dull sublunary lovers' love
Oh, good. This is just what I needed to know: mosquito bites can give you not only West Nile virus, but Eastern equine encephalitis or St. Louis encephalitis. Thank you, CNN. For no clear reason, they also note that mosquitos can't carry HIV.
Stephen Wolfram, inventor of Mathematica, talks about his all-consuming project of the last decade. He claims to have come up with a new way to model physical systems, using computational algorithms rather than mathematical equations. The apparent method is to start with simple initial conditions, then apply many iterations of the same operation.
Q: So your experiments convinced you that nature uses simple programs to generate the complexity we see around us...
A: Yes, I think it's the main secret of nature. It's what lets nature come up with things that look so much more complex than anything we've been able to invent does. Some people say complexity in biology can't just be coming from natural selection. They're right, but the point is that nature uses tools we didn't expect. That's what I've discovered.
It sounds a lot like the methods by which fractal landscapes are generated, and could explain why (for instance) the Fibonacci sequence keeps cropping up in nature, but it'll be impossible to evaluate any of this until his book A New Kind of Science comes out. And maybe not even then. Wolfram takes on everything from the second law of thermodynamics to the question of free will, but at least he doesn't claim to have all the answers:
Well, the things I've been thinking about are very, very different from the usual quantum field theory and string theory approach. There's some very basic intuition that's different when you think about simple programs instead of equations and so on. One big issue is that getting a fundamental theory of physics doesn't mean physics is finished. That'd be like saying that computing is finished once you have a computer. Suppose that the program for the Universe is four lines long. There's no room in those four lines to put in all the familiar stuff we know about space-time having four dimensions, the muon being 206 times the mass of the electron, and so on. Almost nothing from the everyday world will be obvious in the program. These things will have to emerge when the program runs. Figuring out how that works, and exactly what can emerge, can be arbitrarily difficult.
And so is making breakfast, often.