April 08, 2008

Pattern recognition

Turing Patterns, "somewhat orderly chaos" in nature

Everything is Alive, a paper by Rudy Rucker, turned up in Google Reader today. It's seven short pdf pages, and here's a few excerpts.
Every object or process is a computation. My name for this thesis is Universal Automatism. Universal Automatism says the world is made of computations. [...]

In order to make Universal Automatism more believable, I have to use a very inclusive notion of computation. So I say that a computation is any process that obeys finitely describable rules.

Do note that, rather than saying the world is one single computation, I prefer to say that the world consists of many computations—at high and low levels. There need not be any single underlying master computation—no robot voice reciting numbers in the dark. Instead we are a seething swarm of little computations made of yet smaller computations. [....]

[My claim is] that naturally occurring computations can in fact have the richness of consciousness, for the reason that they are gnarly computations [or “somewhat orderly chaos”]. Furthermore, I argue that all naturally occurring processes are in fact complex enough to be gnarly computations. [....]

Every object or process is a gnarly computation. In many cases it's intuitively clear that nature is performing a gnarly computation: think of swaying trees, a flickering fire, the cracks in drying mud, flowing water, or even a rock. A rock? To the human eye, a rock appears not to be doing much. But viewed as a quantum computation, the rock is as lively and seething as, say, a small star. At the atomic level, a rock is like a zillion balls connected by force springs, and we know this kind of compound oscillatory system behaves chaotically.
Order and total predictability are boring, i.e. they contain little information and can be summarized very briefly. Total chaos contains too much information, and thus resists summarization. The boundary between order and chaos - "somewhat orderly chaos", in Rucker's term - is where there's enough information to be interesting, but not too much that it can't be summarized. In this passage, a summary can be taken to be an algorithm, which brings us neatly back to two posts ago.

The idea for the next few days is to observe and feel this boundary closer, surrendering to it when opportunities arise.

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