can’t see the forest

Following Rules is for Squares

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Over ten years ago, Mitchel Resnick and Brian Silverman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came up with an interesting software demonstration of the phenomenon of emergence. Emergence is loosely defined as the appearance of complex architecture or behavior that follows from simple rules, and is a cornerstone of most conceptions of biological evolution. Evolutionists believe that the preponderance of evidence suggests the sufficiency of emergence as a driver for adaptation, that no appeal to a ‘watchmaker’ of super-humanesque intelligence is necessary.

In their demonstration, Resnick and Silverman work with a black, two-dimensional plane composed of small squares which can ‘turn on’ (turn white) according to the action of a very few simple rules upon some initial state. In one example, ‘Seed’ rules are applied: a square turns off if it is on, and a square turns on if exactly two of its eight neighbors are on. One can begin with a very simple pattern, start the engine, and end up with a dizzying array of gliders, blinkers, and asymmetric noise. A slightly more complex set of rules, called ‘Life’ and invented by John Conway in 1970, produces more intricate and unstable patterns.

As the researchers point out, one very interesting aspect of these simulations is that the strange patterns and shapes created through these rudimentary interactions exist only in the mind of the observer—in reality, it’s just a bunch of intermingling black and white squares. The suggestion is that much of what we perceive as reality may be a secondary, artificial construct.

If your browser is Java-capable, you should be able to walk through the site in just a few minutes. Be forewarned, though: it’s hip to be square, and awfully addictive.

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