# Thread: Nature is Round, and Humans are Square

1. Originally Posted by hereandnow
Nature is not clumsy. The bottom up approach appears haphazard but it's not.

I just found this little site -

http://www.collidoscope.com/modernca/lifelikerules.html

2. I promise not to God all over this thread-- but I wanted to say how interesting I think it is that in discussions such as these, people tend to imbue nature with a sense of competence or incompetence or clumsiness or not-clumsiness. It seems that we come hard-wired to see purpose and agency on the part of the universe. Maybe this is where God-ideas come from.

3. Originally Posted by hereandnow
As you stated elsewhere the Engineer views it as clumsy but not the scientist.
I think that's the root of my answer.

In other words, maybe this has nothing to do with how things found in nature are mostly round and squares seem like anomalies (since my wife just convinced me that that is not the case), but rather, it's based on our perception of these non-human creations. So in the end, maybe I just have to look closer, because my visual abilities are so limited.

4. Originally Posted by kuranes

I just found this little site -

http://www.collidoscope.com/modernca/lifelikerules.html
When that applet first started, I thought it was the ants building piles problem. The piles problem is canonical in questions of bottom-up intelligence - it's a problem of dispersed coordination.

Say you have a bunch of grains of sand, evenly distributed, and you want them piled up. To to this, a (centralized, monolithic intelligence) would simply start moving all of the grains to a single spot on the board. If the person was coordinating ants to do the job, he might tell each ant to move a particular grain from Point A to Point B.

However, the same effect can be brought about by simply encoding each ant with two trivial rules, and using the idea of stimergy to coordinate them: If you run into a grain of sand and you're not carrying one, pick it up. If you run into a grain of sand and you are carrying one, drop it.

This is the sort of thing that nature does - the constraint here is that your ants are pretty stupid - they only have room in their minds for a couple of simple, concrete rules, and they can't even talk to one another. There's no possibility of having a foreman. But even with those constraints, they can still build a pile.

5. Originally Posted by Ivy
I promise not to God all over this thread-- but I wanted to say how interesting I think it is that in discussions such as these, people tend to imbue nature with a sense of competence or incompetence or clumsiness or not-clumsiness. It seems that we come hard-wired to see purpose and agency on the part of the universe. Maybe this is where God-ideas come from.
I agree, along with the fact that people like to think that their part in the "design" will continue.

6. Originally Posted by HilbertSpace
When that applet first started, I thought it was the ants building piles problem. The piles problem is canonical in questions of bottom-up intelligence - it's a problem of dispersed coordination.

Say you have a bunch of grains of sand, evenly distributed, and you want them piled up. To to this, a (centralized, monolithic intelligence) would simply start moving all of the grains to a single spot on the board. If the person was coordinating ants to do the job, he might tell each ant to move a particular grain from Point A to Point B.

However, the same effect can be brought about by simply encoding each ant with two trivial rules, and using the idea of stimergy to coordinate them: If you run into a grain of sand and you're not carrying one, pick it up. If you run into a grain of sand and you are carrying one, drop it.

This is the sort of thing that nature does - the constraint here is that your ants are pretty stupid - they only have room in their minds for a couple of simple, concrete rules, and they can't even talk to one another. There's no possibility of having a foreman. But even with those constraints, they can still build a pile.
You need additional rules, as this will result in a loss of ants until you no longer have any ants. The environment and initial distribution of sand and ants also changes the rules.

7. Originally Posted by HilbertSpace
However, the same effect can be brought about by simply encoding each ant with two trivial rules, and using the idea of stimergy to coordinate them
Stimergy. There's a new word for me.

8. Originally Posted by hereandnow
Nature is not clumsy. The bottom up approach appears haphazard but it's not.
It's "haphazard" in the sense that it occurs without any direct organization or planning.

In natural process, a lot of things (such as diffusion, gravity, heat flow, light flow, sound) go in all directions equally unless conditions are different in the different directions, so structures made by these type of effects will be spherical. In the case where conditions aren't the same in all directions, they tend to not change suddenly, so the resulting structures formed are still smooth, but not exactly spherical (mushroom clouds.). there's also general randomness in processes, and having squares or rectangles is less likely than having round shapes, so things like fires aren't square partially because they aren't likely to be.

Most human structures are built to divide up space, and for support, in these areas, square shapes work better. (The flat surface on top of cubes won't have things sliding off it as round shapes would, and squares are one of three basic shapes that can cover an entire 2-d space.)

9. Zerg: How do you know there's no planning?

10. Originally Posted by Wolf
You need additional rules, as this will result in a loss of ants until you no longer have any ants. The environment and initial distribution of sand and ants also changes the rules.
I over-simplified because I know I tend to make long posts, and I am consciously trying to keep things brief, but you're entirely correct. I believe the original papers on the experiment came out of ALife III or IV, but I can't find them at the moment (or else those were the ones where the ants were supposed to make patterns with the colored grains of sand...).

The main idea that I was trying to get across is that systemic constraints, including being able to deal with only highly localized information and limited computational resources will guide the design of the larger system, and that the resulting system (and products of that system) will look different than one that was the result of a monolithic approach.

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