Historical Perspectives

It would be most satisfying if science were to prove that we as humans are in some fundamental way special, and above everything else in the universe. But if one looks at the history of science many of its greatest advances have come precisely from identifying ways in which we are not special—for this is what allows science to make ever more general statements about the universe and the things in it.

Four centuries ago we learned for example that our planet does not lie at a special position in the universe. A century and a half ago we learned that there was nothing very special about the origin of our species. And over the past century we have learned that there is nothing special about our various physical, chemical and other constituents.

Yet in Western thought there is still a strong belief that there must be something fundamentally special about us. And nowadays the most common assumption is that it must have to do with the level of intelligence or complexity that we exhibit. But building on what I have discovered in this book, the Principle of Computational Equivalence now makes the fairly dramatic statement that even in these ways there is nothing fundamentally special about us.

For if one thinks in computational terms the issue is essentially whether we somehow show a specially high level of computational sophistication. Yet the Principle of Computational Equivalence asserts that almost any system whose behavior is not obviously simple will tend to be exactly equivalent in its computational sophistication.

So this means that there is in the end no difference between the level of computational sophistication that is achieved by humans and by all sorts of other systems in nature and elsewhere.

For my discoveries imply that whether the underlying system is a human brain, a turbulent fluid, or a cellular automaton, the behavior it exhibits will correspond to a computation of equivalent sophistication.

And while from the point of view of modern intellectual thinking this may come as quite a shock, it is perhaps not so surprising at the level of everyday experience. For there are certainly many systems in nature whose behavior is complex enough that we often describe it in

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