Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rabbit Equation and Poetic Science

I firmly believe that information technology, the currently central nervous system of communication combine poetry and science, just like how it was first brought into the awareness of early visionaries such as Charles Babbage. Considered the father of modern computer, he was once seen as insane and impractical, yet who knew back then that his analytical engine will one day become the most practical element in human society?
What I learned from Chapter four set my mind afloat because I now can understand the poetic character of maths and why the mathematician can think of such renovation, and why Ada Byron understand his concept perfectly.
The story of Ada Lovelace and Babbage reminded me of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, which I think was inspired by the events and biographical truths in Ada's and Charles' life. The story of Arcadia involves a "mad scientist" in an age where people are still only thinking about the significance of landscape, an age where Lord Byron was an international celebrity with his scandalous affairs with different aristocratic ladies and expeditions in Europe; a young prodigy who marvels her tutors with her seemingly strange and innovative mathematical discoveries: Thomasina Coverly, a young girl who scribbles algorithms on her drawing papers using the data she was given, finding the "rabbit equation" as she was playing with the numbers. Of course when she's thinking about such an equation, the significance of it never occurred to her . However, in the play we also was shown the 21st century, where Valentine Coverly, Thomasina's descendant uses the same equations Thomasina playfully discovered, in the most delicate analysis in biology. Thomasina, like Ada, fell for her tutor and died a young age.
Now of course now you can say, finally, the discovery made centuries ago was found USEFUL.
No wonder Charles Babbage said he'd give all he's left of time to live if only just 3 days, five centuries in the future.
Those who were considered insane once, were merely just thinking about what's practical in the future. Their ideas were linked to the needs of people, sometimes 10 centuries forward of the era they were living in. I found similarities between the style of thinking between mathematician, scientist like Babbage and poets like Byron.are similar, for both of them find beauty in the abstract, and both of them use data (for one they're numbers, for the other they're words) to make sense of something grandiose. From details of the world, they find something inconceivable to most of people.
It was mentioned in the text that Babbage had a variety of obsession and extensive knowledge over a variety of subjects. I can understand that all of those things contributed to his innovation and his way of thinking: collaborating what he know to create something completely new.
Today, all the subjects, volumes of information are at our fingertips with the accessibility of Internet. Something essential never changes, as today we still use what we have at hands to create something that is useful to the next generation, although the interval of generations might get shorter. When Facebook was first created, it was merely a plaything, but then we discover it's stand in human society and his power in upgrading people's communication to a completely new level: all of the interactive advertisement and marketing analysis came from a simple networking engine
The creator of Facebook might not even have thought of it.
which leads us to the other essential elements in information, science and communication: we borrow others' knowledge and inventions, develop them and adapt them to the present.
I believe that's what information is all about.
The main theme and recurring topic, I believe, is the idea of expressing a piece of information using another set of language, whether it's with words or numbers. The cryptography functions that way too, as discussed in chapter 6. I remember reading in an article that during cold war, spies use an ancient language lost to most of the civilization to communicate so that they won't be deciphered.  I believe that information is never NOT able to be deciphered, but sometimes we just can't find the algorithm that links two pieces of messages together. Telegraph links the alphabets to dots and dashes, coding machines, alphabets to's just like the switch between binary and decimal system of numbers. I believe that modern communication, as pointed out in this part of the textbook, is explained clearly by mathematics: using a certain "algorithm" to translate information so that they can travel through wires across the universe. Simple as that.
That is quite poetic and dazzling to me.


  1. Wow, now I have a new appreciation for chapter 4. I wish I could have gotten all that, would have made reading it much more enjoyable.

    1. I think that is what new media is all about. Everything makes more sense when viewed collaborated. I wouldn't have enjoyed as much as I did if I hadn't had the extra info.