Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mathematical Miracles

Fractals and Strange Attractors are mathematical equations (some quite simple) that can demonstrate Infinite complexity (the Mandelbrot set is an example of infinite complexity from the equation z -> z^2 + c iterated over the complex plane) and emergent order through a process of iteration. Furthermore, these equations model exactly the type of signals and structure we observe in the universe.

Another type of computational model is that of the cellular automata. Two special types of behavior that can be observed to emerge from even simple cellular automata is that of Self-Replication and Universal Computation, which means that simple cellular automata can be setup to perform arbitrarily complex calculations, including all of mathematics.

These blindingly simple cellular automata can contain self-replicating structures which are subject to mutation and selection pressures and can therefore evolve over time into more complex structures that (given enough processing power) could express intelligence and such constructs would give the appearance of design where non-existed.

And this doesn't require a stochastic (random) process at all, the mutational factors are built into the structure, operating according to the exact same laws.

There need not be anything 'random' about 'random' mutation either. Indeed, even in our world we label things as 'random' merely because they are beyond our ability to predict. Not for reasons that they cannot be predicted (with the possible exception of Quantum Mechanical processes but it is not demonstrated that Quantum Mechanics is purely random!)

That such beautiful order and complexity emerge from such simple, rigid, deterministic computational processes is one of the many reasons that I believe the universe is NOT a place filled with agency constantly violating the otherwise natural processes.

One might be inclined to ponder, "but who created this order" but that in turn would beg the question of who created the creator. At some point, the buck has to stop and I firmly believe that Thomas Aquinas made some wonderful arguments for the 13th century but they are just that. Ideas limited by the 13th century understanding of the universe, before we had knowledge about fractals, and chemistry, and DNA, and cosmology, and abiogenesis, and evolution, and computers, and quantum mechanics (and the inherit limits it places on the world).

To grant this extra-agency all the power strips it away from where it belongs, with the Universe itself - whatever that ultimately is.

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