12 May 2011

Circuit City

I completely disassembled (not to be confused with dissembled) an old, broken laptop yesterday. Her name was Abigail, may she rest in pieces. At any rate, I was astounded to see how closely a circuit board resembles (not to be confused with reassembles) a miniature city--the myriad processors and etchings and pins like roads and buildings and topography. My cellphone photo doesn't really do this justice, but reminds me of something I read about recursive structure, by David Gelernter:
A structure is recursive if the shape of the whole recurs in the shape of the parts: for example, a circle formed of welded links that are circles themselves. Each circular link might itself be made of smaller circles, and in principle you could have an unbounded nest of circles made of circles made of circles....
Benoit Mandelbrot famously recognized that some parts of nature show recursive structure of a sort: a typical coastline shows the same shape or pattern whether you look from six inches or sixty feet or six miles away.
And so with the microscopic insides of a laptop, which mirrors what I see when flying thousands of feet over the planet. It is a strange and beautiful world we live in.

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