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Humanist Archives: Dec. 9, 2019, 6:10 a.m. Humanist 33.472 - failure & simplification

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 472.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2019-12-09 01:08:20+00:00
        From: Jim Rovira 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.467: failure & simplification

I think Willard's genius consists in asking the best questions. C. M.
Sperberg-McQueen's recent response to Willard's question about
simplification has led my own thinking along these lines:

Let's not worry about simplification, oversimplification, or complexity,
and if they're getting things "right" or "wrong." Let's perhaps talk
instead about kinds of pattern recognition: simplification draws with big
lines in crayons while complexity draws with fine lines, textures, and
shading. In other words, they paint different pictures allowing the viewer
to focus on different kinds of patterns.

My own belief is that the reality of most matters is infinitely complex,
especially naturally occurring matters, so all levels of pattern
recognition are simplifications. They only become "oversimplifications"
when the kind of pattern recognition that we engage in leaves out
significant meaningful detail *for our current purposes*. In other words,
the question about simplification only applies to specific tasks or queries
performed on the matter at hand. Are we oversimplifying *for the kind of
information we want? *

Now let me explore another avenue too briefly: suppose would could
completely replicate a natural system in all of its complexity at all
levels: say, completely manufacture a blade of grass from the subatomic
level up? What would we have gained? I think that exercise would only
demonstrate our mastery of the knowledge that we've already attained. Our
real learning would take place over the course of numerous failed attempts.
That's where I see the attempts to replicate a human brain going: we will
never succeed. It is I think ridiculous to think we ever could. But I think
what we learn through our failures might be instructive. And who knows? We
may produce something useful in the end. It won't be a human brain, or even
anything approaching one, but it might be something else we hadn't
considered until we tried.

Jim R

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