One of the more captivating individuals I’ve run into was Stuart Kauffman, who at the time I was living in Philadelphia was one of the faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania. He was an expert at taking ideas in biology and giving them an intriguing mathematical context. For example, he once gave a speech in which he described evolution in the language of optimization theory, and in which evolution was itself an optimization algorithm operating on the space of morphological form, that space being a very rugged landscape. And it does make sense, in that you see wildly diverging forms in the Cambrian period (as the algorithm perhaps is dipping in and out of local minima) and then, as certain forms become preferred, the diversity is ever more locked out.

If you riff off these kinds of ideas, and think of restaurants as elements in a three dimensional space, with price being the X axis, reputation being the Y axis, and quality being the Z axis, then you can think of the action of food bloggers as a kind of exploration of that space, though clearly there is an element of random optimization in such a view. Yes, food blogging viewed collectively is an optimization process.

It’s not entirely a random search. Surely the exploration of the space tends to cluster on low price and high reputation, with searchers looking for quality at every point. And individual searchers are hardly random: they’re looking for certain kinds of food purposefully. Still, collectively, the actions can be viewed as random and in that context, the bloggers of food are a component in getting a whole community to the “best possible food” (whatever that is).