Archive for Alan Turing

Auld Lang Sine

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Revolution with tags , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by Rob Wallace

Wittgenstein Rabbit DuckIn the acceptance of depravity the sense of the past is most fully captured. What is a ruin but Time easing itself of endurance? Corruption is the Age of Time. –Dujan Barnes (1936)

In 1939 Ludwig Wittgenstein gave a series of lectures on mathematics in his Cambridge rooms. Alan Turing was among a small cadre of students who attended. David Leavitt, Turing’s biographer, writes of the lectures as if Turing got the better of Wittgenstein. Read the class transcripts, compiled from the students’ notes, and you might conclude otherwise.

The conflict centered about the Platonic nature of mathematics. Are the descriptions mathematicians derive embodiments of the natural phenomena they address? The details matter, of course, but in some sense the argument appears moot at this point. Turing’s invention, one on every desk and lap and palm—flying planes, guiding surgery, reconstructing evolution—appears to refute Wittgenstein the world over.

Wittgenstein would likely beg to differ, thank you very much. Useful things, however ubiquitous, can be contingent or even ludicrous. We could even go so far as to ask whether computers are false—or antibiotics or any one of civilization’s intrinsics—however mission-critical to our (historically passing) way of being. Like ritual sacrifice or birds of omen or, sadly for some still among us, the antebellum South.

However deductive modernity might be, the beginning is ever fucking nigh.

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Do Pathogens Time Travel?

Posted in Evolution, HIV, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by Rob Wallace

Evolution arises out of grave failure. Natural selection requires large and variable populations comprised for the most part of organisms whose designs fail to match their present circumstances. Any design matched right is in the meantime still subject to chance destruction occurring across spatiotemporal scales.

So strict engineering optimization is embodied in no organismal design, contra religiosos and radical adaptationists alike. Nor does it reside in the process of selection: every species eventually dies out–by maladaptation, stochastic extirpation, or an external force (say, a large meteorite in yo’ face).

And yet biological life began early on Earth and continues on four billion years later, and will do so in one form or another after the present climate collapses or we nuke ourselves senseless.

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