Archive for the ‘new kind of science’ Category

While I have many interests and ideas… the most of enduring is my own obsession over the nature of reality and specific spacetime. It’s probably been my guiding light since my much younger self around 14-16 started reading/toying with chaos theory, popular cosmology books and starting in roads into deeper than algebra mathematics. At the same time the theater bug struck in earnest as I struggled with a long involvement with Christianity and the bible. You put it all together and all of these things seemed to be asking questions about origins and the flow of time and cause and effect.
I have a bit of a revisionist/simplified story around why I went to University of Chicago… but a lot of my most basic thinking at the time was still about how to fully engage my obsession… it was very clear that was probably the only place I could go and chase this obsession in a world class physics and math department that just so happened to co-exist with amazing theater and improv comedy. (These things are related deeply, I swear, on some incredibly fundamental level.)
Somehow I managed to survive, barely, getting a theoretical (not applied) math degree (it’s still a mystery as to how I survived complex analysis) while performing in, directing or writing something like 40 theater shows… and then I went out into the real world no closer to understanding anything at all about the true nature of my obsession, spacetime.
Futzing about with first real world jobs but mostly sneaking off to Borders as often as I could I basically read almost every professional computer book I could as well as picked up A New Kind of Science, by Wolfram. In a mish-mash of messing around with programming/multi media side projects, shortlived w2 jobs and reading as much as I could… I finally devised a ridiculous plan. I would one day work under Stephen Wolfram and actually come to know his vision and math driving A New Kind of Science. All 10 billion pages of NKS seemed to overflow with consistent, mind blowing Yes This Could Actually Be The Basis of Reality stuff that somehow was bizarrely consistent with the bevy of other art, theater, religious, literary thoughts I’d come across on the matter.
So this plan… well first I knew that it wouldn’t be good enough to have “read” NKS, i would actually need to know how to use Mathematica and understand the theoretical and applied logic behind its operations. Being a resourceful young man with no shame I managed to convince my software provisioning team at the w2 job I had at the time to purchase me a license for Mathematica (those are expensive for non students!) because it was critical for the development of Online Advertising Recommendation Algorithms. Well, whatever, it worked and I was off and running learning and trying things out and mostly making a mess of my computers.
The plan needed to evolve as I wasn’t getting anywhere. in 2008 or so someone pointed me to the New Kind of Science summer school that Wolfram Research put on. Well, shoot! There ya go… I doubted whether I had any business in spending three weeks in Bernie Sanders country (VT!) hanging out with some of the smartest people I’d ever met doing theoretical physics and computer science… but having no shame… I wrote up a typo filled statement of my intentions and applied. I wrote a lengthy run on sentence piece about how I thought the approach of NKS could finally bridge the broken disciplines of cognitive psychology and economics and radical behaviorism (I said it somewhat differently… and live blogged my approach… shameless… https://socialmode.com/2008/03/21/anatomy-of-a-decision-in-life-applying-to-nks-summer-school/). Beyond the silly basis of my plan my wife and I also had two young kids and I didn’t really have a job job, just consulting gigs… so spending 3 weeks working on insanely theoretical/no-connection to my real life was even more ridiculous. but obsessions are obsessions…
Shorting the story here Wolfram invited me to the NKS school that summer where I decided to pursue a project on Turing Machines (https://socialmode.com/2008/08/07/nks-summer-school-summary/) that was pretty great to work on. I greatly improved my understanding of Mathematica, the beauty of turing and his machines, the lambda calculus as well as further confirmed I was as far away from understanding spacetime as ever. Beyond my project I had several deep interactions with SW and various members of his team. These all gave me better and better glimpses into this stuff… the other students also had a mix of unbelievably interesting perspectives in philosophy, neuroscience, medicine, architecture and so much more. I was under no delusion that I understood much of anything… much like my math degree in college… but I always bet on osmosis and you don’t know what you know and what you don’t know…. meaning, sometimes you know things but only by using it and applying it in different ways…
Ok, so having properly stoked the obsession I became more deeply enamored with things which led to more discussions with SW and ultimately to engaging their team in launching Wolfram|Alpha, which i had see while at the summer school and knew that I wanted to somehow be involved with it. Outside of NKS and my various reality seeking obsessions my own “professional” career had continued down the “search engine” path from SEO junk, to building various search engines/crawlers, playing with query semantics and indexing ideas, etc. etc. by this time I’d worked on several web scale search engine/recommendation engine/geo gis systems and everything in between. So doing Wolfram|Alpha was an obvious next step pro wise and obsession wise.
Well, beyond the fun times in trying to explain WA to the world and trying to figure out various business models my little spacetime obsession became an obsession with language (programming and otherwise) and probably what some would consider semiotics and other analysis of symbols. There was just something in NKS, math, mathematica, computers, turing machines, radical behaviorism, theater, religion, art, LIFE that scream SYMBOLICS… study of SYMBOLICS… oh and on and on and on.
I carried all of these obsessions from various bill paying gigs to the next… which was really just a front for me to continue buying computers and books at an alarming clip while not completely ruining my young children’s futures.
This sort of brings us back around to RIGHT NOW with this wonderful blog post from SW and my own current Art and Philosophy situation. His post still strikes me as On The Right Path. And it’s still not the full story… it’s even more fundamental than Space as a Network and it’s Just a Network and some simple rules… and the only way I’ve come to be able to work out the details is well, not to work out the details… but do as SW is doing… searching the space of possibilities… I’m just doing it through art, as my hunch (which is likely just a confusion of my obsession) is that an artistic exploration is Computational Equivalent to writing a bunch of symbolic programs AND may, in fact, be more efficient due to the nature of how humans (awesome multi faceted pattern recognizers) process data and the world that data represents. See here for some exposition and poke around the art… http://www.worksonbecoming.com/symbol-and-relation/
Look, perhaps this is all unknowable (likely) and perhaps I’m just a kooky guy who spent too much time with his nose in a book. What I learned though is that… this little obsession spun me off in a million directions gaining lots of little skills that all allowed me to navigate the weird business world, the slightly unnerving computer programmer culture, improved my literacy, help start a school, employ and raise up lots of ambitious upstart people and perhaps have made a couple of hundred million dollars here and there for folks, and now has me making art, mostly poorly conceived but done at a pace that fills me up.
perhaps that’s what spacetime is really about. using it in fulfilling ways.
perhaps everything is connected.

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As I watched some of the Republican National Convention, gear up for the DNC, get through my own daily work, read essays, strategize about business, talk to friends and family and synthesize all the data, I just come back to this question What Are We So Afraid Of?

I decided to write this post today specifically because I saw this ridiculous commercial yesterday for ADT Pulse.   http://www.adtpulse.com/  This commercial made it clear that if you aren’t monitoring your home in real time with video all the time everything you know and love was in grave danger!    So, I’ve decided to figure out just how afraid of everything I should be.

Here’s some of what we seem to be afraid about as a culture.

Our jobs: 




Our economy: 




Our government: 




People different than us: 












Technology and Media:





Cancer, Disease:



Medicine, Shots, Vaccines:



God, Heaven and Hell:







Our Children’s Safety:









Large Hadron Collider:



Everything else:


Nothing to Fear?

So is there anything to fear?   are the fears valid?  well, I guess they are valid fears if you don’t have information.   So here’s some information.


Most fears drilled into us aren’t founded on evidence – at least not at the level we fear them:




Unemployment isn’t really that high in this country (or most western countries), especially if you get an education:



You’ll probably have 5-10 employers in your working lifetime so assume you’ll get laid off, fired or go out of business.  There will be other businesses to hire you or you can just make something yourself:



Economy will have short term blips but ultimately continues to churn ahead:



You’re unlikely to be murdered



Children aren’t taken very often (at least in Colorado)



In fact, violence has long been on the decline:



It’s ok if you forget to pray, chances are it probably doesn’t change outcomes:



And humans have been getting tattoos for a long time and the world hasn’t ended:



Oh, and, humans aren’t that different from Bonobos or Chimps, much less other humans.  So, maybe we should rethink that worrying about people that aren’t just like us:



Almost every one of common fears are unwound through perspective changes aka education aka realizing it’s not black and white.    Again, see the S. Pinker History of Violence link above to get an idea of the real impact of just literacy and access to information and what it does to fear.

Is it a big deal that people fear the wrong things?   Yes!   Especially if it leads to suicide bombing, racial profiling, not getting an education and so on.


But, c’mon, aren’t there some things we should fear?



and maybe this too


well maybe this too



In the end, methinks fearing too much is a waste of time because in the end we just don’t know what’s going to happen, right?


Knowing you can’t predict it all (thus prevent it) what’s the point in worrying to the point of being truly scared?



So, no, ADT, I won’t be buying your Pulse product.



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Please run this blog through the Baloney Detection Kit that was published here in the last 90 days. I recommend you do it for every media byte but, a guy off the streets writing about our global financial crisis may need it more than others for obvious reasons.

There is a postulate that states, “People will fight harder to keep just what they have than they will to double it.”

The financial crisis we are now experiencing – much like the one in the 1930s – is the collection of consequences for not attending to or understanding the dynamic relationships between 50 or so markers with thousands of events, also dynamic, that occur in the marketplace.

At the same time, those with access and responsibility for our economic homeostasis were postulating and positioning the use of recycled and flawed approaches as having ‘mitigating’ circumstances surrounding their failures, again and again and…… again.Each time our institutions fell further behind at tortuous attempts of adjusting the dials to prove or show these fanciful approaches were correct but not executed correctly. No one flinched.

Each time the fanciful approaches were linked to current fears – mostly social, that were then maintained lest a change in ‘the’ approach make things worse, as in the postulate above.

Fear and shallow rhetoric prevented our economic behavior from being empirically subjected to an experimental analysis of the behavior of markets. Now we have another chance. The consequences for greater pain are more probable than any temporary gains from standing pat or biding our time. Our trillions of lost dollars and savings and confidence has occasioned a search for another method, to find a different method, a variation, to bring confidence as well as some level of empiricism to financial institutions that only pretend to be empirical.

Our strengths as a country and culture are science. It is time to try what we know works to get us to the moon and extend the average life spans in less than one hundred years from 37 to 74 years. It is also fitting that an empirical variation will help us understand what Darwin saw (whose 200 birthday we celebrate this Thursday) as the dominate feature in all species over 150 years ago.

For nay-sayers and those that have a vested interest (no pun intended) in that status quo of this pig in a poke economic approach, one can only suggest that the time for something else is upon us. That ‘something’ isn’t witchcraft, tea leaves, prayer or a link to LinkedIn.com. It is science in excess. I hope that idea gets more traction faster than Darwin’s ideas have fared.

You better hope so too.

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This post is my interpretation.  Other thinkers, philosophers and researchers have other (more technical) approaches regarding this subject.

Statement: There are no models that completely explain the “how or why” sufficiently complex phenomenon.


Explain – Accurately represents the causes, context, behavior and consequences of a phenomenon and presents such representation in a usable form (we can apply this knowledge outside of just explaining)

Completely – 100% (or very nearly 100%) represent all cases of the phenomenon.  In particular, there are no “exceptions” nor is there simply a “rule of thumb.”

“How and Why” –  The actual behavior, make up, and structure of the phenomenon.

In other words:

All our scientific efforts produce models, not explanations.  Models help us improve our methods and provide insight into phenomenon, but they are not the “thing” and they do not explain the “thing”.  Our explanations based on models and/or the incomplete information they are always based on (computational irreducibility, uncertainty) are forever not complete and always capable of revision (inaccurate).

Math is the ultimate model language.  It is a way to describe relationships when you strip away the gnarly details of the real world.  It sometimes has beautiful results but never produces an explanation of the real world.

Computer science is inbetween the real world and math.  A great way to simulate things and build new computational models, but because it’s not made of the stuff we’re often simulate it can’t possibly be completely accurate.

Biology and other specialized disciplines tend to rely more observations than abstract models.  The result is a nearly infinite record of exception cases making conceptual models that span multiple phenomenon very difficult (well, that’s because you mostly can’t do it.)

Though I’m giving a very truncated account of everything hopefully the point is clear.  Explanations are always our judgment, our subjective synthesis of the inaccurate data we have.  This does not imply we don’t know anything.  Nor does it imply we don’t have explanations.  For simple, or relatively simple, phenomenon we have accurate explanations and good working knowledge.

Specifically, as related to this blog, economics, behaviorism, and social models are all useful models.  None of the “laws” presented in these disciplines are fullproof.  Rational Choice theory, supply and demand, matching laws….  these are good tools, but not full explanations of the how and way of behavior, media and social activity.

Proof: Is left as an exercise to the reader.

Proof Part Duex:  This is an intractable problem.  There’s no way to formally prove these statements.  They are hunches.  I do believe the proof is somehow along these lines: to determine if an explanation is complete and accurate I’d have to be able to reduce a phenomenon down somehow, which is impossible for sufficiently complex phenomenon. (think along the lines of the halting problem.  i can’t determine if a program is going to halt any more quickly than running the program and seeing if it halts….)

For a more formal treatment of scientific explanation head here.

There are many more resources and I’ll post them as I surface them.

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The NKS summer school archive site is live.  I figured it would be best for me to wait until that was done before I attempted to post my project or write too much about other’s projects.

You can check out a summary of what I did personally on the Wolfram site.

Project Title 
Perturbing Turing Machines

Perturbations to elementary cellular automata have been investigated thoroughly. Under a certain level of perturbation, there are slight changes to local patterns but the automata tend to recover globally. The more complicated rules show greater disturbance but still can tolerate perturbations. This study considers similar perturbations to Turing machines.

Do Turing machines exhibit similar behavior?

“And the reason this is important is that in any real experiment, there are inevitably perturbations on the system one is looking at” (NKS p. 324). We must account for the effects of perturbations to draw any connections between these simple constructs and their natural counterparts.

Every project done there was interesting.  I encourage readers to check them all out.  Some projects are more abstract than others and all were a good launch pad for further research or immediate practical use.

I do have to call out Ben Rapoport’s project on neuronal computations.  It was beautiful in many ways.

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This is one fun little theorem.

Basically… if symbolic systems terminate (program halts/gives output), the terminating expression is independent of how the rules were applied.

You get “confluence” out of this.

You probably are thinking, “and so what does this have to do with my life?”

a) maybe nothing if arithmetic never enters your life (unlikely)

b) it’s extremely good to know when you use functional programming that you can get to the same answer with many different ways of writing something.  For good overview of functional programming, go here.

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