The Azimuth Project
delete 27 (Rev #61)

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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 found the Azimuth Blog, which has topics ranging 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 forum, they discuss things such as 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 foggy. 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.

Despite the haze on the mountain, I could see some outlines of the group, which consists of professors, students, programmers, researchers, enthusiasts and other interested folks. They share a desire to work on science topics, such as environment and climate, that directly matter to the human race. Their main activities involve building a research wiki on the environment, experimenting with climate models in software (see for example —-), and publishing educational blog articles. The tone of the group is illustrated by their main page, which invites people to: write articles, contribute information, pose questions, fill in details, write software, help with research, help with writing, and more. So science is not confined to the Ivory Towers.

Environment, Climate and Evolution are examples of “cosmopolitan sciences,” in the sense that they pertain both to nature and to society. These are exciting fields, but it is sobering to hear them warn of disasters, on multiple fronts. These warning elevate the problem if sustainable development to the top priority for modern science. And this would require a deeper understanding of the biosphere, and our role within it.

Some of the potential impacts of this challenge on mathematics are explored in an Azimuth blog article Prospects for a Green Mathematics, by John Baez and David Tanzer. First they comment on some of the major ways that the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions each transformed the field of mathematics. They then state that sustainable development represents the next major “application challenge” to humanity. And that it can only be achieved on the basis of a deeper understanding of the biosphere and our role within it. Next they observe that the biosphere is a massive network of relationships. Therefore the very need for continued human survival will put ongoing “application pressure” on the theory of networks. Although the authors focus on the mathematics of networks, note that this theory also includes the study of empirical networks such as ecosystems. It would be much better for us to learn more about biosphere science, rather than waiting to learn about it through its subsequent modes of failure. Then they use a recent network model of a growing plant to show that this development of network theory is already under way, and to hint a new and swirling level of mathematics, which could become a kernel 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’ll invite you to tour some of the more colorful trails. True, it won’t be a completely effortless journey, but no one will be quizzing us on every pine needle that we come across, and we shall prudently avoid the most jagged peaks. We may also learn something about the local village cultures.

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

category: blog