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:
images on the computer monitor, made with a drawing software,
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 and this is 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."
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:
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 and 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
of an amino acid called methionine on the
right is approximate.
The next two examples represent a thought:
Theory, even in its conceptual core, is
incomparably richer than my reflections on it.
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.
My final example from the zoo of Everything is more complex: a paragraph of the US Tax Code (see Essay 13. On Numbers ):
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.
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.
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.
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:
In short, the digital code can be written, manipulated, duplicated, and annihilated by finger touch .
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:
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 —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.
If language, ideally, names one thing with one name,
mathematics, according to
I thought I had made up the word dematerialization
but there are 8000 links to it,
Page created: 2001 Revised: 2016
Essays 1 to 56 : http://spirospero.net/essays-complete.pdf
Essays 57 to 60: http://spirospero.net/LAST_ESSAYS.pdf
Essay 60: http://spirospero.net/artandnexistence.pdf