X-Message-Number: 19402
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2002 19:08:15 -0400 (EDT)
From: Charles Platt <>
Subject: Re: CryoNet #19381 - #19388

Bob Ettinger has mentioned Stephen Wolfram's book, "A New Kind of
Science." Wolfram began experimenting with "artificial life" programs in
1983, when he had the idea of linear cellular automata (a line of cells,
represented by binary states in computer memory, which "reproduce"
according to very simple rules). Cellular automata had been promoted
earlier by mathematician John Conway; see his article in Scientific
American (in 1970, I think) and search for "John Conway Game +of Life" to
find examples of his a-life program that can be run on the Web as Java

Wolfram's first book of papers about linear CAs was published in 1986. I
have a copy, and I wrote an early linear CA program myself, which was
demonstrated at the first conference on cellular automata at MIT.
Recently, inspired by the success of Wolfram's new book, I dusted off my
old linear CA software, upgraded it to save BMP files, and am selling it
in Dutch auctions through eBay, more for fun than profit.

See samples at my web site, www.charlesplatt.com.

What interests Wolfram is the old seeming paradox that life contradicts
entropy. From one molecule of DNA, you get a human being. You end up with
something MORE complex, after starting from something LESS complex. The
information in one DNA molecule could be stored on a single CD-ROM (with a
small amount of data compression). How do we get Beethoven, Einstein, or
(indeed) Robert Ettinger out of a pattern of chemicals that is so
relatively simple, the entire sequence could be stored on a 5-inch plastic
disc costing less than $1?

Wolfram's approach was to reduce the problem to the simplest possible
model: One line of cells that can be either alive or dead, and a growth
rule which is derived by examining "neighborhoods" of just three cells and
applying simple math. The patterns that are generated are extremely
complex, cannot be inferred from the growth rule (i.e. you can't predict
the result by examining the formula), and often have a fractal structure.
Does this mean that "life, the universe, and everything" works like a
cellular automaton? Wolfram seems to think so. It seems intuitively right
to me. But of course there is nothing resembling a proof.

What does this have to do with cryonics? Nothing, so far as I know. We are
not in the business of designing life (leave that to the molecular
biologists). We are, unfortunately, in the business of trying to preserve
the complex patterns AFTER they have self-generated from the simple seeds.
And since the patterns cannot be inferred from the seeds, and are affected
to a crucial degree by the environment ... Wolfram's book is no help at

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