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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 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 had 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 They main are activities involve building a research wiki on the environment, experimenting with climate models in software (see for example —-), and publishing educational informative 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, The fields of inquiry, such as Ecology, Climate and Evolution Evolution, are which examples have of as “cosmopolitan their sciences,” contemporary in subject the matter sense that they pertain both to nature and to society, society. can These be described as “cosmopolitan sciences.” They are exciting the fields, beacons but for it wondorous is explorations sobering to –, hear and them warn of disasters, sobering on warnings multiple about fronts. the environmental perils that are developing as we speak. These warning warnings, coming from science itself, pointedly elevate the problem challenging if need forsustainable development to the top priority of the agenda for humanity’s necessary program of research and development. So modern science. science And leads this us would to require new a worlds deeper understanding of the fascination, biosphere, and to the need for change in our role relationship within to it. nature.

Some of the potential impacts of this the challenge of sustainable development on mathematics are explored in an Azimuth blog articlemathematics are explored in an Azimuth blog article Prospects for a Green Mathematics , by John Baez and David Tanzer. First They they point comment out on that some of the major ways changes that in our historical relationship with nature have always led to advances in mathematics. First, the Agricultural development and Industrial Revolutions each transformed the field of mathematics. agriculture They led then to state abstract that systems sustainable for representing numbers, which became needed for counting commodity contracts. Then later, the development represents of industry led to modern mechanics and the next calculus. Now, a new major “application change challenge” in our relationship to humanity. nature And is that needed, it in can order only to be achieve achieved sustainable on development. the This basis calls of for a deeper scientific understanding of the biosphere biosphere, and our role within it. Next they observe that the biosphere is a massivenetwork 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.

Next, they observe that the biosphere is a massive network of relationships. Therefore, the authors posit that the theory of networks will be urged on. (Note that this theory includes both the mathematical modeling of networks, and the study of the behavior of empirical networks such as ecosystems.) Then they suggest that this development of network theory is already underway, using the example of a recent network model of a growing plant, by Qinglan Xia. This is a mathematical model based upon plausible (albeit simplified) physical assumptions, which is capable, through computer simulations, of generating realistic images of plant leaves such as Oak and Elm. Through this example, and another, involving application of quantum mathematics to the dynamics of “Petri nets” – which can represent things as diverse as chemical reactions and the population dynamics of an ecosystem – the authors effectively hint at a new and swirling level of mathematics, which could become part of the 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