I Think It’s More Complex Than We Can Grasp


Lately this is my opinion about everything.


When I look around I see nothing that is not reduced, filtered, rendered and therefore robbed of its true nature. Along the Alameda shoreline today I tried to notice all of the things that I was not noticing. It was ultimately impossible. I noticed the palm trees but not the shrubs, the sea glass but not the bits of white shell, the foam but not the water in the bay, because when I did notice those things, I only noticed them in the aggregate, not each of them in and of itsef – this bit of white shell, that bit of white shell, this grain of sand and that tuft of wild grass and all of those water molecules and every wisp of fog and the railings in the balcony and the wood screws on the deck. On the trailside the recent history of even one square foot of land would be impossible to document, the various weeds upon it and the bugs beneath, the cellular matter, the atoms and ther constituent bits, the lives and the culture and the stories they could tell.

Both yesterday and today I was presented with the opportunity to watch a murder of crows at play – most definitely at play. Yesterday a sort of game of leap-crow with definite ritual patterns of clearly reproduced behavior. Today a game of round robin among a set of trees, beginning with a sound made twice, then a group picking it up for three or four beats, then one of the birds leaving the crown of one of the trees, circling and returning to the top of another, then several moments of silence, then the game begun again. I am becoming more and more convinced that every animal tells stories, every animal possesses language and culture to the fullest extent. What we do not understand – which is quite a bit – we reduce, filter, render and rob.

I think it’s more complex than we can grasp.

A computer program cannot do anything with anything it does not already know about. I am lately working on projects involving “big data” and I can tell you this much – most of a program is spent encoding and decoding, translating from one ridiculous format to another, optimizing for transmission, for speed, for space, and no one can ever do the same thing twice, so we have a billion “standards” and a new one for every new thing and in the end all our programs can ever do is what we want them to do with the stuff we feed it. There will never be true transcendence because a computer cannot know anything it does not already know about. Machine learning can make connections, but only among the limited set. Programs can never – they will never – be able to grasp any real complexity – maybe a little more than us someday, but only that tiny bit more. Machines will never be able to render the history of that square foot of trailside wildlife, never understand a game of crows, never imagine anything worth imagining.

Robots may indeed replace us, but it’s a pretty low bar.

(screenshot from “LFO“)


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