The Azimuth Project
delete 27 (Rev #51)

This page is a blog article in progress, written by David Tanzer. To see discussions of this article while it was being written, visit the Azimuth Forum. Please remember that blog articles need HTML, not Markdown.

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 could see that this was a loosely-knit group held together by a shared enthusiasm for science topics that 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.

Nevertheless, by that point I was able to discern some of the prominent features of the Azimuth project, including, notably, that it was a non-ivory-tower approach to — projects in science. Sure, some of the members were from those towers, but the whole group was very informally structured, and the whole tone of the affair was inclusive. The people there had a diverse range of skills, including professors, programmers, engineers, and other “interested folk.” The main page says: Great, we need your help, you can: write articles, — discussions, edit articles, post facts … And what I also … desire to work, with others, on science projects that really matter.

So there is more talk about subjects like the relationships of human activities to climate change, rather than, say, the particle composition of the early universe. This is not to say that questions such as these (which generally inform our world view, and can have applications that filter down to the present), and I’m not saying that truth is divisible, but the point is, these people want to keep the general focus on issues that have — (distinctive?) ramifications on the timescales of our lives.

Note that the ___ (range, function?) of climate is a subject of cosmopolitan science, in the sense that it its subject matter includes both nature and society. Yet cosmopolitan science has hardly begun, for the natural sciences don’t look very connected to the social sciences, and the latter are riddled by fiercely conflicting approaches. There is, however, something that may provide the goad for birth of a truly cosmopolitan science: the historic imperative for humanity to achieve sustainable development. We can’t continue to grow like a machine that only thinks of exploiting the Earth more and more. This is, of course, because the Earth’s resources are not unlimited, despite how it may have appeared to ancient people such as Aristotle. What is called for, then, is a true science of the biosphere and our role within it.

These points are touched upon in an Azimuth blog article Prospects for a Green Mathematics, by John Baez and David Tanzer, which explores, from the point of view of mathematics, the history of major application challenges to science, including that of sustainable development, and what this might harbinger for the next era of mathematics. The first big application facing early human understanding was Agriculture, which led to the creation of abstract number systems (for counting contracts), Then later came Industry, which led to mechanics and calculus. Now we face the “postindustrial” challenge of Sustainable Development.

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 in the intellect of a biospherically adapted society.

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