The Azimuth Project
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guest post by David Tanzer</i>

Rick the Explainer

Hi my name is Rick, and though some people think that I am a fiction, I don’t agree with them. You can actually find me in my home town, which is close to the border of the North and South poles. But never mind that, because I’m here to talk about something else.

Some friends told me about the Azimuth project, which is a group of scientists, engineers and programmers working together to understand environmental problems. I looked around and found the Azimuth Blog, which cover topics that range from the cycles of the ice ages, to super symmetry in 31.5 dimensions, to a kind of Pachinko machine they call a Petri net. They also have a discussion forum, where they talk about complex networks, and a new, more ecologically friendly brand of mathematics.

This is great, I said, it could be the start of some entirely new highways of thinking! Let’s just roll up our sleeves, sharpen the pencils, brew the coffee and start digging into it! The music played: Roll on, roll on.

But when I took a closer look towards Mount Azimuth, I saw some steep hills to climb! Even the trail signs had math symbols. A professor named John Baez was giving a vibrant talk about math categories, networks of connections, and troubles in the environment. I wanted to get it, but the words were cryptic. As far as I could tell, his main point was that ideas from quantum micro-bits can help us to understand ecology problems such as how frogs and rabbits get along in a community forum. That sounded like a far fetch, yet he had good credentials as a Professor of gravity and other subjects.

At that point, I had a lot to chew on. Though my view of the Azimuth was foggy, I was able to discern that this loosely-knit group was held together by a shared enthusiasm for working on science topics that they felt would really matter – such as the relationships between climate changes and human activities. These were subjects at the crossroads of society and nature. This is the realm of cosmopolitan science.

I found some interesting ideas about the challenges that are being faced by the cosmopolitan sciences, in an Azimuth article called Prospects for a Green Mathematics, by John Baez and David Tanzer. The first big application facing early human understanding was Agriculture, then later came Industry, and now we face the postindustrial challenge of Sustainable Development – we can’t continue to grow like a machine forever. That’s because the Earth’s resources are not really unlimited, despite how it may have seem to ancient people such as Archimedes.

Now each major application has lead to the birth of new forms in science. Agriculture led to the creation of abstract number systems (for counting contracts), industry to calculus and the mechanics. The authors then go on to suggest that the challenge of Sustainable Development will urge on the development of the science of networks. This is because that challenge is to further understand the global “biosphere” – and our role within it – which is a massive network of interactions. Using a couple of choice examples in mathematics, including a network model of growing plants, they hint a new, swirling level of mathematics, which could flourish as a thinking component of a more humane biosphere.

Now I am headed back to Azimuth Mountain to acquaint myself with the regional dialects. When I return, I will invite you to tour of some of the more colorful trails. I can’t promise you that it will be a completely effortless journey, but we will prudently avoid the most jagged peaks. Also, rest assured that I won’t be quizzing you on every pine cone that we meet along the way. Through our travels, we may also garner some information about the local village communities.

Finally, in case you have any concerns about my qualifications, I have just received my permit as an Azimuth tour guide. Note my green and white badge, which says: Rick the Explainer.

category: blog