ALife Thoughts - Phenotype and Genotype

In the first part of this here (excuse the psuedo thesis-paper
language), I wrote about some qualities of “life” and how digital life
can model after this. Specifically, I talked about how life is rooted
in a datatype – DNA for biological life, and Natural Language for
memetic life (ideas).

Today I’m going to talk about the relation between the datatype and
output: genotype and phenotype, if you will.

One of the caveats of our life datatype is that is must be very
robust: able to change through random mutation and rearrangement. If
the datatype is strict or heirarchical, meaningful changes will never
be accomplished through mutation.

Both DNA and Natural Language fit this description. DNA can be
chopped up, recombined, damaged by radiation, mixed with different
species, etc – and still function. And clearly jumbled speech and
text can still reveal meaning, just ask any l33t h4X0|2 on t3h

Another important distinction to make is between behavior and
attributes. DNA can code for physical traits: such as skin and hair
color; and behavior: temperment, personality, etc.

In natural language, behaviors and attributes are delineated by the
parts of speech – nouns, verbs, etc.

Note, however, that DNA does not explicitly code behavior: it
catalyzes the growth of proteins, which in turn develop into tissue
and working organs. Therefore, behavior is implicit.

The behavior of Natural Language is implicit as well. All letters are
nouns (things, entities). The letter “A” has no behavior. Putting a
string of arbitrary letters together has a chance to fit into the
rules of a language, and imply behavior: “Walk the dog”.

Lets lay down some definitions before we proceed:

Genotype: The actual direct description of the datatype, be it DNA
(nucleotides in a sequence), or NL (characters/phonemes in a sequence)

Phenotype: What the datatype codes for. DNA codes for specific
protiens and amino acids. NL codes for words.

Attributes: Implicit structures that arise from phenotype. Protiens
are created and connect to form tissue. Tissues overlap to create
organs. Words join up to form sentences or verses. Punctuation or
inflection can dramatically change the meaning of word groupings.

Behavior: Implicit patterns from attributes and the phenotype.
Tissues overlap to create organs – combined with other amino acids and
proteins, organs do their thing (pump blood, secrete chemicals). For
memes, the context, distribution and intersection of sentences can
further change meaning, and influence minds. The primary behavior of
langauge (memes) is how it reflects back onto the user.

So we have four layers of “stuff” coming from our datatype. The first
layer (genotype) is either designed or generated through mutation.
The second layer (phenotype), is explicitly coded for by the genotype.
The last two layers are implied: they emerge from the interaction and
mapping of the first two.


In creating our living datatype, its very doubtful we’ll come across
something as powerful as DNA or Natural Langauge. I’m hoping to make
something more like this:

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