Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Rutgers Talk: Hyperobjects are Phased
In the 1960s, Edward Lorenz was seeking to find patterns in long-term meteorological data. He used a three-dimensional coordinate system: phase space. Lorenz reduced the meteorological data he was examining to three variables which would describe the state of the weather at any moment. The variables formed the dimensions of the phase space. Plotting these moments in phase space, Lorenz discerned a striking pattern in the data, the Lorenz Attractor. The phase points coalesce around a particular area of the phase space. Lorenz could not predict where the next phase point would alight, but it soon became clear that it would appear somewhere in the resulting butterfly-like shape.
In the 1980s, more sophisticated graphics software explored similar types of "strange attractors," complex systems like the weather that seem chaotic but whose phase space diagrams reveal a coherent, if unpredictable, pattern. Computers were useful not only in crunching the numbers and generating the data, but in organizing those data into a useful visual form. The graphics were not incidental visual aids: the visualization was the scientific work. Formal causes, people!
Software can see something you can only see in pieces and shadows: the transdimensional object called global warming. That's why hyperobjects are so hard to believe...they exist in a higher dimensional phase space. This is one big new point I'll be making on Friday.