Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Out of many, one

When I read the two books written by a politician who has just become the 44th president of United States, in particular the second book, I was impressed. Clearly he is a rare mind, rarer since he is in fact a thick-skinned politician.

Reading in detail his inauguration address delivered today, we may appreciate how he can convey a broad, clear vision for humanity in this global age (modulo his restriction as a president of one specific nation, which he embraces with understanding and determination) while at the same time carefully intending it to be practically effective. His words have both clear utility and deep truth, positioned in a broad historical context. In his message, utility strengthen truth: it was so in his address on race a few months ago, in this way those words are the truest of all, as are this time.

We may remember what Kant said: you should not only use another human being as a tool, but also treat him/her for his/her own sake. Utility is pragmatism, but idealism is also pragmatism. Both should come together.

He is going to serve the interests of one specific nation state called United States of America: that's his job. But this nation state has a special nature, and this gives her a special status in the world history at this point, which, paradoxically enough, now demands ideals unifying all nations on earth. In this context, USA has some role/duty, and without carrying out her duty, perhaps she may not survive. As a realist, that is where Mr.Obama can be effective beyond his national boundary.

But the main reason why Mr.Obama appears in this blog is because his key philosophy touches the central nature of distributed computing. He says (well an American coin does so too, but he also says):
"Out of many, one."
This is what distributed computing is about, that what looks like one is in fact many, and that  only by being many, this "one" becomes meaningful.

..... and this is also what the pi-calculus is about, why it starts from interactions at multiple locations, even mobile and located ones, and their compositions. In this way it is about the universe made from compositions of many disparate entities, that is why it can describe the diversity of interactional computation.

But what is the singularity of this modelling framework, in the context of distributed computing? Or indeed for the modelling of computation in general? That discussion we leave to our later posts.

Coming back to Mr.Obama, this fertile idea, "out of many, one", is not about many nations but about his nation and how it wants to be, at least for some time. His use shows it clearly, and indeed his speech often highlights the nation's fight against "others", which can be catastrophic for "others", especially if that is done by mistake, so to speak. But his way of communicating such fights, while (somewhat paradoxically) appealing to patriotism truly effectively, does indicate the breadth and depth of his understanding of where we human stand now. This understanding is going to be used for effective national and foreign policy of the united states of America. But, by way of his true realism, it also indicates something beyond the boundary of one specific nation. The history is moving (we may say one of the origins of this lies in Internet itself, in particular its two core foundations, TCP/IP and the notion of Inter-networking itself).