September 2009

Squid Sonnet

My love is like a red, red, rising fear:
"Diablo Rojo!" seeds divers alarums.
And though her compass barely spans a year
One night lasts like a lifetime in her arms.

Her myriad lips leave more than bites of love
With pointed pearls to ring each puckered cup.
A full commitment's what she's thinking of;
I understand she'll never give me up.

Too clingy? Maybe. We both know the rules
And she won't get this from another guy.
My siphoned siren scorns those beak-shy fools
Who thrash and gurgle as they say goodbye.

   They're naught to her. I'm sure she'll never hurt me
   'Cause I'm her main; I know she won't dessert me.

Beyond Godwin

Ok, this parable goes right through Godwin and out the other side. However, it drives in its barb with disturbing accuracy, because it's not trying to call anyone a Nazi. (If you come away with that view, then you've really missed the point.)

Reductionism is not a dirty word

Approving nods to Prof Zeki, who writes about "Reductionism...the hate word."

For some years now I've considered myself pro-reductionist, and unashamedly so. Patterns are apparent at every level in nature but there's no magic in between levels. The behavior of a system observed at any particular level of detail can be understood in terms of the aggregation of behaviors observable in a more detailed view.

No exceptions. Everywhere we look, nature rewards the reductionist by gradually unveiling her mysteries to persistent students.

Nature doesn't have levels of detail. It's we who have to break systems up into digestible chunks and look at behaviors at various zoom levels in order to gain some understanding. We lack the mental computational power to be truly holistic. When someone says they take a holistic view, all it usually means is that they want to look at an outside, low detail view to see if they can identify regularities at that level. I've no problems with that approach. It can lead to some useful ways of predicting the behavior of a system, but it only takes understanding so far.

The "holistic" word has garnered at least a few positive connotations. It's a lovely all-inclusive, I'm-a-big-picture-person type adjective to apply to your field of study, but a holistic approach needs to be acknowledged as a superficial study. It's an approach that will leave lots of unexplained results and provide a model that lacks any suggested mechanisms for more detailed study.

In my experience the holism advocated by anti-reductionists is not actually a rejection of the discipline and methodology of reductionism, but a rejection of the possibility that the system under study might be reducible -- a premature conclusion driven by ideology, not evidence.

Future Enhancements

We substitute technology at will
to engineer away the strange and weak
so long as we have funds to foot the bill.

First horns, then aids, ear implants, next: a pill?
New spectacles? Now lasers trim and tweak.
We substitute technology at will.

With help now Jack can bend his way to Jill
and saline slugs lend jugs a fresh physique
so long as she has funds to foot the bill.

Most drives our genes had honed us to fulfill
we've seen subsumed by our hedonic streak.
We substitute technology at will:

from barbell tongues to toys that throb to thrill,
to plastic partners styled in cyborg chic,
so long as we have funds to foot the bill.

Soon brain enhancement should extend our skill
to help us guide the docile and the meek.
We'll substitute technology at will
so long as you have funds to foot our bill.

(Villanelle inspired by a discussion on Making Light)