When a path of discovery becomes a loop and a mini “eureka” moment

May 11th, 2012 § 1 comment

I’m fascinated by paths of discovery. Not just the link you share, but the steps you took to get there. How did you end up at this point?

I experienced one such path tonight that turned into a loop and gave me a mini “eureka!” moment, so I wanted to share:

I met a fellow journalist/geek, Keith Collins, at BarCamp News Innovation Philly on April 28. We were chatting about science and that, of course, led to RadioLab. He mentioned a segment he enjoyed about a pendulum. I did a quick search on my phone and sent myself the link to read later. When I returned to the post, it didn’t seem like I found the right item — this was a post on the Krulwich Wonders blog about a Pendulum Dance. Nonetheless, it fascinated me.

I tweeted it with a hat tip to Keith and he replied with the actual segment he had referenced on the Limits of Science. It did not disappoint. I responded to say that I’d enjoyed it and Keith replied with a link to one of the things mentioned in the segment called Eureqa, which is described as a

“software tool for detecting equations and hidden mathematical relationships in your data. Its goal is to identify the simplest mathematical formulas which could describe the underlying mechanisms that produced the data. “

After downloading the application for later and browsing the page, I happend to scroll down to the “more information section.” A link about symbolic regression, which led to the Wikipedia page on genetic programming, grabbed my interest.

I happened to scroll past the introduction to the history section and read the first line there:

“In 1954, GP [genetic programming] began with the evolutionary algorithms first used by Nils Aall Barricelli applied to evolutionary simulations.”

Baricelli is a prominent figure in the wonderfully insightful book I’m curerntly reading about the origins of the digital universe:  Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson.

“Eureka!”

No. Scratch that.

“Eureqa!”

Now that’s what I call finding hidden relationships in your data.

Bonus discovery path: When I tweeted the Pendulum Dance post, Xerox PARC‘s @PARCinc Twitter account favorited it. It seems clear they found it after seeing my reply to a tweet from Scott Klein. That prompted me to look at their recent tweets to see if they were an account I wanted to follow (I did!). In a then-recent tweet, they shared a Wikimedia newsletter that included a summary of a PARC report titled Thermodynamic Principles in Social Collaboration. Gotta love the interwebs!

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