Who & What is YBL · Colophon

"It's that simple. If you want to do great work, you clearly must work on important problems..."

— Richard Hamming, You And Your Research (1986)

Glinda: Did you bring your broomstick with you?
Dorothy: No, I'm afraid I didn't.
Glinda: Well then, you will have to walk.

The Wizard of Oz, MGM (1939)

Yellow Brick Letters is part of the larger undertaking of unpacking and presenting Chenla Institute's core mission:

Chenla Institute's mission is study the origins, nature and future of human civilization from first principles and the development of morphogenic tools which can be used to build better possible futures for humanity.

The Yellow Brick Road is the journey taken in attempting to realize that mission. And like Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, it is a journey to an unknown destination through an "uncivilized country.""The Witch of the North seemed to think for a time, with her head bowed and her eyes upon the ground. Then she looked up and said, “I do not know where Kansas is, for I have never heard that country mentioned before. But tell me, is it a civilized country?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Dorothy.
“Then that accounts for it. In the civilized countries I believe there are no witches left, nor wizards, nor sorceresses, nor magicians. But, you see, the Land of Oz has never been civilized for we are cut off from all the rest of the world. Therefore we still have witches and wizards amongst us.
— L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
It is a kind of journey into self in which what is learned along the way, by doggedly placing one foot in front of the other, year in, year out, is more important that what lies at its end. All futures are horizons forever receding as we approach them. We may never arrive, but we have the power to choose which horizons we chase in the hope that when we are gone we leave behind a world with better horizons than the one we were born into.

Scientific journals began as the publication of correspondance from scientists to the scientific community. We still see vestiges of this legacy in the names of journals such as Physical Letters. And it should be noted that Watson and Crick's famous Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic AcidWatson, J. D., & Crick, F. H. C., Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid, Nature, 171(4356), 737–738 (1953).
doi: 10.1038/171737a0
which introduced the world to the double helix and earned them a Nobel prize was published as a three page letter in the journal Nature in 1953. A substantial amount of early scientific publishing was made up of brief letters which might include an observation that a scientist wanted to share, or a brief report on the progress of an expedition or archeological excavation in some distant corner of the world. Publishing was not always as formal or polished as it has come to be today.

Journals still publish letters, but they differ from papers only in length and may still—though not always—go through peer review before being published. The sense of adventure and excitement at sharing the messy practice of science in the development of ideas and theories is now buried in layers of jargon, professionalism and stifled by the relentless institutional pressure to publish in prestigious journals.

We hope to recapture some of the spirit of sharing works-in-progress, even if you are sometimes only throwing speghetti against to wall to see what sticks. Yellow Brick Letters is where dispatches, letters, and formal findings sent from the road are collected, put into some semblance of order and published. Taken together they form a kind of first draft of the material that will eventually be—to use the nomenclature of literate programing—woven into books and tangled into running codeKnuth, D. E., Literate Programming, The Computer Journal, 27(2), 97–111 (1984). doi: 10.1093/comjnl/27.2.97 which provide feedback loops for helping us to collectively guide and build social systems which are larger and wiser than is possible by any one of us alone.