from their surfaces. Listen closely outside to the echoes in a quiet public
square. You will hear this effect when the environment is relatively free of
motor noise. Go to Venice and learn that the whole city is an echoic symphony.
His memory of shape, form,
and space are apparently a combination of tactile, kinetic, and probably
acoustic (passive echo-location) sensory and cognitive abilities and skills.
I think that there are
important lessons here! Mr. Armagan is not a freak talent but in some ways is an
ordinary and true artist. For us who pour over images on websites, drawing and
painting have become a kind of faux litmus test of intelligence and creativity
in animals, and we have become accustomed to novel u-tube videos featuring elephants
and other animals that can paint. We know chimps can make images of sorts.
Those animals have been trained to draw by humans, and/or have found some
pleasure in moving colors around. Those videos should not be compared in any
way with this one. Blind people are not elephants.
This video documents a man
making art using the neurological equipment and talents he was born with, just
as do other artists, myself included, (sculpture).
Sculpture-making, at least for
me, is a process, similar to the kind of 'seeing' Mr. Armagan describes and
demonstrates. What he does is quite familiar. When I am working on a piece of
sculpture, images of form 'arrange themselves' in my mind's eye. There is no ‘muse’
in my mind. I am doing the arranging, and the eye I speak of here is truly in
my mind’s visual center, but it feels much as if I am watching a mind-controlled
computer-graphics display filling out an image. This envisioning may occur voluntarily
or involuntarily with my real eyes open or closed. I can do this any time I
need to imagine an object. In any case, I choose to do much of my most
successful decision-making and preparatory conceptualization work just as I am about
to sleep in order to take advantage of the leverage of hypnagogic imagery.
Most often, when I am
intensely creative and productive, I intentionally set aside some time before
sleep to consciously think about alternative ways of solving a formal or other
problem for the next day’s studio work, and am able to evolve and to ‘watch’
various alternative solutions develop on the screen of my mind. I have learned
though that I must consciously ‘tell myself’ that I will remember all these
images when I am awake and able to draw or write them to paper or computer. Occasionally,
if I am fortunate, this process continues while I dream. This sleep-work is a
great boost to my studio work.
These images, particularly
the ones that I choose as the better ones, then become multi-sensory and
sometimes synesthetic impressions.Nearly always they combine into visual ideas or visual thought having
qualities of tactility, form, space, time, place (location), material (wood,
steel, copper etc.), mass, weight, size, structure, balance, motion, color,
texture, , light absorption and reflectivity, shadow, highlight, (and myriads of other qualities).
Visual thought integrates
the relationships among all these parts, giving to my imagined sculpture a high
degree of apperceived realism. I can rotate the envisioned object, observe it
from various angles, inspect it internally and externally for contradictions
and mechanical interferences and failures in structural logic. Making the piece
the next day in the studio is then a matter of completing this previously envisioned
solution, and inventing changes to it as the work progresses.
The analogy that comes to
mind is as if my brain were able to compose, code, and send the output data (via
a buffer) to a printer (my hands), to ‘print’ by representing the original
visual thoughts in three dimensions, or more, (my work often involves movement
and time). This print-out of the whole pre-conceived artwork develops like film
in a darkroom tray as I work during the next days or weeks. Many of my pieces
go on like this for a year or more.
All this internal
envisioning and real-time studio work is a compelling experience that one does
better as one works.
My son Nova Spivack ( http://novaspivack.typepad.com/nova_spivacks_weblog/2008/02/a-classificatio.html?cid=103805366#comments ) has brought up the subject of developing a universal classification of intelligence. It is a worthwhile effort, and one that may require a century of reflection and research. It is worth more and serious work. Others have and will attempt it as well, and agreement will be slow and hard to achieve.
One problem is that we do not yet have a workable non-universal (species- our own) description of intelligence. My own questions are — What do we mean by intelligence? What are we getting at when we measure it or write about it? Much of the literature seems to confuse intelligence with 'smarts' (see my own previous posting on this blog — Is Intelligence A Property of All Life?)
I wonder if a useful way of discussing intelligence might be to consider it as an aspect of adaptability and a part of all biological process, and extend that into inorganic systems as well.
This dumps us into the possibility that intelligence evolved out of simple primal and basic properties of inorganic and organic systems in the early universe (at least on our planet, and in it’s high form (homo-sapiens) it is merely an extension of those simpler capacities for adaptability and change.
In this context intelligence is a scale of what can change or adapt in any examined system, ecosystem or species and how rapidly (in a comparative sense) this takes place. For instance, what is the scope and depth of possible change and adaptability in a molecule or virus and how does this scale up as systems become more complex? What terminology might we use to consider all this in a fresh perspective and to avoid the language and conceptual pitfalls hidden within our classical and current definitions and research?
Is intelligence is a basic feature of life? What do we mean when we speak or write about intelligence? There are at least a few working definitions, one is humans know it when they encounter it, as in the Turing test. Another is that human intelligence marks the top of a scale of animal intelligence. Casual language about intelligence usually confuses it with smartness, and is a competitive notion.
I wonder if intelligence is not a more profound aspect of all life, present in every living organism and at every scale. We may find a more useful idea of intelligence if we give intelligence some wiggle-room. I also wonder if intelligence is a fundamental property of life. Could any organism function without some level of intelligent or orderly information transfer and exchange within it's boundaries? Isn't information transfer and exchange a basic operation within intelligence? Perhaps an organelle or a virus does not aspire to the label highly intelligent, but it gets it's own job done.
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Artificial intelligence will never be intelligent in the human sense until we find a way of organizing machine process, storage and retrieval that is mediated by an emotion-emulating algorithm.
Information moving about within our brains, even what we believe to be pure logical thought and fact is attached to emotional preferences and dislikes (intellectual passions if you like), and these emotional tags or neurological links assist us in making efficient and meaningful use of the primary sensory chaos present in the unprocessed perceived environment. Emotion plus other data equals meaning, and meaning is everything in both thought and emotion, and in action or communication.
Comprehending what meaning means aught to be our main target as we pursue the grail of artificial intelligence. We can eventually understand and build an operational concept of meaning, but it will be difficult (or maybe impossible) if we only stick to the computer science worldview. The difficulty will be somewhat eased if computer scientists go to lunch with psychotherapists who teach and use psychodynamic theory.
In a simple mind experiment, think of an idea or a theory, perhaps some fact or strong belief you have been working with. Are you fond of it? Do you defend this belief or theory when colleagues challenge it’s validity in meetings? Your defense is not purely logical. It is also strongly emotional.
We are motivated by emotion first, logic second. We store away and remember our observations and scientific ideas with ‘tags’ that connect emotion to logical thought.
If computation is ever to be deeply companionable with humans, we must build computers that process data the way humans feel and think, this is not improbable. Because they exist together within the brain, emotions, logically, must be merely another quality or kind of information in the brain in the same way as are logical propositions.
Emotion is not a halo of irrational spiritual vapor hovering outside our brains. It is more likely central to the brain’s own deep logic. Perhaps emotion is a faster pathway to learning and remembering in animals, including humans, and will eventually provide the same functions within computer systems and their application programs.
Perhaps, if we keep our minds open this avenue of investigation may also lead to a better understanding of the mysterious process of human thought and emotion.
Fear, isolation, and a sense of numbing helplessness characterize the nursing home, the mental hospital and other institutional experiences for the majority of inmates. To enter a hospital, especially a mental hospital or a nursing home, either as a visitor or a patient, is to encounter an environment that has no equal in barrenness anywhere in our culture except for the prisoner's cell.
These environments may be described as dis-integrated or degraded because they lack wholeness; they are incomplete. Because the ordinary everyday settings for behavior are missing, they cannot adequately support the great range of human activities and behaviors that are associated with everyday life and particularly with the recovery process. Most institutions force inmates to ‘kill time’ without purpose. More typically and destructively, institutional environments may further impair the patients' faith in their own competence to take care of themselves and live normal independent lives. Prolonged institutionalization or hospitalization, especially in a mental hospital, nursing home, or prison may seriously impair the inmate’s mental health, as individual’s responsibilities and social behaviors fall away.
Psychiatry and psychology in particular, and medicine in general, all lack a clear vision or theory of mental health and ‘wellness’, as distinct from illness, that could inform and enrich the lives of patients in their care. Since the earliest records of institutional mental health treatment there have been relatively few reform revolutions during which the quality of the patients' experience, their environment, and their care were given enriching humane attention.
Comparisons among four birds, their early development and behavioral determinants.
ALEX, our finest feathered colleague in the Laboratory of Cognitive Scientist Dr. Irene Pepperberg has died before his work, or hers, was completed. He was somewhat of an avian guru, a teacher, who participated in the Rival-Model learning method, ultimately developing clear human speech. He helped us answer many important questions about cognition and learning in general. He left Dr. Peppergerg and the rest of us who knew him and followed his progress with even more questions about the still largely unexplored animal-to-human interface.
Following the death of ALEX it seems the right moment to sum up some of my own informal observations about the linguistic and emotional language behavior of our own grays in the light of recent Rival-Model Learning discoveries.
ALEX, early years and environment:
ALEX was raised in Dr. Pepperberg’s laboratory, surrounded by students and researchers who kept him busy, interacting nearly all day as they explored his cognitive abilities, and as he learned to use human language. His was a formal, academic society. He lived a life of protocols, affection, repetition of protocols, affection, rest, and he slept alone, retiring gratefully (or so he seemed to indicate) to his cage at night. He did this work five days or more per week for thirty years.
There were also times when he visited friends with Dr. Pepperberg for days at a time. There were hours spent in the care of avian veterinarian Dr. Marjorie McMillan. , and many hospital days in Chicago, There were times he was interviewed in the company of strangers in small rooms or many in large auditoriums; he did not often disappoint.
He befriended Alan Alda, and it appears that ALEX impressed him, but more to the point ALEX made Alda laugh. That Alda laugh—that easy accepting sound—that accompanies so much of what he does, expresses his curiosity, and his pleasure in discovery. ALEX seems to have provided him with all of this in each meeting. Documented evidence of ALDA’s intelligent use of human language can be found on the Discovery Channel, and on video.
Nashi, early years and environment:
Nashi, my own African Grey Parrot is the same species (Psittacus erithacus) as ALEX, but she has had a different kind educational history, physical setting and social environment. Nashi’s life has not only been unlike ALEX’s, but also quite different from the lives of most domestically raised African Gray Parrots, and radically different from her conspecifics in wild flocks.
ALEX died yesterday, he was 31 years old and had lived the most extraordinary life of any bird on the planet. He was the first avian intellectual pioneer, and certainly the first avian to have made intellectual contributions to science. He was also an imp with a sense of humor that bordered on the ironic and mocking. Meeting ALEX was like meeting a little smart alien that fell from between the pages of a science fiction novel.
ALEX received his name from Dr. Irene Pepperberg (see the left column under THINKERS, on this blog) when as an ordinary uneducated one year old African Gray Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) he was purchased from a pet dealer to become a research subject in 1977. ALEX is an acronym for Avian Language Experiment. Irene at that time was beginning her work as a cognitive scientist and had the idea that because of this species celebrated language-learning abilities, working with a bird might prove to be a direct way of investigating cognition and learning in an animal model.
As a child I often felt humiliated by a parent or teacher who used the phrase 'everybody’s out of step but you' in response to my questions, beliefs, or criticisms of the world around me, or in reaction to my own actions. It is a dangerous phrase, one that assumes the correctness of the assumptions upon which it is based, and the context out of which it arises.
The brain has no hard edges; neither does information. There are no gray interior walls to prevent ideas from wandering across the boundaries between and among fields. Many paths of curiosity lead to intellectual, artistic and scientific questioning, and onward to understanding. For many of us and for our children, these curious pathways are barred by signs that say: “Private Property—Do Not Enter Without Permission”). In the words of a song: “We have to be carefully taught.”
Definitions of the term syncretic loosely extracted from the Random House Dictionary of the English language give us the following understanding: “Syn-cre-tism...1. the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion. 2. Gram. The merging, as by historical change in a language, of two or more categories in a specified environment into one...”
In a series of posts, beginning with this one, I will publish thoughts and essays on syncretic and associative learning that I call "Breaking Boundaries". This writing will explore how meaning and creative process germinate and bloom in the mind. I offer the proposition that syncretic association is a mental process essential to both art and science, and suggest that it is the means by which our associative minds seek meaning in a world of disorganized raw information. Until we have detected some order within the chaos of raw experience, and have begun to form patterns that are significant to our understanding of that experience, we have only made simple percepts that are without meaning. I am exploring how the detection of pattern and order—the finding-out of cognizable features (that may be inherent in the fractal ‘raw’ experience of nature)—are synonymous with the detection and invention of meaning, and how they, together, may constitute the organic process of our creativity.
The Alex Foundation- Home page Irene Pepperberg studies cognitive process, teaching and learning in birds. She is problably the most recognized researcher on avian cognition in the world. Alex, her now famous long-time research subject and 'collaborator' recently died at half his life expectancy. Now Wart and Griffin are her collaborators. They are saying and doing things we used to believe that only small children, great apes, and dolphins could do. Her brilliant work deserves better funding.
Tai Chi Chen style Taiji quan- Instruction Marin Spivack is a masterful Teacher of Tai Chi in Salem, Massachusetts; Chen style Instruction in authentic Taiji martial arts, Qi cultivation, Tai Chi DVD videos. Chen Zhaokui Martial Arts Research Association, North America. He is also a composer, a saxophonist, and he is my son.
Minding the Planet Nova is a cognitive scientist and high-tech entrepreneur working on technologies that overcome our information overload. He has founded companies and is now developing interactive internet software, TWINE, that we all need. His thinking covers a great range. He is my Son.
Marin Spivack & Milo Francis | Amie Street Marin Spivack is a Composer, virtuoso saxophonist, Teacher of Tai Chi in Salem, Massachusetts; Chen style Instruction in authentic Taiji martial arts, Qi cultivation, Tai Chi DVD videos. Chen Zhaokui Martial Arts Research Association, North America. He is my son.