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.


Blogger Bookninja said...

On the second law: it only works universally if you look at it universally. You can always shoot holes in it if you constrain the system (to "globally" for instance). There are two ways to look at the second law:
A) In all spontaneous chemical events the entropy (or chaos) of the universe increases.
B) Energy only spotaneously flows from being concentrated to being diffuse.
In any process you see an increase of organization (decrease in entropy/concentration of energy) there is work being done. You may not be able to figure out where it is being done, or how, but it's there. Most events which seem to contradict the second law are the result of incorrect sample size.

9:40 AM  
Blogger David McCullough said...

Let's go with the second way of looking at entropy--diffusion. The classic way of presenting that was two draw two lines representing the world lines of two particles. They either draw closer to one another and cross paths or become increasingly distant from one another (on a 2-dimensional noncurved plane).

From a common-sense or "work" point of view, it looks like diffusion and dis-organization. From a patterning point of view, however, the arrangement of points close to one another has no priority over points remote from one another. Some patterns are lost (or diffused) as points move away from each other, others come into being. If the speed of light is not a constant, then distance should not be a detriment to organization.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Hello hello; thanks for the comment!

6:16 AM  
Blogger David said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:51 AM  
Blogger David McCullough said...

May we add to "chunking" and "meme" the mechanisms and agency associated with "homeostasis" as used in the book The Tinkerer's Accomplice by J. Scott Turner?

9:25 AM  

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