Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 16 Jan 17 03:35
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603366/mathematical-model-reveals-the-patte rns-of-how-innovations-arise/ *Finally, this one is just the awesome. Man, if only the WELL SOTW had some neat-o math hack that could describe the processes of "innovation." Yeah man, human culture, the new, the scope of tomorrow; it's sedately dominated by scale-laws and probabilistics! *Because it's the laws of physics! It's Heap's Law, Zipf's Law, and best of all, the "adjacent possible." I love the Adjacent-Possible. In fact, rather than ever living in a "utopia" or a "dystopia," I think I've always lived in the "Adjacent-Possible." That's my spiritual zip-code. In fact, whenever the Adjacent-Possible becomes the actually possible, I get bored and move. *Then there's the Parable of the Urn Full of Balls here, which, as a sometime popular-science writer, I also really like. There's this Urn, see, and you know it's got only room for so many Balls in it, and the Balls are of different colors. So, every once in a while you get to pull out a Ball and observe it. You can empirically judge its color, and then you wonder -- okay, what color is the next ball gonna be? But it turns out -- and this is awesome -- there's a way to see into the Urn's opaque walls. They involve cool statistical effects with a special breed of urn, "Polya's Urn of Innovation Triggering!" *And, you know, here at the Well State of the World, that's obviously what we've been mutely trying to do all along. We've got ourselves a homemade Modified Polya's Urn of Innovation Triggering going on here. "Cause it's all about us tossing in balls and trying to pick out associated new ones.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 16 Jan 17 03:36
*Our author explains: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603366/mathematical-model-reveals-the-patte rns-of-how-innovations-arise/ "Thats because the Polya Urn model allows for all the expected consequences of innovation (of discovering a certain color) but does not account for all the unexpected consequences of how an innovation influences the adjacent possible. "So Loreto, Strogatz, and co have modified Polyas urn model to account for the possibility that discovering a new color in the urn can trigger entirely unexpected consequences. They call this model 'Polyas urn with innovation triggering.' "The exercise starts with an urn filled with colored balls. A ball is withdrawn at random, examined, and replaced in the urn. "If this color has been seen before, a number of other balls of the same color are also placed in the urn. But if the color is new -- it has never been seen before in this exercise -- then a number of balls of entirely new colors are added to the urn. "Loreto and co then calculate how the number of new colors picked from the urn, and their frequency distribution, changes over time. The result is that the model reproduces Heaps and Zipfs Laws as they appear in the real world -- a mathematical first. The model of Polyas urn with innovation triggering, presents for the first time a satisfactory first-principle based way of reproducing empirical observations,' say Loreto and co."
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 16 Jan 17 03:37
*And I don't doubt that's statistically true. What they're saying here is that second-guessing the world, with the model of the urn and the balls, is a working model of the way that the real world actually second-guesses itself. *If something new arrives, a True New Ball, it doesn't come starkly alone, it comes with a bunch of Adjacent-Possible Balls. Probably the Adjacent Possible Balls exist without effort -- they're spontaneously generated, inside people's heads. *My vision of the True New Ball must slightly but necessarily differ from your True New Ball. We all generate spaces of Adjacent-Possibility just through everyday meme-mutation, from our differences in sensibility. Cultural innovations arrive in hosts because a culture consists of a human horde. *Yes, that's tautology. But at least the math works.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 16 Jan 17 03:41
*The deeper problem is that the world's not an Urn. Also, the "Balls" thing is, well, it's balls. The universe isn't an urn full of balls any more than the World is a bunch of threaded comments in a WELL topic. *However, I don't mind that. It's okay. I'm at peace with the limitations. I can live with the limits of knowledge, and in fact I kinda prefer 'em. The map is not the territory, and no plan survives contact with the enemy. But if you knew the territory then you wouldn't need the map. Also it's never the plan that wins, it's the act of planning. *So every year I'm happy that I do this, and this year, it's been a particular consolation for me. More than that, I feel energized now. I feel creative, more so than I have in quite a while. I hope to do things this year that will pleasantly surprise me.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 16 Jan 17 03:41
*See you next year.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 16 Jan 17 04:43
Bruce, thank you so much for your time and thoughtfulness. Wishing you a most serendipitous and surprising year. Jon, parting thoughts?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 16 Jan 17 04:46
For those of you following along this year's State of the World, this is our last 'official' day of conversation. However, please feel free to carry on here...this topic is always open and folks within the WELL will respond as long as there is interest. And, tomorrow, we start a new two week conversation with our own Ed Ward, who's new book The History of Rock and Roll, Volume 1 (1920-1963) has just been published. Please join us.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 16 Jan 17 06:51
I'm guided by a practice of secular Buddhism, I.e. working with Buddhism as a practice, not religion. To me it's clearly not religion. The Buddha wasn't preaching a gospel, proselytizing some vision of a supreme deity, or studying to pass the test at the Gates of Heaven. I'd say he was debugging his mind and mind-body, believing we shouldn't be stressed or suffering so persistently, that suffering has a cause, that the cause is findable, that it's internal and not external, and that if you find the cause and understand it, you can change your relationship with suffering. Part of the way out is realizing that we try to see impermanent states and objects as somehow permanent, and they just aren't. We crave for permanence and cling to states and objects, though they inherently change, and the changes are always "unsatisfactory" or "stressful" or "suffering" as long as we cling. This includes clinging to the idea that we as individual human beings are somehow permanent, and that self is permanent.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 16 Jan 17 06:51
It's understandable that we to anchor ourselves to some sense of permanence, that perception is rooted in how we must inevitably live to survive in the world. The difficult practice is to acknowledge impermanence, stop clinging to what we desire abhorring what we don't desire, but at the same time live effectively in the world.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 16 Jan 17 06:52
I'm a bad Buddhist, not practicing with a sangha, not guided by a master, so I should qualify the understanding I've presented here as suspect. But I do know that a meditation practice that provides insight into the impermanence of the self and the world feels right, so I keep practicing. And I thought about this while I was reading Bruce's last passages... the balls keep coming and they keep changing, the world is process, the pendulum swings - and the "I" who is writing this today is not necessarily the "I" who will be sitting at this same keyboard tomorrow, and is certainly not an "I" that will persist infinitely in any direction.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 16 Jan 17 06:52
The wild swing from the solid stability of an Obama administration to the chaotic instability of a Trump administration is a dramatic change, but change is inevitable, and as Bruce suggests, the world keeps spinning. Somewhere in the world there is profound suffering and loss, elsewhere there is wonder and achievement. We may see large scale global catastrophes, nuclear disasters or wars, supervolcanoes blasting the atmosphere, unlivable climate, planetary death and destruction. But I recall that, when Pynchon published Gravity's Rainbow, one of my fellow students in an honors class called "The Question of Authority in Literature" referred to it as "another shaggy apocalypse story." Shaggy apocalypse stories abound, from the bearded street-corner "end is near" cartoon trope to the religious myths of an end-time. Buddha would likely have chuckled at apocalyptic thinking and myth.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 16 Jan 17 06:53
But there's only one time, and it's now... refrigerator humming, garbage cans banging, birds snacking birdseed in the backyard, and Jon L. tapping keys on his Mac. I think we would all benefit by spending more time right here, right now... by getting to know ourselves, and the limitations and multiplicities of our 'self,' and by spending a little less time reading Facebook and Twitter posts, or real or fake news, or apocalyptic wranglings... and more time sitting quietly, doing nothing. counting our breaths.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 16 Jan 17 09:49
Marvelous boys! Thank you both for an intriguing conversation...new perspectives for us all. And profound thanks to all who have participated...you have made us all richer for your sharing. This is definitely one for the books. We may be 'archaic' but it still works :)
John Spears (banjojohn) Wed 18 Jan 17 08:51
I know it's too late, but I think 2017 actually merits a longer discussion.
Tiffany Lee Brown's Moustache (magdalen) Thu 19 Jan 17 09:11
i'm sorry the official discussion is ending... Farai Chideya, all-around goddess and former WELLpern, author, current NYU faculty, NPR commentator, etc etc, just posted this and was into having me share it with y'all: Here's five things I'm tracking as paradigm shifts that will likely accelerate during the next four years. They didn't start today and these are long long long haul issues. 1. global oligarchy -- the US is likely to become more like Russia and China in the naked display of family dynastic power, with laws evolving to serve those dynasties. Not new, just way more powerful. 2. Fossil fuels vs. renewable energy... the fossil fuel industry is going to go all out on legal and political maneuvers as there are pressures from big institutions like universities to divest from stocks; and fuel interests go through cycles of over-production and metered scarcity. We will have renewable energy tech way before we have the will to use it, because of the pushback. 3. The battle for masculinity. Making appeals to the American hypermasculine ideal is still great for short-term battles, like winning an election, but that trope also leaves men feeling depleted by lack of emotional intimacy and family time. I write about this a bit in The Episodic Career. There's a countering movement for a new masculinity (I would argue far more traditional to humans than what we now see as the masculine role) that blends the provider/protector role and the nurturer role, and is more fulfilling for men. 4. Jobs v. UBI/"the jobless future." -- Universal Basic Income has been floated as a cure for declining labor force participation rates, particularly among men. All people, but especially men, are made to feel less-than when they cannot find work. A "check for everyone" UBI system can solve basic needs but not the need to feel useful to society. Also, per the issue of masculinity, a UBI system that works will need to come with a social evolution recognizing the value of nurturing and caregiving, which people without formal employment (male or female) will likely do more of. 5. The end of the fiction of American meritocracy. If you dig into the research, America has never truly been a society of widespread social mobility. Race, class, gender, national origin and membership (for example, the "membership" you get by going to an elite university and benefitting from those ties, as I have) have always been used to engineer who gets what. This election was, in part, about people who had been relatively privileged in American meritocracy seeing that privilege slip away. As we battle over these many levels of meritocracy, we could be left with class warfare in more than a metaphorical sense. Or we could turn into a truer meritocracy. Like all equality struggles, it's a long-haul. And the future is up to us.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 25 Jan 17 06:01
Thanks for posting that, <magdalen>! I saw it when Farai posted it elsewhere. If readers want to know where to follow up with Farai, her blog is at http://farai.com/ and her Twitter account is at https://twitter.com/farai. Re #5, which resonated with me, having learned so late in life that privilege is a blind spot, aggressively hidden behind our assumptions about our "hero's journey" and ignorance/dismissal of the harness and wire that makes the hero's flight possible.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 25 Jan 17 06:38
This is only a subset of the larger problem, but it always surprises me to see how many smart people believe wholeheartedly that being smart = "merit." Ah, so you choose to be born with a high IQ, eh? Unlike all those other people who made bad choices...
David Gans (tnf) Wed 25 Jan 17 11:21
On the other hand, being smart is a reasonable predictor of comprehension and competence, isn't it?
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 25 Jan 17 11:38
In my experience, it's overrated on both counts. It depends what you're trying to comprehend and what you're trying to be competent at. I've often seen it act as a real barrier to comprehension. Sort of the "I'm so smart that I must be right" phenomenon. It gives you a more powerful toolset, but you've gotta figure out what to do with it. Very often people of average intelligence can easily see the flaws in the brilliant plans of geniuses. I think part of this is because intelligence really is multi-dimensional, as the education prof Howard Gardner likes to remind us.
(fom) Wed 25 Jan 17 20:22
We need a Farai topic here.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 26 Jan 17 06:20
I agree, we should invite Farai to Inkwell for sure. What smart people fail to realize, I think, is that they're not necessarily smart about everything just because they're smart about something. The assumption that there's a test that measures "intelligence" and is across-the-board meaningful is questionable. I.e. it's smart to think critically about the IQ concept. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_quotient#Criticism_and_views).
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 26 Jan 17 08:45
I know at least some things that I'm good and bad at. In 3-D spatial stuff I'm probably not the equal of the average rodent. Oddly, I am a freakishly good judge of 2-D proportions and visual information, which allowed me to earn a (bare) living for several years as an architectural historian even though I'd had no formal training. I picked up the basic idea in days and became a real expert very quickly.
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