Page:Lawhead columbia 0054D 12326.pdf/56

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predictable by an appeal to the bit-map level patterns of fundamental physics.

More precisely, then, the business of a particular special sciences consists in identifying certain regions of a system’s configuration space as instantiating enough interesting patterns to be worth considering, and then trying to enumerate those patterns as carefully as possible. A new special science emerges when someone notices that there exist patterns in the time-evolution of regions[1] which have heretofore gone unnoticed. The borders of the regions picked out by the special sciences will be vaguely-defined; if the special scientists were required to give a complete enumeration of all the points contained in a particular region (say, all the possible configurations corresponding to “normal human observer with the intention to stick his hand in the pot of boiling water”), then the usefulness of picking out patterns of those regions would be greatly reduced. To put the point another way, there’s a very real sense in which the vagueness of the carvings used by particular sciences is (to borrow from computer science yet again) a feature rather than a bug: it lets us make reliable predictions about the time-evolution of a wide class of systems while also ignoring a lot of detail about the precise state of those systems. The vagueness might lead us to occasionally make erroneous predictions about the behavior of a system, but (as I argued in Section 1.3) this is not at all a fatal criticism of a putative pattern. The progress of a particular special science consists largely in attempts to make the boundaries of its class of carvings as precise as possible, but this notion of progress need not entail that the ultimate goal of any special science is a set of perfectly defined regions. To be a pattern is not necessarily to be a perfect pattern, and (just as with compression algorithms in information theory) we might be happy to trade a small amount of error for a large gain in utility. The

  1. It might be appropriate to remind ourselves here that the regions under discussion here are regions of configuration space, not space-time.