The Interactivity Reader, Notes

09.07.16 Interactivity as Cultural Perception, Part 1: Sections 1 & 2

How has our historical perception of the physical universe changed?


“Our Picture of the Universe” by Stephen Hawking

“The Particle Zoo” by Gary Zukav

The Universe and Doctor Einstein by Lincoln Barnett


Is the biological landscape an interactive design?


“Earth as a Spaceship” by Kenneth E. Boulding

“Collective Wisdom, Slime-mold Style” by Andy Clark

“Our Journey East: Exploring Foreign Territory” by Harriet Beinfield and Efram Korngold



How has our historical perception of the physical universe changed?

Our Picture of the Universe by Stephen Hawking

  • The idea of earth revolving around the sun was once preposterous but is now obvious.
  • Someday the unanswered scientific questions of modern times will seem obvious while many of our current theories seem as preposterous as the earth riding on the back of a tortoise.
  • Around 340 BC Aristotle figured out that the earth was round based on observations of the natural world.
  • Aristotle was expounded on by Ptolemy who established the geocentric view of the universe.
  • Ptolemy’s model was imperfect, and he knew it, but it was widely accepted.
  • Copernicus proposed a heliocentric view but was suppressed by the Catholic Church until Galileo and Kepler proved it correct.
  • Newton explained Kepler’s ellipses and developed the theory of gravity.
  • This led Newton to propose an infinite universe.
  • We now know that Newton’s theory contained a flawed application of infinity. If gravity is constant, then a static model does not work.
  • Scientists saw the flaw but could not figure out that if Newton’s theory of gravity predicated on an expanding universe.
  • The German scientist Olber said that if there was a static universe then nearly every line of sight would end on a star and the world would be super-shiny, which is bad, so he figured out that the stars could not have been burning infinitely
  • So what turned them on and started the whole universe?
  • Many cosmologies have attempted to answer the question by establishing a divine “first cause.”
  • Aristotle did not like this and believed humans had always been around but were periodically reset. Game over would you like to play again?
  • In 1781 Kant called arguments that the universe has a beginning “antinomie,” which are contradictions, because there were equally compelling arguments both ways but both sides rely on a finite conception of time.
  • The question was purely philosophical until Hubble observed that the universe was constantly expanding and opened it up to scientific inquiry.
  • The Big Bang theory is very hard to reconcile with an omnipotent creator because it limits his “when.”
  • A scientific theory is a model that explains our observations. It can never be absolutely proven but it can easily be disproven.
  • Most of the time theories are not outright disproved but instead evolve with new information.
  • Science would like a theory that explains it all. The observable universe has rules. It seems logical that those rules also govern its beginnings.
  • It’s hard to find one big theory so we have several small ones.
  • Today the General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics explain just about everything except each other.
  • This book would like to explore what that unified theory might be.
  • The search for unified theory has a paradox because the theory itself could be determining the outcome of our rational search for it and the outcome may not be the correct conclusion.
  • Darwin says natural selection has given us reasoning abilities that are determined by the regular laws of the universe, even if we are unaware of them, and thus will lead us towards correct answers eventually.
  • The theories we have work for all practical purposes so a unified theory might not help us much but human beings are driven to know more and so we must pursue it.


Understanding of the universe has evolved over time in response to observations of the natural world. If human beings continue to apply rational thought to emerging patterns we will ultimately discover the unified theory of everything. The rate of discovery is governed by willingness to examine, apply and adapt new ideas to existing theory.


The Particle Zoo by Gary Zukav

  • It is hard to give up long-held world-views.
  • People must often be dragged kicking and screaming into change. This is also true of scientific theory.
  • No one wanted to accept Copernicus or Plank.
  • Scientific theory is forced on us when something happens that can’t be explained the old way.
  • Today’s technology explosion is forcing us to let go of old ideas.
  • “In this world view there is no substance”
  • We like to ask, “What is it made of” but asking that is like standing in a hall of mirrors. The reflections are infinite illusions
  • “What is it made of” is the same because it always leads to another question
  • Toothpick – wood – fibers – etc etc etc
  • Physicists study these questions “buy why, but why, but why”
  • If there is an “ultimate stuff” it is pure energy but even that doesn’t quite explain it
  • In particle physics there is no difference between empty and not empty space
  • world view of particle physics = chaos beneath order
  • the old world view = order beneath chaos
  • “the world of particle physics is a world without “stuff” = unending change
  • Quantum Theory = High Energy Particle Physics
  • Particle Physics wants to know the ultimate building blocks of the universe
  • Particle accelerator sends particles colliding
  • they collision point is in a bubble chamber inside a magnetic field to measure the mass of the particles
  • particles exist for such a short time that the bubble chamber is often the only place to observe them
  • The particles destroy themselves and new particles are formed so it is hard to tell what is what
  • This is explained by relativity.
  • Every subatomic interaction consists of annihilation and creation
  • Bridge between Physics and Psychology
  • Particles cannot be proven to exist beyond their interactions
  • We don’t see the electron we see the track of its movement in the electronic plate
  • There is no movement. Connection between the dots is in our minds and can’t be proven
  • Quantum mechanics makes it hard to believe that objects are real and subject to laws
  • Particles are interactions between fields
  • Fields interact instantly and those interactions are particles
  • Quantum Field Theory has too many fields
  • Quantum Field Theory doesn’t work well with Relativity theory
  • Quantum Field Theory is ad hoc. It works practically but has conceptual flaws
  • Physical reality is non-substantial
  • Quantum = an invisible whole, small piece of something
  • Field = a whole area of something
  • It is a paradox. It can’t be justified
  • Quantum theory changes western thought because it says the old ossified absolutes don’t exist. Something can be this and that (wave and particle)
  • a thing can be good/bad, beautiful/ugly etc etc etc
  • we can exist in opposite states
  • Physicists analyze particles as if they move because it is practical and the only way to study them
  • Sometimes you have to settle on a set of givens to be able to make any progress at all
  • Talking in classical terms about things that cannot be explained in classical concepts is like explaining an LSD trip but it is what physicists must do
  • Over 40 years 100 particles have been discovered. Kenneth Ford calls it the “Particle Zoo”


We can’t always know what is real because the universe exists in a state of paradox. Mysteries exist that we do not even possess the language to discuss. We make practical assumptions so that we are not frozen in an endless loop of “but why.” Western thought has changed and must continue to change to acknowledge possibility of coexistent opposites.



The Universe and Doctor Einstein by Lincoln Barnett

  • Quantum Physics defines mathematical relationships between radiation and matter but does not give a true picture of either.
  • Positivists and logical empiricists say all a scientist can do is report observations
  • If Scientists do an experiment with two results then they have to accept both. Sometimes neither concept works alone but both together are an explanation
  • An experiment shows light is made of particles and another that it is made of waves. Neither explain light but together they do
  • Finer tools won’t help. It’s the nature of the atomic state.
  • Heisenberg “Principle of Uncertainty” = Not possible to figure out the exact velocity of an electron at any given time. Even the act of figuring it out can change it so when scientists try to find their error they almost always end up with a function of the mysterious “Planck’s Constant, h
  • Side Note, What I Understand: People just can’t help but influence things. The particles are so small, so ephemeral, even the light used to let scientists see what they are seeing can screw up results. Particle Accelerators are so awesome because they help remove human intervention in the acceleration of particles but it still isn’t a perfect answer. You just need too many tests. It will take a very long time to do enough experiments and even doing more wouldn’t necessarily help because of the constant flux of the particles
  • Quantum Physics messes with Causality and Determinism
  • Free Will = If physical events are impossible to determine and the future is unpredictable then maybe “mind” may yet guide men rather than predestination!
  • By observing we distort creating barrier between us and reality
  • Why is it so Esoteric? Bc it explains things better than any mechanical model. It works
  • Proved by Atomic bomb.
  • Abstract language of math describes how things behave even if we don’t know what they are
  • Many scientists, including Einstein, don’t like the gap between science and reality. Einstein says “…dice with the universe.”
  • He believed in a universe of order and harmony that could be discovered


Is the biological landscape an interactive design?


Earth as a Spaceship by Kenneth E. Boulding

  • “In the Imagination…”
  • Earth used to be small but now it is big
  • Small, crowded, finite
  • Change in view of earth changes man’s behavior
  • Worlds social system has changed, earth is finite so stop wasting stuff, don’t destroy
  • Earth has become a “spaceship” because it is a closed system
  • Increased material entropy
  • Consequences
  • Man must develop a technology that is NOT based on consumption
  • The only constant input of energy is the Sun, we need to use it
  • Nuclear fusion almost limitless if we can harness it
  • A biological system living on an ecological system so if we want to survive we must have a symbiotic relationship with other life. Effectively everything must be domesticated
  • Personal Note: Reminds me of the Mars books
  • Social systems must change.
  • Now cowboys and Indians.
  • Need strong social controls BUT still allow individuality
  • Dictatorial
  • Planned economy
  • Machinery for controlling population conflict preventing escalation and inflation
  • Problem is how to have homeostatic control with individual freedom
  • We don’t know enough!
  • Don’t understand ice age (Old Text)
  • Atmospheric science
  • Ecology
  • Even economics.
  • Personal Note: Dated but still true that the more we know the better off we will be and no matter how much we know, we will always need to know more
  • Man needs to get it together and figure out that the biggest problems in the world are unsolved and resources should be dedicated to solving them


Collective Wisdom, Slime-mold Style by Andy Clark

  • Slime molds are cool. They are a-cellular. They grow everywhere. They go through three different forms. They migrate as needed. They are a good representation of a collective wisdom
  • Self-organizing system, higher level pattern emerged from combination of simple components without benefit of a single leader or controller
  • Direct emergence relies on interaction of the individual elements with background only a very small influence
  • Traffic Jam
  • Indirect emergence relies on environmental factors
  • Termites
  • In Humans, Indirect = Sailing a Ship
  • How does harmony occur?
  • Easier in Direct Emergence bc caused by mass action of uniform human propensity. Everyone wants the same thing tends to respond the same way
  • Indirect Emergence is harder
  • Ship in a storm. Everyone does whatever the first thing is that will keep the ship safe.
  • Better ex: Assigning footpaths by letting people walk around until common paths become obvious. Even if they don’t know they are doing it people will ultimately create a system


Our Journey East: Exploring Foreign Territory by Harriet Beinfield and Efram Korngold

  • Personal Note: Seriously? Acupuncture. Deepening Self-understanding?
  • Parent doctor, not sure she is the same. Decides to explore acupuncture
  • Heat, Wind, Fire etc. What moves the world, also moves me
  • Western society achieved many things but not eliminate human suffering
  • Western = Sharp lines of distinction. Chinese = All contextual
  • Chinese see humans as a microcosm of the universe around them
  • Guide the Qi (Chee) life’s animating force, life in all forms
  • Father offended by Chinese “Quackery” but she sees it as inclusive not exclusive
  • Renaissance, western medicine, people individual of world around them
  • Species at risk because we are not in tune with earth
  • Necessary to transcend thinking of ourselves solely as private and individual entities
  • Chinese med. Best way to stop illness is preventative
  • Maintain order rather than correct disorder
  • A couple of personal anecdotes to support the idea that acupuncture works wonders
  • Tao – How to live, true doctor teaches how to live
  • Simple technology, barefoot doctors
  • Chinese doctors are ordinary people western doctors are “powerful”
  • Sages say to get to a place without suffering one must live an ongoing process to become more animated and in tune Personal Note: Blah BLAh Blah
  • She was one of the first Americans to study acupuncture. She is a “little Tao” all kinds of in tune with the galaxy and all the elements and such
  • Associates of organ systems to the elements
  • Learned that Science isn’t everything
  • More personal anecdotes
  • Thought she was in perfect health but didn’t feel good and acupuncture fixed her because it was more aware of details that a medical scan would miss. More contextualized and individualized
  • Problems are not isolated from the context in which they occur
  • Personal transformation
  • Knowing yourself in reference to the elements
  • From the Middle Age son, Chinese medicine trickled into foreign lands
  • Missionaries brought western medicine to China
  • By 1940s traditional Chinese medicine fades in china, replaced by western medicine
  • 1949 beginning of Chinese Revolution, 10000 Western doctors
  • Sometimes only Western Meds work so many hospitals have separate areas for western and traditional meds
  • Sometimes work together
  • 1950s and 60s traditional medicine reintegrated into china
  • Story about a NYT writer who had appendectomy in China and used acupuncture in foot to relieve pain
  • List of herbal meds
  • Medicine exchange between east and west has grown
  • She’s grateful for western meds because her son had a hole in his heart
  • But used herbal medicine to help him recover
  • More anecdotes
  • Some people dismiss Chinese med. Some romanticize it
  • Western medicine has had a monopoly on our health and our minds and our way of viewing the world. Opening our minds to new contexts is good
  • Hopefully the book will help you do that and initiate personal change and be all happy and healthy with herbs and needles

I am having a very hard time taking this seriously. The diction and tone of the writing strike me as exactly what she says to avoid, romanticizing of Chinese culture and medicine. It doesn’t offer anything more than anecdotal evidence to support the claims that acupuncture is useful. I get the idea that this is about the acceptance and recombination of world views, but it is hard to see anything else.