Thursday, November 1, 2012

i am computing

house-sitting for a thoroughly post-modern couple--partners, not spouses, home-schooling the hyphenated-surnamed children, with a  cubboard full of food with names like natural valley and a 30-minute commute by 4-wheel drive suv or pickup--who are mostly spiritual not religious, although one spouse's paycheck comes from a religious institution, i randomly picked up a book and opened to the book-marked page. e.o. wilson, the southern baptist mega-preacher of the new ethical synthesis, was beginning a new chapter: 'mankind is hardwired . . . ', he began.

in a short part of my short lifetime a new paradigm has taken over so successfully that it has become the water in which we live and move and have our being: the universe and its parts and/or inhabitants as computing engines. god is not dead, necessarily. he is simply thought of in the new religion as a self-organizing algorithm.

such an idea is not new. the seed certainly seems to have been sown in the work of leibnitz, but it sprouted slowly. charles babbage hoed and watered the new planting, but it didn't really emerge as a green and visible shoot until alan turing suggested it could spread like kudzu, doing computations at all times and in all places. instead of nitrogen, turing machines, whether in microscopic plants or human nervous systems or the tablet i'm using to write this blog, are powered by electrons.

the only real discussion seems to be about the details--god or the devil, if one still includes those assumptions, and writers about computation seem very happy to use the g-word, if not the d-word.  does computation begin, as seth loyd suggests, at the quanta level? is the universe a self-generating program? indeed are there multiple 'verses' running simultaneously, except of course that simultaneousness is a difficult thing to see since 1905 and the suggestions of albert einstein.

i confess i find this paradigm as intriguing, as absorbing, as anyone else. how do things work? what happened at the beginning--and before? our creation myths, whether they center on genesis' enigmatic elohim or the navajo's spider woman,  say just enough to make me want to hear more.

so i confess that i am totally intrigued with the singular role of light in this new paradigm. for me it makes the 'light from light' phrase of the symbol of faith more intriguing than ever. (i know i'm violating the first rule of modernity that there is some sort of wall of separation between what we can know by observation--science--and what we can know by what--faith? a priori? and i know that science claims to be about things that all observers can observe as the same--the cosmological principle--and that obviously not all observers see 'light from light' the same.

but i'm not demanding that anyone else follow me on this peregrination,. i'm just sending back field notes. and recognizing the new 'scientific' paradigm for the dogma that it is, and insisting that we also recognize that real dogma is always the best we can do to describe the way things are with the knowledge i have.