Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Tue 18 Mar 03 06:15
So instead of the universe being an atom in the left pinkie of some stoner, it's really a bit in a mega-computer somewhere? How cool!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 18 Mar 03 07:39
David, I assume you're talking about Stephen Wolfram's _A New Kind of Science_, but I don't get that he's saying exactly that - that the universe _is_ a computer. He saw that you could get complex results from simple algorithms when you write code, and he decided that the universe works that way: simple rules, complex effects... the computer is one possible analogy, and it happens to be the one that was on his mind because it was the source of his 'aha!' moment. I recall hearing something similar from Brian Eno some years ago, and he was speaking in the context of art/music (though he was also influenced by computers). When you talk about the universe, isn't the real problem that it's so immense and immeasurable that we can never quite figure out how to approach it? Like trying to pour an ocean into a thimble?
The Phantom of the Arts Center (tinymonster) Tue 18 Mar 03 08:15
Talk about difficulty in finding containers! It's also really hard to analyze something you can't get outside of.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Tue 18 Mar 03 14:11
Jon (#52), I haven't read Wolfram. I was a humanities major, after all. But Kevin Kelly certainly makes the strong claim (i.e., the universe is a computer) for Wolfram and others in last month's Wired. And, I heard Wolfram speak about 6 months ago, and it sure sounded like he was making the strong claim, but perhaps he was just simplifying (slumming) for the audience. As to your last paragraph about the universe being too big to be understood, I'm with you, pal. I can't understand how we make ball bearings. But isn't Wolfram's (et al.) point that in fact the universe can be understood as being generated by a handful of simple algorithms? Anyway, I make no claim to understanding this stuff. But I do think it is *fascinating* both as science and as a type of cultural deviant psychology :)
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Tue 18 Mar 03 15:12
I tend to assume it's another instance of a science writer using metaphor in ways that aren't entirely accurate. (Otherwise, nobody would read their books.)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 19 Mar 03 08:29
Maybe so... though I tend to think it's the witch doctor explaining the universe in terms of his own magic. He's not much of a witch doctor if he says it's beyond his grasp. I'm still trying to figure out how form is emptiness and vice versa. David, the war is everywhere in the mediasphere, so maybe we should talk about it. Can you make sense of it?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 19 Mar 03 08:32
Brian, that would be the charitable way of understanding it. But I'm not convinced that that door is open to us. Wolfram and others propose solving problems in physics by understanding the universe as consisting of algorithms operating on bits. And then there's that Kevin Kelly article in Wired. But maybe I am getting exercised over a straw man. Wouldn't be the first time.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Wed 19 Mar 03 15:12
Jon, I can't make any sense of the war that is different from anyone else's attempts. I wish I could. And you? Have you figured out what's actually driving the administration's perseveration on Iraq?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 19 Mar 03 16:32
I've imagined a set of scenarios, but no scenario makes more sense than any other. Tonight I'm wanting to believe we'll see convincing evidence that this was, after all, the right thing to do. The day that the Cuban missile crisis was peaking, my science teacher wanted to wring my neck because I said I didn't believe the powers that be would let "it" happen. Her husband was an Air Force pilot and he'd flown to Florida with all the other pilots from the Air Force Base. She expected the worst, and I just refused to believe it could happen. Now I'm not so sure.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 20 Mar 03 10:16
Getting back to _Small Pieces_, you talk about the "new lines between public and private" that we have to deal with as we coordinate our "virtual" and "real" lives. Are you struggling with that in your own life? When you're blogging, do you feel any tension between the 'circle of friends' audience vs the anonymous crowd of readers reflected only in statistics for your site?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Thu 20 Mar 03 10:57
Jon, by coincidence I blogged about the Cuban Missile Crisis this morning: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/mtarchive/001346.html But I speak with no special authority or insight. I don't feel right about my mouthing off about politics in this forum.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Thu 20 Mar 03 11:28
Jon (#60), I usually don't feel the tension but only because it's not much of an open question for me. I'm set in my ways: I err on the side of privacy. I rarely talk about my family or about events in my life unrelated to technology or politics. And I may feel less tension than I should because I'm used to writing for publication and thus have already defined my limits pretty well. I'm fascinated by people who push the limits for themselves, though. Halley Suitt, for example (http://halleyscomment.blogspot.com/) sometimes writes about stuff I would never talk about in public; it helps that she's such a good writer. And then, of course, there's RageBoy whose writing has always been knowingly transgressive: http://www.rageboy.com/blogger.html. But also Joe Mahoney, a real world friend, who frequently reflects on his family life: http://joemahoney.net/blogger.html. And there lots more. I am, of course, acutely aware of how my words will make me look to others. That's one reason I'm not a very good participant in the many mailing lists I'm on or in discussion boards like, um, this one.
Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Thu 20 Mar 03 11:41
There's a question as to whether someplace like the Well, or certain parts of the Well, are "performance art". Do you think VCs in general are performance art, and it that a good thing or a bad thing?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Thu 20 Mar 03 18:52
Eleanor, virtual communities aren't performance art by my understanding of PA, not unless you think every social encounter is PA. On the other hand, the "performance" part gets at the distance between what's being said and the person saying it, a distance present in every conversation but perhaps more so in typewritten ones since we get to cogitate and spellcheck. That would seem to mean that VC conversations are less "authentic" and less "sincere" than RW ones, but I long ago gave up trying to make sense of the view of the self that says that the Real me is the inner one that no one sees. Self is play, or something like that.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 20 Mar 03 19:21
You mean that you're not just a meat-vessel, with soul poured in?
a meat-vessel, with soul poured in (wellelp) Thu 20 Mar 03 19:40
TFTP, Jon. David, I'm still hung up on the performance art thing, but I'll have to think it through some more before formulating another question.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 21 Mar 03 10:20
We're having this conversation within a world-famous virtual community, the WELL, which has actually become more a platform for many communities formed around various subjects of interest. It's a compelling social space, and there are others like it; many people live much of their lives - not so much online, but at least via connections they've made online in communities like this. The VC thing makes me think of your statement that "Reed's Law locates the value of the Internet squarely in the presence of groups." Can you say a bit about Reed's Law, and connectedness in cyberspace?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Fri 21 Mar 03 14:46
Reed's Law is David P. Reed's observation that the value of a network is not dependent on the number of nodes that can be connected 1-to-1 (which is Metcalfe's Law) but depends on the number of groups that can be formed. That's a much steeper curve. Forgetting the math (which I suppose I would have to understand before I could forget it), the point of Reed's Law is that the Internet isn't about connecting me to you and you to her. It's about our ability to form groups together. And that strikes me as profoundly right. The Internet gives us connections to everyone else on the Net, just as the phone system does. Unlike the phone system, the Net lets us form groups (always subject to getting permission from David Reed, of course). But the Web doesn't have any connections built in. Every connection is there on purpose. That makes the links far more valuable and meaningful than the linkedness that is the Internet. That's probably what's most interesting to me about the Web.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Fri 21 Mar 03 15:40
<scribbled by jonl Fri 21 Mar 03 19:01>
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 21 Mar 03 19:03
As I recall, you wrote in the book that reality is flexible, it bends to context. Isn't our social reality conforming to the shape of the Internet, which is all decentralized nodes and connections?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sat 22 Mar 03 08:53
Jon, that's the central question. People like McLuhan stress the ways in which we conform to our technology. And while that was a really important thing for us to hear, we have to be careful not to "overhear" it as if there's a determinism built into our tools. This is especially true with the Net because -- to go back to your very first posting here -- it's not clear what it's *for*. It enables us to connect, and there are certainly some characteristics of how it connects us that are both limiting and enabling, but it's there for us to build what we want. So the question becomes: what about what we've made of the Internet was built into it as a technology and what have we brought to it? How much does it reflect us and how much does our use of it reflect its own nature? "Small Pieces" points to ways in which the Web's architecture reflects something basic and good about human sociality, but one of the weakest aspects of the book is its inability to make the connection firmly. How exactly does the Web's nature (its linkedness, its intermittency and constancy, etc.) "determine" our use of it? There are two reasons I can't answer that. First, I'd need a General Theory of Material Determinism which I don't have. Second, we're talking about how what emerges in an emergent system reflects its preconditions, but the point about emergent systems is that you can't tell beforehand what will emerge. (I loved Steve Johnson's book, by the way.) So, instead all I did was point out some relationships, waved my hand, and said, "Coincidence? I think not!"
a meat-vessel, with soul poured in (wellelp) Sat 22 Mar 03 11:21
Ah, so you're a magician!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 22 Mar 03 14:18
How does emergence on the web relate to political group-forming? I'm thinking about 'emergent democracy' (http://joi.ito.com/static/emergentdemocracy.html)...
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 23 Mar 03 07:27
Oy veh! Jon, can't you ask me something simple like who's my favorite Beatle or how bosons interact? (I actually do know the answer to the latter question. It's "Ask David Reed.") I of course love Joi's observations and conclusions. What I can't see is how online democracy affects RW democracy. There is a "governance gap": The people increasingly use the Net as a second public world in which new forms of democracy are emerging, but the actual goddamned government uses the Net as a way to reduce paper printing costs. Name 5 public officials at the state or federal level who have a weblog. Name one credible presidential candidate who has one, other than Howard Dean, and is it overly cynical of me to suggest that it's no accident that the first one with a blog is a dark horse? So, I just don't know what has to happen for gov't to be governed by the democracy that's emerging on the Web. I'd love to hear what others think, especially if they're optimistic since I'm so depressed these days.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 23 Mar 03 09:53
Maybe this isn't about government? Somebody once asked Gary Snyder how to deal with 'the establishment,' and as I recall, his answer was to ignore it. If democracy truly emerges via the web (no doubt in combination with "real world" parallel developments), won't there be an inevitable impact on governance? Part 2 of this question: Who is your favorite Beatle?
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