Quote of the Week Selections, Third Quarter, 2001
prior quotes

Quote # 231:
The Rules of Emergence

Steven Johnson, Emergence; The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software, pp. 181, Scribner, 2001.


This emphasis on rules might seem like the antithesis of the open-ended, organic systems we've examined over the preceding chapters, but nothing could be further from the truth. Emergent systems too are rule-governed systems: their capacity for learning and growth and experimentation derives from their adherence to low-level rules: ants choosing to forage or not, based on patterns in their encounters with other ants; the Alexa software making connections based on patterns in the clickstream. If any of these systems - or, to put it more precisely, the agents that make up these systems - suddenly started following their own rules, or doing away with rules altogether, the system would stop working: there'd be no global intelligence, just a teeming anarchy of isolated agents, a swarm without logic. Emergent behaviors, like games, are all about living within the boundaries defined by rules, but also using that space to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

Quote # 230:
"Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits."1

Robert Grudin2 , The Grace of Great Things: Creativity & Innovation,
pp. 219, 220 - 221, Houghton Mifflin, 1990.


Ideology is at once the matrix from which creativity is born and the barrier against which it strains. As a pattern of ideas absorbed by us as children from our society, ideology gives each of us intellectual viability among our fellows and introduces us to a variety of important issues. But as an essentially unphilosophical system, born of social necessity, governed by historical circumstance, incomplete, arbitrary, and insidiously tyrannical, ideology is unfriendly to independent thought. Creativity has no choice but to grow in ideology, no goal except to move beyond it.

These factors can make ideology a vehicle for laziness and self-deceit. Ideology enables us to pass judgments on a variety of issues while lacking the adequate information or analytic skill or commitment to discovering the truth. And ideology not only substitutes for information, analysis, and commitment, but also for conscience. The fact that a given action or lack of action conforms to our ideology absolves us from having to worry about it or take responsibility for it. With ideology we may appear to be well informed, analytically skillful, inquisitive, conscientious, and morally responsible without really being so.

... Recognizing the operation of ideology in others is a minor matter compared to locating it in ourselves and our peers. Ideology lies deep and is well protected. The mechanisms with which people defend ideology are precisely those with which they defend their personal integrity. For this very reason, the identification and analysis of one's own ideology are critical steps in the progress toward self-knowledge.

1 A quote from Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, sited by Grudin in TGOGT. Top of Page

2 Big News: Robert Grudin's new novel, The Most Amazing Thing, is being published by knOwhere Press, December 1, 2001. Top of Page

Quote # 229:
Mists of Chaos

Stephen Dunn, Different Hours,
pp. 97 - 98, W.W. Norton & Company, 2000.


His Town

The town was in the mists of chaos.
- A student's typo

He wasn't surprised. What town wasn't?
Everywhere the mists of property, the mists
of language. Every Main Street he'd known
shrouded in itself. The mist-filled churches
and the mist-filled stores in strange collusion.

Nevertheless, this was where he chose to live.
Clarities, after all, were supposed to be hidden;
otherwise, no fun in the classroom or in the field.
Life? His neighbors preferred the movie versions,
loose ends tied up, mists of romance and thrill.
And sometimes he did, too.

Now and again he'd get underneath, see
snakes in among the flowers, hearts askew.
And friends from cities would report
they'd been places where mists had risen.
You needed to look aslant, they said,
so dangerous would the real appear at first.

No safety in the universe. He'd stay put.
Besides, he liked to be in the mists of tall trees
and in the mists of what made him hungry for more.
He liked the mistiness of familiar boundaries
so he could let in, secretly, what he loved.

And the chaos? It favored no geography,
a perpetual rumbling beneath and above him
wherever he was. He had lived with it so long
it was simply the music he worked to, slept to
and woke with, in the mists of all.

Quote # 228:

Attractors, Bifurcations & Systems Far From Equilibrium

Manuel De Landa,
A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History,
pp. 14, A Zone Book (MIT Press), 1997.

 ...It should come as no surprise, then, that the current penetration of science by historical concerns has been the result of advances in these two disciplines. Ilya Prigogine revolutionized thermodynamics in the 1960s by showing that the classical results were valid only for closed systems, where the overall quantities of energy are always conserved. If one allows for an intense flow of energy in and out of a system (that is, if one pushes it far from equilibrium), the number and type of possible historical outcomes greatly increases. Instead of a unique and simple form of stability, we now have multiple coexisting forms of varying complexity (static, periodic, and chaotic attractors). Moreover, when a system switches from one stable state to another (at a critical point called bifurcation), minor fluctuations may play a crucial role in deciding the outcome. Thus, when we study a given physical system, we need to know the specific nature of the fluctuations that have been present at each of its bifurcations; in other words, we need to know its history to understand its current dynamical state.

 And what is true of physical systems is all the more true of biological ones. Attractors and bifurcations are features of any system in which the dynamics are not only far from equilibrium but also nonlinear, that is, in which there are strong mutual interactions (or feedback) between components. Whether the system in question is composed of molecules or of living creatures, it will exhibit endogenously generated stable states, as well as sharp transitions between states, as long as there is feedback and an intense flow of energy coursing through the system. As biology begins to include these nonlinear dynamical phenomena in its models—for example, the mutual stimulation involved in the "arms races" between predators and prey—the notion of "fittest design" will lose its meaning. In an arms race there is no optimal solution fixed once and for all, since the criterion of "fitness" itself changes with the dynamics. As the belief in a fixed criterion of optimality disappears from biology, real historical processes come to reassert themselves once more.

Quote # 227:

Complex Systems: More Than Mere Multi-Dimensional

Ian Stewart,
like flatland, only more so
pp. 46 - 47, Perseus Publishing, 2001.

 Well, Diary Dear, eventually the Space Hopper managed to explain in what sense the Planiturthian People's Bicircle is Seven Dimensional. It's all to do with variables – quantities that can change. 'Dimension' is a geometric way of referring to a variable. Time is a nonspatial variable, so it provides a fourth dimension, but the same goes for temperature, wind-speed, or the number of termites in Tangentia. The position of a point in three: dimensional space depends on three variables – its distances East, North, and Upwards relative to some reference point. By analogy, anything that depends on four variables lives in a four dimensional space, and anything that depends on 101 variables lives in a 101-dimensional space.

 In fact, ANY complex system is multidimesional. The weather in a typical Flatland back garden depends on temperature, humidity, two components of wind velocity, barometric pressure - that's five dimensions already! I didn't know we had a 5D garden before! An economy with a million different commodities, each having its own price, lives in a MILLION-DIMENSIONAL space!!

 No wonder economies are hard to control!

Quote # 226:

Simple Rules of a Complicated Mess

Ian Stewart,
like flatland, only more so
pp. 87, Perseus Publishing, 2001.

"So what does the Mandelblot tell us, then?"

"That a very simple mathematical rule can lead to incredibly complicated behaviour," replied the Space Hopper. "Isn't that amazing?"

"I guess ... But doesn't that mean that trying to understand dynamics in terms of rules is a waste of time?"

"Not at all!" said the Mandelblot heatedly. "Can't you see how beautiful I am?"

"Sorry, but what's beauty got to do with anything—"

"Pattern!" shouted the Mandelblot. "Structure! I may be infinitely complicated, but I'm made from layer upon layer of intricate pattern!"

"That's right," said the Space Hopper. "What the Mandelblot tells us is that something which seems very complicated may in fact arise from simple rules. So the trick is to understand the rules, not the complicated behaviour that follows from the rules. And if you didn't know there were any rules for the Mandelblot, you'd still be able to tell there must be some, because of the patterns. He's not a random mess, you see."

"I'm not any kind of mess," protested the Mandelblot.

Quote # 225:

Catching Up
with the Future

Starr Roxanne Hiltz & Murray Turoff,
Network Nation - Human Communication via Computer ,
MIT Press, 1978, revised 1993.

With the base of current developments and activity it is useful to project a decade or two in the future and see what scientific and technical information transfer will look like. We personally feel that in somewhere between 10 and 20 years the following description will be reality for a third or more the those engaged in scientific and technical endeavors.

The researcher has access to a version of (Vannevar) Bush's Memex. Her personal files are on some sort of storage mechanism. She can plug into the unit as needed. The unit is designed for the direct composition and synthesis by the researcher of papers from files, but it can, of course, be synthesis by a secretary. A Memex may also serve as terminal for extracting or sending items to computer systems or to other units of the same type. Costs are less than the mail for communication. Researchers can always borrow a portable terminal to take home. They have access to a couple of conference systems, probably one in their organization and one for communication with individuals elsewhere representing their primary professional peer groups. These latter conference systems may be commercially offered or they may be run by professional societies or publishing operations. ...

The professional societies and/or publishers will operate a sophisticated text system allowing for graphics and a wide variety of text fonts. There will probably be center where an author can go to utilize a sophisticated graphics system to dress up the final version of his or her article.

The image of the university and the scientific enterprise as a "community of scholars" is an attractive one, to which the new technology of computerized communication - information systems could give some reality.


Moral Meaning and
the Built Environment

Robert McCarter,
Frank Lloyd Wright: A Primer on Architectural Principles,
pp. 12, Princeton Architectural Press, 1991.

The transcendentalists held that each physical thing was the consequence of, or had consequences for, spiritual thought. Therefore all form had moral meaning. Emerson said, "esteem nature a perpetual counselor, and her perfections the exact measure of our deviations." It is important to see that, for Wright, the philosophical ideas of integrity and natural order were not merely "means" of designing—they were visions of the world as it should be. His principles are thus understood as having both formal and moral power. Emerson said that "all form is an effect of character," and Wright deeply believed this to be true, pointedly stating that "the sins of architects are permanent sins."


"We don't read books here."

Dan Poynter,
The Self-Publishing Manual,
pp. 221, Para Publishing, Twelfth Edition 2000.

"Who is buying books? Recently, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) published these survey results:

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book in the past year.

70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

58% of U.S. adults never read another book after high school.

42% of college graduates never read another book after graduation.

Adults in the U.S. spent $25.6 billion on books in the past year.

$5.4 billion was spent on movies in the previous year.


Being Human

Tom Robbins,
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates,
pp. 100 - 101, A Bantam Book, 2000.

"What is it," Maestra had asked quite rhetorically, "that separates human beings from the so-called lower animals? Well, as I see it, it's exactly one half-dozen significant things: Humor, Imagination, Eroticism—as opposed to the mindless, instinctive mating of glow-worms or raccoons—Spirituality, Rebelliousness, and Aesthetics, an appreciation of beauty for its own sake."

... of the six qualities that distinguished the human from the subhuman, both grandmother and grandson agreed that Imagination and Humor were probably the most crucial.


Book Smart

Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren,
How To Read A Book,
pp. 14, A Touchstone Book, 1972.

Thinking is only one part of the activity of learning. One must also use one's senses and imagination. One must observe and remember, and construct imaginatively what cannot be observed. There is, again, a tendency to stress the role of these activities in the process of unaided discovery and to forget or minimize the place in the process of being taught through reading or listening. For example, many people assume that though a poet must use his imagination imagination in writing a poem, they do not have to use their imagination in reading it. The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery: keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection. The reason for this is that reading in this sense is discovery, too—although with help instead of without it.

in fond farewell to
Mortimer J. Adler, 1902 - 2001

© MG Taylor Corporation, 1995 - 2002

iteration 3.5