Category Archives: Connecctionism

Connections between Thought Realms

Computers can be programed to sift unstructured texts in order to find connections.  If you want to connect two realms of thought, you need data from both realms. You should also have a theory on how to connect the realms. With a fast computer, and the right software, there is a chance to find discoveries between realms of thought. I worked in the stock market trying to find relationships between one stock going up, and another following (tracking stocks). If I could show that Harley Davidson stock prices went up and then Wal Mart stocks followed, I could help investors make money.

Using similar techniques, I seek to find connections in literature, history, culture,… you name it, a link is valuable. With all the data available on the internet (electronic books especially), we are going to see a new era of data mining and connectionism. The book to the left is an invaluable introduction to the topic. I found it while doing research at Reuters on how to connect News Stories to stock movements.

I have been especially interested in applying these ideas to the ancient texts of Egypt, Israel, Assyria, Rome, etc. For example, in the Egyptian Amarna letters, unique phrases appear that also appear in Malachi and Isaiah. There is a connection (at least linguistically) between documents across languages. Finding such connections, and then pointing them out to a researcher, is the work of software.

That is the software I am proposing. The requirements are these: 1) large quantities of ancient texts that may relate at some abstract level; 2) fast computers and 3) advanced algorithms that find connections. The first two are easy to get and the third one is the trick. I will elaborate on all three and suggest a way forward:

1) Large quantities of ancient books stored electronically are readily available from Logos

I have been using Logos for years, and my collection of ancient texts has been growing (I have to purchase each book I unlock). In addition to the Logos collection, I have 1400 Ugaritic tablets along with software that I wrote to display and use them.

2) Fast computer chips and memory are ubiquitous
With the advent of personal computers, and now cloud computing, the ability to process large amounts of data is as close as the least expensive laptop. Computing power is at a point where this kind of project is feasible for the hobbyist. A modern laptop rivals the computing power of earlier super computers and older mainframes.

3) Logos has provided a programming interface to access their LARGE collection of books.
As a software programmer, I need an interface that allows me to access the above mentioned books. They are in a proprietary data format — one not easily accessible. The good news which prompts the writing of this article is this: The folks who provide the important e-books also wrote an interface for programmers. Their interface is freely available and documented on their web site. This means Windows software can be written to sieve, process, connect and collate realms of thought.

This post is the first installment of a series where I will chronicle the use of Logos’s programmer’s interface. I am talking about the start of an ambitious software project — software that gets into Logos’ massive collection of books. As with all of my software experiments, look for scaffolding-like tools to start appearing on my web site. I have written extensively on this subject of connectionism in the past. Specification documents have already been generated along with basic design.

The steps before me are these:

1) Learn the application interface for the Logos system. This will mean sample software; help exists.

2) Implement connectionism algorithms as per the above mentioned book.  Some of this has been written. Earlier excursions have yielded wildly different applications. One software tool connects the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek Old Testament and finally to the Greek New Testament while another operates on the periodic table of elements.

Limitation: Time. I don’t have any free time to dedicate to this project. It will be slow going. Other software projects take priority (even as they are related).

Steve Rives

All the gold in the world is not that much gold

“In all of history, only 161,000 tons of gold have been mined”, National Geographic, Jan 2009 (52).

At $950 an ounce, that puts the total value of all the gold in the world at a little less than $5 trillion dollars.

So, how much space does this $5 trillion take up? “Barely enough to fill two Olympic pools.”

All the mined gold in the world would fill up two swimming pools.

That’s it. And what does gold add to our lives? Well, it is used in electronics, dentistry and industrial processes. In 2007 such functional-usage only accounted for 12% of the gold used that year. The dominating use was for jewelry; the distant second-place use was investments — exchang-traded funds, coins, medals and bars.

I would think that in the technological age, we would have abandoned our unnatural passion for one metal, “Humankind’s feverish attachment to gold shouldn’t have survived the modern world” (42). Our parents have not recovered from their parent’s attachment to gold, and we likewise share in their affections. Gold grips the world. Two swimming pools filled up with jewelry are worth more than the budgets of entire countries.

How do we get more gold? From workers toiling in the mines. In some places, whole families — including children laborers — eek out their living from digging for gold. In economically depressed regions, illegal digging leaves miners poisoned from the mercury left over from the processing. The illogical cost of gold is punctuated by the illogical use of life to obtain it.

As the years pass, the price of gold will go up and we will pass along our understanding of gold to our children. The next generation will inherit from us a passion for gold and meaninglessness (despite the meaning we assign). Human life is easily identified with trivialities. The worth of a body is easily reduced to its ability to obtain more pliable metal for the rest of us.

Gold may be the emblem for the human inability to rightly value goods and men. If not, then diamonds are that emblem. But gold has something over diamonds; it is considered an official standard for money systems. And for that, we have the great mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton, to thank.

Newton, who invented Calculus, was also the Master of the Royal Mint. As warden of the nation’s money supply, he switched the British monetary system to have gold as its baseline or standard. America followed this move nearly a hundred years later. Newton’s choice was logical since gold was valued in all countries. His move expanded trade and promoted a new period of economic growth that spanned the globe. And he did this simply enough by tapping into a kind of religious sentiment: the cross-cultural devotion to gold.

It was Newton who wrote The Principia. In that book he taught the world to attribute movement and motion to inherent properties embedded within the objects that move. Lightning falls, he argued, because of processes that can be measured and explained. A natural event is explained by the nature of the objects involved in the event. Change, movement and motion became subjects for a new philosophy of observation and recording, and no longer belonged to the realm of religious institutions, clerics and priests. Mass, weight and size — not Zeus — explain the natural order. That is, if a scientist could understand that an object is influenced by other objects and that inherent mass affects gravitational phenomena, then that would explain why an apple falls or why planets orbit. Newton was helping us to step away from medieval darkness and into scientific enlightenment. Science, not superstition, was the basis for a new kind of rational thought.

And that takes us back to gold. It was Newton who conducted the frontal attack on the religious mythologies of his time, and ironically, it was the same Newton who tapped into the irrational power of gold. In the preface to his Principia, he lays out plainly that the union between the gods and mankind cannot be a standard for interpreting events. But later, he capitalized on the irrational human devotion to gold. Gold was the stuff of the gods — the substance of shrines, statues and sacred spaces — and under Newton it was to become the standard for the economy.

In this way, Newton helped us to keep our god, he just moved it to a more rational temple. The ancients may have worshiped golden calves or deities that lived along the Nile, but the Enlightenement unshackled us from such backwater superstition. If we do have statues, we are at least smart enough to have the bronze bull of Wall Street and not some impotent golden calf.

The Day the Universe Changed

When change happens — change that we adopt as a culture — it updates the features of our society. In fact, change itself is part of what defines us. New features become part of our lives and then refocus our view of the world.  For example, the discoveries of science shape how we think and interact with our environment. How would we understand life and society without the intimate experience of light bulbs, cell phones, glasses, jet planes, televisions, guns and laptops? To name just a few.

James Burke is the master of developing the ramifications of change, technology and the attending impact on our beliefs and actions.  When I was 15 he came out with a ten-part series of shows titled The Day the Universe Changed.  And I was changed.   I forgot how much his work impacted me.   I was reflecting on his presentation style and his ability to connect information and I realized that in my own PhD work I am mimicking him! Certainly not consciously, for it just occurred to me that such is the case, but the case none the less.

I have a high regard for Dr. Burke and want to direct you to the foundational series on You Tube:

That is only one of his videos. Many of his episodes are viewable on YouTube (search there for, “The Day the Universe Changed”). A research project he leads is Knowledge Web. Finally, I would be terribly remiss if I did not direct you to the excellent series that started it all: Connections.

I used to sit with great awe and soak in this material. Based on a fresh review, I assure you that it has not lost its power.

Steve Rives
Louisburg, Kansas