(up to 2007)

Not a general guide to these topics, just some of what I have to say about them.  Many other articles are found on the News page.

"Jaron's World" is my monthly column in Discover Magazine.  
It is structured as a chronicle of scientific friendships; what I'm talking about with my science buddies.

 Topics thus far (in order of publication; indentation and color match grand themes):

Evolution of Language and Meaning
Math and Physics
How to think about Human Beings in the context of Moore's Law
Virtual Reality

How cephalopods can inspire ideas about communication beyond language as we know it
    My interlocutor for this month:  Roger Hanlon

How olfaction might have played a crucial role in the evolution of human language
    My interlocutor for this month:  Jim Bower

That old computers and consciousness question
    My interlocutor for this month:  Daniel Dennett

What the evolution of the neck and the rarity of video-conferencing have in common
    My interlocutor for this month:  Various colleages in the Tele-immersion research community

Bird song experimentation and the origins of language; being well-spoken as a sexual display; how computers reduce variety in human music
    My interlocutor for this month:  Terry Deacon

"Premature Mystery Reduction" as a test for fake rationality, with jabs at Intelligent Design, Artificial or aggregate Intelligence, String Theory...
    My interlocutor for this month:  Not telling

Where did time come from?  A new potential answer comes from recent revelations about the chaotic structure of mathematical truth.  Please don't be scared!  You can understand this!
    My interlocutor for this month:  Lee Smolin note: read my review on the Chaitin book, below, along with this one...

Digital Maoism Redux: What research awaits to help us understand the proper uses of crowds
    My interlocutor for this month:  The Hive Mind 

A new baby; How Midwives froze human evolution "in mid-air"; The unknowable value of inconvenient genes
    My interlocutor for this month:  Niles Eldredge

Evidence of people using computers to become more like morphing cephalopods
    My interlocutors for this month:  Ken Perlin and Sir Michael Berry

How limited brain capacity could have transformed synesthesias into metaphors in early hominids
    My interlocutor for this month:  VS Ramachandran

Silicon Valley's best minds were turned into criminals by the war on drugs; thus we inherited design ideas that promote anonymity and even paranoia; can mere user interface design help people behave better?
    My interlocutors for this month:  Everyone but me in '80s Silicon Valley

First visualization of the wondrous 11-cell (AkA "hendecatope" or regular hendeachoron); math as an emotional connection to universal cognition
    My interlocutor for this month:  Carlo Sequin

Haptics past and future: Gloves and the Octopus Butler Robot

    My interlocutor for this month:  The Wii

Phenotropics; web mashups, brains, bacteria, and how to escape the curse of neo-Von Neumannism

    My interlocutor for this month:  Suffering programmers everywhere

Book reviews in American Scientist:
On books by Greg Chaitin and Rudy Rucker

On Roger Penrose's "Big Book"
On John Markoff's account of one culture of early computing

Promoting Humanistic Technical Culture:

The Digital Maoism is an essay of mine found here on

This essay generated too much discussion to catalog here.  Some responses can be found on, and more can be found with a search engine.

Radical Evolution is a book by Joel Garreau which compares my take on technology and the future of human experience with some other takes by Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil.

The "Half-manifesto" is an essay that criticizes computer-centric culture and the way it is influencing mainstream culture and scientific thought.

The Half-Manifesto appears as a chapter in the book "The New Humanists."  You can read it online at or wired

Commentary on the Half-manifesto is plentiful:

A good place to start is  here. ...and here's Salon's story on it. Ray Kurzweil has written a counter-manifesto here. Here's an essay about it in American Prospect.  Here's Upside's article on it, and here's a lot of ranting about Upside's version of what I said on Slashdot. 

Here are links related to specific topics explored in the Half-manifesto"

The "Singularity"

The virtual final issue of Whole Earth magazine has an interview with me- also about the singularity and its discontents.

On the problem of "Spiritual anxiety" as egged on by "Cybernetic Totalists"

A good place to start is the debates on, such as here or here.

Pragmatic arguments against the Artificial Intelligence research agenda

A good place to start is this book.

For online materials, start with this chapter from a book on Consciousness Studies.  There are two opposing chapters on machine intelligence, with the "pro" position supported by Danny Hillis.  I take the "anti" position.

My take on the Kasprov/Deep Blue Chess Game, originally published in IBM's Think Magazine


Start here to learn about what I dislike in the idea of memes.

... and then see a rather friendly discussion with Richard Dawkins, the meme man himself, that was originally published in Psychology Today.

How computer culture spreads its influence:

Here's a statement and video that appeared on

Here is a broad interview on this and related topics that appeared in GBN's website. Download it here as PDF.

"Karma Vertigo" is an older essay identifying some of the special problems of digital cultural persistence, also first published in Global Business Network's magazine.  Also see this  this essay.

In a more affirmative vein:

In effort to make utopianism respectable once again, I gave talk on a 1000 year optimistic scenario.  These are some of the powerpoint slides from that talk, though alas some browsers won't read them. 

The Association for Computing Machinery asked various people to write essays on the subject of "hope" in the next fifty years of computing. These were published in the fiftieth anniversary special issue of the ACM's Communications magazine. Here's my contribution, titled "The Frontier Between Us".  I stand by everything I said in the above piece, even the bit about the pernicious longevity of MS DOS influence, which, far from becoming truly extinct, now haunts us in stealth.

Here are some cartoons that illustrate a cheerful "punditry gig".

Here's some bloggerie from my talk at the FutureSalon.


1980s Virtual Reality History and Philosophy

Here are some documents from my early days with VR.   My views have hopefully matured a bit since the 1980s. 

Here's a vintage interview which captures some of the delirious, infectious way I used to talk about VR in my twenties.

Finally added some images of vintage VPL VR equipment from the 1980s in answer to many requests- will add more and better photos and documentation soon.

Here's an old but fun article on applications of VR to programming.

1990s VR research

In the 1990s, a variant of VR called Tele-immersion became important in the research community.  In Tele-immersion, the sensing and presentation of humans becomes good enough that VR can be a tool to study interpersonal contact, and VR engineering merges with the long-standing search for adequate visual tele-communications.

The April 2001 issue of Scientific American had a major article on tele-immersion.  Here are some pictures of tele-immersion from Oct. 2000. Here is a photo of an earlier demo (May, 2000). The Washington Post put tele-immersion on the front page of the "style section". MIT Technology Review's article on tele-immersion is here. New Scientist's report is hereHere's an article on tele-immersion and Internet 2 from the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times reports here.  And Fortune Magazine's is here... Here's an article on Internet2 and Tele-immersion. And here's another article. And another.

2000's VR research

On Sept 9, 2004, I gave a talk for Bay CHI, titled "Why VR has not (yet) become a widespread technology."  This list of the top 11 reasons  was read by most attendees in advance.

Here's the COCODEX page

Questioning the centrality of protocols in software; Exploring potentials for new forms of scientific expression and general communication between people.

I wrote a chapter for a new book called The Next Fifty Years : Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century (edited by John Brockman). My chapter speculates about what complexity studies might look like in the next half century, and how that might influence both biology and ultra-large-scale software architecture.  Here's Wired Mag's take on it.  This interview summarizes the material in the chapter.  Here's a little piece about the stuff from CIO Magazine.  I've decided to use the term "Phenotropics" to describe this and related material.

Here's an non-technical essay of mine, "WHY GORDIAN SOFTWARE HAS CONVINCED ME TO BELIEVE IN THE REALITY OF CATS AND APPLES", that introduces phenotropics, and its physical and philosophical implications.

Here's an interview about Phenotropics, from the main Java website.  And here is the inevitable slashdot riot.  Most of the cranky complaints are about one particular issue, and in this case I have to say the critics are absolutely correct.  I goofed by not catching an incorrect number when I checked the interview for accuracy.  The number was stated as 10,000,000.  It should clearly have been higher.  But that value isn't important to the idea.  If you want to know what this is all about, read the interview!  Many thanks to all the people who have written extended comments on the ideas in the interview and sent them to me directly.  I will read and respond- might take me a while! Here's the second part of the interview on the java website.  This portion covers some of my earlier activities, like VR.

If you missed this seminar on Phenotropics, here are my characteristically sloppy slides.

Title:  Should Computer Science Get Rid of Protocols Altogether?

Abstract:   Computers are finally beginning to connect to the physical world with a little of the facility displayed by living organisms, which are generally able to interact reliably with an environment even though unplanned elements are often present.  Medical instrumentation, robotics, and advanced user interfaces have all been improved recently by using techniques such as pattern recognition and predictive filtering.  But operating systems and programming languages are still conceived of in the terms of mid-twentieth century engineering, in which sending signals on wires between slow machines was the central metaphor, and the protocol was the only solution.  Perhaps it is time to take some of the advances from recent systems that interface to the real world and apply them to the world that remains strictly inside the computer. Components in such systems would connect together through pattern recognition of each other instead of adherence to protocols.  This approach might be called “phenotropic”.  While the phenotropic idea is still not fully formed, there are reasons to hope that phenotropic systems would display more useful failure modes, facilitating adaptive systems and avoiding crashes, and might also grow to larger sizes than traditional protocol-adherence-based systems. 

My Blog on HuffingtonPost is (or was- I lost interest after a while) stimulated by politics and headlines, but enduring ideas are addressed, and I think you will find that the entries are still worth reading.  The names and places can always be changed to keep up with the headlines of the future.  

Here are some blog entries, by topic:

On Abortion and Metaphysical Ambiguity

On Scientific Method, Psychological Motivations of Scientists, "Intelligent Design," and Renegotiating the Role of Religion in Technological Societies

On the Political Uses of Conflicts between Top-Down and Bottom-Up Models

On Psychological Denial

On the Shifting Future Conflict between Celebrity and Mass-Narcissism

On Moore's Law's Influence on Economic Thought

Go back to Jaron's home page.