In their feature Formulae for the 21st Century, Edge ask ‘What is your formula? Your equation?’ Scientists, Philosophers, Artists and Writers have replied. Some gave their favourite, or what they thought to be the most important, formulas from their fields.
But many gave their models of the world. I think that’s why I like these so much – they’re models, simplifications, abstractions, essences of an aspect of life or thought. From Happiness (Danny Kahneman, Jonathan Haidt) and Creativity (Geoffrey Miller, Richard Foreman), through Cognition (Steven Pinker, Ernst Poppel), Economics (Matt Ridley), Society (Doug Rushkoff, John Horgan), Science (Richard Dawkins, Neil Shubin), Life (Alison Gopnik, Tor Nørretranders) and the Universe (Michael Shermer, Dimitar D. Sasselov) all the way (full circle maybe) to Metaphysics (Paul Bloom).
My favourites are the most simple – model parsimony, Occam’s Razor and all that. Here are a couple (click for larger images).
This got me thinking about why I like quotes so much too – because they’re models. Take the essence of an idea and express it as elegantly as possible. That’s what scientists and mathematicians do, but equally it’s what writers and artists do. Take it far enough, and being a bit of critical realist, I would say that all human perception is a model. But these elegant models are more useful than our sensory apparatus alone (which, along with our subconscious does plenty of filtering already) – they observe whilst simultaneously interpreting and synthesizing.
So what’s my model? I’m not sure – it would have to involve change. My personal models are continually changing, vacillating. Sometimes I believe time has an arrow, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the world is equations and energy, sometimes it’s story and sentiment. Sometimes life is light, sometimes life is heavy. Even when my model is relatively stable it’s usually paradoxical (or should that be hypocritical?) and ironic. I’ll try to parse it down to it’s most parsimonious state and then find some words and symbols to express it elegantly. Then I’ll post it here. I can’t guarantee that will be any time soon mind you…
In the meantime, what’s your model?