Fire, questions

OK, so I have sent out four emails to researchers about the circadian shift fire control provided to see if they feel it supports my idea that it might have given us more creativity.

VC told me to hold tight on Liquid this weekend, which is good.

So, back to the book. Working at Milde, coffee all ready, fireplace burning even though it’s quite bright, listening to nice and quiet jazz. Loudly.

Fire

Thoughts from the book:

Before Controlled Fire

Think back to what it must have been like on the African plains before 400,000 years ago. Sometimes when the evening came the heavens wouldn’t always have been as dark as we we city dwellers are used to today, with our cities producing a large amount of light pollution. When there were no clouds the milky way with the stars sprinkled all over the sky and the moon would have been our companions.

Wether or not it was cloudy or clear at night, it would not have been enough light available for us to do much productive work in, and of course moon and star light does not warm us.

Before we could control fire we could stay up late, but there was likely little incentive to do so and in darkness we would soon tire.

Early Use of Fire

We have used fire to burn off unproductive vegetation and encourage new growth which in turn also encourage more small animals to come for longer than records can tell us. You could say that our use of fire was ‘fire-stick’ farming.

Controlled Use of Fire

400,000 years ago we control fire – we can create fire at will, with profound consequences for our further evolution:

Fire reduced the harshness of winter, allowing us to occupy cooler places and thereby become masters of larger parts of our planet.

Fire helped improve toolmaking by allowing us to harden blades. Fire would also help us make functional pottery, heat rocks to free metals and later bake tokens and tablets for the first writing.

Fire changed our diet by allowing us to cook food, making pieces of meat we could previously not eat tender through the heat, making meat last longer after cooking and reducing parasites (which may have had very far reaching consequences beyond reducing illness from hostile parasites, considering that our healthy, functioning bodies today are host to a very large number (by some measures it could be 95%) of bacteria in a commensalistic (non-harmful to the host relationship) relationship).

Fire also became used for signaling using smoke which contributed to inter-tribal communication and collaboration – when you have a longer range means of communication it pays to use it by making allies of those you can reach, to help you prepare for attacks by those further away. There is speculation that this may have been a key to us winning out over the Neanderthals – wider cooperation made possible by fire smoke signaling.

Sociability & The Creative Mindset

Now we not only manage fire for changing large swathes of forest, now  we have fine enough control over fire to bring it home and huddle around it, stay up late in close proximity, socialize, and think different – firelight had pried open the conscious part of the circadian rhythm we had evolved in – we stayed awake longer, with a new mindset.
Our own eyes are not nocturnally optimized so there is not much hunting we can do late in the evening.  We put idle hands to good use working our tools but not to a significant degree (which didn’t evolve much for thousands upon thousands of years).
In the evenings, fire would foster sociability within the tribe as we would huddle up and stay in close proximity for extended periods of time, something there would be little value to do during the day. Henry le Lumley points out in ‘Becoming Human’ that “fire was mainly a factor in inspiring conviviality. Group spirit was surely kindled around the hearth. This was the birth of the first myths. It is at this point that the first regional traditions emerged: the first cultural identities, showing styles and design in the manufacture of some tools”.

We build hearths and start to see the world in a different light, visually as well as metaphorically

The Games People Play

Maybe we create the first ‘games’ on such evenings? Maybe it started with more controlled play? Maybe we added ‘game pieces’ later, in a mirror of how we invented counting and writing?  I would like to suggest that the difference between sports (team or individual) and games (card games through chess etc.) is largely that sports are daylight activities with emphasis on competition but games are evening purists with emphasis on sociability. Can it be that games made us more social, rather than gaming coming from our sociability? Maybe, but it’s clear a different social interaction would take form in such closely huddled, warm and safe settings.

Whatever the stages of social evolution, the animal which spreads out at leisure during the day and goes to sleep when the sun goes down, is a very different animal from the one which huddles closer long into the evening, around a warming, illuminating fire, bringing the individuals closer.

The Rhythm

Over the eons, all life evolved in the pulse of light and dark, lasting a day and a night, with varying lengths depending on the time of year (which is why Circadian Rhythm, derived from the Latin words ‘circa dies’ meaning “approximately a day”.) The timing of the sun moving across the heavens and disappearing was always with us. Our eyes evolved… “… from a simple light sensor for circadian and seasonal rhythms around 600 million years ago to an optically and neurologically sophisticated organ by 500 million years ago.” Trevor D. Lamb.

The Rhythm : The Light

As the circadian rhythm changed with the control of fire, the sunset period would last as long as we had fire wood. The sunset darkens over the horizon and the flames come out, the colour of burning wood have a similar colour to a sunset (6-700nm wavelength or so), so fire indeed draws out the sunset, it does not disrupt it.

With fire, there was reason to stay awake longer, and we did: Humans historically spend about 8 hours a night sleeping, whereas our closest cousins chimps, rhesus monkeys, squirrel monkeys and baboons spend 10 hours in bed (thinkquest.org). Gorillas 12 and owl monkeys spend 17 hours sleeping per day. Fire definitively seems to have lengthened our waking time.

As we stay awake longer, most of the predators we fear are kept at bay by the firelight so we can relax more than we can during the day or during the night before the time we  controlled fire.

The Rhythm : The Chemicals

Our bodies change daily in concert with the rhythm of the colors of the light changing from reddish in the morning to whitish blue and back to reddish, changing our state of alertness, body temperature and pressure, metabolism, and reproduction.

Joan Roberts explains that: “Because of these hormonal changes, the circadian dark/light cycle controls and modifies the sleep/wake cycle, blood pressure, metabolism, reproduction, and the immune response.”

Let’s look at Joan Roberts list in more detail: Light exposure in the morning increases Cortisol, the stress hormone, Serotonin which deals with impulse control, Gaba – available to calm us down and Dopamine perking up our alertness levels as well as modifying the synthesis of follicle stimulating hormone (reproduction), gastrin releasing peptide and neuropeptide Y (hunger). As the day progresses we are showered by strong blue-white light, stress and alertness increases and is controlled.

The sunset period allows for the  production of Melatonin which promotes sleep and dreaming. World Of Molecules reports on research by Alan Lewis (Melatonin and the Biological Clock 1999) that some hallucinogenic drugs emulate melatonin activity in the awakened state and that both act on the same areas of the brain.

Controversial as it may be that Melatonin may have hallucinogenic properties, it’s clear that we are chemically different during the morning, noon, evening and night and with fire twilight has been stretched beyond what was available before – we become relaxed, yet there is reason and opportunity to stay awake for longer.  This is a new chemical state of mind, brought about by the new, longer evening light.

The Creative Mindset

Picture the difference between the wide-eyed, clear thinking and discussion you might have when going for a walk during the day vs the deep, perhaps mystical, conjectures discussed over an open flame in the late evening.

Picture further how fire would allow us to shine flickering lights on cave paintings, giving life and ‘animating’ the lines we mark.

Being tired during the day you have the sun’s signals telling you to wake up. Being tired at night you are in synch with your body chemistry and you can think looser, without the stress of reality in the form of stress and alertness hormones shaping the meanderings of your musings.

Dreams are made when we are safe, free, warm and relaxed.

Dreams are realized in the cold glare of reality.

Together we have a harmony of progress.

Prioritising Social Networks

An interesting question is wether all networks are social.

Martin Hanczyc’s TED video shows how quickly social interactions form.

Chris Stringer emphasises how important social networks have been for our success.

This is then a fundamentally important reality: Networks are what makes things happen and this is then why I think that it’s so crucial we enhance the inherent networks in texts.

Wikipedia refers to the interaction when defining social: “The term social refers to a characteristic of living organisms as applied to populations of humans and other animals. It always refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence, irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not, and irrespective of whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social

I would say that this means that all networks are social, since a network where information is transferred without any kind of interpretation or analysis, is not a network – it’s a transfer between two points only, since nothing is passed on further.

Any comments? (Please email me, comment form is off due to spam. frode@hegland.com)

“Neanderthals’ large eyes ’caused their demise’”

From http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21759233.

“A study of Neanderthal skulls suggests that they became extinct because they had larger eyes than our species. As a result, more of their brains were devoted to seeing in the long, dark nights in Europe, at the expense of high-level processing. By contrast, the larger frontal brain regions of Homo sapiens led to the fashioning of warmer clothes and the development of larger social networks.”

Post continues:

“”Since Neanderthals evolved at higher latitudes, more of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking,” she (Eiluned Pearce of Oxford University) told BBC News. This is a view backed by Prof Chris Stringer, who was also involved in the research and is an expert in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. “We infer that Neanderthals had a smaller cognitive part of the brain and this would have limited them, including their ability to form larger groups. If you live in a larger group, you need a larger brain in order to process all those extra relationships,” he explained. The Neanderthals’ more visually-focused brain structure might also have affected their ability to innovate and to adapt to the ice age that was thought to have contributed to their demise.”

Interesting. It contributes to the sociality vs specialist adaptations importance.

An Open Letter on improving the way think and communicate,

Last week Macintosh turned 28 and this week, on Wednesday, Doug Engelbart, the inventor of much of the computer environment we use today, turns 88. In honour of Doug and his vision of augmenting human intelligence, I’d like to draw attention to the importance of improving how we interact with the written word.

Improving the way we think and communicate

Improving how we interact with the written word is important because the written word carries much of our knowledge and communication, so therefore improving how we interact with the written word improves how we think and communicate.

Computers have helped tremendously in how we work in general with sophisticated still image tools such as Adobe’s Photoshop, advanced video editing like Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and powerful music generating and editing software including Apple’s Logic.

The way we interact with the written word however, has not changed significantly in over 40 years since Doug Engelbart’s ‘mother of all demos’. We have ‘word’ processing applications which can apply prettier layout options than 50 years ago and which features spell-checking, but not much beyond this. We are held back by WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) which ties software tools improvement to the goal that the the printed word on paper is the final product – which is why Doug Engelbart has re-dubbed it WYSIAYG (What You See Is ALL You Get). We cannot afford to be held back by the outmoded view that text is primarily a paper-based product.

Powerful tools exist but in general they are separated from text. It used to be that if the knowledge worker wants to search for something based on the text being read, it’s a matter of copying and pasting the text, or retyping it in particular text search-engines. This is slowly improving with options for searching Google and Wikipedia being built in to the word processor. Text has so much more opportunity for powerful, convenient and useful interaction however. It can be invaluable to quickly search specialist references, something which cannot be added by the baked-in searches in word processors and other apps. Translation is not available, sharing is still just ‘copy and paste’ and ways to modify the text, such as copying the text without formatting, with links or as citations, is not possible. Neither is the analysis of text to strip out unneeded sections. If the selected text is a number, it would be natural to assume that the user can do basic maths directly with the numbers, such as addition and multiplication, but also conversions. This is not possible either.

There is tremendously more more digital text available now than 40 years ago, but the way we interact with it is has not gotten more powerful – it could be argued that it has gotten less powerful, as access to digital text has been ‘dumbed-down’ with the aim of making it more ‘mass-market’. Interaction with text has been hampered by the paradigm of ease of first-time use by the masses, where ‘the masses’ simply mean people who might not interact with text as their primary work activity. This happened when XEROX started PARC and decided that the ‘real’ user is the secretary, whom they named ‘Sally’. The Mac is a direct descendant of the PARC machines and also the PARC mentality.

Computing pioneer Alan Kay was a key PARC inventor and visionary who saw past this simplified perspective when he said that a computer is “an instrument whose music is ideas.” Yet we have been held back by the notion that the computer is more of an MP3 player which needs little more than on, off and volume controls.

However, the concept that the computer is an instrument is a powerful one. The mass market mindset has constrained us to playing a symphony of ideas with what amounts to boxing gloves – clicking on little icons.

Doug Engelbart’s original goal, which would give rise to the invention of the computer mouse, word processing, email and so much more of what is now the basic knowledge work environment, was much richer than helping a secretary produce nicely printed letters. Doug wrote in 1962:

By “augmenting human intellect” we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble.

Doug Engelbart, Augmenting Human Intellect, 1962

I take this as a challenge and I think you should too, either as a user of software or a developer. It’s time to demand – and to develop – much more powerful tools for interacting with information and each other, in all media, including digital text.

This challenge has been my passion since 1996 when I first launched www.liquid.org. Over the decades since then, I have worked on this in various ways with various levels of success. New Years Eve 2011/12, I teamed up with Daoxin Zheng in China, via Elancec.com and we have built the first incarnation of a rich interactive text system which works not only in a web browser, which is what I worked on for so many years before, but in all the applications on the Mac – Liquid OS X. We have spent a year polishing, testing, improving and we now have a solid solution which doubles productivity. I ask you to have a look, to try it and tell me what you think and if you like it, to help spread the ‘word’.

Please have a look at the demonstration video at www.liquid.info/video and try it if you think it looks useful to you.

Liquid is only one part of the story, but I urge you to engage with it since this is the story of your intellectual work environment, your intellectual development. It’s no longer enough to marvel at the general capabilities of ultra-fast modern computers, with fancy games and movie making capabilities – it’s time to seek out, learn about and demand continually improved tools for your knowledge work. I don’t think Liquid is the be all and end all of interactive text – I certainly have many specific dreams of improvement. I hope, however, that you will find it both immediately useful and a taster for what the big guys should develop. I do think it is useful now, as a daily augmentation, not just as the demonstration of an idea.

This is only the beginning. I am looking for feedback, partners and inspiration – please email me at frode@liquid.info. I am also looking for exposure. I feel that what Liquid does is important but it’s a very expensive proposition to market since it is not for a mass-market audience, instead it’s for those who primarily work with text as their work material and products and who want to get more productive, more in control. I can best reach them through others who are interested in improving our work tools. And I hope that includes you.

So far reception has been great. The indomitable Stephen Fry calls it “Genius.” Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the internet, says “You don’t know convenience until you try it.” Famed author Douglas Rushkoff simply says the Liquid: “counts as Mac OS Eleven.”

The Liquid Information Company is a tiny UK company which has benefited from an advisory board I am incredibly lucky to have, including: Ted Nelson, who coined the term ‘hypertext’, Dave Farber ‘the grand-father’ of the Internet, Bruce Horn, from PARC and Apple, where he wrote the first Macintosh Finder and centrally, the great man and inspiration, Doug Engelbart.

Frode Hegland

Monday 28th of January 2013

liquid.info

Liquid OS X version 3.0

So today I officially launched Liquid for OS X version 3.0, which is really version 1 in the sense that it is now really polished and feature rich. I can no longer excuse anything based on ‘it’s an early version’ or anything at all really.

The press has been really, really quiet so far, but the dialog just started today with a tweet:
“The world goes liquid – http://www.liquid.info/video”
Stephen Fry

The response to Stephen’s tweet has been vigourous. 122 retweets and 108 favourited and the demo video has been watched 5,482 times so far today (yesterday was 20 in total).

Comments:
Must admit this app looks amazing. @MrSomia / Nice share Mr. Fry. @gmaddockgreen
Great tool for writers I’d say. @ConradOwens / Magic! for Mac users :) ‏@carmendomino
This is how easy it is. love u ”APPLE” :)) ‏@infoantalya / This looks amazing. Would make working so productive. @ElvinaGB / Awesome ‏@jseths / Really excited about this one…Mac users, check this out! It definitely has something @jeppevingum / Neat. @pickymiss
So how do I feel? Well, it’s strange having thought about this in one way or another from  the mid-1990′s and now having a real instantiation of the philosophy, which doesn’t require explanation of the ideas behind it, it’s useful right of the bat, for itself.
I’ll be teaching a course on Coinventing The Future at London College Of Communication later in the year. The InterAtlas iOS app is doing well and the book is slowly coming together. But this is the big one. It’s real now. Now I just have to work to make sure people are aware of it. THAT is a nice feeling.

Hand and History

Oh boy the book is hard to write, but very interesting for me to research and learn. Here is what I have managed to get down about the hand and cave art. It’s still bitty and a somewhat disjointed but I think I’ll have to work on that later. Any comments are very much appreciated. Please email me at frode@hegland.com since comments here are overloaded with spam…

________________________

40,000 years ago we begin to paint on cave walls.

This is where I stop and think of my great friend, inspiration and hero; Doug Engelbart. He put the computer mouse in our hands, starting with a simple wooden contraption with a single, red button.

Forty thousand years ago our ancestors blow fine red pigment onto a cave wall in Cantabria, Spain, resulting in red dot, the oldest cave art we have found.

At the same location paint is blown onto our forebears hands leaving a beautiful, haunting, sihouette. Was this done simply because it was easy or as a tribute to the articulation and power of our hands, unmatched in the animal kingdom? That will probably never be known, but it is likely they appreciated what their hands allowe them to do – to build tools, to interact with the world – to be part of their environment in ways other animals, with highly specialized appendages could not be, something it’s easy for many people today to ignore and take for granted – how ‘handy’ our hands are.  In The Hand, Frank Wilson puts the case for the importance of our hands succinctly: “I would argue that any theory of human intelligence which ignores the interdependence of the hand and brain function, this historic origins of that relationship, or the impact of that history on developmental dynamics in modern humans, is grossly misleading and sterile.”

Doug never intended to stay with a single button of course. He wanted as many buttons as manufacturing technology would allow, with software to support it. Doug didn’t want to limp into the digital age with the control of a single active ‘digit’ – he was always fully articulated of mind and ambition, Doug saw the information worker as flexible, nimble and powerful as a hunter in the forests of our ancient pasts. Doug saw the ability to move and to react with fine precision as not a luxury, but as a paramount attribute to information work success.

Our hands are a crucial – vital – link to the world we live in.

And that is the central theme of this book: The value of rich and fine interactivity.

And that is because we think with the world more than we think about the world. We need the world to think, and this goes from ancient humans who think in their physical and social environment as much as a modern day laptop user.

Think
PIE tong- “to think, feel”

Etymonline.com

In addition to the dot and tha hand we come to paint large animals such as bison, horses and deer. We also sweep our fingers in delicate motions across clays to leave patterns of lines without apparent visual reference to anything we can see. We don’t paint it and leave it, over the eons we would continue to modify this work – it was not static, it was interactive and actively worked on and evolving, layered.

It would be an almost vain thought from our time to assume to understand why and how cave painting began – was it for art’s sake? Unlikely. Was it to teach the hunt? Or to frighten and awe the young when they go through the rite of adulthood as it’s been suggested by such eminent thinkers as Karen Armstrong?

Lawrence Wright points out in his amusing book on the history of the bed, ‘Warm And Snug’, that the painters may have painted outside the cave, with lots of light, but those paintings would now have been destroyed so perhaps we should not put too much emphasis on the fact that the paintings are only found in caves.

There is one single aspect of the cave paintings which cannot be disputed though, as James Gleick says in ‘The Information’; cave paintings are visual marks relating to the painters world. Are they precursors to writing? How did they change our thinking and understanding of the world (in relation to how written language later would)? Is there a grammar in cave painting or is this what separates it from what we today call writing?

The depictions are already partly abstracted and ‘symbolized’ – how close is this to what we today consider hieroglyphics? Is it only a matter of complexity or is it a completely different way of marking the world and thoughts of the world?

Only one thing is really for sure, these marks were meant to communicate something.

Solar System & Earth

4,567,000,000 years ago our solar system begins to form in the outer Orion spiral arm of the Milky Way.

{

Our Sun lies between 25,000 and 28,000 light years (the distance it takes light to travel over one year) from the centre of the galaxy, which is about 100,000 light years wide. Our solar system moves at 220 kilometers per second, taking almost 250 million years for a round trip or one ‘galactic’ year. This means that on the galactic scale, the solar system is 18 galactic years old and life itself 16 years. Hominids are just 12 days old.

}

Our sun forms out of the gradual collapse of a giant molecular cloud many light years across. As it collapses it begins to spin and the centre becomes denser and denser, hotter and hotter and within 50 million years the the pressure on the hydrogen becomes great enough to start  thermonuclear fusion and the sun shines.

4.54 billion years ago, or 10-20,000,000 years after the sun starts to shine, the dust which does not get sucked into the sun flattens out into a disc and lumps together to become the planets.

The earth (old English eorþe “ground, soil, dry land,” also used (along with middangeard) for the (material) world (as opposed to the heavens or the underworld), from Proto-Germanic. *ertho from Proto-Indo-European root *er-  “earth, ground”) is born.