The Azimuth Project
delete 27 (Rev #52)

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 between 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 the geometry of information, to some kind of mathematical “Pachinko machine” they call a Petri net. On their discussion forum, there are all kinds of threads, for example, on complex networks, and about 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.

Although there was a lot to sort out, some of the outlines of the Azimuth project were then clear to me. First, the group was 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 … This was science outside of the Ivory Towers. Yet, although loosely organized, there was a bonding principle: the desire to work, with others, on science topics that really matter. Overall, I would say that the subjects to which Azimuth is drawn are “cosmopolitan sciences,” in the sense that they involve both nature, with an abstract mathematical side, and society, with a concrete historical side. Examples of such sciences are environment, climate, and human evolution.

At the core of cosmopolitan science will be an understanding of the biosphere and our role within it.

The core content of cosmopolitan science needs to be an understanding of the biosphere and our role within it, but unfortunately we are engaged in an antagonistic and self-destructive struggle with the present-day biosphere. We can’t continue to grow like an obsessive machine that thinks only of how to eat more cookies. This is because, of course, the Earth’s resources are not unlimited, despite how it may have seemed in early times. The challenge of sustainable development is, therefore, a practical exigency, and a goad to the development of cosmopolitan biosphere theory.

In the Azimuth blog article Prospects for a Green Mathematics, the authors John Baez and David Tanzer explore the relationship between mathematics and the historic challenge of sustainable development. They note that 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. This raises the need to understand the biosphere and our role within it. Now the biosphere is a massive network of interactions. Hence the science of networks will be urged on by practical necessity. Using example of a relatively new network model of a growing plant, they hint a new and swirling level of mathematics, which could become a core part of the thinking of a biospherically adapted society.

Now I am headed back to Azimuth Mountain to acquaint myself with the regional dialects. When I return, I invite you to tour of some of the more colorful trails. Now I can’t promise you that it will be a completely effortless journey, but we shall prudently avoid the most jagged peaks. And its not like I will be quizzing you on every pine cone that we meet along the way. Also, through our travels, we may pick up 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