The rise of emergence : Life's hidden equation

Needless to say I'm heart-broken for not being able to attend TED Global 2011. Even more so when it came to my attention that Matt Ridleyhas organized a session tackiling emergence.

It seems to be concerned mainly with biology according to the TED blog but it is immensely promising for the concept of emergence and gives high hopes about the possibility that the subject might hit the main stream.

Emergence is afascinating phenomenon mainly observed in Physics and biology but that social sceinces are trying to depict in human behavior. It is order out of disorder. The big bang of life really. And I wouldn't be surprised if the same emergent logic ended up explaining the Big Bang too.

However, the very concept raises an eternal question about that general formula underlying every possible thing in the world. The universal algorithm that dictates it all. And writing about it reminded me an excerpt of James Gleick's information where the authir explains scientists view of complexity and thier attempts to define it. The chapter end up showing how Complexity, Information and Probability (a proxy for randomness) are inter-twined.

How complex are you ? Compared to a drawing ? To a camel ? To a table ? To a text ?

You can circumvent the problem of course saying that every entity's complexity can only be defined relative to an ensemble it relates to : Texts' complexity would be measured comapred to other texts, tables' to other pieces of furniture ... But Kolmogorov, one of complexity's soviet union thinkers actually had a different approachwhere complexity would be defined relative to a universal language : the computer program language. You are as complex as the algorithm that would be necessary to be written in order to recreate you. In other words, you are as complex as th formula that underlies your construction.

This is amazingly revelatory and brings back to the universality of concepts such as complexity. I saw a talk today about simplicity and complexity by John Maeda

[ted id=172]

The insight here is "how simple can it get ?". How much can you narrow down the equation of life and Maeda does a great job : Life is about trying to get the most enjoyment and the least pain. think about all the organisms and the systems around you ; that's exactly it. Our educational system, our nutrition system, our industrial system. It has all converged towards cahin production like factories (we mass-produce identically-educated children, identically fed, pacakged and tasting chicken and cows, identical cars and tables ...).

This simple equation Maeda comes up with is really the one underlying every functionning entity's logic : I want to do the most with the least energy. And it brings me back (again :) ) to that universal equation : I believe what underlies all forms of life is really this minimal energy use, in other terms : Slothiness.

Yes ! As preposterous as this may sound, I believe life is lazy. This is its qintessial way of being. Life converges towards minimal energy use.

And no. I don't beliebve it's efficiency we're heading towards, meaning doing the most with the least. This is not how things are working. There is no underlying six sigma equation within nature. Nature's design isn't optimal, it isn't energy wise and resource effective, I don't think so or at least I don't see so, or else why would we have steered so far from that universal reality.

Life is lazy, or maybe is it because today is grey that it seems so ? No, just kidding :)