Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Extended Leave

With midterms coming up and me reading frantically, my couple of days is going to turn into a bit longer.

However, to keep yourself entertained, check out this video of Yoda showing off his moves.

Amazing that all of that is digitally created! And whoever took the time to make that all....dang.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cheers of Joy

My copy of The Lifebox, The Seashell, and The Soul finally came in the mail. That free shipping thing from Amazon took a lot longer than I thought.

Taking a couple of days off to read.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Brief Quote

"It is indeed a surprising and fortunate fact that nature can be expressed by relatively low-order mathematical functions."
~Rudolf Carnap

Friday, October 07, 2005

Randomness & Unpredictability

"Mathematics is the science of patterns."
~Lynn Arthur Steen

When I began this blog, I posted a quote from Spinoza, who wrote that there is nothing random about nature, and that the things that we perceive as random are only so because we do not understand it. In understanding 'Life: The MMO', it might do us well to distinguish between the ideas of randomness and unpredictability...similar concepts, but we cannot accept both and be consistent when talking about universal automatism.
Main Entry: random
Function: adjective
  1. a : lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern b : made, done, or chosen at random
  2. a : relating to, having, or being elements or events with definite probability of occurrence b : being or relating to a set or to an element of a set each of whose elements has equal probability of occurrence ; also : characterized by procedures designed to obtain such sets or elements

The primary definition of random, according to Merriam-Webster, lacks purpose. Were the calculations of life to truly behave in a random fashion, according to this definition, life would not exist. A skin cell might consist of carbon molecules in one instance, aluminum the next, vanish from existence in the next, only to reform as something else afterwards.

No, life doesn't behave that way. We can't really then make use of the term 'randomness' and mean this without being inconsistent.

However, the second definition refers to (albeit not exactly) probability of occurance and procedures designed to obtain sets whose elements are probabilistic. This captures more of the meaning of 'randomness' as referred to in universal automatism....which is more like the idea of 'unpredictable' than the first definition of 'random'.

Calculations behave in a deterministic, yet unpredictable pattern. The series of calculations which produced CC, the cloned cat (referred to earlier), still produced a cat, but not an identical copy of its original....even with the same instructions!

MMOs, even in their simplicity, attempt to create this sense of unpredictability with the use of a random number generator to simulate the idea of luck and chance in the game. The outcome of the random number generator is often modified by things like character skills, experience, difficulty of the task, etc... which is a simplistic model of proficiency that we can still relate to: as good as we've become at walking, we still trip once in a while.

Unpredictability, in this sense, still retains a certain purpose, and still behaves in a particular pattern - although the complexity may currently be beyond our ability to describe with accuracy. Calculations process input from all of the relevant environmental and internal factors, then produce an output which is based upon that input and the operations involved in that particular calculation. While the operatives involved may not always produce identical results, what they do produce is more characteristic of being unpredictable than being completely random.

For the sake of word variety, I may continue to use both the words 'random' and 'unpredictable' when discussing universal automatism; however I use both words to indicate a sort of 'instability with purpose' which describes the laws of the world that we are in.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Invisible Code, Twinking, and The Eyes of a Child

"...I don't even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead..."
~Cypher, The Matrix

In an MMO, the entirety of the game universe boils down to the rules contained within the game's code and the calculations performed by the game provider's server. The results of the calculations are sent to my computer in cute little data packets to be unwrapped, interpreted, and then the results show up on my screen as what my toon sees.

At first, this barrage of sense data can be a bit overwhelming to a player, and it's not always easy to filter it into something comprehensible right away. However, given time to acclimate, it's pretty easy to scan the screen briefly and respond to game stimuli. What was once a maze of windows, icons, maps, chat bubbles, and avatars representing other players' toons becomes a sea of clarity for a gamer who is experienced in their environment.

Games are intellectual patterns, according to Raph Koster in his book A Theory of Fun in Game Design. Our brains are attracted to them because we sense a pattern and make an attempt to figure it out. We are constantly powergaming, trying to optimize our pattern recognition for the particular game of our choice until the pattern becomes predictable, at which point the game becomes dull and boring. Conversely, patterns which we do not immediately recognize as such get dismissed and are not usually sources of entertainment for us.

Interestingly enough, longtime powergamers often 'help' newer players out by presenting optimal play strategies to them immediately instead of letting them discover it for themselves, and in the spirit of charity, twink a new character to more quickly immerse them into the world of the veteran gamer.....essentially depriving them of their MMO childhood, if you will.

Much of this can be likened to the eyes of a child exploring his/her world, and the maturation and indoctrination process which eventually trains them (hopefully) to function as a socially acceptable adult.

In "Life: The MMO", the entirety of our game universe still boils down to the various quantum calculations which are performed by particles with particular rules. The results of these calculations, when they manifest themselves at a sufficiently large-scale enough product so as to be interpreted by my sensory organs, the information gets sent via cute little nerve impulses to my brain, which unwraps, interprets, and then tells me what I am perceiving.

As children, this barrage of sense data can be overwhelming: pictures, people, images, sensations, emotions, smells, tastes, desires, and more. Add to that the constant flux of growth in childhood, in which the parameters of all of the calculations which make up a particular child are in a continued process of change, so much so that it's not all that surprising that some children trip over their own feet (thanks Data) and find themselves scatterbrained, attempting to process all of the raw information. However, given time for maturation and education, our filters have been developed to the point where so human beings can even eat a sandwich, converse on a cell phone, change a CD, and drive a car a the same time! (Okay, so maybe we haven't developed them quite that far, but it's still pretty impressive.)

What's happened? Well, we've been twinked through the process of our educational indoctrination to be able to evaluate patterns which we perceive and filter/focus on them specifically. Part of this is intentional twinking so that each generation of human beings doesn't need to reinvent the wheel, but it's still twinking nonetheless.

Our pattern recognition has grown to the point where we filter out many simple and nonsensical patterns and focus on the interesting ones - patterns which seem to have a pattern, but we can't explain it yet. We don't really look for the 'code' either; we just powergame and attempt to see how it fits within patterns which we already know and recognize. The familiar is attractive to us, and it's evident in the types of games that we gravitate towards, as well as the routines and people whom we elect to associate with. They're familiar, but different enough to be interesting. We don't even bother to consider the code - it's invisible to us - we just focus on the pattern and optimizing our response to that pattern.

Blonde, brunette, redhead....all patterns which I haven't quite figured out, grown tired of seeing, or respond to with optimal performance quite yet.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Computational Humor

Here's a fairly common poorly-formed class 1 computation for your amusement:

"To use: Apply shampoo to wet hair. Massage to lather, then rinse. Repeat."
~A typical hair-washing algorithm that fails to halt

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Brief thought

I typed up a nice post earlier, but it was lost when the server updated. :(

So for now, here's a quote which evoked a few thoughts about gnarly computation:

"Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line."
~Benoit Mandelbrot

Monday, October 03, 2005

We interrupt this blog... bring you this important message:

Buy me.

That is all.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Character Creation & Cloning

"The development of an organism ... may be considered as the execution of a 'developmental program' present in the fertilized egg. ... A central task of developmental biology is to discover the underlying algorithm from the course of development.''
~Aristid Lindenmayer and Grzegorz Rozenberg

According to records, my toon (self in MMO-speak) spawned on this server (world) on April 5, 1977. My first memories don't go back that far, though. I don't remember being born. I'm not sure anyone does.

What I do know of my birth and infant/toddler years came from pictures and anecdotes from my parents and relatives, but as far as I can consciously remember things, I can't really place an exact point on my first was just 'there'. Everything before that is just my 'backstory', as the roleplayers like to call it. I assume that it is true because I trust my parents not to lie to me, because Adobe Photoshop didn't exist in the late 70's, and because corduroy baby clothes have not existed in any other time period in the history of mankind.

I've studied developmental psychology and it makes sense that I don't remember my own birth, that my cognitive abilities still had to develop to the point where I achieved a primitive level of self-abstraction, but attempting to recall my self-awareness leads me to a point in which I somehow realized me as me, and not someone/something else.

In a way, it's much like a newly-created MMO toon: a noob (slang for newbie/new player), if you will. Noobs don't get to experience infancy; they just get thrust into the world, dazed and confused. My first glimpses of the world around me were of confusion and wonderment. There were so many neat things to do and experience, and I had no idea how to go about doing them, so I learned through trial-and-error (or trial-and-terror, as my mentor Ed Fong used to say).

The process of 'character creation' in Life: The MMO is astounding. Strings of DNA code from two compatible parents merge into a hybrid string of code which somehow manages to self-replicate and follow its own instructions to create a new human being with starting attributes similar to both parents (varied, of course, depending on the pattern of dominant & recessive genes, as well as mutations, etc.).

Once an egg is fertilized, a new calculation begins with a single cell following its own instructions, and as it divides over successive generations, the emergent pattern formed by the cells begins to take shape: organs, genitals, bones, etc.

It's quite 'gnarly', as Rudy Rucker would call it. It's definitely got some kind of a pattern to it: I seem to have 2 arms, 2 legs, and a head, like most other similar beings, similar toons, if you will. However, the pattern produced its own unique result as well: the toon which is me looks noticably different from all other similar toons.

Interestingly enough, even if we copied my pattern and created a clone of myself, the starting cell would follow its instructions, yet the result would not even be identical to myself!

I refer, of course, to CC (CopyCat), a cloned cat. Here's an article about CC, showing how CC's brown, tan, and gold spots bear no resemblance to her original, who has a striped gray coat!

"Not only does cloning not produce a physical duplicate, but it can never reproduce the behavior or personality of a cat that you want to keep around."
~Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society

Why is this? Shouldn't a calculation produce a definite result? Well, yes and no.

It did produce a definite result: another cat. Whether the precise result matches what was predicted - or whether the result is predictable at all - is an issue here. The type of calculation at work here isn't a simple arithmetic pattern; it's a dynamic sequence of rules which produce 'predictable yet unstable' outcomes, a Category III calculation, according to Rucker. Were I to allow two identical cells with identical rules to operate in a cellular automata simulation and run for several thousand cycles before stopping, the results would eventually diverge.

DNA isn't really binary; it has 2 complementary pairs of proteins which can be sequenced in 4 different ways along approximately 3 billion or so chemical base pairs which make up the 46 chromosomes of human DNA. But since it's not binary, that only increases the number of possibilities.

Try and run a hypothetical simulation like that from one cell (itself containing 3 billion instructions), increasing in number geometrically until the number of cells reaches 10^14 (the approximate number of cells in the average human, as estimated by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute), and it's not difficult to see how a complex series of simple calculations, even just the ordering of 4 base proteins, can produce a unique individual even with the same initial values and computational instructions.

No other toon in this MMO will ever be quite like me.
Corduroy baby clothes are going to make a comeback though.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Fallacial Thinking?

"There's a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good."
~Burton Hillis

My high school science teachers and undergrad logic professors would probably have a field day with me for proposing the thought of life being an MMO, whether I believed it or not.

Correlation does not prove causation....just because something happens to behave a certain way does not mean that it is true of all things....the part is not the whole, nor does it define the say the fallacies of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this), hasty generalization, composition, and a variety of other inductive and causal fallacies.

A lot of my trained philosophical alarms are flashing when I think and write about universal automatism, but my thoughts so far been unable to produce anything to refute its premises or its reasoning, and I haven't been able to produce a counterexample of anything which would demonstrate the ~P of universal automatism: it is not the case that everything is a computation.

Does this make my analogy with MMOs and universal automatism an attempt at forming a reductio ad absurdum argument? Possibly, but that's not my motivation. In exploring as many angles of this analogy as possible, I may also end up corroborating the concept as well.

The philosophical side of me would demand this sort of investigation before adopting universal automatism (or any philosophy) into my worldview. I admit that I like the idea, and that it would explain a lot of things if it were true....but wanting it to be true doesn't make it that way.

My interest is what drives this personal investigation.