Some Laws Of Motion

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.
~ Wayne Gretzky (hockey legend)

0. Intro 🏂

Wouldn’t you agree that a life without motion can be hard to imagine?

For starters, we take for granted the layers at which we experience motion: Ask 100 random people and you’ll get 100 different accounts of how they experience motion in daily life. All the same, motion—and its close cousin, change—permeates our lives.

Yep, this time we get to peel away the layers, onion-like—without the tears, though—of the varieties of our experience of motion (in general) and change (in particular.)

There may be such a critter as a world-authority at this sort of thing; I certainly am not. But that’s not going to stop us from taking a shot at it. After all, it was his awesomeness, Wayne Gretzky himself, who had enlightened us that

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

So as not to miss taking shots, let’s start our journey with a shot of another kind, this one of a gleeful gondolier plying her craft on a sleepy canal in good old… Las Vegas! Forgive us the anachronism that’s on display, not to mention some movement (think velocity and even acceleration) in the waters ahoy—you may spy, though unbeknownst to our gondolier, a beatific, cherubic specimen of the species hailing from the genus octopi.

Good bye, blue sky.

Oh my.

In the beginning (if there was such a thing), God created Newton’s laws of motion together with the necessary masses and forces. This is all; everything beyond this follows from the development of appropriate mathematical methods by means of deduction.
~ Albert Einstein

1. Setting The Laws Into Motion (We Gain Velocity) â›”

And we’re only getting started.

Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen. This sleepy scene belies the changes afoot. Notice, for example, the sluggish rate of change with which the gondola moves through the placid waters; give us white waters instead, and you’re not going to see no gondolier standing upright, much less leisurely taking in the scenery, such as our blissful gondolier above!

(Plus she hasn’t spied the red menace, yet. You know the one with the goofy smile on its face. What an octopus!)

If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?
~ Vince Lombardi

2. We’re Going In (We Accelerate!) 🚁

Relax.

We’re not keeping score. After all, winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing, heh.

But things are warming up. Good bye, blue sky. We’re not peering into the unruffled waters of Lake Placid, amirite? We are really diving in this time, angular momentum and all.

Hey, I get it. We are wending our way through COVID-19 times still: I figure that we might as well engage in some escapism. Long gone are vacations; we do staycations nowadays, don’t we?

So here goes our escape hatch. And we go: SPLASH!

“You had better learn it,” said Feynman. “It’s the language God talks.”
~ Richard Feynman (offering advice on getting up to snuff on Calculus.)

3. Law #1: The Calculus 🐌

Our very first stop in the analysis of all things motion and change is the Calculus, but of course. And just for you—and only for you—I have lugged along my monumentally heavy Calculus text, all three pounds of it. (Oh, the things I will do for you.)

Don’t run away… (That is, if you had a visitation of math anxiety.)

In fact, if you’re curious about how an arcane branch of mathematics—Calculus—ended up reshaping civilization, you’ll find yourself staying put. No more locomotion. Motion will cease for a moment, even as the gears of your brain kick into a blur of activity.

(Did I miss any metaphors in there, metaphors having to do with motion and change, ones with which to saturate our thinking as we go forward?)

I kid you not: The universe speaks to us in the vernacular of the Calculus. If this sounds a bit meta, please know that I’m not making this up. Backing me up are the words of Richard Feynman, the legendary physicist and Nobel laureate who also happens to be one of the most pragmatic individuals ever—he wasn’t one to fool around with speculations. Oh no.

Yeah, you had better listen up when Feynman speaks. And his words in this area, one more time, bear the advice that 

You had better learn it,” said Feynman. “It’s the language God talks.”

Enough said.

Onward.

Gonna be your man in motion
All I need’s this pair of wheels
Take me where my future’s lyin’
St. Elmo’s Fire
~ John Parr (lyrics from St. Elmo’s Fire—Man In Motion)

4. Law #2: Thought Is Shaped By Action ⛏

Who would’ve thought that action—good old physical locomotion style—shapes our thoughts in tangible ways.

But it does. At least that’s the thesis of a fine new book by Barbara Tversky, an emerita professor of psychology at Stanford University and a professor of psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University.

According to Tversky, our (corporeal) actions in the world get transformed into (mental) actions which operate on thought, and our spatial thinking, in particular, undergirds the creation and use of maps, of assembling furniture, of crafting football moves, of unraveling the flow of people, traffic, water, and—you guessed it—ideas!

I highly recommend that you take a peek at the Tversky book. It’s teeming with ideas; bubbling with them.

If you recall the runaway bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, know that Mind in Motion will give you a new way to grapple with how—and where—your thinking takes place in the first place.

I find myself moving in that direction.

Gravitating is more like it.

Oh well, close enough.

The Network is the Computer
~ John Gage (the 21st employee of Sun Microsystems, circa 1984)

5. Law #3: We Need To Make The Network Talk 📣

There was once a time when folks just like you and me would scratch our head and wonder whether the word “intranet” was a typo. (That it really should’ve been spelled “internet” or something. As a former subscriber to BusinessWeek, I can vouch for it, from the very couch where I used to sit and read that once-glorious magazine.)

So yeah, we need to make the network talk; we have ways to make the network talk, heh.

I mean, everyone uses the internet now. But how prepared are you to build fast and efficient web applications?

Check this eloquent book on the lowdown of the fundamental limitations that affect performance to major innovations for building even more powerful browser applications—if HTTP 2.0, Server-Sent Events (SSE), WebSocket, and WebRTC is your thing, this is your book.

Even if this sounds a bit arcane, do give this book a look-over. Who knows if you end up developing fast and energy-efficient mobile applications that the world craves…

And yes, the network is the computer.

No typos there. John Gage nailed it.

Only connect!
~ EM Forster (in Howards End)

6. Law #4: Are We Connected Yet? 🐞

Motion and movement beget even more motion and movement. So the question arises: Will this burgeoning activity remain random—kind of like Brownian Motion—or do we have a shot at connecting with others in meaningful ways?

Enter Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan Watts.

If ever you had wished to get the scoop on the laws governing network theory—and that, too, in a memorably pleasant way—this is your ticket.

Duncan Watts, one of the principal architects of network theory, tells a tale worth listening. Find out how networks are everywhere in the real world—remember, all that motion has to lead to some commotion—yet only recently has science attempted to explain their mysteries in an understandable way.

And yes, true to the spirit of the Forster quote above, I, too, urge you to

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.
~ EM Forster (in Howards End)

Remember, there’s a whole network of discoveries—across an array of disciplines—waiting for you to rediscover anew, to savor.

And in keeping with our theme: Let’s get moving.

Yay!

I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans, and I’m rooting for the machines.
~ Claude Shannon

7. Law #5: Mind Your Moves, Robot! 🗿

Would Turing have imagined robots back then? Probably. But in their present form? Probably not.

Robots, you critters sure have come a long way.

You are—channeling Mary Shelley here—dare I say, the New Prometheus.

Where will your moves lead us (humans)?

Wherever you go, please—pretty please now—mind your moves, won’t you? Please?

The most dramatic recent progress in AI comes directly from the introduction of feedback. Good old-fashioned AI, known as GOFAI to its friends, has no such feedback.
~ Edward Ashford Lee (in The Coevolution—The MIT Press)

8. Law #6: Feedback Is Key 📞

The whole fields of cybernetics is premised on feedback. No understanding of feedback, no cybernetics—Enough said, amirite?

No?

Well, if you do want more, I’ve got that, too. Note, for example, that

The most dramatic recent progress in AI comes directly from the introduction of feedback. Good old-fashioned AI, known as GOFAI to its friends, has no such feedback. In the GOFAI style of AI, which dominated the field from the 1950s through the 1980s, knowledge is represented symbolically in a human-readable form, and laboriously constructed data structures represent the relationships between symbols.

More recently, AI has come to be dominated by statistical techniques and optimization algorithms, including artificial neural nets, where representations of knowledge are learned from data rather than being provided by humans. Some people call this more recent approach “computational intelligence.”
~ Edward Ashford Lee (in The Coevolution—The MIT Press)

Norbert Weiner—and his fondness for all things control theory—may be (long) gone, but his spirit pervades the machines.

Oh, and there’s a good book for that, for those of you so inclined, on control theory, that is:

Feedback Control for Computer Systems: Introducing Control Theory to Enterprise Programmers by Philipp K. Janert

It’s there, should you ever wish to take a deep dive into feedback control theory.

Meanwhile, we gotta keep moving.

What I am trying to do is bring birth to clarity, which is really a half-assedly thought-out pictorial semi vision thing.
~ Richard Feynman

9. Law #7: Visions Of A Distant Shore 🔭

One thing’s for sure, in addition, of course, to the regularity with which Feynman dispensed memorable statements such the one above: If motion—and the whole enterprise of change that’s predicated on it—is to get anywhere, we had better get some predictability in there.

Enter Computer Vision (CV).

For one thing, robotics would get nowhere without CV; it would remain blindsided. For another, OCR (aka Optical Character Recognition) would not be a reality anytime soon without CV; yes, lots and lots of Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) in there for sure—but still.

CV counts, amirite?

And to get a sense for the related visions of a distant shore—realizing the full power of computer vision one day—there is no better place to start than this lovely book by Simon J. D. Prince:

Computer Vision: Models, Learning, and Inference—Cambridge University Press

To get going with learning and inference in probabilistic models as a unifying theme, this is the real deal. (Plus it’s a work of art; I can vouch right from my couch that much care was lavished on it.)

Well, now that we’ve sliced-and-diced both motion and change from a bunch of vantage points what’s left?

A sleepy cat? (Good grief!)

Some call it laziness.. I call it deep thought.
~ Garfield The Cat

10. Now It’s Time To Rest ⛱

I’m telling you. This cat’s got seriously good taste: See how it settled for—and snuggled up to—the finest there is on the subject of Calculus? Bro, this is nothing less than Calculus by Jimmy Stewart.

All roads lead to the Calculus, I’m telling you; plus that’s what Feynman, too, said—in so many words—about roads.

Well, some do lead to Rome.

But that’s another story. (For another time.)

The butterfly wing changed the initial conditions just enough to make the difference between the tornado forming and the tornado not forming. The tornado would not have formed had the butterfly not flown.
~ Edward Ashford Lee (in Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology—The MIT Press)

11. The Butterfly Effect 🐝

I say that motion—and in its wake, change—should be welcomed with open arms, as a prelude to the fun which lies ahead, amirite?

Now how sensitive is it—this vaunted Butterfly Effect? Well, consider that

People later called this extreme sensitivity to initial conditions “the butterfly effect” after a metaphor put forth in the title of a talk by Lorenz, where the turbulence created in the air by the wing of a butterfly could cause a tornado. The butterfly wing changed the initial conditions just enough to make the difference between the tornado forming and the tornado not forming. The tornado would not have formed had the butterfly not flown.
~ Edward Ashford Lee (in Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology—The MIT Press)

Motion—and change—should be welcomed with open arms, as a prelude to the fun which lies ahead, amirite? (Check the kiddos zipping away ahoy: They have the right sort of idea.)

Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
~ E.A. ROBINSON

12. Redux 🐑

Our winding path now comes to an end. But before we part: I hope you’re convinced that “investing” in how to keep on top of change—through the Calculus or by any other means available—is a smart idea.

(Seeing the world with new eyes is something money can’t buy. I’m betting my bottom dollar on this fiscal “law” even as we speak, though I may be pushing the Wall Street metaphor to its limit here.)

Till we meet next, give permission to the (often benign) laws of change to rock your world: WHAM!

One comment

  1. – Readers often approach me afterwards with their own set of reflections, inspired—I’m humbled and happy to report—that which I write up and share here with you.
    One set of comments in particular (that I got just the other day) blew my mind. It’s rather lengthy, so in the interest of frugality, I’m excerpting here, verbatim—and with their kind permission—some decidedly marvelous (IMHO) sections of the comments where they find themselves resonating with and reflecting on a handful of the “laws”, dare I say, enshrined in this essay of sorts:

  2. -> It’s the most interesting book recommendations I ever read. Well, it should say it feels like book recommendations at first glance. Actually, it reflects your vision about the world/ universe and how pieces are connected together to form our life. Nice writing as well, BTW.
  3. -> I strongly resonate with you about that calculus is the universe language. When we speak maths, we can get closer to the truth, see further, and walk further.
  4. Upon this maths topic, I may shout out to two subjects: probability/stochastic process, and signal & system. They both heavily use calculus language and elaborate how the world/universe is composed of. Probability tells us the two sides of the coin: randomness and determinism, like Yin-Yang. They are also two building elements of pretty much everything, and they are coexisting and never stop changing into each other. Signal and system give us some good angles to view the world. If we can’t see the things clearly, re-represent/transform, expand dimensions, and change angles. BTW, never forget energy is always a good metric if the problem goes to a dead end.
  5. -> I like your law #2, 3 and 4. COVID makes us stay inside. However, this is the time I start to realize we should look into the “inside” of ourselves. Our outside world/ universe is a network and things are intra-connected and inter-connected. Meanwhile, our inside world is also a network (a real neural network that does real intelligence) and can reflect the outside world. The inside network is like the water surface without a ripple once we are in peace. It just looks as beautiful as the outside universe. Additionally, since things in the outside universe are connected, I believe everyone’s inside network is also connected somehow. It’s like we can easily feel other people’s emotions if we pay attention to do so. Or maybe it can be what it is like in the movie Matrix. Well, hope the ground truth is not that crazy.
  6. Bravo, dear Reader, bravo!

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