Re: virus: Memetic evolution

C. David Noziglia (
Thu, 21 Mar 1996 18:33:38 -0800 wrote:
> (in a nutshell)
> Task: You are one of the caretakers of 20th century scientific knowledge,
> and a severe budget crisis is forcing your program out of existence. You > may save the knowledge of only 5 twentieth century scientific ideas or
> technologies for posterity. What ones do you choose and why?

Further thoughts on this fascinating exercise:

The criterion for perserving the ideas is: are they reproducible? Are they
fundamentally different from what went before, the products of unique genius
that lay the foundation of much that went after, or were they, in fact,
fairly (and I main this word in a special way) "obvious" reactions to
empirical evidence. By that criterion, DNA is NOT clearly one of the 5
ideas. If you remember from _The Double Helix_ Watson is pretty clear that
if he and Crick had not found the key to the DNA structure, someone else
would have fairly quickly. Everyone knew that the answer was there
somewhere, and the question was not whether, but when it would be found and
by whom. That was the whole drama of the book. It is no more important in
its way than plate tectonics, which is just as important for geology as DNA
is for biology, but is, again, just an empirical fact!

Now, by that criterion, even quantum theory can be left out. Planc had
already laid the foundation in the nineteenth century, and the fact that so
many names are associated with fundamental advances is evidence that
empirical facts dragged theorists kicking and screaming into the theory.
There are many examples (Schroedinger/Heisenberg, Feynman/Schwinger/Tomonaga)
of different scientists finding different answers to problems, answers which
are then shown to be diffent ways of "saying" the same thing.

Here, then, are my candidates, in order of importance:

1. Goedel/Turing proof of undecidable propositions. Again, two ways of
saying the same thing, but a bolt from the blue that was both unexpected and
_unwanted_ and has fundamental importance in almost every field.

2. Relativity. Can be called simply an explanation of empirical fact, and
does rely on nineteenth century mathematics that could be called more
fundamental (Hamiltonian functions, Reimann space, tensor calculus), but
truly a bolt from the blue that no one expected at the time and has changed
all of science since then.

3. von Neumann's theory of self-reproducing automata. Conceptually elegant,
especially when teamed with Turing's calculating machine, and fundamental to
both understanding DNA and inventing computers.

4. Complexity Theory. Here I can throw in a whole grab-bag of related
ideas, that are necessary to achieve CT, including fractal functions,
catastrophe theory, chaos theory, and even von Neumann's (again) Game Theory.

5. Quantum Theory. Sure, I said it was "obvious," but why go through all
that work again!!!

How's that, Brad?

C. David Noziglia
Wellington, New Zealand

"Blessed are those who have no expectations, for they will never be disappointed." Kautiliya Shakhamuni Sidhartha Gautama Buddha

"Things are the way they are because they got that way."