Biology 361 = Computer Science 361
Bryn Mawr College
Spring 2006

Emergence: A Computational/Cognitive Perspective

Doug Blank
18 January 2006


Monday's class:
  • Ways/reasons to engage with "emergence"
  • Computers as telescope/microscope for exploring emergence
  • Computer modeling in the emergence context

Questions that emergence might help answer

  1. What is intelligence?
    • I know it when I see it...
    • ...Yes, but can we create it?
    • Like Data from StarTrek (or The Terminator)
    • Logical, rational, unemotional
    • That seems the right approach for programming calculators, but what about creative, imaginative thinking!
    • Too complex to program. What about machine learning?
    • Artificial Neural Networks and Evolutionary Systems
    • Robotics
    • Developmental Robotics
    • ... but that has lead me to ask what motivates such a system? What drives it? Which leads to a bigger question...
  2. What is life?
    • Goopy, slimy, reproducing stuff
    • Is "John Conway's Game of Life" somehow really related to "life"?
  3. What is computation? What kinds of things can compute?
  4. What does it mean for something to be complex?
  5. Why have some lifeforms evolved to be complex? What drives the increase in complexity?
  6. How does evolution work in the abstract?
  7. How does the brain think? Could a computer think?
  8. In what way does the brain represent things?
  9. What is consciousness? Could a computer have it?
  10. What is the relationship between neurons firing and logic?
  11. What is the relationship between neurons, ants, sand piles, sea shells, rumors, cities, water, viruses, ...?
  12. Can Sociology be reduced to Biology? Can Biology be reduced to Chemistry? Can Chemistry be reduced to Classical Physics? Can Classical Physics be reduced to Quantum Physics? Or is there something "real" about each of these "levels" that defies reduction?
  13. What is a level, and how is it related to the level below it?
  14. There's no such thing as a "rabbit"; there are only molecules there!
    There's no such thing as a "molecule"; there are only atoms there!
    There's no such thing as an "atom"; there are only quarks there!
  15. Where do you find emergence?
    1. Nowhere. It is a figment of your imagination.
    2. Only in rare, special instances.
    3. In many places.
    4. Everywhere. Emergence is a property of the universe.
    5. All of the above.

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