Mental Modeling Scrapbook

from / Teaching / Thinking Tools / Semiotics

Mental Modeling Scrapbook
Maps & Models, Map vs. Territory, Mental Modeling …

Read the parent post first: Mental Modeling.

Maps — may try to match the territory —
But never quite get there.

pk adds in 2009: Even were one’s map to approach Ted Williams’ skill with a fast ball, the map would still be a map and not the territory: they are of mutually exclusive existential types.

2006 10 05
[Little did I know that I was about to be arrested by the FBI, dragged off to jail,
or that the following year all several thousand of my online themes would be scuttled.]

Science fiction writers for much of the Twentieth Century conceived some doozie plots pitting an individual against the society: and sometimes that manifests as a map / territory discrepancy (or a whole set of them.) By now Hollywood has made a bunch of successful films on the theme. Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks he’s SoAndSo, then he’s told he’s really Somebody Else. Or the android rudely discovers that she’s not human, that she’s a machine with memory implants.

Sometimes the victim is an isolated individual, sometimes the whole society is the victim: as in The Matrix, as in V for Vendetta

Last night I watched a variation on the theme that I didn’t enjoy much while it was unfolding, but that I now really love: unfolded.

But even a map as perfect as a map could be would still not be the territory:
They are of distinct, different, existential types.

Don’t ever forget: not all maps are tryin to match the territory. Some maps are deliberate lies.
SPOILERS maybe. Jodi Foster, the part apparently much reconceived for her sake, plays an avionics engineer. Her husband has just died under questionable circumstances. The authorities suspect he committed suicide by jumping off the roof. She, Jodi (for shorthand I’ll call the character by the actor’s name), believes that, at the least, her husband “fell” (but suspects that the accident may have been something more sinister). In any case, her newest plane built and functioning, her family ripped, she is returning to the USA — on one of her planes, passenger capacity 425 — with her six year old daughter: neither female in very great emotional or mental state.

She takes a nap, she wakes up, her daughter has disappeared. As mother looks for daughter she receives cooperation from the flight staff and from other passengers, though neither category shares her panic as she fails to find her daughter. No one remembers seeing the girl. Trouble sparks to a glare as Jodi is informed by the flight bureaucrats that there’s no mention of her daughter on the flight manifest.

The flight captain, the stews, trust their printout; Jodi trusts her experience of her own family. What better knowledge should she have?

The captain, satisfied that there is no daughter, that no one is missing, that the mother is merely wigging-out, tells Jodi to behave herself, take an aspirin, call me in the morning. Do not disturb the tranquility of the other passengers.Inserted later: The ironies are crowning when the flight captain tells Jodi as kindly as he can that he is responsible for the safety of the passengers, and therefore he must insist that she behave herself.

Dummkopf! Acting responsibly for the safety of the passengers is exactly what Jodi is trying to stimulate him to do. He, unwittingly, uses his “responsibility” as an excuse to be irresponsible!

Thus there’s more than one favorite pk theme at work here. The captain can’t imagine that his awareness is incomplete; any more than he can imagine that his manifest is in error (let alone forged).

Could that be what Jesus meant when he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”?

Did we not “know” we were taking the Indians’ land? Maybe Americans didn’t know that anybody was actually dying when we killed all those gooks.

I also enjoyed contemplating the plane’s human cargo as analogous to the kleptocracy at large. We’re helpless cargo, we’re ruled. And the rulers make mistakes, the rulers cannot be shown their mistakes, which is utterly convenient for the predatory confidence men: like the clever hijacker in this plot.Well, the mother whose daughter is missing does disturb the tranquility of the other passengers, and bravo for her.

Actually I won’t make this a spoiler at all. There’s no need to disclose the fictive “explanation” for the discrepancy. I’ll merely say that it was well worked out.

It took the film a whole damn hour to establish the contradictions: but then the resolution devolved swiftly: in a half an hour. Anything but a stone would have to admire Foster’s skill in portraying the stressed but resourceful mother. The craft of the film as a whole however irritated me as pseudo-Hitchcock in the worst way. They use one of those lenses that makes the subway train in Germany seem so close that as it rushes off down the tunnel you’d swear something on it would have to hook your cornea and rip it off. Shooting closeups telephoto make it look like the forest on the mountain on the other side of the valley is in your lap and about to disembowl you.

There are plots, The Matrix, for example, where the discrepancy between experience and official “reality” is a conspiracy of the rulers against the entire population. In Flightplan there’s a conspiracy, but it’s just a couple of crooks against who ever they can defraud money from (the airline in this case), and Jodi and family just happen to have the bad luck to be used as their tool. Actually of course it was bad luck, bad judgment on the part of the crooks, because by the end the crooks’ conspiracy is a scattered ruin, the jumbo plane is a smoldering wreck, and walking out of the smoke and dust, her cheek vividly bloody, comes Jodi, carrying her girl, and looking just as resolute as Wayne or Eastwood or Willis.

It was also kind of cute that Jodi, a female, and therefore supposedly holy, saintly, pure … didn’t waste a lot of time worrying about whether or not she should kill the villain once she had the opportunity: with his weapon no less. Kaboom and good-riddance.

All models are wrong;
but it’s the best we can do.

This “scrapbook” catches over-spill from my original map versus territory module. The theme is a pk key stone and has been since I first read Gregory Bateson: 1979 (thereby also discovering Korzybski). I didn’t start my Teaching modules the minute I launched my home page: first I needed to tell something about myself, in order to say something about my life’s work: deschooling in particular, and why the public has heard of nearly none of my work — in any field: learning, information (record keeping, information theory, art as information …) Ah, but then, 1997, I was modeling the first few stones of the foundation of my adult thinking: and semiotics, with its map / territory distinction, is key.

Douglas Adams, in his priceless Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, has it that:

The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.

The parent piece was getting a bit unwieldy, so I move some of my subsequent additions to this daughter file. Reordering makes a hash of some of the prose, but I can fix that later. The parent was first written (1997 11 02) as part of the Afterward to The First Week. [See PaulKnatz blog.] I trust that readers of that story will see that I intuited some of the concepts of Korzybskian semantics decades before I heard of Count Alfred Korzybski. Indeed, the twenty-nine year old author that I was then still had your standard intellectual’s contemptuous ignorance of semantics. Whatever the terminology however I did have the core of the concept: if your model doesn’t represent your idea, if your map doesn’t correspond to the territory, scrap it and start over.

In that story, the creator of a universe very like that of Genesis is shown a better way of accomplishing his theme. He accepts the improvement. He continues the improvements in a sequel. Meantime, worshippers of the reputed creator of this universe are reluctant to accept upgrades to the descriptions of this universe. Gimme that old time description: the errors that were good enough for Dad are good enough for me.

Societies naturally see tradition as vital to their identity and to the survival of that identity. The hardest maps to be objective about are those we’ve inherited as sacred objects. When General Schwarzkopf took troops to the middle east, he might have had a Bible with him, but he wouldn’t have referred to it for the coordination of troops and supplies or for the location of the enemy. For those things, he used modern maps, checked and rechecked.

Should an author really have to point such things out? Readers and critics should be pointing them out to an amused but silent me. I say thatThe First Week is one of the great stories of the century. It’s also evidence that the publishers and public haven’t improved much since the times of Shelly, Keats, Blake, or Van Gogh.

It was reading Bateson that introduced me to Korzybski. My first seven or so readings of Mind and Nature (1979) got me straightened out on semantics and more fired up than if I’d been among the orthodox all along.

Good or ill isn’t in what you call it, but in the behavior itself.

1999 09 06 Korzybskian semantics relate intimately with my thesis on Ideals vs. Experience in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Working on that directory has led me to coin a term I hope you will find as useful as I believe you should: Cartamania. Cartamania (map-crazy) is probably at least as old as the modern species of Homo sapiens. Perhaps it’s a liability genetically built in, like our inability to synthesize our own much needed ascorbic acid. Handicapped or not, we were doing fine so long as we were self-organizing at the band or tribe level. (See Jared Diamond. Or see here my Tower of Babel [coming up].) At the Chiefdom or state level, institutionalized Cartamania promotes the kleptocrats to the permanent harm of all.

With reference to my list in the parent file, try thinking of a few examples map/territory discrepancies on your own. (I relegate a few more of mine to a note.) Soviet confusions between means and ends have already offered fertile hunting. Now try finding some in your friends and neighbors. How about in yourself? Yes, I know: it’s hard to do. But they’re there.

Man’s achievements rest on the use of symbols.

1999 05 14

Here’s another hint: You seek employment. You get an interview. The functionary looks at you. Then he looks at your vita, your transcripts, your recommendations, your certificates … Are these “maps” helping him to see the real “territory” of “you”? Or are they casting clouds over his ability to see “you”? What would he make of you without those crutches? The judge spends more time glancing at the alleged perp’s rap sheet than at the perp, doesn’t he? Who made the rap sheet: God? Or the police? One thing is crystal clear to me: civilized man (read “kleptocratic”, read “Cartamaniac”) is far more comfortable with maps than with territory. (Then again, isn’t the perp himself more map than territory in his appearance? Didn’t his lawyer tell him to shave and to wear a suit? (See deception in clothing.) Isn’t man’s appearance, like that of any predator (and plenty of prey too), a stack of long rehearsed lies? Doesn’t that go double (triple?) for civilized man? Would a “Martian” judge ratify as valid any country, culture, or religion’s claims about itself?

Well, if deception is so ancient and so universal, why should we care? Because what got us here may not get us there. Last time we smartened up, it took an ice age to make us pay attention. Now we’ve gotten complacent. If post-gunpowder, Malthusian man wants a future (even just for himself, even if we say fuck the other endangered species), he’s going to have to take the unprecedented step of learning some honesty. Imitate science. I don’t mean just hire some tame “scientists.” We’ve already done that. I mean learn the method. Learn a little elementary epistemology.

To understand the symbolic process is to be able to use it to advantage;
not to understand it is to remain forever its victim.

SI Hayakawa

1999 08 24 Just a note I’ll develop later: notice how common lists are: Ten Best This, Ten Worst That … How easy it is to believe that these lists are accurate, that the experts know their field, that they’re objective, un-bribed, agenda-free … Isn’t it strange that the people on the list are also in the White House, up for an Academy Award, or are conspicuously on the outs with someone (the public, the studio …)? How many of you were along with me insulted to learn that you weren’t on Nixon’s Enemies List? Jane Fonda? Please. Didn’t he read my letters to him? Our physical lives we live in the biosphere; our mental lives we live in lists.Most of us have, in some area or other of our thinking, improper habits of evaluation. For this, society itself is to blame: most societies systematically encourage, concerning certain topics, the habitual confusion of symbols with things symbolized.

SI Hayakawa

1999 09 17

Some of the points made in Truth relate to description/thing problems. The word truth itself, for example, is profoundly ambiguous. Do you mean “map”? Or “territory”? If you mean territory, realize that the territory cannot be uttered, cannot be written. It can only be represented, coded, mapped.

Before the universe, there was the cosmos. We know nothing about it.

Whether it was created or just happened in a Big Bang, this universe, of finite age, came into being. Territory came into being.

The territory was dynamic. It grew, it changed. Plermoma evolved pleromically.

Replication evolved. Viruses, life.

Replication grew complex and evolved sentience

Sentience is map formation, mapping the territory

Maps belong anywhere along an “infinite” spectrum: from “inaccurate” toward “accurate”

The most perfectly accurate map possible is still map, not territory

Except for one little complication, a new taxonomic and epistemological problem for the sentient: sentience, with its maps, becomes a new kind of territory.

For example: The night of his Presidential election, Harry Truman went to bed. Tomorrow was soon enough to learn the result. Some news organ went to bed too, but apparently with a different opinion. Their paper was already on its way to the stands announcing Thomas Dewey to be victor. The headline and article was wrong. Many copies were nevertheless distributed. A wrong map, multiply published and distributed. A forest worth of lie: part of the Pleromic territory. The error is an error in Creatura. There are no errors in Pleroma. Batesonian semantics. Error is strictly from Creatura. (See Christian Universals and Macroinformation.

The “irrational” number π is always precisely what it needs to be in Pleroma: π. My drivers license says I’m 5’8″. A Creatura approximation. In Pleroma, I’m whatever I actually am. No natural laws “correct” me to agree with the Florida Motor Vehicle Bureau. “Literal” “truth” is what’s written down.

The Bible gives a Creatura approximation for π. [1 Kings] Modern mathematicians have a much better description. Isaac Asimov and others jump all over the Bible. Error. Map/territory discrepancy. Enshrine one in every home. In Pleroma, the Temple of Solomon was whatever it was. In Creatura 1 Kings, π was “3.” Literal truth is highly prone to error.

2000 01 11

Personal illustrations appear throughout these modules. I wish I had time to find them all and to construct a biographical reference index. Till I do, I can’t be sure which stories I’ve told and which I haven’t. Here’s one I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet. It’s an army story, which reminds me that I’d like a directory of nothing but army stories.

Military basic training is designed to disorient the trainee, crush his ego, then rebuild him into a soldier. Sounds stupid to me, but maybe it works often enough for militaries to continue. Sometimes it backfires. When my platoon sergeant was preparing us for rifle training, I reminded him for the umpteenth time that I was a conscientious objector, that I didn’t mind playing with the guns, but that if he thought he or anyone else could get me to point it at someone and pull the trigger, he was deluded. “Don’t you believe in killing your enemies?” he asked. “Sure,” I answered. “My enemies, not the state’s. And so far, the only enemy I’ve ever had is you.”

Actually, I think he liked that answer. But in any case, that exchange occurred a couple of weeks into basic after the perpetual screaming in our face had subsided. My story illustrative of map/territory distinctions comes earlier, when the decibel level had tapered only slightly. We’re lined up in the pre-dawn cold. A little colder and maybe we wouldn’t have been standing in mud. The private next to me has been selected, randomly, the best I could tell, for punishment. “Drop, and give me twenty.” he’s pooped after eight or so and has to lie face down in the mud till he finishes them. The First Sergeant, a Puerto Rican with the unenviable career task of pretending that it’s English that he screaming in, commands the stage. “Are there any questions?” he squeals. I don’t remember how long we’d been there by that time, but was certainly the first time we’d heard that invitation. The guy next to me raises his face from the mud. “First Sergeant? How long does the harassment last?”

The First Sergeant draws himself erect. For a moment, he actually looked patriotic. “There is no harassment in Fort Dix,” he crowed. “It’s against Army Regulation …”M4P2G3.” Some such gobbledygook reference.

Harassment is against regulations. Therefore we’re not doing it. Sure looked like it to me. Our enemies describe us by our behavior; we describe ourselves by our ideals. Would any objective Martian deduce Christianity from the behavior of Christians? Not in a million years.

2001 09 23

In his American Gods Neil Gaiman has his Mr. Ibis write the following in his Notebooks:One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story. It is a balancing act and it is a dream. The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the territory. The most accurate map possible would be the territory, and thus would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless.

The tale is the map that is the territory.

2001 07 17

Robert H. Nelson’s Reaching for Heaven on Earth [] offers a nice map/territory comparison with regard to the pseudo-science of economics.What was needed was “a science of the diagnosis of maladjusted organizations in an age where organizations have replaced individuals as units.” Instead, what economists were offering was a set of writings that were “no more descriptive of social organization today than the theology of the monarchy was descriptive before the French Revolution.”

His line Admittedly, as the economic “symbolism got farther and farther from reality, it required more and more ceremony to keep it up” (quoting another economist) ties in nicely with my work here on Magic.

1999 02

Many of the terms already employed here deserve their own essay. My recent glossary makes a beginning for the word “thing” itself. Apropos, I shall now initiate a piece related by contrast to this one: on the just mentioned concept of metaphor.

2003 12 02

I must return to this scrapbook, review the whole semiotic / semantic area here, and make sure I’ve coverd the following (and if not, then cover it):

The magician holds the property, showing it to the audience the way that will best serve the illusion. As the magician invites a volunteer from the audience to examine the property, the magician still guides, controls, the examination. The rationalist must take the property from the magician, must examine not only the property but the whole stage, backstage, the entire environment. Social insitutions, including universities and media, rehearse the public in being “audience,” not in being rationalist. (As I’ve noted, the public is a problem for science, just as it is a problem for government, for the church … Science demands that anyone be ble to examine the evidence; the university must protect Lucy’s bones from destruction, from accident, from contamination, from avoidable new wear … The university, the museum, cannot let just anyone examine Lucy’s bones. Thus, science cannot fully be realized in a complex, populous society. Science is necessarily an ideal.)

In any case: like the magician, publishers for example, give prizes to works they’ve already publisized and hawked. Universities give prizes to those they’ve already graduated, promoted, granted tenure to … The Temple holds up Noah, Abraham, Isaac … Moses … giving prize after prize. But the Church seldom mentions those they’ve burned at the stake, those they’ve imprisoned, those whose lab they’ve sacked, those whose manuscripts they’ve burned …

2006 01 06

Monotheism imagines an ultimate Authority in the form of “God.” Monotheistic churches then pretend that they have clear communications with the god. Therefore the Temple could bully Jews following Jesus, who had no authority from the Temple, into doubting their enthusiasm. A map territory confusion is manipulated. A church acts as if they’re not knowing something proves that god can’t have said it: as though their chief priest gets perfect carbons of everything God says, does, or thinks. If Chaiaphas didn’t say it first, then what Jesus says can’t come from a messiah.

Any hierarchy can manipulate the same propensity for error, encouraging the private to believe that the major knows what the general intends. At the same time every citizen knows that any executive has secret meetings. Not only is the private not present when Roosevelt calls Stalin, but neither is the general likely to be: and absolutely neither will be present should Roosevelt call Hitler.

Christianity tells a story of a church being wrong, out of date, clueless … Then Christians immediately form another church: and attribute omniscience to it.

Excuse me, Nobel Prize Committee, where’s Tolstoy’s prize? Where’s Isak Dinesen’s? Are we, the audience, to infer that John Steinbeck, much as we love him, is superior to Tolstoy?

Bucky Fuller showed us that it is impossible to draw a triangle without simultaneously having drawn a second triangle: the universal complement to the first. The square has an area of one square foot: its complement has an area of universe minus one planar square foot. If you give a prize to Nixon then you haven’t given it to Gandhi. If you’re whistling at Marilyn Monroe then you are not whistling at Machiko Kyo or Michelle Yoh.

The prize that we do give to Tolstoy cannot go to Shakespeare … or to pk; or bk, or to a jillion artists who’ve never been in any spotlight. … That’s it exactly. That’s what I mean: what map territory confusion is more indelible than our tendency to think that what the spotlight features is what is; or even what is important. mentions the story I’d heard attributed to Twain but have never actually found by him where someone dies, goes to heaven, and hears God talk about Jane Doe, “the greatest writer of all time.” “I thought Shakespeare was the greatest writer,” says the confused newcomer. “No,” says God. “Jane Doe. Never published.”

The gods offer no rewards for intellect. There was never one yet that showed any interest in it.
Mark Twain
(not yet verified)

Delightful: heaven imagined as the place where no evidence is buried.

Though that still leaves us with the problem of how we can know that the evidence just revealed to us is all the evidence. Wasn’t God supposed to have “created” the world by magic, after all?

(I’m preparing to treat the same problems as an aspect of Macroinformation. Pick your horses from the morning line. Put your picks where you can’t tamper with them. After the races are done, compare your picks with the results: so that not only your pocket but the world can see the difference. Similarly: imagine a “Judgent Day” in which all of society’s judgments are reviewed against “God’s” “truth.” How did we bat? Any better than we bet?)

Always remember: audiences are foolable. That’s what makes them audiences. The Old Testament shows God being fooled (or pretending to be fooled). So too Abraham, Isaac … again and again. But Pleroma is never fooled. All doctors may truly believe that their medicine is good: but if it’s actually poison, you sicken. The truth is independent of our intentions.

These files have emphasized Korzybski’s “map / territory” distinction from the beginning and have offered alternate versions from others: “the menu is not the meal.” I was just about to place a quote of pk somewhere at — We live in the house, not in the blueprints — when it occurred to me: like Wilson’s “the model is not the muddle,” the citation needs some additional commenting:The territory precedes the map; the map comes after the territory. Discrepancies between map and territory are the map’s responsibility, not the territory’s. Blue prints come before the house. They are not a fallable description; they are the plans. Discrepancies here are the fault of the house! (unless the builder knows more than the architiect.)

Blue prints are like a Platonic Form; maps are like a Platonic shadow: quite different.

My point here resembles the distinction I have long made between the software run by the hardware and the software by which the hardware came into being. The Word that “created” the universe is of a different order from the word that “describes” the universe. “God” and Einstein are NOT the same order of critter.
While I’m at it, here are a couple more m/t-type distinctions:
The forecast is not the weather.

Probability Theory is not the actual roulette result.

2008 07 21

Can the Fact Finding Committee’s findings be considered to be factual? Does the point ever arrive where we can forget about the territory and just trust the map? Will it ever be wise to forget about God and just trust the Bible? or the Church? or the priest? Should we trust the News Service to garner all the news we need to survive? Notice how authorities depend on map / territory confusions on the part of the public. (And don’t for a moment think that the authorities aren’t just as fallible themselves.)

New paradigms aren’t necessarily right; but old paradigms need regular jiggles and inspections. The map will never be the territory, but any map needs to be reviewed (by reviewing the territory!)


More: Credit Reports

Some bank sends you mail stating that you’ve been approved for a Gold Master Card. You throw it away. Someone else picks it out of the garbage and sends it in having “forged” your signature (neither the forger nor the bank needing to know your true signature). You start getting bills for things you know nothing about. Your credit is stressed if not ruined. It takes you years to straighten it out if you ever get it straightened out. Neither the bank nor the forger compensates you for your lost time, effort, well-being, etc. Neither does the government. Maybe some network gives you your 90 seconds of fame on the NEWS.

The credit bureau’s report on your credit no longer accurately reflects you or your credit, if it ever did. But other banks and institutions believe the bureau, not you. Time and time again they are demonstrably wrong. Why do we let them get away with this habitual error?

Because the government judges society’s (and its own) “best interests” to be better served by the banks and the bureaus than by the truth? Because the banks pay more taxes than you do and the government will always back the greatest source of revenue and the hell with the truth? Because the truth is difficult (and fearsomely expensive) and it’s more convenient to allow a handful to be screwed?

If any of these questions can be responsibly answered even partially by a “yes,” we come to a bigger question: how long can we expect to get away with honoring convenience over truth?

My novel Dark Beacon has its protagonist see things in heaven he’s not intended to (or doesn’t seem to be intended to). It’s one example of my fiction which may be regarded as being “complete,” even though I’d planned it to be much longer (and richer). In an unwritten portion, Dr. Raleigh stumbles upon Judgment Day (a theme throughout my fiction). He later stumbles upon a whole series of Judgment Days, each being conducted by a different level of “God”: one God can be fooled by the sleaziest lawyer, another can be stymied by anyone taking His own procedures literally, another can have the wool pulled over his eyes by anyone who’s bribed the appropriate “saint,” and so forth. On another “day” Dr. Raleigh stumbles upon a Judgment Day whose God sweeps all the once mortal souls aside to get at the “souls” of the abstract persons: corporate persons: General Motors and the USA …

Comfortable: Mona Lisa posters

I say many people—modern man, certainly—is typically more comfortable with map than territory. Some decades ago the Louvre cleaned up Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and sent it on loan to New York’s Metropolitan Museum. There’s not much I’ll stand on a line for, but my wife and I went over the check it out. When I saw the line I was ready to turn the VW Bug back west through the park and head home until I noticed, almost as quickly, that the line was moving: moving with some rapidity. We parked and got on it. We actually moved along, in a slow walk.

If a time machine could take me to view the Passion, I’d jump; but not if there were merely dozens ahead of me. I’d been the more ready to turn home because I had long suspected that the Mona Lisa was history’s most overrated painting.

The line didn’t go up the great front steps; the line went to a side door at ground level on the south-east side of the edifice. Within minutes we were inside. Within seconds our eyes had adjusted to the special lighting. I couldn’t really see the painting yet, but I could see where it was. And I could see each individual of the public queue arrive at it, pause, and move on. Closer, I saw that there was a little side eddy: one or two visitors swirled within it, helping themselves to an extra pause or two before allowing themselves to be swept on. Hilary and I found that we could stay in the eddy virtually as long as we wanted to.

First into the building we were in familiar enough institutional gloom. The queue was lit only by a few lights high over the queue’s target and by some light spreading from the amply-sized commercial area which was, for the occasion, lighted with subdued reverence. Myriad identical posters covered the columns in that part of the hall: each a reproduction of the Mona Lisa: the image size much larger than 1:1.

What turned out to be really special about the lighting had nothing to do with the electrical appliances supplied by the museum. I was spell bound. For the first and only time in my life I beheld the restorers’ version of Leonardo’s wonder. That version had to be right to a considerable extent because what restorer in history could have thought of or achieved what was before us? The Mona Lisa glowed! (Much of the masterpiece’s fame comes from Walter Pater’s praises. What did that genius see time after time in the Louvre of the Victorian Age? It must have been pretty grimy even by then.)

I told this story in the mid-’70s to the great Will Barnet. “A good painting contains its own light,” Will calmly replied. Hmm. It seemed literally true in this case. Like millions, I had also studied (from reproductions) some of Leonardo’s effects with depth. I’m sorry: it’s all balderdash; the artifact before us glowed and had depth like a hologram. If I hadn’t walked in knowing the answer and someone had asked me, “What is it,” I wouldn’t have been able to answer. Other than to say: “Like nothing else before or since.” Talk about unique originals

From those moments on I have regarded the Mona Lisa as the most
painting of all time! (I say the same about Shakespeare: putting him on top is merely the first of a long series of appropriate steps.

But while jockeying in the eddy I was noticing something else as well: the people paused at the original for a second or two … then they went and stood for long minutes before the posters! The original is mysterious, unfathomable; the reproductions are flat but
Tolstoy makes a related point. In War and Peace he has the survivors of a battle at a loss to say what happened until they read some account in the following week’s newspaper. I say that people time-traveling to see Moses would take a fast glance and then load Charleton Heston into their VCRs pronto. Perhaps they’d have some right on their side. Would the real Moses have had those shoulders? those features? But what about that granite absence of all that Moses must have been?

What would the same people do if they beheld Jesus? Flee fast to the fake. Retreat to Disney World. They’d cling like ivy to the reproductions, the spiritless lifers who wouldn’t dare risk one penny of the offering to actually attribute real meaning to the hard words, not just of Jesus; even of

I’m now reminded of a live encounter I once had with a genuine human, a burning coal. The first movie to smite me to the marrow for a lifetime was Fellini’s La Strada. I was so taken, so awed, that for years I wouldn’t see other films by him. Even hearing that there was such a thing was to me like hearing that there was a second Bible. To me, La Strada was the Bible. The best part.

By the ’60s that had changed and I’d seen Cabiria and I Vitelloni almost as many times as I’d re-seen La Strada. Then I heard that Fellini was to appear at Columbia’s Casa Italia, promoting the impending release of his Satyricon. For once I was a minute or two early. I took any seat I wanted, glanced around: the room had the semi-comatose lassitude of any institutional hall. I took out whatever book I was studying at the time and re-immersed myself. I looked up when I felt a kind of subliminal buzzing. The room was full. As I looked, the room changed energy level. A split second latter, the man entered. And the room turned Technicolor like Dorothy landing in Oz.

Fellini took the podium and began serenely surveying the crowd. Like they teach in the military: first scan, then increase resolution and rescan. My gaze was fixed: on him, boring, trying to penetrate, begging, praying that he sense my thoughts, my spirit, my reverence, my love and devotion for Gelsomina and Cabiria, my pity for Zampano, my despair for the denizens of La Dolce Vita

Fellini’s first sweep covered the room’s rear. The reciprocating sweep covered the middle. His eyes swept past mine, jolted to a stop, reversed field, focused. For long seconds we were riveted on each other. I didn’t feel any mirror of my projection: Yes, I feel your feeling, I honor your honor. Come join my writing staff. He just nodded. Once: once down, back up, and he resumed scanning.

The lady who introduced him didn’t even know who he was. She read his vita without familiarity. As he spoke, I realized that the crowd in attendance was composed far more of curiosity seekers than fellow worshipers. One asked something like, Why do you make everything so active, so interesting, so bizarre? Reality isn’t like that. Fellini answered, “Look around you.”

Many did. We were a circus with him at the podium. What Fellini can’t know is that the hall was utterly gray until microseconds before he entered it, his spirit (and maybe, a little, his fame) transforming it. My spirit certainly hadn’t. (Giocometti says he sculpts
exactly what he sees!)

I wish I could know if Fellini picked up what I was concentrating to transmit to him. Perhaps. He did acknowledge something. I hope he wasn’t just trying to pacify some madman who might, for all he knew, be an assassin.

The Hell with the Truth: parsimony of truth

And the hell with the impoverished. We take away everything Sutter, the Cheyenne, the Lakota, etc. had: now none of them can afford to sue us. Unless money echoes from your larynx (or you’ve been mauled by someone with insurance), you can’t even get an appointment with a lawyer.

I offer merely one illustration from my own recent experience. A lawyer I’d hired and paid agreed to let me phone in questions and he’d decide when an additional bill became appropriate. Six months went by without him returning any of my phone calls. (Neither did he remit any of the money I’d paid him for the privilege of calling him.) I phoned the Florida Bar Association’s 800 number reference service. They recommended an alternate. I phoned for an appointment. Nothing open for the next six months. OK, I waited till December and rephoned to confirm the date and the address. They said I had no appointment. The secretary had a record of my calling, but none of an appointment being made. I became indignant. She asked me to explain to her why her notes said what they did. I’m supposed to explain her notes to her? She should explain to me why her notes failed to reflect the substance of the call. (She should read the above piece on map/territory distinctions.) Reluctantly, she gave me an appointment for two weeks from that date. An hour later another secretary called and canceled. The Bar Association’s number was busy for the remainder of that day and much of another.

They’ve got it down pat: waste your time until you starve. Then you can’t bother them with any more cries for justice.

Human maps of the universe must not be palmed as the universe.

The Menu Is Not the Meal: The agenda is not the discussion

Yesterday my beloved girlfriend and I had a terrible fight. I told her to get the hell out, didn’t stop her as she left. She’s been sick, me too, we shouldn’t have been discussing anything too serious let alone coming to contention.
an hour ago I repaired things the best I could, maybe the best possible: under the circumstances anyway. J isn’t a semanticist, doesn’t go around quoting Korzybski, or Bateson, or anybody. But, bless her, she followed this point, this morning, if not yesterday afternoon: I told her that I’d prepared dozens of new bookmarks in my browser to show her when possible. I was showing her one of them: and she instantly wanted to make decisions on the subject. I tried to pause her, to show her that I was showing her items on a list; not reading a particular item, not discussing the item; and not drawing conclusions about that or any item.

It’s like I’m saying “Before you order your usual hamburger, notice, they have Belgian waffles under “Pancakes”. No, she wanted to order the hamburger, didn’t want to see that I was showing her a menu of options. It wasn’t a hamburger; it was a garden cart, a special kind of wheelbarrow for gathering up yard debris. Notice the principles, notice the difference between reading the agenda and debating an item on the agenda.

My advice to one and all: don’t try to introduce semiotic principles when the parties are all stressed by a virus. But do stress those principles. Unfortunately we’ll all die before the public understands that some principle got interrupted. My universities still don’t understand that there ever was anything they didn’t understand. Caiaphas always has the power to prevent Jesus from speaking while his fellow rabbis can’t understand that anything ever got interrupted.
Like white people deciding that since racism is bad no examples may be introduced: not where the white person is the racist.

Mental Modeling

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in pk Teaching, semiotics, thinking tools. Bookmark the permalink.

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