Today my latest book is 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.