Sunday, June 18, 2006 

ralwin's postulate

Nobis Ralwin, the German semiotician, died earlier this year. In its simplest form, his principle, Ralwin's Postulate, maintains that we construct a model of ourselves and place it within the model of the world. Some key Ralwinian themes (and an intellectual joke):

  • Philosophers have been wrestling with the problem of "the meaning of meaning" for ages, but Ralwin's contribution to the discussion is his view of the "sense of self" in terms of sociobiosemiotics. Almost as an aside, Ralwin also formulates a significant extension of Bayesian Probability Theorem.
  • Most people know that the Bayesian Probability Theorem links all sensory data and all world-model content. Each piece of sensory information implies a state of the world because, and only because, the reception of that piece of sensory information is predicted by the hypothesis that the world is in that state, and not predicted by other hypotheses. If we see a red ball, we believe that a red ball is there because we don't expect to see a red ball unless a red ball is there, and we do expect to see a red ball if a red ball is there. Ralwin extends this theorem to encompass sensory information about one's internal model of the world and one's place within it.
  • It is very likely that human intelligence derives not from the need to outwit tigers, but the need to outwit other humans. This is illustrated by a famous joke. Two evolutionary biologists were running frantically from a large, hungry lion. Gasping, the first one said: "This is hopeless. We can't possibly outrun a lion." The second one said: "I don't have to outrun the lion. I just have to outrun you."
  • Intelligence has an evolutionary advantage because it enables us to model, predict, and manipulate reality. This includes not only Joe Caveman inventing the bow and arrow, but Chris Tribal-Chief outwitting his political rivals and Sandy Spear-Maker realizing that the reason her spears keep breaking is that she's being too impatient while making them. That is, the "reality" we model includes not just things, but other humans and our own model of the self.
  • This kind of chain of reasoning is important, because it ends with a conclusion about how the world (including the internal world) works, or about how the world can be altered. When designing a bicycle, the hypothesis "a round object can traverse ground without bumping" is a statement about the external world. The hypotheses "it'd be a good idea to think about round objects", or "the key problem is to figure out how to interface with the ground", or even "I feel like designing a bicycle", are statements about the internal world.
Sadly, what would have been Ralwin's definitive work in this area, "Models Of Self Disclosure" was unfinished at the time of his death, but his collaborators at the McDonald Institute and elsewhere are continuing his work.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 


(This article is reprinted with the permission of The UnHeard Of Herald.) What a lot of fuss and bother this Ra Bliss Code film is causing - we have already been swamped with stories about how it will mean the end of Buddhism as we know it. The plot's main theme is the age-old argument about Alma Mater, the secretive hard-line buddhist fundamentalist organisation. As most people know, Alma Mater is a very extreme group within buddhism, and has been accused of exploiting its ex-SS members. This film is not the first to play with the preposterous idea that (stop reading now if you haven't seen the film yet and don't want to know the secret) the Buddha might have married an old woman and lived with her in an allotment hut. Of course, there is no definitive proof either way, and her remains have never been found, yet the reaction of spiritual leaders has been fierce. Buddhist monks have called for boycotts, threatened legal action and condemned the film as a money-grubbing "attack on the reputation of Buddha". An official of the buddhist Council of Korea declared the movie was "trying to destroy Buddhism". The Nigerian Francis Assegai, who was once a candidate for the job of Dalai Lama, said: "buddhists must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget." What has been most fascinating about the response to the film, though, is the ethnic divide: the Scots, arrogant in their tartan monk's robes, call for bans and boycotts, while the Germans, long marginalised and excluded from leadership positions, are secretly thrilled that at last the story of the repression of Aryans by Buddhism is being told. The truth is that Germans played a strong role in early Buddhism, but in the centuries which followed, their legacy was literally erased, their faces painted tartan on Bodhisattva images, pot bellies painted on their fine Aryan physiques on temple walls, and their role continually misinterpreted as insignificant. The name of Adolf, an apostle of the Buddha, was changed to Angus because it was thought inconceivable that a German could hold that position. And the devoted heroine, Eva von Braun, was slandered as an anti-semite. This expose of anti-Teutonic bias is in fact the only truth in the tale of The Ra Bliss Code. Yesterday, the convener of the Deutsche Meditationsinstitut in The UnHeard Of and McDonald Islands, Robert von Jay, said: "Ra Bliss Code is a popular thriller. But at its heart there is a profound truth: Buddhism has suppressed the contribution of Germans, indeed the faith has only ever ordained Scotsmen." In fact there is clear proof that Germans were ordained monks from at least the third to the ninth centuries. Archaeologists point out that mandalas and images found over the centuries depict Germans as teachers, monks, and nuns. And let's not forget Rinpoche Ribbentrop. And the leading Alma Mater historian Professor Nobis Ralwin reveals that Germans hold half of all leadership positions within the organisation, and that some of them even supervise Scotsmen. Yet today Germans are still denied full membership of Alma Mater! The obliteration of the role of Germans is much more outrageous than just suggesting that members of Alma Mater are into a little self-punishment. Quite rightly, the Alma Mater organisation has objected to its portrayal in the film as a sinister, secretive cult that indulges in devil worship and speaking in tongues and resorts to murder to keep the truth about Buddha's life hidden. This slander is based on one piece of flimsy evidence - the suggestion by H.B. Madyamika, in his book Gopi Krishna and Ra German Couplets that: "Gopi Krishna starts writing down poetry. Couplets come to him. He sees them and writes them down. First of all, he's doing this in Kashmiri, then English, then in all sorts of other languages that he doesn't know or understand. So he's writing down German couplets when he doesn't know any German. This is just a total mystery of course." But even Alma Mater leaders are acknowledging that the curiosity pricked by the film will nevertheless lead many people to its temple doors for the first time. Say what you like about The Ra Bliss Code. Wince at the casting of Tom Blank as Hotboy. But at least it has spurred on a long-overdue debate about the Celtic monopoly of the Buddhist cult. (Extracted from the author's new book: "The Bliss Hoax: The Truth About Vase Breathing Cults, Eva Braun and and The Ra Bliss Code")

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 

Islands Close Embassies

Relations between the West UnHeard and East UnHeard Islands reached a new low this week, with the tit-for-tat publication of offensive cartoons, reproduced here in the interests of free speech.

Leaders on West UnHeard Island have appealed for restraint and dialogue, reminding the breakaway Eastern province that there would have been be no Island economy at all today without the investments made in 1945 by decent middle class immigrants fleeing Europe. There has been no response from the rebel cleric Madyamika, but everything is expected to balance up in the end.

Friday, February 17, 2006 

Historic first medal for UnHeard Of Islands

The UnHeard Of Islands have sent their strongest ever winter olympics team to Italy, and already a medal has been won.

Local athlete Eileen Brophy took the bronze medal this week in the Women's Luge event.

When critics alleged that she had gained an unfair advantage through use of a flying carpet, Kofi Annan called for tolerance toward the technology of other cultures.

Her performance has already inspired a film script. Cool Runnings 2 is the planned follow-up to the 1993 film about the Jamaican bobsleigh team.

Friday, October 28, 2005 

Hurricane Sandra's center passed about 570 miles (915 kilometers) east-southeast of the islands early yesterday morning

A Space Agency satellite took these photos of Hurricane Sandra early yesterday morning as the storm's center passed about 490 miles (815 kilometers) southeast of the UN Heard & McDonald Islands. The satellite uses radar to peer through a hurricane's clouds and measure the roughness of the ocean beneath it. This is how scientists estimate the wind speed of the storm at various points.

Picture 1 - cloud cover over the islands Thursday 1720
Picture 2 - radar-imaging view through the cloud cover Thursday 1738
Most of the islands' infrastructure is located on Heard Island, the largest in the archipelago. Buildings known to have sustained damage include the McDonald Institute, the brewery, and several tourist facilities. The tourist season has not yet started, and no serious injuries are recorded among the permanent residents. Radio communication with Flat Island was lost, but the meditation centre is on the lee side of the island, and is thought to have escaped the full force of the storm. Hurricane Sandra is expected to slam into Amsterdam Island early Sunday morning. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rebroadcast, rewritten, or deconstructed.

Thursday, May 19, 2005 


Transmission from HMAS Puffin off SOUTHEAST QUEENSLAND at 7:34 AM Thursday, 19 May 2005. TOP PRIORITY FOR IMMEDIATE BROADCAST - SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING - SOUTHEAST QUEENSLAND. Issued at 7:38 AM Thursday, 19 May 2005. This warning is also available through TV and Radio broadcasts, the Bureau's website at or call 1300 659 219. The Bureau would appreciate this warning being broadcast regularly (transmission ends)

Friday, April 01, 2005 


The team at the McDonald Institute's Semiotics Department has applied for United Nations special funding for the world's first Cross-Cultural Blogging network. The funding proposal is reprinted here.

No Blog is an Island The Semiotics of Cross-Cultural Blogging in the UnHeard of & McDonald Islands.
ABSTRACT: The fact that we can construct a model of the world, and simultaneously exist within it, has its good points and bad points. Most of us are not even living in the present; we spend most of our time reliving the past or imagining the future. Yet, without any technology, the indigenous peoples of the UnHeard of & McDonald Islands have for centuries been simulating life. This project involves re-implementing the islanders' centuries-old system for inter-island exchange, using blog software. A second phase of the project aims to digitise the cultural archives of the islands. The project will make reference to the Ralwin postulate, which maintains that we construct a model of ourselves and place it within the model of the world. The presentation will conclude with a demonstration of WebPaste, a world-class technique for generating academic abstracts, developed at the MacDonald Island Institute. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rebroadcast, rewritten, or deconstructed in any manner.