Monday, September 27, 2010

Discovery or Invention?

Some years back I was shortlisted for a job and gave a seminar, doing my best to leave a good impression. In the questions following my talk, somebody asked if I think the process of science is one of discovery or one of invention. "Both," I said, leaving everyone in the audience, including myself, somewhat confused.

In more detail, the question is the following. In the process of science, we accumulate knowledge. That's observations, that's applications, that's theories. But this knowledge, does it exist before we have made it our own and it is just up to us to discover it? Or is this knowledge genuinely new, and does only come into existence once we are thinking about and working with it?

If one goes down this slope it can becomes somewhat slippery, and you might end up at the question whether all of science is a human construct, tainted by the biases of our consciousness and social effects (invention) - or if science in its essence, ideally, is pure and objective, without human baggage (discovery). You don't have to slide down the slope though, because going there neglects that either way we're doing our best to make science as useful for our purposes as possible, trying to reduce biases and social effects.

Take for example quantum field theory. If you believe that mathematics has an existence independent of human consciousness, you would argue that quantum field theory existed before we knew of it, and we discovered and then used it. If you don't believe that Plato's world of ideas is real, then you'd instead call it an invention of the human mind. Or take some application like for example the LASER (that just celebrated its 50th birthday). Was the construction of such an instrument always a possibility that existed, and it was just discovered by humans? Or is it an invention, a possibility that only came into existence thanks to our ingenuity?

This admittedly philosophical question, that is eventually one about the meaning of creativity, has a correspondence in the arts. In interviews, I've sometimes found painters or writers saying that the "idea" for their work was waiting for them, they were just the ones who brought it to paper or canvas, they are the discoverer and the medium to bring it into our attention, but not the inventor. Some even speak of a mental "place" that they visit to find their ideas, a place they apparently believe is not a creation of their own mind. Others however describe the creative process as entirely self-made, often including trial and error, many studies and improvements, the making of something genuinely novel that has never existed before, an invention.

I, as many physicists I think, believe that reality exists independent from us. It is thus out there for us to discover. Reality doesn't care about the quirks of the human brain or or problems of our societies. So that would put me on the side of the discoverers. However, it is not that simple. Whatever we do, our discoveries are shaded by human perception. Whatever we observe, we observe it with human senses or human instruments. And the theories we write down, they are stories that humans tell which are meant to describe the real world, rather than actually being the real world. To illustrate that, let me recycle an image I used in my earlier post on Models and Theories, see left. You first need to discover. But once you measure it, once you write it down, and make it suitable for human use, you're creating an - necessarily imperfect - image, may that be a collection of data points or a theory. And that's the part of the process which is an invention.

I would argue for example that while we have discovered quantum mechanical effects which exist somewhere in "the real world out there," the theory we have to explain them is a human construct, it's an invention. It uses variables and language that are specific to our species, it carries the history of particle-wave duality, it is suitable to describe the data that we have measured with our devices. An alien civilization might discover the same effects, but they might invent a different story to explain them, a theory that explains their data in possible entirely different ways.

I don't even think that mathematics itself is free of human baggage, or that it will remain the best way to describe Nature if you could fast forward some hundred thousand years. We just think today it is because we cannot possibly imagine anything else that would work better. But I think we should always keep in mind the Principle of Finite Imagination: Human imagination has limits set by our cognitive abilities. Excluding a possibility because we cannot today imagine it neglects that time may bring significant changes to our cognition or species.

I didn't get the job. I doubt it had anything to do with my inability to explain my reply to this particular question. But still, I wished I had been able to express myself better back then.

Now it's your turn: Discovery or Invention?


  1. I am a mathematician and I heavily tend towards discovery for my field of science here but I fear that there is another very profane dimension to this question: Patentability. Patent law is tailored to "protect" inventions (whatever that means).

    A while ago in Berlin we had a seminar with a patent company and the guy was very perplexed in the end by the harsh reactions of my fellow mathematicians. A colleague then explained to him that we think of our work as finding things that have been there already and that we can not claim any kind of ownership to them. (Another one told a story where he was asked as a referee in a patent case. A company wanted a patent on something he thought was merely Newtons method and he thought he had torn the application to pieces but the patent was granted anyway...)

    So my vote goes for discovery...

  2. I prefer to think of the Mathematics as essentially invented, but inspired by experimental discovery that is contingent on our interests. Our interests are, perhaps, invented conceptualizations of what we think our needs are.

    I suppose the world is out there to be discovered, but it seems less clear that our models of the world are out there to be discovered. Perhaps, with the right senses, our models of the world are as sensually present to some people as is the world itself to our common senses, but it seems almost as if someone tells me that they feel a ghost that I mostly cannot.

    It's nice to find your attempts to tie these things down quite congenial, but the Salam criterion doesn't seem to me to be very well satisfied for the language that people use about these feelings.

  3. "Discovery or Invention?"

    Undercut Philosophical basis , "What have you?"

    This question has dogged myself for along time, and again as a layman( I wish people understand this) ideas as if raise din the question of of "When is a Pipe a Pipe" as an artistic rendition, is also a philosophical one for me.

    Where does the pipe begin?

    Betrayal of Images" by Rene Magritte. 1929 painting on which is written "This is not a Pipe"

    What defines it is it's reality?

    So it was for me pointing to a cognitive trail that manifests from a "location of ideas."

    I mentioned allotrope and polytopes as to ensure that "such manifestations" had a previous form for consideration? Do I define it as an idea that is discovered or invented??


  4. Diazepam (Valium) does not naturally occur. It began as a yellow dye intermediate with a wrong assigned structure. Toxicity test animals were very mellow. Given a horrible bitter taste, an insoluble derivative was made for water suspension dosing. Said derivative hydrolyzed, rearranged, and begat (still yellow and bitter) Valium.

    All discovery is insubordination. Then "better" people are tasked with making derivatives (diazepine tranquilizers, Xanax to Rohypnol).

    The ratio of submitted to published physical theory papers shows invention is no miracle. String theory and SUSY are strong arguments for banning theory altogether.

    Put the best and strangest people in a rich environment, get them bored, and let them fill the silence. Nobody beats Google because everybody else has a Personnel Department eliminating social skills outliers.

    Bee... do opposite shoes vacuum free fall identically? If not, nothing in the observed universe is contradicted. If not, both gravitation (Equivalence Principle) and quantum theory (conservation of angular momentum) are out for a Burton. Somebody should look.
    Cowards. The worst it can do is succeed.

  5. Even though the electron's charge is out there to be discovered, it requires the invention of an apparatus to be able to discern it. So I voted "both".

  6. Scientific theories are created by invention, born of previous discoveries, and tested by new discoveries

  7. We invent methodologies/apparatuses/theories in order to help explaining phenomena that we happen to discover, or even to help discovering them (intentionally or serendipitously) to begin with.

    So, both.

    But whether discoveries are final determinations, or, in other words, whether they reveal nature's most fundamental level (if there is such a thing at all) is unknown, but most probably the answer is no.

    OTOH methodologies/apparatuses/theories are certainly temporary inventions.

  8. As Bee illustrates with her photo and sketch:

    With our sense organs (that have evolved to aid our survival) we 'discover' snapshots of the 'real' world, sometimes at a very high level of 'resolution'.

    With 'languages' (that are shaped by the same evolutionary process) we each 'invent' low-resolution caricatures of the snapshots to try to share the experience with others (usually also to aid mutual survival). These invented caricatures are MODELS.

    Our languages use explicitly agreed upon and implicit axioms and definitions to try to reduce ambiguity (to reduce subjectivity) in the communication and interpretation of models.

    The scientific 'axiom', demanding that a model stand up to repeated empirical challenge (of new discovery), tends to assure that models we subsequently invent, slowly 'improve' and become more useful.

    But this mechanism tells us that we have no reason to believe that we can ultimately invent a model that will 'perfectly match' reality – that can't be further refined or 'improved' (no matter how much we increase the resolution of the discovery process).

    The process is: discovery> invention>discovery> invention....

    So the Platonic persuasion of science is an unrealizable asymptote.

  9. Uncle,

    your mind rests in the Amazon?:)

    Sorry Len:)

    Plato's doctrine of recollection, however, addresses such criticism by saying that souls are born with the concepts of the forms, and just have to be reminded of those concepts from back before birth, when the souls were in close contact with the forms in the Platonic heaven. Plato is thus known as one of the very first rationalists, believing as he did that humans are born with a fund of a priori knowledge, to which they have access through a process of reason or intellection — a process that critics find to be rather mysteriousPlatonic_Doctrine of Recollection

    Information triangle?:)

    Yes.....but there is another triangle?

    Extended Physical WorldView.

    The truth is(?) that as we are born into this world "we forget about all those possibilities?":)


  10. In dense aether theory the intrinsic/extrinsic perspectives vanish at the sufficient distance, so that the discovery and inventions will converge in the process of universe understanding gradually, too.

  11. I like Pirsig on this: "the laws of science contain no matter and have no energy either and therefore do not exist except in people's minds. It's best to be completely scientific about the whole thing and refuse to believe in either ghosts or the laws of science".

  12. Hi Bee,

    A well considered discussion examining a question which has puzzled many throughout the eons. As for myself I would say that when it comes to things which have demonstratively been able to describe some aspect of the working of nature, they necessarily are discoveries, as things are what they are, despite how we would like them to be.

    However, when we exploit such discoveries to craft things that serve or amuse us they are inventions, as we be their creators, alibi only so able resultant of nature’s potential, rather than our own, and in this respect do so in having its proxy. So for me we are both discoverers and inventors, which in effect having nature being the same, in as us and it being inseparable.



  13. Discovery, not Invention. The Mandelbrot Set exists always and forever, with or without Humanity or with or without a universe. A "theoretical construct", it nevertheless provides the clearest proof to myself and other lifelong students that from a very UNcomplex equation, a great complicated shape emerges. And yes I know its equation uses Complex Algebra but its not my fault that horrible name came to stand for what is a very simple way to handle imaginary numbers. I meant "complex" as in the opposite of "simple."

    Invention is our limited way to handle reality, case in point: Mathematical Notation. OUR notation is invented, and is useful nay required in order to make sense of our discoveries.

    Reality is what it is, and waits to be discovered. Notation can always be improved (what's Alain Connes up to lately?) and here's the perfect example:

    (from wiki)

    The Analytical Society was a group of individuals in early-19th century Britain whose aim was to promote the use of Leibnizian or analytical calculus as opposed to Newtonian calculus. The latter system came into being in the 18th century as an invention of Sir Isaac Newton, and was in use throughout Great Britain for political rather than practical reasons. The Newton system of fluxions and fluents proved cumbersome to use, and less flexible and usable than Leibnizian calculus, which was used by the rest of Europe.

    The Society was founded in 1812 over a Sunday morning breakfast. Its membership originally consisted of a group of Cambridge students led by Robert Woodhouse. Woodhouse, a professor at the university, had published a series of papers that promoted Leibnizian calculus as early as 1803. These papers proved difficult to understand and thus failed to promote the idea. Other charter members included Charles Babbage, Sir John Herschel and George Peacock. It soon attracted many new members, predominantly students.

  14. I agree that there exists a "reality out there" to be discovered; the problem is that we always *interpret* it using our models/theories etc, ie, using our inventions on conventions and language. So what we *think* we have learned is not exactly what it *is*.

  15. Very well said, Christine. Let us not forget as well that Christine is a Professional Astronomer, clearly the fastest growing branch of Physics, until the LHC starts spitting out unexpected stuff.

    Hi Bee,

    We know you like Poetry and follow it in spite of all the other things busy bees are into and have on their minds (Twins!). In lieu of that, and to tie in with my mention of Charles Babbage in my previous reply, I offer up the following cute passage re Babbage from his wiki article, to whit:

    * Babbage once contacted the poet Alfred Tennyson in response to his poem "The Vision of Sin". Babbage wrote, "In your otherwise beautiful poem, one verse reads,

    Every moment dies a man,
    Every moment one is born.

    ... If this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death. I would suggest [that the next version of your poem should read]:

    Every moment dies a man,
    Every moment 1 1/16 is born.

    Strictly speaking, the actual figure is so long I cannot get it into a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry."

    While technically correct, it reminds me that Poetry is best left up to the Professionals. ;-)

  16. Steven C brings up an interesting question.

    On Earth in the year 1600, did the Mandelbrot Set:

    (1) Not exist,

    (2) Potentially but not actually exist, or

    (3) Actually exist?

    Was/Is it out there floating around somewhere, or does it take a human mind to provide a home for it?

    Perhaps the same question could be rephrased as: "Are pure abstractions real external entities?"

    Certinly pure abstractions, as Pirsig said, are not physical entities. So is there a pure non-physical Platonic world out there?

    Or is that Platonic world confined ,like quarks (;-)>, inside our collective heads?

  17. The "Platonic Doctrine of Recollection" of course was simply an 'inkling' of what the evolutionary process has stored in our genes to increase survivability.

    Platonists simply over-extrapolate its level of sophistication! They confuse a toolbox of procedural outlines for a complete world encyclopedia.

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  20. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. You wrote:

    Steven C brings up an interesting question.

    On Earth in the year 1600, did the Mandelbrot Set:

    (1) Not exist,

    (2) Potentially but not actually exist, or

    (3) Actually exist?

    IMO, the correct answer is (3).

    By the way, you and Bee et. al. who care enough to post here regularly may call me "Steve." That's not to say I have the right to call you: "Bob" though. Your call. Could be "Rob".

    Trick question time! What does THIS mean?:

    A => B

    Give up? Oh don't, think about it ...


    That's called "Representation Theory", and it's actually three things:

    A and B are sets. Two things down, one to go, the important one:

    The "=>" arrow thing is called a homomorphism, or morphism for short. Less obvious is that B is the target set, of which we know much, and A is the source set, of which we know little but by virtue of this simple equation, we will proceed to learn much.

    Next up: Groups (and if we're lucky and combine the two a bit on: group representation theory).

    Class dismissed. lol

  21. Long ago E.T. Bell gave an evening talk to the Caltech math club on (if I recall correctly) diophantine equations. Professor Bell had a minor reputation as a science fiction writer (under the pseudonym John Taine). After the talk, one of the graduate students asked him if the Martians would have prime numbers. Prof. Bell responded -- they will have radar, but I doubt they will have prime numbers. (This was befor lasers.)

    I've always had trouble imagining the world without prime numbers, but I guess that's just because I have trouble imagining the world without prime numbers.

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  23. It is an endless loop of discovery followed by invention, then more discovery, then more invention.

    We discovery features in the universe, and then invent theories to explain the discovery. This is followed by the discovery of new features where our old inventions fail, leading to new refined inventions. This is followed by the discovery of new features were our refined inventions fail, and so on, and so on.

    I don't think there is any way to disentangle the two. And as a corollary, as long as there are new discoveries to be made, there will always be new theories. Take the GUT and Theory of Everything.

  24. Hi Steven,

    You wrote:

    Christine is a Professional Astronomer

    Just to be more exact, I should correct you: in the past 6 years I've been professionally working in scientific computing (specifically, in the on-board software controlling the Brazilian VLS rocket) and more recently, condensed matter physics (magnetic systems) at the same institute.

    I still do occasionally publish in astrophysics (extragalactic astrophysics and cosmology, gravitational n-body simulations), my main field of graduate formation. So, not exactly astronomy, as well, bust astrophysics, more in the theoretical/numerical side.

    In any case, I do not think that the fact that I am a professional in the sciences makes me particularly more qualified to answer Sabine's question, a difficult, maybe unawserable question. I just stated my personal opinion.


  25. Better to have some thing then nothing?

    Why is there something rather than nothing?

    Well, why not? Why expect nothing rather than something? No experiment could support the hypothesis ‘There is nothing’ because any observation obviously implies the existence of an observer. Nothingness( bold added for emphasis by me)

    It was always obvious to me that "such a deduction in answer" might follow suit the question of what is invented or discovered?

    You can only invent things from what is discovered? You cannot discover "anything" from nothing?:)

    This logical is it not?


  26. Len:Platonists simply over-extrapolate its level of sophistication! They confuse a toolbox of procedural outlines for a complete world encyclopedia.

    Using concrete things then, one only has to consider "the way in which it just is?" A heart, and a heart beat?

    What did the "mental being" manifest from? Nothing?

    What was the motivational neurological force for the formation of that mental life, or, is it easier to accept that spirit of life just "is?":)


  27. Hi Bee,

    I think it is a process of both invention and discovery, since I believe one can describe theories with other math, i.e., f.e., alien-math as you suggested.

    Best, Kay.

  28. In concert with the question of Bee's Poll on Discovery and Invention, it raised the question for me of where one educated as a "theorist or mathematician" may start from?

    I mean, in order for Steinhardt or Turok to go further with the Universe, they had to consider the universe in some "previous form?" Veneziano, of what came before? So perspective about the universe has been pushed back to the microseconds? Ideas about the QGP, as to the timing of that look at the universe?

    I mean "where do you go" to find the answers for what is to come next or what existed before?

    My question to Len raised the place where "all is to begin," and whether such a "foundational perspective" can arise from nothing? Emergence cannot come from nothing?

    The mind, leads the way neurologically?

    Infinite regress in consciousness is the formation of an infinite series of "inner observers" as we ask the question of who is observing the output of the neural correlates of consciousness in the study of subjective consciousness.Infinite Regress

    I do not think these questions to be, too alien?:)


  29. If we assume that there is a really fundamental blueprint of the universe, then there can be only discovery - no invention.
    As a Buddhist author I am convinced that there is a state of enlightenment which enables us to see the world as it is. The most profound blueprint of Buddhist philosophy is the MANDALA. According to some sutras of Buddhism a Mandala shows how space and time are organized at the most fundamental level of the universe.
    Until today this blueprint was never investigated in detail. Only the physicist Wolfgang Pauli was convinced that the universe is codified by such a universal archetype like the Mandala. But no one has actually taken this view. Only one disciple of him Karl Alex Mueller took it. Following the conviction of his teacher he could solve the problem of superconductivity and was finally awarded the Nobel prize in 1987.
    You can find more details about this story in an article published
    in the American Scientist 84 (July-August 1996) 364-375) by Gerald Holton, Hasok Chang and Edward Jurkowitz. The title of this article: How a Scientific Discovery is Made: A Case History

  30. Helmut Hansen:But no one has actually taken this view.

    I would speculate that, that is not true.

    A kaleidoscope?

    Any "subjective regress" through introspection might have revealed such patterns within the dreamers, deep thinkers? At what point dies this enter this universe as if the whole plan can enter in the mind?

    Again, with reference to allotrope and polytope, not just a Platoism encyclopedia book, but an introspective look where such patterns might be revealed as in some cosmic design, "some path previously taken, sealed in it's constructive form?? Practiced, as if in diagram maps?

    You might have some discouragement to dimensional references as holding no value, but in this context, such schematics can be revealing?

    A diagram on the ground, and the explode fifth dimensional reference to our screens can be quite telling when such constructive modes architecturally can represent "buildings" we enter and leave.


  31. Hi Plato

    Why is there something rather than nothing?

    Study H. Bergson's works; he shows brilliantly why that is not a well-posed question.


  32. Plato:
    But no one has actually taken this view.
    I would speculate that, that is not true.
    It is quite sure, that archetypal diagrams are inseparable part of our
    collective unsciousness. The psychologist C.G. Jung has written a lot about these experiences.
    But I was talking about the scientific community, especially about modern physicists. If you compare physical diagrams like the Minkowski-Diagram you can easily identify it as a specific part of the geometrical blueprint of the Mandala. This identification is suggesting that the Mandala is possibly the more extended and the more universal "space-time-picture" than the relativistic "space-time-picture".
    In brief, I am talking about a "Physics of Mandala" in the truest sense of the word.

  33. Helmut Hansen:If you compare physical diagrams like the Minkowski-Diagram you can easily identify it as a specific part of the geometrical blueprint of the Mandala.

    Ya Okay Helmut:)Mind Maps eh?

    Mapping the Internet Brain and Consciousness


  34. ChristineStudy H. Bergson's works; he shows brilliantly why that is not a well-posed question.

    What is it that you found brilliant, and I will most definitely look as to why my question is not a well posed one.

    Despite Bergson's claim that the mathematics in Duration and Simultaneity is insufficient, this book is important because in it Bergson re-orients Riemann's idea of mutliplicity, which had been the basis of Einstein's theory (Deleuze, 1991, pp. 39-40, and, also see below, "The Concept of Multiplicity").Henri Bergson

    Interesting. Hopefully you can come right to the point.

    I am always willing to learn.


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  36. With all due respect, can we have a cease and desist order issued on all talk of "consciousness", hmm, and get back on topic?

    I mean, sheesh and c'mon, we all love Roger Penrose but even BIOLOGISTS can't come close to an agreement on what "consciousness" means.

    Like our poster Stephen D. Plato, I love learning too, I think we all do, but I also ACCEPT (not happily ... but I accept) that there are just some questions we may NEVER know the answer to. Not just in our lifetimes, but possibly in the History of our species (which for the individual, means essentially the same thing ... maybe. Dunno, but if you'd like to be put on my personal Happy Haunting list, I'll talk to you in my dreams after my demise and give you the straight dope. Unless the Religion of Atheism is right, in which case its the Big Sleep for me, baby! Woo hoo, I've always liked a good long nap! :-)).

    Having said that, it stands to reason that more complicated (and complex) forms will have more interactions, and that eventually things previously unseen (like consciousness) will "emerge" (there's THAT dirty word again).

    Consider: The Human brain has 100 billion neurons and 1 quadrillion synapses which can process 10 impulses per second each. The fastest computer on Earth can deliver 1.75 Petaflops whle consuming 7 Megawatts of power (6300 homes). The brain has been estimated at 100 petaflops using 20 watts.

    What an incredible machine! Good luck trying to figure it out. We're like a 4-yr-old lost in the forest trying to find the heart of the woods. Ain't gonna happen anytime soon, sorry.

  37. Hi Steven

    Which posts of mine, if you were in charge, would you like removed?:)

    Put briefly — and Schrodinger did not say so guessing his intuition is up to us — I think his intuition was that an aperiodic crystal breaks a lot of symmetries, therefore contains a lot of (micro) constraints that can enable an enormous diversity of real and organized processes to happen physically. This idea of organized processes seems to be hinted at in his statement that the aperiodic crystal would contain a microcode for (generating) the organism. I have inserted “generating”, and this is the set of specific processes aspect of information that I think we need to incorporate into our idea of what information IS. I think Schrodinger is telling us both a deeper meaning of what information “is”, and part of how the universe got complex — by repeatedly breaking symmetries that enabled organized processes to happen that both provided new sources of free energy and enabled the breaking of further symmetries.What Is Information? by Stuart Kauffman

    Did you know that a biologist may incorporate and use current mathematical issues to apply some of it's principals toward his specialization. Frame his perspective, on his biology. He has foundational issues to contend with.

    Perhaps you were trained as a scientist, no job, then decide to go to Wall St? It raises a question accordingly. Maybe a sort of "cross pollination" of your education occurs?

    Lets say Gell-Mann at his age working with other branches of science? Now, a "fresh perspective" after all?

    Does one's lifetime, and let's say "a return to mathematics" gives one a fresh perspective "back from what once was," to see that the capabilities of time spent in "other areas" now brings a new and fresh perspective to the craft? Does "your" experience account for something?

    As a layman, from my perspective, the question about mathematics given to Bee, is not just Bee's isolated circumstance with regard to what might of been, but truly reflects the need to answer the question of what might have been had she answered differently, to think it might of changed her circumstance..

    Where does a mathematics mind access "fresh perspective" while waiting by some stream for inspiration, and the rise of new thoughts in his chosen profession?

    So that circumstance for Bee propelled her life whether she would like to think so or not. A "historical question" that has boggled many minds.

    Helmut presents something of importance whether Helmut tries to classified himself as something of more importance by demonstration "other then" what Jung might of portrayed.

    "Closer to the source" in my view as to how mathematics might of issued forth, as it might of from Ramanujan. Some might of talked about this transmission as creative, and possibly as a cognitive ability? Intuitively garnered around such expressions.

    How can then, "new mathematics arise" then, if not through such perspectives?

    A "aha" moment.:)


  38. "In short, the physicist cannot tell us why the heart exists. Biology is there fore not reducible to physics. Biology is both epistemological and ontologically emergent." Page 39, Para 3. Reinventing the Sacred.

  39. Write what you want, Plato, feel free. I just don't see what the big deal about "consciousness" is as I stated and don't feel the need to re-state.

    Discovery = The act of Humanity's figuring out how the Universe works.

    Invention = The process by which Humanity discovers things, "soul" or consciousness or not, spooky multi-nulti-universes or not, Laplace and his demon, or not.

    Experiment helps Discovery, Theory helps Invention, and they both need each other lest we worship tree sprites.

    How's that?

  40. Hi Plato,

    That quote you mention is from U. Calgary Biologist Stu Kauffman. Here's what Wiki says of his work:

    Kauffman is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection.

    Some fellow biologists and physicists working in Kauffman's area reserve judgment on Kauffman's claims about self-organization and evolution. A case in point is the introduction to the 2002 book "Self Organization in Biological Systems".

    What you quoted from him is:
    In short, the physicist cannot tell us why the heart exists. Biology is there fore not reducible to physics.

    Yeah well, I think Kauffman is brilliant but I have to 100% disagree with THAT statement, because EVERYTHING is reducible to Physics (Biology through Chemistry to Physics), and if something isn't then it's reducible to Mathematics and if not that then Logic and if not that then Geometry and if not that then Counting. But if its hard Science (which leaves out Theology) then it usually gets there through Physics.

    Btw Plato, I really like how you shot the E8 geometry diagram at Helmut, nice one. Did you read the article re same in the last SciAm?

    Hi Helmut,

    I respect you because I respect Buddhism, I've studied it too but I don't see the relationship to modern physics. Jung and pauli were friends and did some pretty wild research together. So did Leibniz with Monads. That doesn't mean they were right.

  41. Steven Colyer comments:

    "EVERYTHING is reducible to Physics (Biology through Chemistry to Physics), and if something isn't then it's reducible to Mathematics and if not that then Logic and if not that then Geometry and if not that then Counting."

    At the risk of repeating myself, how would you reduce ontogeny (unbelievably complex but highly ordered, and usually relatively error-free, biological development of a fertilized egg into an adult) to physics or math or mathematical physics?

    Would you use QM, string theory, QCD, the whole standard model, quantum gravity, anthropic reasoning (because we are here, it just happens, next question), all of the above, none of the above?

    I guess if you are saying that IN PRINCIPLE complex, hierarchical, nonlinear and far-from-equilibrium systems are reducible to physics (given 50-100 years, or ???), then I might be willing to go along with that.

    But do you have a realistic grip on the distance between that desiderata and where we actually are in using physics to model nature?

  42. At the risk of repeating myself, how would you reduce ontogeny (unbelievably complex but highly ordered, and usually relatively error-free, biological development of a fertilized egg into an adult) to physics or math or mathematical physics?

    No problem. Biological systems are made of organs made of tissues made of cells made of molecules made of atoms and that's Quantum Physics! Next question?

    I guess if you are saying that IN PRINCIPLE complex, hierarchical, nonlinear and far-from-equilibrium systems are reducible to physics (given 50-100 years, or ???), then I might be willing to go along with that.

    Complexity can emerge from simplicity, as I'm sure you know, Robert. I call it Order-From-Chaos Theory but people call it Chaos Theory for short. Earth calls it "oh damn a lightning bolt hit me in the rear yet again and look what popped out!? Blue-Green algae!"

    Biologists in general don't seem to have as firm a grasp on Physics as apparently they do of Metaphysics, and I'm not sure they have a strong grasp of that either.

    Bee is interested in Biology (and for obvious reasons .... Twins!), but if I had a medical condition I wouldn't ask her what can Quantum Gravity Phenomenology do to help me with my problem, nor would I ask a Biologist to decide which Interpretation/Mis-interpretation of QM is correct, if any of them.

  43. Steven:Did you read the article re same in the last SciAm?

    No I didn't see it.

    A thought cross my mind though in regards to Helmut's demonstration. About what it would have looked like let's say, if the mandala E8 would have been "downloaded into the brain?" :)

    Would that of supposedly created this "enlighten experience," once all correlated information started to appear before ones eyes? Like they've seen this information before.

    After all, it was only a image at first, then it exploded into all this information.

    So the counter proposal is, as if you build it, the model, and create this image that contains all the information(a energy time capsule), one would only "need the image" in order for this information to explode in one's minds at some later lifetime?

    You see, if one has some experience with them, or recognized them, one might know what I was talking about?:)

    If you go through 13.7 link Bee has, you will be taken to some of Kauffman's blog entries for consideration. He's true to his field and the foundation arrived at by his conclusion, as I referred to you.

    Have one of his books as well.

    As well, tried to understand some of his proposals as well. The "Adjacent Possible" is a really neat idea actually. He had some reference to the discussions with others around Economics issues as well.(The Manhattan Project for Economics)

    Another, "cross pollination for you" as well.


  44. Steve,

    Thanks for your comments:

    "No problem. Biological systems are made of organs made of tissues made of cells made of molecules made of atoms and that's Quantum Physics! Next question?"

    The situation is crystal clear. I am left speechless.


  45. Stop mocking me Robert, didn't your mother teach you that sarcasm never translates well to the written word?

    We both feel fractility and chaos and complexity will define the ultimate reality, even if we have different routes to get there.

    Obviously, what I should have said and continuing, was that atoms are made of (the Chemists may leave now) fundamental particles (treated as zero-dimension mathematically) like electrons, quarks, gluons, and on occasion flirty photons when atomic energy level changes occur, with the occasional weak force bosons should the situation prescribe, and ... THAT's quantum mechanics!

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  48. Hi Steven & Robert,

    I don’t understand what all the fuss is about, especially in the context of the actions of nature being discovery or invention, which is the question this post is dedicated to. That is what it all comes down to is whether one considers, no matter at what level taken, whether nature is reasonable or not. If you consider it not, then there is nothing to discuss, however if you consider it is, then what found at higher levels is emergent from the lower, yet only so capable as its fundamental potential permits.

    So then the way I see it, science at its best is not just simply the discovery of and explanation of natural phenomena, yet more so the attempt to understand the source, workings and limits of its potential. If one is a true scientist they should believe this as possible and if not whatever it is they believe could be anything else except science.



  49. Two comments.

    (1) I agree with what I think Christine was saying:

    (a) We discover observationally how nature actually is (yes, this is a very slow process and our knowledge is still "primitive and childish", to throw in an AE quotation).

    (b) We invent theories and models and paradigms to give tangible expression to our discoveries and extrapolations and speculations.

    (2) My observations of nature suggest to me that multi-leveledness does not bubble up (emerge) from below or trickle down from above. Multi-leveledness is completely global and eternal and fundamental. In this view, a galaxy and a stellar-mass black hole are as fundamental as anything gets in the real world of nature, and these fundamental objects do not emerge from lower level physics. They are inherent and ever-present levels of structure in the eternal global hierarchy of nature. I could be totally wrong, but that it the way nature looks to me.

  50. Most of what we do with Nature has to be discovery since there is no logical way to say what a priori "ought to exist" from among the Platonic multiverse. Some, like Tegmark, say there isn't even such a distinction. In any case any number of descriptions and laws could be imagined and we need to find out. However, we can still imagine that from looking at what we already find, one can get a hint of "the style" behind this universe and that leads to what we're likely to expect. That can involve "invention" and some are already trying.

    As for math, it is mostly discovery - how could anyone else find a different answer to the question of whether sqrt 2 was a fraction or not? But when it gets to surreal numbers and infinite sets, then what?

    BTW, the guy who blogs for ScientificBlogging (sic, not ScienceBlogs) (at least on their FB page) says that finding the Higgs would be a blow against string theory. I couldn't quite get his argument, you can visit that page and see our discussion.

  51. Hi Robert,
    “My observations of nature suggest to me that multi-leveledness does not bubble up (emerge) from below or trickle down from above. Multi-leveledness is completely global and eternal and fundamental. In this view, a galaxy and a stellar-mass black hole are as fundamental as anything gets in the real world of nature, and these fundamental objects do not emerge from lower level physics. They are inherent and ever-present levels of structure in the eternal global hierarchy of nature. I could be totally wrong, but that it the way nature looks to me.”

    Such an position to have things ever present and eternal seems today to be a view held once again by a few , which also in effect is what those like Tegmark are proposing, only presented in yet another guise. The facts are however this being nothing new, as it being the prominent attitude to have persisted prior to the enlightenment which bore little fruit in terms of increasing the general understanding of nature at any level. It was only after the emergence of phenomena was accepted that any real progress was realized, as then to have theories made consistent with observations, rather than to steadfastly remain in denial of them.

    “But this is certain, and an opinion commonly received among theologians, that the action by which he now sustains it is the same with that by which he originally created it; so that even although he had from the beginning given it no other form than that of chaos, provided only he had established certain laws of nature, and had lent it his concurrence to enable it to act as it is wont to do, it may be believed, without discredit to the miracle of creation, that, in this way alone, things purely material might, in course of time, have become such as we observe them at present; and their nature is much more easily conceived when they are beheld coming in this manner gradually into existence, than when they are only considered as produced at once in a finished and perfect state.”

    -René Descartes- Discourse on The Method: of Rightly Conducting The Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (1637)



  52. What I am proposing has nothing to do with Tegmark's recent "mathematical universe" conjectures.

    Your comments suggest to me that you do not appreciate the subtlties of the new paradigm I am proposing, and which I have presented in great detail elsewhere.

    Rather, I think you have knocked down a straw-man caricature of the paradigm.

    One cannot properly evaluate an idea unless one has a rdimentary understanding of it.

  53. Hi Robert,

    I wasn’t implying your approach to things being the same as Tegmark’s, only pointing out that any theory that has all to be there, initially and eternally as materially being physically represented and representative of reality having connection with a philosophical centre going back for millennia. So rather than being guilty of employing a straw man I would be better to have been accused of stereotyping you, which I would concede to have done. This being of course, as I am convinced that any and all approaches which serve to deny that emergence as being a real and necessary component of nature’s form and action are logically warranted of being so considered. This is not an opinion resultant of believe yet one based on observation.



  54. I thought it important to try and capture the essence of the thought experiment of entanglement and the "Platonist perspective" while considering the "immortality of action" from causal connection and experience.

    I hope you don't mind Bee.


  55. Were there no inventions before the arrival of man? Man is a product of nature, what an individual thinks, does or whatever, is determined by all the events and accrued knowledge in that individuals life. It follows that there is no such thing as invention, it's what nature does by default. We [human beings], at the behest of nature, discover what is inevitable.

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  57. Hi Cliff,

    You wrote:
    Were there no inventions before the arrival of man?

    Many. Beavers build dams, birds build nests, and chimps use sticks to get at the really good termites hiding deep in the termite mounds. I'm sure there are thousands of other examples.

    Hi Bee,

    You tweeted:
    is on bed rest and not happy about it.

    I bet. Get used to that, right? Twins! Good gravy, I watched my wife through 4 solo pregnancies, I can't imagine what a woman goes through with twins. Sheesh. I certainly hope you've cleared your conference-hopping slate for the next 3 months. Looks like you got ESQG in just under the wire. Good for you.

    Errata: Any man who does not know but wishes to know what pregnancy feels like should have done what I did at The Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ, once upon a time. What they had there was a vest with about 40 pounds of buckshot sown into it in the shape of a 9-month preggers belly. Man puts on the vest, feels lopsided, sits on a couch. Now ... try getting up. :-)

  58. I have discovered this blog only today and started to delve into some earlier posts- hence reading this one along with all the comments.

    Bee, it is wonderful to encounter a scientist with a very broad set of interests and great ability to write in a way that attracts others not just to visit and read but also to engage in producing meaningful responses.

    Good luck with your pregnancy bed rest -what with podcasts, internet TV, TED lectures, good music and I am sure spouse attention the time will pass. May be using Dragon for dictation could overcome writing issues.

    Now, to the question of Discovery and Invention in science. May I respectfully observe that in all the posts so far no one seems to have mentioned the Creativity! may be this is because this space is visited mostly by the natural scientists- is that still the accepted term? If the artists approach this topic or the 'creatives' in media, as well as the business consultants, the potential dichotomy would be between Creativity and Innovation.

    From respective definitions are:

    CREATIVITY - the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.

    INNOVATION - the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods.

    So basic distinction here is between Being and Doing. Creativity is a potential and needs both the right environment to thrive as well as individual ability to exercise it. It is with great regret that I observe an ever decreasing space for creativity to thrive in the academic settings. Wherever competition is primary, Creativity takes a back seat. It also requires certain character traits, like Curiosity, as well as Openess (to new ideas), Love of Learning, Self-Confidence and Courage (to stand and be counted). The last one is becoming almost extinct in our institutions where proliferation of (linear) measures throttles freedom and initiative, thus stops Creativity even rising let alone thriving.

    While the science teachers and researchers would wish all (and especially their paymasters and grant-makers) to believe that their discoveries are produced exclusively through application of the scientific method, when one reads the autobiographies of some of the leading scientists it becomes clear how often their breakthroughs came from nothing more than trying something they fancied or stumbled upon or were fixated on. This is so clear in the case of the 2010 Physics Nobel Prize winners -how else can one explain that Prof Geim is the recipient of both IgNobel and Nobel Prizes.

    As for Innovation, this is what happens mainly in the 'applied' fields as well as in the industry and commerce. One can 'patent' innovation but creativity is not patentable.

    I have not realised how long this post has become, so beg your indulgence in reading it. If you have come thus far may I, by way of an introduction, say that I am a control systems scientist (from the University where we learnt to solve second order differential equations so that we could model and simulate feedback systems) and general problem solving expert (after my PhD) focusing on spreading dynamic and feedback thinking into everyday decision making in organisations and society at large.

    Thank you for this space.

  59. Hi Rebel with Cause,

    You are of course correct to say that creativity is often overlooked as it relates to whatever is to then be considered as discovery or invention. I also agree that innovation, born of creativity, is stifled if the environment conducive to it doesn’t exist by reason of thinking it as unimportant or worse not being relevant. However, I would contend that before such consideration can be given, that those involved in such decision have to first agree on what stands as being what Descartes would have recognized to represent as being self evident truth(s).

    So then in respect to your point, this would be to first have defined what the character is of what it is we are attempting to have discovered or created. However, the current thinking among many scientists today, which is shared by a growing sector of the general population, is there is no way that such can be defined, as all and any outcomes as equally plausible and thus possible as being true respective of reality. However as Robert Pirsig was to observe, that no matter whether it be science, philosophy or art, what being consistent among them all as being self evident, as to the value of each relates directly to their quality. So then I have long been convinced that before an environment which you recognize as being necessary to be promoted and fostered to have created, what is first required is to have agreed upon what it is we are looking to find or invent.

    “The difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care! This is an ability about which normal traditional scientific method has nothing to say. It's long past time to take a closer look at this qualitative preselection of facts which has seemed so scrupulously ignored by those who make so much of these facts after they are "observed." I think that it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn't destroy the empirical vision at all. It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice.”

    -Robert M. Pirsig- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - page 253



  60. "True creativity often starts where language ends"-Arthur Koestler

    I agree with the idea of creativity with constraints on the participator, still requires thinking outside that box, yet within it?:) Is that possible?

    The French mathematician Henri Poincaré provided inspiration for both Einstein and Picasso. Einstein read Poincaré's Science and Hypothesis (French edition 1902, German translation 1904) and discussed it with his friends in Bern. He might also have read Poincaré's 1898 article on the measurement of time, in which the synchronization of clocks was discussed--a topic of professional interest to Einstein as a patent examiner. Picasso learned about Science and Hypothesis indirectly through Maurice Princet, an insurance actuary who explained the new geometry to Picasso and his friends in Paris. At that time there was considerable popular fascination with the idea of a fourth spatial dimension, thought by some to be the home of spirits, conceived by others as an "astral plane" where one can see all sides of an object at once. The British novelist H. G. Wells caused a sensation with his book The Time Machine (1895, French translation in a popular magazine 1898-99), where the fourth dimension was time, not space.Art Mirrors Physics Mirrors Art, by Stephen G. Brush

    Historically moving forward, you will find correlation in advance thinking of today?

    Intuition and Logic in Mathematicsby Henri Poincaré

    "On the other hand, look at Professor Klein: he is studying one of the most abstract questions of the theory of functions to determine whether on a given Riemann surface there always exists a function admitting of given singularities. What does the celebrated German geometer do? He replaces his Riemann surface by a metallic surface whose electric conductivity varies according to certain laws. He connects two of its points with the two poles of a battery. The current, says he, must pass, and the distribution of this current on the surface will define a function whose singularities will be precisely those called for by the enunciation."

    This is part of the recognition of the "cubists revolt in art" and taken from a fourth dimensional perspective explored by artists like Picasso, Duchamp.


  61. P. Picasso
    Portrait of Ambrose Vollard (1910)
    M. Duchamp
    Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912)
    J. Metzinger
    Le Gouter/Teatime (1911)

    The appearance of figures in cubist art --- which are often viewed from several direction simultaneously --- has been linked to ideas concerning extra dimensions:

    So where is the observer in all this when applying perspective around" coordinated frames of reference."

    Can their be anything "outside of that reference" to have it reduced to concrete defined object 3 dimensional view of reality?

    "Ideas" that are much finer in correlation too, "When is a Pipe a Pipe?"


  62. Science and Poetry

    Poetry and other arts of any age reflect and enrich the science of their time. Thus, the article pointed out, Bohr, the single most important founder of the strange world of quantum mechanics, took particular joy in Picasso’s cubist paintings in which what was objectively real was rendered in fractured perspectives of faces, bodies, and beasts. Pauli, a great quantum physicist, was a very close friend of C. Jung whose exploration of mythic structures across cultures fascinated him. by Stuart Kauffman

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  64. Hi Plato,

    You asked ” I agree with the idea of creativity with constraints on the participator, still requires thinking outside that box, yet within it?:) Is that possible?”

    From my way of thinking this relates back to what Rebel with Cause referenced as being potential, as creativity (what’s outside the box), being both defined and limited by the fundamental character(s) of what’s initially fundamental of nature (inside the box). So then respective of both would have what in the end differentiates between the two, being ones place in time and nothing more. This for example is what I imagine Smolin to mean when insisting time as being fundamental, rather than emergent, and yet I would contend without potential also being fundamental leaving that being having nothing to become. That is why in essence I hold to reality as best represented by having at least a dual ontology, rather than be limited to being comprised solely of a singular one.



  65. Hey Bee, when we describe something as "off mass-shell" or as "virtual" exitations, what is it that is supposed to exist?

  66. That's quite a philosophical question that I doubt has a final answer. But if you're asking for my opinion, it's the observable you are computing.

  67. It's easy. Science is just an invention, because if it would be a discovery it would be discovered, say, a 100000 years before!


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