Informal Publications


Connections and Named Trails  - W.Hugh Chatfield I.S.P.

In Vannevar Bush's article, I was always struck with his description of trails (my emphasis added).

"Thereafter, at any time, when one of these items is in view, the other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button below the corresponding code space. Moreover, when numerous items have been thus joined together to form a trail, they can be reviewed in turn, rapidly or slowly, by deflecting a lever like that used for turning the pages of a book. It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails.

The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozens of possibly pertinent books and articles in his memex.

First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items. Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item. When it becomes evident that the elastic properties of available materials had a great deal to do with the bow, he branches off on a side trail which takes him through textbooks on elasticity and tables of physical constants. He inserts a page of longhand analysis of his own. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.

And his trails do not fade. Several years later, his talk with a friend turns to the queer ways in which a people resist innovations, even of vital interest. He has an example, in the fact that the outranged Europeans still failed to adopt the Turkish bow. In fact he has a trail on it. A touch brings up the code book. Tapping a few keys projects the head of the trail. A lever runs through it at will, stopping at interesting items, going off on side excursions. It is an interesting trail, pertinent to the discussion. So he sets a reproducer in action, photographs the whole trail out, and passes it to his friend for insertion in his own memex, there to be linked into the more general trail."

The value to trails is several fold:

  1. 1.The list of appropriate reference material

  2. 2.The list is named and hence its purpose can be deduced (if named properly)

  3. 3.It is interspersed with new intelligence added by the author of the trail

  4. 4.It can be shared with others

  5. 5.It persists beyond the lifetime of the author

If constructed properly, the named list has more value than - say a bibliography provided as part of a paper. It can both point to the appropriate part of the text being referenced, and provide an explanation as to why this text is being pointed to.

For example, I was reading a book review of the Charles Templeton book listed below. I was aware that a connection had been made between what I was reading and a number of other things I had read in the past. The connection happened inside my head. I understand there is a part of the left brain which is very good at making these connections. I would concur with this, as the thread which connected these four pieces happened quite effortlessly and instantaneously. I should point out the last two items in the list were read much in advance of the book review. It was interesting that although the connection was made, it took some while to fully explore the implication of the connection and be able to put these words around the connection. Let me share this with you.

The four pieces that were connected were:

  1. 1."Farewell To God, My reason for rejecting the Christian Faith" by Charles Templeton

  2. 2."Genesis" - The Bible

  3. 3."Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality" - John Gribbin

  4. 4."Critical Path" - Buckminster Fuller

You could read all these - perhaps find one or more connections, but I don't think you could find the one that emerged in my head.

The connection occurred while I read a review of Templeton's book in the newspaper. I had just read that Templeton makes some argument about his problems with literal acceptance of biblical passages, such as talking about "day" before the sun was made. However I thought, what if Templeton is being too literal about what "day" is all about. "Let there be light" it says in Genesis. Ah yes - but what is light?? Being trained in physics I knew this was not an easy question, and had its answer in quantum mechanics. This was immediately connected to a passage I had read in Gribbin's book on Quantum Mechanics.

In the concluding chapter "The solution - a Myth for our Times" the Feynman interpretation of Maxwell's equations for electromagnetic waves is reviewed (again my emphasis added):

"Feynman's unsung insight suggested, more than half a century ago, that the behaviour of electromagnetic radiation, and the way in which it interacts with charged particles, could be explained by taking seriously that fact that there are two sets of solutions to Maxwell's equations, the equations that describe electromagnetic waves moving through space like ripples moving across the surface of a pond. One set of solutions, the 'common-sense solutions', describes waves moving outward from an accelerated charged particle and forwards in time, like ripples spreading from the point where a stone has been dropped into the pond. The second set of solutions, largely ignored even today, describes waves travelling backward in time and converging onto charged particles, like ripples that start from the edge of the pond and converge onto a point in the middle of the pond."

"...each electron is instantaneously aware of its position in relation to all the other charged particles in the Universe. The one tangible influence of the waves that travel backward in time (the 'advanced' waves) is that they provide feedback which makes every charged particle an integrated part of the whole electromagnetic web."

"The result of the feedback - the result of the fact that our electron has to be considered not in isolation but as part of a holistic electromagnetic web filling the Universe - is that the electron resists our attempts to push it around, because of the influence of all those charged particles in distant galaxies, even though no information-carrying signal can travel between the galaxies faster than light."

In the Genesis text "Let there be light" I asked - what if this was not Earth centric - what if it didn't mean "sunlight" but more generally "electromagnetic radiation" - or even more generally a zero point energy field. The existence of zero point energy fields is based on experimental evidence that a measurable force can be measured between two metal plates placed very close together in a vacuum. The force originates from electromagnetic particles spontaneously coming into existence and disappearing in a vacuum. Particles whose wavelength exceeds the distance between the plates cannot be created inside the plates, but can be created outside the plates. This "imbalance" can be measured as a very small but non zero pressure pushing the plates together.

"Let there be a zero point energy field" - Genesis "2" .

The connection to the final document was a little more tenuous. Buckminster Fuller has always held my interest due his unique way of looking at the Universe. He tells a tale of a point in his life where he thought seriously of committing suicide. His life to that point was not filled with success as normally measured. He decided to live and be in tune with the Universe. If he was right, the Universe would somehow support him. Thus he launched into the remainder of his life.

I attended a talk by Bucky once at Bell Northern Research. I was only vaguely aware of him and his work at that time. When I walked into the auditorium, I saw a small, old man in a light lime suit at the front of the auditorium, and I wondered who he might be. It turned out ot be Buckminster Fuller. Bucky started to talk. His talk started at the beginning of mans exploration of the planet and went forward. Much of what he said is covered in the book "Critical Path". His basic mission at that point of his life was to talk to as many people as he could and tell them that his studies showed that the resources that man has access to would allow for all humanity, and all future humanity to live at a standard of living, higher than the highest standard currently enjoyed now. But we have to make it happen - and many people don't want us to have it.

He talked for hours, but it passed in an instant. His speech increased in velocity as his time began to run out. It was as if he realized his time was now limited and he had so much more he could tell us. The vice president had to physically pull him out of the auditorium to run to catch a plane. The audience gave a thunderous standing ovation as he left.

I thought to myself that in my mind, Bucky had grown considerably in stature and shed decades as his talk progressed. I sought out and read much of his writings. He is not an easy read in some cases - but always fascinating.

I was struck though about his decision to go with the flow of the universe. This is sort of precursor to the fictional idea of "The Force" in Star Wars. It appears to have worked as he managed to work as he wanted throughout his life and the essentials of life were always provided. So what was the connection? Bucky, living in tune with the universe believed he knew mans place in the universe. Mankind's place in this Universe is identified in the following quote (my emphasis once more):

"Human minds have a unique cosmic function not identifiable with any other phenomenon - the capability to act as local Universe information-harvesters and local Universe problem-solvers in support of the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe."

Eternally regenerative Universe - living in tune with the universe - zero point energy fields - electromagnetic radiation - backwards and forward in time - light - the information harvesters at home in this Universe - and Vannevar Bush in 1945 describing the memex device to allow humans to interconnect the information they harvest.

Everything connects.