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Yehuda Atai: on 3/28/17 at 10:11am UTC, wrote Hi Tommaso Here is my long answer I wrote to you in my essay site, and I...

Anonymous: on 3/28/17 at 9:16am UTC, wrote Hi Don, interesting remarks. I would be curious to know what gave you...

Anonymous: on 3/28/17 at 5:05am UTC, wrote Hi Tommaso, Your art and physics is a nice mix. I appreciate it,...

Yehuda Atai: on 3/27/17 at 15:50pm UTC, wrote Hi Tommaso Well, it did worked for me and it caught my attention to zoom...

Tommaso Bolognesi: on 3/27/17 at 10:20am UTC, wrote Hi Yehuda, thank you for you message. I am indeed not too sure that it...

Yehuda Atai: on 3/25/17 at 13:02pm UTC, wrote Hi Tommaso What a brilliant idea to open and close the essay with this...

Tommaso Bolognesi: on 3/17/17 at 18:01pm UTC, wrote Wow! Thanks so much! Between 'tragic' and 'beautiful', my idea was to...

Tommaso Bolognesi: on 3/17/17 at 17:52pm UTC, wrote More than unprovable, I meant 'illusory'. In particular, the mother of all...


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March 28, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: The Man in a Tailcoat by Tommaso Bolognesi [refresh]
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This essay's rating: Community = 5.2; Public = 5.3

Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Mar. 2, 2017 @ 20:20 GMT
Essay Abstract

In an attempt to prevent an unwholesome action and a deadly increase of local entropy, the author engages in a ‘singular’ nightly conversation with a silent interlocutor, trying to convince him that External Reality is only made of interacting computational mechanisms that populate a hierarchy of levels of emergence, and that purposes, conversely, are an illusory business. In biology, for example, goals are just a narrative trick for describing, a-posteriori, features of mechanisms that darwinian evolution developed without any a-priori blueprint. More generally, goals are a convenient product of human knowledge meant to offer practical, concise, easily understood and easily communicated representations of the mechanisms we produce and/or observe. The conversation touches upon program specification (goal) and implementation (mechanism), entropy reduction in a sorting algorithm and in cellular automata, and provides experimental evidence that cooperation, as opposed to individual action, may help keeping ‘life’ parameters within a safe region, at least for some individual (not for the Man in a Tailcoat, in this case).

Author Bio

Tommaso Bolognesi is senior researcher at ISTI, CNR, Pisa. His research areas have included stochastic processes in computer music composition, models of concurrency, process algebra and formal methods for software development, discrete and algorithmic models of spacetime. He has published on various international scientific journals several papers in all three areas. He obtained prizes in the FQXi Essay Contests of 2011, 2014 and 2015.

Download Essay PDF File

Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 2, 2017 @ 22:30 GMT
Hi Tommaso, I enjoyed your essay (both the science and the setting), and I agree with your viewpoint, mine is essentially in the same direction - though not as tragic! Thanks a lot.

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 11:54 GMT
Thank you Ines. By looking at the abstract of your essay it really seems there are analogies. I'll take a closer look very soon.

Steve Dufourny wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 17:46 GMT
Hello Mr Bolognesi,

I liked a lot your papper and how you have generalised the algorythmic simplicity.One of my favorites.

good luck in this contest;


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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 7, 2017 @ 17:09 GMT
Dear Tommaso Bolognesi,

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and perhaps comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 23:51 GMT
Nice story like telling Prof Bolognesi,

Congratulations on winning many prizes in FQXi, best wishes for this also!

Your ideas and thinking are excellent, let me show few words like…..

"And goals? Do all mechanisms have a goal?" you may ask. (This seems to be a question of vital importance for The Man in a Tailcoat, tonight.)………

For fixing goals for Galaxies in...

view entire post

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Stefan Keppeler wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 16:23 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

that was very nice! Well-written, clearly argued, a pleasure to read. I would say your central point is that we can describe processes in macroscopic systems in different ways, either in terms of microscopic "mechanisms" ("mindless mathematical laws") or in terms of macroscopic "goals". These different descriptions are compatible. That's also a central point in my essay, the main difference being our different perspectives: Your views are rooted in computer science whereas I look at it as a physicist.

Good luck, Stefan

PS: You made me listen to Domenico Modungno. :-)

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 17:39 GMT
Thank you Stefan!

about the distinction between the perspectives of Physics and Computer Science: under the hypothesis that the physical universe is an algorithmic mechanism, or a collection of interacting algorithms, the two perspectives might in fact coincide!

Georgina Woodward wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 00:01 GMT
Gently floating, cradled by the waves, he slowly flows down under bridges towards the sea, towards the sea he goes. Who could it be, who could it be, that man in a tailcoat? Adieu, adieu, farewell world, farewell to memories of the past, to a dream never dreamt, to an instant of love that will never come back. (The man in a tailcoat (Vecchio frac), Domenico Modugno, 1955, retrieved from lyrics

Hi Tommaso, I like the way you have used the tale of the man in the tailcoat to add interest and cohesion to your presentation. Rather than being goalless, I think with the organisation and structure of his mammalian brain he can imagine a future outcome and plan to bring it to fruition. The same specialized structure providing motivation to act. Though his act may seem contrary to the imagined goals of all life, I think he may be seeking to escape the entrapment of his circumstances or escape from physical or psychological pain. He can imagine an end to his suffering that is better than his current state.These can be regarded as closely aligned to basic emotions.

I do like that in your essay you have explained that what are described as goals (in nature) are alternative descriptions given from an external point of view after the outcome, and can be anthropomorphism.( Sorry if I have not paraphrased that well, I don't have your essay open at the moment.) Perhaps the man in the tail coat can be regarded ironically as breaking the tyranny of goalless, purposeless outcomes, with his purposeful goal directed act. Thanks for an enjoyable essay.

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 09:51 GMT
Hi Georgina,

thanks for posting part of the lyrics. I was tempted to put the whole translation of Modugno's magnetic short story as an appendix, but I feared that it would distract too much attention from the technical issues of local entropy decrease in interacting, algorithmic mechanisms...

(On the psychological side, I do agree with you that those desperate acts may be motivated by the hope to somehow improve one's condition.)


Georgina Woodward replied on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 19:53 GMT
You were right not to include the lyrics. I really like the epilogue as it is "... must have triggered a deadly flow of neural microstate changes in the head of the man, with visible consequences on the macro-variables characterizing both his facial expression and his precarious equilibrium on the parapet." (T.Bolognesi), is lovely. I like how epilogue fits so well with the prologue. Not showing the lyrics makes it intriguing. No need for the details.

I did read the essay entirely. I like the description "a narrative trick" when goals are used for externally considered outcomes.

Lots of very good, accessible descriptions along with the technical writing. Kind regards Georgina

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Giovanni Prisinzano wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 11:43 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

I'm glad to find you here again!

I read with great pleasure your new essay and, although I need to read it again to fix some details, I have appreciated the usual originality, elegance and great scientific competence. I share, although from a different perspective and with different motivations, your point of view that the existence in nature of purposes and intentions is unprovable.

Of course, like any Italian, I couldn't not know the song by Modugno, one of the most beautiful and poignant of our Twentieth century. I did not know that it was inspired by the story of Raimondo Lanza di Trabia, a Sicilian (although born and died elsewhere) of which you have led me to learn about his incredible life.

Grazie e un caro saluto,


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Author Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 17:52 GMT
More than unprovable, I meant 'illusory'. In particular, the mother of all goals in the biosphere -- reproduction -- is there because a subsystem that accidentally happens to be very successful in reproducing itself will eventually take power, in a population of non self-reproducing and transient (non eternal) subsystems. As Rovelli puts it: "what functions is there because it functions".

In light of these facts, the notion of 'goal' loses its magical essence and tends to become, in my view, illusory -- just a convenient narrative trick to summarize the described mechanism.


Joseph Murphy Brisendine wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 00:44 GMT
Thank you Tomasso! This was a pleasure to read. There are a few other essays I have enjoyed all of which have broadly made similiar points to my own, but yours is unquestionably the most well-written and moving. You have a wonderful sense of timing and pace to your writing, and you write not just to communicate the technical points of the reasoning but also to illuminate the consequences of your thinking for our real, lived experience. Ines called it tragic, and it is perhaps, but I think the appropriate word is beautiful. Simply beautiful work!


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Author Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 18:01 GMT
Wow! Thanks so much! Between 'tragic' and 'beautiful', my idea was to write an ending that sounded mainly humorous: maybe it is not completely clear, but the responsibility for tragic fall of the man from the parapet is mainly ... mine!

Yehuda Atai wrote on Mar. 25, 2017 @ 13:02 GMT
Hi Tommaso

What a brilliant idea to open and close the essay with this strange meeting.

I agree with you that it is all ontological and basically assessing the potential information that exists in the relation between particles.(See also my essay: "we are together, therefore I am")

Thanks for your interesting and challenging essay

All the best

Yehuda Atai

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 10:20 GMT
Hi Yehuda,

thank you for you message. I am indeed not too sure that it was a good idea to add the fantasy ingredient. I imagine that some readers may regard it as a distracting element, and having the title directly refer to it rather than, say, to the idea of local entropy reduction being achieved by the interaction of cellular automaton mechanisms, was perhaps an unfortunate choice. Good lesson for the next contest! Anyway, I am starting right now to read your essay... Regards


Yehuda Atai replied on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 15:50 GMT
Hi Tommaso

Well, it did worked for me and it caught my attention to zoom in.

I saw your great and challenging questions in my essay and I will answer them shortly.

Thanks again


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Yehuda Atai replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 10:11 GMT
Hi Tommaso

Here is my long answer I wrote to you in my essay site, and I decided to paste it here so you get a notice.

I am glad to remind you some ideas of Teilhard De Chardin which I don't know him well @ deeply. It seems, that he was both Dualist - body vs spirit and held to the principle of Causation, and the Cartesian belief in the total existence of perfect God.

I am a...

view entire post

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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 05:05 GMT
Hi Tommaso,

Your art and physics is a nice mix. I appreciate it, particularly when contrasted with the "bland determinism" dominant in this contest. I imagine the man in the tailcoat is a mathematician, since they have a well earned reputation of tragic endings.

This essay reminds me of Heinz Pagels who was rumored to have ended his life mountain climbing (no one knows for sure), after his son's death. In Heinz's last book "The Dreams of Reason" he develops the "in Theory" vs. the "In Practice" dichotomy of "reality".

You Say:

In practice, however, as the mechanisms (IN THEORY) become more and more complicated, a compact logic formula (IN PRACTICE) is much more preferable for concisely characterising the process at hand, and for referring to it in human-to-human communication.

I do not think you are as much of a determinist as your essay suggests!

Please visit my essay where I tried my hand at...(art?)

Good to be in another contest with you!

Don Limuti

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Anonymous replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 09:16 GMT
Hi Don,

interesting remarks.

I would be curious to know what gave you the impression that I am not much of a determinist as my essay suggest (all the examples in the essay are indeed deterministic).

As you write, the dualism theory/practice is perhaps another way to look at mechanisms vs. goals, although I still prefer to look at them in terms of ontology vs. epistemology.

Thank you!


P.S. You say that mathematicians have a well earned reputation of tragic endings. I don’t know the exact profession of the person to which Modugno’s story was inspired - Raimondo Lanza di Trabia. I know he was a noble and a dandy. In my setting, though, his suicide is somehow linked to that of a great physicist (Boltzmann).

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