We can’t answer questions about ourselves the same way anymore — by just thinking about it philosophically, looking for some metaphysical reason.

Call it reductionist if you must, but it’s beautiful that even weekly we’re ever-closer to answering our deepest questions by looking into our biological, chemical — and deeper still — physical blueprints.

When wondering why we animals do as we do, we can also inquire about what the particles do, and how those activities travel up and down the chain of magnifications to create a whole, and the epiphenomenon we finally witness.

Did you know that quantum effects are observed in macroscopic, biological processes?

Islands of bacterial activity

Everything else has a restricted set of interactions with its immediate living space, chemical or atomic, depending how small you go… Small things ingesting and spitting out chemicals. It’s very direct and relatively easily observable; you can see what every one does, what their function is. Cogs in the system. Even the animals have a fairly regulated set of activities. The fox doesn’t seem to wonder about his options, about what to do next.

And what of us? Maybe we’re the same: ingesting and spitting out chemicals, but it’s all obscured by our variety of manual (really, MANUAL, manipulated, hand-based) activities. Just elaborate versions of germs. It’s hard to see it past of egos but if you could step outside for a minute, isn’t earth just overrun… And what does it add up to but filigreed slime?

Just a note. Not a question, doesn’t need an answer. Not negative. I think filigreed slime is wonderful.

[Credentials] can cause intellectual ossification.

To illustrate that point, Mead told the story of how Charles Townes, the inventor of the laser and maser, took his ideas to the leading quantum-mechanics nabobs at the time, Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg:

"They both laughed at him, and basically said, ‘Sonny, you just don’t seem to understand how quantum mechanics works.’ Well, history has shown that it wasn’t Charlie who didn’t know how quantum mechanics works, it was the pontifical experts in the field who didn’t know how it worked."

Carver Mead on { The Future of Science }


I love this story. It’s about { outsider intelligence } — the idea that contributors from outside of a specialized field can help solve problems within or related to that field, and at times even better than those within the field can. Of course, one has a greater perspective and range of thought when looking from the outside in, rather than being on the inside and having already discarded many ideas that are not immediately relevant to one’s work. Those impertinent ideas help us think creatively — help push us out of the “ditch” (read: Edward de Bono).

{ P.S. }

Carver Mead:

…believes that the scientific revolution that began with the discovery of special relativity and quantum mechanics has stalled, and that it’s up to us to kickstart it.

"A bunch of big egos got in the way," [said Mead].

Much more work needs to be done to restart that revolution, … with the goal of explaining in an intuitive way how all matter in the universe relates to and affects all other matter, and how to explore those interrelationships in a way that isn’t “buried in enormous piles of obscure mathematics.”

That’s what I want to do. So badly.

Polymers, Soft Robots, & iPhones

Perhaps I’ll give someone who researches these things a really good idea:

Would it be possible to use responsive materials (like those that respond to pressure, or that used for { Harvard’s flexible robots }) for touchscreens and tablets, to emulate the texture of paper when touched with a stylus?

One thing that’s missing from the experience of any freehand writing or drawing on such a device (even Wacom) is the friction of pen-on-paper. For me, the lack of texture is totally confusing.

So, you want to study science to inform your art work, is that right?

I was asked this recently.

The intention was good, but those words in that order are entirely wrong. This is the kind of art I’m *least* interested in — a shallow concept with a little Science thrown in to liven things up and make it all seem that much more GENIUS!

But, I remain interested in Art as a means of communication, for one thing. Not design or illustration or painting or anything so specific — these are all forms Art can take, although they are not necessarily Art. Carrots are vegetables but not all vegetables are carrots, right? So aren’t we grocers, and not carrot-men?

By Art, whatever form it takes, I mean the one practice that’s free enough to load with something heavy, the one that can handle ideas about our universe that won’t fit elsewhere. Art as a vehicle for those ideas and experiences that are too extravagant to allow elsewhere.

So, no. In truth, my agenda is closer to something like studying “science” (specifics aside) so that my art may *carry* it.

The same rules cannot apply to Systems at all magnifications.

We rely too heavily, as a species, on ideas that apply only on a human level. The problem happens when we try to extend these ideas outside of our own bubble, and when we don’t realize that we cannot live isolated from the rest of the universe, despite that we’ve been trying to do just that for centuries. It is not sustainable to map human-level ideologies, myths, and expectations of the way things work in our “macroscopic” socio-cultural world, or Umwelt, onto the rest of nature. We must try to understand our place from outside of our own perspective.


Not People-Consuming-Things, but Systems-Becoming-One


In French, you don’t really say “I ate the pizza”, you say “Je suis devenu la pizza”, which is closer to “I am the pizza” or “I became the pizza”. I love that so much. You don’t just eat something. You absorb it into your atoms for the greater good of the hive stomach. If you eat the pizza, it just eats you back. Stop. Touch the pizza. You are the same


I think I wrote something about this a long time ago, but I really can’t find it. More so, it was about consuming those we love, whether it be a lover, family member, or pet.

"So cute I just want to EAT you!"

Right? To blend with that thing, that person, that system.

"stochastic tinkering"

November 26, 2012, 4:06 p.m. ET
{ Economic Bricolage }

Mr. Taleb systematically demolishes what he cheekily calls the “Soviet-Harvard” notion that birds fly because we lecture them how to—that is to say, that theories of how society works are necessary for society to work.


I don’t know enough about economics to comment on the whole review, but I’ve been wanting to discuss the idea exemplified by the quoted bit above, anyway. A friend sent the article, and it presented itself as a direct example to critique.

I had a conversation once with a friend of mine who’s an MIT-grad engineer. He was sure that increasingly, the shape of society and human behaviors will be formed by our technologies and how we use them, rather than theories — that philosophers are essentially useless. He’s very practical, seemingly like Taleb.

But, I’m not convinced this is true or that it’s what needs to happen. The reasons many of our technologies are made and goals that they help us accomplish — even if that’s just entertainment — are based on (usually unconscious) ancient life-philosophies, from times when we didn’t understand too much about what we are or how our world functions. Pre-, Non-, or anti-scientific philosophies.

We have a culture where “making stuff” [or starting start-ups!] is heavily encouraged, but thinking about what we’re making and why, is not. While that works for experimentation in science and other fields, much of the result is a metaphorical as well as literal/physical pile of garbage. A machine with no direction.

I don’t know about the top-down approach working either, but I don’t think it’s wise to regard reflection and theory as useless.

How is science relevant in daily life, besides as technological by-products?

Why would it be important to encourage or explore a systemic perception of our world, based on the systems we learn about in nature?

Why should we think of or care about what we’re made of, what surrounds us, what we inescapably, undeniably Are?

Why would we want to re/consider thousands of years of human values based on arbitrary historical decisions?

Is there something to be gained from aligning life/behavioral-philosophies with what we know about the world, due to the recurring patterns we’ve seen?

For an organism beginning to know itself, could there possibly be a goal — a direction in which to proceed? A way to expand upon itself, to probe further? What does it want?

Would we, Should we, Can we, Will we?


I don’t need to tell you that for me, the answers to all of these are positive. But these are ideas to investigate, not simply to confirm.

It’s interesting that it’s possible for some of us to be exposed to [science, art, philosophy], and yet be able to / want to go back to the cave with no further thought about any of that. That is a useful attribute, for the group as a whole. For the system to work.

We do what we must, because we can — for the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.