In the 1980s before there was the internet, when most people were just getting started with personal computers, American physicist Heinz Pagels undersIn the 1980s before there was the internet, when most people were just getting started with personal computers, American physicist Heinz Pagels understood the intimate connection between the exponential rise and proliferation of computing power and how it was contributing to the birth of a whole new realm of mathematics and physics, and with it, our understanding of the most important aspects of the world we live in. This was the rise of the sciences of complexity - chaos theory, fractal geometry, nonlinear dynamics, cyber-everything, parallel processing, neural networks, self-organizing and self-adaptive systems - in short, the science of the macro-world systems we experience everyday: the climate, air and water flows, traffic dynamics, biological organization, population dynamics, and a host of everyday systems that had previously been too complex to study.
All at once, the explosion of computing power in smaller machines became affordable to researchers with little grant money, grad students, garage nerds, or science enthusiasts of any sort and enabled them to work with kinds of analyses that hitherto were only available to small groups of researchers in the government, the military, and large universities. Simulations and analyses of complex systems with multiple variables, nonlinear system variables, were now possible and would lead to a revolution in our understanding of the organizational dynamics of natural systems.
Because of this explosion of computing power, Pagels discusses the emergence of a new view of mathematics and with it, a new view of the foundational ideas of physical reality: the computational view. In mathematics this is the notion that to know a mathematical truth you must be able to compute it in a manner similar to a Turing machine. But the notion is extended in the physical world suggesting that the material world and the dynamical systems in it arise computationally, as “natural” computers. The brain, the weather, the solar system, are all like computers – “according to the computational view, the laws of nature are algorithms that control the development of the system in time, just like real programs do for computers” (p45). Computational biology is the study of biological systems and artificial life done on a computer. The computer, the tool which gave rise to this computational view, also gave rise to a new fundamental organizing principle of nature: that of information as the foundational principle underlying the organization of reality (e.g., Information and the Nature of Reality).
Almost thirty years have passed since Pagels wrote his book and the sciences of complexity are now well established and part of many fields of study in the sciences. When I read it in the early 1990s, this book gave me a better idea of many of the trends in science that were birthed and propelled by the proliferation of computing power. I can still recommend this book as a good introduction to the sciences of complexity and their relation to the profound changes in our understanding of the world brought on by computers and computing power. ...more
Ok, I'm a boomer and I went through my own period of reading and living with Carlos Castaneda, his teacher Don Juan, and their world of indigenous MexOk, I'm a boomer and I went through my own period of reading and living with Carlos Castaneda, his teacher Don Juan, and their world of indigenous Mexican shamanism. This and its follow-up book Tales of Power changed my life when I read them in my mid-20s... they helped me forge a new identity as an adult, as a warrior with an awareness of personal power, and taught me lessons for a lifetime that are still with me. If you are open to the teachings in these books, they can truly be powerful and life-changing and, living far away from home as I was in my mid-20s in Finland, I was captivated by Don Juan's teachings since, as a youth, I had traveled a lot with my family in Mexico and the American Southwest so I could visualize (from Finland) the landscapes and culture they were part of. Anyway, this book goes into my all-time favorites list because of how its teachings so shaped who I became as an adult. ...more
This book changed my life in 1981 when I was 23 years old. It was my first introduction to the views of Indian Advaita philosophy and its implicationsThis book changed my life in 1981 when I was 23 years old. It was my first introduction to the views of Indian Advaita philosophy and its implications for interpreting my life in the contemporary world. Watts was a popularizer of Asian religion and philosophy and wrote for a general audience but did so with depth, humor, and compassion. His ability to make the austere and profound realizations of Indian nondual thought relate to one's personal life makes this book a timeless gem. ...more