How NKS Fits into Cool Metaphors from New Science

“If I were a poet of color, I’d want to entitle a work, ‘Rule 110’!”

David Steinhardt

Middlebury College


NKS offers the world entirely new metaphors. Rule 110 alone, with its promise of 5 out of 8 black outcomes yet immediate exclusion of black squares from half its actual outcomes, yet which nonetheless includes richly nuanced outcomes in its other half, offers a major cultural opportunity to convey not just knowledge but meaning, and further, to offer metaphorical nuggets for experts and nonexperts alike to use in informed dialogue.

Knowledge is a two-way street between those who first acquire it and those who subsequently use and improve it. To that end, metaphorical simplicity is a key ingredient in launching complex ideas into the greater culture. Much of 20th-century science, however, got turned into unhelpful and inaccurate metaphors: “uncertainty” is misused to suggest nothing can be known (rather than that certain combinations of things cannot be known simultaneously); “relativity” is misused to conclude “everything is relative” (rather than that time and speed are always unique to a viewer, yet measured against invariable, absolute spacetime); and “quantum leaps” are invoked for large jumps (rather than changing from one state to another, without passing in between).

The 21st century’s innovations need not be so poorly translated: quantum entanglement, for instance, now experimentally verified, demonstrates that a particle can be separated from itself, yet remain one. Could there be a more perfect metaphor for love? Extra dimensions, so far only theoretical, suggest expanded possibilities, as they should.

Rule 110, with its perfect demonstration of NKS's foundation, namely, that complex structures arise from simple rules, offers the perfect metaphorical opportunity to launch NKS into the popular consciousness: it is not what a seed looks like, but what it grows; it is not a law’s (or a war’s) promises that matter, but its effects and outcomes; an artist may have a certain intention, but her work’s final form may take unexpected forms and/or have unintended consequences unrelated to initial intention. Discussions of any such topics, scientific or not, benefit from Rule 110 as a metaphor.

In propagating the metaphorical possibilities of Rule 110 accurately and in full detail (including its “collisions” and “annihilations”), we will allow nonexperts the opportunity to benefit from NKS thinking, and in so doing will excite more interest in the field, opening the door to dialogue in which both NKS and the greater culture are the richer for the free flow of ideas, expressed in an accurate shorthand that allows the greatest number of potential participants into the discussion.