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One Damned Thing After Another PDF Print E-mail
Written by nuncio   
Friday, 10 September 2010 09:34

"Life is just one damned thing after another". So said U.S. author Elbert Hubbard sometime around the late nineteenth century. This was probably intended to be cutting, cynical, fatalistic. But I recently saw it turned round in an interesting way by author David Orrell in his book 'The Future of Everything'.

Here it's to do not with fatalism but complexity. Life is just one thing after another: change piling on change, complexity piling on complexity, evolution piling on evolution. Incremental steps of indeterminate size creating pattern and randomness of unknown and unknowable outcome. Whether these things could be described as 'damned' is another matter. They can certainly seem damnable sometimes.

Deterministic laws, such as Newton's Laws of Motion, work for everything from planetary orbits to dropped anvils. But we now know that his 'clockwork universe' is far from being the whole story. In the case of complex systems it is simply not possible to plug in all the variables and find the correct outcomes. Most of the things we would wish to predict are non-linear in this way. Forget butterfly wings as a variable in your weather forecasts - try plugging in some sea, some mountains, some hail, some snow, some wind, some rain, some sunshine and you'll have problems enough.

Perhaps there's a new kind of joy to be found in this damnable complexity. For those who insist on plugging the gaps with God-filler, a deterministic universe is really the only outcome: an all-knowing entity must know how its experiment is going to turn out, otherwise it's not all-knowing and therefore ipso facto not God. But, of course, all-knowing entities aren't required, and thus we are liberated from God and determinism (the same thing really). Complexity will emerge because complexity will emerge because emergent complexity will emerge.

Just one damned thing after another.

 
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