Abstract – The Plurality: why everything is all over the place – Tony Smith

Tony will show why no matter how accurately we know the rules of the behaviour of the components of a complex system we can still be surprised by some things the system as a whole does. While that sense of surprise may almost disappear with systems that we are long familiar with, the potential for surprise never completely goes away and increases greatly with new and unfamiliar systems. Though the behaviour of the whole does not cause any of the parts to break their own confirmed rules of behaviour, being part of a whole can cause the part to do things that could not be conceived given only total understanding of the part in isolation.

Chaos is formally defined as extreme sensitivity to initial conditions. Thus chaotic systems are found to rapidly explore the space of possibilities at least locally. But the space of possibilities grows incomparably faster than the number that can ever be tested at even slightly larger sizes. Things get more interesting when chaotic explorations find configurations which self-organise into a pattern that generates repeatable behaviour. Tony will demonstrate some of the most spectacular examples of emergent organisation he has discovered during his current extended study of new cellular automata rule families.

We will take a look at other examples of emergent organisation in the natural world, working up from the insights into solid state physics of Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin to today’s much more rapid and fragile exploration of technological possibilities. This will draw on mathematical models described by theoretical biologist Stu Kaufmann to help understand how natural processes can so productively but still mindlessly create and exploit new opportunities, given sufficient time and space. We will conclude by looking at what this enhanced perspective can tell us about how to act locally now.

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