Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Emergence, Week 6

Paul Grobstein's picture

Welcome to the on-line forum associated with the Biology 361 = Computer Science 361 at Bryn Mawr College. Its a way to keep conversations going between course meetings, and to do so in a way that makes our conversations available to other who may in turn have interesting thoughts to contribute to them. Leave whatever thoughts in progress you think might be useful to others, see what other people are thinking, and add thoughts that that in turn generates in you.

As always, you can leave whatever thoughts occurred to you this week. But if you need something to get you started ...

Reactons to Ways of Making Sense of the World ?  To the universe as a non-deterministic system?  To changing ways of modeling/doing research along those lines?

ssv's picture

Code from Today's Class

globals[ visited ]

to setup
crt 1

to go
ask turtles [ set pcolor yellow
rt random 360
fd 1]

to update
set visited count patches with [pcolor = yellow]
plotxy ticks (visited / ((2 * max-pxcor + 1) * (2 * max-pycor + 1 )) * 100)

ssv's picture


I agree with Evan above.  I like the idea of both approaches.  I've been thinking that either way we go (deterministic or non-deterministic), it just relies on the human and whether or not we can understand it or not.  Piecing it together is the hardest part for us, ultimately.  Where do those two different worlds/organizational patterns collide?   I really have been thinking/enjoy thinking in an abstract way.  I recall saying this a long time ago, probably when class first started, but sometimes the problem with humans is that we look too much into detail and less into the bigger picture, which I think requires greater understanding.  But now, I'm just running into more philosophy! :)  I do hope we talk more about this though. 
evanstiegel's picture

I like the non-deterministic

I like the non-deterministic approach the most.  There are so many examples of randomness in science- more so I believe than ordered phenomena.  At first when observing the world around you, you might think that organization dominates.  But when you examine the essense of what we perceive as organized, these things are often based in random disorganized phenomena.  Like Kathy mentioned, what we perceive as random could in fact possess an inherent pattern that we can not process.  This can go both ways though.  What if something we perceive as organized is actually random.  Sounds absurd, but there is a huge gap between what actually is and what each unique human mind perceives as what is.  It has been mentioned that in the non-deterministic model that ordered phenomena can be a result of randomness. This can be true, but what if all organization is a temporary state in the process of becoming more random.  This is a bit all over the place, but some things I've been thinking about....
jguillen's picture

From our last class, I

From our last class, I found it very interesting to talk about the fact that there is a lot of incomputable stuff out there and that even though we are deeply impressed with deterministic systems, they can only do so much.

As far as making sense of the world, I think that the question of the relationship between disorganization and pattern is very important and one that will lead us to more questions than actual answers. Thinking about disorganization is very important to the discussion of emergence because it can help us to better understand and explain emerging elements as well as influence our thoughts on the implications of complexity.  

We agree that we live in a world that presents patterns of both organized and disorganized elements. The more that we talk about disorganization, the more that we are realizing that it is an important element and not necessarily a secondary product.

The "Ways of Making Sense of the World" exhibit provides us with three different approaches to making sense of the world which include:

  • 1) Primal spatial patterns as the explanation for all organization and these patterns need to be uncovered by removing obscuring disorganization
  • 2) "deterministic emergence"-pattern and disorganization are the outcome of historical processes that basically follow simple and well-defined deterministic rules AND seeks to determine the starting conditions and rules which yield the current observation
  • 3) "Non-deterministic emergence" - Disorganization as the result of random (non-deterministic) processes that are a starting point as well as a continuing contributor to the historical process

In each approach there is a different goal, perception of time, and a status of organization. All of these approaches provide us with a different inquiry, but I'm wondering what other approaches have been proposed. I agree that the idea here is not to choose the "best" approach, but instead to accept them all as possibilities and to find a value in the relationship between them. As the exhibit mentions, "But perhaps inquiry isn't in fact about finding answers but instead about finding questions", and I agree.  Ultimately, this shows that one approach is simply insufficient in explaining the concept of disorganization.

Something that I found to be really interesting from the "Ways of Making Sense of the World" exhibit was the fact that it mentions that the "human brain has evolved to find patterns and so one's judgment that something is disorganized because it has not pattern is not a very reliable one", because it brings up a very important point about the importance of human judgment in determining and explaining what is disorganized. Everyone is going to have a different view on what shows disorganization and so I think that this adds another level of complexity to the discussion of disorganization.

EMR's picture

Ways of not necessarily making much sense at all

Sahitya mentioned the link between evolution and randomness, which I have been thinking about as I read The Blind Watchmaker (note to a Serendip admin- the publication date for The Blind Watchmaker on this page is incorrect; should be 1986, not 1996). The perception of evolution and, more specifically, natural selection as a 'random' process has caused a great deal of misunderstanding and incredulity, especially among those who seek any opportunity to exploit 'flaws' in Darwinian theory. These would-be detractors misunderstand natural selection as a 'random' process, and therefore incredulously suggest that natural selection would suppose highly ordered, complex mechanisms such as the human eye to be merely products of random mutation and genetic shuffling. Their incredulity is perfectly founded, but their understanding of the theory of natural selection has a fatal flaw: while Darwin and followers suggest that mutation and other genetic novelties are random, while the process of natural selection itself is anything but random. Random mutations etc. are thrown into the 'sieve' of natural selection, and those that are adaptive (or at least not detrimental) pass through. Thus, natural selection sorts a random input into two classes, and it is this order which causes evolution to produce adaptations. But what of the filter of natural selection? Is it random? Is it an unavoidable consequence of natural or physical laws? Is it different from, say, gravity, which tends to filter materials in a gradient based on density? It would seem to me that it is no different from gravity: although it cannot be quantified in the same way, it can take a random input class and sort it into an ordered output. The point I suppose I'm making is that 'filters' seem to bridge the gap between randomness and order, or that may at least be an interesting line of reasoning to pursue.
Sahitya P.'s picture

thoughts on Ways of Making Sense of the World

After reading “Ways of Making Sense of the World” what I got from the article was that the third approach “non-deterministic emergence” has certain advantages as a paradigm because it offers a useful outlook on disorganization/randomness which the first approach “primal patterns” and second approach “deterministic emergence” do not.  By  defining randomness as noise which obscures underlying patterns  or  viewing it merely as a surprising outcome of deterministic processes,  I think we are limiting the importance randomness has in the way we view the world. Non-deterministic emergence, which takes into account the idea that “randomness is inherent” rather than “a byproduct of a deterministic system,” is significant because it implies that randomness is an important starting element.  Since randomness allows for the generation of more possibilities it seems to me that it would offer greater scope in exploration as the article suggests.  This view of “randomness yielding possibilities/ patterns” is not so surprising at least in terms of evolution since random mutations that arise in a population generate change and allow for evolution to occur. If as the article states “randomness can produce any kind of order one might be interested in” what determines what order/patterns are produced?  If there are an infinite number of possibilities why do we see the patterns we see in our world? Is there a tendency toward stable forms / patterns?

Marwa's picture

Ways of Making Sense of the World

I was looking at the model of cellular automaton generated in a nine element array that was posted in the article. /exchange/ca/applet1 I was comparing it to the cellular automata model in Netlogo with a 128 by 64 window. I am sure we all knew that the window size makes a big difference on how the patterns look, but I only realized how vast that difference is after I did this comparison. You should all try it too! Take a look at rule 115 for instance.

Other than that, what I probably found most interesting in the reading “Ways of Making Sense of the World” is the comparison and/or relation made between deterministic systems and randomness. Deterministic models generates statistically random patterns, and at the same time, they are limited in their generative capability. Non-deterministic models have randomness inherent. At the same time, there is the presumption that randomness is a by-product of deterministic system.

Deterministic systems, as exemplified by Wolfram's analysis of cellular automata, have enormous generative power, including the ability to generate statistically random patterns. And there is clearly explanatory power in presuming deterministic systems as a foundation for inquiry. At the same time, deterministic systems are clearly limited in their generative capabilities (see also Chaitin). Non-deterministic emergence, in which randomness is inherent in the universe, would yield phenomena difficult to make sense of using forms of inquiry that start from a presumption that randomness is itself a by-product of deterministic emergence. Accepting genuine randomness as a significant causal element in its own right may in this case be a more effective perspective for inquiry.” (Ways of Making Sense of the World: Non-deterministic emergence).

kdilliplan's picture

Randomness and Patterns

This week, I have been thinking a lot about randomness and the role of disorder in emergence and the universe.  The “Ways of Making Sense of the World” exhibit asks whether it is randomness that yields pattern rather than randomness being something that obscures patterns.  The idea of randomness yielding patterns is exemplified by the random motion of atoms that can give rise to recognizable and predictable patterns in the form of molecules or reactions.  The idea of randomness obscuring patterns is what we see in many of the Cellular Automata rules, especially rule 30, which has some areas that create patterns and others that seem random.  Arguments can be made for both ideas.  Either way, I am curious as to why it is, if disorder is so linked to patterns, it is the natural tendency of systems to move from a highly ordered to a less highly ordered state.  I also wonder whether things that we interpret as random are just complex patterns we can’t recognize.  Is it really accurate to say that a system is deterministic, if by saying it is deterministic we mean it behaves the exact same way every time, when it is impossible to know the outcomes of infinite runs of the system.  Is it more accurate to say that something is not behaving non-deterministic?  This is similar to the halting problem we discussed briefly.  We can say that something comes to an end if we observe it doing so, but we can’t safely assume something won’t stop just because it hasn’t yet.  Should we assume that something is deterministic until it is proven non-deterministic, or vice versa, just like we’re supposed to assume someone is innocent until proven guilty?