“What lies at the heart of every living thing is not fire, is not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life.’ It is information, words, instructions.”
– Richard Dawkins
Calculus is the language of the universe. This is most likely due to the fact that Isaac Newton created calculus to explain his groundbreaking new theories of physics. Though the world appears incomprehensibly huge and endlessly varying, all of the complexity emerges from a shared set of instructions. Instructions that, until relatively recently, we couldn’t see, let alone understand. But of course, this is no longer the case. Each year we learn more about the laws governing how particles interact to form atoms, stars, and galaxies; the chemical axioms behind reactions and materials; and the molecular code directing the assembly and evolution of every living thing on the planet. In a recent video, Jason Silva likens this to the moment Neo wakes up and sees the matrix for the first time, sees those scrolling lines of green code serving up the world of the senses.
The video below discusses Diana Slattery’s book Xenolinguistics, as well as how instructional language plays a role in our everyday lives.
Better understanding the world we live in is alone a worthwhile endeavor. But it’s also remarkably empowering. As science reveals this universal instruction set, we get to play with it too. Today, we’re still beginners. But with time and practice, we’ll become more like master composers scoring a symphony. “The real secret of magic is that the world is made of words,” Terence McKenna once said. “And that if you know the words that the world is made of you can make of it whatever you wish.”
Today’s scientific discoveries seed tomorrow’s technologies. And those technologies may bend the very fabric of reality as we know it. The proof of our growing linguistic proficiency isn’t hard to find. Robots are exploring Mars, orbiting a comet, and approaching Pluto. A mammoth particle smasher is probing nature’s fundamental bits and pieces in Switzerland. Machines are transcribing tens of thousands (and soon millions) of human genomes. A deluge of scientific study is issuing from universities and research groups all around the world. But, you might ask, to what end? As science gives us the ability to understand and ultimately rewrite nature with technology, what story will emerge? The truth is, no one knows for sure. But we can expect the unexpected. Scientific and technological progress is humanity’s greatest collective project.