J. Doyne Farmer

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J. Doyne Farmer in 2010

J. Doyne Farmer (born 1952) is an American physicist and entrepreneur, with interests in chaos theory, complexity and econophysics. He is currently Professor of Mathematics and Co-Director of the program on Complexity Economics, Institute for New Economic Thinking, Oxford University Martin School.


  • Our goal is to build a broad-based model of key components of the economy: households, firms, banks and government... The failure to embrace things like simulation has inhibited progress in economics.
  • In a world of superintelligent humans, the account of a quest to prove a theorem may take on a universality in its drama that seems inconceivable to us now. I believe that rational adventure is fundamental to the human spirit, and that it won't go away. But it will evolve of necessity to take place in the increasingly abstract domains that characterize the boundaries and frontiers of an evolving and ever more complex and abstract world. As a result, it will evolve into forms that are difficult for us to even think about at this point in time.
    • "The evolution of adventure in literature and life or Will there ever be a good adventure novel about an astronaut?"

The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (1995)

ed. John Brockman
  • On learning more astronomy, in the phenomenon of "averted vision," I found a justification for my rationale about the roundabout path to metaphysics via physics: to see a faint star, it's necessary to look away from it; as soon as one looks at it directly, it vanishes.
  • It seemed that fundamental physics was stuck. The particle physicists were smashing particles into each other with ever increasing force, trying to figure out how many quarks could dance on the head of a pin. The cosmologists were working with very few facts... on what seemed to me to be mainly religious grounds. And most of physics was still focused on pushing and pulling, on the material properties... rather than on its informational properties. ...those that relate to order and disorder.
  • Speaking crudely, a living system—an organism—consists of a symbiotic relationship between a metabolism and a replicator. ...the replicator contains the blueprint of the organism, with the information needed to grow, make repairs, and reproduce. ...the metabolism provides the energy and raw materials needed to build and run the replicator.
  • The basic principle of an autocatalytic network is that even though nothing can make itself, everything in the pot has at least one reaction that makes it, involving only other things in the pot. It's a symbiotic system in which everything cooperates to make the metabolism work—the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • The paradox that immediately bothers everyone who learns about the second law is this: If systems tend to become more disordered, why, then, do we see so much order around us? ...It seems to conflict with our "creation myth": In the beginning, there was a big bang. ...no one is saying that the second law of thermodynamics is wrong, just that there is a contrapuntal process organizing things at a higher level.
  • Complex adaptive systems have the property that if you run them—by just letting the mathematical variable of "time" go forward—they'll naturally progress from chaotic, disorganized, undifferentiated, independent states to organized, highly differentiated, and highly interdependent states. Organized structures emerge spontaneously... A weak system gives rise only to simpler forms of self-organization; a strong one gives rise to more complex forms, like life.
  • We don't know what organization is. ...We do know that complex adaptive systems have to be nonlinear and capable of storing information. ...We know a little bit about what distinguishes an adaptive complex system from a nonadaptive system, such as turbulent fluid flow.
  • One of the factors that caused Spencer's ideas to lose popularity was social Darwinism... Social evolution is different from biological evolution: it's faster, it's Lamarckian, and it makes even heavier use of altruism and cooperation than biological evolution does. None of this was well understood at the time.
  • If we choose, we can use genetic engineering to alter the character of our offspring. ...the motivation to do this will eventually become overwhelming.
  • We're rapidly creating an extraordinary silicon-based petri dish for evolution of intelligence. By the year 2025... we're likely to have computers whose raw processing power exceeds that of the human brain. Also, we're likely to have more computers than people...
  • Once we can manipulate our genome, Lamarckian fashion, the rate of change will be staggering.
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