Computer Science and Biology 361
I'm still not quite sure what this is all about, but a couple of things interest me.
One is the prospect of finding relationships between systems where none were thought to exist.
The other is modelling the game of life. Can ever be predictable?
It seems to always get to a state where life stablizes, or dies out altogether. Are these the only two possibilities and what does this mean?
I'm interested in emergence's 'human' implications, primarily socio-economic behavior and interaction. In my mind, emergence retains a certain mystical quality typically reserved for theologies. It's imbued with transcendental powers, offering explanations for a diverse set of phenomena, from the big bang to coral reefs to the market economy. Though the concept remains opaque, I'm searching for a perspective that can provide insight into the most troubling aspects of human existence (marginalization, poverty, etc). Even if these phenemona possess no emergent qualities, some of their contributing factors (markets, social groupings, evolution) may prove susceptible to emergent analysis.
My favorite example of emergence thus far has been ideas about consciousness. I was just reading a section of "Gödel, Escher, Bach" in which the author includes a quote, by Roger Sperry on the subject, which I find very palatable: "... if one keeps climbing upward in the chain of command within the brain, one finds at the very top those over-all organizational forces and dynamic properties of the large patterns of cerebral excitation that are correlated with mental states... near the apex of this command system in the brain we find ideas... the causal potency of an idea becomes just as real as that of a molecule, a cell, or a nerve impulse.
Based on what was said during the first day of class, I understand emergence to be the study of complex systems in which the final outcome for the system is determined by the state of a multitude of variables that interact in complex, unpredictable, and chaotic ways.
As a Cities major concerned primarily with issues of planning and policy in modern American cities, my interest in emergence lies mainly in using the concept to understand cities as the product of large numbers of independent and unpredictable actors. For instance, one could view cities as a collection of a large number of individual citizens, or a large collection of economic agents and actors, or a large set of built structures--all of which represent examples of emergence theory that could be used to define a city. Thinking about cities as emergent systems raises intriguing opportunities to use these insights about cities as systems to model, simulate, and predict changes in the urban system to support planning decisions.
As someone who is interested in math, physics, and computer science, I often come across very intriguing topics that, at first glance, appear completely irrelevant to one another. It was just last year when I learned about the idea of emergence and was finally able to see an underlying correlation between the topics.
For example, things like the game Go, fractal geometry, and even genetic algorithms can all be studied from an emergent point of view. Each of these is an example of exceedingly complex patterns/systems which are created from a simple set of rules over a period of time/epochs. If we consider a typical game of Go, the arrangement of the stones can seem chaotic and random. However, the end game-state is achieved by playing the game and observing the simple set of rules. With fractals, complex patterns at the large scale are formed by repeated use of geometric patterns at the smaller scale. In computer science, genetic algorithms were born from the study of cellular automaton (i.e. Conway's Game of Life). Genetic algorithms are used for search/optimization problems. By mimicking biological evolution, algorithms are mutated, combined, and evolved over a period of time until the most 'fit' algorithm is attained. Such techniques have been used by companies to create algorithms which predict stock prices. Pretty neat.
I have always had problems with defining a term without using the term itself. Unpredictable order emerging
out of chaos. While technically not the same meaning, it still confuses the issue. I was looking at several resources for entries on emergence, and of course my first choice was the entry in Wikipedia
. It is a rather in-depth article, and an interesting read.
In my research this summer, I was working with different machine learning algorithms that were dependent on user-generated constraints. The user would group data together by some sort of vague, unformed criteria, and the program would infer the user's intentions. The results were often quite surprising, as the user might not even be aware of how they were sorting information until the computer analyzed it. Unexpected patterns would arise. Not really sure if this qualifies as emergence, but as I was sitting in class on Monday, I kept thinking of that experience and the surprise that followed.
My understanding of emergence from Monday’s class is that it refers to how simple rules lead to complex patterns. It’s really interesting how this seemingly simple concept applies to so many different areas of study. Being a chemistry major, I began looking for evidence of emergence in the chemical world. I found a website
that describes the similarities between The Game of Life and chemical synthesis. The similarity is that simple rules of interactions between molecules are used repeatedly to build very complex products.
I am not sure how to state what I want to say or what I am asking. While in class I began to recall a project I did in high school involving algorithms and patterns. I remember putting many algorithms together to for a picture. I did not know how algorithms and emergence were connected exactly, but after reading some information about there relationship at Network Narrative
algorithms are said to be precise steps taken towards accomplishing a task. Well to my surprise they are very interlinked. I wanted to know what other people’s thoughts are on algorithms and emergence. Are they one in the same? Is this a type of emergence?
So, the first student post. Is it too early, were we supposed to wait until we read something? Well, I don't mind, I suppose.
I guess I don't have much to say yet, but I'm excited about this class, and that's pretty rare. I find that my mind works in a certain way - it really enjoys searching out patterns in everything. Literature, music, even human interaction, and the idea of some kind of basic structure gives me brain tingles. While listening to Doug and Paul, I found myself thinking of a brick wall. You start with one brick, and you use a pattern, a set of basic instructions - put another brick next to this one; another on top of those two; rinse, repeat. And you have a wall.
Every week for the last few years, a group of people from Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College, and the surrounding community, have meet over coffee and muffins to discuss ideas surrounding the concept of "emergence". These people are faculty, staff, students and others that stop by.
The discussions are informal, and usually run the gamut from social structures to atoms, and everything in between. The discussions are open to all, and we encourage participation as discussers and discussion leaders.
During Spring 2006, we will meet every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. in Park Science 230, the Emergent Intelligence Laboratory. Coffee, muffins, and scones start the meeting off. Read more...