2003-04-15 3:00 p.m.
Today I went to a lecture by Dr. Stephen Wolfram. He discussed how plugging the simplest rules into a cellular automaton can result in fantastically complex output patterns.
Previously it has been generally accepted by both scientist and lay–person that the level of complexity of a system's output was approximately proportional to the complexity of that system's algorithm. But, Dr. Wolfram showed that this is not necessarily the case. He illustrated that very simple algorithms resulted in some of the most random and mathematically unpredictable results.
These findings are important because the complex patterns he obtained were startlingly similar to patterns found in nature on plants and animals. We used to think that the markings on animals were complex and random. But he has found them to be quite ordered. The implication of this is that he is on the tail of finding the simple patterns that nature uses to yield the startlingly complicated universe around us—the patterns of a snake's scales, the patterns on a mollusk's shell, the patterns of fluid dynamics, the patterns of space and time.
It blew my mind. I felt like I was in the presence of the sort of genius which I couldn't even begin to fathom.
The excitement I felt as Dr. Wolfram spoke reminded me of the way I felt as a young boy. When I was young I constantly wondered about the nature of the universe. My mind constantly turned situations and ideas over, much like a boy flips over a turtle to see its hidden underbelly. I wanted desperately to come up with some simple theory to simplify and explain reality as I knew it—I wanted to turn over all of life's turtles.
But, my childish mind couldn't cut it. There were too many other distractions—Legos, Robotech, TV, drawing. And as years passed the distractions only multiplied. And soon the distractions blossomed into priorities and goals. My life followed a path I would have never dreamed of to the place I stand today.
But, I am glad to know that this ferocious hunger for knowledge—the longing to find unifying and universal patterns—continues and burns in the hearts and minds of some. And I felt blessed to sit and listen to what I feel may be the most fascinating scientific mind I have ever experienced.
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