Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Window into Another World

For Kitinboots,

Upon reaching the crest of the hill, Colin saw the northern road they sought. It stretched from misty Eastern horizon across the land until it disappeared into the rolling hills to the west. A low, eroded drystone wall, maybe waist high, stood between the horse mounted people and the road itself.
Standing mutely upon the other side of the road was its most breathtaking feature. A line of trilithic lintels, rough-hewn out of cold, grey granite. As the travelers approached, the cosmically old stones loomed higher, twelve feet or more. Beyond them lay nothing but a grassy heath, studded by outcroppings of weathered beige stone. Obviously, the granite did not come from nearby.
Drogonian pointed to a crumbled section of wall, where the stonework had crumbled into a pile low enough for the stolid ponies to clamber over. Colin dismounted, lead his steed over the wall, and across the road to the great stones beyond. Reaching out to touch one, he felt the chill of the centuries that had laid upon this heath and these stones.
Aller's voice rumbled over his shoulder, "The last great works of an unknown people. What kingdom or empire lifted these stones into place is not known to any of the wise or the learned. Nor is what purpose was served."
Amanda shivered, hunching deeper into the hoods of her cloak and tattered sweatshirt. "Maybe it's like Stonehenge? Except in a line instead of a circle?"
"Or perhaps it says simple 'We who built these stones once were great, and now are gone," intoned Drogonian from his mount. "Come, we should be going. There is not much day in these northern lands, and the evening will be filled with mist. We ought to make as great a distance as we may."

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Semiotic Gestalt Magick, pt. 2

Affecting Others through the unconscious inculculation of unease.

Principle 1) The uncanny valley [1]
Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970 once stated the more human a robot acted or looked, the more endearing it would be to a human being. For example, most lovable Robot Buddies look humanoid, but keep quirky and artistically mechanical affectations. However, at some point, the likeness would seem too strong, and it would just come across as a very strange human being. At this point, the acceptance drops suddenly, changing to a powerful negative reaction. When shown as a graph (see above), the acceptance on the Y axis and increasing X approaching human normal, there is a slow rise, then a sudden drop, then a sudden peak as "human normal" is reached. Masahiro Mori referred to this as the "uncanny valley". Thus, things that look somewhat human, but are clearly not - such as C-3PO (in Star Wars) or a Golem - produce an accepting reaction, while things that are very nearly human, but just a little strange - such as a child's doll, a ventriloquist's dummy, or a clown - produce a negative response. Some say the very lowest point of the valley is the zombie, a living corpse. Others would say that zombies are just hella scary, and that slightly-not-right Pod People, for instance, are closer to the nadir. The Uncanny Valley may be a deep, instinctual reaction; it steers humans, on an automatic level, away from humans who are dead, diseased, or deformed (which is often an indication of poor health). It may also alert "normal" people to the presence of mental problems which would render someone unfit for inclusion in a peer group. In that way, the theory goes, the Uncanny Valley is a protection against associating with sources of infection. Of course, backfires of such beneficial instincts might also have a large part in the development of racist sentiment.
Figures that appear almost human, but do not look quite human, or do not behave quite human, are objects of unconscious or low-level conscious unease in most subject. Bilateral symmetry, to a degree of approximation, is comfortably human. Deliberate invocation of bilateral assymetry can be unconsciously disconcerting. Humans are expected to fidget or make small scale movements, even while standing still. Stillness, especially tension without the aesthetic release of movement can invoke uneasiness through the uncanny valley.

Principle 2) Use of archetypical imagery.
Woven through the myths and stories of Western culture is the archetype of "the man in black". The archetype is instanced in various forms, from the literal 'black man' of witch hunts, to the humanoid in the black robe, to the badass longcoat of modern stories. In nearly case, the figure in black, especially in black that elongates or distorts the humanoid shape, is an image of fear, unease, and death. Even when the subject is not consciously aware of such, the archetype can evoke this emotional power of response.

Principle 3) Denial of comfortable environment.
Nearly all subjects experience unease when in an environment they believe is outside of their control, and that does not meet their comfort needs. Light is a way of establishing control of an evironment - that which is seen can be dealt with, that which is unseen is an implied threat. If the enivroment is cold, then the comfort need for warmth is not being met. If the environment that a human experiences is outside their normal range of territory, or outside of where they feel safe, the territory will contribute to the unease.

Principle 4) Lack of emotional response
When placed in opposition to another person, most subjects gain a feeling of empathy if the other person shows emotional response. Even more so, showing predictable emotional responses - where outside stimuli cause responses in accord with the subject's understanding of human behavior - is unconsciously comforting. Therefore, the denial of those responses is unconsciously disconcerting.

Attributes required:

1) Conscious control of breathing, to the point of being able to breathe softly, quietly and rythmically. May be obtained by zazen, yoga, or other forms of breath conrol training.

2) Elimination of fidgeting. May be obtained through zazen, yoga, discipline training (military, drum corps, or similar), training in dance or other physical performance discipline.

3) Emotional control sufficient to restrain outward displays of emotional response. May be obtained by practice of emotional control or training in acting.

4) Appropriate costuming and appearance. Black, outline distorting, and assymetrical. Shadowing of the face

Practical application: Inculculating unease in another can lead to an advantage for the magi in interpersonal dealings with that person. Subjects in a state of unease can be expected to be less sure of themselves, their positions, and their beliefs. Additionally, some subjects will find it more difficult to act rationally, being subconsciously nagged by their unease. These can be turned to the advantage of the magi.

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Semiotic Gestalt Psychology

Sadly 'gestalt psychology' was taken.

Semiotic gestalt psycholgy is my term for the field of study and understanding of the effects of verbally symbolic and non-verbally symbolic inputs on the behaviors of humans. It is my basic thesis that the effects of the inputs affect human behavior in non-rational and non-deterministic ways. However, I believe that some behaviorable effects can be produced through systemicatic manipulation of these inputs.

I term this systematic manipulation of inputs 'semiotic gestalt' as I believe that for the most part, it is not any single one feature of the environment that effects behavioral change, but some effect of all of the inputs together (the gestalt). As this thesis involves the signs which the human interacts with, I believe that the semiotic elements of that environment are the primary features of that gestalt.

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Magick and Semiotic Gestalt Psychology

A practical sleep spell.

Principle 1) Emotional state follows physiological state.

One of the prerequisites for sleep is a state of physiological, emotional, and cognitive calm. The hypothalamus, which regulates the level of activity in the brain including thinking and emotional arousal, functions as a positive feedback system. That system's inputs include the existing level of cognitive and emotional activity, and the amount of somatic activity in the neuromuscular system. Reducing the level of activity in the neuromuscular system tends to have the effect of reducing emotional and cognitive activity levels.

Principle 2) Breathing is a large component of regulating physiological activity.

The muscles primarily involved in breathing are the diaphragm and the abdominals. These are large muscles and because of their involvement in breathing are in near constant use. Stilling all of the voluntary muscles and then regulating breathing tends to reduce activity in the neuromuscular system as a whole. By principle 1, doing so will tend to reduce emotional and cognitive activity levels.

Principle 3) Two humans in close physical contact with one another will tend to match approximate breathing patterns. If one is significantly faster than the other, the faster rate will tend to slow to match the slower rate and the slower rate will tend to speed to meet the faster rate.

Attributes required:

Attribute 1) The magi should be able to exercise conscious control of his breathing. This attribute may be developed through zazen, yoga, singing, or playing a breath based musical insturment.

Attribute 2) The magi must be able to exert enough emotional control to center himself. This attribute may be developed through zazen, yoga, or other attention training or breath control techniques.

Attribute 3) The magi must be able to achieve a state of emotional openness and mutual trust with the subject such that the magi and the subject may be in extended physical touch.

Practical application:

The magi touches the subject in a way that the chest, back, or abdomen is in contact with a significant area of the subjects body. The easiest pose to accomplish this is for the magi to sit, slightly reclines with the legs spread and the feet comfortably on the floor. The subject sits in front of the magi, reclining so that the subject's back is in contact with the magi's chest. Both magi and subject must still themselves physically to the extent possible. Nudity is not required, but will increase a sense of emotional intimacy.

The magi will center himself, bringing his breathing to a slow, relaxed rate. Deep, slow breaths are encouraged, but tensioned meditative breathing should not be attempted. The magi should resist the urge to increase their breathing to match the subject's; breath control should be exercised to keep the breathing at its slow, relaxed rate.

Through Principle 3, the subject's breathing will tend to slow to match the magi's breathing rate. Through Principle 2, the slower breathing of the subject will lead to a lower level of emotional or cognitive activation. Through Principle 1, the subject will be better prepared to achieve a state of sleep.

Other practical applications:

A similar process can be used to reduce anxiety, reduce an anxiety attack, or calm panic.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Virtual Modelling and 'Real Life'

This posting is dedicated to my father, who must deal in practical terms that which Et in Arcadia Ego deals with in conceptual terms.

First, some definitions. For the purposes of this discussion, a model is a data object that attempts to store and possibly manipulate information. The information stored is broken into elements - those discreet objects of information which are the atomic pieces of a model. Each element may have one or more fields of information associated with it - these fields are intimately connected to the element, and describe portions of the element. If the model is a vocabulary of natural language, the elements are nouns while their fields are adjectives. Each noun can have more than one adjective, and two different nouns may have the identical adjectives. Got it?

A database is, in one sense, nothing more than an attempt to model some aspect of the world. An H.R. database, for example, is an abstracted model of all of the personnel of a company. A security database (or individual file) is a collection of log-ins, passwords, and other identity data for some group of people - a model of those people cast through a certain perspective. The database that supports Google Maps is a virtual model of the geographical layout of the Earth.

Of course, virtual modeling goes much further than this. CAD/CAM systems are virtual models of real world objects. Even a chess program is a virtual model of a physical game - except that often an exact instance of that game has no physical representation. Computer programming, in a sense, is configuring the meta-model of a computer to model accurately some aspect of real life.

Computer models are judged by several criteria. One is how closely they correspond to that aspect of the world they are meant to model; an H.R. database that excludes real employees or includes false ones is a poor model. We may call this criteria completeness. A second criteria is association of information: a model that incorrectly associates informational fields to other informational fields is considered less useful: A security database that does not correctly relate the password to the correct log-in is not useful. We'll call this interconnection accuracy. Third is the degree of interconnection of informational fields - whether all information fields that can usefully be related to one another are usefully related to one another. We can call this interconnection volume. Fourth is the number of fields collected for each element; robustness. Fifth is how finely the model is divided into individual elements; discreetness. And lastly, how large of a section of the world the model is attempting to capture, and thus how many elements it has; scope.

As computer storage becomes cheaper, more readily available, more accurately and precisely searchable, and smaller, computer models of larger and larger size become possible. This has led to large increases in scope, discreetness, and completeness. It is now possible for the U.S. Census Bureau to collect the GPS coordinates of every front door in the U.S. Meanwhile, Google has captured fairly high resolution photographs of most of the Earth's surface, and is collecting streetfront photos of many major urban centers.

The principle of completeness strongly impels these organizations to attempt to collect every element that should be part of their model. Privacy advocates argue that such data-collection violates personal privacy principles; a reasonable argument. Debate can be had on this topic, but there is no doubt that such concerns degrade the usefulness of these models.

Animals, in a sense, collect data and create models of the world around them. One aspect about the process is in the automatic scaling off discreetness that most animals seem to be innately capable of. If a computer captures a photo of a living room, it tends to treat it as one large, atomic element. Thus far, the problem of teaching a computer to break a photo into more discreet elements (increase the model's discreetness) has been difficult. However, humans have no trouble identifying a lamp, a chair, a rug, and so on in a photograph. We seem to be able to scale up the discreteness of our model of the world almost at will.

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