EDGE 22 July 17, 1997
THE REALITY CLUB
Charles Simonyi Responds to Daniel C. Dennett
Piet Hut Responds to Lee Smolin
Kevin Kelly, Clifford Pickover, Oliver Sacks, Hans-Joachim Metzger
& Christopher G. Langton on George Dyson's "Darwin Among The Machines";
George Dyson Responds
Women and EDGE: Carl Djerassi & Natalie Angier
Marney Morris, Seth Lloyd, Christa Maar on "He Confuses 1 And
2 The 200 I.Q.", Mr. Byars By Mr. Brockman
THE REALITY CLUB
Charles Simonyi Responds to Daniel C. Dennett
From: Charles Simonyi
Response to Daniel Dennett's comment:
You are very perceptive in identifying the crux of the matter:
"languages used to be the only carriers of abstractions", although
I really meant only "computer languages" and "programming abstractions".
Plato has already proposed that abstractions exist independently.
As you say "computers keep you honest", so we are not constrained
to just arguing the merits of Plato's philosophy, but we can simply
simulate a world in which Plato is right. So an "Intention" is the
actual data structure that simulates the platonic existence of an
abstraction, without any concepts of "grammar", "symbols" or "vocabulary".
Programs are built from instances of (that is references to) intentions.
It is important to insist that this representation is not a "computer
language" insofar as none of the usual questions could be answered
just from the program: how does it look? what are the keywords (vocabulary)?
what is the syntax (grammar)? what are the (proper) names? how is
it implemented? The only freight the intentional program carries
is its creator's computational intent. It is an artifact of "pure
thought" as Spock of Star Trek would say.
It turns out that in order to look at an intentional program,
to create it, to modify it, or to run it various "languages" become
necessary and useful. They are created ephemerally by the intentions
- not by the intention instances that form the program. So we can
have today's viewing language - a mere foppish suit giving form
to the Invisible Man that is the program. And we can have the input
and editing commands du jour and the current best implementation.
My favorite example for the relationship between the ephemeral
and the invariant is "grandpa's ax". When the handle broke, it was
replaced. Later the blade rusted away so a new blade was fitted.
Of course grandpa - long departed, bless his soul - was Hungarian,
so we were really talking about "nagyapu fejszeje". So everything
in this story - including the language used - is ephemeral, yet
there is an invariant. Intentions let you represent that invariance.
I "intend" to make other postings to respond to the other fascinating
comments and questions.
CHARLES SIMONYI, Chief Architect, Microsoft Corporation, joined
Microsoft in 1981 to start the development of microcomputer application
programs. He hired and managed teams who developed Microsoft Excel,
Multiplan, Word, and other applications. In 1991, he moved on to
Microsoft Research where he focused on Intentional Programming,
an "ecology for abstractions" which strives for maximal reuse of
components by separating high level intentions from implementation
Piet Hut Responds to Lee Smolin
From: Piet Hut
Lee, thanks for your comments. This is a fun topic, which I talked
a lot about with Stu Kauffman and Brian Goodwin, at the Santa Fe
Institute last week. I hope they will join in here as well.
You wondered whether my biological analogy of path integrals extends
to all three aspects of natural selection: reproduction, variation,
selection. I think it does. In fact, it even maximizes both reproduction
and variation (as you might expect from a fundamental theory; nothing
half way here).
1) reproduction is taken care of by Huygens' principle: each point
in a wave front reradiates the wave in all possible directions.
At each next moment, all possible next steps are taken in any direction.
2) variation is taken care of by the `democracy of histories',
as John Wheeler likes to call the fact that all paths are equally
traversed; in this sense variation is the global counterpart of
3) selection is taken care of by the superposition principle,
that weeds out the whole lot to arrive at the final probability
for a path to be taken.
So in each moment everything possible is being reproduced; together
all this provides maximal variation in the sense that all possible
histories contribute; and superposition thus has the maximum possible
play ground within which to select through interference.
There are interesting historical aspects to both sides of this
physics/biology metaphor. Darwin provided a causal mechanism for
seemingly teleological results. Similarly, quantum mechanics provides
a causal mechanism for why the principle of least action works,
a principle that smells teleological, the way it is formulated classically.-
PIET HUT is professor of astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced
Study, since 1985. Not satisfied with the performance of existing
computers, he joined a group of astronomers in Tokyo to develop
a special-purpose computer for star cluster simulations, the GRAPE-4,
at 1 Teraflops the world's fastest computer in 1995. He is now working
with them to produce and use a Petaflops- class machine by the year
Kevin Kelly, Clifford Pickover, Oliver Sacks, Hans-Joachim Metzger
& Christopher G. Langton on George Dyson's "Darwin Among The Machines";
George Dyson Responds
From: Kevin Kelly
I take two lessons from George Dyson's masterful history of the
convergence of machine and life.
First is that we forget amazingly fast. It's interesting that
neither Chris Langton, who is credited with founding the field of
artificial life, nor Tom Ray, who has been one of it most cited
practitioners, knew about Barricelli's work until very recently,
long after their own work had begun. I know of only one citation
of Barricelli in a-life and that is by Langton. Langton cites one
of Barricelli's many papers in his bibliography, but I gather from
Chris that this was an indirect cite; he has not really studied
Barricelli's work, only vaguely knew it existed. Ray likewise is
only recently familiar with Barricelli, but still hasn't delved
into the corpus which in many ways surprising given the immense
parallels between their two paths. One great effect of Dyson's piece
may be to drive a-life researches back into history, since in many
ways Barracelli was ahead of us all even now.
The other lesson I took from Dyson's piece was the realization
that biology was ported to computers *just as they were born.* Almost
as soon as a computer was up and running, someone tried putting
evolution into it. And it worked. I think this realization will
become a key insight over the long haul of history; that computers
unleashed Darwin into machines from the first moment.
And I think George himself through Barricelli's work
has a grand idea expressed at the end of this excerpt of his book:
that of viewing the world through software's eyes. There is a lot
of mileage in this and I hope Dyson explores it fully.
A note to Brockman: you've finally got your Reality Club. Thanks.
KEVIN KELLY, executive editor of Wired magazine, is the author
of Out of Control.
From: Clifford Pickover
Hi, I'd like to comment on George Dyson's presentation on the
patterns of life...
Sometime around the end of World War II, astronomer Fred Hoyle
began to wonder about the large diversity of organic molecules being
identified in the dust clouds of the galaxy. Did they suggest life
elsewhere in the galaxy? His speculations lead to his novel The
Black Cloud, published in 1957, in which such molecules became
organized into a living entity a black cloud that
headed strait for the sun, seeking the sun's energy for nourishment.
Unfortunately for Earthlings, the black cloud began to shield us
from the sun's light, thereby freezing to death a quarter of the
world's population. In the novel, astronomers were able to communicate
with the cloud and warn it that certain aggressive governments have
sent hydrogen bombs toward it. The cloud reverses the courses of
the bomb-equipped missiles, causing further devastation on Earth.
The cloud then departs without further retribution.
Could a lifeform like the black cloud really exist? Hoyle's black
cloud was a vast, intelligent cloud containing a large amount of
interstellar hydrogen. The cloud, 150 million kilometers in diameter,
had a complex, central neurological system made up of massive molecular
chains. When the cloud approached the vicinity of a sun, it assumed
a disklike shape that enabled it to absorb energy more efficiently.
By condensing hydrogen in a small area of the cloud, and producing
a fusion reaction, the cloud created an explosive jet of gases that
acted like a rocket, allowing the cloud to move through space.
I believe, as does physicist Freeman Dyson, that life will evolve
into whatever material embodiment best suits its purposes. It is
possible that life in the remote future is something like Hoyle's
black cloud, a large assemblage of dust grains carrying positive
and negative charges, organizing itself and communicating with itself
by means of electromagnetic forces. While it's hard for modern-day
scientists to imagine in detail how such a cloud could maintain
the delicate, complex, and persistent balance of pattern-and-order
we call life, we could not have imagined the structure and functioning
of a living cell of protoplasm if we had never seen one.-
Clifford A. Pickover
CLIFFORD A. PICKOVER, research staff member at the IBM Watson
Research Center, received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is
the author of numerous highly-acclaimed books melding astronomy,
mathematics, art, computers, creativity, and other seemingly disparate
areas of human endeavor. Pickover holds several patents, and is
associate editor for various scientific journals. He is also the
lead columnist for the brain-boggler column in Discover magazine.
From: Oliver Sacks
Comment on George Dyson's book Darwin Among the Machines:
To bring Hobbes and Samuel Butler and Olaf Stapleton together,
and John Wilkins and von Neumann and Lewis Thomas and Erasmus Darwin,
would seem almost beyond the bounds of possibility; but they all,
and fifty others, come together with a sort of miraculous naturalness
in this book, which is as remarkable an intellectual history as
I have ever read.-
OLIVER SACKS, a physician and a writer, is the author of Awakenings,
Migraine, A Leg to Stand On, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A
Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars : Seven Paradoxical Tales.
From: Hans-Joachim Metzger
Science, usually, is not concerned about its own history. And,
in a way, I think, rightly so. Science not only, as some sort of
choice, may forget about its own past, it has to do so, necessarily,
to make way for new paradigms (to adopt Kuhn's and Wittgenstein's
terminology which I still find useful). In that sense a paradigm
is a new way of doing science both in practice and in theory as
well as a way of forgetting. To science in itself there's probably
only one reason to turn to its own history: when the unearthing
of earlier approaches offers fresh insight into what's being doing
later, or when the reconsideration of earlier approaches leads to
a reorientation in a field that has proved to be a dead end. I tend
to think that this very rarely, if ever, happens. Much more frequently
things are being re-discovered - but to call a discovery a re discovery
means you're already talking from the point of view of an outsider,
an observer, from the point of view of a historian of science rather
than >from the point of view of the scientist himself.
To me Dyson's wonderful, well-written book is a book about the
history of science and technology. That is, I don't think it will
make any difference to the way science, especially ALife, is currently
Nevertheless, I feel we have to be grateful that, inter alia,
he has introduced us to the "largely forgotten contributions" of
Barricelli. That man, obviously, deserved some kind of monument.
Dyson has erected this monument.
Barricelli seems to have been what one might call a tragic figure.
Imagine him witnessing the development of ALife (the first ALife
conference was held in 1987, and he died in 1993). Imagine his feelings
when he found that the new movement was dating back its own origins
to von Neumann's work on the kinematic self-reproducing automaton
without ever being aware of what he, Barricelli, had been doing.
I have looked up the indexes of the proceedings of the first four
Artificial Life workshops. In fact, Barricelli is not mentioned
once. Judging by the ECAL (European Conference on Artificial Life)
proceedings, in Europe, too, nobody seems to have been aware of
his research. Today, at least, you'll find references to his work
on the homepage of the AVIDA project: http:/ /http:///www.hip.atr.co.jp/~ray/tierra/like.html.
(BTW, by making use of a search engine you may find out that Barricelli
seems to have been active in the field of SF too: He has contributed
an essay called The Imbrium Impact to Analog Science Fiction/Science
Fact, August 1971, Auth/Ed: John W. Campbell, Jr.)
On the other hand, closer consideration of Barricelli's work will
have to decide whether or not it might contribute to avoiding dead
ends in current research. This, inherently, poses the question of
whether or not there are forerunners or precursors in the history
of science and technology. Very often, in finding so called precursors,
with the appropriate amount of surprise accompanying your discovery,
what you are really dealing with is some kind of rearview mirror
effect. Because only the research that has been done later permits
to see what has been (or might have been) done earlier.
I fully agree with the doubts raised by Lee Smolin and Tim Race
in relation to Dyson's central metaphor, the software/genetic code
analogy. One of the main problems of systems like Tom Ray's Tierra
is that those digital creatures do not have a body because they,
as phenotypes, are (!) their genotypes, or vice versa. With the
evolution of these creatures everything seems to be morphogenesis
because they are nothing but form. As Winograd (cited by Tim Race)
said, the genetic code of natural life is "extremely indirect".
Indirect also, I might add, in the sense that, in natural life,
there is a breach of symmetry between information and matter. I
think that, in ALife, we have not yet reached that degree of indirectness
that seems to be present in organisms, the complexity of which is
based on this breach of symmetry or on the pertinence of the genotype/phenotype
But there is another, more methodological doubt I want to raise
about Dyson's approach. What he is really getting at is expressed
by the subtitle of his book: the evolution of global intelligence.
Actually, what he is trying to tell us is not only a story and,
ultimately, a history. He strives to render account of an evolutionary
(!) process by which a software-based global intelligence is supposed
to be coming into being.
Strange to see that, in endeavoring to do this, Dyson, as far
as I can see, never even tries to show that there have been Darwinian
processes at work in bringing about certain scientific approaches
and technologies rather than others. His narrative, it seems, is
based on "conventional" historical causality (whatever that might
be). But if you're making use of the concept of evolution, I think
you have to be able to demonstrate that not only did this event
lead to that result, but that that result is due, for example, to
a selection (in the Darwinian sense) between various specimens or
species of scientific and/or technological approaches.
Thanks to Dawkins, there is a term for a demonstration like that
in the realm of ideas: memetics. I must confess that, to date, I
have never come across a compelling and convincing memetical account
of an evolutionary process in the history of science or in the history
of ideas. But memetics, without any doubt, would have been the way
to do what Dyson has been trying to do, if we are to take seriously
his use of the concept of evolution.
I'm not sure, but maybe this has to do with the fact that Dyson
is finding evidence that the evolution of (global) intelligence
is in itself, at least in part, an intelligent and not a purely
random process. In his chapter on Symbiogenesis, for example, he
says: "A certain collective intelligence adheres to the web of relationships
among genetic regulators and operators, a vague and faintly distributed
unconscious memory that raises Samuel Butler's ghost. What randomness
does contribute to evolutionary processes is a small but measurable
element of noise. By definition, a Darwinian process has an element
of randomness - but it does not have to be a game of chance."
Still, if this is true, then a historical account of science and/or
technology would have to point out both the "certain collective
intelligence" and "the element of randomness" that have been generative
in producing certain results rather than others.
This, obviously, is a dangerous terrain, a terrain of danger,
the terrain of Darwin's dangerous idea.
From: Hans-Joachim Metzger
Dear John Brockman,
In answering your request to forward a couple of biographical
sentences about myself, let me take the liberty to tell you that
I very much appreciate what you are doing with the EDGE and with
The Reality Club.
Being interested not only in discourse proper but also in the
genres of prefaces and acknowledgments, very early I could not but
notice the traces of your activities as an editor and literary agent.
Far as I remember the first book I came across edited by you was
"About Bateson", and that must have been ages ago.
When you published "The Third Culture" in 1995, I fully agreed
with your intentions and felt that, in using dialogue (rather than
publishing different essays), you did select the appropriate form
for your enterprise. Also, this book had catalytic effects for me.
Though, more or less, I already was familiar, directly or indirectly,
with the works of most of your interlocutors, there were others
that, thanks to your efforts, I was being enabled to discover. But
the most interesting thing about the dialogues in "The Third Culture"
was, of course, to become aware of hidden interrelationships, even
convergences and, obviously, also deep schisms between different
scientific approaches. This is one of those books that I never grow
tired of and that I can turn to again and again. As far as I'm concerned,
the same applies to "Digerati".
No wonder, then, that I have been following closely what has been
going on on the EDGE. What I like and value the most about being
on the EDGE is the incredibly dense dialogical conjuncture of intense
scientific, technological and cultural conjecture. It is that exchange
of ideas that is required if you really want to be here, in real
time, if you want to be (a) contemporary, that is.
I would have sent comments earlier, but this time, but with Dyson's
presentation, let's say I was being favored by a coincidence: I
had already gotten hold of the book, was enthusiastic about it and
were planning to find out about Dyson's email address to sent him
some remarks, when he published his presentation on the EDGE.
To come to the biographical sentences you asked for:
I was born and grew up in a small town near Bonn, the former West
German capital, and, during the 70s, did my studies in philosophy,
German literature, ethnology, linguistics and psychology at Cologne,
Berlin and Paris. Starting, by the end of the 60s, with an interest
in Marx, Hegel and Kant, as a student I was deeply influenced by
contemporary French thinkers (Lévi Strauss, Foucault, Derrida
and Lacan) and through them on the hand re-discovered Nietzsche,
Heidegger and Freud, and on the other hand became involved with
psychoanalysis (understood as "talking cure"), linguistics, semiotics
(de Saussure, Hjelmslev, Peirce), the philosophy of language, logic
and math (Cantor, Russell, Wittgenstein). An obsession with language,
signs and codes surely in my life is something of a leitmotif. The
involvement with logic, particularly approaches to non Aristotelian
or many-valued logics, did lead to an interest in cybernetics via
the research done at BCL (Biological Computer Laboratory at the
University of Illinois) which in turn had me study systems theory
and autopoiesis (Maturana, Varela, Luhmann).
Triggered by my passion for language and based on theoretical
questions concerning the relationships between literature, rhethorics
and philosophy, I developed an interest in translation and, in the
70s, 80s and early 90s, specialized in translating mostly untranslatable
books and/or essays by, amongst others, Derrida, Foucault, Blanchot,
Gödel, Feynman and Glenn Gould. Also, until very recently,
I have been co-editor and translator of the German edition of the
writings and lectures of Jacques Lacan.
In the 70s I have been a teacher in philosophy at Berlin Free
University, simultaneously studying psychology. I trained as a psychoanalyst
but, on realizing I would never be "holy" enough, never actually
worked as a therapist.
Instead, by the beginning of the 80s, I left the University and
started to work, first as science editor then as managing director
of the German branch, for an Austrian-German publishing house based
in Vienna and Berlin. In addition I worked as a journalist for the
feature department of a public radio station in West Berlin.
When the PC revolution hit my desktop, the touch and feel of information
technology was a revelation to me. Knowing from my forays into cybernetics
and early computer science that the machine, of course, was much
more than a simple word processor, as an autodidact I started to
learn programming. One of the first programs I hacked, based on
some code published by William Poundstone in his book "The Recursive
Universe", has been a variation on Conway's "Game of Life".
For various reasons, among them the pathetic and missionary idea
to help bringing this new technology into every home, in 1987 I
decided to join the computer industry and started to work, as marketing
communications director, for the Frankfurt-based German subsidiary
of the Italian office equipment and PC manufacturer Olivetti. I
stayed with Olivetti until 1992, then moved to Munich to work as
marketing director for the German subsidiary of the US publisher
of computer magazines, Ziff Davis.
From 1994 until 1996 I made a detour and worked as marketing director
for an economic development agency and consultancy in one of the
big industrial cities in East Germany, a very challenging job, because
marketing a whole city is so much more complex than marketing just
a product. I've learned an awful lot about politics, administration,
small and big businesses, global and local economic dynamics and,
of course, dealing with persisting cultural and social differences
in a still deeply divided country.
Since last year I am self-employed, working as a marketing and
IT business consultant. Currently I'm thinking about returning to
the IT industry. I'm 48 now, I'm married to an Austrian writer,
have two daughters and live in Munich again.
My publications (all in German, I'm afraid) are mirroring my theoretical
restlessness and multiple interests and range from the philosophy
of science to poetology, psychoanalysis, the theory of translation
and computer science.
For some years now I have concentrated on artificial life. My
last contribution (in print), called "Genesis in silico. On digital
Biosynthesis", is a careful exploration of Ray's Tierra from the
point of view of autopoiesis. Recently I'm becoming more and more
involved with the lessons to be learned from systems thinking, the
theory of complexity, chaos theory, biology and artificial life
for the theory of management and marketing.-
From: Chris Langton
I have to bite the bullet on this one - I had not read Barricelli's
work in detail before - I've just gotten copies of some of his papers
and am going to read them over the next few weeks.
I was aware of it - I listed his 1962 Acta Biotheoretica papers
in the bibliography of the first Alife Proceedings. However there
are over 600 works in that bibliography, some of which I pulled
from other people's citation lists and/or had just read brief accounts
or abstracts of. I knew that I was probably going to miss some pieces
of work that should have been highlighted more, but this looks to
be a real forehead slapper...
It is really too bad that I didn't catch on to his work earlier,
we missed the opportunity to have him at the first Alife workshop
in 1987. However, I had some good luck there also, Aristid Lindenmayer
came to that first workshop, but had died of cancer before the second
We should be aware that the era from the late-40's to the early
70's produced a huge amount of work in the area of computational
approaches to biology/intelligence. I'm sure that there are other
great works that we're still not aware of or appreciating enough.
George Dyson has given us a good incentive to redouble our efforts
in the archaeology of our fossil thoughts...I'm really looking forward
to reading his book.
CHRISTOPHER G. LANGTON is a computer scientist; visiting professor
at the Santa Fe Institute; director of the institute's artificial-life
program; editor of the journal Artificial Life.
From: George Dyson
Many thanks to those who contributed such a fascinating and informed
response. I hope I am not evading too many questions with the general
reply provided here. First of all, I must acknowledge how much I
owe to Chris Langton, Thomas Ray, and many others who left Barricelli's
publications untouched, so that, without doing a single experiment
of my own, I stumbled upon the makings of a whole chapter in my
book. Like a lucky amateur who discovers an unknown comet, I just
happened to be looking in the right direction at the right time.
Now it is time for the professionals to take a closer look. A technical
note: in the E-mail version of Edge 21, the references in the text
are one step ahead of the bibliography; in the Web version they
are one step behind. As a politician would say, on average they're
Many details of the IAS experiments can be gleaned from the published
literature, but not enough to reproduce Barricelli's results. "The
great majority of the phenomena and the various features recorded
are not described in this paper," he reported in 1957 (p. 182).
"A considerable material is recorded, and a few of the most important
codes are stored in the Computer Project of the Institute for Advanced
Study. Investigations for other purposes and with other criteria
may find new objects in the material existing today or by new evolution
experiments which can be done by the codes which are available."
Unfortunately, the records of the IAS computer project seem to have
been haphazardly preserved. I have NOT visited the IAS to look.
Barricelli's colleagues at the Department of Mathematics in Oslo
might provide other leads. Barricelli trusted the durability of
punched cards. "He insisted on using punch cards, even when everybody
had computer screens," says his former student Simen Gaure. "He
gave two reasons for this, when you sit in front of a screen your
ability to think clearly declines because you're distracted by irrelevancies,
and when you store your data on magnetic media you can't be sure
they're there permanently, you actually don't know where they are
at all." Perhaps Barricelli's universe can be resurrected on a simulation
of the IAS machine. But I believe this would simply be a historical,
commemorative exercise, adding little to the approach embodied in
later systems such as Thomas Ray's. My own reference to punched
cards as "lifeless imprints" referred not to executable coding but
to the output of the IAS computer during the running of Barricelli's
experiments--which, in the absence of a printer was simply sent
to the card punch as a primitive form of graphic display.
I share the suspicion of "modeling" and would repeat, in Barricelli's
words: "Are they only models? They are not models, not any more
than living organisms are models. They are a particular class of
self-reproducing structures already defined." Likewise metaphors.
Analogies between digital computation and biology are indeed dangerous--this
being one of the reasons, I suspect, that John von Neumann (and
the Institute administration) did not draw attention to Barricelli's
work. The metaphor--as far as there is one--runs both ways, and
is more profitable when importing insights from the world of biology
into the world of computers rather than the other way around. The
value lies not in tenuous similarities between software and DNA,
but in the more fundamental distinction that coding--digital or
molecular--can be *replicated*, whereas the complexities of real-world
machines or organisms have to be *reproduced*. Exactly how biology
and technology navigate and take advantage of this distinction has
much to do with the origins of life, real or artificial--the latter
constituting an intentional contradiction, as John McCarthy said
of artificial intelligence in 1956.
Barricelli, both in his numerical evolution experiments and his
more reputable career as a viral geneticist, was primarily interested
in the origins of the genetic code. He began his IAS experiments
in 1953, the year that Watson and Crick elucidated the structure,
but not the origin, of DNA. He was well aware of the importance
of making a distinction between genotype and phenotype, acknowledging
"the striking feature that the symbioorganisms we have obtained
in our experiments are only sequences or patterns of selfreproducing
elements to be compared with a sequence of genes. We may ask: 'What
about the rest of the body? Does not the organisms consist of anything
more than hereditary material?'. . . The nature of the symbioorganisms
we have obtained . . . was dictated by the necessity of economizing
with the space in the universe because of the limited capacity of
the computing machines. . . . If we want to see anything like a
body or any structure more suitable than genes . . . we must give
the genes some toy bricks to play with, so to say, or in other words
some material they may organize and may eventually use in the competition
among different symbioorganisms. The material should preferably
be of a kind which has importance for the existence of the symbioorganisms."
(1957, p. 179-80)
This gets to the heart of why, and where, Barricelli figures in
my discussion of the origins of freely-evolving--rather than laboratory-supported--artificial
life. The origins of life, whether in biology or technology, depend
less on the distinction between hardware and software and more on
how life manages to bridge these distinctions by an effective process
of translation between the two. Barricelli pointed out the analogy
between subroutines (specified by strings of bits) and proteins
(specified by strings of nucleotides). Even Alan Turing, at the
very beginning (with I. J. Good) referred to the coding of subroutines
as "machine building"--assembling structures that *do* something,
on a level different from the underlying code. In our digital universe--which
dawned, in part, at the IAS--there *is* a distinction between genotype
and phenotype: for a word processor, a web browser, or anything
else, there's a genotype--the code--and a phenotype--the "application"--which
comes to life (excuse the metaphor) when the genotype is executed
by its (real or virtual) host. And, as Charles Simonyi can attest,
there's many, many, levels of translation and abstraction (constantly
evolving) between the genotype and the phenotype, and between the
digital universe and our own.
With regard to Darwin and "Darwinian" evolution, I had better
leave this discussion to others, excusing myself from the debate
by pointing out that Erasmus, not Charles, is the Darwin featured
in "Darwin Among the Machines." The subtitle "evolution of global
intelligence" is a publisher's catchphrase; the World Wide Web is
mentioned three times in the book. What isn't history or fable is
more science fiction than science. And yes, the electromagnetic,
pulse-coded distributed intelligence of Fred Hoyle's "Black Cloud"
(1957) left a tremendous impact on me as a child--but I kept wondering,
why not here on Earth? Which brings me back to the question of models,
and the epigraph I chose for the chapter on Nils Barricelli. It's
a statement made by Marvin Minsky, at the Byurakan Astrophysical
Observatory in Yerevan, Armenia, at the 1971 conference on communication
with extraterrestrial intelligence:
"Instead of sending a picture of a cat, there is one area in which
we can send the cat itself."-
GEORGE DYSON as a young man lived in a tree house perched ninety-five
feet off the ground in a Douglas fir in the British Columbia rain
forest. He is the leading authority in the field of Russian Aleut
kayaks and author of Baidarka. His work, and his relationship with
his father, physicist Freeman Dyson, was portrayed in 1978 by Kenneth
Brower in his classic book, The Starship and the Canoe. He has been
a subject of the PBS television show Scientific American Frontiers.
Dyson is the author of the recently published Darwin Among the
Machines: the Evolution of Global Intelligence (Helix Books).
He now lives in Bellingham, Washington.
Women and EDGE: Carl Djerassi & Natalie Angier
From: Carl Djerassi
Submitted: 7.12.97 LONDON (where I am temporarily, finishing my
Johnan extremely simple questiontotally unrelated
to political correctness or affirmative action: why are so few womenat
latest count around 5involved in correspondence or responses?
Are so few interested in the topics raised by the EDGE or.....?
CARL DJERASSI (www.djerassi.com) of Stanford University
the scientist who brought you the Pill is now bringing you
"science-in-fiction." His books include Cantor's Dilemma, The
Bourbaki Gambit and the forthcoming Menachem's Seed.
From: John Brockman
Very important question which (Natalie Angier has also commented
in this as well) would take all day to answer. Suffice to say there
are dozens of women who receive EDGE, among them very distinguished
thinkers. One of the keys is that although there are many women
thinkers who are world-class, they are far outnumbered by men, and
thus, they are very much in demand, very busy both professionally
and in their private lives.
How about recommending more women for the site?
From: Carl Djerassi
Submitted: 7.13.97 (London, but will be back at Stanford at the
end of August)
Since you seem to be working on Sundays, let me demonstrate that
we budding playwrights are also, by responding to your last sentence.
I can't help you very effectively with adding to your mailing
list, because my social and professional women friends and acquaintances
are basically outside the central areas of the EDGE. (But I offer
my wife, Diane Middlebrook, a highly sophisticated professor of
literature at Stanford, as a pearl for your web mailing list: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Even Ia chemistry professor turned novelistam practically
outside, or at best on the very periphery of the EDGE. But in addition
to select contents, there are some sociological aspects of the EDGE
that interest me in my current intellectual life:
First the idea of dialogue. That is precisely what has moved me
rather late in life to a special form of fiction writing which I
call "science-in-fiction." All of our written communication as scientists
is monologuist. Furthermore, virtually none is conducted in the
first person singular.I don't recall having used "I" even once in
the over 1000 scientific articles bearing my name.No wonder that
I wrote an entire novel (The Bourbaki Gambit) in the first
person. Nor is it surprising that an unusually high proportion of
my fiction now consists of dialogueall of it my response to
four decades of literary and linguistic repression. But a couple
of years ago, when invited to give a plenary talk at a symposium
on ethics in research based on my fiction (actually on Cantor's
Dilemma, which to my initial surprise has by now become a text
book in many American universities in courses dealing with ethics
in research or sociology of science), I chose to convert sections
of The Bourbaki Gambit (my second novel, now also in Penguin
paperback)into a play format by asking four participants to join
me in reading selected sections of the dialogue in that novel. In
spite of the extraordinarily primitive thesbian level, the audience
enjoyed it hugely. They, of course, were insiders, but that experience
prompted me to consider theaterthe ultimate literary form
of dialogueas a serious means of exposing a general non-scientific
audience to cutting edge(pun partly intended) scientific research.
The play that I just finished is entitled "ICSI" and it would
be interesting to determine how many of your EDGE participants are
acquainted with that acronym. I suspect relatively few, which, if
true, would again show how extraordinarily specialized we have become,
even though ICSI has revolutionized human reproduction and presents
ethical questions that can be as serious as those associated with
human cloning. In my play, I have tried to use the inherently theatrical
nature of the scientific lecture as a form of Greek chorus to explain
scientific facts germane to the plot of the play. It remains to
be seen whether the contemporary theater is ready for such an intellectual
exercise, but in a way, I am trying on a very primitive level with
a scientifically illiterate audience to accomplish something that
you do at a very elevated one with highly educated people. It may
turn out that radio and especially TV might be better venues for
my "ICSI" but I am currently giving it a serious try.
But now to the question, why so few women? Again, I digress to
my fiction, because the subject of contemporary women breaking into
male-dominated disciplines is in a way the focus of all of my current
writing and lecturing. Until recently, religion and science were
the most phallocentric cultural enterprises where all of the rules
had been established (endocrinologically speaking) by testosterone.
What has intrigued me in my writing and also my current teaching
at Stanford (I am one of the very few perhaps the onlymale
scientist offering courses in our feminist studies program)is the
question whether those women who are now starting to break successfully
into the most male-dominated areas of science (mathematics, theoretical
and experimental physics, even chemistry) are, in the process, becoming
men. Or can a dose of estrogen be injected and change the culture,
behavior, or perhaps even conduct of the discipline? My novel, Menachem's
Seed, which is being released next month, and especially the
final installment of my "science-in-fiction" tetralogy, entitled
"NO" and coming out in 1998, very much focus on that question.
This brings us to my question and your partial answer why only
5 women seem so far to have participated in your worthy enterprise.
I would hate to buy your oversimplified answer. If correct, then
it implies that the men who participate are either not very busy
or lead such trivial lives that they can afford the luxury of "conversing"
on your internet channel. I think that it would be productive for
you to do a bit of data collecting.
For instance, what are the demographics of your most active male
participants? Some are young hotshots, but I have the impression
that most are very well settled in their positions and well past
the age of 50. How many of them are single (I mean operationally,
rather than legally)?
I always read the brief biographical comments you make about your
participants, but most of these tell me nothing about the persona
of these men. That is why I was so intrigued to read Metzger's "autobiography"
which was very much more informative. Until he reached the point
where he mentioned his actual age (48), I guessed him to be in his
60s. He seemed to have led and is still leading an extraordinarily
diverse life, yet he has time to communicate with you. Is it because
he is married? Is it because his wife takes care of the 2 daughters
and cooks the dinner? Or is Metzger the exceptional partner-husband
who simply proves the rule that a married, 48-year old FEMALE Metzger
could not have indulged in the same intellectual discourse?
I wonder how many of the 5 women in your EDGE stable are married;
or are mothers; or.... (you can ask the rest of the questions yourselves).
I happen to know Esther Dyson and admire her very greatly. But even
if we ignore the great Dyson genes, isn't Esther behaviorally almost
indistinguishable from her male professional colleagues in the computer
I could go on and on, but I won't. Perhaps Natalie Angier, whom
I do not know but whose writings I have admired for quite a while
(and who certainly falls into an age group which, I suspect, is
considerably younger than that of most of your male correspondents),
might wish to take up the ball and ask more questions. Or even more
relevantly, provide some tentative answers.-
From: Natalie Angier
I was delighted to see Carl Djerassi ask about the dearth of female
voices on the edge. There are many great women in science who have
appropriately grand, weird ideas to qualify as big thinkers or sages
or post-Snow synthesizers or whatever, though they haven't necessarily
written the semi-popular, semi-academic, peri-bestsellers books
that some of your other participants can claim. Nevertheless, they
deserve a hearing. I've mentioned Sarah Blaffer Hrdy to you before,
and I urge you to contact her. She's working on a big book about
the evolution of motherhood and parental behavior, but of course
she's got a lot to say about evolutionary psychology in general
and female sexuality in particular. When I spoke with her recently
she said she was familiar with your salon, and would, I think, be
happy to chat.
As I'm sure you know, Barbara Ehrenreich recently came out with
a book called "Blood Rites," on the origins of war. She's a phd
biochemist and a wonderfully original writer, so why not solicit
her for a chat? Martha McClintock, a Macarthur "genius" at the University
of Chicago, has some very original ideas about how environmental
cues influence physiology, and she lately has presented the radical
theory that puberty begins with the adrenal glands, not with the
maturation of the gonads as everybody has thought. The adrenal glands
normally are associated with stress, the body's fight or flight
response, and so McClintock's work gives a fresh biological spin
to the ancient link between sex and violence.
Kay Redfield Jamison has written extensively about madness and
creativity, surely a subject of relevance to our endless haggling
over the nature of consciousness. Or for that matter there's Dr.
Nancy Andreasen of the University of Iowa, author of "The Broken
This is just a start.
NATALIE ANGIER, a science writer for The New York Times,
has won the Pulitzer Prize and the Lewis Thomas Award, among others.
She is the author of Natural Obsessions: The Search for the Oncogene
and The Beauty of the Beastly : New Views on the Nature of Life.
Her articles have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Time,
Discover, Parade, and elsewhere.
Marney Morris, Seth Lloyd, Christa Maar on "He Confuses 1 And 2
The 200 I.Q.", Mr. Byars By Mr. Brockman
From: Marney Morris
the more 'edges' i receive, the more i like getting to know you.
your friend's phrases beg to be interactive. --one a day. --
or randomly inserted into your document as you type. --or,as audio,
when you do a certain action, or at a certain time. (etc)
i shut animatrix down friday (after 14 years). it feels GREAT.
well, i have
one personal project in development, but that's it. NO MORE SERVICE
will be teaching at stanford in the fall. interactive design (in
the engineering dept). i'm opening the class with the words on lefty
"he was here at a good time and he had a good time when he was
hope it applies to your thoughts of your friend.
thinking of you, marney
MARNEY MORRIS, founded Animatrix (http://www.animatrix.com) in
1984. A low profile but very successful interactive design company,
Animatrix, based in Palo Alto, created the first guided tour for
the Macintosh. Clients include AT&T, Kodak, Chase Manhattan Bank,
The Limited, Clinique, Microsoft. Morris has a BS in Animal Physiology
from University of California at Davis; a BFA in art From University
of California at Santa Cruz. She designed the first t-shirt to ever
sell 1 million units.
From: Seth Lloyd
I enjoyed your writing on Jamie Lee Byars. Heinz (Pagels) took
me to one of his openings once, where he sat statue-like in silk
suit and black blindfold. Heinz proceeded to heckle and insult him
until he got some choice responses. I was entertained.
SETH LLOYD is assistant professor at the Department of Mechanical
Engineering at MIT, and adjunct assistant professor at the Santa
Fe Institute. He works on problems having to do with information
and complex systems from the very smallhow do atoms process
information, how can you make them compute, to the very largehow
does society process information? And how can we understand society
in terms of its ability to process information?
From: Christa Maar
Dear John Brockman,
I liked your personal remarks on James Lee Byars a lot, I regret
even more now that I did not happen to know him.
all the best
Christa Maar, Munich
CHRISTA MAAR, an art historian and journalist, is president of
the Academy of the Third Millennium, a Munich-based interdisciplinary
institute which was founded in Munich in 1994 by publisher Dr. Huburt
Burda. The Academy deals with important future questions and bringing
together for debate personalities from science, business, art, and