Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins

Max developed a great interest in consciousness, brains and artificial intelligence and has begun reading books in the field. He recommended a video showing a lecture by Jeff Hawkins, a computer engineer turned to brain science in California. Since I wanted to show some interest in Max's interests, I checked out Hawkins's book from the library. Sky immediately scooped it up, read it quickly and trashed it. I'm not a good spouse in that I don't just agree with what my husband says, so I took Sky's scorn with a grain of salt. He is well versed in neuro-science, computers and AI, and might have trashed Hawkins just because he trashes almost everyone in those fields.

I am NOT well versed in computer science, electronics, AI and brain science, although I know more than many because I've lived with engineers and worked for brain scientists. But Hawkins's book was obviously a pop read, not a serious study. I also liked his lecture and was excited by his claim that the neo-cortex was used for prediction and that models of intelligence should turn away from behaviorist's models and turn toward something like prediction. That got me thinking and I was really excited to read "On Intelligence" despite Sky's scorn of it.

By page 52, I felt that Hawkins was really astray, so much so that I began to take notes. I no longer felt that the book would be a light-hearted re-examination of an age-old problem, but that Hawkins was on a mission to push his own idea, whether it be true or not. Sometimes this works, but I felt that, in this book, I was being led by the nose and my hackles were up. Why was this? On page 50, Hawkins speaks of a paper called" An Organizing Principle for Cerebral Function" written by Vernon Montcastle in 1978. He speaks of Montcatle's conclusion that if the cortex looks similar everywhere that there is a common function that is performed by all the cortical regions. That seems logical, except for the recent discoveries that although the structure of the cortex is remarkably consistent and the wiring is fairly consistent, at the chemical level, there is much more going on. I also suspect that there may be much more going on at levels which humans have yet to explore due to primitive equipment. But I can go with an idea that the cortex might be performing similar functions throughout the cortical area.

Now, on page 52, Hawkins makes his first error in logical thinking. He suddenly jumps from using the word brain and cortex to the statement: "a single paper and a single idea that united all the diverse and wondrous capabilities of the human mind." Okay. Hawkins lost me at this point. Why? Because he leaped from a discussion of cortical function to a conclusion about something foggy like the human mind. Did he explore a discussion of what is mind? No. Did he talk about cortical function as human mind? No. Did he talk about exciting discoveries in neuro-science about the cortex and about OTHER parts of the brain in humans other species that led scientists to speculate that consciousness and mind is synonymous with the mind? No.

Before Max starts saying "but-but-but" let me go on. At this point in the book, I just noted that my hackles were up. I saw that Hawkins was prepared to lay down an argument for which he made no grounding. So, many people do this. They start with talking about space exploration and jump to talking about FTL drives without any discussion of why it might be possible or not. Okay, the book is just fun, not serious. I wasn't turned off by this point, but cautious, not because of the topic or the conclusion, but that I suspected Hawkins of being a sloppy writer.

On page 70, Hawkins starts his argument for the neocortex being a prediction device. He first makes a definition of memory that is one epistemological style of memory retrieval, which is not unusual, but he bases his further argument on the assumption that all people remember events in an invariable sequential fashion that can only be recalled in the same sequence, which is just wrong. Memory has to do with association. There is temporal association, sequential association, and a myriad of associations that have to do with map-making. The type of memory he speaks of is a characteristic of a type of personality that tends toward and epistemological style that is sequential. He goes on to explain in great detail of how memories MUST be retrieved by running through the sequence in time. He uses fallacious arguments for this such as only being able to remember the alphabet from a-z, which is not only false, but makes him look like an idiot if he can only remember the alphabet if he starts at a.... It is a delightful trick for people to remember it in any form. He goes on and on arguing all sorts of examples for sequential memory from songs to the order of one's house to the invariable sequence of drying off when one gets out of the shower. These are all instances of personality, not universal.

By page 77, he reveals himself as a Platonist. He states that memories are invariant representatives instead of dynamic recognition of patterns in run time. He makes no distinction between recognition memory and synthetic memory, of memetic associations and models.

On page 91, he begins to re-define his terms. He hammers down his argument that memory is prediction, that when one goes through a sequence of events such as walking through one's darkened house, one is predicting what will come next. One predicts that when one turns on the stove, the burner will get hot. On and on, until he "proves" that what the neocortex does is predict. At this point, I was appalled. When I get up in the middle of the night and stumble over a chair, I say "I don't remember this chair being here!" I don't say "I didn't predict that this chair would be here!" He seems to think that memory, even compulsive memory like remembering a tune when one hears the first notes, is prediction. By page 102, not only is he saying that prediction allows humans to think better, but that they developed better motor control than other animals, which is just not true at all. He seems to think that bigger is better, and goes on about how the cortex and the way it is wired accounts for all the differences in humans and other animals. He says with a flourish that "with humans the cortex has taken over most of our motor behavior. Instead of just making predictions based on the behavior of the old brain, the human neocortex directs behavior to satisfy its predictions." This is an interesting statement, not only in that he glossed over much of what he needed to prove, but that he jumps to the conclusion that the neocortex is directing behavior to satisfy predictions. If, by this, he means that you will pull back your hand if you put it on your car and your car is so cold that you know your hand will freeze, this hardly seems like higher level cognition.

But, I'm not putting down the book at this point. I'll concede him some hand waving and some assumptions that just because he thinks he remembers in such and such a way, it is the way everyone does and that the neocortex is reponsible.

Hawkins goes on to talk specifically about the cortex. I had a quibble about his "invariant saccades" when it is obvious that saccades are trained and a huge part of what goes on in infancy on through all kinds of specialized training. My saccade of a face will be very different from a "normal" saccade of a face because I am looking as an artist, not as a man or as a woman or as a doctor. He seems to think that we have invariant memories of people, when many people have worked on just why this cannot be the case. We have a recognition memory that often persists in the light of changes or misidentification, and it can be highly trained in different ways. I think by the huge amount of information flowing both ways in recognition, that it's obvious that the cortex is not only pulling up old memories, but laying down new associations all the time. In our highly social society we must do this to survive. If we had a brain stuffed with invariants, there would be less adaptability for the countless changes of association that we must make all the time. Invariants or stereotypes are less common that people want them to be.

On page 125, he begins to talk about word models. Here, he makes several logical and philosophical errors. He assumes that hierarchy among the cortical structure is assembling parts, not nested classes. So he uses connotations of hierarchy in a way that promotes errors in his model. He thinks that each object is composed of smaller parts in a hierarchy, that a faces are at the top, composed of eyes, noses, mouths, etc. Now a hierarchy is thus: car-Ford-Mustang-Mustang LX- Mustang LX 1984. A collection of objects is: car-engine-pistons-rings. He seems to think that without this hierarchy in place, all would be confusion, when really all that we seem to do is lump things together on the fly to make up a map of something we can also identify on the fly. We do not think, "this is my room, it consists of these objects:...." When asked where we are, we say, "oh, in my room." Only when asked "what is your room," do people then make some confusing attempt to define their room, usually by the color or the objects within it, often to the fun of someone who wants them to "prove" that they are in their room, which is impossible to do. In dreams, we feel compelled to think "oh, that is Max" when the person looks nothing like Max, but we think for some reason that we need a Max character. If pressed, we then try to remember something about Max, Maxness, such as someone tall. But more often than not, Max will become someone else or vanish entirely. There is no "Max" in a dream--even in lucid dreaming is it notoriously difficult to build up a realistic image of Max. If the brain had collections of neurons dedicated to "Max" there might be some Platonic invariant we could recall better. Some things are easy to recall and seem to be more so with repetition, as if the neurons are trained to do so. But recognition clearly does not need to be so hard-wired as Hawkins seems to think.

By page 146, he convinced me of the opposite of his hypothesis that the neocortex was responsible for mind and for intelligence. But, because of reading this book, I am fascinated by the thalamus and the role played by the hippocampus in consciousness since it seems that both these parts of the brain are involved with higher functions. Without parts of the neocortex, we cannot remember things or how to do things; without the thalamus, we are vegetables. Hm. Which is essential for mind?

On page 154, I found Hawkins descriptions of the recognition of a musical note in the process of the cortex to be way, way too involved. The brain is not a computer. Hawkins himself said that the cortex was very slow compared to a computer. His process of retrieval is way too involved and, again, invalidates some of his modeling of how the brain might work, not on the cell level, but on the mentation level. He's trying to figure out what goes on mentally when the cells excite and he's not getting very far.

On page 166, he describes how a child learns to read and doesn't even remember his own discussion of recognition memory that he made early in the book. He says that a child learns the alphabet and then tries to sound out three letter words. A child only does this when all other ways fail. Most children learn to read at a higher level. They know language extremely well by this time and they sit with an adult or sibling who reads to them. Max never looked at his name and said, mmmm aaaa ks, mmaaks, mmmaks--MAX! like we see parodied on TV. He had seen MAX so often with the word associated with it, that he just new that the lump figure MAX meant the word max, even when it was on the air conditioner/heater in my car with "min" which he did not recognize or sound out. My friend Sam learned to read at 5 because he quickly learned that the words were "talking" and knew how the cadences of words went in books. When he got to a word, he only read the first couple of letters, if that, and recognized the word by the association with the remembered sentence. When he came on unfamiliar words, then his older brother, who could not read as well, had to sound out the word phonetically, like Hawkins describes. Still, they persisted at the morpheme level with "in-form-a-tion" rather than at the phonetic level with "iii-nnnn--fff--ooo--rrr--mmm--ay--sh--uu-nn", oh, "information." If learning reading took place as Hawkins suggests, then sign language and reading pictographs and glyphs would be impossible.

A child doesn't learn to walk like a robot learns to walk. There is no trial and error. You cannot explain to someone the steps to throw a ball or beat batter, you must show them, sometimes by manhandling them and going through the motion with them. The motion is learned, like reading, not in this hierarchy of commands which forms Hawkins brain model, but at a wholistic level where the association can be repeated as a package deal. Everything points to the hierarchical model being contrived and used in abstract thought, not in learning or thinking.

In chapter 7 on Consciousness and Creativity, Hawkins attempts to put his cortical theory into an explanation of the functions of the mind. First of all he offended me with his heavy anthropomorphizing of the behavior of other beings, like "the tree is predicting where it will find water and minerals based on the experience of its ancestors." Oh boy. I know what he's trying to say, but he's trying to use his own jargon and it gets pretty silly. Then he tries to make imagination and creativity into prediction, but again, he gets very sloppy. He uses Shakespeare as an example of creativity and quotes "There's daggers in men's smiles" as analogy (an example of literary genius) in that daggers are analogous to ill intent and men's smiles are analogous to deceit, and forgets that all primates bar their teeth to intimidate other primates and that their eye-teeth (way more prominent in other mammals) are SHAPED like daggers. Sheesh. But this is nit-picking. I only include it to whine about Hawkins being generally sloppy and not respecting his reader. I was pretty irritated by this point.

But, my real beef came with him saying that creativity is merely messing with people's predictions. He elaborates when he says that shuffling his Scrabble letters is creative and that creative problem solving is backing off the problem. Since, he's decided that prediction is recognition memory, when the brain recognizes new words in a reshuffling of the Scrabble letters, that's making a new prediction and being creative. AGH!!
Prediction is not recognition. Prediction is saying what a pattern will be based on an amalgamation of past patterns that one evaluates given current conditions. Creativity is the creation of a NEW pattern out of old data. It is not the recognition of a word when the pattern emerges but the creation of a NEW word or, better yet, a new way of glyphing words altogether, like shorthand. He even admits, that in his own creation of handwriting recognition in his Graffitti invention, he did not do handwriting recognition, but made people learn a new glyph system that the computer would recognize! By this time, I'm trying not to hate this man, who doesn't even listen to his own arguments.

Okay, now he jumps to consciousness being in the cortex. I have no idea why, because he's not explained ANYTHING being in the cortex but trained recognition modules that assist in memory. He tries to explain the differences between self-awareness and what he calls "qualia" or feelings being associated with different sensations are independent from input. He uses qualia to support his Platonic model. Then he goes on to make imagination a form of prediction and I gave up.

By this time, I knew that his chapter on the Future of Intelligence was going to be idle speculation. I was intrigued enough by his idea that the cortex and brain was not just a behaviorists' box and might be a prediction machine, but I wish that I had not read the book, because I know that he thinks the brain is merely memory. He falls into the category of "more ram" equals intelligence, which is fallacious and silly and no different from all the other AI guys who think that the brain is a device.

I would like to see some studies done. One group of people can memorize a long text. The other group can memorize the same text as a song. Does one group of brains light up in a different area when the text is remembered? Does the song group or the verbal group have to remember from start to finish or can they jump in at any point. If so, do their brains light up differently?

But Sky is right. Without a non-invasive, portable device that reads what is going on in the brain, it will remain a black box and intelligent guys like Hawkins can talk about what goes on inside without having to know what goes on. We know a lot about neurons, but not a lot about the brain in action. I think his book clearly demonstrates that there is a long way to go.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Loneliness of Vision

(Alan Lee's Túrin Turambar surrounded by the outlaws who dwelt south of Brethil)

I am trying to read new Fantasy, Children's, YA, and Adult. I've noticed a trend I find very sad, a trend toward very gritty, quasi-horror kind of Fantasy, not vampire fantasy, but Medieval in the sense of gore, lice, torture, corruption, and a Conan type religious mask put over on a parody of the Middle Ages. This is not to say that the fiction does not work; some of it is masterful, as in George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series. But it is depressing, very. It's depressing because much of it has a very nihilistic, hopeless sense of life.

I think it is vital, when writing tragedy or about humans in extreme conditions, that the fiction "message" should be: that it is not human to accept the tragedy or the conditions; it is human to keep fighting. Tolkien's story of Túrin Turambar is an excellent example in that you can't get more Gothic, tragic, or oppressed than this story. And it is uplifting. Why? Because, although he is a tragic character, Túrin is heroic. Tolkien understood, first hand, from his experiences in the worst war ever fought (trenches of WWI) that HOW a man acts in the face of impossible tragedy decides everything. He becomes angelic if he refuses to let tragedy defeat his spirit. This was demonstrated over and over and over so many many times in history that the message should be clear, or so I think it should.

I've just finished "Firethorn" by Sarah Micklem. This book was lauded by everyone, and I mean everyone. Picked up by the top agent in the field, first time writer, etc., etc., etc. and the book is evil in a way I find almost impossible to describe. I spent two hours this morning trying to tell Sky why I found it so. It is written by a masterful storyteller, and I will not quibble about her details and how her society is untenable or any of my other petty complaints about world building. I won't go on about how if one does something "realistic" it had better damn work on the larger scale, not just the way the cloth is woven. I really, really, really wanted Micklem to save the book and save the character. Instead, she let me down. In shorthand, this book is an SP, Nomad, Gen X book that substitutes the lowest of human animal traits for anything noble or heroic. I will not mince words. Sarah Micklem has no reason to heed my comments; she's obviously wildly popular and successful. The book gave me nightmares.

(One of my favorite artists: Chmiel, who does quite a bit of Tolkien work.)

Okay. To go on. Entirely depressed by Micklem's book, unable to tear myself from it, I started having that terrible sinking feeling that my own work was lousy and that even if my intentions were good, I was going to fail and fail badly. Ad nauseum. I will not go on and whine about my own severity to myself that demands that I keep trying and trying and trying when it's obvious that I'm missing the gene that will get me published. It's not anything with my work; it's a kind of feeling that my work doesn't have.

But I pushed through the depression even though I am really sick today on top of being depressed, and was sorting through my art collection (some of which you see here) trying to think of a style that will work for my own book. I opened up the ms to go through the basic visual elements of each chapter and skimmed.

To my surprise, this book is light years beyond "Firethorn," for all Micklem's talent. It needs to be combed more and polished more, but the backbone is there. I have no confidence in it, no hope that anyone at all will see what I see, but that doesn't mean that it is not there. The book is shining. This has not happened to me before; I've always only seen the flaws, not the light of it, the shape of it, shining there, despite the flaws.

All during the work on this book, especially since joining Facebook, I've realized that this work that I have chosen to do completely isolates me. I have chosen a very, very hard road. I have chosen to speak from the heart and from my mind, no matter how subtle, no matter how complex, no matter how sublime. I have chosen, not to try to get published or to sell a book or to write something that people will read; I have chosen to give the best within me to the best out there. I suspect that if the series ever does sell that most people will like it for wrong reasons. But if only, if only, they will somehow sense what I am trying to set down on paper...

I feel cursed for this work, for this desire to do this work. Maybe not cursed, but cast out. I don't talk about it, fearing to bore people. I don't even like to allude to it or brag about it or complain about it. I'm completely obsessed with this work, so much so that I've almost destroyed my life over it, and I cannot even tell people, whisper to people, "do you understand?" I feel so completely isolated and cut off, more and more and more so as the series rises up out of "hopeful wannabe" to a sledgehammer of accomplishment, and I want more and more to hide it away, to keep it from people, to pretend that I am not doing anything. Part of me finds this shameful and so I'm trying to write this blog about it.

But I cannot possibly go to Facebook for what it is and say, "I am so filled with passion over this work that I am shaking as I sit here." How can one say that? It is like being a closet something--a friend of mine once said it was just like being an alcoholic. The most sublime thing in my life, the great Joy, is, to others, like being an alcoholic. Is it any wonder I cannot speak of it? I retreat into technical discussions to pretend I don't care.
(Tony Dezuniga, a magnificent comic artist)

And so, I've decided (as you might can deduce from these three drawings) that these are closest to what I want as the style of the artwork. Dezuniga's warrior here is stunning, not because he's a barbarian, but because Dezuniga has the ability to gesture. I do not want to do photo-real art or cartoon art or polished art, but to give the allusion of emergence out of the page like Lee's picture at the top of this entry. Chmiel does this with marvelous skill.

I want now to go on. I have the backbone, both in drawing and in writing. I want now to do to my art as these three pictures will indicate and to my writing the same way. I want to learn when to leave something white, unfinished, raveling off. Rand was hard and clean, Vermeer. I do not want the complexity of Dickens or George R. R. Martin--I want this emergence, this drawingness feeling.

I am in complete and utter pain, unable even to talk about the vision that I have. I am so completely and utterly in the grip of it, struck dumb with Joy, and I feel like a babbling idiot. I walk so softly now, so afraid that just as I am gripping it, I will slip up, mess up, somehow not be able to show the light. I feel that it is also so important to talk of the importance, to try to express the complete and utter pain and joy of the creation, of the making of the best within me.

And my question to Sarah Micklem is: how can such effort have been for this book you have written? To make the effort alone is so heroic, and to make it to show art that despises the Will, the Joy, the Beingness of this--how is it possible? Does she feel responsible? Does she even know? How can she live it it and know? Are her values so completely different, so utterly hopeless and nihilistic? Does anyone else see this or will I just sound like a fool? An old fuddy-duddy. Somehow concerned with heroism and morality in a world that scorns such things.

A hard day today. I am saved only by the Will within, my own pigheaded stubborn love of this vision, a desire to keep trying to bring back the fire of God.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Creating Worlds - Tales of Anieth

What I do is create worlds. I wanted to do this ever since I read The Lord of Rings when I was nine. I decided at the ripe ol' age of twelve, that my greatest fear in writing was that some artist would get to interpret the characters and the world visually. Since I wanted to create a WORLD and not a novel, I decided that I had to draw my own pictures. This meant drawing people.

At that time, the art world was in love with abstract art and impressionist art. Realism was out. So I had to flounder around for a long time. I had to teach myself until I got a couple of lessons at the Boulder Academy of Art with Elvie Davis, a student of a student of John Singer Sargent who was still teaching in the classical style. I eagerly absorbed much of what he could teach and he must have thought I was a bit bonkers!

It is only now that I am getting competent enough at art to be able to draw my characters and the scenes from this particular world to the degree of realism that I want. Being a long time fan of the Romantic school of art and writing, and a fan of Ayn Rand and Victor Hugo, I wanted to write fantasy that would mean something. I also wanted to write "fan" fantasy, or fantasy that would have a world attached to it. This required an enormous amount of work, for I was not satisfied with the stereotyped Medieval world for a fantasy background. I backed my world up twice: first to Classical times to get out of the witch/Christian thing, and then to 2000 BCE on an alternative Earth. I took some liberties in that my world's people are from about 1000 BCE, proto-Celts and Persians. My world is as if Darius the Great had conquered Europe and was getting ready to invade Britain for tin and gold. My Zelosians (Persians) had already destroyed Gallicia in Northern Spain for the tin there.

The reason I wanted to write about the Celts was that they were a large, stable confederation that had a high degree of development, similar to the Mongols, the Vikings, or the Lakota, all of whom were too late for my purposes. I learned many eye-opening things as the world learned them: that the world of ancient Europe was not a world of barbarians living in skins, but maybe more highly developed than Classical Greece. The level of technology uncovered rocked the world of anthropology and lent pathos to my world. I came to understand that the world of 2000 BCE was of a greater level of "tech" than the Medieval world and that there had been a long "Dark Ages" as the greedy empires of the Mid-East and then the Mediterranean destroyed much of what had been learned. What a rich background for a world!

But, before I go on (and on) my celebration today is of the creation of the entry book for The Tales of Anieth. I have written (cover to cover) and even published some of the books of this world, none of which worked as "entry" books or first books into the series. There are ten other books written, but none of them worked as first books; all of them were too complex or too late in the history of the series to stand alone without too much back story.

I'm allowing myself the luxury of being proud. This is a new one for me, for I'm NEVER satisfied with my work. But the creation of Raol Aveldonacc as a young man has worked extremely well and I've written the best book I have ever written and I think it works. Pause. I've said this over the years, but this time, I may be right. Why? Because the story works. Usually my stories were good, certainly good enough, but they had some flaw. This story is a small story, a story of passion and tragedy, a story about a single man that takes place over the space of about a month.

But, more than this, I cannot express to you the joy I feel in walking in this world. The creation of a proto-Celt language was enjoyable; the discovery and extrapolation of archeoastonomy was delightful; the creation of a complete world that was real, yet also magical was fulfilling in a way that most projects are not.

And the creation of the characters has been wonderful. Here is Raol again. Just as a note: Anieth is from the Gaelic "an Aiath" which means "the land" and is pronounced "AWN-ya" or a pun on my name, which is pronounced the same way in Gaelic. It would also be correct to say "an-YA". Raol could mean many things in Gaelic or Welsh, depending on how it is pronounced, reel, rile or rail. His name could mean "sustained effort" "stellar" "ruler" and etc. Aveldonacc means "son of Veldonacc" and Veldonacc is a morph of Faol Daoine which means "people of the wolf."

I had to create a different picture of Raol for the cover to keep consistent with the eye look. (See below)

Raol was a difficult character. He began as a bad guy, the key man in the Invasion. In much of history, there was a chieftain or a king who "sold out" or made a pact with the devil (an empire) to attack his neighbors. Raol started there. A long journey!

I am very happy with what is happening in this world. I'll keep sharing as I get time.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Longing for Language

I have never felt at home in English. No, I'm not going to go on about previous lives or anything like that!

I just don't like English. I'm very, very glad I learned it as my first language, for I never would have learned it as a second language. People laugh when I say that I don't do well with English. They blame my lysdexia. But what can I say?

Actually, quite a bit.

I've studied over eleven languages now. German, Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic, Irish, Welsh, Breton, Manx and Italian. I guess that's twelve. I became fluent in German and Spanish; got to reading level (with dictionary to help) in Latin and Anglo-Saxon, enough to know bad translation when I read it. I had French in school, but don't even try to speak it although I do understand quite a bit. I have a linguistic knowledge of Greek and Italian and Icelandic, some reading ability, about a year's equivalent in schooling. I have a strange linguistic/vocabulary knowledge of the Celtic tongues, but not much in the way of grammar or common usage--enough to know about noun forms and to recognize words out of passages and to pronounce much of what I read. The only languages I'm continuing to learn are the Celtic languages.

I don't consider myself good with languages. Mostly because I have a poor memory and do not use the languages I know. When I lived in LA, I spoke Spanish every day and that is the only way to become fluent for me. But I could read newpapers in German and had about 6 years equivalent of schooling. I read Icelandic, AS, Latin and Greek because I'm a historian and love the sagas and poetry.

Okay, enough background. I know enough to know that it is easier to express things in some languages than in others. Most of this is what I call a connotation tree, or a long pattern of association that makes the language "heavy" in a certain head space. The Latinate languages tend to be "heavy" in a space where sex, death, and god overlap; the Germanic languages are "heavy" in a space were war and god overlap, for instance.

Anglo-Saxon is one of the most earthy, sensible, prosaic and unimaginative languages on the planet. It is excellent for speaking the simple facts and the truth of the world without embellishment or metaphor. In AS a person has a soul because he is alive. AS is wonderful for talking about war and death and sex and fighting monsters and killing and fighting more monsters and sex and eating and being wounded. It's a hands-on language. To say that English is descended from AS is like saying the British culture is Greek. Well, there are lines tracing back, but English is a lingua franca, almost a pidgin, a tongue that evolved out of many tongues. This is why it has a vocabulary that is four times the size of most languages and why it has an incredibly stupid grammar and why the spelling is horrid.

But English is a language that was meant for commerce. It is not a language of the spirit or a language of science. Oh, you can talk about those things, but almost all the words are borrowed and you always sound, well, spiritual or scientific, like a religious fanatic or a geek.

I've decided that my native tongue, or my "right" language is Gaelic that is spoken in the Islands or in Donegal. This is my heritage so it is not any leap to understand that the way that I learned to talk and think was Gaelic in English. What do I mean by this? Gaelic is a language in which it is almost impossible to be straightforward and simple. It is a language of metaphor. It is not a "good morning" but a "top of the morning." British English, but much more so, American English is so metaphor heavy that it baffles most foreigners. Simple English is easy. "Letting the cat out of the bag", "tongue-tied", "tempest in a teapot," is not. It takes years to learn all of the metaphors in English. Gaelic is worse. Gaelic is a poet's language, or a language were one is always doing something that sounds like something else entirely. There are fifty ways to say "good night," and none of them are literally, "good night." You cannot say yes or no; you cannot own something, you cannot just talk about something directly. Inference and allusion are everything to the Celt.

That is why I like it. A friend of mine once complained that language should have one word for one thing to make it impossible to be unclear. I just laughed. My own nature is to load down meanings upon meanings so that our entire conversations consist of interwoven elements, connotations that stun and astound, a language that wakes up the spirit and sets the mind racing in a hundred different directions.

The next problem that I have with English is that it's ugly. Writers talk about music in language; English is like clanking pots to me. It's offensively ugly. Music abounds in language. Spanish always sounds passionate because the language allows one to speak faster and faster with a rising tone of urgency and emotion. French has a rising and falling to it like breathing. Even German, in all its supposed harshness, has a breath to it that is like rain, a hesitant, earnest quality to it that makes it a language for debate and speeches and thoughtful, intense conversation. And Gaelic is the murmuring tongue, the tongue that is like the style, half-hidden, have sounded, disappearing in and out of the flicker of light and music of the other world.

Like German, English gutterals and glottal stops should make it a thoughtful tongue, but it becomes merely clumsy. Like French, it has a rhythm to it, but it is not a rising and falling, but a hesitant, racing, headlong then stuttering, as if one does not know what to do or how to feel. Like AS, the greatest English poetry is alliterative, but the poetry most popular is that that rhymes. So it sounds dorky, forced and contrived, unlike the Latinate poetry where almost every word ends in a similar ending and so there is not fishing for a rhyme.

And so I long for a mother tongue. I hobble along in this one, hoping for beauty in meaning, hoping for music in interesting juxtaposition, sounding religious, sounding like a geek, unable to speak in loaded meanings without sounding like a mad poet.

That I should be so cut off. Mad indeed.


Politics, according to Webster's, is the art or science of government. To denigrate art and science to that level is despicable. So that should give you a clue of how I feel about politics. Now politic means, "characterized by shrewdness in managing, contriving, or dealing." Okey-dokey, this gives us a big clue. Politics is very closely connected with groups and trade.

Once upon a time, I read Ayn Rand. I continued to read Rand every year for a long time. I'm a "verse and chapter" fan of her work, or someone who knows her books very well. I must have read her work maybe 20 times each. That is where I started. I read "Capitalism" in 8th grade study hall. I owned most of Von Mises's works. And then I met the Objectivists. Then I met the Libertarians. I was so completely turned off of what I saw among some of these people that I never did walk this road. Why? Because I am female. Now, I'm not a libber, by far. But I saw that neither Objectivists nor Libertarians extended their POLITICAL ideals into their homes. Many of them felt that women were to be bought and sold and were to be managed. Most of them denied acting one way toward their fellow men and another to their fellow women and children, but heck, for many of them, economics and politics ended at their doors. The chattel was still chattel, only they had paid for it and not stolen it.

I was too disgusted by most of them to even argue with them. But I did notice one thing right off. On the fringes of the far, far right, and on the fringes of the far, far left, you have the Anarchists. The black flags make the far right and the far left meet. And these people extended humanity to women and children when confronted with them. In my encounters with the far left, many of them pushed the "rights" of women, but still let them do all the work and earn the money. Often the far left women were the ones practical enough to know that the commune was all well and good but someone had to work in a bookstore to go buy the groceries.

I was "converted" by Dave Tyson, in about two seconds. Dave wanted to be a librarian and manage the historical records of the Kansas activists and Utopians who tried to set up house in the 19th Century. He turned me on to Robert LeFevre. Some claim that Heinlein was influenced by him when they both lived in Colorado Springs. For any of you who are Libertarians or Objectivists and have not read LeFevre, for shame, for shame. If any of you call yourselves liberals and have not read LeFevre, for shame. Dave Tyson's irritation was that everyone was re-inventing the arguments that had already been hashed out, time and again, and few were as eloquent as LeFevre.

But the argument is pretty easy. A man rules himself. Period. If he cannot rule himself, then he is not a man. (Substitute woman here if you want.) Children should be treated as humans as soon as you can do so. It was clear that my son was his own person from the moment he came into this world. People told me not to ask my son if he wanted to do things, but to tell him, and I looked at them and thought: "this is the root of all politics." As Laurie Anderson says: "when justice fails, there is always force, when force fails, there is always mom. Hello, mom." And it was clear that any Libertarian or Liberal who did not see that managing and contriving starts in the cradle was an idiot. The only reason men become men is because they have the strength to defy mom. And we all learn that strength or we don't grow up. So few of us had moms that treated us like human beings that it's a wonder any man can rule himself. We have government because our mothers treated us like dogs, well worse, for she often asks the dog if it wants to go outside.

If you put a coat on a child who doesn't want a coat on, you are denying that child the most basic humanity there is. I don't care if you are in a hurry. I don't care if you think it's cold out. I don't care if junior has to wear something. That's in your head and you are acting as if that child is a thing, an animal, a slave or chattel. If you stick a spoon of peas into that child when the child doesn't want it, you are putting that child in prison. There is no middle way here. You treat that child with the respect due to every human and you will get a human; you treat that child like a slave and you will get a slave. Even masters are slaves. Even presidents and kings are slaves. If you can't argue or reason with a two year old, if you resort to force without owning up to using force because you're out of options, then you are evil. I'm sorry, but you have to take responsibility for your actions, your words and your thoughts.

Sure I spanked my child, threw him into time out. But I told him that I was angry and that was why I did it. I did not tell him it was because he was bad. That's bullshit. A child cannot be bad, no matter how much he irritates you. My son and I used to get into some terrible fights, but it was never because he was bad or wrong. We fought because he was in a bad mood and wanted to fight. Sometimes kids want to fight. As a parent, you must try not to fight with them, for you are much bigger than they are and that's just bullying them, but they may want to fight you. So what? You fight. They grow out of it, if you let them. If you don't listen to what it is that is bothering them and deal with it, then they will keep fighting, and good for them! I believe in kids who fight. They might grow up into something human if they are fighting for their humanity, for not eating those peas or wearing that coat or going to bed when you want them to. You are a tyrant and if they fight you, then they have a chance in hell of growing up into someone who will defy oppression.

People learn slave tactics as children. Women learn to manipulate people around them, men learn to ignore people or to use passive-aggressive behavior to get around doing what they're told. Women learn to cry or to whine to get what they want. Men learn to pout and to sulk. The endless behavior of couples toward one another is disgusting and tragic. I've heard people say that couples can only relate to each other if one is master and one is servant, if one wins and one loses. What kind of relationship is that? One is the parent and one is the child. Maybe both are the children. The state of humanity in this county--in the world--is appalling. The fact that people cannot ask things of each other without appearing to be manipulative is appalling. That people use language to manage and manipulate is appalling. That people expect to have their needs met by another is appalling. None of this is human. Much of it isn't even like animal behavior.

People ask me what my politics are. There is only one response to politics: to say NO. I am a human being. I am reasonable, rational, intelligent, and cooperative. But my response to anyone telling me what to do is the response of myself at two: HELL NO! I was really defiant at two, but it got beat out of me until I was a sulky teenager. I'm one of those people who is cooperative until a point and then I'm throwing you across the yard. I don't follow the rules. But I'm one of the easiest people on this planet to get along with.

My son once asked me why I didn't yell at him. I asked: "why do people yell at you?" "Because they are angry." "Don't you know when I get angry?" "Oh, yeah." "Then why yell?" That started him thinking. Communication is about the exchange of information. When the flow breaks down, then people have to get emotional. A child never starts out by screaming for something. Over and over, if you watch toddlers, you can see them trying and trying and trying to communicate their needs and feelings and getting ignored. It is only after trying everything else that they every start screaming. OF COURSE they do it to get attention. Sheesh. What do you think we are, slugs? The only reason a mammal screeches is to get attention. All these words and we have to resort to screeches or tears or sulks or growls or--well, you get the point. What are words for, if not to communicate? Take responsibility for what you need to communicate and try to do so.

I find that all the talk of what governments should do is ludicrous when we can't even make a family work in peace. If a husband and wife find that they cannot treat each other as humans, what do we expect from someone who lives thousands of miles away and will never know who we are or care?

No, I am not political. I'm human. I can talk to you; I don't have to manage, contrive or deal to get my way.

I feel like telling Libertarians and Objectivists, "grow up." But what I mean is "grow human." Be a human, be a man, be a woman. But to do that, you have to own all that you do and know that what you do will have consequence. You bet it will. So be there, be aware, and own yourself.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

For God hath Wrought no Greater Beauty than Man, part II

If I could explain my fascination with the human form!

In The Tales of Anieth I wanted to show a diversity of character, not just write the same plot with similar personalities. When I first began to write, it was enough to have a hero and heroine and a spread of other people, protagonists and antagonists. However, something in me demanded that I give my characters integrity, that they believe in who they are and what they are doing. As a consequence, no on in the series is evil or bad. I've come to believe as the Buddhists do, that no one is evil or bad, that the evil and badness we see around us is not the result of man, but of actions ill-considered, words said in anger or fear, the lack of responsibility or ownership that is fostered in each of us at an early age when we imitate our parents who give no reason for their anger or demands. We are born into slavery and why should any of us learn otherwise? I think that some people, like me, are also just born perverse, unable to accept anything as it is, doubters and questioners who say, "is there not a better way?"

I was also born without the ability to believe. You will read the word "god" here, but it is pointing to a feeling in humanity that is beyond what most people consider human. A creative force. A guiding force. A universal love. You could substitute "benevolence" or "the greater self" or "nature" in the place of this word; I leave it as god because I have discovered that even Christians want to better themselves, to be more like angels than like apes, to be rid of fear and pain and grief and to rise up and know joy. The pointer to god is the pointer to joy; it is not the fault of man that he is so critical of himself that he can't always see his own heart of glory.

Korutos Cheros o Gallanis began as a "bad guy." From interacting with this fictional character and his creation, I have learned some profound things. I have learned to respect the power of my own mind and to listen to myself. Characters can take on life for the author and Korutos rose up against the role I had assigned for him and demanded better of me. For twenty years, I have been on his path, "walking in his shoes" so to speak. From a beginning as a brutal, thoughtless man, he became another profoundly moral man, a man who defied an entire Empire to keep his word. He is also a tragic character, restrained by his belief in a corrupt system, trying to use himself as an example of enlightenment when he himself is the only one enlightened. But Korutos's heart evaded me for a long time until I heard a piece of music, a song, which made me understand him and honor him. It is only when we honor characters that they can have integrity.

Korutos was also an attempt to get away from stereotypes in Fantasy of British looking people. He is a Zelosian, rather like a Persian. I wanted to get away from beauty as the beauty shown in American films. A consequence of the creation of Korutos is that people identify with him very heavily and he is a favorite of many readers.

Kileen Ivava was another challenge. Original to the 1983 book, The Star of Aragon, Kileen was my attempt at drawing a character who was very different from a "normal" heroine. She turned out to be too much of a challenge for most readers who saw her passive resistance as open compliance. She was a character motivated by the superego and did what she thought she should do to save other people. She was so selfless that people overlooked that her path in the books was to discard responsibility for others and to take up responsibility for herself alone. She was another character who thought she was doing the best thing when all that happened as a result was to get more ensnarled in the wrong path.

Kileen was also an attempt to break out of American standards of beauty. She is based on several models who were popular in the 90's, but her coloring was anathema to British standards and American standards. She became four characters as the books expanded into a series.

Kileen's counterpart, Faol Abluaith, was also a controversial character, but remains my most "Objectivist" character in that he is a man who is completely self-contained. One of the ideas I got from reading Rand, was that of the maker or the creator. Faol became the essence of creativity, both creating art, his home, and his own self in the sense that he is a shapeshifter, but a shapeshifter of the mind, making of himself multi-mind, or the mind of the creator who lives through the images of Truth that he creates. He is another instance as well of a non-standard beauty. He was also my first attempt to do a character solely from a description since I have never found a picture that resembles him. I often find pictures of people who resemble my characters. Some, like Korutos, are a mix of those pictures.

One of my best characters remains Dubh Daracha. He is a successful instance of the creation of a character that was not my own personality. He is also an instance of a character who is not a intellectual character, but a character who is very wise. I was fascinated by characters like Quai Chang Kane who were not "head" characters but were still capable of wisdom and curiosity. I wanted, in Dubh, to celebrate a beauty that was very unlike what is usually shown to us through writers like Rand. I also wanted to show a male character who was not like the Luke Skywalker/Harry Potter type, but still very "male." I wanted to create a character of the earth, to contrast with his best friend, Trean Alonrach, who is a fire and air character.

But I wanted my characters to be the reality of man, to look like the sublime in man, to be men, not elves or another species that could be written off as "that's how elves behave because they're elves" rather than a reflection of what is possible in man. When I created the world, I also went to history to create societies that were possible for man and not an ideal that could not be realized. The irony of the Libertarian dilemma is that it was a common model for many societies, but cannot exist in this day and age, not because men are not capable of it, but because the model requires certain conditions, the largest of which is a very mobile society that is NOT real estate based. To expect Libertarianism to succeed under Empire conditions is like asking a starving man to share his food. Some will, some can, but it is not a successful model for a society.

The power of fiction in creating a sense of life has been demonstrated. Fiction is also very powerful in creating the illusion of a living society filled with instances of personality that are not common around us.

It is my goal, in creating a world, to be the god who wrought no greater beauty than man, for god is me and I am god and I am greater than any beauty by creating it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

For God hath Wrought no Greater Beauty than Man

When I was thirteen, my best friend gave me a copy of Ayn Rand's Anthem. Boy, did that change my life. I quickly read everything Rand had published at that time. What is ironic is that I read into Rand what was not there, well some of what was not there. At this time in my life, I was also heavily influenced by Spock on Star Trek and Quai Chang Kane from Kung Fu. I did not understand some of Rand's characters and I disagreed with much of what she wrote, but I found Howard Roark to be a kindred spirit. I went on to read authors who had influenced Rand, looking for what she called "a sense of life."

At the age of nine, having read The Lord of Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, I had decided to write epic fantasy. At the age of twelve, I knew that I had to learn to draw my own characters. Rand taught me not to be ashamed of being talented or smart and to love the heroic in man. From Spock, I learned to honor discipline and from Quai Chang Kane to honor the quiet spirit. Later, I added to my mental collection all art that I found that honored the "angelic" in man or that which makes him a man and not an ape. Mathematics, music, art, poetry, science--all these things I loved and desired in my life. I lived a life close to that of Rand's characters and I had no problems common to Objectivists where they felt that they did not measure up to the paragons that Rand created. I found this totally appalling, for I felt that my little finger was infinitely greater than Dagny Taggart, for was I not real? I later found out that my mother had read and admired Rand and probably married my father as a result, for he was also the paragon, similar to Roark or Galt. He was an aerospace engineer who was tall, handsome, brilliant and vastly dissatisfied with anyone who told him what to do or what to think.

Later, I discovered that the way I had grown up was the way that people tried to be when they went to college. I had lived this life as if I were the brilliant daughter of Roark and it was odd to me that people did not see this as a totally logical and sane way to live. When I began mixing with Objectivists I was astounded at the people that I met, for the paragon did not sit naturally on them, but was something forced, desired, but not natural.

I later called this code of ethics that I learned from my father and recognized in fiction: the Cult of Toughness, after my father's family who tended toward stoicism. They were Welsh immigrants, thirteen generations American, staunch Baptists, engineers, teachers, poets and farmers. It is hard for me to describe the meme set that I learned from my father that was reinforced by writers that I loved. I later learned that this meme set was ancient, probably a combination of the Celtic warrior caste and the eola caste, or professional caste of poets, doctors and engineers. My father's people were the eolas of the warrior class, so to speak. The adopted the ethics of honor and stoicism and the mind set of the intellectual.

The one thing lacking in some of Rand is the wicked sense of humor and the backwards emotional set of this kind of Celt who would laugh when dying and cry when happy. These people had a sense of humor that was subtle and malicious at times. You had to be very fast with your brain to engage any of them for they would take you down with sarcasm and wit unless you took it on the chin and kept fighting.

I knew when I started writing that I could not write stories with a certain kind of character that is very popular, the character like Luke Skywalker. One of the reasons for this is that my entire family is kind of devoid of fear. If they are not counter-phobic, doing wild things for an adrenaline rush, they are like me where fear just does not enter the picture, well the anxious kind of fear. Fear is a momentary reaction to a physical situation and not a mind set. The popular character has at his heart (or hers) fear. Having not really known fear, I found it difficult to write about characters motivated by fear. Fear of failure was even more remote from my own life. There was no fail. People did what they did motivated by the act of it, not some goal of achieving something such as a prize or recognition. My family is extremely competitive, but not because they want to win, but because they like to battle. Winning is just not nearly as fun as playing.

But I got lost in the suggestions of well-meaning people, lost in the expectations of editors, and lost in the examples so prevalent in our society. I learned after a long, long time that fear is a value/problem of a certain caste that includes farmers and merchants and has to do with money and loss and status that relies upon wealth and connection. For the warrior caste, the driving motivation is pride or arrogance; for the eola caste, the driving motivation is curiosity or hatred; for the performing caste, the driving motivation is fame and security. Only one caste was motivated by fear and greed, it is NOT a universal trait, just an American trait.

I am still trying to free myself from the web of expectation in fiction writing. Part of this disentanglement lies in the creation of characters who are not motivated by fear. This picture is an illustration for a YA novel called, Tales of Anieth - Aveldonacc. This is a picture of one of the most famous kings of the Horse People, Raol Aveldonacc. In all wars and invasions there is a key man, or a key battle. The key man in the invasion that takes place in this series is King Raol Aveldonacc. In one version of the history of Anieth, Raol is the man who betrays his people to the Zelosians, causing a genocide. The books are about a group of teens who try to change this history. In the first book, they try to change King Raol's early life, making him a hero rather than a traitor. Ultimately, Raol is still a tragic character, but along the lines of Turin Turambar or Cuchulainn, not Luke Skywalker. Raol's basic motivation is not fear, but outrage.

Part of the challenge of writing for me is to create pictures of my characters. The pictures HAVE to show the character and not just be pretty or in an interesting style. I am faced not only with personality, but with family genetics, and racial characteristics. Raol here has to be a Celtic type from 2,000 BCE Europe. His family has black hair, blue or greenish eyes, and very fair skin that does not tan. They have deep set, long eyes, straight, heavy brows, the long Celt nose and prominent bones. Their hair is also fine and straight. In the story, Raol is perceived by others as ugly or beautiful, but not "normal" looking with eyes that would burn people, he is so intense and so disgusted with what he sees around him. He is a reformer, stronger that the people around him and a berserk. He is also a brilliant musician and hates being a warrior. He does not have any gentle feelings, but hates or loves with a brutality that is totally repressed. I had to show all this in his face, but make the predominant characteristic of the young Raol to be that of the reformer or the man with vision.

I wanted to make Raol a man of God without a god. He is a MORAL man, or a man who will die rather than violate his code. He is a man of few words who loves women, music, and poetry but also excels at all the sports and is a master of strategy and warfare. He is a highly educated man and a man for whom honor is not a word, but life itself.

Gradually, I am getting close to my goal of being able to write about my own people while ignoring the values that I find so difficult to understand. More than anything else, I want to give this vision to young people (people of all ages) of the beauty of MAN as a man, as an angelic part of God, if you will, the Michael of the Flaming Sword, the man who is both a poet and an engineer and a fighter. The kind of man that is almost dead in our culture or the man who would die before he crawled. A man like Howard Roark, or maybe more like Stephen Mallory or Ellis Wyatt.

Here is a segment of the book, showing something of Nick Stanford, who plays the character of King Raol Aveldonacc.

He had watched the girls' archery contest a moment earlier with great joy. The girls used shorter bows and competed for accuracy and speed rather than distance and power and elegance.
A woman should be accurate and fleet of foot and word, he thought. A man should be precise with power, saying little, but meaning more in his one word than a woman could in a whole conversation. Men were meant for elegance, standing, looking, watching: arrogant and beautiful, while the women ran around them, hens scratching in the dirt, lovely in their movement as men are in their stillness.
He remembered what he had learned of the Holly and their goal of being forever caught in the moment of thrust and the singing release of the spear, poised, silent, yet taut and powerful in the space between movement.
A man is stillness.
Nick did not look at the target, knowing that a true arrow is already in the target of the mind. To shoot, one had to already have shot. The string snapped and vibrated. He watched instead the breath-catching beauty of the arrow flight, feeling himself the arrow, shot by god, set free into the sun and air and blue, blue reach of sky. He stood, silent and still, showing the audience the soul of skill itself: the precision, the singing of the silence. As soon as he moved all would be lost and the audience would clap and cry out as they then evaluated his shot, not by its action, but by its results.
Nick knew that he had hit the eye of the target where the other princes had shot wide or near of the impossible distance. He turned away; the moment was over. It was as if he had died: he felt that silence of ending with a great grief that was still, bowed, broken.
It was over.
Then he resented the rush of time that pulled him out of eternity and made him part of the crying crowd and the other shooter's appraisals and fears of doing not nearly so well.
It is only about the moment, he thought. Then even that feeling was lost in the rush of girls and youths who rushed up to congratulate him. He felt himself swept up by them, moved and moving, lost in the herd of chattering, high voices clamoring for his attention.

It is hard for me to express that I want to give young readers this meme set, this heroism, this beauty of man that is passing away from us. It is my life's work to show through the arts what is the highest in man, that which makes him the most beautiful of God's creations.