Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grace as an emergent property of complex systems

Grace means many things to theologically minded people. But what it means to me is the tremendous amount which has been given to me for no other reason than that I have been gifted. 'Blessed' with Grace.

We can do nothing to deserve these things, other than, imho, call them 'Grace' (or some other term) and just accept them.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, so say some folks, but that is absurd. I have all sorts of free lunches, and we all do, and we did nothing to deserve them.


This is not a matter of theology, of how various groups interpret 'Grace' but of my personal view that we get so much for free.

This is true at so many levels. How many of you paid the R&D cost of developing the language which you think in? None? Right. We get language for free. But this was not actually free, it represents an enormous amount of genius work by generations and generations of people - mostly in prehistory, but still they still deserve props.

And none of us did anything, none of us _can_ do anything, sufficient so that we can 'deserve' being able to read Shakespeare, or listen to Bach. And we sure as hell did nothing to allow us to deserve the fruits of the tortured genius of Beethoven.

But that is all old news. And as Kevin Kelly notes, 'Technology is anything created after we were born.' The stuff which is older than we are is simply accepted as being our due.

And moving up, I did nothing to deserve Gutenberg. But I did perhaps a tiny amount to 'deserve' HTTP - I was writing and evangelizing non-hypercard pre-http hypertext systems before HTTP, and everything I said was right (though mostly in truth I underestimated the true power!) but I did not actually do anything to deserve a global network of, let us be honest, effectively magic.

And yes, I understand how each element in the protocol stack works (more or less :-) and it was all created by clever people, not by magicians, but that does not change the fact that for all intents and purposes, we are living in a magical time.

I'm leaving out the deep 'magic' of our basic existence. What did you do to deserve your self awareness?

When you look deeply at things, I think all you see are free lunches piled on top of free lunches. The ability to stand on the train wrecks of giants to see just a glimpse over the fence of universal ignorance.

The world may be flat, and small, but it is still bigger and more amazing than anything we could have done to deserve the world we have.

And I choose to call this undeserved bounty 'Grace,' intentionally using strongly overloaded language from religion because it does not actually matter whether God exists, and cares about us, and gave us these undeserved gifts. Personally I believe that these moments of grace, defined more or less as benefits we do not deserve (and perhaps what you could classify, as an economist, as positive externalities) are an actual specific emergent property of complex systems.

So I posit that 'Grace,' defined as benefits we did nothing to deserve, is actually an emergent property of complex systems.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The illusion of the moment, frozen in time

Photographs are a single instant, captured. Without the context of surrounding time. We all know that.

And there are lots of examples to support this. I just went down a wikipedia data search spiral looking at some of the iconic images from my lifetime. Mostly they are sort of depressing.

But the world is big and time is long.

And this photo is, as the kids say, just covered in win! I could say we have some serious winkakke going on with this image.

There is so so much win in this photograph. First, it is a completely unmanipulated image. The shutter opened. And photos came through the lens and hit the sensor, and then the sensor closed. First Tobias walked across the 'set' carrying an ipad which was running a persistance of vision application. Then he kneeled down, and I painted him with the red light from my head lamp. And finally the three of us bent over, and I pushed the remote flash trigger, and the soft box on the right fired at its' lowest setting. The paper is against the window, and you can see, through the course of the long exposure the gobo effect of the venetian blinds and the window frame. I love that the paper is all scarred up, and taped together on the bottom, and that the lights are in the picture and the whole roll of paper with the light stands, and the cluster of cables on the right. just win win win.