Archives for posts with tag: Maturana

Weapons are nothing but repurposed tools. Sometimes ‘enhanced’ to fit the new goal.

Clubs had started as fruit harvesting utensils, then used for hunting purposes and eventually for bashing in the heads of those who had slept with the missus when the wielders weren’t looking. And so on…

As a tool, an implement is used to ‘put things together’. As a weapon, the same (kind of) implement is used to ‘set things apart’. An axe can be used to split wood in order to build a fire or to ‘split’ furniture during a fit of rage.
Generally speaking, a tool is used towards the ultimate goal of adding to/fine tuning a structure while a weapon is used to destroy/disable something which is meant to remain so.

Our ability to communicate was ‘the’ tool which actually transformed us into what we are today. Humans.
At least according to Humberto Maturana. His theory maintains that we’ve become self-aware social individuals through what he calls languaging.
In a nut-shell, he says that we’ve become humans – self conscious apes, by continuously expressing our thoughts towards the other members of the community. Hence simultaneously building an ‘agora’ and ‘walling in’ individual private spaces.

Yet the same ability to communicate can be used also as a weapon.
Instead of being used by individuals to mutually groom themselves, and ultimately adding to the overall resilience of the community, ‘weaponized’ communication is used to ‘downgrade’ susceptible individuals. Hence lowering their ability to coalesce into functional communities.

History suggests that, in the longer run, democracy – as a manner of decision making, increases the survivability of the communities which use it. Simply by pooling the decision making resources of the entire community instead of relying on the mental prowess – and good will, of a single authoritarian leader.
Only for democracy to be fully functional, the individual members of the community have to be able to share, in earnest, their thoughts.
This is why Freedom of Speech has been enshrined in the First Amendment.
That’s why whenever the public discourse becomes increasingly dominated by ‘fake-news’ things start to go south.

That is why whenever people allow themselves to be split into warring parties – with no real communication between the sides except for the misinformation hurled across the divide, both sides eventually end up wondering at the destruction they had allowed the ‘communication warriors’ to inflict upon them.

Albert Einstein, a physicist, had noticed that observations are relative to the “frame of reference” where the observer happens to make his observations.

Humberto Maturana, a biologist, has reached the conclusion that consciousness – or ‘self awareness’, as he prefers to call it, is a personal trait which is developed by individuals living in concert.

Blending Einstein’s and Maturana’s ideas, it is easy to ‘see’ that observations made by human individuals depend, simultaneously, on two referential systems. Or frames of reference, in Einstein’s terms.

On the actual, ‘geographic’, ‘place’ where the individual makes their observations.
And on the ‘cultural place’ where the conscience – inner referential system, of the observing individual had been ‘shaped’.

Otherwise put, nobody can see things which are not there. Nor ‘see’ – a.k.a. understand, things which are too ‘distant’ from what that person already ‘knows’. Accepts as being ‘normal’. Feels like being ‘right’.

To make things just a tad ‘clearer’ – ‘nature versus nurture’, we must consider the vagaries of individual ‘biology’. Some people see/hear/smell/feel differently than others. And even ‘think’ differently.

And my point is?

Maturana made it before me. The ‘other’ – the more different, the better, is a source of richness. IF we treat each-other the right way. If we help each-other by ‘concerting’ our observations about what we have in common.
The ‘place’ we observe. Einstein’s referential frame. Where we ‘happen to stand’. Together.

And there’s something else I’d like you to read.

“J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues”
https://www.jkrowling.com/opinions/j-k-rowling-writes-about-her-reasons-for-speaking-out-on-sex-and-gender-issues

Messages which are knowingly incomplete, false or both at the same time.

Why?

Because they have no alternative, want to achieve something or need to survive.

As soon as a person achieves a certain level of self-awareness – read consciousness, they realize that no ‘communication event’ will ever be complete. That nobody will ever be able to communicate everything they know, about the most insignificant subject, to anybody else.

Then what? Stop talking?
Or assume personal responsibility for everything that leaves your lips?

As soon as a person achieves a certain level of self-awareness, they realize there’s more in life than mere survival.
As soon as their consciences bloom – in concert with the accrued influence exercised by the ‘environment’, individuals set goals for themselves. Which goals become integral part of the ‘ongoing project’. Of the self-actualizing conscience. Achieving, or failing, each of those goals leaves an indelible mark on the conscience itself. On the manner in which each individual relates to their environment.
Since achieving is far more ‘satisfying’ than failing, conscience is naturally biased towards ‘achieving’. If the ‘environment’ ‘allows’ it, the bias becomes more and more ‘slanted’.
The messages used by the individuals – by their conscience, to be more precise, will increasingly serve the purpose of achieving goals rather than the purpose of ‘honest communication’.

As soon as a person achieves a certain level of self-awareness, that conscience wants to survive.
Mind you, not the person but the conscience.

‘?!?
Conscience cannot exist without the mind/body which supports it….’

OK, tell that to people who believe their souls are going places after their mortal bodies expire. Then try to demonstrate to yourself, honestly, that those people are wrong. That there’s no chance for their belief to be ‘true’.

But metaphysics are hard.
Let me give you a far lighter example.
Smoking. Or drinking. Driving fast. Eating that extra piece of chocolate…
Don’t tell me you never did anything ‘foolish’. That you never lied to yourself: ‘This cannot happen to me. Chances are so small that … Only this time….’

‘But otherwise nobody would ever be able to ‘leave their houses’. We’d be all completely paralyzed with fear…’

Yeap! That’s exactly what I mean. Conscience needs to lie to herself in order to remain functional. Otherwise she would not allow the physical body who sustains her to assume any risk.
They would both suffocate.

A symbol is a very powerful thing. Because it can ‘hide’ a lot of meaning. As much meaning as we can store/recognize inside it.

And the stronger the symbol, the more we can hide/store/recognize behind it.

“Why do you insist the universe is not a conscious intelligence, when it gives birth to conscious intelligences?”

This quote is attributed by Robert Lanza to Cicero. A Roman who used to think, and write, some 2000 years ago.
I have no idea who Robert Lanza is yet I’m sure most of you have already heard about Cicero.
But we now have Internet. And Google search…

Going back to Cicero’s Universe, I, for one, have never said the universe wasn’t conscious. For all I know, it may very well be.
But I’m sure it isn’t fully conscious. As God is supposed to be. Omniscient and Omnipotent.
Precisely because of the kind of ‘conscious intelligences’ it has given birth to.
Or is being born by?

Let’s assume the Universe is conscious. As in aware of its own awareness – the only kind of consciousness we’re aware of.

As far as we know – ‘know’ as opposed to ‘presume’, consciousness cannot ‘arise’ on its own. Each of our individual consciousnesses have been groomed by those around us. Children who happen to grow up outside ‘normal’ human intercourse never morph into ‘fully’ conscious human beings.
Hence Cato’s Universe might have become conscious only along one of the following paths:

As a member of the Multi Verse club.
As an AI designed by some entity residing outside the Universe. This situation being the mother of all Oxymorons…
As a meta-consciousness. A web of individual consciousnesses who had evolved/coalesced into a wider, and ‘deeper’, range of awareness. Still limited, of course, but of a somehow different nature than that of the individual awarenesses composing it.

Which brings us back to the symbol I started with.
The Universe digesting itself repeatedly as a continuous attempt to reach its own essence.
Humankind reconsidering recurrent ideas until they actually make sense…

‘Hey, you forgot about two of your own hypotheses … the first and the second…!’

Thanks for the observation.
They slipped off my mind because both are particular cases of the third.
A Multi Verse is nothing but a bigger Universe.
And a combination between an Universe and an Outside Agent is nothing but a Duo Verse. A ‘smaller’ Multi Verse.

Tada!

Universal Grammar (UG) is intended to specify the most general principles of human language. It must provide an explanation for the extraordinary fact that a Japanese child raised in Paris will acquire French, but not Japanese, and a French child raised in Tokyo, Japanese, but not French. Either child may acquire both French and Japanese, of course, but neither will fail to acquire French or Japanese. Linguists and philosophers may have known this in antiquity; they did not say so with any great conviction, and they may not have said so at all. It was left to Chomsky to remark with the full force of his genius that every human language can be acquired by any human being. Universal Grammar, Chomsky concluded, must be a species-specific characteristic of the human race, biologically encoded, genetically transmitted.

The quote comes right out of an article written by David Berlinski and Juan Uriagereka. Never heard of any of them.

Reading that article, I remembered the reason for which I tend to avoid modern philosophers. Or linguists. Hard to discern which is which, anyway…

Let me return to the quote itself.
“An explanation for the extraordinary fact that a Japanese child raised in Paris will acquire French, but not Japanese, and a French child raised in Tokyo, Japanese”.
Read this to anybody who isn’t familiar with the notion of ‘Chomsky’. You’ll get a laugh and a troubled look. ‘What’s so extraordinary here?!? People will always learn whatever language is spoken around them… but only if they come in contact with the ‘exterior’ world!’

Home-school those Japanese/French children in Paris/Tokyo while preventing them from getting in touch with anybody else but their immediate family/trainers and they’ll learn only whatever language(s) their trainers/family will have chosen for them.

As an aside, what does Chomsky mean by ‘French’ and or ‘Japanese’?
‘Genetically’ French/Japanese? What if one parent is French/Japanese and the other German/Korean? What will the child be? Like the father or like the mother?
‘Culturally’ Japanese/French? According to their ‘mother’ tongue?!?
Forget it…

“Universal Grammar, Chomsky concluded, must be a species-specific characteristic of the human race, biologically encoded, genetically transmitted”.

‘Species specific characteristic of the human race’… told you these guys have a lot of humor… or, maybe, they cannot make up their minds…
What are we, humans?!? A species or a race?

OK, let me move forward.
Hidden underneath all this ado, there is a piece/gem of ‘harsh’ reality.
The simple fact that if/when we want to, we are able to understand each-other. To communicate with each-other. To exchange ideas. To trade meaning.
And there is indeed something species-specific about this ability of ours. Nobody else has it… according to our present knowledge about the world, anyway.

‘Nobody else has it’… yeah, right… as if you hadn’t watched, time and time again, two dogs ‘greeting’ each-other in the park.
OK, those dogs were interacting in highly unnatural circumstances. Walked by people, in a people infested environment …
Fact is that all animals have ‘procedures’ for interacting with other animals. Belonging to the same species or belonging to other species. Some of the procedures being inbred while others had been acquired trough learning or training.
Cats, for instance, have an inbred ‘procedure’ for chasing anything which might become a prey but need to be taught by their mothers how to finish the chase. How to kill that prey.
And yes, cats do have a species-specific, biologically encoded and genetically transmitted characteristic which allows them to kill and eat their prey. Or to play with the people who take care of them. They kill and eat using their claws and teeth while they play using their brain. OK, the brain also contributes during the chase… don’t be a nit-pick.

Let me summarize.
So cats have a specific set of tools, teeth and claws, which are ‘coordinated’ by a brain which needs to be taught in order to become fully functional.
And the overall ‘functioning’ of any given cat depends simultaneously on how well their organism works AND the quality of the learning they have been able to amass.

Then where’s the difference between humans and cats?
What is so species-specific in our ability to interact with the world?

I’m exaggerating, of course. We are able to understand each-other far deeper than the other great-apes, our cousins. There is something species-specific in all this.
But only in ‘depth’, not in ‘nature’.
We’ve been able to teach chimps to write. And cats to play with strings instead of catching mice. All three of us ‘share’ the more or less same kind of brain and surprisingly similar anatomies.

What really sets us apart is our learned ability to watch ourselves while doing something. To observe ourselves observing, as Maturana puts it.
And our ability, learned again, to formulate information in a transmittable form. To ‘build’ highly specific messages using rather ‘fungible’ building blocks and in such a manner that those messages might be transmitted from one individual to another. From one generation to another, even.
To make good use of the Universal Grammar noticed by Chomsky.

Can any of this be construed as species-specific? Of course. Without the huge brain we’ve got – or without the ability to articulate sounds, we most likely wouldn’t have been able to reach this stage of our evolution.
But to reduce everything to mere biology … I’m afraid that would be too simplistic.

Consciousness – or self-awareness, opens up huge evolutionary venues. Powered by our very ability to communicate so intensely. To use ‘Universal Grammar’, even without being aware of its existence.
But since both self-awareness and talking depends upon learning them from/with the others… biology is not enough. Necessary, indeed, but not enough.

Not by a long shot.

I’ve been asked this – who wasn’t?, for so many times that I’ve lost count…
Only the last instance was different.

The context was a lot more serious than usual. We were discussing ideas!
Individual, social, freedom… and we were doing it in English – my ‘second’ language. Hence I was a tad more alert than when chatting away in Romanian.

Have you noticed that in English ‘you’ has three meanings?
A singular ‘you’, a plural ‘you’ and a formal ‘You’ which covers both singular and plural.
In French we have ‘tu’ for singular and ‘vous’/’Vous’ for both plural and formal.
In German ‘du’, ‘inhen’ and ‘Sie’. Only ‘sie’ – starting with small s, as opposed to capital S, means ‘they’…
In Romanian, ‘tu’, ‘voi’ and ‘Dumneavoastra’/’Domniile Voastre’. Literally, ‘Your Lordship’/’Your Lordships’.

I’m not going to delve into Humboldt’s linguistic relativity hypothesis at this point. It would be very interesting but I have something else in my mind.
I’m going to answer the question ‘personally’. Influenced, indeed, by Maturana’s opinion that human consciousness (self awareness) has blossomed at the intersection between our brain power, our ability to communicate verbally with each other and our emotionally driven memory.

So, who am I?
Just one of you…

Neither of us could have existed independently.
None of us could have given birth to themselves… obviously. But also none of us would have been what we are today without having been raised by and educated in our respective communities. By the ‘you’-s to which each of us belong.

On the other hand, none of these communities would have ever existed without the individuals who compose them AND without those individuals being self aware enough to notice their existence. ‘Their existence’ meaning both the existence of the individual personalities which compose the communities and that of the communities themselves.

To simplify matters a little bit, we – as individuals, depend on the well being of the communities to which we belong while we – as communities, depend on the self-awareness of the individuals who animate each of the communities.

If we add the piled up consequences of all the decisions we – as a species, have ever made we end up with ‘culture’ and the present state of the environment which surrounds us – also known as ‘civilization’.
I’ll leave these for another time.

Homo had become sapiens when he had started to learn.
To actively discover information and to discuss the findings with their peers.

This was how our ancestors had developed both consciousness and language.

The next stage was reached when people were no longer satisfied with mere survival. And attempted to glimpse into the future.

” “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind. ” (Job 12:7-10)

Until that moment, the deal was simple.
People followed the rules – which had already been set in ‘stone’ and passed over from ‘the beginning of time’, and things continued unabated. Hence no need for further inquiry.

From that moment on, everything had changed.
People still had a set of rules to guide them. But they had also been endowed with ‘free will’:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians, 5:13) and
“Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John, 7:17)

So, there were rules, there was freedom and there was the Will of God – which had to be determined if it was to be followed.
How to determine it? Nothing simpler. ‘Ask the animals and they will teach you.’.
Meaning that the answer of any question our ancestors might have had about the Will of God was accessible to them. And that they had the liberty – the obligation even, to look for that answer. By studying the nature.
Because understanding the nature – which was the incarnation of God’s Will, was considered by our grandfathers to be the key to understanding the Will of God. And, implicitly, a keyhole through which they could glimpse into the future. Their future, of course.

It was a very recent development that more and more people had become convinced that science had killed God. By producing ‘scientific evidence’ for more and more things which used to be considered ‘acts of God’.
Franklin’s lightning rod and Georges Lemaitre’s Big Bang are but two small examples.
Benjamin Franklin was convinced that ‘God governs by his Providence and that the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children‘ while Lemaitre was an ordained Catholic priest. Yet many of our contemporaries construe their endeavors as scientific proofs that there is no such thing as a Creator God.

And what about ‘science’?
What is it, after all?
An attempt to understand God’s Will or a method to prove that God does not exist?

How about science as an attitude?
Which maintains Man can, and should, learn about things. Regardless of the name each of us chooses to call them: ‘Nature’ or ‘the Will of God’.
Which also maintains that Man, in their quest for knowledge, must preserve its modesty. Nature and/or the Will of God might be ‘accessible’ but it would be actually presumptuous, for each and for all of us, to consider that we’ll ever be able to know/explore every nook and cranny of the World.
To learn, and express, all the Truth there is.

We arise as human beings in the experience of observing ourselves observing.

Humberto Maturana, The origin and conservation of self-consciousness, 2005

Maturana’s essay is compelling.
Yet, like everything else done by us humans, it is not ‘complete’.
It doesn’t mention ‘memory’, nor ’empathy’.

A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong, says L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. He’s a psychologist at the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center.

A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” Tompkins says.

A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior.

Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, says Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex. Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.

Kara Mayer Robinson, Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What’s the Difference, WebMD

You see, both the psychopath and the sociopath are aware of their own doings. They are able to observe themselves observing. And doing whatever it is that they are doing.
They are aware of their goals.
And do what it takes to achieve them.

The problem with the psycho/sociopaths being that a quirk of their memory allows them to learn – to remember, through language, the information contained in past experiences, but denies them the ability to recollect/imagine the emotional consequences imposed by their actions upon those who happen to be affected.

That’s why the psycho/sociopaths don’t have a functional conscience.

Sometimes during their coming of age, something went wrong.

The interface which mediates some of the information traded between their brains and the rest of the world is flawed.

Our brain consists of three main sections. The reptilian, the limbic and the neocortex.
The reptilian part deals with the ‘mechanical’ aspects of our lives – breathing, heart rate, etc, the limbic deals with our emotional lives – and is the first which can store easily accessible ‘memories’, while the neocortex is the part where most of our ‘reasoning’ takes part.
Of course that these three parts are interconnected. That’s how we can influence our breathing and why we – well, most of us, are able to control our sexual urges.

My point being that self-awareness is not enough.
Both psycho and sociopaths are able to calibrate their actions in order to achieve their goals. Which is the functional definition of being aware of yourself.
By not being able to fully grasp the emotional consequences imposed by their actions upon those who are affected by them, the psycho/sociopaths can develop only a more ‘focused’ understanding of the world than the rest of us.
Which can sometimes be a lot deeper than usual. Some of the psycho-sociopaths have been notoriously proficient manipulators…

But no matter how deep that understanding may have been, its lack of breadth has proven fatal. Historically and statistically speaking, of course.

This being the reason for which having a functioning conscience is an evolutionary advantage for individuals.
And, maybe even more important, for the communities composed of those individuals.

Societies which have successfully identified and kept in check those who behaved improperly fared way better than those which had allowed the ‘bulls’ to take control over the ‘china shop’.

And what better example is there than the fact that democratic societies constitute a better medium for their members to live in than the authoritarian ones?

As long as democracy isn’t replaced by mob-rule, of course…

As much as we’d like it to be unique, reality is a spectrum.

Varying from factual to ‘seat of the pants’. And everything in between.

But what is this thing we call ‘reality’?

The key word here being “we”, of course!

First of all, reality is a concept. Which covers everything we know it exists ‘out there’.
Mind you, not everything ’which exists out there’, only ‘what we know about’.

We know about how?
Here’s where things become really interesting.

Maturana says that we, humans, are the first animals able to ‘observe themselves observing’ – his definition of ‘self-awareness’.
We not only observe things, we’ve developed the ability to set them apart from us. To understand that ‘things’ are both separated from us and still connected to us.
Even this understanding of ours comes in various degrees.
Some of us behave as if there is no tomorrow while others have developed intricate thought systems which connect our past actions (a.k.a. ‘sins’) with our future (a.k.a. ‘redemption’).

‘But most of the religious people base their faith on myths rather than facts!’

Well… myths are facts too.
Not in the sense that all the content of all myths had necessarily happened!
My point being that a story becomes a myth/fact as soon as enough people believe in it. Regardless of that story being a factual description of a real incident, an interpretation thereof or even the figment of somebody’s imagination.

Too much confusion… facts are no longer factual, reality is no longer real… everything is in a sort of limbo…

Yep. You’ve got the gist of it.
Our own consciousness has thrown us in limbo. Which, obviously, is yet another of our own inventions…
The funniest thing being that our consciousness hates being in limbo. And tries to explain everything it comes in contact with. Which explains why we have so many myths.

Now, if we want to explain the difference between the factual and the seat of the pants realities, we need to retrace the whole argument.

We have the ‘real’ reality – everything that exists out there, and the conceptual one. Everything that actually exists versus what we know it exists. Or it may exist.
What we know it exists can be further divided into things we think we have completely understood, things we ‘know’ but we still cannot fully explain and things which continue to baffle us.
For instance, we think we know everything there is to be known about internal combustion engines, we know when we are in love but we cannot explain ‘love’ and we are completely baffled by the callousness of some of our brethren.

Being alive means being able to interact with the environment.

In various manners.
From the prosaic – ingesting food and… you know what I mean, to the sublime – what ever that means for each of us.

Including the ‘prosaic’,  our reactions to whatever ‘inputs’ challenge us from our exterior, a.k.a. environment, are based on what we feel. And this is valid for all living things, no matter how simple or how complex. All of us have different manners in which we get information about what’s ‘outside’ and react to what we find out.

‘Not all reactions have been born equal’…
Plants react differently from animals, insects react differently from fish, reptiles from mammals, humans differently from all others, men differently from women…

Yet there is some order in all this complexity.
Reactions can be classified into three large categories. Mechanical, learned and intentional, a.k.a. ‘self supervised’.

All of us pull our hands when we touch a red hot iron. Or at least tend to…
All of us, grown-ups, have learned to swallow the sip of too hot coffee we have carelessly took. If in public, of course…
And, sometimes, the brave among us go, ‘barehandedly’, into a burning house in order to save those inside. Knowing that they might get hurt. Knowing that fame is short lived but a scar is forever. Knowing that any attempt to save someone’s children might end up leaving some other children without at least one of their parents.

You see, the mechanical reactions are the same all over the living world. They are inbred into our own nature/DNA and are meant to help each individual to survive and thus preserve the species to which it belongs. Furthermore, the mechanical reactions are based solely on sensations, hence their ‘mechanical’ nature. A certain input elicits one, and only one, response. A hot iron elicits a drawn hand… or, at least, a huge amount of attention.

For a reaction to become ‘learned’, ‘somebody’ has to transform a sensation into a perception. To remember a past experience, to compare it with the present and to react more or less in the same manner.
Without necessarily/actually ‘thinking’ about the matter.
In fact, no brain is even needed for this.

“It isn’t an animal, a plant, or a fungus. The slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) is a strange, creeping, bloblike organism made up of one giant cell. Though it has no brain, it can learn from experience, as biologists at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition (CNRS, Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier) previously demonstrated. Now the same team of scientists has gone a step further, proving that a slime mold can transmit what it has learned to a fellow slime mold when the two combine.”

Credit: Audrey Dussutour (CNRS)blob learning

But, now that we’ve discovered that even some of the most simple life forms can learn – and ‘teach’, can we pretend that any of them are driven by intentions?

Or these are reserved for us, the most ‘evolved’ of the animals? The only ones not only able to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘ but also able to share the observations  with their peers.

The only ones able to devise both goals and ways to attain them. The only ones – or so we like to pretend, able to imagine and compare various scenarios about the future…

Then why are we still killing each-other? Hating each-other’s guts? Take advantage of our ‘peers’, whenever we see the opportunity?

What good does any of us see in this?
Don’t we ‘see’ the harm we cause in others?
Haven’t we ‘learned’ anything from our history?

 

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