In 1964, physicist Richard Feyman gave a series of public lectures at Cornell University which painted a picture of how we think about the world through science and in relation to the physical laws. In the fifth talk, he outlines his nascent understanding of a hierarchy of nature which inspired me to begin some new research in January this year.
Now I've bought together my findings and ideas in an illustrated talk that sketches my own hierarchy of nature; considers how things interract to become wholly new things; reflects on how we examine the world through mathematics and closes by considering the myriad perspectives needed to understand any thing by taking the example of a simple tree.
The excerpt of Feynman that sparked the idea is above and my sketched hierarchy is below. It is an evolutionary hierarchy of contingency, potential and emergence. Each item is contingent upon things coming before and gives potential for new things to follow and to impact things already in existence. A teacup depends upon a human, a human upon a vast evolutionary process, which begins with a single cell, depending on the existence of atoms, which came from a star and the big bang.
At every stage entirely new things emerge. The picture is a great and remarkable story. Everything comes from a few components, random accidents and some systems of interaction. Imagine any thing and you can conjure a hierarchy like this: Begin with your socks, your dreams, the swirl in a coffee cup, or the light reflecting off red bricks in the morning. As the naturalist John Muir said: “when we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to the whole world.”
Many people have helped and inspired me: at Imperial - physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, natural scientists and others from places as diverse as the Crick Institute and the Bank of England. I've had the pleasure of sharing and testing these ideas three times: with complexity scientists at college; the public at an art exhibit and to a packed room of physics undergraduate students last week. Every time discussions have created new perspectives, ideas and questions.