Recently I mentioned that mathematician John Conway died last April. To his eternal disgruntlement, he is most famous for his “game” of Life — something he considered trivial and inferior to his real mathematical work. That fame is largely due to a Martin Gardener column in Scientific American — the most popular column the magazine had published up to then.
I said I wasn’t going to write about Life because it’s such a well-covered topic, but I thought I might whip up an implementation in Conway’s honor. (Went there; did that; videos below.) Getting into it made me realize Life connects back to my virtual reality posts.
So it turns out I am going to write about it (a little).
For the last two weeks I’ve written a number of posts contrasting physical systems with numeric systems.
(The latter are, of course, also physical, but see many previous posts for details on significant differences. Essentially, the latter involve largely arbitrary maps between real world magnitude values and internal numeric representations of those values.)
I’ve focused on the nature of causality in those two kinds of systems, but part of the program is about clearly distinguishing the two in response to views that conflate them.
I realized that, if I’m going to do the Mandelbrot in May, I’d better get a move on it. This ties to the main theme of Mind in May only in being about computation — but not about computationalism or consciousness. (Other than in the subjective appreciation of its sheer beauty.)
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I’ve heard it called “the most complex” mathematical object, but that’s a hard title to earn, let alone hold. It’s complexity does have attractive and fascinating aspects, though. For most, its visceral visual beauty puts it miles ahead of the cool intellectual poetry of Euler’s Identity (both beauties live on the same block, though).
For me, the cool thing about the Mandelbrot is that it’s a computation that can never be fully computed.
No, sorry, I don’t mean the Bletchey Bombe machine that cracked the Enigma cipher. I mean his theoretical machine; the one I’ve been referring to repeatedly the past few weeks. (It wasn’t mentioned at the time, but it’s the secret star of the Halt! (or not) post.)
The Turing Machine (TM) is one of our fundamental definitions of calculation. The Church-Turing thesis says that all algorithms have a TM that implements them. On this view, any two actual programs implementing the same algorithm do the same thing.
Essentially, a Turing Machine is an algorithm!
evaluate(2B || !2B)
Hamlet’s famous question, “To be or not to be?” is just one example of a question with a yes/no answer. It’s different from a question such as, “What’s your favorite color?” or, “How was your day?” What it boils down to is that the young Prince’s question requires only one bit to answer, and that bit is either yea or nay.
Computers can be very good at answering yes/no questions. We can write a computer program to compare two numbers and tell us — yea or nay — if the first one is bigger than the second one. Computers are also very good at calculations (they’re just big calculators, after all). For example, we can write a computer program that divides one number by another.
But there are questions computers can’t answer, and calculations they can’t make.