Emergent Shenanigans

Was fooling around this morning with this little flash thingy: http://www.deviantart.com/view/8666529/

It’s a pretty cool simulation of chain reactions and emergent behavior. In a way, it’s very similar in principle to Conway’s game of life – atomic elements that react with neighbors to cause chain reactions. The thing that’s cool about this is unlike the Game of Life – “cells” are not created or destroyed, they just change state.

There are a few cool things that emerge from this.

You start out with apparent chaos:

If the edges of the cells are connected, then both cells rotate 90 degrees. If you click on a block in the spaghetti pile, you get chain reactions like this:

It’s surprising how long the chain reactions can go – it’s very difficult to “plan” a chain reaction. It’s much more efficient to just click a random block and sees what happens.

After the chain reaction completes – the board becomes somewhat uniform, as you can see here:

The homogenous pattern arises because this is a state of equilibrium – the chain reaction stops and leaves stable formations.

One way to look at the sim is to observe that order arises from chaos – from the repeated application of simple rules. Same thing as Conways GoL.

Another observation is that random arrangements of these blocks are potential energy. Unlike dominoes, the “seeds” of these chain reactions don’t have be meticulously created in precise arrays. A random number generator serves just as well.

In a way, this sim serves as a great metaphor for the natural world and chemistry. Molecules have lots of the same properties.

Take water molecules for example. At room temperature, they slide over each other and have the properties of liquid. At room temperature, there is a certain amount of energy (heat), which gives the molecules their properties. But cool things down (lose the energy), and water molecules line up in a homogenized crystal: ice. The same is true for most elements – the lower the temperature (energy), the more uniform the arrangement of the molecules.

Of course – the underlying rules of chemistry are a lot different than in this sim. Instead of rotating 90% when aligned with a neighbor – atoms have to contend with ionic bonds, strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity and inertia. But it’s interesting that regardless of the rules – the same emergent behavior will pop up.

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