Children Understand Agency at an Early Age

According to a recent article on PNAS, one year old toddlers understand the difference between disorder created by an animate object and that created by an inanimate object.

Here’s the abstract:

The world around us presents two fundamentally different forms of patterns: those that appear random and those that appear ordered. As adults we appreciate that these two types of patterns tend to arise from very different sorts of causal processes. Typically, we expect that, whereas agents can increase the orderliness of a system, inanimate objects can cause only increased disorder. Thus, one major division in the world of causal entities is between those that are capable of “reversing local entropy” and those that are not. In the present studies we find that sensitivity to the unique link between agents and order emerges quite early in development. Results from three experiments suggest that by 12 mo of age infants associate agents with the creation of order and inanimate objects with the creation of disorder. Such expectations appear to be robust into children’s preschool years and are hypothesized to result from a more general understanding that agents causally intervene on the world in fundamentally different ways from inanimate objects.

Here’s the DOI:

(For those humanists who don’t know what a DOI is: we need them.)

“These Dance Moves Are Irresistible”

On the one hand, studies like this fascinate me for the territories they explore, as well as the territories they reveal for exploration by methods not previously imagined, and frustrate me because they seem to assume universality of results even when their data set is so limited.

Briefly: “Evolutionary psychologist Nick Neave of Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne wondered whether there was something about male human dancing that impressed females as well. … So he and colleagues cut out the effect of physical appearance by using motion-capture technology, like the techniques moviemakers use to make digital characters. … A computer used data on the location of the markers to construct an avatar of each man. … [and] Heterosexual women watched the videos and rated them according to whether the man was a good dancer or a bad dancer.”

Click the link above to see the videos.

Rethinking the relationship between physical and digital

In most discourses about the relationship between the physical and the virtual, or digital, worlds, e.g. books, there is an assumption that the digital version will supersede the physical. (There are a number of interesting conversations about those things that will be better left to the physical, especially in terms of books, but that’s for another time.) [*Editions volumiques*]( is a development shop that seems to be one of the few to get that the advent of the digital affords us the opportunity to re-think the relationship between virtual and physical dimensions. The link above will take you to their website where you can preview a number of their projects:

* *Pawn* is a dynamic board game, somewhat like the old text adventure games, e.g. Zork, where you move a piece on your iPhone and different options pop up near it.
* *Pirate* takes the opposite tack: you move your iPhone around on a paper map and interact with other ships, i.e. other phones.
* *The Night of the Living Dead* attempts to turn the physical book into a linked narrative, a la the early experiments in hyperfiction. (Really, only _Hopscotch_ did that somewhat well to my mind, but I could be proved wrong rather easily.)
* *Labyrunthe* pursues this in an even more elaborate physical form, resembling the cube folding puzzles from standardized tests at time.
* *Duckette* plays with e-ink to make an interactive game.
* *Kernel Panic* … I don’t quite get.

But you should definitely go check these things out for yourself. Each project has a flash animated preview that is short and fun just to watch.

Bateson on structures

During transformative moments in one’s thinking, I find that I turn to the writers and thinkers who first inspired me to examine the human condition more closely. In my case, the usual suspects are Heidegger, Bateson, Bakhtin, and Levi-Strauss. (And that’s something of the order in which I encountered them.) A recent survey of cyborgs and cybernetics on the web, [50 POSTS ABOUT CYBORGS][50], reminded me of one of my favorite essays by Gregory Bateson, which has, to my dismay, remained critically under-appreciated or under-read, “Style, Grace, and Information in Primitive Art.” In particular, they pulled a great quote from the essay:

> No organism can afford to be conscious of matters with which it could deal at unconscious levels.

If you want to read the essay for yourself, it’s available via [Google Books][gb] — the link is to a search for the quote which takes you to the essay as it appears in an anthology on the anthropology of art.


What Is Up with Apple’s Pages File Sizes

I am about halfway through typing up my notes from the NEH Institute, and I am getting a little frustrated with my viewing options in my beloved OmniOutliner. And so I think to myself, “Self, you’ve just finished writing a decent-sized document in Pages. It now has an outline view. Why not try it out?”

And so I export an RTF from OmniOutliner — because Pages does not recognize OPML documents (and Word won’t either) — and open the RTF document in Pages. Okay, it kept the formatting but it doesn’t know what lines are headings, subheadings, etc. I can live with that.

What I can’t quite get my head around, however, is the sudden change in file size:

OPML, RTF, and Pages

  • OmniOutliner document: 12KB
  • Exported RTF document: 25KB
  • Resulting Pages document: 197KB

That’s an 800% increase over the RTF document and a whopping 1640% increase over the original file.

And for the sake of reference, the same file as a Word DOCX is 96KB.

Great googly moogly. I have to assume that both Word and Pages are inserting a whole bunch of infrastructure “just in case” it’s needed later. What all that is is not yet clear to me, but I hope to do some exploration in the next few days and I’ll get back to you on what I find.

Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne in 1910

Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne on 23 April 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The Purpose of Civilization

Reading _A Logic Named Joe_ using [Stanza]( is producing some great quotes. From “The Pirates of Zan”:

> “Do you realize,” he asked, “that the whole purpose of civilization is to take the surprises out of life, so one can be bored to death? That a culture in which nothing unexpected ever happens is in what is called its ‘golden age’? That when nobody can even imagine anything happening unexpectedly, that they later fondly refer to that period as the ‘good old days’? … Government … is an organization for the suppression of adventure. Taxes are, in part, the insurance premiums one pays for protection against the unpredictable.”