The Great Chains of Computing: Informatics at Multiple Scales

  • Kevin Kirby
  • James Walden
  • Rudy Garns
  • Maureen Doyle
Keywords: Scale, informatics, transdisciplinarity, universality, natural computation


The perspective from which information processing is pervasive in the universe has proven to be an increasingly productive one. Phenomena from the quantum level to social networks have commonalities that can be usefully explicated using principles of informatics. We argue that the notion of scale is particularly salient here. An appreciation of what is invariant and what is emergent across scales, and of the variety of different types of scales, establishes a useful foundation for the transdiscipline of informatics. We survey the notion of scale and use it to explore the characteristic features of information statics (data), kinematics (communication), and dynamics (processing). We then explore the analogy to the principles of plenitude and continuity that feature in Western thought, under the name of the "great chain of being", from Plato through Leibniz and beyond, and show that the pancomputational turn is a modern counterpart of this ruling idea. We conclude by arguing that this broader perspective can enhance informatics pedagogy.

Author Biographies

Kevin Kirby
Kevin Kirby Evan and Lindsay Stein Professor of Biocomputing and Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Northern Kentucky University, Kirby earned his PhD in Computer Science under Michael Conrad at Wayne State University in 1988. He co- edited the proceedings of the FIS 1996 conference and presented at the FIS 2005 conference in Paris.
James Walden
James Walden Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Northern Kentucky University, Walden earned his PhD in particle physics at Carnegie Mellon University, and worked for Intel Corporation. His current research centers on secure software engineering.
Rudy Garns
Rudy Garns Associate Professor of Philosophy at Northern Kentucky University, Garns earned his PhD in philosophy under William Alston at Syracuse University in 1989. His current research interests include the philosophy of mind and information
Maureen Doyle
Maureen Doyle Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Northern Kentucky University, Doyle earned her PhD in computational mathematics at Stanford University. Her current research centers on software engineering and pedagogy.
Special Issue: Towards a New Science of Information