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Oct. 20th, 2006

02:17 pm - "Ship it!" as Chthonic Form

Plato had something. At least in some sense, there are eternal and intangible forms that underly the universe we perceive. A few of these we can articulate quite clearly in mathematics, while more we can apprehend by intuition. It is too bad that Idealism has spawned so much flim-flam, so much, er,"hocus pocus". Because there is a lot of stuff in the world that cannot but put you in mind of that thing you hopefully had to read in high school, about the cave with the fires in the back.

Take Parasitism for example. Roughly: parasitism seems to emerge spontaneously in any evolutionary system whose members compete for resources. Parasitism has arisen independently many times in the evolution of Earth's biosphere. It has arisen in human markets and political systems. It has arisen in computing systems and information networks. You and I and the whole world could come and go, and this recurring principle of Parasitism will still be unchanged. Parasitism is like a pure ray of applied math from the mind of the Demiurge, a blind Deist archangel automatically evoked anywhere the right words are spoken.

Perhaps a more rational and modern (yawn) way is to think of Parasitism as merely an extended adjective or metaphor. But not only is there a passing resemblance of Parasitism-in-people and Parasitism-in-computers, there are deep commonalities that you can count on, that you can work with. For example, where parasitism occurs in an evolutionary system it seeks a level just barely insufficient to provoke some kind of anti-parasite adaptation or behavior in the host. It just sorta falls out of the timeless logic of the related concepts. It is a chthonic version of "don't bite the hand that feeds you".

You could probably model parasitism in the abstract with mathematics, probably with game theory and come up with something that fits not only already-observed instances of parasitism but that you can use to predict facts about new instances for which you have only partial information. For all I know, it's been done (if so, please point me to it)

One of my hobbies is to keep an eye out for these sorts of archetypal ideas: the ones you don't find in literature or in dreams, but through microscopes, telescopes, petri dishes and archaeological digs. (No, there is no money in it, unless you come to asinine conclusions which you sell in paperback.) I decided to call them 'Cthonic ideas', until I come up with something better. I want a word distinct from 'archetype', which I think is useful to designate hardwired psychological Ideas, a somewhat different thing.

I intuited (for me anyway) a new Chthonic Idea today, or at least, this is the first time I thought about it in this exact context. I am talking about The Rush Job: in which Something is assembled suboptimally because it is made for a competition in real time. By the way, it has been suggested that this principle is the reason we have evolved to age and die -- that is, in a way that falls apart and eventually self-destructs. From the genes' point of view, why spend a lot of time repairing a body if you can just make it good enough to create a few new ones?

As far as I know, it is still believed that all animals age, at least perceptibly: so it appears another evolutionary choice is possible. Certainly it would be possible to make us so that we are much longer lived. This is possible, but or so it seems so far for most creatures, not viable in the competitive sense. The influence of Saturn may be too strong, or something, I don't know.

Anyway, the Rush Job *clearly* shows up in human activities, in markets, and (oh boy) in software. Calling it the Rush Job, of course, reflects my impulses as a programmer who wants to be cautious. But as all such programmers are reminded innumerable times, you can 'polish the apple forever'. Anything that is a product of Design (evolutionary or no) could stand improvement; improvement always takes time; and time is a master factor in virtually any competition.

Speaking of which, my own rush job du jour is calling . . .

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