Monday, November 27, 2006

Pizza, Chinese, or Schnitzel?

This entry is really my overlarge comment to this post here which was inspired my post here and is really a constellation of more questions of course than answers.

I agree that people like Kurzweil seem to be missing something when it comes to characterizing human intelligence as some conglomeration of brute computational powers. Still, at the risk of sounding more like a behaviourist than a functionalist I find myself wondering about some questions.

How do we know that another human is conscious and possesses real understanding? We do seem to take it for granted. I wonder if some people that I have met would pass a Turing test. Well, one way to gauge that would be to ask them. So if there came about some future controversy if a particular robot was indeed possessing of real intelligence then we could ask it directly. This doesn't really help us because it could be programmed to answer in ways that appear functionally to actually possess intelligence and consciousness.

In much the same way a psychopath is very good at mimicking moral and ethical behaviour even if they can't begin to understand it's meaning. But something eventually gives away the psychopath (like killing and eating the brain of a hitchhiker). But if nothing gives away the robot's virtual consciousness as being different from ours then why should we begrudge its claim. So another question arises: If they can fool everyone can they fool themselves? - Like Deckard in Bladerunner who doesn't know that he is a replicant.

In Searle's Chinese Room experiment a comprehensive collection of tables and maps describing the relationships of symbols to each other are available to Searle. With these he can produce an impression to an interlocutor that Searle actually understands Chinese while he really does not. These tables and maps are of course external and peripheral but what if they were internally accessed by Searle in some way that he came to be able to use them without knowing on the surface how he was using them. I think someone like Kurzweil could imagine some form of downloadable tables and maps that could be internalized so that the speaker could speak Chinese without actually understanding how they are able to speak Chinese. Which leads to another question: Does my friend Mr. Fung know "how" he speaks Chinese?

Deep Blue doesn't really understand chess and software doesn't know from pizza and this is because they lack something that the German Philosopher Heidegger called "Care". The human being's comportment to the world and its intelligence is informed by this "care" or "concern" ("sorge" in German). In order to allow a robot to achieve human-like understanding they need to have something at stake it seems. We could supply this only by ensuring that they have a vulnerable body, mortality, social history, encumbrances, risks etc. along with desires and fears in the service of self-transparent as well as deep hidden motivations. But by giving it all of those features (some would say weaknesses) what you are really designing here is a human being made with human parts and human histories and that's not really a robot. Perhaps developments in biotechnological computing will create biological robots that cannot be denied to possess human-like understanding on the grounds that they lack care, because they will also possess it.

While I hold onto the notion that human intelligence is something special and cannot be recreated simply with processing power I wonder if that will become moot when we begin to add cyborg peripherals that become deeply internalized and when the human body can be manipulated and altered through genetic nano-technology to the point of busting open the categories so that the limits and differentiations between robot and human become blurred. We may then have greatly more numerous categories of intelligence to contend with.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Recent Viewings

The History Boys - A British stage play adapted to film featuring the entire original cast. A very charming, dialogue-rich treat. What Dead Poet's Society could have been if it didn't suck.

Fog of War - Documentary in which Robert McNamara candidly discusses his role in the Vietnam War in his capacity as Secretary of Defense. Clearly still very bright as an octogenarian, McNamara can even be characterized as sympathetic while calmly discussing the horrors of war.

What The Bleep Do We Know - Mysticism meets quantum mechanics. It starts out harmlessly enough but quickly degenerates into one of the most irritating movies I've seen in years.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) - I watched it because Sarah Polley (girl from my hood) was in it. It was better than I expected. Paying homage to George Romero's 1978 version and the movie that started it all, Night of the Living Dead. Another zombie movie I liked was 28 Days Later.

Shaun Of The Dead - A British send-up of the zombie genre. Stupid, childish and a hoot to watch.

Taste of Cherry - Hollywood anti-matter. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's mesmerizing and quiet little film about a guy driving around Tehran looking for someone to bury him. It's like watching a painting dry. Roger Ebert hated it.

Cache - French film by Michael Haneke which starts and ends with long static video sequences in which nothing happens. Another one which leaves room for much debate about just exactly what the movie is about.

Stranger Than Fiction - Not quite Charlie Kaufman and not quite Spike Jonze. A digestible cookie of a movie.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ghost in the Machine

Despite the considerable efforts to build a machine with artificial intelligence there has been little real success. Fifty years ago Turing elaborated a test that could be performed on a machine (robot/computer/software) that would determine if they possessed human-like intelligence. Ray Kurzweil recently predicted that a computer will have the raw computing capacity of the human brain by the year 2020 and that of the entirety of collective humanity by the year 2050. There are many detractors that consider that to be overly optimistic and yet others who doubt any machine will ever achieve human-like intelligence.

In 1770 a clever showman toured Europe with a machine he had built called The Turk. This exotic looking Ottoman automaton took on all challengers and was able to beat nearly anyone at chess. It was revealed many decades later that inside the machine was hidden a compact human chess master who was covertly controlling the machine and beating his opponents with apparent ease. Instead of Intel Inside, the logo on the side of the machine should have read Human Inside.

Chess playing computers have come a long way since then. The machine Deep Blue is now the best chess player in the world having beaten Gary Kasparov a few years ago. It can compute staggeringly large numbers of possible outcomes to decide on its next move, eventually wearing its human opponent down with its sheer number-crunching capabilities. Machines are really great at doing such calculation intensive tasks. Banks, insurance companies and other large organizations were the first to use artificial intelligence to do such work in a fraction of the time required to do the job by the Bob Cratchits of the world.

Recent advances in computing power have closely followed Moore's Law and attained efficient number-crunching capabilities approaching petaFLOP speeds. So one would guess that there were nothing left that a machine wouldn't be able to compute better than a human. What about looking at a picture and determining whether anyone in that picture is eating pizza? This is an example of a task that artificial intelligence has a real hard time doing. Any child could pull it off and so could several clever gorillas and orangutans.

So what are you to do if your company needs to sort through thousands of pictures to find pictures of people eating pizza? Artificial intelligence doesn't seem to be up to the challenge so what is required is artificial artificial intelligence or human intelligence. Just like that touring renaissance chess machine the computer requires the assistance of Human Inside architecture. So Amazon is making such a service available and they have cleverly called it the Mechanical Turk. If you've got a few spare cycles you can sign up and take on such simple work and be paid for it at the rate of a few cents per task.

Human intelligence is the new artificial intelligence.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Would You Like Fries With That Salt?

Why do they have salt packets in fast-food hamburger restaurants?

How addicted would you have to be to add salt to something that is already covered with salt and accompanied by your choice of ketchup, pickles, mustard, relish, mayo etc?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rule of Law

There are cases that can test our respect for the rule of law, but these offer the best opportunity for us also to strengthen it.

Four out of five vigilantes were convicted in New Brunswick this week for setting ablaze the house of a suspected drug dealer who it was said was making life in the town very unpleasant.

Saddam Hussein's trial is described as being "flawed and unsound" by Human Rights Watch as they call for it to be overturned and retried.

In the first case the common public reaction might be to lionize the defendants and to advocate leniency for them. In the second case the the common reaction would be to vilify the defendant and conveniently overlook the possibility that an unfair trial may have taken place.

At odds is the personal realm versus the abstract realm. Crimes are real and personal whereas laws are abstract and impersonal. Original and primitive justice is much more of the immediate, real and personal variety. If one feels that they have been impeded or wronged they lash out and penalize the perpetrator of the perceived crime. Caveman A's food is taken from him by Caveman B so the aggrieved clubs the thief over the head (assuming the power structure doesn't favour Caveman B so that Caveman A will suffer even bigger lumps). What is the great innovation of the Rule of Law is that retaliatory action and punishment is taken out of the personal and immediate realm and put in the hands of impersonal and sober Justice who is said to be blind.

What is liberating and democratic about the experiment is that all members of a group agree to be bound within it. Just because Caveman B is the son of the Shaman doesn't exclude him from the the consequences of his actions within the prescribed legal framework. The weakest in the group is protected from being abused by the most powerful. The side-effect of this is that even the most villainous is also promised a guarantee of due process.

The vigilante, even if he is supported by the masses to have acted correctly must be subject to the law. Sometimes masses are moved by cynically spread rumours and can be manipulated to act on unfounded suspicions. "I hear Martha is a witch. I saw her riding a broom last week. Something should be done about that woman." I'm sure those who lynched young black men for looking at white women the wrong way were convinced they were right. But we clearly can't trust vindictive personal rage to be the arbiter of right and wrong.

The evil dictator, even if he would probably have his eyes personally plucked out by the families of those that he killed, must be given a fair trial. It can only be this way if we want to continue to enjoy the liberating and democratizing power of the rule of law. Any abuse of it weakens it strength and could fail us when we need it most. For the law to continue to work for us, we must continue to work for it.

Some might laugh or scoff at the insistence that Saddam should receive a fair trial. But this is a great opportunity to show our western respect for the law. If he is clearly guilty, then he will get what is coming to him. We don't need to subvert our principles to hasten the process. So we should give him a fair trial but likewise a fair trial should also be afforded to those Western leaders who chose to flout the prevailing international laws to engage in vigilante military action.

Just because Caveman B is the head of a large and powerful nation doesn't give him the right to circumvent the law. Especially since the very founding of that powerful nation is based on these principles as they have been so admirably put forth by the framers of a really fine work of constitution. The job of Caveman B is to protect and uphold that constitution. Even he is culpable and open to prosecution if he decides to contravene it.

This reminds me of an infamous event in an American Presidential debate. Michael Dukakis who is against capital punishment was asked what he would say if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered. Would he not then want capital punishment to be meted out to the perpetrator? His response was: "No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life". He gave the right and consistent theoretical answer but it cost him dearly in the polls. What he should have said was that he probably would in that instance want to tear into the killer with his bare hands. Then adding that even if he felt he was right in the personal realm of immediate rage and retribution, he would have been wrong in the abstract realm of the law. That abstract and impersonal quality of the rule of law is worth upholding and even the most powerful should be held accountable to it.

-

Outsourcing

The future of customer service.

Ode to Honey

eucalyptus honey

one taste won't do

koala, hungry for you

Saturday, November 18, 2006

ENTP

About 15 years ago while an undergrad I took a personality test with a group of people chosen to work together. The MBTI test resulted in each one of us being told we were one of sixteen different personality types represented by four letters. I just took a shorter version of the test and it seems I haven't really changed.

Characteristics

At their best people with ENTP preferences constantly scan the environment for opportunities and possibilities. They see patterns and connections not obvious to others and at times seem to be able to see into the future. They are adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analysing them strategically. ENTPs are good at understanding how systems work and are enterprising and resourceful in manoeuvring within them to achieve their ends.

  1. ENTPs are enthusiastic innovators. Their world is full of possibilites, interesting concepts and exciting challenges. They are stimulated by difficulties, quickly devising creative responses and plunging into activity, trusting their ability to improvise. They use their Intuition primarily externally and enjoy excercising ingenuity in the world. ENTPs are are likely to be:
  • Creative, imaginative and clever
  • Theoretical, conceptual and curious

ENTPs use their Thinking primarily internally to analyse situations and their own indeas and to plan. They admire competence, intelligence, precision and efficiency. ENTPs are usually:

  • Analytical, logical, rational and objective
  • Assertive and questioning

ENTPs are enterprising, resourceful, active and energetic. They respond to challenging problems by creating complex and global solutions. They are usually adept at "reading" other people, seeing how to motivate them and assuming leadership. They can do almost anything that captures their interest.

See Forer Effect.

Pedagogy

Teach not what to think but how to think.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Language is the House of Being

I submitted a comment today to one of the blogs that I read regularly. It is written by a young linguist and so the subject matter was words, specifically how their meanings can change in popular usage, sometimes to the extent of coming to mean the exact opposite. As I was writing the comment, it happened to me again. Sometimes when I pay too close attention to a word I start to get this strange feeling that the word begins to slip away from me, lose it's meaning and become something very strange and incomprehensible. A short word like "and" if stared at for a while starts to look odd and I begin to wonder if I'm even spelling it correctly. The more common and everyday the word, the more likely this bizarre confusion can result for me. I thought about going into Linguistics but was freaked out by the possibility that I would one day become a blathering idiot unable to understand simple speech.

You might know what I mean if you have ever started thinking about an everyday activity while you're engaged in that very activity. If you really pay attention to the way you walk as you are walking you can become very confused and possibly trip. This, I think explains the awkward person's gait. He or she may simply be too conscious of the way in which they are being perceived. The really cool person is someone who seems not to care what you think when they walk past.

For heaven's sake don't even try thinking about chewing while you eat, you are likely to bite your tongue or the inside of your cheek. Likewise, a really smooth series of hammering strokes can be interrupted by thinking about hammering thereby causing you to bang your thumb. I think words are like that, in that they are the most common everyday tool that we use and speaking and reading are the most common of everyday activities. If you stop and scrutinize the tool or activity while engaged with that tool or activity then estrangement results from that tool or activity. The more intimate and everyday that tool or activity the more freaked-out you could be if you ever stop to look at it really closely. It is our nature to take such things for granted. Look very closely at a fork or a doorknob and you might get that feeling I'm describing.

Martin Heidegger touches on this in Being and Time. The meaning of being is derived through the series of interconnected relations of other beings-in-the-world. The human being which he called Da-sein relies on a dependency between Dasein and the world. You can be in a state of un-reflecting everydayness until you stop and make a separation between you and other beings. The hammer, the fork, the doorknob, you and the word function within a field of experience that constitutes existence until you choose to atomize or make discreet this existence into parts that are set off against each other as distinct beings.

Words and World.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Apropos

I recently added Google text ads on this site more out of curiosity than greed. The ads are not placed randomly. Software analyzes the content of the page and chooses appropriate ads that should in theory be on the top of mind for the readers. It has been fun to see which ads appear on this site.

A recent post of mine was titled Football Coaches are Running the World. Soon after, ads started to appear for sport psychology and coaching manuals. A little while ago I had written about matters scientific and immediately started to see ads for laboratory and optical equipment. A friend of mine told me that she had clicked on a couple of those ads. For days and days after it seemed that there were nothing but optical ads. It seems that clicked ads reflect a successful placement so more ads like it are immediately funneled in.

I did a search for a book written by an old professor of mine called Hegel's Ladder. I found a book review page and was very much amused by the ads on that page. Six out of the eight ads were for ladder hardware products. Software just ain't that smart yet.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Office Space Recut

Office Space

Recut as a thriller. LOL
I actually did laugh out loud.

You can find other versions here:
Crime Thriller
Drama


Atheism Rebranded

Lately I have begun to wonder if the apparent rise in religiosity has been but a chimera. At first one begins to speculate possible reasons for it's growth. Perhaps it is a response to this rapidly changing world in which people feel more insecure and as a result find solace and meaning in that which gives them stability and comfort. Maybe it's a conspiracy of the powers that be to mollify the masses making them easier to sway through their media maelstrom.

I have mostly given up on the idea of Progress (with a capitol P). I identify less with Hegel and more with Nietzsche on that matter so it shouldn't be surprising to find that we as a species can easily revert to supernaturalism. There is no guarantee that we will continue to develop our understanding in a progressive manner. The forces of will, politics, domination and exploitation may find their paths smoothed by a population that believes and obstructed by a population of unbelievers.

Still, I can't help but come back to that notion of progress. One could consider that the recent and fervent rise in fundamentalism is really just a last gasp of that world-view as it inevitably comes to its conclusion. There is a dialectical framework that is attributed to Hegel (you could say it should be to Kant or Fichte). It is the notion of the triad wherein an idea or thesis brings about its opposition or antithesis and finally leads to a truer understanding or synthesis.

I'm not sure about the synthesis part but this could be an instructive way to view the forces at work here. Atheism is the thesis that has brought about a strong reaction of its antithesis manifested in fundamentalism. These are processes that could take decades or centuries to unfold. One could say that the Enlightenment was really the thesis of naturalism and that it has been waging war with it's antithesis of supernaturalism ever since. I would say that the paradigm is more like a pendulum than a triad. It swings to one extreme, then the other, then back again. We have been lately at the supernatural end of that sway but it is heartening to see signs that we may have already reached that pinnacle and are about to make our way back the other way.

One sees it in the books, documentaries, and even blogs that have taken up the cause. In a clever marketing move, some of the people driving this cause have taken a play from another group ostracized by the religious establishment; the gay community. That community took a positive descriptive and used it to refer to themselves. The word gay is upbeat and doesn't stand in opposition to anything except maybe the word unhappy. The word atheism on the other hand is a negative descriptor and stands strictly in opposition to something, namely theism. So atheism or naturalism has been rebranded as Bright.

But a pendulum eventually comes to rest at a balance. It will have to arrive at a balance I believe and not at one side or the other. There have been attempts to carve out this space lately. People like Deepak Chopra and the makers of What The Bleep Do We Know have tried to reconcile science and religiosity but judging by their efforts we have a long, long way to go. The motivation to understand is at the heart of both sides of the pendulum's sway and that is what should not be overlooked.

Atheism

In grade 7 my friend David and I had a clandestine conversation about religion in the school library one afternoon. After some diplomatically chosen lines of discussion I realized that I was not alone in thinking that all this talk about God and heaven seemed quite silly. A huge weight was lifted off my chest as I was finally able to talk openly with someone who shared my skepticism. I guess coming out must feel a little like that. I went home thinking that I had just made a new best friend with whom I could be open and honest.

The next time we were in school together David seemed to avoid me all day long. He seemed estranged and nervous when I finally caught up with him. Standing across from me, the first words out of his mouth were something to the effect of "you're wrong you know, Jesus Christ died for our sins". Awestruck, I stood in silence and listened, feeling like that woman in the last scene of that new movie I had just viewed, when she calls out to Donald Sutherland's character only to find that her last friend and only lifeline has become "one of them".

Disappointed and crushed, I politely mumbled something and walked away. We were never really friends after that. By the time I had made it to high school I threw off any pretense of diplomacy and started a campaign to promote Atheism to anyone who would listen. Being fully out, I wasn't shy about it and my zealot's drive to convert carried through into University. My naive faith in progress lead me to believe that people would eventually see the truth if it was persuasively laid bare and that our societies at large would eventually shrug off these ancient superstitions and become more and more atheistic.

I've had a hard time reconciling this expectation with what has been seemingly happening over the last decade or so. Judging by the triumphs of the Religious Right in America, the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, and the ever deepening quagmire of the religious dispute between the Jews in Israel and the Arabs around them, we don't seem to be progressing at all or one has to go further and throw out the notion of progress altogether.

I've been largely in exile from this conversation for more than a decade, wandering the desert, waiting for a sign.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Conversations I had at Starbucks Tonight

The B'nai Mitzvah, Confirmation and Sünnet:
Putting aside the religious justifications, each of these have traditionally been performed as the young child is about to enter adulthood. Maybe in the ancient past, but do we really consider the entering of puberty to be the onset of adulthood? It may be argued that adulthood is increasingly delayed until reaching well into the 20's or 30's if it is ever reached at all.

Teachers that I know tell me that girls are almost always the brightest students in their classrooms, even excelling in the traditionally male domain of mathematics. While the boys have been spending their days playing video games and raving about Jackass The Movie, the girls have left them behind and are beginning to realize that they don't need men to complete them. This spells trouble for us guys. If we're not careful, these developments along with the current advancements in reproductive technologies may eventually make us obsolete.

I am more likely to dance in front of complete strangers than friends or family. I don't know exactly why.

Twins within the womb compete for resources. What determines success? Location, Location, Location.

Fibonacci Numbers are still amazing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

GDP vs GPI

Gross Domestic Product is the total output or total monetized value of all that a nation produces. The success of nations, like corporations, are often judged primarily by the growth of that total output. The value of a company is so linked to the growth of its output that the price of a stock in a company reflects more the rate of growth expected in the future than its actual present output. We are addicted to growth at the expense of overlooking the true costs of growth.

Someone must have tutored Nicolae Ceauşescu about the economics of growth. He correctly reasoned that people were the most valuable resource of an economy but incorrectly settled on increasing the quantity of human resources instead of its quality. The 1966 Decree found an easy solution to a wicked problem. He simply instituted bans on contraception and abortion and severely limited the acceptable grounds for divorce. The resulting disaster socially, culturally and economically cannot be overstated.
By the late 1960s, the population began to swell, accompanied by rising poverty and increased homelessness (street children) in the urban areas. In turn, a new problem was created by uncontrollable child abandonment, which swelled the orphanage population and facilitated a rampant AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s. (Wikipedia)
The presumption of scientific certainty being overlaid on amorphous processes has largely been the goal of economic theory and praxis. Such presumptions almost always result in disastrous unintended results. The bigger problem is often the problem that you can't see, not the one you can see.

Adam Smith, followed also by Marx and most economic theorists after them take it for granted that growth is the measure by which success is measured. But when you consider the costs of the effects of growth with an eye on resource depletion and environmental harm, not to mention social and cultural effects then things aren't so easy any more. The blindness to such costs of growth are easy to ignore because their payment often will not come due until after the present government is out of office so that the next government and generation will have inherited the problem. Or not until the current CEO has safely retired with the bonuses earned through bolstered stock prices brought about by growth.

The Genuine Progress Indicator may be a better gauge of real desired economic achievement because some cases of expansion are really examples of uneconomic growth. Under GDP calculations a massive oil spill off the coast of California would be positive for GDP growth since it would result in massive expenditures for services and goods to clean the shores and replace the tanker and the oil. GPI seems to lack the demonstrable calculability of GDP but it's a start towards taking into account the the real complexities of corporate and public policy. Governments and companies would be better to concern themselves with how to design platforms for genuine progress not just blind growth.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Depletist

Depletist
1. An individual or group demonstrating apparent negligent or reckless disregard for the environmental consequences of their actions.
2. An individual or group that exhausts non-renewable resources and rejects positive environmental strategies.

My friend Robin organized a conference at the Ontario College of Art and Design recently. A student at the College presented a project that his 4th year class has just initiated. The project's aim is environmental and it involves the unleashing of a meme onto the world and tracking its propagation. The meme is the word/thought/concept "Depletist".

It's very encouraging to see such a project undertaken by these students. I'm doing my part here to support them. Over the past 2 weeks the word has already begun to make its rounds. It was used at a presentation made at the United Nations last week and has its own entry in Wikipedia.

Pass it on.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Positive Feedback Loop

I attended a fitness model contest to support a friend who was entered. I always thought they should be renamed BDD Expos. I am generally quite skeptical of such competitions and have always considered them another example of North American excess. There is of course nothing wrong with pursuing a physically active lifestyle and watching what you eat to maintain good health. I simply wonder if even healthy activities become unhealthy when brought to extremes.

The world of the fitness model competition could be considered a positive feedback loop ecosystem. I find this subculture to be very similar to those of the cat fancier and the hot rod enthusiast. Over time a common set of aesthetic priorities are established within the group that push the creations further and further into various design directions. To win the favour of their peers and the contest judges the participant must continually push the envelope to create something that becomes increasingly removed from the aesthetic understanding of the outside world.

The cats become increasingly weirder to the point of being considered "ugly" and grotesque by the average person while their "beauty" is appreciated greatly by the initiates. Likewise, the "pimped-up" car can be startlingly bizarre and outrageous to my mother but "totally awesome" to the teenager next door. Any closed group of initiates seem to bring about this process of aesthetic evolution. We see it also within music fan cultures, whether it's speedmetal, jazz, or experimental electronic music. Within any internally competitive aesthetic group the innovation required to stay ahead is positively encouraged by the success of such innovation and this leads to further alienation of the outside observer.

So I found myself within a crowd of cheering observers and competitors positively feeding the girls on stage. It was eerily puzzling to realize that despite having in front of me a stage full of nearly nude fit young women it was hard to find any of them appealing. The natural response to physical beauty must have something to do with our intuitive assessment of health and the outside observer correctly assesses that something is amiss here. I believe we sense that this extreme stage of physical development is simply not healthy and as a result do not find it attractive. The initiate and the judges however gauge their opinions not on so-called natural physical responses but from abstract theoretical guidelines. So my friend did quite well in the competition and although none of us told her, almost everyone who knows her considers her to be a naturally beautiful girl who chooses to make herself unattractive in order to compete.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bigger is Best

When you're a 12 year old boy and discover that you may have more than a passing interest in girls' breasts you take upon the childish conclusion that if some is good then more is better and huge is best. Of course this rather linear aesthetic is abandoned when one discovers that the concepts of balance and proportion might have more to do with it than size. Still, at that immature stage of development it is considered to be a axiom that any good thing must be even better in larger quantity and scale.

What is alarming is that many people never seem to get past this stage of aesthetic judgment. Marketers know this. That's why they can advertise such things as "super extra strength headache medication, the strongest most lobotomizing pain-killer you can get without a prescription". The approach in this case is to beat your headache into submission and to kill your headache, dead. The insight that is being missed is that you probably have that headache because your body has been put off-balance for some reason. Your goal should therefore be to put it back into balance - not to swing it madly into the other direction.

This pendulum approach is precisely what drug addicts are known to do. It seems that there has been an wholesale abandonment of the concept of balance as it applies to almost every facet of our lives. The effects of its absence are manifested in the tragic overreactions of modern politics. Vigilance against terrorism is good, therefore pathological obsession with it is better and therefore focusing on it to the exclusion of countless other public policy initiatives is best of all, even if spending on the environment would probably save millions of more lives than stepping up the surveillance of the citizenry.

So we continue popping pills, swilling caffeine injected sugar waters and driving our grotesquely over-sized SUV tanks as our governments use our massive military arsenal to swat at mosquitoes in far away lands.