Quality 1, Beauty

Note: This is a selection from Quality, a tdaxp series.

quality
Photo Courtesy Despair.com

Dramatically overestimating me, Bill from Dawn’s Early Light asked me to take a look at an interesting Economist article on biased judging in Europe’s version of American Idol.

What makes a good song? Lyrics, melody and rhythm have their place, of course, but for entrants of the Eurovision Song Contest on May 21st, geopolitics may be the decisive factor. Neil Johnson and his colleagues at Oxford University have gathered voting data from 12 years worth of Eurovision Song Contests in order to analyse the links between different countries, and their “compatibility” with each other. These data confirm what many already suspected: that the contest is not always about the quality of the songs. The research, published in arXiv, an online archive more usually devoted to papers about physics, has shown the contest also has a deeper meaning, and reveals how “European” each country is. Despite its Eurosceptic image, for instance, the data suggest that Britain is very much in tune with the rest of Europe. Supposedly Europhile France, by contrast, is actually out of kilter with many of its European cousins.

Hmmm…….. “What makes a good song?” the article asks. “The contest is not always about the quality of the songs,” it continues. Interesting. But anyway…

Dr Johnson and his colleagues picked the Eurovision contest for their analysis because it is largely free of economic and governmental bias, and does not depend on income, on education or (much) on language. This, they argue, makes it a good measure of compatibility between countries, capturing something of the underlying character and mood of a given country at a given time. If all were fair and equal, and judges had similar musical tastes, any given song should receive a similar score from all countries, with terrible songs garnering few points and good songs many. In reality, though, some dreadful dirges get a few ridiculously high scores, while better ditties receive a smattering of surprisingly low ones.

When the article says it “is not always about the quality of the songs,” it begs the question: what is quality? In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig has his protagonist ponder this

It wasn’t until three o’clock in the morning that he wearily confessed to himself that he didn’t have a clue as to what Quality was, picked up his briefcase and headed home.

Later, in more depth

Quality — you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others — but what’s the “betterness”? — So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?

The Economist‘s article on pop idols spirals into philosophical madness!

Bet you weren’t expecting that!

Zen‘s hero is a lecturer of rhetoric in a state university, and he tries something the the British economics newspaper also realized

To reinforce the idea that they already knew what Quality was he developed a routine in which he read four student papers in class and had everyone rank them in estimated order of Quality on a slip of paper. He did the same himself. He collected the slips, tallied them on the blackboard and averaged the rankings for an overall class opinion. Then he would reveal his own rankings, and this would almost always be close to, if not identical with the class average. Where there were differences it was usually because two papers were close in quality.

Compare to the article text:

If all were fair and equal, and judges had similar musical tastes, any given song should receive a similar score from all countries, with terrible songs garnering few points and good songs many

If averaging favorites works for college freshmen in Montana, it should be good enough for the European pop-literati!

One time trying to define quality, Zen‘s hero seems to endorse an American-Idol-like process for deciding what “quality” is

He didn’t know, but he did know that by subtracting Quality from a picture of the world as we know it, he’d revealed a magnitude of importance of this term he hadn’t known was there. The world can function without it, but life would be so dull as to be hardly worth living. In fact it wouldn’t be worth living. The term worth is a Quality term. Life would just be living without any values or purpose at all.

“That’s the look. That sums it. Squareness. When you subtract quality you get squareness. Absence of Quality is the essence of squareness.

But there are crueler judges than hipsters. Other teachers ask him if Quality exists objectively, in items themselves, or subjectively, in the mind of man

“This was brought about in response to Phædrus’ wild meanderings about Quality when the English faculty at Bozeman, informed of their squareness, presented him with a reasonable question: “Does this undefined `quality’ of yours exist in the things we observe?” they asked. “Or is it subjective, existing only in the observer?” It was a simple, normal enough question, and there was no hurry for an answer.

Neither option is valid – the hero is on the horns of a dilemma

Because if Quality exists in the object, then you must explain just why scientific instruments are unable to detect it. You must suggest instruments that will detect it, or live with the explanation that instruments don’t detect it because your whole Quality concept, to put it politely, is a large pile of nonsense.

On the other hand, if Quality is subjective, existing only in the observer, then this Quality that you make so much of is just a fancy name for whatever you like.”

The author demolishes both options in turn

But it turned out to be false. The Quality that he and the students had been seeing in the classroom was completely different from the qualities of color or heat or hardness observed in the laboratory. Those physical properties were all measurable with instruments. His Quality…”excellence,” “worth,” “goodness”…was not a physical property and was not measurable. He had been thrown off by an ambiguity in the term quality. He wondered why that ambiguity should exist, made a mental note to do some digging into the historic roots of the word quality, then put it aside. The horn of the dilemma was still there.

What the classical formalists meant by the objection “Quality is just what you like” was that this subjective, undefined “quality” he was teaching was just romantic surface appeal. Classroom popularity contests could determine whether a composition had immediate appeal, all right, but was this Quality? Was Quality something that you “just see” or might it be something more subtle than that, so that you wouldn’t see it at all immediately, but only after a long period of time?

A dilemma is like a charging bull, and either horn can kill you. If a bull is aggressive, you can turn (and be gored), throw sand in his eyes (try to trick it using a logical fallacy), sing it to sleep (answer that you, unlike the questioner, are not smart enough to know), or go through the horns. The first stage is noting that quality is a larger than an individual

He noted that although normally you associate Quality with objects, feelings of Quality sometimes occur without any object at all. This is what led him at first to think that maybe Quality is all subjective. But subjective pleasure wasn’t what he meant by Quality either. Quality decreases subjectivity. Quality takes you out of yourself, makes you aware of the world around you. Quality is opposed to subjectivity.

Finally, the breakthrough. What is Quality? Answer:

I don’t know how much thought passed before he arrived at this, but eventually he saw that Quality couldn’t be independently related with either the subject or the object but could be found only in the relationship of the two with each other. It is the point at which subject and object meet.

As a Computer Scientist, I loved reading Zen and its sequel, is that they complement network theory so well.

Entity-Relationship networks are an old database concept

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Two Entities And Their Relationship

To see how this works, let’s backtrack earlier in the book where Pirsig writes

He remembered [philosopher John Locke]’s statement that no object, scientific or otherwise, is knowable except in terms of its qualities. This irrefutable truth seemed to suggest that the reason scientists cannot detect Quality in objects is because Quality is all they detect. The “object” is an intellectual construct deduced from the qualities. This answer, if valid, certainly smashed the first horn of the dilemma, and for a while excited him greatly.

In Computer Science terms, you would say that an unconnected object is meaningless. To put it slightly differently, an object without a semantic network has no knowable purpose.

medium_quality_nets_img0.jpg
An object, existing meaninglessly
Its potential is unknown because its qualities are unknown

Now let’s build a diagram that shows meaning — a semantic network. First, we will show a semantic network showing an entity and a list of things it likes. Remember that according to Locke, it is through these qualities that it is knowable.

medium_quality_nets_img2.jpg
An object, existing meaningfully
Its semantic network lets us know the entity

Now, a second semantic networking showing a second entity and a list of things it has

medium_quality_nets_img3.jpg
Another object, existing meaningfully
A different semantic network shows us different information

If we tie these together, we get something special. It can be called a semantic internet, or a world of discourse or even a database.

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Two connected semantic networks
Now we have a world

To tie this all back together…

Helena Paparizou won the Eurovision 2005 song contest. Judging from the song recording and her official photo

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The Bashful Helena, on the floor
Courtesy helenapaparizou.com

we can “instantiate” (fill in) our semantic network with

  • Entity 1 as Eurovision Judge
  • Entity 2 as a Miss Paparizou’s winning song, “My Number One”
  • Attribute 1 as “energetic singing”
  • Attribute 2 as “slutty singer”

We get

medium_quality_nets_img5.jpg
Quality is the overlap between two semantic networks

The more relations between two entities, the more quality the relationship has. A song cannot have “quality” by itself, just as a listener cannot have “quality.” The song and the listener make the quality together.

Technically, our semantic network is just a more complex version of our original E-R diagram

medium_quality_nets_img1.jpg
Quality is the Relation between two Entities

but by breaking down the relation into semantic relationships, we see so much more.

Also note that your semantic network determines the quality you will experience. This is another way of saying that your relations define you. As Pirsig wrote

In a sense, he said, it’s the student’s choice of Quality that defines him. People differ about Quality, not because Quality is different, but because people are different in terms of experience. He speculated that if two people had identical a priori analogues they would see Quality identically every time. There was no way to test this, however, so it had to remain just speculation.

Quality makes life worth living. Quality makes life. What a dry meaningless horror the world would be if we were alone!

The Jesuit-educated Ortega y Gasset said the same thing

I am myself and my circumstance

as did the early 17th century English Catholic philosopher John Donne

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

So why do some nations seem to vote in groups in Eurovision? Because they have quality (very meaningful — thick semantic network) relationships. Quality between nations, quality between nations and songs, quality everywhere!

But does this mirror my earlier modeling of Europe? That’s a post for a different time…

Update: Slashdot picks up the story.

Bibliography

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert Pirsig, 1 April 1984, http://www.virtualschool.edu/mon/Quality/PirsigZen/.

Musical chairs,” Economist, 19 May 2005, http://economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3984046 (from By Dawn’s Early Light).


Quality, a tdaxp series, has five parts:
The First Part, Beauty
The Second Part, Friction
The Third Part, Seas
The Fourth Part, Inlets, Lakes, and Streams
The Fifth Part, The Magic Cloud

John R. Boyd’s "Patterns of Conflict" Brief

While discussing my attempt to understand PISRR in 4GW, Chet Richards of Defense and the National Interest suggested that I focus on some slides on late United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s epic brief, “Patterns of Conflict.” I took about four to read it and left astounded. What Thomas P.M. Barnett’s brief is to globalization, Boyd’s is to war.

I used the reconstructed Powerpoint

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though a facsimile of the slides is also available

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Over the next few weeks I will try to post on topics in Patterns of Conflict, to help me better understand this work.


I also took the the following unsolvable cryptogram of notes. Cryptic, neh?

warning: waterfall of victories creates failure, slide 40
warning: top-down attacks, pg 49
pro-waterfall: pg 65
agitprop/we-can-do-it 68
daily-kos-extremism pg 69
fake orders in politics 71
need for delegation 73
long political training during peace — then what about insurgencies?: 75
Schwerpunkt — Future Worth Creating? or Heart of the Beast?
fractals: 80s
quickly, Blitz 4GW not possible? 88
alien atmosphere, hence syphilis?: 91
need for popular early causes, agitprop, also SC ’00 decision?: 92
Reharmonize population BEFORE victory? Too much “capital” needed?: 96
Was SA guerrilla unsuccessful? How does that effect analysis: 98
similarity between 4GW/NCW: 102
saving delay: 106
need to help Sunnis: 108
my Dean experience: 109
Clinton/DNC as moral counter-guerrilla?/ different from GWs? 111
Kerry v Kos: 116
Overload/strategic despair 118
Human rights / moral conflict 119
similarities / differences to global guerrillas: 121
Parts of moral isolation / Aaron’s nightmare /evolutionary: 123
Kerry v Kos (again) 124
horizontal rule sets 125
FAA = FUD? what about MUM? 126
of DA, in ooda, GPASC 128
SDDOS == PISRR in different order?, Centralize/Decentralize 129
… but what about adversary’s successful? super-enemies? 130
“paths of least resistance” — in Senate, Reid is resisting or attempt to create new channel? 133
how does “moral fiber” relate in corrupt world of politics? 134
“Categories of Ruin” 136
“mop up or absorption” – marginalization or absorption in politics? 137
“penetrate [Pisrr] his being” / Full Spectrum 138
“end conflict” make sense in politics? non-ideological times? 140
PNM Grand Strategy 141
“internal harmony” – Larry’s electron comments 142
is “generous terms” in politics possible? 143
“some unifying vision” A Future Worth Creating / higher level than Schwepunkt 144
conspiracy/”theocracy” theories 149
strengthen channel and filibuster 150
“baited retreats” in politics 152
“senior commanders” is plural — lack of one authority possible/advisable? who are political anti-tankmen? 153
projected mental image/”theocracy” — both form AND temp 156
equilv of Barbarossa mistakes in politics? 171
encourage conspiracy theories 176
implies many technoguerillas? 177
“unsolvable cryptogram” – warns of popularizing strategy (Bush vagueness in GWOT?) 179

Download either the new powerpoint or original pdf, and learn a lot!