Artificial Life: Insights in Simplexity and Complicity

In the nineties mathematician Ian Stewart and biologist Jack Cohen teamed up to write "The Collapse of Chaos" (Penguin, 1994). This insightful and at places very funny book explores the shortcomings of classical reductionist science, especially the so called Grand Unifying Theories (or "Theory of Everything") of physics. One of the claims the authors make is that GUTs do not take context into account and therefore are at a loss to explain how on the one hand simple "rules" can lead to highly complex and unpredictable outcomes (even in fully deterministic systems) and on the other hand complexity can lead to simple, global patterns. They illustrate this with examples from real science (mainly physics and biology) but also with (virtual) dialogues with extra-terrestrials and Ada Lovelace, the Victorian founder of computation.

Many of the points Stewart and Cohen make in the book can be found back in condensed form in the attached paper by Ian Stewart (Mathematical Recreations, 1994), which I think is a highly readable and again very funny account of some of the main issues surrounding the Theory of Anything. He illustrates these with a famous "tool-for-thought", a simulation by Chris Langton called "Langton's Ant". These and other topics concerning complexity and simplicity are important themes of the Artificial Life module taught by me and Neil Davey for undergraduate students at the UH. I will use some of the practicals (NetLogo simulations, including Langton's Ant) of the module and final year projects inspired by them to instigate a discussion about complex systems.


Date: 30/10/2015
Time: 16:00
Location: LB252

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