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Conversation with Chris Cole on Mathematica for Biology: Member, Mega Society


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/01/01


Chris Cole is a Member of the Mega Society. He discusses: “How To Prevent Pandemics”; Mathematica; the “profound insights into the physical world” garnered through “Mathematica and the Internet” unseen before; the pandemic; the human organism “operates on several scales at once”; the knowledge of human beings as a system of nested algorithms; and the development of a Mathematica-like system for a human being and in interaction with a virus.

Keywords: Biology, Chris Cole, Mathematica, Mega Society.

Conversation with Chris Cole on Mathematica for Biology: Member, Mega Society

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You are a professional mathematician and physicist. This interview is based on an article entitled “How To Prevent Pandemics” in Noesis issue 206 (September 2020). You stated, “As recently as the 1980s, physicists routinely referred to printed journals and textbooks to find the solutions for various mathematical problems. Frequently this was a tedious process – but that was the way physicists had always worked.” Mathematica was introduced on June 23 1988 with the most recent update on June 17 2020. Since the 1980s, and the introduction of Mathematica, what is the degree of efficiency increase from it? 

Chris Cole[1],[2]*: It’s much more than a degree of efficiency.  Many things that were previously impossible are now routine. Ignoring obvious things like solving large problems, it’s worthwhile to focus on sometimes ignored things, for example, the ability to create a computable text.  This is a text in which portions are computed in real time. The text becomes a living document as Ted Nelson envisioned when he invented hypertext.

Jacobsen: You reference “Handbook of Mathematical Functions (Abramowitz and Stegun) and Table of Integrals, Series, and Products (Gradshteyn, Ryzhik, et al.).” Were these as widely used among mathematicians in the 1980s as Mathematica today? Or were these widely used, but not nearly as much as ubiquitously as Mathematica?

Cole: Mathematica and its like are as widely used today as these reference texts were used before 1988.

Jacobsen: What are some of the “profound insights into the physical world” garnered through “Mathematica and the Internet” unseen before?

Cole: Through simulations and collaboration many aspects of the physical world have been explored to depths that were not seen before 1988 and this trend is accelerating.  Look at the Mathematica Web site ( ) for myriad examples, and that is only progress directly based on Mathematica.

Jacobsen: You wrote, “At best, there will be a year or so of suffering before the pandemic is brought under control. At worst, the virus may be with humanity for decades.” What seems like the most probable outcome between the aforementioned “best” and “worst”?

Cole: We have seen mutations of the coronavirus and the approaching herd immunity and mitigation measures such as vaccines will cause mutations to survive.  The coronavirus will be with us for a long time.

Jacobsen: As the human organism “operates on several scales at once,” what does this layered sense of networks and scales mean for the simulatability of a human being?

Cole: Physicists have evolved techniques such as effective field theory and matching to deal with multiple scales at once.  These techniques can be applied to biology.

Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, if achieved in practice, how would this change the knowledge of human beings as a system of nested algorithms, in a sense?

Cole: If we can deal with the system wholistically we can accurately model and predict the etiology of disease and the outcome of interventions.

Jacobsen: You said, “Just as Mathematica helped to solve certain problems, a biology platform which contains the details of human biology would help to prevent pandemics. Once a particular pathogen emerges from the ecosystem, its methods of operation would be analyzed and ways to prevent its spread could be synthesized.” What are current advancements in this direction know to you – to the development of a Mathematica-like system for a human being and in interaction with a virus?

Cole: Mathematica grew out of a recognition that it was not enough to solve each math problem one at a time.  What was needed was a platform so that results could be expressed in a unified way, just as the underlying mathematics is unified.  The same applies to biology.  Solving one disease at a time is not going to get you there.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Member, Mega Society.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 1, 2021:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2021:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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