Self-organizing, art, and mathematical mutants

Deciphering the principles of self-organizing systems is often at the heart of new ideas in biology, including neurobiology. A complex, self-organizing system contains a large

number of elements that have predictable, local interactions with each other, but these local interactions create global properties that cannot be predicted from even the most well-understood local events. This […]

Mathematical behavior without a brain?

I have made the argument on more than one occasion that a refreshed look at mathematics may help illuminate the relationship between our experience of the physical and our experience of the thoughtful. Mathematics is a discipline characterized by complex relations among abstract things but, as has been explored from many directions, the action of […]

The plasticity of grids, in our heads and otherwise

Familiar mathematical structure is found in the neural activity that governs how the body orients itself and navigates its environment. Grid cells are neurons, found in areas neighboring the hippocampus, whose individual firings line up in a coordinate-like pattern according to an animal’s movement across the full extent of its environment. Their grid pattern acts […]

Where does the mind begin?

The slow and steady march toward a more and more precise definition of what we mean by information inevitably begins with Claude Shannon. In 1948 Shannon published The Mathematical Theory of Communication in Bell Labs’ technical journal. Shannon found that transmitted messages could be encoded with just two bursts of voltage – an on burst […]

The difference between dreaming and being awake

I could go on for quite some time about the difference between dreaming and being awake.  I could see myself picking carefully through every thought I have ever had about the significance of dreams, and I know I would end up with a proliferation of questions, rather than a clarification of anything.  But I think […]

The creativity of intelligent machines

First, I would like to apologize for posting so infrequently these past few months. I have been working hard to flesh out a book proposal closely related to the perspective of this blog, and I will be focused on this project for a bit longer.

However, a TED talk filmed in Paris in May came […]

Evolution, life, and computation

A recent issue of New Scientist featured an article by Kate Douglas with the provocative title Nature’s brain: A radical new view of evolution. The limits of our current understanding of evolution, and the alternative view discussed in the article, are summarized in this excerpt:

Any process built purely on random changes has a lot […]

Plato, graphs, vision and another anchor

I’m not sure what led me to David Mumford’s Why I am a Platonist,  which appeared in a 2008 issue of the European Mathematical Society (EMS) Newsletter, but I’m happy I found it. David Mumford is currently Professor Emeritus at Brown and Harvard Universities. The EMS piece is a clear and straightforward exposition of […]

The continuity of things

I think often about the continuity of things – about the smooth progression of structure, that is the stuff of life, from the microscopic to the macrocosmic.  I was reminded, again, of how often I see things in terms of continuums when I listened online to a lecture given by Gregory Chaitin in 2008.  In […]

Thinking without a brain

Can the presence of intelligent behavior in other creatures (creatures that don’t have a nervous system comparable to ours) tell us something about what ideas are, or how thought fits into nature’s actions? It has always seemed to us humans that our ideas are one of the fruits of what we call our ‘intelligence.’  And […]