Eric Baum was a fellow physics student both at Harvard and Princeton, completing his Ph.D. in the early 1980s on a topic in quantum gravity. During his years as a physics postdoc he came up with an argument for why the cosmological constant is so small that is sometimes referred to as the “Hawking-Baum” argument. He finally left physics, joining NEC Research in Princeton to work in cognitive science.
His point of view on cognitive science is very much that of a physicist, emphasizing the way the brain encodes a very compact understanding of how the world works that has been made possible by the huge amount of computation and experiment that has taken place during the evolution of the human organism. One thing that most impressed me about the book is the underlying theme that he refers to as his version of Occam’s razor and summarizes as follows:
“mind is a complex but still compact program that captures and exploits the underlying compact structure of the world.”
To understand something about the world is to capture its features in a compact subroutine that allows one to effectively interact with it. This is clearly related to what theoretical physicists mean when they discuss the “beauty” or “elegance” of the fundamental equations and concepts that they are exploiting. So, if you have an interest in cognitive science, and enough interest in physics to be reading this weblog, I recommend heartily that you find yourself a copy of Eric’s book.