Saturday, December 10, 2005

More than emergence needed for Physics break-through

Basic science, especially physics, seems stalled in a variety of ways. String Theory is likely not the answer. Particle accelerators are too big, too expensive ($5B) and take too long to build and use; they are a clumsy approach, just the only current approach. With computing improvements, hopefully physics can make the jump to informatics and experience a Phase Change as discussed by Douglas Robertson.

Emergence has been touted as a panacea concept for the future of science for the last several years. Finally, some scientists are starting to explain with greater depth what emergence is and can provide to our study of science.

Robert Laughlin, in his March 2005 book, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down notices the existence and necessity of the shift in scientific mindset and approach from reductionism to emergence. The shift has occurred somewhat due to the full exploration and ineffectiveness of reductionism. Focusing more on the abstract rather than the concrete is an important step since the next ideas are most likely significantly different paradigms than the current status quo. Assumes broad and innovative thinking.

Santa Fe Institute external faculty member, synthetic biology startup leader and 2005 Pop!Tech speaker Norman Packard points out that emergence is the name given to critical properties or phenomena that are not derivable from the original (Newtonian, etc.) laws; phenonomena such as chaos, fluid dynamics, life and consciousness (itself an emergent property of life). The idea is to think about new properties in ways unto themselves, not as derivations of the initially presented or base evidence. Assumes new laws and unrelatedness.

Robert Hazen, an Astrobiologist at Washington DC's Carnegie Institution, in his September 2005 book Gen-e-sis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins thinks that macro level entropy is symbiotic with micro level organization. Micro level organization (of ants to collective behavior; of axons and synapses to consciousness) is emergence. An interesting idea. Unclear if correct, but a nice example of larger-scale systemic thinking and the examination of potential interrelations between different levels and tiers of a (previously assumed to be unrelated) system. Assumes relatedness of seemingly unrelated aspects.

The point is to applaud the increasingly meaty application of emergence as an example of the short-list of new tools and thought paradigms required to make the next leaps in understanding physics and basic science.