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May 21, 2019

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: A Quick Tip of the Pen [refresh]
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Blogger William Orem wrote on Feb. 20, 2013 @ 04:02 GMT
Just a quick comment to say happy birthday to the great Nicolaus Copernicus, a hero of mine, and of many. Here's a post I did on him a while back.

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T H Ray wrote on Feb. 20, 2013 @ 12:40 GMT
Thanks, William. I always enjoy your posts, both for your elegant writing style and breadth of historical and scientific knowledge.

I was moved to respond to the response that Eric S. made to your original article -- he concluded, "Maybe we don't need the courage of a Copernicus in this information-glutted age, but rather the insight and perception of a Galileo to actually spot the next paradigm-shifting idea, and the tenacity to run with it."

How does one know? I think Eric answered his own question earlier in the response: "These days it turns out to be quite safe and easy to propose cosmological thought experiments, theories, and arguments."

It may be safe and easy to propose theories and arguments, so long as one has the mathematical training -- the same is not true, however, of thought experiments. A valid thought experiment must be perform-able in principle, even if the technology is not available. Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein and others understood deeply the power of imagination to bridge the gap between what is and what is to be.

After that, as Popper allowed, it's all conjecture and refutation.

Tom

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Blogger William Orem replied on Mar. 1, 2013 @ 00:27 GMT
Thanks for the note, Tom; I also enjoy reading your thoughts. You inspire me to get back to posting more regularly, for which I have been remiss.

I tend to side with your perspective on this one: Eric S. speaks well to the insight and perception of Galileo, but I think he overstates to ease with one may *responsibly* propose and promote cosmological thought experiments--to say nothing of theories (though I suspect he was using the word in an informal way). Of course, the world is replete with vague claims that append scientific jargon to suggest credibility--but understanding enough of what is already established, and how we got there, to know where we might profitably reconsider is far from an easy task. For me, that's the field wherein the best show their mettle.

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T H Ray replied on Mar. 1, 2013 @ 14:50 GMT
William, I agree without qualification. Only responsible propositions -- like the fair trade and fair speech that creates material wealth -- are ever profitable in a way that benefits our commonwealth of objective knowledge.

Tom

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Georgina Parry wrote on Feb. 21, 2013 @ 00:55 GMT
William , thank you for the links.

You wrote re. Copernicus-" His willingness to speculate freely (even, in the context of his day, "absurdly") on a fringe idea; to ground his speculations on cautious data; to work them out in mathematical detail; these powerful strokes created the Scientific Revolution out of which our era of interplanetary probes and quantum chips was born." It seems very relevant to FQXi, funded research, talks, blogs, essays and community discussions. Worth remembering for those occasions when it all seems too absurd to have any relevance or importance.

You also wrote-" Nature is, quite probably, infinite in its complexity, and another Copernican revolution is always waiting." I wonder about this.Can there be such a characteristic as infinite complexity? I think there is a finite complexity. As a system becomes more complex it gets further away from completely random simplicity or uniformity. However after a level of complexity of pattern is reached further complexity takes it towards a new random simplicity or apparent uniformity. Think about mixing two paint colours, from adding a single blob of colour to the final fully mixed paint. There is a maximally complex pattern between the two extremes of apparent uniformity or completely random pattern. What appears to be a more complex pattern than the ideal balanced pattern between the extremes is actually closer to simplicity.

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Georgina Parry replied on Feb. 21, 2013 @ 01:21 GMT
That may be why nature is patterned as it is. The patterns reflecting the energy of the system. Little energy and there is a pattern on the low complexity side, a lot of available energy leads to more change and a pattern closer to simplicity on the more complex side of the balance. What do you think William?

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John Merryman replied on Feb. 21, 2013 @ 01:46 GMT
Georgina,

One way to think of this is as a wave pattern of increasing complexity that eventually reaches a maximal stage, before collapsing back down to a simpler pattern and this releases the energy built up within the complex structure. Which then provides impetus for other processes. It seems that no matter what, there is a wave pattern in there.

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Georgina Parry replied on Feb. 21, 2013 @ 02:39 GMT
Hi John,

it can go either way though.

If the energy is dissipated through collapse, as you have explained, then it might go to the sort of simplicity it came from, a reversal. Like a tower of bricks collapsing back to the sort of pile it was built from. However if energy is input, above that needed to maintain the pattern as is, a system could be pushed to a new kind of simplicity.I see it like continuing to stir the paint until fully mixed. More and more complex until a new simplicity is formed, not a reversal but something entirely new that did not exist before. Very hard to un-mix it then, back to separate colours. Unless they have different densities and will in time form separate layers of paint. Eg. This does happen in nature as different solids, liquids and gases do have different densities. Deposition of the heavies solid particles can happen first and then the lighter ones so layers form.Also Oil and water will separate into different layers.

Collapse isn't inevitable if there is change to a new norm that is as stable as the previous. Even though complex systems can have vulnerabilities that might cause them to collapse, even more complexity is closer to simplicity after a particular level is reached.I know that sounds odd but I think you will know what I mean by it. A bit like human behaviour or flocking of birds too. Track one human's behaviour and it might seem very complex. Follow the behaviour of a whole city of humans and the behaviours seems far simpler. Also following the path of a single bird and its behaviour might seem very complex, follow the behaviour of a whole flock , such as starlings and the behaviour seems far simpler. Its as if the whole flock is a simpler organism, its not just the sum of the complexity of behaviour of each bird.

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John Merryman wrote on Feb. 21, 2013 @ 02:10 GMT
While Copernicus is a giant, we should keep in mind that mathematically he didn't really replace epicycles, but simply made the motion of the earth part of the system. Many centuries of careful observation and mathematical calculation went into developing that system and his work was very much a piece with it. What was transformed was the physics, with the earth displaced as the center of the universe and relegated to a very minor role in the grand scheme, as well as making those celestial gearwheels vanish into a puff of ether. One wonders today, whether within the current mathematical model, there isn't some overlooked detail, that would fold all those complex speculations and messy patches into something far neater and more elegant.

Revolutions do build on the past, but at the expense of a lot of deadwood being torched.

An interesting essay and book review on Galileo.

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Georgina Parry replied on Feb. 21, 2013 @ 02:53 GMT
Not disrespecting Copernicus but.... Though the Earth orbits the sun, as do the other planets of our solar system, isn't the Earth or Earth orbiting satellite still the centre of the universe that is observed from there. Because observations are relative to the observer. Likewise aliens on a distant planet will be the centre of the universe they observe. Giving a multi-verse of different observed universes. All related to the data obtained from the same material universe, that is also the source of the data.

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John Merryman replied on Feb. 21, 2013 @ 03:50 GMT
Georgina,

As well as everything we think about and perceive is subject to the point of view and the experiences reaching it. The unknown is infinite and the known is a leaf fluttering in the breezes for a time.

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Blogger William Orem replied on Mar. 1, 2013 @ 00:43 GMT
Georgina,

I take your point. My comment was more coming from what seems to me the likely (based on current observational data, anyway) case that spacetime curvature is such that the universe does not close in on itself, but extends infinitely in any direction. If this is the case, then its complexity--in the basic sense I had in mind, though perhaps not in your more nuanced sense--is also infinite. I suspect, myself, that the cosmos is also temporally infinite, though of course that's speculation in need of data that we don't yet have.

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