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.


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