Comments on “Podcast: Buddhism and cognitivism”

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Thanks for that...

David Odell's picture

These little rants are a great idea. It has given me lots to think about and leads to chase up.
Please do more of them.
I was first aware of Francisco Varela as the student of G. Spencer Brown who expanded his Laws of Form to include self-reference. That was perhaps the quintessential cybernetic move, but I’m not sure if Laws of Form, despite its basis in distinction, could be regarded as cognitivist, what with the kinds of equations that Spencer Brown wrote down in its language. It seems a bit like if you start with the rationals and then say that every irreducible equation with rational coefficients has a solution, then hey, you’re no longer in the rationals!

I’d very much like this in

Lulie's picture

I’d very much like this in podcast form! (I use features like >1x speed, silence deletion, convenient saving offline, etc. — the app I use only works with iTunes Store podcasts rather than generic audio.)

Operationalizing anti-representationalism

Nick Hay's picture

Thanks to you and Rin’dzin for this wonderful rant, and the fact that it’s public despite its less-polished-ness! Would love to hear more (e.g. this one sounds like it continues, and perhaps there’s a Rin’dzin rant here too…).

The influence of the philosophical surrounds of a meditation practice, both directly and in terms of which methods are developed, is very interesting. I spent a bunch of time practicing with Culadasa, and found the systematic nature of it very appealing but ultimately unappealing (how much of that is just me / what I was going through at the time is hard to disentangle…), and have found myself moving the opposite direction to Rin’dzin trying to get into the Aro Four Naljors practice. No particular question here, but I’m excited to see where that goes….

You also talked about how the anti-representationalist critiques were right, but don’t go anywhere because they don’t have a concrete alternative to make progress on. What are your thoughts getting to a concrete alternative? For example, how would you want to follow-up to the abstract reasoning emergence work with Phil? How much and in what way is concrete physical embodiment e.g. in robots (simulated or otherwise) important?

I’ve been trying to make progress on this myself, inspired by your work with Phil, among various variously compatible streams of work, but it’s slow going….

diversions into cybernetics

I’ve come here to post the link to my response to the original twitter posting, so that people can see the links I’ve included on Cybersyn etc - though with a sinking feeling this is wasting David’s time in more ways than one as the spam filter might catch it…
https://twitter.com/antlerboy/status/1143235823829213185

By the way, I’m not convinced that cybernetics is yet a dead end… it spawned complexity theory for one (which forgot all its learning and started to reinvent ‘AI’), and continues in management cybernetics, Second Order Cybernetics, links to Biology of Cognition, socio-cybernetics and more - see this absurdly spread out but very good overview for example! http://www.iiis.org/videosufh-slides.pdf

My contention is that the congruence of approach and thinking is so striking that you’re actually a cybernetician. I think you pleaded guilty to that last time I accused you - you perhaps have an affinity for dead ends ;-)

Would love to hear an

RomeoStevens's picture

Would love to hear an unpolished sketch of what you think the big ideas are right now. Relatedly one of the pages I go back to frequently is your schematic overview.

Systematic and unsystematic meditation

Thank you all for your comments!

Replying to Nick re Buddhism—

Culadasa’s work has many virtues; two that keep coming up in conversation are its systematic logic, and the video-game-like sense of progress you get from it. (My thanks particularly to Michael Taft for discussions of this.)

Traditionally Vajrayana was also presented highly systematically and progressively. (Or at least “traditionally” meaning since the reforms of the late 1600s.) Anyway, that’s an existence proof that it’s possible. That particular progressive presentation was meant to train regimented bureaucratic ritual specialists in service to the Tibetan State, so it’s useless now.

But devising a streamlined, logical, step-by-step curriculum is entirely feasible. (Kegan Stage 4 FTW!) Rin’dzin and I have been discussing that for many years. We haven’t done it in part because it’s not the way we learn best ourselves, and also we thought it wasn’t what most people want. Rin’dzin’s students tended to be Stage 3-ish initially, and a systematic presentation wouldn’t have worked for them. Several years ago, the student mix switched to Stage 4+. And, seeing how valuable MCTB and TMI have been for so many people, maybe this question should be reopened.

Rin’dzin has been invited as a podcast guest; there’s been some logistical difficulties but I expect it will appear sometime in the next couple months. We’ve also been talking for years and years about recording our informal conversations about Buddhism (and other things) and putting them on the web. Same issue, though; there are so many things one says informally that are not quite accurate, or even wildly wrong on second thought, or would be taken as offensively inflammatory or derogatory; and slowing down to censor one’s speech is likely to kill the vibe. Maybe this is something we’d get better at with practice.

Progress in cybernetics & interactionism

Replying to both Nick and Benjamin on how to make progress in non-mentalistic understandings of cognition…

In short, I have no idea! If I did, I would seriously consider going back into AI. I do have some thoughts about machine vision, combining the progress in DL image classification with Shimon Ulman’s visual routines idea that my PhD work implemented. I’m tempted to give that a try. But as far as cognition or intelligent activity go, I haven’t a clue.

Benjamin, thanks for the links; I’m glad the spam filter didn’t eat them. (It’s been better-behaved of late.)

My feeling is that there are lots of good intuitions here, which people keep re-discovering, decade after decade, but no one has found a way to turn them into a research program that consistently generates specific, tested, or practical results. Maybe I’ve overlooked something? But generally if a research program goes surprisingly well, one hears about it.

What are the important problems?

Romeo — there’s a famous story from Richard Hamming’s “You and Your Research”. You probably know it, but maybe not everyone does. (Hamming’s whole piece is a must-read.)

Over on the other side of the dining hall was a chemistry table. I had worked with one of the fellows, Dave McCall; furthermore he was courting our secretary at the time. I went over and said, “Do you mind if I join you?” They can’t say no, so I started eating with them for a while. And I started asking, “What are the important problems of your field?” And after a week or so, “What important problems are you working on?” And after some more time I came in one day and said, “If what you are doing is not important, and if you don’t think it is going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it?” I wasn’t welcomed after that; I had to find somebody else to eat with! That was in the spring.

In the fall, Dave McCall stopped me in the hall and said, “Hamming, that remark of yours got underneath my skin. I thought about it all summer, i.e. what were the important problems in my field. I haven’t changed my research,” he says, “but I think it was well worthwhile.” And I said, “Thank you Dave,” and went on. I noticed a couple of months later he was made the head of the department. I noticed the other day he was a Member of the National Academy of Engineering. I noticed he has succeeded. I have never heard the names of any of the other fellows at that table mentioned in science and scientific circles. They were unable to ask themselves, “What are the important problems in my field?”

So… I’m working on the things I think are most important. (Or, more accurately, I’m not actually working much on anything due to circumstances; but if I were working on something, it would be that.) It’s the stuff that I visibly do work on when I get some time to work. I tweet about it and publish the occasional bit on the web.

In short: “meta-systematicity.” That manifests in many different ways in different places, but it’s a consistent theme that shows up in pretty much everything I do. That seems like it has to be the big idea of this era because critical systems are falling apart since people don’t believe in them anymore.

Modern computer vision and deictic visual "representations"

Nick Hay's picture

Combining modern vision work (both deep learning and slightly less trendy Bayesian networks) with things like Ullman’s visual routines and Ballard’s deictic codes is something I’m quite interested in (as well as Dileep George and others at Vicarious), and does seem like one of the actionable ways forward. Building up more functional conceptual “representations” on top of diverse models of the expected sensorimotor consequences of banks of behaviors implementing routine activity may be a way to make progress on intelligent activity (insert complaint about size of the margins here)….

We have a couple of related papers described here and here. Could be fun to chat about this some time!

Deictic representations

Ooo, thank you, very nice, I look forward to reading those!

Historical note: If I remember correctly, I coined the term “deictic representation” :)

It’s a weird word and I’m not sure it was a good choice, but “indexical-functional representation” had gotten unwieldy.

Deictic representations

Nick Hay's picture

Looking forward to any thoughts you have!

My memory tells me I knew the term was coined by either you, Phil, or some combination of the both of you - and we do make sure to cite the Pengi paper in the second reference :). Indexical-functional is a bit unwieldy, although for expository purposes it is nice to have convenient handles for two of the aspects in which these representations differ from conventional objective ones. On the other hand, deictic is nice in that it is also used in cognitive linguistics to name related phenomena (by Talmy, Langacker, Fillmore e.g. in these lectures).

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