Barnett, Peter H. Books
About the author: Peter H. Barnett holds a Ph.D in Philosophy (Columbia) and an M.A. in Computer Science (Brooklyn). He taught Philosophy at John Jay College, C.U.N.Y. from 1971 to 1992. Since then he has managed distributed computer systems in the public and private sectors. Dr. Barnett’s previous books and monographs include Two Philosophical Experiments (1977), Tools of Thought: the Practical Foundations of Formal Reasoning (1980), Time Trap (1980), Can You Tell Me How What You Are Doing Now Is To Do Something Philosophical (1980), Reciprocal Encoding-Decoding Construction (1983), and Questioning Time: A Philosophical Experiment (1996, Mellen Press).2001 0-7734-7376-9
Synchronicity characterizes many events in human life, where an outcome is predicated upon independent actions taken at the same time. People attach a special significance to the rendezvous of trapeze artists, to a spontaneous first kiss, and to uttering the same words at the same time. However, in Computer Science, especially the study of distributed systems, it is almost universally denied that there is a special class of concurrent events whereby the same result could not be obtained had the component actions occurred one after the other.
The question which motivates Artificial Time is philosophical: “are there collections of acts which can only occur if the actions take place at the same time?” Are there inherently synchronous joint actions as opposed to coincidences, which are interpreted as having special significance? If there are collections of necessarily concurrent actions, they would occur in a closed system of producer-consumers whose interdependence would emerge as a consequence of their interaction. The emergence of interdependence implies synchronization, and synchronization in turn implies real duration.
In Artificial Time the philosophical question of synchronicity is addressed experimentally in an actual distributed computing system.The first objective is to specify strict interdependence: to
design and implement a minimal experimental model in which identical, anonymous agents generate an indefinitely varied and sustained exchange of messages with one another. The most distinctive experimental findings — endlessly alternating bursts and dissipations of transmission and complex, repetitive strings which propagate in waves both before and after the bursts— are correlated with the agents’ approximation of and divergence from synchronization. Yet synchronization is neither entailed by the agent’s processing algorithm nor by their communication protocol. Emergent interdependence is empirically, as well as theoretically, linked to self-synchronization of the cluster.
The recurrent bursts and dissipations of activity among the interdependent agents are likewise correlated with the quantity of information circulating in the system. That quantity represents the size of the environment and affects the length of time it takes a message from one agent to reach another. When agents wait together, their medium contracts; when they loop together, their medium expands. The experimental design of Artificial Time is next placed within the context of the theory of concurrent events in distributed computing. While distributed computations in a mathematical sense can generally be reproduced by a single-threaded process, the author demonstrates that collective waiting and collective looping are irreducibly distributed temporal computations which manipulate both duration and sequence. The interdependent agents in this experiment inhabit a temporal environment whose shape and size they manipulate through their behavior. As the title implies, Artificial Time exhibits a self-contained temporal microcosm.
Artificial Time is addressed to philosophers interested in distributed computing, and to computer scientists interested in philosophy. Illustrated with schematic diagrams of experimental designs, graphs, and annotated samples of the results, it contains an extensive bibliography of related research in distributed computing and the logic of computation.1996 0-7734-8775-1
Peter Barnett has spent much of his philosophical career exploring alternatives to discursive argument as a means of philosophical communication. He has used diagrams, grids, sculpture, games, and practical jokes, in addition to the technique of sustained questioning.