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Current Essay Contest

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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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February 22, 2018

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: The Traveler, the Terrain and the Porcupine Egg: A Field Study by Don C Foster [refresh]
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Author Don C Foster wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 16:41 GMT
Essay Abstract

As the title suggests, this essay is more folktale that formal treatise, yet within three field studies we consider the question of whether mathematical laws do give rise to aims and intentions, approach and develop Prigogine’s dissipative systems as key elements in causal pathways and consider the fundamentally iterative nature of the universe.

Author Bio

I am a designer/builder of custom homes in Western Colorado, the thirty-seven year producer and host of a children’s show on local public radio,, a twenty-year singer in a gospel choir and a theoretical gardener.

Download Essay PDF File

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Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 14:06 GMT

This is a great essay, amusing and beautifully written, though the paragraphs are so long and dense as to need close attention. Though you don’t exactly answer your main question – “Why does the universe manifest itself as fundamentally iterative?” – your “field studies” wonderfully illustrate some very important features of the physical world, that are all too easy to take for granted.

I especially like your opening image of the travelers and the paths they find through terrain. A bit like the notion of “context” that plays a central role in my essay on three stages in the evolution of meaning. The recursive processes I describe are certainly relevant to your question about why the world works through repetition.

Your ending image – that “the cosmological goal of the universe is hang-time” – very nice. I’ve sometimes imagined the entire history of the universe as a single momentary “big bang”, inside of which time opens up, insofar as more complex processes evolve to create meaningful delays and channels that take time.

Many thanks for a most intelligent and entertaining piece of work.

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Author Don C Foster replied on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 16:21 GMT

Thank you very much for wading through my dense and not very well formatted prose. I am gratified that you found some reward for your efforts. You are quite right; I did not make a clear argument for the world being fundamentally iterative. I struggled throughout to bring various intuitive bits together into a single narrative. In the final section by I hoped to covey that iteration would naturally emerge as a ‘solution’ to the counterpoise of change and constraint at some underlying, not proto-physical, but un-physical level. The image is that of the physical universe as a kind of flame sustained and contained within a crucible of underlying, cross-grained topologies, the drum that creates the drumhead of the field description. That is a pretty heady notion, but how does one constrain imagination? My goal in writing the essay was essentially to satisfy my curiosity, to loft the ball and see how it landed. In the end, I was not able to bring it all together.

Again, I appreciate your taking time to read it and make good comments.

Regards, Don

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Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 14:11 GMT
I'm sorry to see that your rating just went down significantly during the time it took me to write the above. Not my fault!... I rated it very high.


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Author Don C Foster replied on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 16:42 GMT

I will surely take a look at your essay. This contest is an exceptional opportunity to consider views from widely differing backgrounds and find that, as with conic sections, what you get depends on how you slice it. My expectations in this contest have been satisfied in simply being here in good company.

Again regards, Don

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George Kirakosyan wrote on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 05:48 GMT
Dear Don,

I remembered my promise to read your essay and now I fulfilled it.

This is not scientific work in the accepted criteria, of course. But there are wonderful arguments that must precede and determine the purpose and all significance of our science in general. My trouble (ours) is that I realized the inaccuracy and ineffectiveness of the path of development of the basic science - physics. (As you already mark!) Yes it is true! I scream and try to convince people of this, but I see little success!

Now I realized that they should think carefully, first of all, how we argue, and why we do this or that but not otherwise, after which only we will be able to build a more useful sciences. Your work can be very valuable from this point of view as I think. For example, we would not be compelled to answer such questions as, for example, “how meaningless .... “ etc. Someone can kill children and others cannot do this ever! And we must believe that this is determined by mathematics? I think you understand what I am talking ...

Thus, I can say only your work is amazing. It is narrated just beautifully and it teaching to us the morality. So, I will support you and to wish successes!

With best wishes

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Author Don C Foster wrote on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 18:21 GMT

Thank you for taking a look at my essay and managing to find something of interest within its rough form. I think, more than “aim and intentions,” human curiosity is the fundamental relationship we all share as travelers through this intricately varied world.

Very often our physical path is shaped by simple curiosity. I remember reading Feynman’s account of watching ants achieve consensus on their path to food and his simple experiments with changing their paths. I wonder if this influenced his conception of the path integral of quantum physics.

Perhaps the nature of path is the salient observable of our physics. Consider that all of physic’s dynamic metrics derive from observation of explicit variations of path. Measurement is an instrumental rite of passage, the path through which unknown travelers are admitted to the firmament of our physics. Our experiments set up intricate terrains through which we send known travelers and path is the observable feature of concordance with theory.

I don’t believe that the logic of scientific explanation leads to the violence you mention. Surely the drive to improve weaponry was an early form of science, but so were fiber arts, ceramics and herbal medicine.

Regards, Don

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George Kirakosyan replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 16:32 GMT
Thank you Don

I also has a good respect to herbal medicine and now I had known something more in this area ....

Be well, that is important!

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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 10:43 GMT
Hi Don,

I don’t agree with two things in your essay. 1) That the path is “emergent” and arises from the interaction of the traveler with the terrain, but it is something entirely new and 2) that cosmological goal of the universe is hang-time.

The path exists whether a traveler decides to travel it or not. It is part of the existing terrain. Signals can be sent along it to test if it exists, even before a human traveler embarks on the journey. For instance we can send radio waves to Mars and on return determine how long the path is, even without actually traveling to Mars. Of course, you may argue that the signal itself is a traveler, but signals are wave ‘disturbances’ of what makes up the path. If there is nothing existing in the path to be disturbed, the waves cannot propagate. So the path exists.

On the cosmological hang-time, my essay would show why I do not fully agree. The universe is not lazing away, it is growing materially and in extent as we speak. That is not a sign of an entity having hang-time.

Aside this a very lovely essay that should be well rated.

All the best,


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Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 19:07 GMT
Dear Don, I truly enjoyed your essay, thanks for the good read! Your expertise in theoretical gardening has been clearly useful in illustrating with intuitive pictures the underlying physics of natural phenomena. There is a lot of darwininan thinking in your ideas, although you managed to formulate them in a rather unusually poetic fashion.

In particular, I liked the ideas:

> Once again we find a [...] many into one

> energy being constrained along complex path by physical structure

> change + constraint

In my essay I also argue that it is not just energy that is constrained, but also information (I am thinking of Shannon information). This is the essence of many-to-one mappings. I also argue that the observer has a central role in deciding what he/she will focus on, when constructing the many-to-one picture. I would value your thoughts on this matter - though unfortunately I lack your story-telling ability.

Thanks again!


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Author Don C Foster wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 23:20 GMT
Hi Akinbo,

Exciting to find we have disagreements and I appreciate your taking time to read the essay and make comment. As to your two points, I believe we do disagree on path as being emergent, but perhaps your second one regarding ‘hang time’ is simply due to my not making clear my meaning.

Regarding path as being emergent, is unfortunate that we can’t sit down and talk it...

view entire post

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Author Don C Foster wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 23:27 GMT
Hi Ines,

Thank you for navigating my essay and finding something that stood out for you. I will track down your essay. I am curious about how our ideas may compare.

Regards, Don

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Joe Fisher replied on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 16:03 GMT
Dear Don C Foster,

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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David Brown wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 19:32 GMT
"Field studies are paths of discovery. You get your gear together, put on stout shoes and travel out to chip at rocks, dig up roots and see how the theory fits the terrain."

"... Nature has no human inhabitant who appreciates her. ... She flourishes most alone, far from the towns where they reside. ..." — H. D. Thoreau

"Walden; or, Life in the woods" by Henry David Thoreau, p. 222, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Co., 1919

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Author Don C Foster replied on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 15:22 GMT
Nature and I have agreed that:

“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”

-- Bob Dylan said that in "Talkin' World War III Blues"

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 18:14 GMT
Nice essay Foster,

Your ideas and thinking are excellent for eg…

Additionally, in a universe that seems fundamentally inclined toward iteration, we find that travelers, terrains and the paths between them are evolving

A Good idea, I fully agree with you…………

………………… At this point I want you to ask you to please have a look at my essay, where...

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 21:02 GMT

Your essay seemed part musings,part narrative, and part symbolic characterization. Meaningful metaphor is always useful in engendered image and thought.

The O of Change + Constraint sounds like oscillatory dynamics that coordinates human frontal networks in support of goal maintenance. Is there a neurological flavor to the iterations of the Universe? I speak of "heat death" of the universe and energy dispersion in my essay but my essay seems less narrative.

I enjoyed reading your essay, Don.

Hope you get a chance to check out mine.

Jim Hoover

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James Lee Hoover replied on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 04:51 GMT

Since it nears the end, I have been returning to essays I have read to see if I've rated them and discovered I rated it on March 24th.

Hope you have enjoyed the interchange of ideas as much as I have.

Jim Hoover

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Don Limuti wrote on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 05:49 GMT
Hi Don,

I do like your concept of hang time: Hang time - the duration that something stays in the air, i.e., the jump of a basketball player at the net, the lingering, high arc of a kicked football.

This concept of hang time causes me to think of "wavelength". Everything about the matter is scene in at the smallest scales of wavelength.......and usually translates to the longer wavelengths.

In his lecture on the law of gravitation at Cornell University in 1964, Richard Feynman closes with the remark that, “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her pattern so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire fabric.”

I think Feynman missed it for gravity in that the most astounding aspects of gravity can only be seen on cosmic scales.

Take a look at:
or better yet just visit my webpage

I like your essay, informative and entertaining...hard to do.


Don Limuti

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James Gordon Stanfield wrote on Mar. 31, 2017 @ 00:02 GMT

I found your essay to be an enjoyable read. Its imagery is reminiscent of a Japanese silk-screen. The stepping stones are far enough apart that they require leaps of imagination to go on this most enjoyable participatory journey.

Jim Stanfield

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Vladimir Nikolaevich Fedorov wrote on Apr. 3, 2017 @ 03:15 GMT
Dear Don,

With great interest I read your essay, which of course is worthy of high rating.

You are absolutely right that

«In quantum fields we have these ever-restless and intricately mutable drumheads, but we should not inquire about nature of the drum.»

You correctly put questions

«Why does the universe manifest itself as fundamentally iterative? Why are oscillatory dynamics apparent in the universe at temporal and spatial scales varying more than 10^36 orders of magnitude? Is there in our physics a principle to answer those ques-tions?»

And find answers

«Life seems to have mimicked a pattern that is widely found in physical dynamics. Recent approaches to model-ing turbulence have found.»

«In this light, perhaps life is simply a form of turbulence on the otherwise laminar flow of the universe. We will consider that there is anover-arching principle at work in this similarity of nested eddies and it is found in the followingex-amples of hierarchically nested dissipative structures.»

You might also like reading my essay .

I wish you success in the contest.

Kind regards,


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Jeffrey Michael Schmitz wrote on Apr. 6, 2017 @ 04:29 GMT

This essay lets (I was going to say "makes", but that would not be fun and this essay is fun) the reader think. A story that is in keeping with the theme of the contest is difficult to do. The hardest part of writing in cutting your best line when it no longer fits. I might of made one or two cuts that you did not make.

Wonderful work.

All the best


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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 04:07 GMT
Dear Sirs!

Physics of Descartes, which existed prior to the physics of Newton returned as the New Cartesian Physic and promises to be a theory of everything. To tell you this good news I use spam.

New Cartesian Physic based on the identity of space and matter. It showed that the formula of mass-energy equivalence comes from the pressure of the Universe, the flow of force which on the corpuscle is equal to the product of Planck's constant to the speed of light.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential for understanding the world. To show it, I ventured to give "materialistic explanations of the paranormal and supernatural" is the title of my essay.

Visit my essay, you will find there the New Cartesian Physic and make a short entry: "I believe that space is a matter" I will answer you in return. Can put me 1.


Dizhechko Boris

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Author Don C Foster wrote on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 15:30 GMT
Hi Jeff, thanks for your comments. Yes, hard to turn loose of a favorite phrase. Curious as to those you would have cut. Seems like one gets little glimpses but it is difficult to assemble the whole picture.

Steady on.


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Vladimir Nikolaevich Fedorov wrote on Apr. 9, 2017 @ 06:00 GMT
Dear Don,

Many thanks for the kind words about my essay and high rating.

I really hope that you are right

«At some point we will find the right angle of approach and a new pattern will emerge.»

My very best regards,


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Author Don C Foster wrote on Apr. 23, 2017 @ 13:43 GMT
My thanks to the FQXi community for this enterprise.

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