Read arXiv every day? Yes!

This post from the Secret Blogging Seminar led me to this (now closed) question by Igor Pak at the Mathoverflow

Downsides of using the arxiv?

When my blood pressure went back to normal after reading the “downsides”, I spent some time informing myself about the answers given to this question, others than the very pertinent ones, in my opinion, from the Mathoverflow page. I think the best page to browse is the discussion from the meta.mathoverflow.net .

I have to say that really, yes!, I read arXiv every day, because it gives access to a lot of mathematical informations, which I filter according to my mathematical “nose” and not on an authority basis. One has to read papers in order to have an informed opinion.

The beautiful discussion page from meta.mathoverflow.net is an excellent example of the superiority of the new ways as compared with the older ones.

UPDATE(22.07.2011): The AMS Notices (August 2011) paper The changing Nature of Mathematical Publication is relevant for the subject of the post from the Secret Blogging Seminar. It appears to me that more or less the same strange problems concerning the arxiv are put forward in the article. Particularly this passage

If we ultimately publish our paper in a traditional journal, then how will that journal view our paper being first put on arXiv? If someone plagiarizes your work from arXiv, then what protections do you have?

seems to me to imply that there is less protection against plagiarism from arxiv than against plagiarism from traditionally published work. My take is that a paper on arxiv is more protected against plagiarism than a traditionally published paper, especially if you are not part of a politically strong team or country, because it is straightforward to prove the plagiarism (anyway easier than by relying on the publishing business and the peer review process). Besides, the “rhetorical question” seems to imply that it is not clear if there are any specific protections, like copyright, when in fact there are easy to find and clearly stated!

To finish, the purpose of the article is to announce a new publication column, “Scripta Manent”. The peer review process for this paper failed to notice that the title of this new publication column is spelled “Scripta Manet” twice!

Maps in the brain: fact and explanations

From wikipedia

Retinotopy describes the spatial organization of the neuronal responses to visual stimuli. In many locations within the brain, adjacent neurons have receptive fields that include slightly different, but overlapping portions of the visual field. The position of the center of these receptive fields forms an orderly sampling mosaic that covers a portion of the visual field. Because of this orderly arrangement, which emerges from the spatial specificity of connections between neurons in different parts of the visual system, cells in each structure can be seen as forming a map of the visual field (also called a retinotopic map, or a visuotopic map).

See also tonotopy for sounds and the auditory system.

The existence of retinotopic maps is a fact, the problem is to explain how they appear and how they function without falling into the homunculus fallacy, see my previous post.

One of the explanations of the appearance of these maps is given by Teuvo Kohonen.

Browse this paper (for precise statements) The Self-Organizing map , or get a blurry impression from this wiki page. The last paragraph from section B. Brain Maps reads:

It thus seems as if the internal representations of information in the brain are generally organized spatially.

Here are some quotes from the same section, which should rise the attention of a mathematician to the sky:

Especially in higher animals, the various cortices in the cell mass seem to contain many kinds of “map” […] The field of vision is mapped “quasiconformally” onto the primary visual cortex. […] in the visual areas, there are line orientation and color maps. […] in the auditory cortex there are the so-called tonotopic maps, which represent pitches of tones in terms of the cortical distance […] at the higher levels the maps are usually unordered, or at most the order is a kind of ultrametric topological order that is not easy interpretable.

Typical for self-organizing maps is that they use (see wiki page) “a neighborhood function to preserve the topological properties of the input space”.

From the connectionist viewpoint, this neighbourhood function is implemented by lateral connections between neurons.

For more details see for example Maps in the Brain: What Can We Learn from Them? by Dmitri B. Chklovskii and Alexei A. Koulakov. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 369-392 (2004).

Also browse Sperry versus Hebb: Topographic mapping in Isl2/EphA3 mutant mice by Dmitri Tsigankov and Alexei A. Koulakov .

Two comments:

1. The use of a neighbourhood function is much more than just preserving topological information. I tentatively propose that such neighbourhood functions appear out of the need of organizing spatial information, like explained in the pedagogical paper from the post Maps of metric spaces.

2. Just to reason on discretizations (like hexagonal or other) of the plane is plain wrong, but this is a problem encountered in many many places elsewhere. It is wrong because it introduces the (euclidean) space on the back door (well, this and using happily an L^2 space).

Maps of metric spaces

This is a pedagogical introduction covering maps of metric spaces, Gromov-Hausdorff distance and its “physical” meaning, and dilation structures as a convenient simplification of an exhaustive database of maps of a metric space into another:

Maps of metric spaces

The material is taken and slightly adapted from the long paper “Computing with space”, check for updates of this on this page.

Smooth geometry vs (nonsmooth calculus and combinatorics)

I am intrigued by this part of the  post from NEW

“The public talk by Cumrun Vafa puts out the classic message that strings have come to the rescue of physics, unifying QM and gravity, and that:

Smooth geometry of strings seems to explain all known interactions (at least in principle)”

(my emphasis)

Why “smooth”? Probably only because this is in the comfort zone of many.

However, there are two new fields of mathematics which deserve to be taken into consideration by physicists (or not, not my problem in fact):

  That’s the future!

UPDATE:  (24.03.2012) Congratulations to Endre Szemeredi, the Abel Prize Laureate 2012, “for his fundamental contributions to discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science, and in recognition of the profound and lasting impact of these contributions on additive number theory and ergodic theory.”

… and modern physics, maybe in 50 years.

arXiv for Cezanne

In the middle of the 19th century, in France, just before the impressionist revolution,  painting was boring. Under the standards imposed by the Academie des Beaux Arts, paintings were done in a uniform technique, concerning a very restrictive list of subjects. I cite from wikipedia:

”Colour was somber and conservative, and the traces of brush strokes were suppressed, concealing the artist’s personality, emotions, and working techniques.”

This seems very much similar with the situation in today’s mathematical research.

Read the rest here: “Boring mathematics, artistes pompiers and impressionists”.

PS: anyone who understands from this post that I think mathematics is boring has the attention span of a gnat.

Hilbert fifth’s problem without one parameter subgroups

Further I reproduce, with small modifications, a comment   to the post

Locally compact groups with faithful finite-dimensional representations

by Terence Tao.

My motivation lies in the  project   described first time in public here.  In fact, one of the reasons to start this blog is to have a place where I can leisurely explain stuff.

Background:    The answer to the  Hilbert fifth’s problem  is: a connected locally compact group without small subgroups is a Lie group.

The key idea of the proof is to study the space of one parameter subgroups of the topological group. This space turns out to be a good model of the tangent space at the neutral element of the group (eventually) and the effort goes towards turning upside-down this fact, namely to prove that this space is a locally compact topological vector space and the “exponential map”  gives a chart  of  (a neighbourhood of the neutral element of ) the group into this space.

Because I am a fan of differential structures   (well, I think they are only the commutative, boring side of dilation structures  or here or emergent algebras)   I know a situation when one can prove the fact that a topological group is a Lie group without using the one parameter subgroups!

Here starts the original comment, slightly modified:

Contractive automorphisms may be as relevant as one-parameter subgroups for building a Lie group structure (or even more), as shown by the following result from E. Siebert, Contractive Automorphisms on Locally Compact Groups, Math. Z. 191, 73-90 (1986)

5.4. Proposition. For a locally compact group G the following assertions are equivalent:
(i) G admits a contractive automorphism group;
(ii) G is a simply connected Lie group whose Lie algebra g admits a positive graduation.

The corresponding result for local groups is proved in L. van den Dries, I. Goldbring, Locally Compact Contractive Local Groups, arXiv:0909.4565v2.

I used Siebert result for proving the Lie algebraic structure of the metric tangent space to a sub-riemannian manifold in M. Buliga, Infinitesimal affine geometry of metric spaces endowed with a dilatation structure, Houston Journal of Mathematics, 36, 1 (2010), 91-136. arXiv:0804.0135v2

(added here: see  in Corollary 6.3 from “Infinitesimal affine …” paper, as well as Proposition 5.9 and Remark 5.10 from the paper  A characterization of sub-riemannian spaces as length dilation structures constructed via coherent projections, Commun. Math. Anal. 11 (2011), No. 2, pp. 70-111 , arXiv:0810.5042v4 )

When saying that contractive automorphisms, or approximately contractive automorphisms [i.e. dilation structures], may be more relevant than one-parameter subgroups, I am thinking about sub-riemannian geometry again, where a one-parameter subgroup of a group, endowed with a left-invariant distribution and a corresponding Carnot-Caratheodory distance, is “smooth” (with respect to Pansu-type derivative) if and only if the generator is in the distribution. Metrically speaking, if the generator  is not in the distribution then any trajectory of the one-parameter group has Hausdorff dimension greater than one. That means lots of problems with the definition of the exponential and any reasoning based on differentiating flows.

The Cartesian Theater: philosophy of mind versus aerography

Looks to me there is something wrong with the Cartesian Theater term.

Short presentation of the Cartesian Theater, according to wikipedia (see previous link):

The Cartesian theater is a derisive term coined by philosopher Daniel Dennett to pointedly refer to a defining aspect of what he calls Cartesian materialism, which he considers to be the often unacknowledged remnants of Cartesian dualism in modern materialistic theories of the mind.

Descartes originally claimed that consciousness requires an immaterial soul, which interacts with the body via the pineal gland of the brain. Dennett says that, when the dualism is removed, what remains of Descartes’ original model amounts to imagining a tiny theater in the brain where a homunculus (small person), now physical, performs the task of observing all the sensory data projected on a screen at a particular instant, making the decisions and sending out commands.

Needless to say, any theory of mind which can be reduced to the Cartesian Theater is wrong because it leads to the homunculus fallacy: the homunculus has a smaller homunculus inside which is observing the sensory data, which has a smaller homunculus inside which …

This homunculus problem is very important in vision. More about this in a later post.

According to Dennett, the problem with the Cartesian theater point of view is that it introduces an artificial boundary (from Consciousness Explained (1991), p. 107)

“…there is a crucial finish line or boundary somewhere in the brain, marking a place where the order of arrival equals the order of “presentation” in experience because what happens there is what you are conscious of.”

As far as I understand, this boundary creates a duality: on one side is the homunculus, on the other side is the stage where the sensory data are presented. In particular this boundary acts as a distinction, like in the calculus of indications of Spencer-Brown’ Laws of Form.

This distinction creates the homunculus, hence the homunculus fallacy. Neat!

Why I think there is something wrong with this line of thought? Because of the “theater” term. Let me explain.

The following is based on the article of Kenneth R Olwig

“All that is landscape is melted into air: the `aerography’ of ethereal space”, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2011, volume 29, pages 519 – 532.

but keep in mind that what is written further represents my interpretation of some parts of the article, according to my understanding, and not the author point of view.

There has been a revolution in theater, started by

“…the early-17th-century court masques (a predecessor of opera) produced by the author Ben Jonson (the leading author of the day after Shakespeare) together with the pioneering scenographer and architect Inigo Jones.
The first of these masques, the 1605 Masque of Blackness (henceforth Blackness ), has a preface by Jonson containing an early use of landscape to mean scenery and a very early identification of landscape with nature (Olwig, 2002, page 80), and Jones’s scenography is thought to represent the first theatrical use of linear perspective in Britain (Kernodle, 1944, page 212; Orgel, 1975).” (p. 521)Ben Johnson,

So? Look!

From the time of the ancient Greeks, theater had largely taken place outside in plazas and market places, where people could circle around, or, as with the ancient Greco-Roman theater or Shakespeare’s Globe, in an open roofed arena. Jones’s masques, by contrast, were largely performed inside a fully enclosed rectangular space, giving him control over both the linear-focused geometrical perspectival organization of the performance space and the aerial perspective engendered by the lighting (Gurr, 1992; Orrell, 1985).” (p. 522, my emphasis)

“Jonson’s landscape image is both enframed by, and expressive of, the force of the lines of perspective that shoot forth from “the eye” – notably the eye of the head of state who was positioned centrally for the best perspectival gaze.” (p. 523, my emphasis)

“Whereas theater from the time of the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare’s Globe was performed in settings where the actor’s shadow could be cast by the light of the sun, Jones’s theater created an interiorized landscape in which the use of light and the structuring of space created an illusion of three dimensional space that shot from the black hole of the individual’s pupil penetrating through to a point ending ultimately in ethereal cosmic infinity. It was this space that, as has been seen, and to use Eddington’s words, has the effect of “something like a turning inside out of our familiar picture of the world” (Eddington, 1935, page 40). It was this form of theater that went on to become the traditional `theater in a box’ viewed as a separate imagined world through a proscenium arch.” (p. 526, my emphasis)

I am coming to the last part of my argument: Dennett’ Cartesian Theater is a “theater in a box”. In this type of theater there is a boundary,

“… scenic space separated by a limen (or threshold) from the space of the spectators – today’s `traditional’ performance space [on liminality see Turner (1974)]” (p. 522)

a distinction, as in Dennett argument. We may also identify the homunculus side of the distinction with the head of state.

But this is not all.

Compared with the ancient Greeks theater, the “theater in a box” takes into account the role of the spectator as the one which perceives what is played on stage.

Secondly, the scenic space is not “what happens there”, as Dennett writes, but a construction already, a controlled space, a map of the territory and not the territory itself.

Conclusion: in my view (contradict me please!) the existence of the distinction (limen) in the “Cartesian theater”, which creates the homunculus problem, is superficial. More important is the fact that “Cartesian theater”, as “theater in a box”, is already a representation of perception, having on one side of the limen a homunculus and on the other side a scenic space which is not the “real space” (as for example the collection of electric sparks sent by the sensory organs to the brain) but instead is as artificial as the homunculus, being a space created and controlled by the scenographer.

Litmus test: repeat the reasoning of Dennett after replacing the “theater in a box” preconception of the “theater” by the older theater from the time of ancient Greeks. Can you do it?

On the beautiful idea of “aerography”, later.

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