An abandoned DNA computer tries its best.
Credit and copyright: Olivier Wyart (website)

Sixth Bit

Philosopher: (having an epiphany) But no! It's more than that! The universe is pattern!
Poet: I'm the poet here. Off my turf!
Philosopher: Bear with me. Tilings talk about local patterns -- the shapes of the tiles -- and yet somehow even though there are only a finite number of ways the tiles can fit together locally, at a larger scale, utterly different patterns emerge, with long range order. All the complexity a universe can contain. It's the same with physics, right? Physical laws talk about the local structure of space-time, dictating that locally only certain things can happen. And in physics, too, these local rules give rise to all the complexity a universe can contain. Maybe local rules, applied spatially, is the essence of algorithms. And the essence of the universe.
Computer Engineer: I hate to break it to you, but that thesis isn't new. It's basically the leitmotif of William Poundstone's book, "The recursive universe." "Recursive" is math-speak for "computational" and "algorithmic," just so you know.
Philosopher: Didn't read it. Didn't know.
Farmer: Hmmm. So the local rules are the physical laws? And doing physics is finding the physical laws? But if I take a crystal, and dissolve it, I get all its pieces -- the molecules -- free in solution. Do that with fertilizer all the time, it's natural, it's easy. And if I take a tiling, and break it up into the tiles, again, I see the pieces it's made of, I know the rules of the tiling. So is doing physics basically the academic exercise of intellectually dissolving the universe?
(long pause)
Tycoon: So the universe is algorithm. Huh. Really. It sounds like what you're saying is that everything is algorithm. Well, if nothing isn't algorithm, then you're not saying much.
Scientist: I think it would be better to say that many things have the potential for algorithmic behavior. It is certainly true in biology. There's no question that information is stored in the genome, and that this information encodes for biochemical circuits that control cell function and direct developmental programs as an organism grows. You and me, we are algorithms.
Poet: Please. If I am just an algorithm, then I just do what the programmer enslaved me to do. There is no free will. There is no creativity.
Philosopher: Didn't we already discuss that algorithms can contain random components? Would you be willing to grant me that free will comes from randomness? And that creativity derives from random exploration sculpted by good judgement?
Mathematician: I think it's deeper than that. You don't have to invoke randomness as a new special ingredient. William Hanf and Dale Myers proved that some tilings intrinsically generate randomness. True, uncomputable randomness. Tilings can give rise to a nonrecursive universe.
Computer Engineer: Seriously, folks, you don't need real randomness. Pseudorandomness is good enough. When your computer generates "random" numbers, it's actually running a simple algorithm that has really complicated behavior. So the numbers that pop out look random, for all intents and purposes. That's the best explanation of free will that I've heard: "Free will" is what you see when you're looking at something as complex or more complex than yourself, because you can't predict it. But when you look at something much simpler than yourself, and you study it so hard and figure out how it works, then you say, "oh, it's just following these rules; its behavior is entirely predictable." Something much much smarter than us, like, let's say, an elephant, or God, might look at us, study us, and say the same thing. But people will always look at each other and see free will, because an algorithm can't predict something of equal complexity and computational power as itself.
Poet: That's it.

tilings and patterns recursively bloom
flowers and freemen emerge from the loom
random in nature, algorithmically carved
we do as we please though of free will we're starved
and yet the illusion's a comfortable home
for intents and purposes in which we roam

Tycoon: (looking at his watch) OK, OK, look, I've got a train to catch. This is all great, I love the Museum, you know that. The stuff you showed me in the morning, that was fantastic. I didn't get what this exhibit offers, though, other than hot air and bad poetry. No offense, but you can toss this DNA computer in the dump, for all I care. Tell you what, I'll write you a check, and you can clear out this room and put something important here, you know, some artifacts from the beginning of the Internet, or maybe Boston Dynamics prototypes, stuff that matters, stuff that changed history. OK?
Curator: That's very generous of you, sir. I'll let the Director know.
Farmer: (coughs violently)
Tycoon: (pops in earbuds faintly playing A-ha, and departs)

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