Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Boppy pomo retro romantic

So I've been hearing this song, Carina, usually late at night, on CBC Radio Two. Mis-hearing it really. It comes from the oddly timeless music of James Hunter.

The name sounds longer when I'm drifting in and out of sleep.

Now baby tell me true
Do I stand a chance with you?
Now, don't make me wait too long

Ok, it's not post-rock in the sense of Trail of Dead, for example. But at first I thought it was an oldie, then after hearing it a few times, its anachronistic elements bring it into a post-modern context.

And its un-ironic romance appeals to me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Making a declining grade; Academic freedom and grade schemes

So why bother going to University? You can outsource your education and probably get better results. Supposedly fifty percent of Business students cheat.

The raises the question of how valuable a higher education really is.

Some responses, like that of Denis Rancourt, challenge and contest the bums- in- seats approach to mass education. Listening to The Current this morning, its clear that most people like having a clear metric, whether or not it is a useful metric. Giving all A+ upsets some people because the whole debate threatens the perceived reputation of a given University. For Frank Appleyard, a student at the University of Ottawa, was also interviewed by The Current that seemed to be his main concern. Prof Rancourt's point was that the grading system impedes learning, so giving all A+s to his students was a way around that problem. The truth is, fourth year physics students probably like learning about physics, so an automatic A+ probably doesn't encourage laziness. Rancourt argues it opens up a spirit of inquiry, rather than grade chasing.

Stanley Fish, noted this approach to grading constitutes irresponsibility. The counter-arguments  to Prof. Fish's argument are historical(totalitarian and authoritarian states impose limits on how to answer certain questions) and a practical one- a professors job is not to be right, but to be clever. They have to ask questions nobody else has the time or inclination to try and answer. When their research is fruitful, for example, we get new approaches to medicine, as from basic research on genetics. When the freedom to ask these questions is curtailed, answers are imposed, as with Lysenkoism in the former Soviet Union. In a climate of academic freedom the dead ends have been explored and put to rest as with Lamarckism, which was the legitimate but erroneous hypothesis that acquired traits could be passed on genetically.

The university used to provide a place for scholars to ask and explore questions. The answers subsequently were available to who ever wanted them. Students followed along this path. Those who didn't want to become professors didn't bother with University.
Now the BA seems to have replaced the high school diploma. And research is looked upon by government and business as requiring a guaranteed outcome, which misses the point of academic freedom to follow research questions and train future scholars. This education reflects the broadest possible concerns in a given discipline. How could this education but include a political element, even if that politics is of tacit compliance, which is what Anna Maria Tremonte and Stanley fish seem to favour, judging by her interview of Prof's Fish and Rancourt.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Truth in Gizmometry; The market is a sham

My cousin alerted me to this one;

Of course this applies to most stuff, by most manufacturers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

breaking the pattern

I graduated from elementary school into a recession. It didn't really effect me, nor did the recession of '81 when I graduated from high school. The recession of '91- Mulroney and Tories did that- arrived as I was finishing university and starting out in the film and TV business. I dropped out of grad school just as the Dot com bubble fizzled in 2000. 

Now I'm back in grad school at the front of an economic depression. It's kind of nice to simply assume a modest standard of living, rather than being forced to accept one. People still need teachers, although they don't really value learning on an emotional level. I'll be finished my Phd when there will be a shortage of professors, around 2012-2015.

The gutless bastards who can't accept the changes don't deserve anything but contempt. If you need post-modern deconstruction of a cultural object, a lesson in the past-progressive tense or drywall installed, give me a call. I can do it all... for price. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Embodied brain

I saw a brief presentation yesterday by a computer science Phd, which asked the provocative question, Which is smarter a baby or a computer. The presentation was more an invitation for non-specialists to think about the problem. There were chemists, theologians, a professor from the design department and your truly wearing the duel hats of philosophy and art history.

the discussion ultimately found that the comparison wasn't apt, and that babies were good at learning and ultimately contextualising, whilst computers were good at processingwithin set perameters. However, the young scholar pointed out that computers were being taught to contextualise.

When I read this article it occured to me that we achieved this ability because our intelligence is embodied. The octopus can think because it's intelligence is much more embodied than just in it's brain. As we are trailing along the same swath of evolution, perhaps we should look at our nervous system as contributing much more to our abilities to think. Certainly, most people tend to notionally consider the nervous system as dumb sensors and control cables. But it would be easy to hypothesise that those feedback systems have greater influence than generally thought of. How much of our thinking goes on in our body, rather than being processed in the brain?

The idea of embodied experience tends to go to meaning, and Prof. Deb Roy refers to humans and "thinking" computers as meaning machines. How else do we find meaning without addressing a physical world? Does the decentralised nervous system of the octopus offers a variation on embodied intelligence somewhat different from our own?

In my own work, the issues of an embodied intelligence responding to an architectural environment(is that a redundant expression?), I look at the aesthetic response. This offers one sense of meaning, and it is certainly a visceral- embodied! - route to meaning. 

This offers a range of paths to consider the embodied subject in relation to architecture and the environment in general. I am especially hopeful that it opens out the subject specific discourse of scholars like Lucas Crawford in a way that can merge and interact with a scientifically rigourous discourse. Queering or "trans-ing" the hard sciences without reducing their explicative power.

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster