Emergence of behavior through software

Lynn H. Maxson lmaxson@pacbell.net
Fri, 06 Oct 2000 00:58:25 -0700 (PDT)

I apologize for not getting Alik right.  It's sitting in front of 
me, a mistake I should not have made.  Nevertheless Alik Widge 

"The basic problem is that we can't set up the biochemical 
clockwork and then add the single push to get it all rolling. We 
need to start with a running engine and cobble the parts onto it 
as we go. OTOH, there are plenty of people trying to recreate the 
primordial soup, so perhaps someday they will demonstrate 
spontaneous generation of self-sustaining processes.  There is 
nothing which says that we *need* an organism, but starting with 
one is significantly simpler, so we do that."

We are basic agreement here.  That's why we are in disagreement 
with respect to software-initiated life.  As far as I know all 
organism are carbon-based.  I assume that's why we call the 
chemistry associated with carbon organic chemistry.  I have no 
doubt at some point we will crack the code that initiates the 
temporal instability within a chemical substance that we call 
life.  A temporal instability, a transient in a process that leads 
to death.  A high-information, low-entropic instability incapable 
of sustaining itself indefinitely from a low-information, 
high-entropic state called death.

What is it that you would do in software?  Certainly not create a 
life form.  With software you can only mimic.  The best you can 
achieve, the best we have ever achieved is useful mimicry.  Now 
you have two problems, one, that a difference remains between 
being logically equivalent (the best that you could ever achieve) 
and identical (which you can never achieve in software), and, two, 
even logical equivalence to the degree is probably neither 
possible nor practical.

Why?  Call it chemistry.  I gave you the example of growing 
silicon crystals because that's a much simpler chemistry to mimic 
in software than that of an organism.  Yet no matter how you write 
the software or select the host computer are you going to end up 
with a silicon crystal.  Logically equivalent, yes.  Identical, 
no.  Is there a practical difference?  Which one can you use to 
build the computer in which you will run your silicon generating 

"But it *does* have a beginning. There is a point in what we call 
time (which, although it may have arbitrary divisions, is also 
considered to be a physical dimension, and is therefore "real" in 
some sense) before which there appears to have been nothing."

Nothing which exists only in human-created systems is real outside 
that context.  Not the physical rules.  Not the chemical ones.  
Not the mathematical ones.  Not even time.  They are no more than 
continually changing maps distinct from the territory they 
supposedly describe.  That doesn't mean that we do not find them 
useful.  It simply means that they fill a need we have, not one of 
a universe which has no such problem, which has no needs period.

I realise that plus and minus infinity are useful crutches due to 
our language and the impact it has on our thinking.  We have 
beginning and end because we cannot accept that any process can 
have avoided either.  That's a trap we have set for ourselves, not 
one for a universe which doesn't reflect on what's happening.  If 
you want to accept a theory that all matter did not exist before 
the big bang simply because the mathematics dictates it, you may.  
I will simply assume it's a map error.<g>  Or it was an act of 
God, because we cannot have an effect without a cause.

"This seems rather disjointed. Crystals must be formed in a 
specific way, yes. It may be true that minds require specific 
underlying patterns.  However, there is no evidence that those 
patterns cannot be implemented as software or hardware."

Here again we are dealing with an organism where what it does and 
how it does it are indistinguishable.  What we call hardware and 
software are one and the same.  We do not have high-level software 
and low-level machines.  They have identical levels, because "it" 
is not a "they".  As someone with experience in neuroscience you 
also know that the brain does not engage in sequential logic.  
That we can does not mean its use in support of our ability.

The problem is that you want to program something that doesn't use 
programming.  No matter the genetic code or the cell 
differentiation they only spawn the abilities.  They do not direct 
them.  Ashby with his homeostat showed that you only needed an 
interconnected structure which adapted without instruction because 
it was "inherent", "intrinsic".  He upset no end of people who 
would play God by showing that God (deus ex machina) was 

"Except that a neuron can in fact compute in just that manner. I 
would refer *you* to something as simple as the cells of your 
retina. Shine a light on one, and it turns on. Remove the light, 
and it turns off. (Others turn off by light and on by dark. Same 
principle.) The thresholding behavior of neurons is not much 
different from a digital gate: if you're close enough to +5V, you 
get 1, otherwise you get 0."

The difference, of course, lies in "not much different".  It is a 
difference which counts.  First off, a neuron is not an on/off 
digital gate.  One it gets "tired" and sometimes doesn't produce 
an output logically indicative of the input.  Sometimes what it 
produces is not sufficient to excite the next connection depending 
upon its current state.  What you get is a statistical mishmash of 
a highly parallel, distributed, interconnected flow.  Much the 
same occurs within the cells of the retina which may excite one 
time and not the next.

Given how well you understand the retina, I surprised that you 
don't implement it with software and a host computer.  I don't 
know what it would see, but maybe if you connect it to that which 
mimics the brain, you could be on your way.<g>

"But that is *not* how the brain behaves. You will most likely get 
very poor results if you rewire the optic nerves to auditory 
cortex and auditory to visual cortex. Brains do not begin as 
randomly wired networks; the DNA itself contains "bootstrap code" 
to organize structures and begin regulation."

The point of the homeostasis-based autopilot and the fixed-logic 
one was not to suggest that the brain operated in such a manner, 
but that there was a means of exhibiting goal-seeking (adaptive) 
behavior structurally without a separation between the direction 
and the doing.  In short it is builtin, integral within the 
structure.  What we call "adaptive behavior" or even "life" arises 
from the conditions of the processing structure.  One thing that 
it is not is sequential logic.  One thing that software is and 
always will be is sequential logic.  That's your Turing machine 
that you say can do anything the brain can do.

Take a look at languages specifically designed for parallel, 
distributed systems and at the hardware specifically designed as 
well.  Find one simultaneous, majority-logic computer architecture 
that has an HLL with the same capability.  It's not that one or 
the other doesn't exist.  I suspect that if you looked at the 
"innards" of Big Blue which accomplished only in part a very small 
piece of what you propose to implement in software and a host 
computer, that ease of rolling off your tongue volition, emotion, 
mind, thinking, feeling, seeing, acting will be far different in 

"This is also an assertion, and one which I think has been at 
least partially proven false. We can in fact produce the signals. 
We need to get the physical wiring down, but that's a simple 
matter of engineering. Give it two decades."

Why should any simple matter take two decades?  It must not be 
that simple.

"Do you claim, then, that physics does not derive from the 
eminently logical system of mathematics?"

I have no clue what connects this to the non-logic-circuit basis 
of an amoeba.  For the record I make no such claim.<g>  Although 
you may get an argument from physicists.

"If this is true, explain those who have sensory deficits. Seems 
to me that they're functioning quite nicely on a subset of their 
brain's capabilities."

The point is that whatever sensory capability they have is 
integral with the brain.  If they lose a sensory capability, that 
in no way diminishes the functionality of the brain: the 
capability remains.  If they lose a sensory capability of the 
brain, the sense retains the capability.  For the system to work 
they must both work as "one".

"And you cannot show that this is impossible. We may not know how 
to do it, but that does not mean it is impossible."

Well, it gets back to chemistry and whatever it is that allows 
life its interval with an organism.  Software is not chemistry nor 
is the instruction set of a host computer.  The host computer may 
be chemistry, but it is not of the kind that sustains life.  Now 
you either believe that life is formed only from carbon-based 
matter or you do not.

If you do, then what you propose even in creating an artificial 
life is impossible.  If you do not, then it is up to you to show 
how software in a computer can exhibit all the properties we 
associate with life forms.  Not the least of which is the lack of 
software distinguishable from the hardware.  An organism is an 
integrated system and functions as such.  You keep wanting to 
program that which requires no programming.

"That's not the point, though. If you accept this as true, you see 
how any program could be created without anyone having the intent 
to create that specific program. The process would need to be 
optimized, but I only desired proof-of-concept. This seems to 
partially deny your idea that randomness can do nothing for the 
idea of the emergent system."

I think here your problem is greater than any objection I raise.  
I will concede that it is theoretically possible to create any 
specific program using random opcode selection.  I will not 
concede that it is practical or that given any zillion of 
interconnected machines at a 1000MHz that it will occur in less 
than a million years.  I leave it up to others more familiar with 
probability to give you the actual odds.

Nevertheless you have your proof-of-concept even if useless.  Now 
you propose to optimize a random process.  I can only assume that 
you intend to do what we do now which is to remove the randomness 
through the use of fixed logic.

I'm not aware that I said that randomness can do nothing for the 
idea of emergent systems.  You have two choices for random 
selection, you can choose data or you can choose an instruction 
path.  What you do with either choice is completely determined 
(consistent) with the embedded logic.  The software may use random 
selection, but there is nothing random in the embedded logic.

Thus references to emergent software systems differ not one whit 
relative to their consistency to the embedded logic.  They have 
the same logical consistency as does non-emergent software.  This 
consistency prevents a software system from ever acquiring a 
capability not contained within the embedded logic.  Fare believes 
that you can somehow transcend this from within the software 
itself using meta^n-programming or ever higher-level programming 

" I do not say that a TM "has emotion"; I am rather saying that 
emotion may simply be the output of a particular computational 
process within the brain."

You see it all hinges on what is included in compute.  If you mean 
that which is possible on a von Neumann machine, the answer is no.  
Emotion is not an output of a process, but part and parcel of it.  
Emotion is a process as is volition, thinking, feeling, etc..  
They are not separate nor separable from each other, but melded 
within the same overall process.  As one who studied neuroscience 
you should know that.  Don't make Descartes' error.  Read the 

"Each individual neuron has a definable input-output behavior. As 
such, it computes a function, and as such, it is theoretically 
replaceable by a TM."

Nice try, but no.  Once you get by the difficulties of logically 
representing the "definable" part relative to energy levels, 
interconnection resistance, persistence, and repetitive rates, you 
are going to run into a wall on the "function" part, if for no 
other reason than it doesn't exist at this level.  A neuron either 
fires or it does not depending upon the circumstances at that 
moment.  That's it's only function at its level.  If you want a 
Turing machine to execute or not execute billions of neurons 
simultaneously, be my guest.  I guess it is one of those 
theoretical proof-of-concepts that you enjoy.

"Chain enough of those together to replicate the limbic circuits 
and you may well have artificial emotion."


"Until we get clever enough to try it, you cannot claim that it is 

I'm not aware that my claims have any less validity than yours.  
However I am more than willing to change it to highly improbable, 
mimicking it in the limit as you would life in software to say 
that you can't tell the difference.<g>

"I am making no argument that the Tunes project should try to 
build software organisms. That is not possible based on current 
knowledge. However, you are apparently arguing that it will never 
be possible, and I consider this exceptionally short-sighted."

Interesting.  Both you and Fare hold that we are some decades away 
from any ability to state it one way or the other.  I consider it 
short-sighted to pursue the unknown when we have yet to exhaust 
the known.  I believe that you will only create life as such with 
all its properties using carbon-based technology and never with 
von Neumann architecture and Turing-based software.  There is a 
chemistry of life relegated to actual physical material that no 
matter how you mimic them in software will always have something 

Beyond that I see no purpose in it.  There is nothing in Tunes in 
terms of results either in operating systems or HLLs which 
requires more than what we know currently.  Fare wants to give 
software a "life of its own" except for "purpose" which we will 
retain.  He doesn't see that the one contradicts the other, 
because life's processes, simultaneously present in the process, 
does not allow for such separation.

You want to create artificial life because everything in your 
universe is somehow expressible in a Turing machine.  I would 
simply suggest that you reexamine it.  I see no sense in 
artificial life, because success means loss of a tool.  Do you 
want to reinstitute slavery?  Do you want yet another source of 
mis-communication?  Do you think that artificial life offer us any 
more than what they could offer without it?

The point is to use software and hardware technology in ways that 
extend our capabilities.  Who can be opposed to that?  Artificial 
life, something that replicates what we are only thousands of 
times slower on 1,000,000MHz machines and at 100,000,000 times the 
cost, makes no sense at all in my opinion.  Artificial limbs, 
artificial organs, yes.  I personally would prefer non-artificial 
either regenerated through biology.

I see software and hardware as a tool.  I don't see artificial 
life as such.  Your choice.