Thursday, 27 November 2014

Vanity press, academic style

Vanité
Hans Memling ca. 1433-1494
Pay for publishing vanity presses have been around for a long time, but when I saw that some journals had started charging their authors several hundred dollars just to see their paper published, I started to wonder about the quality of their publications. Perhaps a better paper on some subject might have written by someone who did not want to pay any such fees. Now it seems that some published papers are not even read and the "peer-review process" consists, at the most, of a machine reading to see if the paper just looks like a real paper in its format.

Nearly twenty years ago, a machine generated academic paper was published as a hoax. You can read all about it here, and find an unending supply of other such fantasy papers here.

Fortunately for the public, a safeguard is in place so that no one will unwittingly find such faked papers. While the title will be advertised, there will be a fee (usually around $40) to actually read it. Of course, being slightly curious about something rarely justifies spending $40 so no great harm is done to the public at all.

News writers discovered long ago that all that the public really requires is something like "experts say that..." without having to give any explanation for their opinion. Of course, no income is generated by this process, and "publish or perish" still exists so vanity publishers need not worry too much.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Paperwork

Now I remember why I don't like December: it's still November and I'm already drowning in paperwork. Every December I have to fill out a couple of annual reports but with my retirement this year and its unexpected complications I have a stack of forms and requests for information on my desk that is much higher than other Decembers.

It's not just the forms that bothers me although I really dislike filling out any forms, it's that I have to get copies of various things, do photocopying, arrange for printing (I have not even owned a printer for years), and worse of all, I will undoubtedly have to explain (in person as well as by letter) why everything is complicated this year and what the loans from the Provincial government are all about.

Despite being distracted by all of this, there has been a little relief in the confusion: two days ago, a new form arrived for me to fill out. It was not anything difficult, but there was no reply envelope enclosed and I thought I would have to go downtown to buy envelopes and stamps (I try to do most things on line, by phone or email). Then yesterday, I came home from rushing about to find a follow-up letter saying I could fill out an online report instead. One regular form is asking for less information than usual. Is this streamlining or did someone forget something? The last time that happened it was because of the latter and I barely made the deadline because of the oversight. I suppose I'll have to phone them (and navigate through the button-pushing of their automated message system before being put on hold listening to annoyingly chirpy Christmas music for half an hour).

Christmas! Right, I'm behind in my Christmas planning/shopping too. I really don't like December.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Pedigreed "Abrincatui" stater on Triton sale

A very rare type Xn (formerly Abrincatui) Armorican billon stater is listed in the January, 2015 Triton Auction in New York.
Series Xn coins have a wild set of die links and this very early obverse is paired with a reverse die by another hand and probably about a year later. It is most likely the finest example of its type known.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Good news from the scriptorium

The processing of my retirement pension forms continues slowly. Apparently, all the information about people my age has yet to be computerized and thus has to be handled the old way, so of course the vellum has to be prepared and the quill pens have to be kept sharp. My daughter tells me that they have discovered that I was eligible for a benefit that expired when I became sixty-five, but it will be paid to me retroactively in a lump sum. I don't yet know if this will mean thousands of extra dollars or just enough for lunch.

Meanwhile (the faster) Provincial government is loaning me enough to keep me going while the Federal government monks continue to labour away in the old wing of the scriptorium. So it's good news all round.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Panaceas

CFL bulb
photo: PiccoloNamek
Fluorescent lighting. It makes you look and feel your worst; it can flicker and make annoying noises, and if that is not enough, it can add mercury to landfill sites. But using it will save a small amount on your electrical bill. Most importantly, you can feel good about conserving energy, so you won't have to feel bad about your half-empty deep-freeze, your electrical tools, sound system, buying a new car every two years and keeping up with fashions.

Of course, there is information out there that says things are not that bad. For example, there is only about four milligrams of mercury in a CFL bulb. There are a million people in my city and if everyone used up just two bulbs each year that would mean that only four kilos of mercury will enter the landfill sites each year. What harm could four kilos of mercury do, or even forty over ten years?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Alternative realities

Which direction to take?
Photo: Fredlyfish4
Continuing with ideas that connect to such things as the Zeitgeist movement and the Venus project, it occurs to me that such alternative realities are like destinations written on a sign post at a junction of hiking trails. We might have set out for a particular destination and then just followed the signposts at each junction or we might have had no destination in mind at the start but then followed a trail toward something that seems interesting. We might also start with the first and then change our minds and follow the second. If we see a destination that looks interesting but is 20km away, we might wonder if the hike will be worth such a long walk. The terrain will also play an important role. A trail might be steeper than we thought, or it might enter a waterlogged section, then the decision whether to continue or not will be based. also, on how far we have already come.

More serious thought is given to the paths we take in life and most people have the idea that their future should be planned out far more carefully than a day's hike. Still, though, we encounter interesting signposts along the path. One person might get a good job at a company and decide to stay with it because of the security it gives, while someone else will use it as a stepping stone and take a number of jobs over their life. Most often, the latter person does much better. It has happened that the first sort of person finds that their company downsizes or even goes bankrupt late in their career. This is usually a disaster for them: they don't look terribly ambitious to a potential new employer, rather they look stuck in their ways. Why would an employer keep offering raises to a person unlikely to quit for any reason? The person that can flit from one company to another is always looking for reasons for change and for new opportunities, but the other person is hoping that nothing changes and probably will not pick up on bad indicators for their company.

Having a utopia as a goal is even more dramatic than a mere career: it involves a vast number of people; it will take much longer (likely longer than a single life), and it will cost an almost unimaginable amount of money. Changing one's direction after twenty years or so of following a utopian idea is not just difficult for one's future but it will most likely result in "withdrawal symptoms" from leaving a way of life. This is the fate of many people who leave cults.

Evolution favors adaptability through frequent small changes over time in the environment and in the organism. Massive extinctions are the usually the result of a cataclysmic change in the environment affecting organisms who have no history of that sort of change. If it had happened before, the organism would have been killed. There can be no adjustments made for a novel event; no epigenetic switches created to be triggered by such an event.

It strikes me that if your ultimate goal is to build cities with modular residences and offices and sophisticated transportation and communication systems to link everything together, then perhaps first try selling a few of these modules that can be set up within any current system. Perhaps people will like them, perhaps they will not. If the modular city presents few attractive places for people to congregate, and going for an evening walk offers no interesting destinations; if life becomes an endless stream of functionality with little joy, then your city will be a failure. Then what are you going to do?

Tomorrow, panaceas for urges to advance. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Viewpoints

Ask anyone who was the most notable painter of the Italian Renaissance and the chances are the reply will be "Leonardo da Vinci". Why would this be? Is it because of Mona Lisa's smile or because of the inventions and anatomical studies in his notebooks? I think mainly the latter, but that's just a personal opinion. As painters go, his production was minimal. His methods were sometimes more than just questionable and his attempted mural of the Battle of Anghiari was a complete disaster. Inventive? Absolutely!
Technical ability? Well... . On the mythos-logos scale he was further toward mythos than his contemporary artists.

I think that much of Leonardo's current popularity is due to his presentation of various mechanical inventions because we live in an age of technology and when we see such inventions in the past, it plays into some neo-Darwinist ideas about us being "on the right track". Science, of course, is also the pampered pet of the modernist who does not want to hear too much about the dreams, intuition and hunches of the really great scientists who can be just as eccentric as many artists. The modernist has his nose pressed firmly against the window-pane of science and logos.

My favorite Renaissance painter is Raphael, who not only produced an enormous amount of work during his short life, but who was also a great technician. He was also appointed as the Inspector of Antiquities in Rome, so his interests also leaned toward archaeology. I have noticed that a number of Raphael paintings have been rediscovered and after removing centuries of grime and bad varnishing, they seem to be in very good condition. Although I did not know about his appointment when I first decided that he was my favorite, his interests in the past and in architecture certainly added to my appreciation of him.

Our views of the past are considerably influenced by our attitudes in the present, and our interests are shaped by our personality types. The extravert is drawn toward archaeology because it mostly deals in material remains and being a materialist, that is the sort of evidence that is most trusted. Many archaeologists believe in the existence of an archaeological record, because they cannot find value in viewpoints too different from their materialistic views of existence. Introverts feel more comfortable with the idea of archaeological evidence because they are more likely to understand the values of different viewpoints. Viewpoints are of the psyche, and the extravert knows very little about that subject, so the idea of an archaeological record is not just comfortable but is projected because it fits in with their ideas about reality. Those archaeologists who are introverts are more likely to be critical of modernism and some have rebelled against the views of the modernists and have taken a postmodern viewpoint.

I became a postmodernist after reclassifying Coriosolite coins (staters). It did not take me long to discover that there was something seriously wrong with classification, itself. Reading Foucault's The Order of Things: an archaeology of the human sciences enabled me to understand my misgivings, but I was already heading in that direction since I read David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order. In his introduction, Bohm says:
"I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete, but which is in an unending process of movement and unfoldment."
One hears some archaeologists talk about how when an object is apart from its archaeological context, it loses 90% of its information. This idea is not science, it is scientism. No one can determine a percentage of something unless the whole is already understood, and what constitutes knowledge is dependent on viewpoints too. It also reveals that their idea of what constitutes context is severely limited. Such people have accused me of being interested only in objects as they obviously have never read Bohm, either, and believe that an object holds a discrete position in reality rather than just being anything that we can name. An archaeological site is as much an object as a coin.

Modernist ideas of utopia are really just for modernists. Like their city Brasilia, it's not really for everyone. But they do like to project.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

One size does not fit all

Any individual, society or belief occupies a point on the above scale at any time. That point is never static but the speed of its motion is faster toward the centre. Think of it like a metronome or like trying to balance the end of a pole on one finger: providing minor adjustments are continuously made then a person or society is "well balanced". Within a society, individuals will be positioned in various places on the scale and together they will form a bell-curve. I tried to represent this idea in the diagram by using the tonal gradation. If minor adjustments are not continuously made, however, the drift will continue in the same direction until there is a wild swing, at some point, in the opposite direction.

If an individual is positioned too far toward the mythos end then the society will view them as a psychopath who has little grounding in reality. In the extreme, such people will have no contact with reality at all and will not be able to function in the society. If they are somewhere between the mythos end and the centre, most people will see them as "creatively eccentric":  the "crazy artist", "outsider" or "absent-minded professor" etc. If they are positioned too far toward the logos end, most people will see them as the sociopath or dictator, but if somewhere between the logos end and the centre, they could be a lawmaker or a technologist of some sort ― anything that would require a greater sense of order.

How accurately society perceives people on the edges depends on the position of the society, itself. In a shamanistic society, a person might be seen as having been given a spiritual gift while in an urban society, that same person might be seen as "crazy". each society will have its own way of dealing with such people.

As we cannot see far into the future, we can only accurately predict things fairly close to us in time. So if a society or some aspect of it is too far toward either mythos or logos, its inevitable swing toward its opposite state will come as a surprise: a "black swan event".

If the state of a society is way too far toward one end, its swing to its opposite might never happen because the society might not survive to see it.

Think about these things for a while and ponder the word "utopia", and I will elaborate with examples tomorrow.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Intuition

"The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it Intuition or what you will, the solution comes to you and you don't know how or why".

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

"The only real valuable thing is intuition."

Albert Einstein

It's always gratifying to discover that Albert Einstein is on your side, but it's not too remarkable if the subject is intuition and you are an Introverted Intuitive type. Einstein was an INTP and I'm an INFJ. However, once you go past the Introverted iNtuitive stages of problem-solving, the two types have little in common. Also, these are somewhat approximate, or perhaps average, traits that are recorded in these definitions. There are 16 personality types in the Myers-Briggs typology and billions of separate personalities in the world. For example, the linked INFJ definition opines: "No other personality type is better suited to create a movement to right a wrong, no matter how big or small".

I can't really imagine myself creating a movement to right some wrong although I have supported (but not joined) such movements in the past. My intuition tells me that while movements can do great things, whenever they get too large there is a tendency for them to divide into factions and then spend more time arguing or even fighting over things than actually doing anything.

When the movement is of a type where the individual can have little influence, my interest wanes. When Wayne Sayles invited me to handle the public side of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, I gave it serious thought before I agreed, but then set about things with enthusiasm. After helping to get overwhelming public support against U.S. import restrictions on ancient coins, I discovered that the public opinion process was just a sham and was categorically ignored by the U.S. government. Even worse, I realized that the U.S. government's aim in these procedures was not to protect "cultural heritage" but to obtain concessions from various countries by doing so, These concessions were secret and even the court system did nothing to bring them before public scrutiny. People were "buying a pig in a poke", but to add insult to injury, it was a forced sale.  I realized that my task was redundant and I resigned. It seemed to me that the legal route at least had some chance of success, but minority groups are mere cannon-fodder for political/economic purposes. Our opposition, though, was even worse off because they thought that they were being given greater credit. Sooner or later, their own interests will be squashed in the same manner for some other political/economic gain.

The Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project have split. Various reasons have been offered but I tend to think that this is evolutionary. Such splitting is quite common in belief systems and thus organized religions are the commonest expression of that. The degree of agreement between two sects of the same religion acts as the fuel for hostilities and religious wars are most noticed between beliefs that share more things. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (chronologically sorted) not only share certain beliefs, prophets etc, but are often in close geographical proximity, so mutual distrust is combined with the opportunity for conflict between the great religions and between various sects of such and nationalism is always there to fan the flames by adding xenophobia to the mix.

Unlike Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli was an extravert, and he had a big problem with "natural selection" as the numbers did not work out. Christian Creationists have used this to further their own ideas about intelligent design, but now epigenetics has resolved Pauli's problem. Dr. Bruce Lipton has a very interesting take on that subject. I suspect that Dr. Lipton, too, is one of the intuitive types.

More tomorrow.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Fuzziness

I was watching a Zeitgeist Movement's video the other day and the speaker was talking about how the world would be run by computers as they are so "scientific", have no agendas, personal opinions, ambitions and so forth. As he was talking about this, my first thought was "gigantic solar flare". Besides producing really nice northern lights, such things can wreak havoc on electrical equipment. There was a really huge solar flare in the nineteenth century which destroyed the new telegraph communication system. Undoubtedly there were many others before that event, but apart from pretty northern lights, no one would have noticed because there was no use of electricity in the world. Unlike with variable earth conditions, the sun does not get much in the way of external influences and we know that if there was one giant solar flare then there will be others when the same cycle rolls around again. The problem is that we only know of one event and cannot know if the next one will be tomorrow or in the very distant future. All of the eggs in the Zeitgeist basket would become instantly scrambled when that happens. They would not even be able to issue a "Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible" notice. The hill people would be fine, though, and life would go on. Evolution would "select out" the Zeitgeist believers.

The speaker then went on to say how the Computer would weight variables in complex decision making situations. He did not elaborate on that statement or even give the correct term "fuzzy logic" so the audience never got to hear that such algorithms' parameters are set up by people. A computer only does what it has been told (and as we all know, can sometimes screw that up too). It cannot think. When I built my first expert system, I had never heard of expert systems. It was Bob van Arsdell who noted that my identification chart for Coriosolite staters was an expert system. I don't really like the term. Undoubtedly, there are expert systems which mimic the thought processes of an expert, but I built mine very differently. After I had become computerized, I built an html version which eliminated some people's tendency to skip steps in the paper system and thus end up in the wrong place. Ironically, it was people who had some "expertise" who were doing that. Anyone who had no knowledge of the subject matter never failed in getting to the right destination. I have seen expert systems which use fuzzy logic and they are of limited use. For such applications as Zeigeist envisions, they would not work at all, regardless of solar activity. Think about it, a washing machine can deliver water at the right temperature for you laundry, but if your maintenance man had forgotten to turn the cold tap on after doing something, some of your clothes will shrink.

The reason that the more knowledgeable people failed sometimes is because they thought that my system had the same structure as their minds and was acting like an expert. The problem was that I had not built it that way. I had constructed it by sometimes trying for a 50% division of the data, and sometimes by eliminating very short paths to allow for the remaining data to be more easily split according to my 50% goal. It was "organically grown" and resembled some evolutionary biological processes. Unlike my Coriosolite chronologies, it was not entirely built along cladistic lines. (for more information, enter cladistic and expert in the search box in the top bar of this blog).

When the expert system first went online in 1996, there was quite a reaction to it from different sources. Most of them were enthusiastic and from various honest people without sinister agendas, but two of the reactions were of a different sort. One was from a man from southeast Asia who claimed to be a student and wanted me to help him understand what was going on under the hood, so to speak. His English was not very good, but there was something about his message that made me suspicious, so I tracked him down. He was not a student; his English was very good; he owned a company that built expert systems.

The next response was from Lockheed Martin and written by a woman who officiously demanded that I tell her how I built it. At first I thought that this might mean business for us, but Carrie looked at their web page and saw that they were emphasizing ethics. She told me that companies who would go to some lengths to emphasize their ethics most likely did not have any. I started to wonder if it would be good plan to have dealings with a company who could build a missile that knew where I lived. I took a leave out of southeast Asian friend's book and replied "I did it in html". She knew she had been "found out" and did not ask me to elaborate.

What neither of us knew at the time was revealed several years later by a Texas I.T. developer who flew up to Calgary to talk to us about my new map technology (I had been able to produce more levels of easily understandable data in a map than was previously thought possible). He explained that this would have to be first introduced into the US private sector before it could be offered to the military as, otherwise, it would fall under their official secrets policies and could never again be used commercially. His interest in my technology was, ultimately, for military use.

Later, I was producing maps for a huge utilities company and they tried to reverse engineer my methods (unsuccessfully -- it  cannot be reverse engineered) after violating our contract. After we started to spend thousands of dollars on lawyers, the company went into a partnership with the Canadian government to destroy us. After all, the utility company paid the government a huge amount of tax money. One of the government minions told my wife on the phone: "We know what we are doing, we are putting you out of business." Our bank accounts (by then most of our money had gone to expensive lawyers) were seized and our other clients were scared off. Carrie suffered unbearable stress from all of this and as a direct result her breast cancer which had been gone for eight years returned, metastasized, and with its inevitable prognosis of death. A utility company and our own government killed my wife as surely as if they would have used a gun. It was just a slower death. I got off light with a minor heart attack and years of grief. I made two decisions: I would never again conduct business in Canada and my map technology would never be used anywhere. It will die with me (it also has a "perceptual engineering" component and that always worried me as such things can control minds too easily, and can be applied to far more than just maps). The problem with idealism is that it mostly fails to notice the dark side.

But I will end on a light note: Are you troubled by evidence of garden pests? Perhaps you have elephants in your garden. I built this silly little expert system so you can find out. It is full of misunderstood "facts" and absurd observations. All of the drawings and animations are by Carrie. Click here to explore it and to discover if your garden is infested by elephants.

More on the Zeitgeist theme on Monday. Have a great weekend.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Heading for the hills

"Heading for the hills"
photo by Gordon Hatton (Geograph)
I've been thinking about the Zeitgeist movement lately, and while the films certainly make some good points, it is such a broad subject with so many different political and economical factors to consider that I'm not sure if anything much will come from it all. The problems with "movements" is that they are just another aspect of the society which is being criticized and can too easily fall into similar traps. Yet, public opinion seems to have brought about important changes in societies, so perhaps if there are enough movements...

My biggest problem with the Zeitgeist films is that their perspective comes out of high modernism and this has a psychological leaning toward the attitudes of some types of extraverts. So when they imagine that everyone will start to think that way, it is just that: imagination. For example, competitiveness is not due to society acting in erroneous ways, it is part of our evolutionary make-up. I don't think that this can be treated so cavalierly.

Another critic of Zetgeist is James Scott (Yale) and I watched several hours of his talks before picking the one that, I thought, combined enough good points in combination with the sound quality of the video. It is an interesting look at states and comes from James Scott's intimate knowledge of people who have rejected them. There will be more in this theme in subsequent posts, but for now, enjoy the movie.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Jersey "Le Catillon 2" hoard stratigraphy

Coriosolite stater, Series X, group b, coin 6
mint site: east of the River Rance, Brittany
Very few photographs of the recent Jersey hoard coins have yet been made available to the numismatic community, but already, the nature of the hoard appears to confirm the theory I developed more than twenty years ago that the Jersey hoards of Celtic coins are secondary hoards. I use the latter term to describe hoards that consist of groups of coins gathered from diverse locations that had either been stored above ground or previously buried.
The profile of such hoards is easy to recognize if you understand the issues (series) and their internal chronology: each series has a peak in the numbers of coins within the hoard that reveal the relative time they were gathered together and something of the location where this happened. The previous failure to understand the three series as products of different mints occluded their distribution patterns until I reclassified the coinage. The major reattribution was the dominant type in the Jersey hoards formerly given as Class II Coriosolite, but in my new classification as the issue of Viridovix of the Unelli in Normandy (John Hooker, Notes on part of the Le Catillon Hoard purchased by the Société Jersiaise in 1989Société Jersiaise Annual Bulletin for 1993, p. 113-115)

The hoards from Brittany most resemble Gallic War refugee hoards: they are much smaller hoards and the peaks in Series X and Y are more closely aligned than in the Jersey hoards. The Jersey hoards are what I have called "recycling hoards", that is, coins and other material gathered for eventual reprocessing to extract the silver. Jersey was picked as a repository for such coins as Roman ships would have had difficulty landing on Jersey because of shallows, sand bars etc. (pers. comm. Douglas Corbel, Société Jersiaise). It is important to realize that these coins were minted to finance battles with Caesar's troops and no small-market monetary economy existed before or shortly after these coins were struck. After the war, the coins had no function apart from the intrinsic value of the alloy. Colin Haselgrove thinks that the Jersey hoards were deposited sometime in the third quarter of the first century BC, but I maintain that the last hoards would have been contemporary with the Roman destruction of the Coriosolite port at Alet and also with the eventual absence of silver in British Durotriges coinage (Coriosolite coins and billon ingots have been found at Hengistbury Head). In other words, circa 10-20 AD. We both have good reasons for our attributions that are based on different factors.

There are two photographs that show stratigraphy evidence. The first of these is shown here and appears on this blog. I think that these coins were the very first of the hoard found (which was reported as containing a gold coin). The gold coin in the photograph is a "bullet" stater of the Senones to which I would agree with Haselgrove's date of 200-125 BC. This coin must have been an heirloom when it was buried. To the left of the Senones stater is a billon stater variously attributed to the Veneti or a Veneti/Coriosolite Group a "hybrid". some of the confusion over these early billon issues is due to, perhaps, that the same die cutter was employed by different issuers, Coriosolite, Series Xn (formerly Abrincatui) and Veneti. The latter is not as clear to me as the former two. Series Xn is a mess: some dies were reused later after they had been badly damaged and the die links are all over the place. This makes aligning typology and metrology rather tricky. Most of the rest of the coins in the photograph are very rare in the Jersey hoards. These are the coins of Series X, group b (see illustration above). I see eight examples that are certainly group b, but there could be more. The coin to the right of the Senones stater is only partly visible and could be either group c or d. No later coins of Series X (e to g) are to be seen in the photo. By way of comparison, the first Le Catillon hoard contained only 1.7% of the coins of groups b to d (formerly Class V). The commonest type in the big Jersey hoards is Series Z (Viridovix) and is represented by more than 50% in each hoard. Yet, in this photograph, only one Series Z is visible (the oval shaped obverse at the bottom near the right hand corner which only shows the head down to the eyebrow). There are also a couple of quarter staters contemporary with the Coriosolite staters in the photo. If I had seen this group described as a complete hoard I would have said that it probably would have been found in the same general area as the Merdrignac hoard from Brittany.

The other photograph is a complete contrast: mostly Series Y (mint site west of the River Rance) and especially group L, they represent a very small part of the chronology. These coins are more difficult to see and I had to enlarge the photo by several 10% increments in order to get a larger image in decent resolution.

The stratigraphy apparent here is obviously not representative of the other Jersey hoards and we most likely will find other areas where the stratigraphy points to discrete "parcels" within the hoard. Only when the complete hoard is disassembled and properly catalogued will the percentages of each group be fully known, but a cross section might give us some idea of the hoard's complete contents.

Although Jersey does not have a very good record of publishing photographs and providing catalogues of the previous hoards, and many thousands of Coriosolite coins were stolen from the museum and never recovered (I worked with Interpol on that case), This hoard is recent and they will, hopefully, share the photographs with the public along the lines of the British Museum's web site which allows scholars to post photos for non-profit, educational use. The Wikimedia images are all of uncleaned coins and useless for typological studies.

Great care must be taken with the analysis of the "parcels"within the hoard and with the organic/mineral residues on and around the coins in each parcel. It is even possible that a 2,000 year old itinerary might be reconstructed, but just one or two mistakes could negate that possibility.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Annoying words: devolution

3D model reconstruction by Cicero Moraes
I don't like the word "devolution" for any of its definitions. Recently, its main usage has been for the transference of political and economic powers to regions, but let's start with the idea of a retrograde evolution. I don't think such a thing exists at all. An example given in the linked definitions is: "the gradual devolution of the neighbourhood from a thriving community of close-knit families to a drug-ridden slum."

If this was truly devolution than the neighbourhood will have reverted back to the drug-ridden slum which it had been prior to its becoming a "thriving community of close-knit families". In every case I can think of, the community evolved to a drug-ridden slum. Evolution has nothing at all to do with us changing, over time, to some imagined ideal state. It only means that we have adapted to changing conditions. So what happened with the drug-ridden slum? A series of economic situations and mismanagement allowed the houses to fall into disrepair; property prices fell; local opportunities in education and work diminished; most of the community became poor and with little hope for improvement. A few individuals then sought to improve their lot and about the only route for them to take was toward criminal activities. Drugs came to the forefront because a certain segment of the community felt the need to escape from their misery through chemical means. As this was illegal, survival-oriented individuals saw a way that they could lessen their misery by supplying such drugs. They learned to adapt. They evolved.

When I look at Cicero Moraes reconstruction of Homo erectus pekinensis, I can easily believe that this early man was quite capable of adapting to changing conditions. Decades ago, various sorts of hominids were portrayed as unintelligent louts. Slack-jawed and hunched over, they appeared more like legendary monsters than survival-oriented individuals. We had a habit of building ourselves up by denigrating our ancestors. Now we are even starting to wonder if we are actually becoming less intelligent as a species.

For the political usage of the word it is advisable to look at primitive governments (and to take "primitive" as "primal" rather than "less developed along evolutionary lines". When I started looking into ancient Irish Law, I was impressed by how it had evolved to take care of any difficulties on a local level. There seemed no need for police and for prisons: if someone stole your cattle you would be more than compensated, if not by the culprit, then by his family or even by anyone who allowed the stolen cattle to graze on their land. These laws were tailored to local conditions and sought to regain equilibrium in their execution. They were not intended to punish as much as to dissuade people from any wrong-doing. Just because we are now thinking that local and small government works better for everyone  than distant and big government, does not mean that we are devolving, it is just that we allowed ourselves to stray from some survival behaviours of earlier times and now, finally, we have decided to adapt, yet again. It's still evolution, even if it strayed for a long time.

Monday, 10 November 2014

On the nature of research

photo: Asb
A recent Past Horizons article is about the ongoing research in translating the Phaistos disc and features a video with Dr. Gareth Owens who is coordinating research into deciphering the Linear A script.

What I personally found most interesting about the story was not any particular discovery but was its glimpse into the nature of research. Of course, there are many sorts of research from simply asking someone for an opinion through looking at previous research and checking its results. This sort of research is hardly time consuming and very little is invested in it. The research that Dr Owens speaks of with regard to the Phaistos disc and Linear A is another matter entirely. It always takes years and there is little guarantee of success. Often, it takes the work of many people, including specialists from related topics and disciplines. A "researcher" can often thus, more accurately, be called a "research coordinator". On some of the tougher research problems, reference is often made to the Rosetta Stone in looking for an important key to the solution as it was in the video. This key might be discovered through painstaking attention to details; through a hunch, or even through a dream as in the case of the discovery of the benzene ring. I used the phrase "Rosetta Stone" myself in reference to the key which enabled me to discover the chronology of Coriosolite coin die manufacture. When the mind is working very hard on such problems, much of these processes are going on in the unconscious mind and might present their solutions through dreams, visions, or just hunches. Only fools do not take such things seriously.