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It is June 1st and we had 80+ degree weather today and probably will have for the rest of the week.  The first tropical storm made its appearance before the season officially started.  (Some storms just didn't get the word!)  I have tomatoes with a tinge of pink on them in the garden and the early stuff is all bolting and going to seed.  At 72, my memory has some gliches, but I have a feeling this all happened to me later in the year in the past. I am concerned as we all are that this "Global Warming/Climate Change" thing may be going to turn out to be more than we anticipated.  "We" is a funny word in this context since the science of all this has had a really hard time. In that spirit, I started a series of eco-diaries based on Dorion Sagan's book Notes from the Holocene {A brief History of the Future}  and I am inclined to continue.  Before I go on with the thread I want to try something out on you.  If you are willing to be part of an experiment, please come with me beneath the break and read what I have put there for you and then give me an honest reaction to it.  It is a bit radical for some, but maybe not for others.

I created these discussions about 15 or more years ago as part of a project that is still going on.  At the Medical College of Virginia which is part of our University (Virginia Commonwealth University), we held weekly seminar/journal club meetings and were trying to master somethijng new called "Complexity Science", for lack of a better term.  We were also holding those discussions on-line and still are.  Last October I edited a special volume of the journal Chemistry and Biodiversity which was made up of contributions from many of those who participated in the discussions.  Complexity theory has come a long way since we began those discussions and I wrote this attempt to introduce the lay person to what we were confronting in our new studies.  The person most behind what we were doing was Robert Rosen who introduced complex systems theory in the late 1950s.  His bibliography is on our Complexity Research Group's webpage.  Here is the first installment of the Murkywaters discussions.  Give it a try and then tell me what you think.

Discussion One: The meeting

Professor Murkywaters meets two students at the coffee house. The following is a conversation they had. The students are:

Ms De Esdeetee (De)


Mr. Online (On)

They are talking about a series of lectures Murky has been giving in their Molecular Philosophy course.

Murky: Well how are things going?

De: Horrible!  

On:  Yeah, I'm having trouble.

Murky: Really! Tell me about it!

De: Well, I'm not sure how to say this, but you keep jumping around so!
On: Yes, and I'm not sure where it all is going. And all those equations! What can that possibly have to do with the meaning of life?  

De: Well, I follow all the equations ok, but some of that philosophical stuff really sucks!  

Murky:  Hmmm. We have a problem, I can see that! Let me see if I can recover a bit. What I am trying to show you is that when classical science breaks down it doesn't just do it at one level. Now some people really believe in the division between so-called hard science and so-called soft science. They believe that scientific concepts have to be mathematical and rigorous for the hard scientists and nice and soft and mushy for the rest. I don't believe that. I think that mathematics is more than just a set of equations here or there, but to be concrete and to reach those who are snobbishly hard scientists you must use their language. Others have an advantage, they can skip the math and try to deal with the accompanying words directly.

On: Whoa! The ones who don't like the equations have the advantage??  

Murky:  Yes, they don't have to get bogged down in the details. They are free to use their intuition.

On:  Oh, oh. I think I'm in trouble. I just shut off when I see the math.  

Murky:  Could be. Try reading "around" the math and accepting he fact that if there is skullduggery in the math it will be quickly revealed by our silent friend here!  

De: You got that right! I go through every derivation with a fine tooth comb. But then all this philosophy and stuff from the social sciences DOES seem a bit mushy to me. Why can't that be turned into equations?
Murky:  Because most of what is important takes much more than math to express. If we could write equations for everything this would be a horrible world! In fact, reality never can be expressed in just one way. That is why I "jump around" so much. Look at the relationships again, It is the soft stuff that touches on more and the hard stuff that is special. That's why the so-called "science of complexity" seems new to most folk. They had been given tunnel vision by those who thought hard science was everything important and that soft science was ONLY good for the mushy stuff. They had us convinced that backwards is forwards and vice versa!  

On: Darn, just when this gets interesting I've got a hot date in a chat room! Can we continue this tomorrow?  

De:  Yes and I have to go read Hilbert. I'd like to continue too.  

Murky: My pleasure! I'm always willing to dig myself out of a hole I dug myself into.  

They all get up and leave saying good-byes as they do.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 09:08 PM PDT.


Murkywaters ideas about science

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