A theory of everything
October 21, 2010 8:14 AM   Subscribe

A theory of everything
Some people believe that patterns or structures are the fundamental reality. I would like to find more of these people.
posted by leibniz (25 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

am I missing something?
posted by Think_Long at 3:18 PM on October 21, 2010

maybe you should try some links??
posted by leibniz at 12:42 AM on October 22, 2010

I clicked on all the icons and had no idea what I was looking at. I presume that I am not your intended audience.
posted by Gator at 1:43 PM on October 22, 2010

there's a giant link at the top right explaining everything- not hard to find really, but I guess I could replicate the link on all the icon pages.
posted by leibniz at 1:50 PM on October 22, 2010

I think I understand Think_Long and Gator's confusion...

"I was originally motivated (in early 2003) by a desire to list all the different kinds of explanations or theoretical arguments we find in science, philosophy and everyday life"

This would make a good first sentence, on a page titled "What is this collection of patterns", or maybe even "about this" or "what is this".

Cool idea!
posted by amtho at 5:31 PM on October 22, 2010

It's a little too hard to figure out what you're trying to do here. Please don't take offense at the following:

When I first get to the site, and I see the symbols, and I click on them, what I think is, "TimeCube." And there's only a very limited amount of effort I'm willing to give to figure out what's going on in something that screams TimeCube. So, then, I click on the link at the top that goes to the explanation, and... I get a giant screen of text. Because I'm already thinking, "TimeCube," I then think, "I don't want to read all this."

So, my advice would be, make what you're trying to do very, very clear for someone who just gets to your site. Add in something that can explain at least what's going on in only a few sentences, so someone who's confused can go, "OH, this isn't crazy after all!" Otherwise, a lot of people are going to just wander away out of confusion pretty quickly.

I know your explanation page does, indeed, give an explanation.. You're just relying too much on your casual reader to want to seek out that explanation instead of just giving up.
posted by meese at 6:09 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot to also say: I find your project really intriguing. I've been curious about the nature of explanation for a long while, and I think it's definitely worthwhile. It's really interesting.
posted by meese at 7:33 AM on October 23, 2010

Okey dokey, in as much as I'm not that interested in the casual reader, I have made some changes to make the site more user friendly. Feedback is appreciated!
posted by leibniz at 3:10 PM on October 23, 2010

I think it would help to have each little definition from the pattern summaries page on the individual pattern's page (the one with the quotes and the list of illustrative words). I kept flipping back and forth between them, and quickly got annoyed enough not to finish. In all fairness, I don't think I'm the intended audience, even though I really love systems that organize the world, but it's the sort of idea I would find intriguing enough to at least read through once and mentally bookmark to show my philosopher and logician friends if I knew that the presentation wouldn't cause them to think I was wasting their time.

The toolbar up at the top with all of the links on the "What are the patterns?" page would be nice to have on all of the other pages, as well.
posted by wending my way at 6:28 PM on October 24, 2010

in as much as I'm not that interested in the casual reader

This is a bad idea, because every one of your readers will begin as a casual reader. They'll all find your site, glance at whatever sort of frontpage you've got up, and make a quick evaluation of whether proceeding is worth their time. If the answer is "yes," then -- at this point, and no earlier -- they cease to be a casual reader.

It's not that people are lazy. It's that we are all constantly inundated with so much information to consume that if we don't develop quick-and-dirty strategies to determine when to ignore something and when to press on, we'll get bogged down.

If you don't cater to the casual reader, you'll have no readers at all.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 9:11 PM on October 25, 2010

I'll probably add the explanations to the symbols pages when I have a moment.

In the meantime I can assure you that I spent considerable time refining the design of the symbols. They can of course be written in a shorthand way (e.g. a cross for the paradox, a circle for the this etc.), but if you think those versions don't naturally suggest the concepts, I humbly suggest that you haven't taken much time to think about them. Compare and contrast the yin-yang symbol or the Sri Yantra.
posted by leibniz at 4:40 AM on October 27, 2010

I love the intro. Unfortunately after that it goes a bit time-cubey. You tease with "The idea is that these patterns can be employed like numbers or geometry to model the world and everything in it...". Let's see some examples!

Say I want to model a ball rolling down a hill. How can I do that with pattern theory?

You say "I regard my patterns as comparable to other abstract systems, but potentially superior in their real world application". I can model a ball rolling down a hill very accurately with newtonian physics. This allows me to make very detailed predictions about what will happen. I would like to see a worked example showing how modeling that situation with pattern theory is superior.

Is that example not applicable? If so, what can you model with patterns? Love? The stock market? Let's see some examples.
posted by richb at 9:14 AM on November 1, 2010

you should read A Pattern Language and come back in a year or two
posted by miyabo at 9:55 PM on November 1, 2010

@miyabo: ignoring the tone of your comment, I am aware of the Pattern Language and it has been on my reading list for a while. But as a book devoted to achitectural (and to a lesser extent social) design, it doesn't really have the same scope or intent as my theory- though it certainly looks relevant. Have you read this book? Can you say how it might effect my theory?
posted by leibniz at 12:04 PM on November 2, 2010

Hi richb, thanks for your comment. I realise that a theory of everything is bound to look cranky- is there really any way to avoid this?

There are actually brief examples scattered here and there within the website (see especially the paper on analogies for discussion of waves and fractals). Since the patterns were originally derived in part from existing scientific explanations, it should come as no surprise that it's supposed to be compatible with current mathematical physics, and that number and geometry are derivable from it. So when it comes to balls rolling down hills, there's no reason not to appeal to the equations that we already have.

However I did indeed say that my patterns system is potentially superior in its real world application (though emphasis on the potentially here!). One difference is that the patterns system would urge you to then situate that equation (that machine) within a larger context (its outside)- i.e. under what circumstances does the input fail to deliver the normal output, and then see how all that fits into a larger machine. The concepts of rolling, balls, hills etc. can also be reduced by placing them within the patterns category system and breaking them down into elements (as I indicated, admittedly rather vaguely, on the patterns summaries page, watch for changes coming soon here). I would also note that the calculus involved in modelling motion relies on the concept of an infinitessimal which I think my patterns system rules out or explains differently. As far as I can tell the system seems more compatible with stuff being repeatedly divided, and only later getting all joined up, than with an infinitely smooth continuum. I think we start with a singularity (the This) and it is only divided for as long as there is power to do so.

Now I realise that what you probably want is a more detailed example of exactly how a real-world phenomeon is modelled by the patterns. I certainly agree that more of this is needed. But normally I use the patterns to take already existing explanations and show how they are connected with fundamental concepts, and how those concepts form a series. So take evolution theory, which falls under my 'game' pattern. A couple of interesting things are clear with the patterns. We already know that natural selection relies on there being individual replication, and variation within a population. Selection (game) thereby depends on variation (wave) and replication (tree), thus perfectly exemplifying the patterns series. I did not design this, it was a surprising result to me. At the same time, we see that natural selection is just one example of a much more universal physical principle: the path of least resistance (the causal sequence out of all possible causal sequences (wave) that uses least energy (another wave) becomes actual (game). So we are in a position to potentially show how evolution is the same old physics of causation at another level of reality.

Finally please note that it took centuries before the Indian number system superseded the old Roman numeral system- it just took a long time for people to appreciate its superior calculating powers. And just imagine someone inventing the number system for the first time and then trying to get people to adopt it- people would be like, what's this for??- I can already see there's more or less of stuff, what good is counting? Also I am just not smart enough to develop many sophisticated applications on my own. What I can do is take my own specialism (i.e. philosophy) and apply the concepts (e.g. to worry about infinitessimals). And what I would most like is for others to try it for themselves and see if they get any use out of it. This is why I set up the website.
posted by leibniz at 4:37 PM on November 2, 2010

I did not design this, it was a surprising result to me. At the same time, we see that natural selection is just one example of a much more universal physical principle: the path of least resistance (the causal sequence out of all possible causal sequences (wave) that uses least energy (another wave) becomes actual (game). So we are in a position to potentially show how evolution is the same old physics of causation at another level of reality.

Can you explain what the value is in approaching a problem with the perspective of "pattern theory"?

I mean, I guess I can view the theory of evolution from one level up as you describe, but I don't really see what purpose that holds, when I can just understand the concept for what it is. How does viewing it from "another level of reality" change things?

Now I realise that what you probably want is a more detailed example of exactly how a real-world phenomeon is modelled by the patterns. I certainly agree that more of this is needed. But normally I use the patterns to take already existing explanations and show how they are connected with fundamental concepts, and how those concepts form a series.

It seems to me that it is easy to work backwards from something to make your theory stick. Aren't these patterns entirely subjective and open to extreme interpretation by whomever is wielding your theory?
posted by Think_Long at 11:22 AM on November 3, 2010

The importance of seeing that evolution exemplifies the same pattern as physical causation in general is that you then have a reason to think the pattern is fundamental to the nature of the world. The pattern is constantly reappearing in all kinds of different forms regardless of material substrate, suggesting something about how reality works in general. If you then take the further step of agreeing with the patterns series as a whole, you have a theory of everything. You can start from the singularity and stuff will become more complex according to the constantly iterated patterns series (and if my hunch is right, you can even show why there has to be stuff in the first place). This is assuming the patterns are mind-independently real of course, which is a whole other argument.

That you can overly interpret the patterns to fit anything you like is indeed a significant problem that I have often grappled with. That is why I sharpened up the definitions and I am constantly trying to make the business of applying the theory more and more systematic. This is really hard. I still can't even 'count' in patterns- I can't mechanically apply a single proceedure to derive a pattern from its predecessors (though I think it has something to do with self-reflection). Meanwhile, I am able to 'work forwards' in using the patterns to reflect on philosophical issues, but these don't tend to be independently verifiable. Recommendations for a good test are welcome.
posted by leibniz at 3:02 PM on November 3, 2010

I'm going on the assumption that you're interested in categorizing and systematizing things you see in the world. That is, you're not interested in making predictive models about the world.

I think A Pattern Language might really help. (I've read parts of it, but don't own a copy.) The book inspired a lot of people to start systematically enumerating patterns in other fields -- most importantly HCI. It also served as a bit of inspiration for Design Patterns by Eric Gamma which was tremendously influential in software engineering (and which I've read thoroughly).

A New Kind of Science is Steven Wolfram's attempt to categorize cellular automata, and while I am critical of the book it has really had an enormous impact in the field of modeling biological processes. You'll want to look at discrete models in general, like Potts models (basically the same as Ising models) and Petri nets.

Some other books that might help you systematize the world are Relativity Visualized (which is a non-mathematical but rigorous explanation of the theory of relativity) and Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality, which (in addition to a lot of real physics) has some good stuff on the kind of notation used by physicists to discuss their ideas.

There's been some really interesting work on systematically understanding legal arguments. I don't remember any specific names because that's not anywhere near my field, but I think that too might help with your work.

The people who categorize/systematize the world tend to be very senior distinguished scientists/designers/engineers. (Partly because those people get noticed, and partly because they're old and usually not doing much new work.) People will take you more seriously if you can cite examples from these kinds of work.
posted by miyabo at 5:27 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh! You should look at the Gene Ontology for an amazing example of systematically finding patterns in a complex system (the entire world of biology). Here's an example of a graph from GO, indicating the relationship between two terms (in the sense of a dictionary term). There are tens of thousands of these, all laboriously extracted from scientific literature.
posted by miyabo at 9:28 PM on November 3, 2010

Thanks miyabo- some great references there!

I have read a bit of A New Kind of Science, and also recently heard about Gene Onotology (via the philosophy of social ontology discussed by Barry Smith). Ontology turns out to be a big business because of the need to code everything for computers. This can even be a matter of life or death. An inefficient and incoherent ontology prevents data from being properly inputted and used.

Please note that I am also interested in predictive modelling, I just don't have any expertise in that area. What I have been repeatedly trying to emphasize is that we need collectively to develop the patterning world view. Since you know about all these sources, it is clear that you are aware of this whole world-view and are probably sympathetic to it.

All I claim credit for is a) the particular reduction to 10 fundamental patterns and b) putting these in a series. The advantage of (a) is that at this very high level of generality it is easy to see connections between all kinds of arts and sciences and everyday life. The advantage of (b) is that you can potentially generate substrate-neutral laws for how complexity develops.

But in general, there is a huge amount of material out there relating to this worldview which I think needs 'disciplining'- combining into a distinct field called 'patterning'.
posted by leibniz at 4:24 AM on November 4, 2010

Hi odinsdream. I don't think charges 2, 3, 4 and 5 are very fair. Please check the website again.
posted by leibniz at 8:47 AM on November 9, 2010

I don't mind criticism, I just don't think your points are justified.

*I don't claim that anyone has overlooked the general idea. And devote a page to other similar theories.

* As I think I have expressed several times here and on the website, I am most certainly interested in details because I want to see it applied. Meanwhile I have provided details of the theory and so far have provided detailed justifications of two of the major claims.

* While I certainly think this idea is important and valuable, I again stress that it is supposed to be compatible with modern mathematical physics.

* I provide logical definitions and proofs of the main concepts, how much more specific can you get?? I have also begun to provide examples, but I'm sure you would appreciate that this is an ongoing process.

Since I have now gone to the trouble of providing counter-arguments, you need to either justify your impressions (this would be properly constructive criticism) or withdraw your claims.
posted by leibniz at 9:00 AM on November 9, 2010

I guess we aren't on the same page after all, because I thought that there could be theories in philosophy, economics, history, chemistry, biology, sociology, psychology, aesthetics and so on, but actually it seems that only pure mathematics counts as theory.

Second, just as an aside, a theory doesn't necessarily have to claim something that is true. It has to claim something that has truth conditions.

Thirdly, you made several unjustified claims about my theory, which I rebutted. I agree it's not up to you to disprove any text at all, but if you throw out a bunch of criticisms, it is up to you to back up what you said rather than appeal to generic ways to dismiss things you haven't taken the trouble to read or understand.

I don't demand that you agree with me, or even that you read what I have written, but I do demand that you don't dismiss it in such a blatantly arrogant way.
posted by leibniz at 12:55 PM on November 9, 2010

Incidentally Odinsdream was looking at this well-known crackpot check. There are far more crackpots on the Internet than there are scientists, so it's reasonable to be extremely skeptical of any new claims. However I don't think you are making any new claims as such, just fitting things into boxes (not even claiming that those boxes are the best boxes), which is why I'm not immediately dismissive.

I realize you have a PhD in philosophy, but I don't think that counts for a whole lot of credibility when writing a Web page. It might for other types of writing of course.
posted by miyabo at 4:48 PM on November 17, 2010

Yeah I know that list, and I know what Odinsdream was trying to do- he was trying to replicate the magic of this thread, which involved an almighty metafilter pile-on against the hapless poster, and in which Odinsdream made pretty much the same attack. (It also sort of galls me that the thread got over 100 comments, but it was an easy target I guess.)

I'm going to keep developing the website, I've got an interesting way to formally elaborate the system that I should add soon. Maybe I'll post it to projects again once I've done this, unless people think that's a bad idea.
posted by leibniz at 4:03 AM on November 19, 2010

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