Iain Cameron's Diary
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2007-02-17 - 3:13 p.m.
Listening to a remix of the Tracy Thorn’s new single – so addictive. Try
I have been given a bit of billing in Llulbjana in May – I am rather abashed. Keith B and I worked up the research agenda for the LEONARDO project yesterday and I sent it off to Slovenia, Portugal and Austria. Fingers crossed that we have come up with an angle which spans what we all want to do and what the EC wants to pay for.
I was in Stuttgart on Tuesday watching the Germans leading the Portuguese, the Italians and the Brits on the same trajectory – trying to find some researchable common ground which meets the criteria. This project is much larger than the one I am trying to put together. I have never visited the city before – and indeed I didn’t on that visit. Just the airport a stretch of autobahn, a hotel in some wooded hills and the technical university. Anyway so far so good on this one. The Germans have to have 10 pages ready by the end of March.
On the way to Stuttgart and back I read Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities as recommended by James McG from his work on Sgt P. Its an amazing piece of work. James C says it’s a standard text but it doesn’t seem that standard to me. One big idea is that the printing of books in national languages as opposed to Latin helped crystallise national self consciousness over the last 400 years or so. James McG’s excellent suggestion is that some of this approach can be carried over to frame an understanding of works in other media.
I have been wondering why we seem to be wondering about science these days. The Hacking book has arrived – written in the early 80s – and a really good read. He dwells on the measurement of the unit electric charge – a truly brilliant experiment. Apparently this was extended not so long ago so that fractional charges could be measured – smaller sub atomic particles making their presence felt. In this way they shift towards being ‘really there’ rather than conjectures required by the maths. Such phenomena start as being obscure and very had to realise but in some cases they get ‘tamed’ and routinised and we end up relying on them in technological artefacts.
I have come across the suggestion that there may be two basic attitudes. We can take it all for granted. Because we finally end up with gizmos like microwave ovens we can be passive consumers of the truths offered by science. There’s an alternative more democratic line of reasoning which says that everyone can to some degree participate in the process.
It seems that the Japanese take this further than anyone else – because they expect people at the bottom of organisations to be always on the look out for improvements in the processes that they are supporting. I keep coming back to the idea that in some cases what people think about the process is a key determinant of the process. In the Japanese case what people think about the process is a source of improvement in the process and this is much more democratic than waiting for some expert to come along and tell you what’s best.
This radical democratic idea about participation seems to be in Deming too and seems to flow from a strain of American utopian thought. Possibly it goes back to a puritan idea about religious truth being directly accessible to all. One of the issues here is about convergence. One can picture a world where it is believed that everyone has access to truth and everyone goes off and discovers their own separate truth and none of it fits together terribly well. Its easy to picture this because maybe we are living in such a world.
Imagine another world where there was agreement about methods for arriving at truth – and faith that the use of these methods generally resulted in convergence on a single truth. This faith could be based on past evidence that the methods generally made things better.
I have been listening to Mozarts’ G minor 5tet. It sounds like he is losing that faith.
Andrew K has posted some new appendices on Pink Moon on his site – well worth a careful read through.