The Diary of Al-Mu'tasim

My personal journal of comments, reviews, and thoughts concerning the worlds of Aikido, Science, Literature & Fiction, Comics, and whatever strikes my interest.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Code . . . way too much code . . .

I have been steeped in writing code for a neural network simulation for the past week. Things have been kind of lackluster at the new position I've taken up (having just graduated) but it feels good to just work on something, whatever it is and whether or not it will ultimately be useful.

Looking back over the past couple of weeks I'm actually rather astonished that I've spent almost every waking hour writing and working on code for this simulation.

Fortunately, I've had a good review of C++ now, and I can write Python extensions! Even if my simulations turn out to be useless, I've learned a little something.

I want to get some comic reviews up and perhaps expand upon my loose thoughts on Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Nothing New Under the Sun

There's an argument in mathematics that goes as follows:

Every proof follows from a specific sequence of statements, from an initial hypothesis to the desired result. The task for the mathematician is to connect this points with a series of arguments each of which logically and obviously follows from the previous. In order for these implications to be both logical and obvious, it is necessary that each statement is so formulated that every small step along the path of the mathematician's proof is trivial. Since each step is trivial, the result itself can only be described as trivial, and thus we are left with the disheartening realization that all mathematics and every result derived therein, is trivial.

There is an argument that is presented regarding a larger realm of ideas, and is used particularly often (in my experience) in various fields of art, which goes as follows:

Every idea presented today is simply a permutation, or a reimagining, or in someway a reiteration of an idea held by a previous generation. Every story is a retelling of a previous story; every picture a recoloring (if you will) of one older. There are those who take this so far as to produce the odd claim that every concept understood by the human race is, in fact, represented in the Bible.

Proponents of this claim can find a great deal of corroboration in the film industry and amongst other forms of popular entertainment. We find ourselves now in a morass of quite literal reimaginings of previous stories, from outright "remakes" of films like King Kong, to movie presentations of old television shows, like "The Dukes of Hazard".

It seems to me that this argument that there exists no real originality is erroneous for the same reason that the mathematical argument is misleading. It trivializes the very real and important fact that progress is extremely slow. Every person develops their mental picture of the world around them in large part because of the environment in which they develop. Similarly, the artist develops his or her "vision" from the influences of past storytellers and painters.

Originality arises from the accumulation of those so very crucial small steps, the piecing together of previously disjoint links, until such time as a perspective more removed can look at the larger structure and understand the growth that has evolved.

Mark Rein-Hagen pretentiously quoted himself in one of his own books, "Creativity is hiding your sources". People see as new and original that which is not, to them, "trivial". The Matrix is a ubiquitous and contemporary example of exactly this phenomenon.

Real originality connects ideas in novel ways, generating new ones; this brings new approaches, new concepts, and new stories. This kind of originality is present in our world. Sadly, it is apparently not economically feasible. Rather, the recycling of old material in pedestrian ways is more conducive to generating quick revenue.

More troubling, however, is that the triviality argument implies that we, as human beings, have no real growing left to do. Every concept has been elucidated and understood by someone.

How are we to live and breathe when
all is complete, the deed is done
and there is nothing new
under the sun?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

"Agree to Disagree"?

This is an odd phrase, I find. What does it mean? Colloquially, it seems to indicate that a discussion is no longer progressing and time would be better spent on other endeavors. It is a "cease fire", of sorts. This, I think, is an accurate analogy for the use of the phrase in practice. To wit, a "cease fire" indicates no fundamental change in either position or, more importantly, attitude towards the opposing party. This is to be contrasted with a true cessation of hostilities, in which each side comes to terms with the position of the other. In order for this to happen, a certain respect must exist towards and from both sides. Each participant must recognize whatever value, or at the very least the potential for same, lies with the opposing point of view.

Often in Aikido training, an instructor will use the analogy of "look from your opponent's point of view" in order to assist a student in producing the correct body motion for a technique (often a kokyunage). This is, of course, naturally resonant with the prinicples of Aikido, in that one seeks to "harmonize" with an attacker (no longer thought of as an "opponent") in order to neutralize said attacker's aggression. The idea is not to retaliate, but to maintain one's own center, one's own point of view, in the face of aggression, independent of any other parties. It can be said, therefore, that Aikido seeks, above all, to allow the practicioner to "Agree to Disagree" should the need arise.

This might suggest that Aikido supports multiplicity, i.e. it promotes all perspectives as having equal validity. The phrase "Agree to Disagree" seems to carry this colloquial message as well. It renders acceptible that differing parties may. . . well . . . differ. At this level it is both a fine and admirable concept, as well as a necessary one. Indeed, one can argue that Aikido is necessary because we must interact with others, with whom we must inevitably come into conflict (not necessarily physical conflict).

The aspect of the phrase which troubles me is that it carries a connotation that all points of view, all perspectives, are in some sense valid. The question is in what sense this is the case. Is it correct to consider an ill-informed opinion "valid"? It is certain that any point of view is valid to the extent that it is held, but how should this affect our approach to interacting with one another, particularly when practical decisions are impacted by opposing points of view?

Here, then, is the connundrum: on one end, we have multiplicity, the acceptance of all perspectives as equally "true". On the other, we have, for lack of better words, singular dogma: the "one true" perspective. If there were no such thing as objective reality, multiplicity would rule the day. However, we are not dealing with a case of opposites, and singular dogma is just as, if not more, dangerous.

The brain seems to operate by crafting metaphors. Different metaphors, like equivalent theories of physical systems, can achieve similar ends. We can stand in different places and understand the same fundamental truths in different ways, just as we can build and comprehend a variety of models and theories to understand the physical world. Richard Feynman, I believe, was fond of saying that a good theoretical physicist could derive any equation at least three different ways. Truth works in this manner, I think. Multiplicity is a tool, not a philosophical end in and of itself, and certainly not a justification for subjective truth.

The rub, of course, is that perception is always flawed. Still, I have a great deal of trouble "agreeing to disagree" when presented with arguments which are either illogical or contradict certain facts as I understand them. I can negotiate a cease fire, but that is all. A theory which produces rubbish is discarded, and for good reason.

The Road Goes Ever . . . Somewhere . . .

It is my firm intention to post something each day, either here at The Diary of Al-Mu'tasim or on my comics and fiction blog Crisis On Infinite Representations. Anyone who followed my old blog will recall a similar threat. Having graduated, however, I feel in a stronger position to substantiate this threat with more than vociferous chatter to those in my immediate proximity. As before, I aim to use this device as a means of focusing my thoughts as well as practicing the written word.

Thus, much of the time I shan't be able to escape rambling. As the blog develops, though, I hope to produce consistent and potentially useful and entertaining posts for the world at large, i.e. those whose dazed fascination prevents them from browsing away.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Shobukan Dojo

Since moving to Wheaton, I've begun training at the Aikido Shobukan dojo in Washinton, D.C.

I originally began training in Aikido at the University of Chicago Aikido Club, which is unfortunately currently defunct. I was one of several relatively senior students who had the audacity to graduate near-simultaneously. There are two other Aikido Clubs on campus which provide wonderful training opportunities, but the ecumenical focus of the U of C Aikido Club made it rather unique and extraordinary. I'll devote a future post to my thoughts on this story.

Meanwhile, I have an extraordinary place to train! Every morning I attend the 7:00 AM class, taught by a range of instructors. At U of C, it was rare to train with shodan (black belt) and higher training partners. In D.C., it's a normal occurance to train with nidans and sandans! I hope to be here long enough to earn my shodan at this dojo for I fear I will never have a training opportunity like this again. This dojo has an extraordinary amount to teach me.

Both for the interests of whomever may be reading as well as to provide a record of my training progress, I am currently a sankyu (third kyu), which means I'm three belt tests away from shodan (Aikido counts down until shodan, then up). I won't be eligible for another test until April officially, and I hope both I and my instructors think I will be prepared sometime shortly after. I have a lot of work to do with koshinage (hip throw) techniques, though.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Endless new beginnings . . .

If you are here, you see that I have just set up my blogspot blog, moving my blog from the computer which sat under my desk in graduate school. The url is, but at the moment it will do you no good. I'm hoping the comment spam will be easier to deal with over here. Time will tell.

I hope to put up some of my old posts, because I like some of them. In the mean time I shall post as the mood strikes about various topics. Likely the principal subjects will be aikido, comics, fiction, science, and probably the occasional hopefully well-informed political rant.

I promised/threatened to explain the title over at my old blog; I will make the same promise/threat here.