Yuri Tarnopolsky                                                                                                            ESSAYS
18. On Everything
complexity. code.  unified picture of the world. pattern theory. Ulf Grenander. dematerialization. US Tax Code.

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Essay 18. On Everything

Everything in the world is what we know about the world. What we know about Everything is its representation. Representations can be:

           pieces of cardboard with words written on them, arranged in a certain order,

           images on the computer monitor, made with a drawing software,

            words of common language, arranged in texts,

           words in Ancient Egyptian language revived and modernized like
           the Hebrew language in Israel, with an addition of modern pictographic
           signs, pictures, drawings, graphs, charts, and blueprints,

           completely artificial language using esoteric symbols from sci-fi movies,

           computer files,

           heavy stones with chiseled symbols, like Hammurabi Stele  and Mayan inscriptions.

           knowledge stored in human brains (we do not know how, yet),

           other combinations of any blocks, as well as combinations of  the above.

The function of the language is, ideally, to name one thing with one name and to show the connections between the things through the connections between the names.

The block  ..  from Essay 17. On Complexity  represents only itself. We can represent it in many other ways, for example, with letter B. We can also make it represent letter B .  Therefore, B will mean  and   will mean B.
We name one thing with one name within a language, but there could be many languages.  This is Ka kaand this is Ba ba in Ancient Egyptian (see Essay 15. On menage a trois in the Stone Age ). They have also meanings that can be expressed as:  Ka is  "body double" and Ba is "soul." Or: Ka is "two arms joined at the shoulders" and Ba is "bird with human head."

Genetic code is also a language in which ATG, for example, means the amino acid methionine that can be seen further below. In the language of DNA, sequences of four symbols A, T, C, and G  code sequences of twenty amino acids.

Coding can also be fuzzy. We can say that an English text codes a French text. The reason why we don't like saying that is the ambiguity of languages that tend to deviate from the rule "one thing, one name."  A synchronic interpreter who listens to a French speech and renders it in English works like the reproductive apparatus of a living cell that reads DNA, translates it into RNA, and further churns out  the proteins.  An often sophisticated apparatus of decoding or translation is necessary for the process. Borrowing terminology from molecular biology, we can say that the apparatus expresses the code. Expression is a particular case of translation when the code and its translation are very different in nature.


There are some examples of the blocks combined by the color rules,  in continuation of Essay 17. On Complexity. This time the blocks have meanings. They are the words of a language and they code some real things.

A molecule of water consists  of  one atom of oxygen, O, and two atoms of hydrogen, H:


                                    ATOMS                                     WATER

We could use different blocks for representing water, for example, the letters:   W-A-T-E-R

Our chemical choice of representation, however, reveals how the family of chemical compounds is structured. With the same symbols we can portray at least three other compounds, hydrogen, H2, oxygen, O2 , and hydrogen peroxide, H2O2:


               Hydrogen                Oxygen                                Hydrogen peroxide

This symbolic language saves us a lot of words because it reflects some properties of real atoms methiononand molecules. It does not mean that molecules look like their symbolic representations. Both water and hydrogen peroxide molecules are angular. We cannot learn chemistry simply by looking at the chemical formulas. Even the more realistic molecular model of an amino acid called methionine on the right is approximate. 
There is much more in chemistry. In the picture of Everything, the physical laws of nature should be added to the material blocks, serving as the rules of stability and transition from combination to combination.

The next two examples represent a thought:

   and a grammatical structure of a phrase:


Pattern Theory, even in its conceptual core,  is incomparably richer than my reflections on it.
In its terminology the blocks are called generators, their color dots are bonds, combinations are configurations, and their "families" are patterns. A certain probability (or energy) is attributed to the connection (bond couple) between two generators through their bonds, which makes the world of patterns strikingly similar to chemistry, and, in general, to the real world, whether we speak about atoms or ideas.

In Pattern Theory, some blocks prefer to stick together, like letters q and u in English, and others are afraid of each other like the sounds of k and n.

When I first opened a book by Ulf Grenander, around 1980, I immediately recognized in Pattern Theory a chemistry of Everything. But the best way to learn about it is to go to the original. Playing with Lego may serve as an introduction.

My final example from the zoo of Everything is more complex: a paragraph of the US Tax Code (see Essay 13. On Numbers  ):

In lieu of the tax imposed  by section 1, there is hereby imposed for each taxable year on the tax table income of every individual whose tax table income for such year does not exceed the ceiling amount, a tax determined under  tables, applicable to such taxable year, which shall be prescribed by the Secretary and which shall be in such form as he determines appropriate.

The Tax Code is a code, indeed. It codes the procedures used by taxpayers, accountants, and IRS officials.

In order to show the design of the excerpt and get an intuitive measure of its complexity, I split it into semantic boxes and show the connections between them. I realize that I could have misunderstood it all because I still have doubts—but this is what complexity is for—and the one who has doubts is weak and needs a counselor—and this is what complexity is also for: to create and run a metabolic cycle of money.


 Each group can be split, in a similar way, into smaller word-size linguistic blocks, like a building can be dismantled by floors, rooms, and, finally, turned into a pile of rubble.

Conversely, we can imagine the construction of the building from pieces of building material, and if the material is stone blocks, it will be a hell of a work.  This is why I believe that complexity can be alternatively defined as the physical work needed to understand/build/dismantle an object (see Essay 17. On Complexity). For the text like that in the Tax Code, it can be the amount of glucose consumed by an average brain until it is fully understood. In dollars, it is, probably, the cost of education needed for instant understanding of such texts.

If there are no rules of connection whatsoever, we can just leave the materials dumped on the ground in no matter what order.

NOTE. In the real physical world, we still need a certain level of chaotic energy (i.e., temperature) to maintain chaos of molecular movement. Even chaos is not  free. Imagine how humiliating it should be for humans to create chaos by work, not heat. That was the physics of punishment by hard labor in quarries.

Now that I have outlined the universally granular, atomistic, modular, and prefabricated design of Everything, whether of the Empire State Building, or atoms, or words, or numbers, I must acknowledge that Everything is not homogenous. I have to partially recall my claim on the universality. It will be as far from the truth to equal a skyscraper with the word "skyscraper" and even with a complete blueprint of the skyscraper, as to equal the death on the movie screen with real death. Yet there is always something in the non-truth!

A chemist looks at chemical formulas, manipulates them on paper or on file, and comes to new combinations. A large and complex apparatus of research labs, pilot, manufacturing, and marketing facilities turns the visual code of a new drug stored as a file in a computer, into pills for sale in pharmacies.

An architect draws crude outline of a building, makes it more specific, manipulates it, using CAD software, and a large and  complex apparatus of design, construction, accounting, and marketing facilities turns the code (blueprint) into the real building for sale.

A script writer makes a script as a computer file, manipulates with it, sells it, and a large and complex apparatus of movie industry turns the code (script; sometimes changing it beyond recognition) into a movie for sale in theaters and video stores.

Similarly, a code of a legislative idea in an ambitious head is turned into a law enforced by a budget-taxing large and complex apparatus of police, courts, lawyers, and prisons.

A code of a space shuttle is turned by the large and complex apparatus of NASA into a multi-billion dollar adventure.

A code of a sacred religious book, interpreted in different ways, contributes to legal codes and ways of life as different as those of Malaysia, Turkey and Afghanistan, with different economic consequences.

DNA codes unfold into a new human being in a mother's womb, or an oak, a whale, an ant. Right before our eyes, a new large and complex industry emerges which could manipulate with the code in the form of computer file and turn it into a designed organism for sale.

A code of knowledge in a young human's head is being manipulated by education and upbringing. By extension, we can foresee times when the knowledge code will be converted into a computer file, manipulated, and inserted directly in the brain, with a corresponding turnover of money.


It is the large and complex apparatus of human civilization that creates, manipulates, and expresses codes with money playing the role of energy currency, like ATP (see Essay 7. On the Smell of Money).

Both the code as content and its "real" material form are combinations of elementary units. If the instructions for building a house were carved in stone, like in the Rosetta Stone and Behistun Inscription, it would take almost as much time and energy consuming to manipulate them as to build a house from stone. Only ideas in one's head could be manipulated swiftly, but, as a tradeoff, we do not have a full control over our own thinking.

The ancient technology developed slowly because the technology of writing was expensive and available only to a small group of  literate people. Even now, the inventors who possess, together with poets and theoretical scientists, a rare ability to manipulate complex images in their head, like to play with the hardware—the big Lego that  is its own code—and later convert the "real thing" into a verbal or graphic code.

The human mind, like an entire civilization, expresses intangible ideas in visible and audible words.

Instead of the duality of spirit and matter that classical philosophy was preoccupied with, I believe that the duality of the code and its representation is what really determines essential aspects of the joint civilization of humans and Things and splits Everything into two categories, almost like sexes.  It must be noted that in Pattern Theory, spirit and matter are treated equally.

Both the code and its representation are material, including ideas. It takes glucose to both think and speak, as well as write and punch away the keyboard. The digital code, however, which is the DNA of Things, differs from the Things in three major aspects:
           DIGITAL CODE             THINGS 
A change of the code requires a ridiculously tiny (the theoretical minimum is a quantum per bit) amount of energy.  A change of a Thing requires substantial (i.e., much more than a quantum) amount of energy.
           Example: Unscrew a nut, change a tire.
Any minimal change of the code (one bit) requires the same amount of energy

NOTE: The last statement may not be absolutely true because computer memory is a Thing and the information in it is stored in a metric space where work depends on distance. Same holds for the brain as storage medium.


Any minimal change of a Thing depends on the nature of the change.

Example: It requires more energy to take out an internal block of a Lego structure than one on the surface. Writing letter W by hand consumes more energy than writing  number 1, but typing it in the computer consumes the same energy.  Consider also 
rearranging furniture and highlighting and dragging a word on the screen (the visible image is a Thing). 

  A code can be destroyed without a trace A material Thing cannot be destroyed without a trace: matter is conserved.

NOTE: I do not use the word information here. I want to distinguish between the things that can translate into other things, provided the apparatus, and the things that cannot.  Yet presence or absence of information is exactly what divides Everything into the two "sexes."

In short, the digital code can be written, manipulated, duplicated, and annihilated by finger touch .

The deep reason for the unusual properties of the digital code is that a bit of information is represented not by an irreversibly fixed material object, like in the cuneiform clay tablet of Babylon, letters written in ink, or printed documents, but by a state of a material object that can be indefinitely alternated between two states with minimal physical work.

In cultural history, the reversible electronic substrate of memory has no precedent and no analogy. Human memory cannot un-remember and re-remember the forgotten. It seems to fit an ephemeral, fluid, and childish civilization that lives day by day.  But in fact, our civilization has both the newly acquired digital reversible memory with enormous storage capacity and the traditional long term paper memory stored on the shelves of libraries and archives. With its dual—hard and soft—memory,  our digital civilization is an unprecedented turn in evolution. Owing to computers, it can exceed the individual brain, and vice versa. Still, the possession of both memories, hard and soft, rises the intriguing question of senility and infantilism of civilizations.

Hard memory can be made reversible through the rewriting of the kind described by George Orwell in 1984, but only if it stores all rewritings.

In five years, most links to these Essays will be dead. The search, hopefully, would provide new ones. Hopefully, the noble and democratic Google and Guttenberg will still be free (Britannica is not). This is what makes the Web inherently juvenile: knowledge flows through it like daily impressions of a teenager who has a feeling that he or she is in a quick transition and the teen days are numbered.

With little emphasis put on the long time memory and decline of education that gives the keys to the libraries we seem to be sliding into infantilism. We simply do not have time to remember (see Essay 2. On the Chronophages or Time-eaters ). Whether a long time cultural memory and the knowledge of world history, including history of science, really give a young person any advantage in a vehemently materialistic civilization, I don't know. It seems to die off, like the European opulent fashion of the past centuries is dead in the times of body piercing and the above midriff tops.

The properties of the electronic code make our digital civilization naked and vulnerable because for the first time in history a single person with only modest hardware, limited education, and no army can wage a symbolic war against large, complex, and powerful organizations like US Government and Microsoft by accessing and manipulating parts of their codes. The digital civilization will adapt to this inherent threat but the viruses will adapt, too. Our sweet favorite toys are brittle and soluble like lump sugar.

At a quite different level, manipulating genetic code, which is still beyond capability of an average person, establishes new and unprecedented links between the blocks of technology, culture, market economy, and human nature, making the entire web of civilization look like the US Tax Code.

Human body, acquiring some properties of a Thing, claims its share of the limited resources of free energy, and something else has to move over. There is one probable outcome: humans have to become simpler, standardized, and streamlined, preferably, immersed into a disposable and recyclable culture. That was the idea of the imaginary Orwellian world and the bygone Soviet Communism.

Francis Bacon identified knowledge as power in 1597. Knowledge as the code of Everything has always been used for slow laborious creating, manipulating, transforming, and destroying objects of real world.  The unprecedented physical ease of manipulating the code and its material expression came with the digitalization and 3D-printers.

The digital code is an object that is its own code. It represents itself. This seeming dematerialization of the digital world is a historically new phenomenon, which the humans will have to adapt to, probably, paying a price for heavily insulating the code and locking each code into its own Fort Knox.  That would quickly materialize it back and set on the firm ground. This is what evolution did with axons of neurons when it insulated them with myelin. Multiple sclerosis destroys the insulation and wreaks havoc on the brain.

The digital world, therefore, is only a part of Everything.

In a particular, though peculiar, frame of reference, Everything can be classified in terms:

    Dual (i.e., existing as code and its expression: organisms, Things, robots...)  or   Monistic (symbols, inanimate natural objects, galaxies, codes, science, art...).
   Code (digital, genetic, verbal, graphic, etc. ...)  or   Expression of a code (Things, organisms, organizations, procedures, robots, etc.)
   Natural (organisms, galaxies, rocks, personalities, etc...) or   Man-made (Things, carved rocks, codes, hardware, science, corporations, art... )

Thus, a painting by Rembrandt is man-made and monistic. Our planet is natural and monistic. Lion is natural and dual. A blueprint for a toaster is code, monistic, and man-made. A file on a hard disk is dual and man-made code (in short, digital code).

The above tentative classification of  Everything is not only fuzzy and overlapping, but also evolving, with objects migrating from one compartment to another, as it is happening with organisms. Humans are right at the zero point of this anthropocentric system of coordinates and are Everything: dual and monistic, code and expression, natural and man-made.

As Martin Heidegger wrote, "the involvement of Being in human nature is an essential feature of Being."  My point of view, however, seems to be directly opposite of Martin Heidegger's absolute dichotomy between human and non-human. I do not see sharp borders between human and machine, human and animal, human and Thing. I take human as the central reference point only because I am human. If I were a philosopher-dog, I would classify the world in terms of edible-inedible, familiar-unfamiliar, threatening-inviting. Because I am a little bit of a dog, this classification is meaningful for me, too. The reverse is not true. But if I am right, then Heidegger is also right, and vice versa, which means that all that does not matter (see Essay 8. On the Buridan's Ass).

When I read "The proposition ‘man exists’ means: man is that being whose Being is distinguished by the open-standing standing-in in the unconcealedness of Being, from Being, in Being" (Heidegger), I feel powerless to break it down into semantic boxes. Probably, it all depends on what "is" means.

What is the possible future of the relationship between humans and Everything?

I believe that human nature is as much conservative as adaptable. Culture swings back and forth between large opposite patterns, probably, even on the scale between generic barbarism and generic renaissance. In a balkanized culture (see Essay 11, On the Rocks), and in the geopolitical world, the phases of  the swinging may not coincide in different nations, social groups and minorities. Metaphorically speaking, however,  different pendulums suspended from the same support tend to synchronize with time.

I am reluctant to share either conservative or leftist resistance to any extinction. I believe in the sanctity of change.

But it is so good to be humanly biased! I would rather lose whales and caribou than libraries.

Having said that—while intermittently reading Allan Bloom  [1]—I asked myself, like he, whether my "old Great Books conviction" was correct. I don't believe in absolute and universal moral truth and patently correct convictions, but there must be a simple reason why I used to revere old Great Books of humanities, far outside natural sciences, without pragmatic value, instant gratification, and often beyond my full understanding.

The answer came quite shocking: because since the age of  five or six, when I had learned to read,  they were within the reach, at my fingertips, like the keyboard fifty years later. They were the intoxicating Everything on tap, free of charge. Other pleasures of life were more remote and they could not compete with books. I simply took the path of least resistance.

Reading Allan Bloom, I think about the futility of  the noblest lament over the change, loss, and extinction. Civilization evolves irreversibly, and whatever happens with a large number of people, happens for simple and profound reasons that cannot be amended and reversed, but can be understood.


       1.  Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 1987. New York: Simon and Schuster, p. 51.

         2. If language, ideally, names one thing with one name, mathematics, according to
Henry Poincaré, names many things with one name.

        3. I thought I had made up the word dematerialization but there are 8000 links to it,
            many esoteric.
                The above link is great, but I am afraid it will disappear soon. Here is the reference:
                Daedalus 125(3):171-198 (Summer 1996) . Also in: Technological Trajectories
                and the Human Environment. 1997, Pp. 135-156. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Page created: 2001                                                     Revised: 2016

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