I have just read Mark Ward's book Universality, 2001. It is a great book, the title of which does not purport to encompass everything, merely that within certain complex systems this feature of universal connectedness emerges, extending to the system as a whole. It is a feature that can give rise to chaos if too much input is fed into the system and one that can dissipate, along with it's potentials, if input is decreased. It is apparent in the myriad of fractal patterns and beats that nature has discovered in order to reach complexity from the greatest simplicity. It shows how we as a species may have benefited from evolving to the edge of order, reaping the emergent benefits of collective intelligence, a historical dialectic of push and pull, power and curiosity, maintaining the complex system of cultural evolution as the safety net of communication infrastructure drove spikes of recorded, cumulative knowledge into the high-water marks of the historical swash.
This book came at a good time for me. Since the death of Mandelbrot last week, I have been pondering fractals often, sure that they, along with other phenomena such as chaos and synchronicity, were fundamental to the very fabric of reality. Not simply on an arbitrary scale such as the planck length of the diameter of the universe, but on all scales at once, a Metaphysical Theory of Everything. This book is a call to arms not just to the scientific community but also a clarion call for arm-chair philosophers like me. It gives motivation in the thought that the academic world, though filled with great minds, is driven to speciality and expertise in narrow fields. Universality shows that in studying small pieces of the canvas, many people are unable to see the big picture staring them in the face. The Internet is driving like-minded individuals in all disciplines to act on the very simple premise that maximised communication, larger conceptual data-sets, are the key to success. Whilst they are still realising that, you and I are free to use this wonderful invention to wallow in a multitude of specialities, see connections the experts cannot; all from the comfort of your sitting room, or on a bus, or walking in the countryside. It really is an exciting time, this whole new digital generation soon to be snapping at the heals of the established ways.
But I digress. The reason that it can help explain, at least philosophically for the time being, reality at any scale is because complex systems exist at all scales and complex systems share the same emergent characteristics. By focusing on this emergent dynamic, instead of the particulars of any one scale, we can gain a very complete picture of the forces directing us both as individuals, as societies and as a tiny speck of dust in the cosmic carpet. It is part and parcel of coming to understand ourselves as human beings, as Hegel said. Many of the worlds ills: organised religion, fundamentalism, nationalism, racism, all sorts of 'isms', they all share what seems to be a group-think inspired gross ignorance of their own flaws or how humans actually function. It is apparent every time some Republican tells us that bombing them is the only way to stop them bombing us.
Wildly speculating, it's fun to think way outside the box, but what if the universe inflated fractally? What a beautiful sight that would be if one could slow it right down and sit back. Why not? It sure is a mightily complex system and if you care to extend the scales up from the smallest found (and it goes down pretty far, check out this: Fractals and golden ratio found at the quantum level), signs of self-similarity go up a long way. What if we kept going? How about theories of sprouting universes, perhaps they branch of in fractal patterns?