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Mechanisms in Programs and Nature

Universality of Behavior

In the past several chapters my main purpose has been to address the fundamental question of how simple programs behave. In this chapter my purpose is now to take what we have learned and begin applying it to the study of actual phenomena in nature.

At the outset one might have thought this would never work. For one might have assumed that any program based on simple rules would always lead to behavior that was much too simple to be relevant to most of what we see in nature. But one of the main discoveries of this book is that programs based on simple rules do not always produce simple behavior.

And indeed in the past several chapters we have seen many examples where remarkably simple rules give rise to behavior of great complexity. But to what extent is the behavior obtained from simple programs similar to behavior we see in nature?

One way to get some idea of this is just to look at pictures of natural systems and compare them with pictures of simple programs.

At the level of details there are certainly differences. But at an overall level there are striking similarities. And indeed it is quite remarkable just how often systems in nature end up showing behavior that looks almost identical to what we have seen in some simple program or another somewhere in this book.

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]