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SystemThe Shaping of Modern Knowledge$
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Clifford Siskin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035316

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035316.001.0001

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Re:Enlightenment (Algorithmically Enhanced Systems)

Re:Enlightenment (Algorithmically Enhanced Systems)

Chapter:
(p.227) Re:Enlightenment (Algorithmically Enhanced Systems)
Source:
System
Author(s):

Clifford Siskin

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262035316.003.0009

To bring the story of system forward to the present, this Coda recounts the author’s involvement in an attempt to reshape knowledge called the Whole Enchilada group. Its work highlighted the ongoing importance of Darwin to current efforts at reform. Building on Daniel Dennett’s focus on the algorithmic in Darwin—the “If … then” format of his arguments—the Coda examines how algorithm and system have been deployed as variations of each other: if we reverse engineer any complex system we will find the simple algorithm that generated it. Just as we engage system as something both conceptual—a way of knowing the world—and as something that is really there, that constitutes part of that world, so algorithm is both a formal mode of producing knowledge about the world and—thanks to its simple-to-complex mechanicity—constitutive of that world. Using David Deutsch’s arguments about knowledge and virtual reality, the Coda then asks “Have we been able to know the world through system because the world is, in fact, itself structured as a system?” This question leads to a turn to Stephen Wolfram’s “new science” and the possibility of significant change: a reformulating on the Enlightenment’s once startling conviction that the world could be known through complex master SYSTEMS into the notion that knowledge—in the form of simple, iterative systems—renders the world. The book ends by emphasizing the persistence of system in the growing consensus that the universe is computational—with system generating the world it helps us to know.

Keywords:   Charles Darwin, Daniel Dennett, Algorithm, David Deutsch, Stephen Wolfram, Computational universe, Virtual reality, Knowledge, Seth Lloyd, Edward Grant

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