Zooming the fractal

From: Jim Fehlinger (fehlinger@home.com)
Date: Sat Apr 14 2001 - 13:06:32 MDT

Mathematics for its own sake has never been my
idea of a good time (though I'm not entirely innumerate
or math-phobic -- I manage to hold down a job as a computer
programmer after all!). Therefore, while I've been dimly
aware of the hoopla surrounding chaos theory and complexity
theory in recent years, I haven't paid very much attention to
it (though I know a guy who's been utterly fascinated by the
Mandelbrot Set for years:
http://home.earthlink.net/~mrob/pub/muency.html )

However, the McCrone book (_Going Inside_) I've been reading
recently (Again with that book! When will he give it a rest! ;-> )
makes a big deal about complexity theory as a new theoretical
framework for Darwinian evolutionary theory. This has
caused me to be struck by analogy I hadn't really noticed before,
though I suppose it's one that many people probably find
obvious by now, including some folks on this list [*].

In a post I made late last year about the book
_Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge_ by
Henry C. Plotkin (the post is in the archive's
blind spot at the moment; it'll be back on the shelf
when it comes back from the binder's ;-> ), I quoted:

> p. 171
> ...
> A nested hierarchy of selectional processes is a
> simple and elegant conception of the nature of
> knowledge.


> [T]he following passage (from Chapter 7 "The Philosophical
> Problems in Perspective", p. 243)... contains a capsule summary
> of Plotkin's view of the relationship between inter-organismic
> and intra-organismic evolutionary processes (what are called
> throughout the book the primary and secondary heuristics):
> ...
> Unable to rely upon just one level of
> evolution and one unit of selection as the means of
> gaining knowledge about just one range of
> frequencies of change (that range being limited at
> one end by the change becoming undetectably slow to
> the point that survival is not threatened by a
> failure to respond to it, and at the other by the
> generational deadtime of each species), subsidiary
> evolutionary processes have evolved, each with its
> own units of selection, and each able to gain
> knowledge about changes that are occurring at
> ever-higher frequencies. So in the real world the
> Humean uncertainty is converted into a pragmatic
> issue of dividing the world into band widths of
> frequencies of change and fluctuation, and employing
> knowledge-gaining mechanisms that are able to match
> the rates of perturbation of the world with organic
> structures able to alter their own states at
> equivalent rates.

McCrone describes the same "nested selectional hierarchy"
in _Going Inside_, Chapter 12, "Getting It Backwards"
(pp. 268-269):

"As Gerald Edelman argued, the key to understanding the
brain is that it is plastic on all scales of organisation.
Each moment of processing is actually connected to a whole
continuum of selectionist pressures and evolutionary
adjustments. Behind the events of the instant lie the
minute-by-minute adaptations in neurotransmitter levels,
the hour-by-hour sprouting of new memory connections, the
year-by-year changes of childhood development, and even
the generation-by-generation changes of the evolutionary
history of a species. Information is being captured on
all these levels and, as said, the entire weight of
this information is brought to bear on the processing
of a moment."

The analogy here, of course, is a view of the nested processes
of selection, with evolution as the outermost level and the
fleeting activation patterns of consciousness as the innermost,
as all parts of a unified fractal pattern spread out in time,
spanning timescales ranging from milliseconds to billions of
years, and broadly self-similar across all those scales.

Jim F. (of Rutherford, New Jersey)


LUNA: Do you believe in God?

MILES: Do I believe in God? I'm what you
would call a teleological existential atheist.
I believe that there's an intelligence to the
universe, with the exception of certain parts of
New Jersey.


LUNA: Miles? Miles, did you ever realize that
"God" spelled backwards is "dog"?

MILES: Yeah, so?

LUNA: Makes you think!

MILES: Yeah... wanna push the car, please?
G.. go push the car, will ya? <dramatic eye roll>

-- Woody Allen, _Sleeper_ (1973)

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