Netfuture is an intelligent, sensible and thinking-brain-juice-jelly newsletter edited by Steve Talbott, and it comes right into my mailbox, without me blinking up a sweat and that too, “every two-to-four weeks or so”. A quote from the latest issue:
Many are eager for the reduction. Peter Cochrane, former head of research at British Telecom, believes “it may turn out that it is sufficient to regard all of life as no more than patterns of order that can replicate and reproduce” (undated). When Cochrane says “no more than patterns of order”, he seems content to let the substance manifesting these patterns fall completely out of the picture.
Likewise, robotics guru Hans Moravec describes the essence of a person as “the pattern and the process going on in my head and body, not the machinery supporting that process” (quoted in Rubin 2003, p. 92). And Christopher Langton, founder of the discipline of artificial life, has surmised that “life isn’t just like a computation, in the sense of being a property of the organization rather than the molecules. Life literally is a computation” (quoted in Waldrop 1992, p. 280).
Could there be a clearer attempt to dissociate the world’s essence from sense-perceptible matter? Pattern, algorithm, computation — these formal, mathematically describable abstractions are made to stand alone as self-sufficient explanations of reality. Economist Brian Arthur captures a sentiment widespread within all the sciences when he remarks that to mathematize something is to “distill its essence”. And if you’ve got the essence, why bother looking for anything more?