Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Google, Memes and Randomness

A link to this video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EXNWfX8sz8

Can you remember what life was like before Google? That's what this week's poll question is about:

2008 is the Tenth Anniversary of Google, our world's premium meme-tracker. How would you say Google has changed the way you interact with the information that is our reality?
- Better, more immersive
- Worse, more superficial
- No change from 10 years ago
As you can see, I am using language related to this project to ask a question whose answer might seem obvious to some, but the question is an important one: by the time information becomes so much easier to access, are we in danger of becoming a world of skimmers, flitting along the top peaks but rarely immersing ourselves in the deep valleys of that information?

Google helps us to settle questions that ten years ago might have been the source of endless debate, and surely debate can be a healthy exercise in the exploration of ideas. But the conversation-stopping moments that used to happen ("When was Paul McCartney born?" "Hmm, I used to know that, guess that brain cell's no longer kickin' in. No wait, was it... umm..." "Oh well, never mind...") have been replaced with a few deftly chosen keywords into the Google Search window and the answer is there for our perusal in 0.14 seconds.

But we're talking about much more than rock star trivia here. In fact, we're talking about all aspects of human knowledge, being revved up and churned through and exchanged at rates that would have been unfathomable a decade ago. In "Tens, Google, and the Expanding Universe" we played with ideas surrounding the expanding sea of information that Google gives us access to, and the interesting coincidence that 2008 is the tenth anniversary of both Google and the discovery that our universe's expansion is accelerating.

Order from Randomness
Starting from the quantum mechanics idea of Information Equals Reality, I have been talking about a random set of patterns encoded into the underlying quantum fabric of our reality, and how that randomness works as a satisfactory starting point for imagining the complexity of the universe we're in right now. Randomness is really not the interesting part of the story, though: what is interesting is that true randomness has to have pockets of order, parts where one state is preferred over another, and those pockets of order will have places where they begin and places where they end. Flipping a coin one hundred times will not give you endlessly repeating heads/tails/heads/tails outcomes, nor will it give you 50 heads outcomes followed by 50 tails outcomes, even though statistically speaking that is what we would expect our overall totals to be very near for such an exercise. Likewise, if the unobserved whole of quantum indeterminacy that our universe came from is truly random, then there must be pockets of grouping within that randomness. Calling those pockets the "big-picture memes" that caused our universe to be the one selected out of a multiverse of other universes is an idea I've been promoting... for more about the patterns that begin and end being what creates our probabilistic reality, please refer to my blog entries called "Everything" and "You Can't Get There From Here".

This leads us back to Google, and the thing that Google is so good at: keeping track of the memes of all shapes, sizes and durations that are part of the Information that is our Reality: memes are patterns in the information, and memes tend to rise and fall over time. In my last blog entry I talked about the Search Bar here at the top of my browser: if I type a single letter in I am immediately presented with 10 or so Suggestions, which tells me these are some of the memes that are most active at this moment for our culture. If I were to make note of the Suggestions that came up today, then perform the same check a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, and so on, what would I see? There would be some Suggestions that continue to be the same, and there would be some that were short-lived. Keeping a record of these lists would be like a mini time-capsule, and of course there are a number of efforts under way around the net to capture records like these so that we will be able to analyze and compare the changes that have happened in our Googleverse of information from years past and over the years to come as the web continues to develop.

I'm a Spime (and so are you)
Something as simple as writing down the 26 top Suggestions corresponding to the 26 letters of the alphabet gives us a rudimentary way to track some of the memes that rise and fall, and the shapes that would be created by the duration for a certain Suggestion over months or years is conceptually similar to the "long undulating snake" or Long Body we are imagining as ourselves across the fourth dimension, with our embryonic self at one and and our deceased self at the other. This also relates to the concept of Spimes that Bruce Sterling has been using to refer to physical objects that have been tracked so that they now have a defined and recallable shape across space and time.

How can we tell if a meme or a spime is the result of randomness, or deliberate manipulation? Whether or not you believe the patterns that created our universe are the result of randomness or the deliberate manipulation by a higher power, they are patterns nonetheless. The patterns of information that sustain across a period of time continue to be operated upon by other patterns in the future, and this concept is very connected to what Richard Dawkins is talking about with his description of the randomness that creates life and evolution: once something is no longer being acted upon by these processes, it ceases to have any further change.

Tracking the Changes
Which leads, finally, to one of my favorite phrases for this project: "that which ceases to change ceases to exist". Whether you are talking about the formation of our universe, the beginning of life, or the memes that rise and fall and Google helps us to track, that concept applies. Genes, memes, and spimes: each is a shape or a pattern across space and time. Those that cease to exist cannot be operated upon by patterns in the information that is our reality from that moment forward. Those that continue to exist can be combined together or modified, sometimes in ways that are improvements that allow them to continue in time still further for even more editing and manipulation, and sometimes in ways that will soon cause them to cease to exist: which is how a sea of information becomes a universe, how a primitive chemical reaction becomes a human being, and how a simple idea can become known throughout the world.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

PS: June 18 1942. But you probably already googled that if you were interested, didn't you? To finish this entry, a new video for one of the 26 songs from this project. This is about the dancing patterns of information that create our reality: "From the Corner of My Eye".

A link to this video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyP5jxFe5Po

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding objects /as/ being-kept-track of, check Cassim Cassam [sp?] - author. His thesis is that subjective consciousness involves perception of self qua object keeping track of itself in-the-world, or something along those lines. Not sure if I agree, still, interesting. Great work

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