Part 0. Science and the Scientific Method
Science is an open source project. It may well be the oldest and largest open source project of all times. Since the days of Galileo, more than a dozen generations of scientists have worked together to produce a public body of knowledge about the natural world that is unique both in its accuracy, and in the fact that it transcends traditional boundaries of cultures and belief systems.
Another important ingredient of science has been the way of bootstrapping itself into a self-improving cycle of theory and experiment: observations giving you a hunch, theory telling you what to look for, experiment sharpening theory, theory sharpening experiment, and so on. But the free exchange of ideas coupled with the existence of a functional community of peers that are both supportive and critical is an equally important ingredient, part of the secret of the success of science.
The term `open source' has become popular in software circles, where it indicates that everyone has free access to the computer programs (the `source code'). While the Linux operating system is the most visible example, there are thousands of other open source projects where people freely share information and ideas. Groups of enthusiastic and dedicated individuals have thus produced software packages that in many cases are of higher quality than commercial packages.
But the parallels run deeper. In the case of source code, we have an theory-experiment cycle as well. Experimental verification lies in successfully running and testing a program. But in order to design and document a large well-crafted program, a lot of theoretical insight is needed. The bootstrapping process consists in starting with a prototype, and through testing and extending it developing a vision as to how to properly increase its complexity. Creating virtual worlds involves dealing with laws of virtuality, just as we deal with the laws of nature in our material reality.
The remarkable success of the open source revolution in the last couple decades has shown us that the scientific method is more widely applicable than one may have thought. We can go a step further and try to apply it to a study of reality in the widest sense of the word: a study of `what is' without any prior notions of the nature and existence of a world of things, beings and human beings. And in the process we can try to `debug' the limitations in the views that we inherit from the culture and society that we grew up in.
As an extension of natural science, which starts out with an efficient and effective filter that only lets the object pole of experience through, we can step back to ask what we can say about `what is' even before we analyze appearance in terms of subject-object relationships. And we can do this with a group of peers that welcome innovation as well as quality control.
So far, I have found this exploration to be fascinating and more useful than anything else I have done in my life, in terms of direct and indirect benefits. In the following pages I am presenting here a draft version of what I may want to publish in some form as a book. The contents and presentation may well change before I reach that point. For now, I am happy to make this material avaiable here, in a preliminary way. Hopefully it will lead to some stimulating discussions.
Piet Hut, Princeton, February 2005
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