Yuri Tarnopolsky
The New and the Different

The  N$ and  the  DIFFERENT
                                                                            D i f f e r e n t





 By Yuri Tarnopolsky
Foreword (2006)




1.  The Everything
 2.  The child
 3.  The new metaphysics
 4.  Theories of Everything
 5.  A universe in a box
 6.  Chaos and order
 7.  Lego big and small
 8.  Clouds and elephants
 9.  Selection
 10.  The Pantheon of Everything
 11.  A chemist's view of mathematics
 12.  Atoms of Everything
 13.  Graphs
 14.  Molecules
 15.  Polymers
 16.  Ideas
 17.  A chemist's view of chemistry
 18.  A chemist's view of physics
 19.  Larger than life
 20.  Lives of birds and stones
 21.  Space full of ice cream
 22.  Phase space
 23.  The language Lego
 24.  Toward chemistry of Everything
 25.  Space walks
 26.  The flickering bond
 27.  From undressing to divorce
 28.  The importance of being negative
 29.  Mindless science, lifeless life
 30.  More and less
 31.  Love thy neighbor
 32.  Complexity and evolution
 33.  Algorithmic complexity
 34.  Local complexity
 35.  Why are DNA and language linear?
 36.  Mindless copy-making
 37.  Measuring complexity
 38.  The New and the Different
 39.  Generation
 40.  Heat motion and the mind
 41.  The marriage broker
 42.  Why nothing happens at once?
 43.  Transition state
 44.  Catalysis equinized
 45.  Catalysis humanized
 46.  The hand that shook the cradle
 47.  Catalysis and signal
 48.  Matter and mind: a family photo
 49.  Mind as chaos and order
 50.  The village of the mind
 51.  Mind as Lego
 52.  The mind in turmoil
 53.  The wiring of the mind
 54.  The mathematical mind
 55.  The expanding space
 56.  Competition and consciousness
 57.  Temperature and complexity
 58.  Everything: the last look




I was born in the former Soviet Union.
        I became a dedicated chemist in my teens after I had seen a demonstration of chemical experiments, arranged at a local college for six-graders.
        I was hypnotized by chemical names, strange formulas, and miraculous change of color right before my eyes. Soon I was more or less familiar with the high school chemistry, very much ahead of the curriculum. Yet I was open to many other things, not necessarily bordering with chemistry. After high school I even considered psychiatry as my future career. I took up chemistry, however, and joined the Soviet academe as a professor of chemistry in Krasnoyarsk, a large city in Siberia.
        My bookshelves were stuffed with books on chemistry and psychiatry, but there were also physics, biology, mathematics, logic, Aristotle, Lucretius, Descartes, utopian literature. I devoured all classics of world literature. After the miracles of chemistry had become routine, my rich collection of folk tales from all around the world became a new source of magic. I would never miss any performance of classical music on the radio. My collection of recordings comprised the entire serious music of the twentieth century.

        In 1977, after my fifteen voluntary Siberian years, I came back to my native city of Kharkov in the warm Ukraine. In the summer of 1979 I applied for emigration visas. By that time, however, the Soviets, in a tug of the Cold War, had suddenly stopped emigration and, like many thousands of other applicants, I was refused the visa. This is how I became a refusenik.
        Having demonstrated my disloyalty to the Communist government by my intent to change allegiance, I was completely cut off the society, with no chance of any professional employment. Neither did I belong to the distant world of freedom. Suddenly I was able to appreciate the profound realism of Bosch, Breughel, Goya, Dali, and other painters of unreal worlds. Like in the famous picture of Maurits C. Escher, I could climb or descend the social stairs with equal result: they led nowhere.
        The deep intellectual isolation of the refusal stirred up the memories of the books I read all my life. Finally, my disheveled thoughts started revolving around a single axis.

The introduction of set theory by Georg Cantor in 1880 was one of a kind among major conceptual revolutions,. While previously mathematicians had operated with numbers and points, set theory gave them the tool to deal with any objects. Since set can be not only a collection of numbers but also a collection of things, people, or ideas—and even a mix of all three—science acquired the language to talk about everything. With a hindsight, the abstract message of set theory was a promise of universal approach to the world as a whole, like in the times of Aristotle.

        About the same time, thermodynamics came up with an idea of a great generality, introducing the way to measure chaos by entropy. Chaos was one of the most ancient pre-

scientific concepts of humanity and it appeared quite natural to apply the idea of entropy (Rudolf Clausius, Ludwig Boltzmann) to many areas beyond traditional physics. Thermodynamics turned out to be as universal as mathematics and not just a part of theory of heat engines. For a while it had balked at the phenomenon of life, but in the twentieth century it smoothly covered the controversial area of non-equilibrium phenomena (Ilya Prigogine).
        Thermodynamics is applicable to very large collections of more or less similar objects, such as molecules exchanging energy. Scientific publications, scientists, and large assemblies of people are large collections exchanging information. Economics deals with many thousands of entities exchanging value and information. All those areas have already been treated as thermodynamic systems, in spite of the defiantly individualistic human nature.

        When in 1859 Charles Darwin discovered some intimate mechanisms of large assemblies of organisms, he expressed them in anthropomorphic terms of struggle for existence, competition, and selection. That was a new class of phenomena of universal importance well beyond biology. About one hundred years later it became clear that organisms were involved in exchange of genetic material. In due time, the concept of information, rooted in the much older concept of entropy, embraced humans, organisms, and machines, as well as yet unheard and unseen aliens from distant galaxies. The spreading of universal messages of science over previously isolated fields of knowledge has been typical for the twentieth century: a fascinating picture to watch.

        In the second half of this century it looked like science—so successful and omnipotent with polymers, genes, semiconductors, and computers—should be able to answer any question about individuals and societies. Complex phenomena, however, have been hardly understandable and even less manageable.
        Moreover, a new dark cloud appeared on the intellectual horizon. Complex phenomena—whether they were called dynamic systems, adaptive systems, or ordered chaos—seemed to be unpredictable in principle. Although we are moving toward an integral vision of the world, we feel ourselves more and more like the ancient Greeks who knew that gods always had the last word. Chance is the Zeus of the new Pantheon.
        As a chemist, watching the conceptual drama of modern science, recorded in scores of popular books, I felt myself far away from the center stage. While mathematics with sets and probabilities, physics with thermodynamics, and biology with selection had universal messages reaching far beyond their immediate fields, chemists stayed fixed on stirring their bubbling pots. Bright undergraduates dozed at lectures on chemistry and kept complaining that chemistry had no theory. Although organic chemistry had developed its own theory of a distinctive beauty, chemistry remained almost entirely descriptive and the theory was more hindsight than foreseeing. Yet I believed that chemistry, too, might have a universal message. It started taking shape in my mind.
        Practically all comments to the folk tales in my collection contained references to a book by the Russian ethnographer Vladimir Propp, (1971), who systematized Russian folk tales as "molecules" consisting of the same "atoms" of plot arranged in different ways, and even wrote their formulas. His book was published in the 30's, when Claude Levi-Strauss, the founder of what became known as structuralism, was studying another kind of “molecules:” the structures of kinship in tribes of Brazil. Remarkably, this time a promise of a generalized and unifying vision of the world was coming from a source in humanities. What later happened to structuralism, however, is a different story, but the opportunity to build a bridge between sciences and humanities was missed. The competitive and pugnacious humanities could be a rough terrain.
        I believed that chemistry carried a universal message about changes in systems that could be described in terms of elements and bonds between them. Chemistry was a particular branch of a much more general science about breaking and establishing bonds. It was not just about molecules: a small minority of hothead human "molecules" drove a society toward change. A nation could be hot or cold. A child playing with Lego and a poet looking for a word to combine with others were in the company of a chemist synthesizing a drug.
        Chemistry has always been the most voluminous science. The yearly crop of chemical knowledge is densely packed into dozens of thousands of pages of Chemical Abstracts, where original articles can be compressed in a few lines of a short digest. Some chemical compounds include millions of atoms arranged in a strict order. It will be hard to find another science as well adapted to dealing with complexity as chemistry.

In 1979 I heard about a mathematician who tried to list everything in the world. I easily found in a bookstore the first volume of Pattern Theory by Ulf Grenander (1976), translated into Russian.
        As soon as I had opened the book, I saw that it was exactly what I was looking for and what I called "meta-chemistry," i.e., something more general than chemistry, which included chemistry as an application, together with many other applications. I can never forget the physical sensation of a great intellectual power that gushed into my face from the pages of that book.

        Although the mathematics in the book was well above my level, Ulf Grenander's basic idea was clear. He described the world in terms of structures built of abstract "atoms" possessing bonds to be selectively linked with each other. Body movements, society, pattern of a fabric, chemical compounds, and scientific hypothesis—everything could be described in the atomistic way that had always been considered indigenous for chemistry. Grenander called his “atoms of Everything” generators, which tells something to those who are familiar with group theory, but for the rest of us could be a good little metaphor for generating complexity from simplicity. Generators had affinities to each other and could form bonds of various strength.
        Atomism is a millennia old idea. In the next striking step so much appealing to a chemist, Ulf Grenander outlined the foundation of a universal "physical chemistry" able to approach not only fixed structures but also "reactions" they could undergo.

        By that time, due to innumerable discussions with my refusenik friend Eugene Chudnovsky, as unemployed as I was at that time, now professor of physics at the City University of New York, I got very much interested in the problem of origin of life. From him I learned about nonequilibrium thermodynamics of Ilya Prigogine, works of Manfred Eigen on molecular evolution, and the physical picture of the world in general. Origin of life represented for me a more general question: how everything evolved from nothing. I hoped to find a clue in pattern theory.
        Oddly, the refusal brought me both freedom from small everyday problems and a piece of mind that I had never had before. Only two problems occupied my mind—mere survival and future freedom—while petty troubles attacked an average Soviet citizen like the birds in the Alfred Hitchcock's movie.
        I was unable to wait patiently until a turnaround in Soviet politics would open the door slammed into the face of thousands potential emigrants, and the watchful eye of the Soviet secret police soon noticed my anger. In 1983, after four years in the refusal, I was arrested and put on trial for defaming the Soviet system. I wound up in a Siberian labor camp.
        My trial, in which I took no part, revived my old interest in abstract problems. I was accused of making a statement in an open postcard sent abroad that I had been illegally detained in Russia, harassed, and the escalation of harassment could lead to my imprisonment. That was qualified as defaming the Soviet system because nobody could be arrested in Russia without any crime. Therefore, I was in fact arrested and punished for having predicted that I would be arrested and punished. There was little I could do but trust the hidden abilities of my body and the defenders of human rights abroad.
        It was a typical logical paradox, a strange loop, as Douglas R. Hofstadter called it in his fascinating Goedel, Escher, Bach (Hofstadter, 1989).
        As soon as I had been able to buy a notebook in the labor camp, I started writing. I did not have more than half an hour a day for writing, and not every day. Even if I had more time, I would not be able to extract more energy from prison food. But I had over one thousand days.

        In the camp I had no scientific literature at all. During the third year, I learned from a friend that the third volume of Ulf Grenander's book had been translated into Russian. Sending books to prisoners was forbidden. Nevertheless, probably, because it was 1985, and Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the book reached me in the camp.
        At the end of my term, I took out the metal coil from my spiral-bound notebook and sent the pages as letters. When I came home in 1986, I assembled the notebook with the coil and covers that I had brought with me from the camp.
        In 1987 my family and I came to the USA. I managed to resume my professional career as scientist. In my free time I was writing a book about my recent past where I told mostly about my search for the clue to the Russian mystery, as well as the mystery of complexity, against the backdrop of the camp life. My Memoirs of 1984 were published in 1993 by the University Press of America.
        The time came to retrieve my old spiral notebook. After many years it still seemed to contain some sound ideas. In a library I ran into proceedings of a symposium on complexity held in Montpellier, France, in 1984, the peak of my Orwellian adventures, see Complexity (1985). I resumed reading literature on complexity, the new emerging field of knowledge, of which the chemists—the born navigators through complexity—kept staying away.
        I had lived in Rhode Island since 1988, but only in 1994 I finally met Ulf Grenander, professor of mathematics at Brown University, Providence, RI. His new book on pattern theory had just been published.

        This book is exactly about what the title says: the New and the Different. It analyzes the very idea of novelty. We use this word every day (new mousetrap, new policy, new approach, new idea, new lipstick, new novel), but what it means to be new? And what it means to be just a different variety of a known brand? This is the main subject of the book.. To answer this question in a rather straightforward way, I used the ideas of pattern theory .

        After this introduction,

"The time has come," the walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.