Sunday, June 21, 2015
The contrast between "A New Kind of Science," and Cosmolosophy
If you ever want to get an idea of what real genius is listen to the presentation by Stephan Wolfram I've linked below. And if you haven't already, get his book “A New Kind of Science.” You probably won't understand all of it; I know I certainly didn't, especially when it came to all of the proofs he provides with the full explorations of some of the many simple rules he posits. It takes more math than only getting through Algebra II, as I have, to have the tools necessary, and I suspect that, even with more advanced tools at your disposal, it's still a stretch.
Still, the sheer depth and breadth of what he took on to get this book written is astonishing. I can remember very clearly how humbled I felt looking at what someone with truly serious intellectual chops could do with a mind toy I only had deep feelings about. And of course, in this I am referring to “Cellular Automata.”
Back in the early to mid eighties, you see, even after two years at Green River Community college as a transfer student intending to major in English and Communications, and completing another two year program at Highline Community College to get an Associate in Science degree in Data Process, I was still of the mind that I was going to be a writer of fiction. I say “even after” because I did a year at Boeing by this time as a “COBOL” mainframe programmer because an income was required, and I had a facility for programming. The problem was I hated it; especially as it was formalized (understandably) within the Boeing bureaucracy.
While I was applying myself quite doggedly to be better at fiction (without much success), a part of me was still fascinated by the process of conditional iteration. And when IBM, as well as the Tandy Corporation, came out with the first truly commercial personal computers, I was able to indulge my self in exploring what such machines could do. And as the graphical possibilities were the most immediately apparent, I went with the Tandy 2000; one of the very first color PC's to hit the market.
Let me just say, if there is a better incentive to get a person motivated to delve into the intricacies of both the hardware, and software, of a personal computer, than creating conditional structures to create interesting patterns on a screen, I am certainly not aware of it. And no where was this more established than with the community surrounding “Cellular Automata.” Starting with the game of life, and its myriad variations, “core wars,” and most especially the truly amazing Mandelbrot routine that was first published in Scientific American.
When I saw that first depiction on the magazine's cover of what you could create by arbitrarily assigning colors to count groups of an iterative calculation (involving an imaginary number, as well as the X,Y coordinates of the pixel array) that took the results of each run as the input of the next, and where another arbitrary limit was set to indicate that it was going towards infinity, so that the color black would be used, I was blown away. The hours I poured away into coding, and waiting for those first CPU's to crank out results, would have done any rabid gamer, or programmer, of today quite proud.
I mention all of this as a way to emphasize how getting a visceral feeling for the power of conditional iteration was established in me at the very beginning of the PC revolution. The interesting thing here, as I finally came to understand that I was nowhere near ready to write fiction yet, was that educating myself in all things PC would not only provide me an new income source, it would lead me not so much into considering complexity itself, as to trying integrate my love of words, with process, expression, and what meaning itself was; and this against the backdrop of the mess that our social processes have become, and the lack of meaning each of us seems to have the more complicated our social operating system became.
When Mr. Wolfram's book finally came out in 2003 I was already several years along in the overt expression of my critique of our current economic system, and the need for an alternative. The Old Softy Concerns web site had been running for nearly 3 years by then and I was just beginning to understand the need for a formalized philosophical foundation to support the change in sensibility that I felt was part and parcel of not only the mind set this alternative was meant to satisfy, but for which a holistic, systems view of the cosmos demanded. In this, it is safe to say, his book had a big influence.
What interests me now, though, in looking back, is not only the commonality of what is in Cosmolosophy and what is in “A New Kind of Science,” but what is different.
To review, Cosmolosophy posits that the entirety is an inconceivably big, iterative, question answer engine. The simple primitives involved here are the elemental embrace (or love) and mind. These are expressed in an infinite array of vectors of association which I like to call “Reality Ray Tracing.” The idea here is that each answer is simply the creation of the next question, and in this context, the question revolves around the nexus of “what does it mean,” “what did it mean,” and “what will it mean.”
The primitives come into the mix as, first, the need to interact and exchange, and second, the need to objectify in the first place. Time, of course, is expressed as the various vectors of association, Space is the tension field automatically created by having objects, and objects the result of meaning applied to an interaction interpreted from a singular frame of reference. In this, as a consequence, is the inherent requirement of meaning processing systems, which are then able to make choices based on those meanings. From this as well then comes the layering upon layer of abstraction that formalizes structure of whatever complexity you care to contemplate.
Mr. Wolfram's tenets of “Computational Equivalency,” “Computational Irreducibility,” as well as an iterative model based on simple rules, certainly doesn't contradict anything in Cosmolosophy, even if it may only be tangentially supportive of it at best. What I do think is an important distinction, however, is where the emphasis is placed.
Mr. Wolfram is primarily concerned with establishing that complexity does not require complex explanation; whether that be unbelievably complex mathematical models that can never quite seem to balance the macro with the micro, or just as unbelievably absurd intelligent agencies in control of all aspects of life, save the choices we make, and yet only too willing to punish us for those choices in a realm far beyond the consequences endured in the here and now.
His emphasis allows for “free will” but sees no specialness in the human species. “Meaning processing systems,” in his view are an aspect of complexity that any simple computational system can achieve, and he may well be right. The fine line here is where a “reasoning engine” ends and a self aware intelligence, that can imagine, empathize, and routinely benefit from the intuitive leap, begins. Ray Kurtzwiel, another genius way beyond my pay scale, has been way too enthusiastic in embracing the inevitability of bridging that fine line; not to mention blithely ignoring what the consequences may be to for the rest of us along the way.
It seems to me that “choice” in the current human sense is a truly breath taking aspect of what one might expect from a natural system; especially if one allows that such systems start from very simple rules. Cosmolosophy is an attempt to provide a basis for appreciating what are the important aspects in those simple rules that we need to apply in balance if we wish to preserve human choice, and the kind of structure that makes better human choices possible.
My hope, in presenting this contrast, is that not only will Cosmolosophy become more understandable, but that the reader will take away a new appreciation of the importance of finding a better social operating system.