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Beauty in Chaos

I took a walk up on St. Joseph’s Hill in Los Gatos yesterday, bringing my camera along. The camera is always good company on a walk. You show things to it, and it helps you see.

I’ve been going up in the Los Gatos hills maybe once a week for the whole twenty-seven years since we moved here in August, 1986. So I’ve taken this walk about a thousand times. It’s always new. That’s the thing about nature.

Nature is a fractal, that is she has endless layers of detail, which bloom out faster than a mere linear rate. That is, if you look twice as close, you see three times as much.

Also Nature is alive, and always changing. As is the sky. Always the same, always different. Chaos.

The perennial Dover Books company reissued my 1987 popular science book Mind Tools last week. I’m happy to have good old Dover keeping one of my titles alive. When I was a boy in Louisville, I used to send off for Dover books on science.

I wrote Mind Tools in Lynchburg, Virginia, right before I moved to San Jose and became a computer scientist. I was gearing up for the transition from math to CS. In Mind Tools, I looked at the four main areas of math from the viewpoint that “everything is information.” The areas? Number, Space, Logic, and Infinity.

I drew a lot of illos for the book. While I was working on it, my little rented office in decaying downtown L’burg was like a mad scientist’s lab, with all these little models I was building. I had this idea of finding dot-diagrams to illustrate the “shapes” of most of the numbers less than a hundred or so. I wanted to have a supply of these images at my hand for drawing on friends’ and relatives’ birthday cards. You can find these particular “Mind Tools birthday dot” drawings of mine online here.

Here’s a phone pole near my house. I like the natural collages that we humans put together. You can look at cities or human development as being natural artifacts like anthills or beaver colonies or wasp nests or seashells—we’re living organisms, and we assemble this stuff. We’re part of nature.

There’s this one ancient shed that I often walk past in the hills of Los Gatos. I love its peeling pale green paint, and I hope the owners never fix it up. Beautiful branching crack here, and to make it lovelier, the paint is arched up into mathematically rich concave surfaces.

I always love looking at treelines along mountain ridges. The nice thing about natural curves and surfaces is that they don’t accord with any really simple algebraic formulae. They emerge as processes, not as graphs of simple equations. But the processes themselves do have mathematical qualities, but the details of the end results are unpredictable.

It’s chaos, in a good way. In a chaotic process, you can have simple natural laws that are producing results that are even in principle unpredictable. Why unpredictable? Because there are multiple systems involved (rocks, geology, trees, wind, rain) and because the systems are interacting over extended periods of time. As a rule, the only way to “predict” a natural process it to watch it run, and when it’s done, that’s your “prediction.”

We travel into the future at a rate of one second per second. No shortcuts.

More human colony-organism type activity here. Apparently the humans cap their “rebar” metal rods so that they don’t poke out their own eyes. Faint strands of symbiotic spider silk augment the “warning” tape. (See this higher-resolution image of the photo for the spider silk.)

Back to that weathered old pale green shed I love. Dig the hinge, isn’t it perfect? A semiotic heft to it. Hello, god.

A eucalyptus branch lying on the ground. Blown down by the wind. The plants don’t mind. They’ll rot into the ground, be eaten by ants, whatever. The endlessly cycling fountain of life. We’re part of it too. Your body will cycle, but your life is an “eternal” pattern in spacetime.

Hazy light on this winter day. Already looks like sunset in the mid-afternoon. The laurel trees grow in clumps.

Selfie shot for the day. Weird thing about iPhone camera: If you’re taking a horizontal shot of something in front of you, you have to have the “volume” buttons down, but if you are taking a selfie shot you have to have the “volume” buttons up. Otherwise the image appears upside-down on many (but not all) viewer apps. No use raging at these kind of things—you just learn about them and deal with them. Like an insect gathering seeds.

My self-deprecating “self-portrait,” called Louisville Artist, used as a chapter illo in my new novel The Big Aha , which features a new psychedelic era…only this time the drug is quantum mechanics. Jam your internal One/Many oscillator all the way over into the mystic mode! Check out the book for free (or buy it rather cheaply) online.

7 Responses to “Beauty in Chaos”

  1. Henry Vaughan Says:

    Rudy, been a while. have sort of kept up with you and family. glad to be not working. your notes while walking reminded me there is a life out there that i have been missing I’m looking forward to getting back to it. probably start by entering the cyber age, whatever that means. i’ll be around. henry

  2. Bev Says:

    Your shots are amazing! I love how you capture the character even of an inanimate object like a door hinge.

  3. Scott Says:

    So glad Mind Tools is being reissued. Picked up a copy awhile back at Recycled Books in San Jose, and so glad I did! How do you feel about the new cover design?

  4. Rudy Says:

    Thanks, Scott. Yes, it’s nice to have books with Dover, as they keep their titles in print for a very long time. Their cover for MIND TOOLS is kind of nice. Dover has a certain house style for their covers, and it’s not as flashy as that on some of my other book covers. But I like what they did—there are some nice subtle color shadings going on, and the two-point perspective lettering is fun. I’m looking forward to their reprint of my THE FOURTH DIMENSION sometime in 2014.

  5. theo Says:

    Like others have stated, “Love your photos.” I have been struggling through your “Infinity and the Mind”. Sadly arithmetic is hard for me, mathematic concepts might as well be another language but occasionally I grasp concepts even if I can’t really see them. For me, the world is a doodle to be explored and your photos are grist for the mill. I really enjoy your imagery. Thank you, sir.

  6. HAL-1701 Says:

    machine learning etcetera lately has made HUGE dimensionality a normal thing, if not entirely thinkaboutable by humans.. do you have any books/writings or sections of novels that help us think about, say, rectangular spaces with 10000 parameters/variables/dimensions, stuff like “the curse/blessing of dimensionality” and “hyperspheres are spikyballs” and “everything is on the surface as you get highdimensional” and what about just going to “infinite dimensional” as a way of making 1000 dimensions “small” by comparison (and you once said the worldgame is an “infinite dimensional hilbert set”-shaped thang in some aspects..

    tx for all you doing. “rudy rucker is a photographer artist poet who writes science fiction when he has time”

  7. HAL-1701 Says:

    i meant to write “infinite dimensional Hilbert Space”. that’s not the same as a Hilbert set. but what are the implications/meanings of saying this wrt the shape/structure/nature of What’s Going On ?

    my take on sparse highdimensional spaces is, “how do you find a needle in a haystack?” : “use a magnet”.

    “let’s get small”

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