This is one of the coolest things I have seen recently. Found this on the blog “The Four Ages of Sand”. This is very unique approach to creating artificial life. If you watch the entire 8 minute video, you will see he is making brains for these things. This is like a sci fi dream for sure.
Seeing this underscores the idea that life is computation, and computation can be performed in many ways including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, electrical, electromagnetic, genetic/DNA/molecular, quantum, cosmological, universal, virtual, etc. Essentially anywhere you have some form of energy and a means of managing it there is the possibility of life…software is instructions and hardware is energy management. Because computation is a feature of the universe maybe life is too. So maybe we will eventually find it in some form everywhere we look. It does not matter whether we look in outerspace, innerspace, or cyberspace. Add to this our expanding view of what intelligence is and how it emerges from complexity, and the universe almost seems understandable.
By the way, “The Four Ages of Sand” is a thought provoking speech by the one and only Douglas Adams. You can find it here: www.douglasadams.se
© Copyright 2009 Keith Sherwood
First, a quick preface. Having different perspectives to reference is like having multiple brains to apply to decisions and problems. The usefulness of those perspectives depends partially on how much we are able to accept them as they are…without distorting them by our own prejudice. We do need to interpret them using our current mental models, it is just that once we have that understanding of another perspective we can use that understanding to see how that perspective would think about things. Essentially, we have access to a new mental model if we allow it. And therein lies the true value. To be valuable, we just need to remember that different perspectives do not all need to be viewed as “Truth” with a capital “T”. I do not have to believe it to for it to be useful as a tool; I just have to understand it.
Why the preface? This post is not about truth necessarily, just a different perspective. So before you discount it, see if it is useful.
So here we go…first, language is primarily a tool for thought, not for communication. Stay with me on this…it won’t sound so crazy in the end.
The source for this idea is that our minds are language. Our consciousness is built from language components. Your mind is your thoughts! Nothing more or less.
Here is the next one: Communication is best defined as the transferring of dynamic thought structures, not information.
How is this helpful (…and what the heck does it mean?)? Think about it this way…communication requires an interface. Language is NOT an interface. You can build an interface with language, but language is not automatically an interface. An interface is a structure that exists on both sides of a communication. It is a structure consisting of multiple levels or layers of abstraction.
A simple example of an interface like this would be if we exchange philosophical ideas on a topic, such as free will or education. These higher level ideas now become our interface. If I want to transfer my thinking to you, it will only succeed if I use the interface of these philosophical concepts. There are multiple ways to use the interface. I could use it as a wrapper around an idea I want to explain to you. Or, using the interface of those philosophical concepts, I could translate my thinking into something more palatable to you. Or I could use other structures in multiple stages such as transforming my idea using analogy or metaphor before transferring it across the interface. Essentially there is some work to be done if I am going to stand a chance at changing your thinking.
What this means for communication is that I am transferring a thought process or structure...not just words and concepts. So you need to create an interface for a specific communication based on your audience, and the existing interface components they have.
So when communication happens it creates thinking, not static words or concepts. If I am successful in communicating, you will start thinking the thoughts I am thinking. This will generate tangential thoughts through variation and development.
Next, if the thoughts are complex enough, in this process of communicating we will exchange much more than thinking. By building layers of abstraction which increase the complexity, phase transitions can occur. These phase transitions are leaps of cognition where wide scope integration of ideas occurs. If a phase transition has taken place in my mind, then I should be able to communicate that to you using this method of interface creation. If that happens, you will get that “aha” experience that comes with mental phase transitions. It happens when things suddenly click into place, and deeper understanding results.
Now that is truly changing someone’s thinking. Want to take this a step further? What if we looked at Art as this kind of interface? It exactly provides the artists side of the interface, and interpreting it requires us to build out the interface on our side…linking it to our existing concepts and thoughts. When we succeed, the phase transition can happen and the artists perspective of reality clicks into place in our our minds. See my post on Art – Abstract or Integrated for more on this idea and how network theory applies to this conceptual interface.
© Copyright 2008 Keith Sherwood
The idea of knowledge as a network, with concepts and information connected as hubs and nodes, also applies to art. One of the distinctive qualities of art is how it acts a “hub” component of a world view or mental model. Art provides the artists view of reality. Art provides you with these complete models that give you insight into the artists way of seeing things. It lets you experience the world from the artist’s perspective in an intense manner; indeed, in an integrated manner. The artist provides you with everything, the hub, the nodes, the complete package. It is not abstract, but a synthesis of the various elements of that artist’s view in the form of an analog or metaphor. This is exactly the value of art, because in experiencing it you acquire new mental structures, new thought tools for interpreting the world. It can change your entire world view if it is powerful enough
It is because this structural integrity of art that you can make wide scope integrations resulting in the “aha” experience. This is the feeling that you just came to a profound realization. Things suddenly click into place, like a phase transition from one perspective to another perspective. The thing is, this new perspective is not a lateral move; it encompasses the old and the new in a single leap, providing you with something that is more than the sum of the parts
As such, art is a kind of catalyst for phase transitions. Hub topics are catalysts in the same way, and the knowledge that links to them are like the elements and compounds that combine and react in the presence of that catalyst.
This is another idea that bears follow up: that networks can themselves be catalysts for phase transitions. Catalysts are a whole area of study in Complexity Science. Sometimes it is simply that the network reaches a state of complexity and a phase transition results. But it can also be that catalyst drives some threshold that when breached, results in a transition to another phase state. More to follow on this idea.
By looking at knowledge as a network, we open up the possibility of explaining how art can be of such value, and can characterize that value in like terms. When you look at art, read poetry, watch a film or play, or listen to a fine piece of music, you are potentially acquiring new knowledge networks that can drive these mental phase-state changes.
So is art a system? Art, being an abstract concept, is not a system. But specific instances of art are systems…complete knowledge networks that you can combine and produce new knowledge and understanding from. This is potentially great fun, as you start to see systems everywhere you look.
© Copyright 2008 Keith Sherwood