human terms. And indeed in early human thinking it is very common to encounter the idea of animism: that systems with complex behavior in nature must be driven by the same kind of essential spirit as humans.
But for thousands of years this has been seen as naive and counter to progress in science. Yet now essentially this idea—viewed in computational terms through the discoveries in this book—emerges as crucial. For as I discussed earlier in this chapter, it is the computational equivalence of us as observers to the systems in nature that we observe that makes these systems seem to us so complex and unpredictable.
And while in the past it was often assumed that such complexity must somehow be special to systems in nature, what my discoveries and the Principle of Computational Equivalence now show is that in fact it is vastly more general. For what we have seen in this book is that even when their underlying rules are almost as simple as possible, abstract systems like cellular automata can achieve exactly the same level of computational sophistication as anything else.
It is perhaps a little humbling to discover that we as humans are in effect computationally no more capable than cellular automata with very simple rules. But the Principle of Computational Equivalence also implies that the same is ultimately true of our whole universe.
So while science has often made it seem that we as humans are somehow insignificant compared to the universe, the Principle of Computational Equivalence now shows that in a certain sense we are at the same level as it is. For the principle implies that what goes on inside us can ultimately achieve just the same level of computational sophistication as our whole universe.
But while science has in the past shown that in many ways there is nothing special about us as humans, the very success of science has tended to give us the idea that with our intelligence we are in some way above the universe. Yet now the Principle of Computational Equivalence implies that the computational sophistication of our intelligence should in a sense be shared by many parts of our universe—an idea that perhaps seems more familiar from religion than science.
Particularly with all the successes of science, there has been a great desire to capture the essence of the human condition in abstract scientific