Just Published: Adventures of a Computational Explorer

Today my latest book is published: Adventures of a Computational Explorer.

Just Published: Adventures of a Computational Explorer

From the preface:

“You work so hard… but what do you do for fun?” people will ask me. Well, the fact is that I’ve tried to set up my life so that the things I work on are things I find fun. Most of those things are aligned with big initiatives of mine, and with products and companies and scientific theories that I’ve built over decades. But sometimes I work on things that just come up, and that for one reason or another I find interesting and fun.

This book is a collection of pieces I’ve written over the past dozen years on some of these things, and the adventures I’ve had around them. Most of the pieces I wrote in response to some particular situation or event. Their topics are diverse. But it’s remarkable how connected they end up being. And at some level all of them reflect the paradigm for thinking that has defined much of my life.

It all centers around the idea of computation, and the generality of abstraction to which it leads. Whether I’m thinking about science, or technology, or philosophy, or art, the computational paradigm provides both an overall framework and specific facts that inform my thinking. And in a sense this book reflects the breadth of applicability of this computational paradigm.

But I suppose it also reflects something else that I’ve long cultivated in myself: a willingness and an interest in applying my ways of thinking to pretty much any topic. I sometimes imagine that I will have nothing much to add to some particular topic. But it’s remarkable how often the computational paradigm—and my way of thinking about it—ends up providing a new and different insight, or an unexpected way forward.

I often urge people to “keep their thinking apparatus engaged” even when they’re faced with issues that don’t specifically seem to be in their domains of expertise. And I make a point of doing this myself. It helps that the computational paradigm is so broad. But even at a much more specific level I’m continually amazed by how much the things I’ve learned from science or language design or technology development or business actually do end up connecting to the issues that come up.

If there’s one thing that I hope comes through from the pieces in this book it’s how much fun it can be to figure things out, and to dive deep into understanding particular topics and questions. Sometimes there’s a simple, superficial answer. But for me what’s really exciting is the much more serious intellectual exploration that’s involved in giving a proper, foundational answer. I always find it particularly fun when there’s a very practical problem to solve, but to get to a good solution requires an adventure that takes one through deep, and often philosophical, issues.

Inevitably, this book reflects some of my personal journey. When I was young I thought my life would be all about making discoveries in specific areas of science. But what I’ve come to realize—particularly having embraced the computational paradigm—is that the same intellectual thought processes can be applied not just to what one thinks of as science, but to pretty much anything. And for me there’s tremendous satisfaction in seeing how this works out.

3 comments

  1.  

    i have read your book New kind of Science ,it so inspired for me. i hope could purchase your new book in Beijing China sooner.

    minglee
  2.  

    Audio book version please!

    Alex McLaren
  3.  

    I am just reading this book. It is very pleasant to read these insightful consideration which broaden imagination of the reader. This is a book which I needed.
    By the way, I just finished to read a chapter about communication with other civilization. I wanted to share one of my observations stimulated by this reading. Indeed, the communication requires to share a message which not need a support of the context of our past or the knowledge the fundamentals of our culture. It is hard to find how this message (artifact?) should look like. However, it seems to me, that pretty general measure of the intelligence of (any) cosmic creature (and the value that could be compared during a meeting) could be the effectiveness of its answer to the new stimulus in order to support further existence (of its products) in a space. Additionally, the level of advancement of a tool is defined by its purpose. From this view point, if the message would be the imprint of the hand on a stone it is hard to say if the painting is advanced or not. The same is true for a test-tube with a liquid or a pattern like a sound. In these cases, it is not efficient to send an artifact to understand its advance because they need to encapsulate additionally the information what they do. The difference in intelligence of civilizations is how they transform the common space. This feature could be compared without the context of their history. It seems that the phrases in books which connecting verbs (what they do) with nouns (who is doing) are a capsules of this kind. Also languages like Wolfram Language seem to belong to these messangers because they transform the data (contain the results). Besides the data we people transform material objects which could be algorithmized and presented as the equivalent data transformation. But one should to solve additional problem here how to share with aliens that a considerable part of transformations presented in programs or books are ‘the desktop’ (or abstract) representation of our action in the material world, in fact. Here the set of equivalent objects needs to be defined.

    Marek