Complexity hidden in simplicity - how nature creates such mind-boggling complexity was thought to be through, well, mind boggling complexity. Turns out that a new (ish) paradigm uproots the Newtonian/Gallilean maths and equations one, and instead we must now turn our telescopes towards programs. Simple ones.
It is here we find a little epiphany, without seeming triumphant we could call it the same sort Gallileo had. I know it’s bombastic - but listen:
Take ‘Rule 30’ for example. The first black sheep code that didn’t behave. Its rules for behaviour were set, starting from one single black cell, which has the code to determine the colours of those next to it. Easy. Predictable. Uh-uh! From rules rose chaos, unpredictability and strange patterns - and this made no sense.
It was as if there was another level of complexity that standard mathematics couldn’t encapsulate, a flash of light that illuminated a sprawling, creepy forest on our doorsteps that we didn’t know was there.
Here’s rule 30 in program format, and at the bottom you can see it occurring naturally - for thousands of years before we discovered it - in a common snail shell:
This new computational worldview of misbehaving outputs formed ‘Mathematica’ (a term coined by Steve Jobs), and its bigger, bolder little brother ‘Wolfram Alpha’ they’re what’s behind Siri - the seemingly sentient Iphone4 assistant. Building blocks of tiny pieces of code found to have an exponentially large function are stuck together to form massive potential for programming - with little input.
Its implications for the current paradigm aren’t a deal breaker, they just show a real eye for detail - detail we thought would just be more of the same, binary, bits, molecules, smaller pieces of the same stuff. These creatures have hidden extras.
He says that more mining of these programs for suitable projects will create glorious oxymorons as ‘mass customisation’ or ‘technology with imagination’; simplicity reveals massive layers of complexity in the universe.
Plus, Stephen Wolfram is a fascinating subversive, charlatan sort of guy of the highest order; considered a brilliant naughty-boy at Eton he never graduated from Oxford, considering it “awful” he was awarded his doctorate at 20. I’d call him a maverick, but I really hate that word.
He’s watching and learning from the living breathing world that is programming, and he’s finding out how to uncover different sorts of ‘truths’ from the computational universe. I hesitate to use the word ‘truths’, because what lies beneath is always another paradigm shift - but it’s fascinating to consider from whence this complexity comes.
And to where it’s going.