Ranulph Glanville

It is with profound sadness that the American Society for Cybernetics announces the untimely passing of our president, Ranulph Glanville six months prior to his 70th birthday on June 13, 2015.

Ranulph Glanville was Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Cybernetics at University College London, also Research Senior Tutor and Professor in Innovation Design Engineering at Royal College of Art in London. In addition, he was Professor of Architecture at the University of Newcastle in Australia and Senior Professor of Research Design at KU Leuven—LUCA in Belgium. He published in excess of 350 academic publications. He was an architect, composer and artist as well as a cybernetician. He rebuilt the ASC from a struggling organization with fewer than 40 members to a thriving intellectual conversation involving upwards of 300.

Ranulph Glanville gained a Diploma in Architecture from the Architectural Association School, London (working in the area of experimental electro-acoustic music). This was followed by a PhD in Cybernetics with a thesis entitled “A Cybernetic Development of Epistemology and Observation, Applied to objects in Space and time (as Seen in Architecture)” which tackled the question of what structure might sustain the belief that we all see differently, yet believe we see the same thing. He called this his theory of objects. His supervisor was Gordon Pask and his examiner was Heinz von Foerster. His second PhD was in human learning and dealt with how we understand architectural space. In 2006, he was awarded a DSc in Cybernetics and Design by Brunel University.

Professor Glanville for many years worked as a freelance, itinerant professor, mainly commuting between the UK, Belgium, Hong Kong and Australia. In the UK he most recently was the research professor in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art, Imperial College of Science and Technology. In Australia, he had a major part in the Invitational Masters through Practice and the Doctorate through Practice at RMIT University. He was emeritus professor of architecture and cybernetics at the Bartlett, University College London.He has written on Design Research for over quarter of a century, early on introducing concepts such as research as design and the importance of finding appropriate theory for design within design, rather than unquestioningly importing theories from other subjects.
To this end it is only right that we quote from Ranulph himself:

If you slow things down then you see nuances that you wouldn’t normally see. That is revealing — slowness has a particular quality of its own. It is difficult to slow things down and to simultaneously keep alert. Being caught in between, being a bit lost, is good for a human being. Things have their own time, and we should learn to enjoy this, rather than imposing our own, usually rushed time. A little slowness, living in the now, and a reduction of the significance of the nation state might really help us.

A lot of my cybernetics is philosophical in nature, a lot of it goes against conventional cybernetics, which is in general focused on purposeful systems — systems with goals. I’m just as interested in systems that don’t have goals. So I am better at keeping my eyes open for opportunities than in taking them. If I leave myself open to see possibilities and if I leave space for people to offer “gifts” to me, then I often get some extraordinary opportunities which I could never have hoped for. That’s the opposite of the cybernetic goal-oriented system. In cybernetics, I’m interested in the transcendental questions or frameworks within which cybernetics happens, which we tend to assume in order to be able to act. I’m interested in what those assumptions are: what they imply. In that sense I’m someone who looks at the foundations and questions them — someone interested in the relationship between “freedom” and the “machine”. The most remarkable characteristic of human beings is that we create patterns. Without the ability to create patterns we wouldn’t be able to think. That’s what I do: generally at a rather abstract level.

I’m interested in a society that minimises the impact of society and maximises the space for the individual. I will argue against control. Not all control, but against our assumption of the universal possibility and desirability of control. We are aware that our attempts to control are often inadequate. We usually excuse this as due to exceptional circumstances, or an inadequate description (one without enough variety) But I would like to suggest an alternative to always making excuses. We can ask ourselves what happens if, when there’s a serious variety imbalance, we give up trying to control? If we don’t try to force the system we had thought to control into having as little variety as we have? Then we are left with a vastness of variety (and hence possibilities) that goes way beyond our limits. We can be flooded, not by water inundating us, but by possibilities we had never dreamt of.

He leaves his wife the Dutch physiotherapist, Aartje Hulstein, and his son Severi. We miss him already.

courtesy of Michael Lissack.

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A Conflicted Holiday

This post comes from Louis Proyect regarding the conflicted celebration of Hanukkah.

http://louisproyect.org/2014/12/21/hanukkah-bah-humbug/

Hanukkah — bah, humbug

Filed under: Jewish question — louisproyect @ 6:24 pm

An innocent toy connected to a not so innocent holiday

In the same way I used to organize sales for the Socialist Workers Party in Houston in the 1970s, directing people to various grocery stores or college campuses with bundles of the Militant, the Chabad sends its young missionaries to what they regard as fruitful opportunities for converting lost souls. But this Hasidic outreach group is not interested in saving Christians or Muslims. It is people like me, secular Jews, that they are trying to reach, based on their presence in front of my building during Jewish holidays throughout the year.

Yesterday as I was on the sidewalk in front of my high-rise, one of these young men, clad in a dark suit and wearing a wide-brimmed fedora made by Borsalino, approached me to ask if I’d like to have a donut in honor of Hanukkah. (My building is ecumenical with a Christmas tree and a Hanukkah menorah in the lobby in an obvious bid to make the Jewish residents more amenable to chipping in for the staff’s holiday bonus.)

No thanks, I said.

As I was making my way up to my apartment, I wondered what the deal was with the donut. I don’t remember anything like that from my relatively observant household in the 1950s. We lit candles on the menorah, even though I had only the vaguest idea of what that was about—it had something to do with a synagogue lantern miraculously staying lit for 8 days after the oil had been exhausted, while the Maccabees were fighting the infidels but that’s about all I knew.

Out of curiosity, I took a quick look at the ever-so-useful Wikipedia to see what connection there was between donuts and the holiday and discovered: “Fried foods (such as latkes potato pancakes, jelly doughnuts sufganiyot and Sephardic Bimuelos) are eaten to commemorate the importance of oil during the celebration of Hanukkah.”

As I was perusing the article, I began to wonder what role Hanukkah played in the Jewish religion. For young people in observant households, it was our Christmas but a rather unproductive one. The Christian kids had a gaily-decorated tree and gifts galore while we had nothing but a stupid candelabra and a cheap little trinket called a dreidel that you spun like a top, towards what end I had no idea. Once again, Wiki delivered the goods:

Tradition has it that the reason the dreidel game is played is to commemorate a game devised by the Jews to camouflage the fact that they were studying Torah, which was outlawed by the Seleucids. The Jews would gather in caves to study, posting a lookout to alert the group to the presence of Seleucid soldiers. If soldiers were spotted, the Jews would hide their scrolls and spin tops, so the Seleucids thought they were gambling, not learning.

I had no idea that gambling was involved. I feel like Captain Reynault in “Casablanca”.

But of the most interest was the battlefield victory it was meant to celebrate. I had a feeling that in the 16 years of Marxmail, there must have been something that dealt with the legacy of the holiday that was in its way just as bloodthirsty as Passover that celebrated the death of innocent Egyptian children. I was not disappointed. I crossposted this article nearly 3 years ago to the date:

http://thebusysignal.com/2010/12/01/rethinking-hanukkah-the-dark-history-of-the-festival-of-lights/

Rethinking Hanukkah: The Dark History of the Festival of Lights

2010 December 1

by J.A. Myerson

OK, so: there’s a civil war. On one side is a group of reformers, who break from divine-right totalitarianism to design a society based on reason, philosophy, comity with national neighbors and religious moderation. On the other is a violent group of devout fanatics who engage in terrorist warfare in their quest to institute religious law that includes ritual sacrifice and compulsory infant genital mutilation. Which side are you on?

And if the second group defeats the first, returns the land to theocratic despotism, institutes a program of imperial conquest and declares the abolition of secular thought, isolating itself from the rest of the civilized world for a century, do you celebrate their victory?

Easy answers, surely, if this scenario were situated in the Muslim world of the 21st century. But, starting tonight, a great many Jews the world over, including—or perhaps especially—secular American Jews, will light candles and sing prayers in observance of Hanukkah, which commemorates the historical incident aforementioned. The sectarian factions were traditionalist Jews and their Hellenized brethren. The location was Jerusalem. The year was 165 BCE.

A decade earlier, Antiochus IV Epiphanes had assumed rule of the Seleucid Empire, which stretched farther east than Alexander the Great’s Macedonian Empire, from modern day Saudi Arabia all the way to what are now Turkmenistan and Pakistan. Antiochus appointed Jason—probably in reward for a bribe—to the governorship of Judea, then a client state of the Seleucids, and, in 167 BCE, Jason did away with Jewish law and rebuilt Jerusalem in a Greek model. This included banning genital mutilation and Jewish sacrifice, permitting Jews to marry gentiles and instituting an internationalist program exemplified by participation in the Olympic Games.

To be sure, Seleucid Judea, being an imperial protectorate, was hardly the democratic polis par excellence; widespread corruption and capricious political leadership combined with a measure of jealous authoritarianism hardly constitute the virtuous city. Nevertheless, a secular, multicultural state is subject to civic reform in a way that dictatorial theocracy is not, and the latter is precisely what the Maccabees sought to establish. (The Maccabees are routinely called a “rebel army,” but really this is a romantic and obfuscatory term; “terrorist militants” is a well chosen substitute, and the one we use for their contemporary analogues).

Judah Maccabee, whose father Matthias had had to flee Judea after killing a Hellenistic Jew for worshiping before an idol, served as the chief of that fundamentalist army, his brothers Jonathan and Simon occupying the upper lieutenancy. Their holy war featured the demolition of pagan altars in the villages, the ritual cleansing of the temple and compelling the circumcision of children. Their terror campaign worked and, in 165 BCE, after just two years of secular law, the Maccabees overtook Judea, establishing the political reign of the Hasmonean dynasty.

Not content with the victory, Judah continued the war—when was the last time holy war ended with the conquest of but one land?—and expanded the boundaries of Israel, setting a nationalist-expansionist precedence whose reverberations we (leave alone the Palestinians) continue to feel. Between Judah’s regime and the subsequent administrations of his brothers, the fanatical Maccabee Israeli army conquered the port of Joppa and the fortress of Gezer and razed the Acra in Jerusalem. Hasmonean rule lasted until 64 BCE, when the Romans moved in and Herod the Great became King of Israel—for more on that, see the gospels of the New Testament.

*   *   *

Judaism, as much as any other world religion, can boast an extraordinary history of secular thought. Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Isaiah Berlin, Christopher Hitchens, Tony Kushner—who can think of better Jews than these or imagine, without anguish, a world devoid of their contributions? My own family’s ancestry is Jewish and we are ourselves devoted to secularism and the pursuit of a Judaism in the image of those named above.

Nevertheless, growing up, we lit the candles and sang the Hebrew prayer my mother could remember from her childhood (but—how Jewish—cannot translate to English). My father, for his part, is fond of proving that he can sing “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” in Yiddish—his father escaped an Orthodox home at age 13, never to return—not that the rest of us are in any position to verify his rendition’s accuracy. Latkes (with sour cream and apple sauce, naturally), gelt (lousy chocolate, sure, but it’s shaped like money!) and dreidels came out once a year, in order, I’m sure I always knew, to make Jews feel better about not having Christmas, which is a big deal to the goyim (so big that the Myersons celebrate it too, and more enthusiastically than the Jewish consolation prize, to boot).

What a piercing irony, that secular Jews have taken to comforting ourselves in the yuletide season by celebrating the destruction of the Hellenistic Jewry, whose legacy we inherit, at the hands of fundamentalist fanatics who wouldn’t even consider us Jewish. With each lunatic attempt to expel Palestinians from their homes to make room for Orthodox settlers from Brooklyn, with each story of a Hasidic woman confined to a medieval lifestyle of bondage and repression born of superstition and uncritical faith, with each exposure of depravity and fraudulence in the communities who make the most exuberant claims to piety, it becomes clearer: the time has come for us to proclaim loudly that we have a better tradition. Let us celebrate the Hellenistic Jews and their struggle, rather than the violent extremists and their victory.

The prayer Jews are expected to say on the first night of Hanukkah (the only one my mother knew to teach us) translates thus: “Blessed are you, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and has commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.” Need anyone mention that the greatest Jewish tradition is not one of following any commandments whatever, but rather of investigating, examining, discovering? The secular Jewish tradition holds that it is through those processes that one learns truth, not through the revelation of commandment. Cast off that prayer.

The klezmer ditty, though, can stay. “One for each night, they shed us with light to remind us of days long ago.” Let us take this opportunity to remind ourselves of what really happened in days long ago, and commit ourselves to reversing it.

*   *   *

The author is obliged to mention Josephus’ The Wars of the Jews along with the biblical apocrypha contained in the first and second book of the Maccabees, which provide the history presented here. For additional reading, please see relevant works by Christopher Hitchens and James Ponet, both in Slate.

[Hitchens and Ponet are both worth reading as well.]

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Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People

My friend Michael Grondin introduced me to Brain Pickings a few years ago. It is a website which has enriched my life. Recently, they reviewed a book on Pablo Neruda which caught my interest:

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/04/pablo-neruda-poet-of-the-people-book/

Enjoy.

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Sustainability

A friend and systems colleague, David Ing, recently posted a piece on simulating a sustainable scenario in lieu of the decline of the Mayan civilization on the Yucatan Peninsula.

http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/237204

It’s an interesting exercise, but may best be understood in the context of a “A Short History of Progress.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Short_History_of_Progressnsjournal.com/node/237204

Hopefully, these system scientists who posited their simulation findings in The Solutions Journal will investigate other failed civilizations along the lines of A Short History of Progress and perhaps present a systemic solution for our current condition.

 

 

 

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The End of History?

The short, strange era of human civilization would appear to be drawing to a close.

By Noam Chomsky

September 13, 2014 “ICH” – It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end.

The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend.

The land of the Tigris and Euphrates has been the scene of unspeakable horrors in recent years. The George W. Bush-Tony Blair aggression in 2003, which many Iraqis compared to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, was yet another lethal blow. It destroyed much of what survived the Bill Clinton-driven U.N. sanctions on Iraq, condemned as “genocidal” by the distinguished diplomats Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who administered them before resigning in protest. Halliday and von Sponeck’s devastating reports received the usual treatment accorded to unwanted facts.

One dreadful consequence of the U.S.-U.K. invasion is depicted in a New York Times “visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria”: the radical change of Baghdad from mixed neighborhoods in 2003 to today’s sectarian enclaves trapped in bitter hatred. The conflicts ignited by the invasion have spread beyond and are now tearing the entire region to shreds.

Much of the Tigris-Euphrates area is in the hands of ISIS and its self-proclaimed Islamic State, a grim caricature of the extremist form of radical Islam that has its home in Saudi Arabia. Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and one of the best-informed analysts of ISIS, describes it as “a very horrible, in many ways fascist organization, very sectarian, kills anybody who doesn’t believe in their particular rigorous brand of Islam.”

Cockburn also points out the contradiction in the Western reaction to the emergence of ISIS: efforts to stem its advance in Iraq along with others to undermine the group’s major opponent in Syria, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. Meanwhile a major barrier to the spread of the ISIS plague to Lebanon is Hezbollah, a hated enemy of the U.S. and its Israeli ally. And to complicate the situation further, the U.S. and Iran now share a justified concern about the rise of the Islamic State, as do others in this highly conflicted region.

Egypt has plunged into some of its darkest days under a military dictatorship that continues to receive U.S. support. Egypt’s fate was not written in the stars. For centuries, alternative paths have been quite feasible, and not infrequently, a heavy imperial hand has barred the way.

After the renewed horrors of the past few weeks it should be unnecessary to comment on what emanates from Jerusalem, in remote history considered a moral center.

Eighty years ago, Martin Heidegger extolled Nazi Germany as providing the best hope for rescuing the glorious civilization of the Greeks from the barbarians of the East and West. Today, German bankers are crushing Greece under an economic regime designed to maintain their wealth and power.

The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.

The report concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. The world is nearing the temperature when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, that could raise sea levels to inundate major cities as well as coastal plains.

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.

One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.

The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.

A day before its summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.

One of the most feared consequences of anthropogenic global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than anticipated in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate.

Arundhati Roy suggests that the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times” is the Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have killed each other on the highest battlefield in the world. The glacier is now melting and revealing “thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate” in meaningless conflict. And as the glaciers melt, India and Pakistan face indescribable disaster.

Sad species. Poor Owl.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy. He writes a monthly column for The New York Times News Service/Syndicate.

This post first appeared at In These Times.

 

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On the Brink of Chaos… Your Brain

http://nautil.us/issue/15/turbulence/your-brain-is-on-the-brink-of-chaos

Your Brain Is On the Brink of Chaos

Neurological evidence for chaos in the nervous system is growing.

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BIG FAT HOUSES in RED STATES

I consider myself to be an artist. The world sees me as a “builder.” So building publications send me their marketing/advertising e-zines to my email address. Mostly, I just toss them but today, I’ve decided to shred Builder in public.

Building used to be a sacred art, but now it’s all about the money. And money sees RED, as in Republican values, and what it means to be patriotic. Republican views are extremely conflicted but then if you think with your ass and you’re constipated, well all that comes out is gonna be shit.

Builder is always promoting big fat red values. Face it, dumb stupid Republicans like to squander the earth’s resources and build HUGE houses for themselves in the name of vanity, ego, pride… all those qualities that the Bible and Christ called the faithful to avoid- and now part of promoting a “Christian America.” Huh? Since when did a country built on religious freedom become “Christian?” Oh, I guess maybe 6 to 10,000 years ago when God made the earth and then told Christians to set up border patrols, and police states and make money money by killing people all over the world and calling THEM terrorists…

But I digress. No we’re supposed to be talking trash about cracker neighborhoods. Yep. Take your big diesel truck or SUV and move your ass into one of these cities.

And make sure all your friends on Face Book live in the patriotic states.

http://www.movoto.com/blog/novelty-real-estate/patriotic-states-map/

So patriotism is now synonymous with Republicanism, with money, with greed, with being Christian, and fat- fat heads, fat houses, fat bank accounts… and stupidity… because let me tell you something about Arizona. Movato considers Arizona a Red state but aside from Maricopa County where everyone has Republican DNA infused into their blood as descendants of Joseph Smith, the rest of the state is far different. First off, we have the indigenous people who find the whole “illegal immigration” rant of Republicans an ironic joke, as do Hispanics who were here for hundreds of years before the Cavalry and white Mormon settlers showed up. But I’ll save that post for a later day. Time to prepare a Vegan Feast and celebrate peace and love.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0WG-ZUUOsg&feature=kp

 

 

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