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"Gnarly Computation" in Fresno

I gave a talk on “Gnarly Computation” to the math department at Fresno State University this week. That’s an actual tree gnarl in the picture above, that is, the original meaning of a “gnarl” is a lump like that. I saw the tree in the Sierra foothills the day after the talk. You can get a podcast of the talk at the button below.

You can click the following link to view the Powerpoint slides of my talk.

I soared into Fresno State about ten years ago to speak on, I imagine, cellular automata. Nobody here remembered my visit, nor the person who’d invited me then. But I recognized the buildings.

Fresno feels like Middle America, although more ethnic. I felt remote there. Like a robotically operated Martian lander. This picture shows a train of Chinese goods moving in containers, with a car wearing “God Bless the USA” ribbons. The same administration that's destroying our economy with tax cuts for the rich and paying the bills with loans from China wants us to be patriotic. Don't get me started. Thinking about poltics these days is so alienating. I comfort myself by remembering that even if we have a perhaps illegitimate (due to election irregularities) leader, it really isn't Nazi Germany here, and the Smirking Chimp really isn't a dictator. And, you know, we survived Nixon — although getting out and demonstrating against him did make a difference. It's curious how acquiescent the public has become.

The next few pictures are from a drive I took Route 180 east from Fresno towards the Sierras. I stopped near some orange groves and then I wandered around some cow-pasture foothills covered with big chunks of granite. I saw ground sqirrels, turke vultures, cows, Monarch butterflies, quail and really big black shiny lizards.

My hosts were the age of my children, mid-thirties. They were cute and smart and quirky, as math profs are. I love mathematicians. Some of them asked me a few questions from the audience, and I couldn’t tell if they were teachers or grad students. I’m getting so old. Not that I feel old, it’s more like I’m living in a different world from the young people starting their careers. Really, my math prof stint was two careers ago.

The talk went fine, but the whole exercise felt a little pointless. I no longer have any career interest in promoting myself to math departments; I’m never gonna be looking for an academic job again. And at this point, I’ve somewhat lost interest in promulgating the Wolframite belief that reality is made of gnarly computations. I still think it’s true, but I’m tired of pointing it out.

I drove down to Fresno in my new racing-green BMW 325i, which handles really nicely. I’m still beating down concerns that I might have selected the wrong brand, model, options or color — second-guessing my decisions is a neurosis of mine. But I am growing fond of what I ended up with. Of course on a big highway it doesn’t make all much difference what kind of car you’re in. It’s just driving. The handling excitement only kicks in when you’re on a two-lane twisty road. I stopped at the San Luis reservoir, which was full for once.

On the longer and more heavily trafficked than expected drive, I listened to iPod shuffle of the eight hundred or so songs from old CDs of mine that I’ve ripped. Sometimes a song takes me away; sometimes using the iPod is almost like being high, particularly when I bike or walk around with the earbuds in — high in that sense of not thinking about useful things, of idly spinning your mind. A downside of iPod is that it can feel like constant consuming, and my thoughts are to some extent shackled or slaved to the digital input instead of free to roam. This can be an upside, in that often my thoughts roam into lacertating or fruitless loops.

I filmed a nice moment hearing a song from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, my car parked under a tree by the King River. Click here to view movie (43 Meg). Nature rolls on.

7 Responses to “"Gnarly Computation" in Fresno”

  1. gamma Says:

    Tami got back safely from Blackpool yesterday – my pal Martin brought me a DVD of ‘STONED’ & a book about ARTHUR BROWN who worked with Jimmy Carl Black (the indian of the group) painting houses in the western lands. still make me smile the slime out Rudee

  2. lenz Says:

    Your blog entries are always refreshing, even when you’re freeling a bit downtuned like today’s.
    I have just ben ending “Lifebox”, and keep on thinking about your possible world views; the three seta on page 388. You always imagine C to be a subset of T and P; but if C is an ongoing computation of some sort, it might as well have (some? a number?) of hidden variables that are used to run the computation itself, and they may well be outside of T and C, like hash tables in the mind of God. They might be completely insulated and in some sense unthinkable/unphysical, like the hypervisor is from a VM point of view. Your CAs may be holding private internal state variables, but what if that state is somewhere else?
    Apart for that – and for the fact that footnotes belong to the bottom of each page, not at the end of the book where it is too distressing to find them each time – thanks for the novel sense of wonder that the book brought with itself. I ended it while sitting on the banks of a lake in northern italy, in the sun, and everything was so gnarly and perfect all of the time.

  3. Tara Says:

    Dear Rudy,
    You shared the following:
    “And at this point, I’ve somewhat lost interest in promulgating the Wolframite belief that reality is made of gnarly computations. I still think it’s true, but I’m tired of pointing it out. ”
    May I ask, why you’re feeling this?
    I ask this, because –short of breezies manifestation — your thought echoes what I’ve been feeling lately. For me, the Gnarl still represents fertile art ground, but I tire of having to explain it. I seem to end up doing more explaining than art.
    I thank you for your candor,

  4. Steve H Says:

    What a coincidence – I had Fruitless Loops for breakfast!
    It isn’t so much that ‘reality is made of gnarly computations’ as it is, ‘well, so what?’ Invent a little black box that lets you talk to trees and waterfalls and you’d see much more interest. (I’ve always been impressed with the factoid of Brownian motion, everything on the molecular level jittering and jostling, and wondered why someone hasn’t put it to work. The Brownmobile – no wheels, it just moves. The Prez would either see it as the answer to the energy crisis or burn it as a witch.)
    Also, I have, as a student wrote once, ‘mixty motions’ about constant music. Impossible to tell the dancer from the dance, or the song from the days it was popular – days when we were young and our friends were all living and the worst problem was how to Dick Nixon before he could Dick us. (Is that a common obscenity?)
    Continue to draw inspiration from the world’s gnarls. Whether you explain it or not is optional!

  5. Rudy Says:

    Tara asks why I’m a little burnt on promulgating the view of reality as gnarly computation.
    Well, maybe I was just feeling burnt that day, giving a math talk is kind of an overwhelmingly nostalgic experience — stepping into a past life.
    Certainly the gnarl view still stongly informs the way I view the world.
    But, as I say, people have a lot of trouble understanding the notion quickly — that’s why I put it all into a fat book.
    As a writer, I’m more comfortable in writing and publishing thoughts and moving on.
    There’s also the aspect of not liking to do the same thing over and over.

  6. Tara Says:

    As most often, you’ve framed the dialectic for the synthesis: promulgating vs. creating. Nice, it crafts room to dance.
    What’s more, your Freestylist allegory of 25 April says all. Glissandos in Marc’s words (“No need to break down the metaphors — an Adventurist knows what the ocean really is”) beget new collisions of possibilities.
    Still in the Gnarl,

  7. Jim Says:

    Was just catching up on some past entries and told my 8 year old of Steve’s breakfast of ‘Fruitless Loops’, without missing a beat she replied “he must of had Cheerios”, then continued working with her Powerpuff Girls math program.

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