Monday, March 16, 2009

The awe and fun of engineering...

One of the more amusing aspects of something I read about this Ken Wilber guy is that, from what I've read, he regards much of science and scientists as "flatland" or "flatlanders," or whatever, as if he wants to relegate scientists to a "less-than full number of dimensions" of existence.

It's amusing because Wilber clearly is displaying his lack of knowledge of a vast variety of fields; I have looked for a definition of the opposite of polymath, but haven't been able to find one.


Well, here's why:

  • The term "flatland" goes back to this book, developed by a guy with a mathematics background, to say the least. Ken Wilber did not choose to express concepts claiming us tech types were limited without using terms tech types invented to broaden expression!

  • Wilber evidently has never had any experience in science or engineering, because if he did, he might understand the appeal, which comes from knowing something is true to a metaphysical certainty, with no chance of there being disagreement. My recent work is based on a fundamental theorem of information theory. The main theorem was proved by someone else; I am simply not that bright or don't have the time. However much of the ancillary design was based on "little theorems" or through brute force experimentation that was developed by myself, some of which was not obvious to my main collaborator. The feeling one gets when one designs something based on a theorem being true (especially that you yourself have engineered and proven) is awe and humility. It enables one to imagine the feelings going with being the first person to see the sights from Mount Everest. It is "one taste" that no one has tasted before, but thanks to efforts by one's self and others, all can taste now. It is a big responsibility and serious business, too.

There's a lot of electrical and mechanical energy spent in the Buddhist blogosphere (and elsewhere) on spiritual and religious issues; elsewhere many want for something or someone beyond what is here now, and what pervades the whole universe. But when you can take the facticity of "A," (whatever "A" is, though I could go off on a nice Buddhist tangent here) and exploit it so that time, energy or bandwidth is conserved, you know you are reading the mind of god, as an atheist professor of mine mentioned in a similar context. There simply is no way to critique such a spirituality if you haven't been there and done that or something similar. And it fills a practical need. People all want to make sense of why they are existing in this time and place, in ill-fitting finitude to all appearances. But nobody wants to do that while paying through the nose for energy or for their cell phone bill.

I have mentioned elsewhere that my intellectual property is or will soon be on track to be more widely disseminated than Michael Jackson or Madonna. It's the economics of it all that are the reason of course as to why a) my IP is more widely disseminated and b) why pop music intellectual property is more widely known. But that's somewhat of a pity, because there's a certain elegance in extensions of Shannon's work that just can't be appreciated without a technical background. And unlike certain other forms of intellectual property, it will work as advertised.

So, I'm very grateful to be doing work that gives great fun and great awe. And when folks give advice as to how "limited" my work/outlook/philosophy/etc. is, my advice is, get a doctorate in a field like systems engineering, patent a few things and get back to me. Or do something similar, even if it's in Sculpey-Clay. Or at least try.

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