Thinking Outside the Book
The technology of the printing press, the nomenclature of the equation, and the subject matter of the physicist have formed the iron triangle of western science since the Renaissance. Numbers and equations are easy to print (which puts circles and lines on the defensive). Dead objects, the focus of physics, can be analyzed piece-meal and sequentially and hence go nicely into the nomenclature of numbers and equations and from there straight into books.
Now a new world may be aborning. Molecular biology has pretty much abandoned the book. It gets done on computer screens and over the internet. Highly parallel emergent phenomena such as evolution and adaptation are unlikely to ever find expression in numbers and equations. They are hungry for an alternative. And biology has now replaced physics as the master science.
This talk will argue that these are all of a piece. There will be no new iron triangle of books, physics, and NKS any more than there could have been a new iron triangle of sacraments, prayer, and physics in the Renaissance. Unless it all changes, it will all fall back to the old ways.
When NKS ideas communicate poorly in text, and they often do, perhaps we need to admit it and move straight to publishing programs. If legacy sciences like astronomy and physics are resistant to bold new ideas like NKS, and they are, perhaps we need to look more aggressively to the under-served worlds of the life sciences and social sciences where NKS is so inherently promising and where the need is so great.
This talk will seek to characterize this new world outside the book, drawing on current examples from biology, computer science, and a bit of blob-style architecture. It will also look at some past scientists, from Leonardo to Bergson to Whitehead, who tried unsuccessfully to communicate parallel emergent ideas in text form. If only they could have published programs.
(April 20, 2004)