2012 : WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?

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Systems-Level Thinker; Futurist; Applied Genomics Expert; Principal, MS Futures Group; Founder, DIYgenomics

Next Node Foment

Kepler's planetary motion ellipses, Bohr's electron shells, and Watson and Crick's double helix are good examples of bringing a bolt of clarity and explanation to a specific scientific problem. Another level of explanatory power is ideas that are applicable on more of a universal basis to many phenomena thereby making sense of things at a higher order. Some examples of these ideas include: Occam's Razor, the invisible hand, survival of the fittest, the incompleteness theorem, and cellular reprogramming.

Therefore some of the best explanations may have the parameters of being intuitively beautiful and elegant, offering an explanation for the diverse and complicated phenomena found in the natural universe and human-created world, being universally applicable or at least portable to other contexts, and making sense of things at a higher order. Fields like cosmology, philosophy, and complexity theory have already delivered in this exercise: they encompass many other science fields in their scope and explain a variety of micro and macro scale phenomena.

Next node foment is an idea inspired by complexity theory. As large complex adaptive systems move across time and landscape, they periodically cycle between order and chaos, in a dynamic progression of symmetry-attaining and symmetry-breaking. These nodes of symmetry are ephemeral. A moment of symmetry in a dynamic system is unstable because system forces drive progression away from the stuck state of Buridan's ass and back into the search space of chaos towards the next node of symmetry. This is the process of life, of intelligence, of the natural world, and of complex man-made systems. Pressure builds to force innovation in the dynamic process or the system gains entropy and stagnates into a fixed state or death.

A classic example of next node foment can be found in the history of computing paradigms, cycling in and out of symmetry and moving to the next nodes through a process of capacity exhaust, frustration, competition, and innovation. These paradigms have evolved from the electro-mechanical punch card to the relay to the vacuum tube to the transistor to the integrated circuit to whatever is coming next. The threatened end of Moore's law is not a disaster but an invitation for innovation. Creative foment towards the next node is already underway in the areas of block copolymers, DNA nanoelectronics, the biomolecular integration of organic and inorganic materials, 3D circuits, quantum computing, and optical computing.

Another area is energy, as any resource starts to run out (e.g.; wood, whale oil, coal, petroleum), innovators develop new ideas to push the transition. For example, the shifts in the automotive industry in the last few years have been significant, driven by both resource depletion (the 'end of oil') and a political emphasis on energy independence. Some of the entrants competing for the next node paradigm are synthetic biofuels, electric cars, hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell cars.

Other classic examples of next node foment and symmetry-breaking behavior can be found in the fields of complexity theory and chaos theory. These include the phases of cosmic expansion, the occurrence of neutrinos, and the chiral structure of proteins and lipids. For example, one benefit of non-equilibrium systems is that they transform energy from the environment into an ordered behavior of a new typethat ischaracterized by symmetry breaking.

Information compression eras is another area of next node foment: the progression from analog to digital and the developing friction for the next era. Analog and digital are modes of modulating information onto the electromagnetic spectrum with increasing efficacy. The next era could be characterized by the even greater effectiveness of electromagnetic spectrum control, particularly moving to multidimensional attribute modulation. Already DNA is a potential alternative encoding system with four and maybe eight combinations instead of the 1s and 0s of the digital era. Terahertz networking and data provenance are early guides in the progress to the next node of information compression.

Part of the beauty of next node foment is that it extends beyond science and technology to a wide range of areas such as philosophy. For example, one of the lesser-known definitions of irony is when individuals experience a sense of dissimulation from a group. This feeling of being dissimulated is that of experiencing an anxious uncanniness about what it means to be a doctor, a Christian, a New Yorker, etc., because the norms of the group no longer hold for the individual. However, it is only by cultivating this anxious uncanniness that the progression to next node can be realized: redefining oneself or the group norms, or starting a new group. As the end of Moore's law is an invitation for innovation, so too is anxious uncanniness an invitation for intellectual growth and cultural evolution.

Next node foment can also be seen in areas of current conflict in scientific theories, where two elegant high-order paradigms with explanative power are themselves in competition, uncomfortable coexistence, or broken symmetry fomenting towards a larger explanatory paradigm. Some examples include a grand unified theory to unify the general theory of relativity with electromagnetism, mathematical theories that include both power laws and randomness, and a behavioral theory of beyond-human level intelligence that includes both computronium and aesthetics (e.g.; does AI do art, solely compute, or is there no distinction at that level of cosmic navel-gazing?).

Next node foment is a novel and effective explanation for many diverse and complicated phenomena found in the natural universe and human-created world. It has intuitive simplicity, beauty, and elegance, wide and perhaps universal applicability, and the ability to make sense of things at a higher order. Next node foment explains natural world phenomena in cosmology, physics, and biology, and human-derived phenomena in the progression of technology innovation, energy eras, information compression eras, and the evolution of culture.