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Avatar Polymorph was born as Nicholas Playford was born in the storeroom of a Canberra hospital on 5 May 1961, the same day that Alan Shepard became the first American to leave planet Earth and travel into space. His father’s family has been involved in South Australian and national politics for a number of generations. His mother’s family came to Australia as refugees from Lithuania in 1949. He has a history degree from Adelaide University and worked for several years as a policy adviser in the PM’s Department in Canberra and later for the Victorian Premier’s Department. He has continued to write occasional fiction and has also written on nanotechnology, futurology and spirituality (including under his current name, Avatar Polymorph). A leukaemia survivor, Ill for from 1996 to 2007, he has been based around Fitzroy, Melbourne, since 1990, including for various Performance Art and other art projects.
Tony will show why no matter how accurately we know the rules of the behaviour of the components of a complex system we can still be surprised by some things the system as a whole does. While that sense of surprise may almost disappear with systems that we are long familiar with, the potential for surprise never completely goes away and increases greatly with new and unfamiliar systems. Though the behaviour of the whole does not cause any of the parts to break their own confirmed rules of behaviour, being part of a whole can cause the part to do things that could not be conceived given only total understanding of the part in isolation.
Chaos is formally defined as extreme sensitivity to initial conditions. Thus chaotic systems are found to rapidly explore the space of possibilities at least locally. But the space of possibilities grows incomparably faster than the number that can ever be tested at even slightly larger sizes. Things get more interesting when chaotic explorations find configurations which self-organise into a pattern that generates repeatable behaviour. Tony will demonstrate some of the most spectacular examples of emergent organisation he has discovered during his current extended study of new cellular automata rule families.
We will take a look at other examples of emergent organisation in the natural world, working up from the insights into solid state physics of Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin to today’s much more rapid and fragile exploration of technological possibilities. This will draw on mathematical models described by theoretical biologist Stu Kaufmann to help understand how natural processes can so productively but still mindlessly create and exploit new opportunities, given sufficient time and space. We will conclude by looking at what this enhanced perspective can tell us about how to act locally now.
“Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol but every human thought has its page in that vast book.”
The Human species faces some very significant challenges into the future. Many of these challenges are complex in nature and do not yield to simplistic methods of problem reduction and resolution.
We have two ways that we can respond to these challenges, we can simply take a myopic view of the forces that will impact our future and “let things happen” or we can set out to shape the outcomes we would like for the future state of our species. The history of our species has shown that whenever we set out to plan, we achieve extraordinary outcomes.
When JFK set his vision for the quest to place man on the moon, he set a bounded problem, and from what we knew we launched into what we needed to learn. Ultimately we achieved the vision that was expressed.
In similar fashion, the future should be guided by an evolving vision of who we are and who we aim to become as a species.
The discussion I would like to have is about ways of looking at complex problems, understand and expressing a vision or aspiration for the solution to those problems and then drawing on all the depth of skills and knowledge we have as a species to deliver that vision.
I am actually very positive about our future as a species. The rapid development of thinking in the management of complex problems is a great example of our ability as a species to find our way through the labyrinth of challenges that have arisen and will continue to arise for our species as we continue our journey beyond the boundaries of this planet.