The Memory of Love

When I went to university in the late 1980's, in addition to studying Computational Linguistics I also enrolled in an English class, one of my best decisions ever. One of the courses was English Literature and, of course, it included one book of Graham Greene: The Heart of the Matter. Escape, war, responsibility, passion, guilt, failure, shame and pity are some of the issues dealt with in this piece.

“When he was young, he had thought love had something to do with understanding, but with age he knew that no human being understood another. Love was the wish to understand, and presently with constant failure the wish died, and love died too perhaps or changed into this painful affection, loyalty, pity…” Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

“The truth, he thought, has never been of any real value to any human being- it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. I human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.” Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

These themes can also be found in Aminatta Forna's The Memory of Love, also set in Freetown, Sierra Leone. In both books, the title appears somewhere in the middle. In Forna's case it describes how one of the main characters feels "the lost love of his life like his amputees feel their phantom limbs; the "memory of love" is an absence every bit as desperate and intangible as any more physical haunting" according to The Guardian.

Love is concept often described in terms of conceptual metaphors. Many examples are provided in the song "The Rose", a smash hit from 1979 written by Amanda McBroom and sung by Bette Midler.

"Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
An endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
And you its only seed."
The Rose
From Gunnebo Summer 2015
There are two parts in a conceptual metaphor: the often more concrete source domain that we are supposed to know something about (river, razor, hunger, flower) and the more abstract target domain that we want to understand better (love).

Viewing love as an intrinsic part of yourself, similar to a limb, seems to me related to embodied cognition. Love can be warm or cold, it is sometimes painful, your often take it for granted and only miss it when it's gone.

At Chalmers, researcher Max Ortiz Catalan has developed a new mind-controlled prosthetic arm that also minimizes phantom pains. To make it available for more people, he has also created an open source platform for the development and benchmarking of advanced prosthetic control strategies called BioPatRec. I wonder if a similar thing could be developed for lost love, and to what extent that would be a good idea. However, I'm sure it would gather a substantial transdisciplinary international open source community.

"Your body will remember
What your mind learnt to forget" Level42, Two Solitudes


Wind Alert

During my dotcom journey in the late 1990s, I worked a lot with managers from the City of Gothenburg. One of them had a poster on the wall with a sailing ship and a quote attributed to Seneca: If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable. At that time I thought it made some sense, but didn't think much further about it. Ten years later on I was asked by one of my colleagues in a totally different organisation to speak to his friends about leadership. They were a bunch of guys all in their early forties getting together twice a year to have dinner and some input for more serious discussions.

I thought long and hard about what to say and I believe I talked a lot about strength-based development and my own experience of appreciative inquiry. However, I think that what got to them most was when I talked about what consequences lack of goals could have.

From Pilane 2015
You can find the quote above in various versions, one even attributed to Lewis Carroll, although he actually did not write "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." In my own experience, the truth is more likely to be this: "If you don't make up your mind about where you want to be in the future, you'll think that every road/wind may perhaps take you somewhere nicer."

I talked to the guys about how it felt to be together with someone who very often worked overtime, spent endless time at conferences and meetings far away, stayed late at work-related parties although not really enjoying them, and so on instead of spending time with you. Who never wanted to make plans, in case something more interesting came up. Not because he was determined to reach a certain goal, but because he wanted to have as many opportunities as possible. Chances he never used, since he didn't have a goal.

By then I had a couple of failed relationships behind me that I partly blamed on this phenomenon. I found it really hard to compete with going to the Cannes Film Festival or meeting Gary Moore backstage to check out his light rig, when all I had to offer was a cosy evening at my place or a picnic in the beech tree woods at Fjärås. And it would have been ok to lose out to Gary and the likes of his once in a while, but it got to me to lose what felt like almost every time and to everyone. To see the one you loved only if all his other arrangements fell through.

Some of the guys in my colleague's network had rather recently gone through divorces, and they confirmed my story. Without a clear goal, it is hard to discriminate what is really important since everything becomes an opportunity.

I believe that if you want a proper relationship that must be a clear goal in itself. And also to make sure to use good systems in order to be able to catch really favourable winds, to have a Wind Alert.

The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind, Bob Dylan


Fluid Mind

Sometimes technical language can be just beautiful. Recently I came across the concept of helical strakes. They prevent vortex shedding. Taste the words: helical strakes and vortex shedding. Sounds like something from Doctor Who.

Have you ever played Poohsticks? Then you probably have seen vortex shedding in the water. It's the eddies forming behind the downstream part of rocks in the river. Apparently, there is a World Pooh Sticks Championship if you care to go professional.

The same phenomenon occurs with wind blowing on bluff structures, such as wires and chimneys. One challenge is that when the fluid flow past the object it creates alternating low-pressure vortices on the downstream side of the object. The object will tend to move toward the low-pressure zone. This can result in making the structure resonate and the oscillations can damage or even destroy the object.
From Wanås 2011
Christopher Scruton and D. E. J. Walshe, working at the National Physics Laboratory in Great Britain, were determined to find a way to prevent these kinds of damages. They invented the helical strake and first published the results in 1957. Interestingly, they successfully filed for a patent the year after. Today, more than 350 patents on helical strakes have been granted.

"Good measurement improves productivity and quality; it underpins consumer confidence and trade and is vital to innovation. We undertake research and share our expertise with government, business and society to help enhance economic performance and the quality of life. NPL's measurements help to save lives, protect the environment, enable citizens to feel safe and secure, as well as supporting international trade and companies to innovation. Support in areas such as the development of advanced medical treatments and environmental monitoring helps secure a better quality of life for all." National Physics Laboratory

Maybe helical strakes could be used as a metaphor? For persons standing tall, standing up for their beliefs or what they know is true, turmoil is often felt around them. Maybe persons nearby can act as helical strakes, diverting the flow in new directions and making sure the person does not break down. Or he/she can mentally picture them, as a way to avoid resigning to become more streamlined in opinions. Or we just stick to the technical term and appreciate its existence.


Out Biking

The greatest adventure this summer was to travel to the island Ven, between Sweden and Denmark, and then experience its beauty by going around it by bike. You don't need your own bike, since there are plenty to rent in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but only one colour.

We started by biking along narrow lanes and paths very near the steep coastline and experienced tall lighthouses, small churches (one of them converted into an art gallery), an outdoor museum, cosy restaurants and cafés, and endless fields of wheat and rapeseed.
From Skåne July 2015
A must when visiting Ven is to go to the Tycho Brahe museum. Its location in the middle of the small island with almost no roads makes it hard to miss. His castle Uranienborg is long gone, but parts of his garden have been restored.

Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601) was a genuine product of the Renaissance. Since he was born in Skåne and lived on Ven, both Sweden and Denmark make claims on him, since these areas belonged to Denmark who lost them through wars to Sweden.

As a nobleman he had the opportunity to go to university and soon became interested in astronomy. He paid a lot of attention to empirical observations and developed new equipment and installed it in a special building beside his castle, Stjärneborg. You could say that he was one of the first to start a research institute, since he employed lots of research assistants to make the observations and gathered many scientists at his dinner table.

Although nobody can dispute that Brahe contributed to the development of our knowledge about the starts and planets, a few things should be noted. Despite all his devotion to empirical data and his knowledge of Copernicus model, he advocated for a system with an immobile Earth for religious reasons. His apprentice Kepler tried, but was unable, to persuade Tycho to adopt the heliocentric model of the solar system. When Brahe died, Kepler used his data to prove him wrong.

Brahe was a keen promoter of cross-disciplinary research and a holistic perspective, which led him to combine astronomy with astrology and alchemy, although the latter topics do not count as science these days. He let his younger sister Sophia participate in the research, although he was not that happy when she started to come up with theories of her own not regarding it as proper things to do for women.

He was not very much in favour of outreach. Instead he wrote in one of his publications, that he was very glad to be away from all the disturbance from common people. The people living at Ven were not very happy, since he did not contribute much to the development of the island but instead forced them to work for him. However, he worked hard on disseminating his work by building his own paper mill to ensure material for his publishing company.
From Skåne July 2015
In sum, he was a rather typical scientist. Right about some things, and very wrong about others. Much under the influence of external powers such as the church and the Danish king, although claiming scientific freedom. Carefully guarding his intellectual assets such as his infrastructure and data, but also passing it on to the younger generation. Always in need of more funding, and very much focused on publishing. However, I dare say that few modern scientists would stick to their claims so hard that they would defend them in a duel!

By the way, in Sweden we have a saying that translates into "out biking". It is used when somebody has a very strange opinion, that all the rest think is wrong or stupid.


Marx Was Right

Lots of Greece/Germany jokes are published on the web right now, one of them an old Monty Python clip. It's the sketch where Greece and Germany compete in football (soccer) having philosophers as players. According to Washington Post's Max Ehrenfreund, it can be used to explain the differences in opinion and actions between the two countries, and he summaries the clip like this (spoiler alert!):

"In the match, the two countries are represented by their foremost philosophers. For much of the game, the two sides do nothing but talk. Then, in the final minute, there is movement. Socrates scores on the German goalie Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who lived from 1646 to 1716, to win. The German philosophers G.W.F. Hegel, Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx then dispute the goal with the referee, Confucius.

"Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics. Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination," the announcer says. "Marx is claiming it was offside.""

As a former football player (and innovation advisor), I think what is most relevant is to point out is that Socrates went from idea to action. He had an epiphany, acted upon it and successfully engaged his team mates in the scheme (although I agree with Ehrenfreund and Marx that in the rerun Socrates seems to be offside, although you actually can't see the whole field).

When I was in Berlin in June, I went to the Humboldt University. In the lobby is a quote from former student Karl Marx:
From Berlin 2015
As pointed out by Nobel laureate Thomas Piketty, Germany did not repay the debts from neither WW1 nor WW2. Instead they received lots of help, including the Marshall Plan and the Luftbrücke to Berlin during the cold war. They acted to rebuild their country, instead of debating (or paying back, at least in the assigned way). Will Greece do that too? And will they mind the step?