Astronomy and Pyschology Vs the Web   no comments

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Last week I said that I will explore how the web can be seen as a psychological world by which astronomy can be used to see the ‘real’ effects of this world:

In order to find the common ground between Astronomy and Psychology I will first detail the initial research agendas of the 2 disciplines.

Psychology is a science that seeks to understand behavior and mental processes, and to apply that understanding in the service of human welfare. In particular, engineering psychologists study and improve relationships between human beings and machine. With machines such as computers, it is easier to conceptualize the relationship between humans beings and machine – but when applied to the web, the idea of a machine becomes problematic. For the web is not a machine as such, Yes it is constructed and based on servers and browsers among other things, but the web itself is a combination of code that has no physical form as such. As such, cognition, an important aspect of psychology, helps us understand how the web its perceived by its users: these are the ‘mechanisms’ through which people store, receive and otherwise process information. The interaction between people and the web is a somewhat complicated idea because if you ask people what the web looks like, or what shape it is, they will refer to a cognitive map, that is the mental representation of the web. This line of thought leads me to wonder whether the web is physically  constructed  or cognitively constructed.

It is now necessary to explore the basics of astronomy to see how the idea of a physically constructed web is understood. While it may seem obvious to someone that the web is virtual, I hope that after reading the following, they will be somewhat enlightened.

Astronomers consider the entire universe as a their subject. They derive the properties of celestial objects and from those properties deduce laws by which the universe operates. Astronomers have been using observation to understand how the universe works. All of their knowledge comes from the light which is received on earth. From this light, Newton was able to invoke 3 laws which are the basis of mechanics. Briefly stating these laws:

1) A body will remain at a constant velocity unless acted on by an external force.

2) Force = Mass x Acceleration.

3) every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

When these laws are applied to celestial objects, Newton’s law of universal gravitation is the basis of celestial mechanics. According to this: “every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle of matter with a force directly proportional to the product of the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them”. Importantly the mass of an object reflects the amount of matter it contains. While this idea is easy to understand when objects have physical properties, it is somewhat inconsistent with cognitively constructed objects. However in physics there is such a thing as a point particle – this is any object which has zero-mass, zero-structural dimension and no other properties. The point is that something can exist even if it doesn’t have the conventional properties of a physically constructed object, it is just harder to conceptualize.

This is where the divide between psychology and astronomy start to blur. Okay so every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other based on mass. Since there is no mass in the ‘cognitively constructed web’, would the equivalent be information itself???? Would it be possible to say that ‘every particle of matter in the virtual web attracts every other particle of matter with a force directly proportional to the product of the information’? But what do I mean by particle? is this information at a semantic level? Could databases such as wikipedia be compared to planets??? These questions will be explored in following weeks.

For now, I want to focus on Newton’s three laws and the idea of informational attraction.

Could these three laws:

1) A body will remain at a constant velocity unless acted on by an external force.

2) Force = Mass x Acceleration.

3) every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

be used to explain:

1) the expansion of the dark web?

2) With the Arab Springs in mind: the force that a political/social uprising has = the amount of information x the acceleration (acceleration is the speed at which this information is being cognitively assimilated by individuals) [important to note here is the idea that force is a vector quantity – that means it has direction.]

3) every action in the virtual world has an equal and unidirectional reaction in the real world. (E-commerce is a sample example of the reciprocal nature on the internet)

Depending on how well I have expressed myself here, it may be possible to understand that the Web is cognitively constructed but does abide, in some way, by the basic laws of celestial mechanics. One consequence of combining psychology and astronomy is the dichotomy between subjectivity and objectivity. In this sense, astronomy is a holistic study, which consists of the total system of the universe. Arguably astronomy ‘acquaints man with his immediate surroundings as well as with what is going on in regions far removed.’ But it is important to understand that one man’s surrounding may differ from another man’s. One of the problems associated with astronomy is the problem of subjectivity – ‘one of the drawbacks of making astronomical observations by eye with or without the advantage of supplementary equipment is that they are subjective’. Astronomers try to get rid of the subject because they want to invoke laws to describe the observed with phenomena. These laws must be generalized and be applicable to any subject, thus the subject is removed. For psychology though, the subject is of paramount importance.

Next week I hope to further my explanation of the web as a cognitively constructed point mass which funnily enough shows some abidance to the laws of celestial mechanics. One prevailing idea will be whether I can deduce an Information Spectrum – similar in idea to the electromagnetic spectrum. After all, Astronomers constructed this spectrum by observing radiation they observed – equally can web scientists construct a spectrum by observing the information (sorry i hate to use such a vague word) they observe.

Written by Lawrence Green on October 29th, 2012

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