Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Welcome to David's blog "Chunking Along." My model is Mr. Rogers, so I want you to feel at home here. This is a Mr. Rogers neighborhood for those who like to think about the nature of reality and relate it to everything else: music, politics, movies, sex, aging, cats, vision, traffic.

After a lifetime of reflection, I find "chunking"--the act of bringing various things together as a single thing--the single most fertile English language concept available for understanding the world. For example, your mind reaches out like a grasping hand and "grasps" or chunks an idea from the perceptual/cognitive soup that surrounds it. The reactions of milions of your ancestors to their environments did the same over time, bequeathing you many built-in chunks you can scarcely avoid even if you try: e.g. the notion of "thingness" that equates things with graspable material objects, the idea of 1 and 2 when counting (as opposed to calculating). When chunks like this become somewhat complex and historically mutable, Richard Dawkins calls them "memes," such as race, effective cause, musical key, etc.

The non-biological universe seems to chunk as well. Planets form from dust by gravity. Initial conditions constrain subsequent conditions. If I am understanding string theory correctly, the stuff between the two ends of the string is just chunked and nothing basic in itself.

What do you think? Maybe you are a psychologist and think that some folks have built-in pigeon holes for filing experience. Are these pigeon holes real, just a tool you use, or some combination of the two?

Have any of you introspected on the ways your visual field is constructed? Is it homogenous or ingeniously patched together from multiple local visual fields?

Here are the names of a few writers I have found useful in these reflections:
Holland, John
Ray, Tom
Kaufmann, Stuart
Calvin, William
Clark, Andy

Chunking along is what the world does, it seems to me, and what I do. That's not surprising since I'm part of the world.

Patterns emerge from random processes. Some patterns show a tenacity that keep them around until other processes incorporate them.

Now, if the world is composed of evolving patterns instead of a bunch of fancifully small billard balls bouncing off each other, is there any global truth to the second law of thermodynamics? It seems to depend entirely on the constancy of the speed of light. And maybe that speed is only relevant at an operational level of description.