Why the Universe may be a Computer afterall: Genetic Algorithms, Cellular Automata, and Rule 110

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posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 10:00 AM
I came across this interesting piece of information while reading today. I believe this information is important when considering the science vs religion debate. The two main researchers im going to discuss are stephen wolfram who researches cellular automata (Rule 110) and edward fredkin Who researched his theory of digital physics. Bare with me as I explain this, it will be a long post, but surely worth it if you find this type of thing interesting.

Stephen Wolfram provides extensive evidence to show how increasing complexity can originate from a universe that at its core is a deterministic, algorithmic system (a system based on fixed ruled with a predetermined outcome).

First we must understand what a cellular automaton is.

is a discrete model studied in computability theory, mathematics, physics, complexity science, theoretical biology and microstructure modeling. It consists of a regular grid of cells, each in one of a finite number of states, such as "On" and "Off"

"A simple computation mechanism that, for example, changed the color of each cell on a grid based on the color of adjacent or nearby cells according to a transformation rule... The process involves repetitive application of a very simple rule. From such repetitive and deterministic process, one would expect repetitive and predictable behavior... There are two surprising results here"
its basically trying to model how plants build themselves.

There are 4 classes of cellular automata.
class 1 - produces basic checkerboard patterns
class 2 - produces arbitrarily spaces streaks
class 3 - starts to become more interesting as recognizable features such as triangles appear in the pattern in random order
class 4 - the most famous example being Rule 110. This one however produced the "aha experience". and resulted in wolfram dedicating over a decade to this topic. Class 4 rules produce surprisingly complex patterns that do not repeat themselves. We see in them many different types of artifacts however the pattern is neither regular nor completely random; it appears to have some order but is never predictable.

Exampl of Rule 110

Why is this important? Keep in mind we began with the simplest starting point: a single black cell. the process involves repetitive application of a very simple rule. From such a basic rule we see complex and interesting features that shows some order and apparent intelligence.
Localized structures appear and interact in various complicated-looking ways

Wolfram makes the following point repeatedly: "whenever a phenomena is encountered that seems complex it is taken almost for granted that the phenomenon must be the result of of some underlying mechanism that is itself complex. By my discovery that simple programs can produce great complexity makes it clear that this is not in fact correct. Furthermore, the idea tha a completely deterministic process can produce results that are completely unpredictable is of great important, as it provides an explanation for how the world can be inherently unpredictable while still based on fully deterministic rules. We also see these same principles at work with fractals, chaos, and complexity theory, and self-organizing systems such as neural nets, which start with a simple network but organize themselves to produce apparently intelligent behavior. at a different level we see it in the human brain itself, which starts with only about 30-100 million bytes of specification in the compressed genome yet ends up with a complexity that is about a billion times greater.

To put this in contrast, the number of bits (DNA) needed to create the brain is LESS than the number of bits it takes to describe Your microsoft word program!

In 2000, matthew cook verified a 1985 conjecture by Stephen Wolfram by proving that Rule 110 is Turing complete, i.e., capable of universal computation. Among the 256 possible elementary cellular automata, Rule 110 is the only one for which this has been proven.

And thats why this is important.
"In computability theory, a collection of data-manipulation rules (an instruction set, programming language, or cellular automaton) is said to be Turing Complete when the rules followed in sequence on arbitrary data can produce the result of any calculation. A device with a Turing complete instruction set is the definition of a universal computer. To be Turing complete, it is enough to have conditional branching (an "if" and "goto" statement), and the ability to change memory."

However, rule 110 by itself isn't enough by itself to explain insect, humans, and chopin for example. Rules 110 can help explain how living things build networked structures though*.
But what happens when we add another simple concept - An evolution or genetic algorithm?
A genetic algorithm can start with randomly generated potential solutions to a problem, which are encoded in digital genetic code. we then have solutions compete with one anoher in a simulated evolutionary battles. the better solutions survive and procreate in a simulated sexual reproduction in which offspring solutions are created, drawing their genetic code (encoded solutions) from two parents. We can also add in other variables such as, rate of genetic mutation or rate of offspring and are called "god parameters". It is the job of the engineer designing the evolutionary algorithm to set them at reasonably optimal values. the process is run for many thousand generations of simulated evolution and at the end of the process of will find solutions that are of a distinctly higher order than the starting ones.

In 1948, Norbert Wiener heralded a fundamental change in the focus of science from energy to information with his book cybernetics. He suggested that transformation of information, not energy was the fundamental building block

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 10:03 AM
Wiener, famous child prodigy, is the founder of cybernetics, a field that formalizes the notion of feedback, with many implications for engineering, systems control, computer science, biology, philosophy, and the organization of society.

Edward Fredkin proposed a new theory of physics founded on the idea that the universe is ultimately composed of software. We should not think of reality as consisting of particles and forces, but rather as bits of data modified according to computation rules. Fredkin went on to show that although energy is needed for information storage and retrieval, we can arbitrarily reduce the energy needed to perform any particular example of information processing, and that this operation has no lower limit. That implies that information, rather than matter and energy, may be regarded are the more fundamental reality.

This, indeed is a basic difference between the analytical approach associated with traditional mathematics, and the computational approach associated with algorithms. you can predict a future state of a system susceptible to the analytic approach without figuring out what states it will occupy BETWEEN them. But in the case of cellular automata, you must go through all of the intermediate states to find out what the end will be like: there is no way to know the future except to watch it unfold. There is no way to know the answer to some question any faster than whats going on.

Fredkin" There are three great philosohpical questions. what is life? what is consciousness and thinking and memory and all that? And how does the universe work? the informational viewpoint encompasses all three. What im saying is that at the most basic level of complexity and information process runs wht we think of as physics. at much higher levels of complexity, life, DNA, the biochemical process. Then at another level, our thought processes are basically information processing. fredkin believes that the universe is very literally a computer and that it is being used by someone, or something, to solve a problem. It sounds like a good-news/bad-news joke: the good news is that our lives have purpose; the bad news is that their purpose to help some remote hacker estimate pi to nine jillion decimal places.

-The singularity is near, Ray Kurzweil

[edit on 4/14/2010 by VonDoomen]

[edit on 4/14/2010 by VonDoomen]

[edit on 4/14/2010 by VonDoomen]

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 10:09 AM
My post isn't going to do your thread justice, but this is very interesting information.

I'm going to study it a bit more, but this may explain a missing link for me which is the issue of irreducibly complex systems, such as the bacterial flagellum.

Great find! S & F!

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 10:21 AM
reply to post by lpowell0627

thank you! and as always, a small post is better than no post!

This does seem to provide a missing link in the science vs religion debate, however, as with most new discoveries, it did not settle the debate, but only made it deeper.

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 12:21 PM
Nice succinct view of an area I spent a few decades living.

Turing was like 1937. Neural networks date back to at least 1977 on paper.
We're feeling the implications of Weiner's work every day as basic research into the building blocks lags behind - in Norbert's day he was ahead of the curve, today we haven't discovered how to measure the phenomena we are experiencing much less postulate the impact.

We didn't get where we are today - our technology based society - based on a rational plan reflecting quality research and thoughtful insightful direction - "we were driven by the market"!


posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 04:37 PM

Its almost mathematical certainty that we are virtual.

As for were in a computer being used to solve a problem that sounds very Douglas Adams.

a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Unfortunately, The Ultimate Question itself is unknown.

Excellent read OP. Thanks for sharing. S&F

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 04:53 PM
I have only read the OP. But i have to say, this is the single best thread on ATS right now.


Payment of a single "flag" and a "star" for each post in the OP seems like a paltry tithe for such exquisite information.

Thank you for sharing. I shall return.

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 05:08 PM
OP - I think you are on the right track - but I believe you should expand your definition of a computer.

I firmly believe that God is the first sentient in this (and possibly a previous universe) and that "he" IS the "computer" who set up all the initial states and variables and rules of this current Universe that we experience.

This is as perfectly sound a scientific a theory about the existance of the "anthropic" principle as is the multiverse explanation favored by many physicists.

I personally, however, believe the God as "Computer/Universe" theory has more elegance - and perhaps is a better fit of Occams Razor - all things being equal.

Right or wrong these mathematical representations of our Universe are certainly worth further investigation.

I agree with Wolfram that we should be putting money into creating virtual Universes - whose inhabitants we could one day perhaps communicate with.

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 05:11 PM
The number PI is something that is deterministic but completely unpredictable. We have calculated billions of digits but we haven't find a pattern yet.

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 05:14 PM
great thread substance!!

This is why i come here..

I will study it on a morning after not relaxing my brain and killing some brain cells with my oats and barley!!!!

thank you..

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 05:18 PM
reply to post by VonDoomen

It does make it deeper to the extent of being able to fathom where intelligent design originates. Painting the universe as a computer slightly veers away from the religious aspect, but then again, who's at the keyboard?

posted on Apr, 14 2010 @ 10:31 PM
I will need to meditate on some of the deeper aspects of this thread to begin to digest it. In the meantime, the concept will likely haunt me until i can get to that point.

If i understand this right, then the concept here is that information is the base, being necessary before you can get to the whole part of matter/energy. If this is correct, then it would imply that information is existent everywhere in the universe, as energy and matter exists just about everywhere, if even only the kinetic version. Some of the modern studies into the concept of "aether" are intriguing...but i digress.

It would stand to reason that whereever information is, computing power exists as well. The implications of the concepts of "free energy" become that much more bold. To tap into this energy source would be a door into the information source. To be able to tap this could lead to being able to access information regarding the universe, and things that have happened within it (a la "Akashic Records"), as well as possibly being able to utilize some of that computing power.

Truly, the implications would be staggering. Just getting my head around it may be more than i am capable of.

posted on Apr, 15 2010 @ 05:55 PM
reply to post by bigfatfurrytexan

I have to agree wholeheartedly! Best thread on ATS.



Well done OP. Absolutely fascinating!

I only had time to read it rather quickly so I will go through it again, but what this implies is absolutely mind boggling! I will post again after I've had time to read it carefully!

posted on Apr, 15 2010 @ 09:54 PM
reply to post by bigfatfurrytexan

reply to post by DaMod

thanks for the encouragement! That's why I make my articles. some of it isnt really "news" but its little pieces of information that seem very important to figuring out whats going on! If anyone has any questions, let me know, and i will try my best to answer them!

posted on Apr, 15 2010 @ 10:00 PM
reply to post by TruthMagnet

I would agree to an extent what you are saying.
Everyone has their own version of what "God" is. I keep it as simple as possible, it is that which is responsible for existence. then the question doesn't become is there a god or not? but it becomes what is god? You have to admit there are many uncanny similarities to reality and a computer.

posted on Apr, 15 2010 @ 10:05 PM
reply to post by lpowell0627

My reply to you will not clear up anything, but surely make it even more bizarre.
in my opinion, when most people ponder the universe, they think of something that is infinite. what does infinite mean? any and all information possible. Now just by definition, that would mean that some part of that would have to be aescetic, and look good to the human eye. so like my OP stated, rule 110 out of 258 possible rules is the only one that had the "uniqueness" but thats my point. Somewhere out of ALL possibility, there is something which works. so does that erase god? and replace it with that fact that with all of this "possibility" there was something that had to work? I dont know.

But lets not forget, if we take "infinite" as a golden rule, then "god" is somewhere in there too!

[edit on 4/15/2010 by VonDoomen]

posted on Apr, 15 2010 @ 10:13 PM
reply to post by bigfatfurrytexan

in my opinion, yes information/and or consciousness (cant have one without the other) is the basic building block. In fact im fairly certain of this. Think about it. Even the smallest piece of reality we can grasp, is made of???: Information. Think of how much information ties into describing even the most Basic of fundamental reality?

lets look at some basic definitions of "information"
1. knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance;
2. (in information theory) an indication of the number of possible choices of messages, expressible as the value of some monotonic function of the number of choices
3. data at any stage of processing (input, output, storage, transmission, etc.).

Information is that which makes up ANYTHING we look at. Think about it, anything we see is visual information, anything we hear is auditorial information. Everything IS information!

to be more clear. I challenge someone to prove me wrong. come up with the smallest piece of reality we can think of, and tell me there isn't more than 1 piece of information we can use to describe it. Its impossible, everything is made up of multiple piece of information!

[edit on 4/15/2010 by VonDoomen]

posted on Apr, 15 2010 @ 10:36 PM
also, to help put this in perspective of how much little information was needed to do this.

thanks to lightfantastic -

Originally posted by LightFantastic

Basically if the bits above the selected cell are as in the table, the selected cell becomes as shown in the table:

For Example


N would become 0


N would become 1


N would become 0

The rule numbers are simply a result of all combinations for the 8 center cell states in the bottom of the table - 2^8 but are known as rules...

[edit on 4/16/2010 by VonDoomen]

posted on Apr, 15 2010 @ 11:13 PM
oh how interesting!
it kinda jives with my idea that we are wearing encounter suits that let us interact with this particular physical dimension, and the junk dna is a recording device that reports our thoughts, actions and biological functions of the encounter suit. in turn, it acts like an akashic library bit of our sojourn here.

[edit on 15-4-2010 by undo]

posted on Apr, 15 2010 @ 11:56 PM
Since i read about that test that might indicate a holographic universe, i have considered the following as a way to allow my mind to wander in more abstract ways:

Our universe is a holographic representation, projected on a "flat" 3 dimensional space, issued from the 4th dimensional space of "in".

It is hard to discuss these types of things, as each person kind of has to come up with their own way to wrap their mind around it. So my terminology may be completely defunct when applied to someone else. :0

But consider a sphere. Inside the sphere is "in", while outside the sphere is "out". If you can apply this concept to a tetradimensional type of idea, then you would have an ability for our reality to be a 3d projection, issued from tetraspace.

To describe what i mean by "in": 3d is "up/down", "forward'backward", "left/right". A 4th direction would be "in/out". I often wonder if, in such a system, gravity could be a tetradimensional force of attraction, transduced from the EM spectrums interaction in that same dimension?

On a sidenote, another idea i grapple with is, what if this 4th dimension is a temporal dimension? This would mean that we move from one "frame" of reality to the "next" in an "outward" direction. Like a 4 dimensional flower blooming forth the chosen path through the possible realities.

Related to that, could gravity be an effect of a "frame dragging" as time proceeds forward? In the ensuing march of the universal holograph, could gravity be an artifact of the universe having to communicate greater information about object with greater mass? Gravity is the resistance of a change of state as reality blossoms forth from the 4th dimension.

In such a system, I have read a theory about how "elementary particles" (if there really is such a thing, given the exhibited splitting of an electron) represent a "change of state particle", notifying the universal wavefront (the projection screen of reality, like a CRT) of a change in state of whatever it is that the particle is a part of. I wonder what the "frame rate" (the most basic unity of time prgression) would be?. How many terrahertz does the universal computer operate at?

That was quite a bit of my own mental vomit. It is only loosely related to this thread, but is along the lines that i think when considering this type of information.

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