Instinct

June 8, 2015 at 6:00 pm (Quotes) (, )

“Mathematical analysis and computer modeling are revealing to us that the shapes and processes that we encounter in nature — the way that plants grow, the way that mountains erode or rivers flow, the way that snowflakes or islands achieve their shapes, the way that light plays on a surface, the way the milk folds and spins into your coffee as you stir it, the way that laughter sweeps through a crowd of people — all these things in their seemingly magical complexity can be described by the interaction of mathematical processes that are, if anything, even more magical in their simplicity.

“Shapes that we think of as random are in fact the products of complex shifting webs of numbers obeying simple rules.  The very word ‘natural’ that we have often taken to mean ‘unstructured’ in fact describes shapes and processes that appear to unfathomably complex that we cannot consciously perceive the simple natural laws at work.

“They can all be described by numbers.

“We know, however, that the mind is capable of understanding these matters in all their complexity and in all their simplicity.  A ball flying through the air is responding to the force and direction with which it was thrown, the action of gravity, the friction of the air which is must expend its energy on overcoming, the turbulence of the air around its surface, and the rate and direction of the ball’s spin.

“And yet, someone who might have difficulty consciously working out what 3x4x5 comes to would have no trouble in doing differential calculus and a whole host of related calculations so astoundingly fast that they can actually catch a flying ball.

“People who call this ‘instinct’ are merely giving the phenomenon a name, not explaining anything.”

–Richard MacDuff
(Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency)

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