The core of Buddhism is to accept that change is relentlessly constant, therefore we will be free from suffering if we readily evolve along with the change. That is, as opposed to desperately clinging to whatever addictions we have. For example, such goodies as unquestioned habits and fears of the future based on the past.
But wouldn’t it be nice to do better than merely accept that change is constant? Is it possible to whole-heartedly treasure relentlessly constant change?
Our Gift of Sentience observes processes that occur during our normal human lives and we note “things” perceived by our logic. That includes everything we experience, whether we think of them as good, bad, or we’re seemingly indifferent to it. All of that emerges out of incalculable, uncontrollable complexity. The Universe in which our human selves live is such a complex system.
Complexity lies somewhere between random noise and deterministic machinery. It’s a sweet spot. Complexity ensures there will be a continuous flow of possibilities all through time. Without such possibilities, there is no life. But yet we seek to control.
The need for humans to control is like hunger. It has to be an instinctive drive because controlling complexity is not only very hard, but our ability to dictate outcomes is exponentially tougher farther out in time, just like distance and gravity. We love and seek deterministic, “highly repeatable” solutions, which is why so many hate the response of “It Depends”.
Order Out of Randomness
The image at the top of this blog shows a middle-run stage of a cellular automata. A cellular automata is a matrix of pixels, in this case two dimensional, that evolves through some simple rule. The number of these rule is limited only by our imagination. The chosen rule is applied pixel by pixel for many iterations starting with a completely random state.
For the images in this blog, this cellular automata, I wrote a simple program that consists of a sequence of colors, a randomly populated grid, and a simple rule applied to each pixel for many iterations. For each pixel, it applies this simple rule: If any of its neighbors – above, below, left, and right – are of the color that is adjacent the pixel’s color (next in the sequence of colors), that pixel takes on that color.
There are other details to how the program works, but I don’t want to get into those weeds of this cellular automata for this blog. The important thing to know is that the result of the program is not directly determined by the programmer. Rather, the results, the patterns, emerge from the randomness.
Below, we see the result after 132 iterations of that process. Islands of order are emerging.
By iteration 458, an interesting pattern emerges in the lower-center part of the image just below. It’s a crystalline pattern that emerges from the simple rule I described above that is as unique to this cellular automata as wetness is to the H2O molecule.
By iteration 1,100, the cellular automata settles into a pattern, looking like one of my business casual shirts.
These 1,100 iterations is hardly an eternal, on-going change that ensures continuous flow of possibilities. However, the Universe is closer to an eternal on-going process because it is a system made up of literally (almost literally) countless interacting systems analogous to this cellular automata – cellular automata made of cellular automata.
It’s very important to realize that the final image of the automata is not the point. The process, the 1,100 iterations, the journey from randomness to the crystalline pattern is the most interesting part. Remember, the Universe is one Big Process, as is our Consciousness. Whatever is there at the end of time is not us. We are the journey made up of time and change.
Same Rule, Different Initial Conditions
If I never saw the image of the “finished” cellular automata shown just above, and someone gave me that image asking me to write a program to recreate it, I have at least two choices. Since I see the drawing, I can notice a clear pattern, write code to duplicate it (patterns means it’s readily codable), and fill in the “inclusions” (those messy parts) in less elegant ways.
The code I end up with would be much faster at rendering the image, in maybe a dozen iterations instead of 1,100. My deterministic program will result in the exact same image every time.
Conversely, if I were given the simple rule I described earlier instead of the final image, I’d have no way to predict what it would do. That is, unless I ran through a simulation of the process – which is what my program does. As Ringo said, “The only way ta see what hahpuns is ta see what hahpuns.”
My cellular automata program is indeed the “DNA” of that crystalline pattern. Like all members of a species, under slightly different initial conditions, the result will be primarily the same, but not exactly the same.
To illustrate that point, I ran the cellular automata again starting with a differently populated random grid of noise. Just below is iteration 132 of the new run. Compare the image just below to the image of the first run at iteration 132. The seedlings of order are not the same.
Consider this. At this early stage, iteration 132, of the cellular automata, if I were to manually change some chunk of pixels, I would alter its “destiny”. The run would end up looking different than it would without my interference. But it would still end up dominated with the same crystalline pattern. What does that say about any of our individual actions?
The image just below shows iteration 455 of this new run, without interference from my Gift of Sentience.
At iteration 1100, this new run ends up looking a lot like the first run at the same iteration, but with different messy parts.
At the latter stages of the 1100 iteration process, say around 900, I might notice that those inclusions aren’t going way. I could use my Gift of Sentience to give that area a nudge. For example, by “smearing” the area and letting the process continue on. That’s what this Gift of Sentience is for.
Time is Change
When I showed this to Ringo, he asked me, “When nuthin’ chanjuz anymoh, did time stop?” For the cellular automata, the image stopped changing at around 1100 iterations until I killed the program at 1500 iterations. Even though my laptop’s CPUs were churning away, the evolution of the cellular automata stopped. In reality, time did stop when change stopped.
This cellular automata is a simple one, simple rules on a simple grid. This automata brought order from randomness and dead-ended. But the Universe is unspeakably more than that. It’s made up of countless such phenomena, processing different rules, interacting in rather unpredictable ways. But in a balance where order is always apparent and possibilities are always present.
Buddhism teaches us to embrace our Gift of Sentience in the midst of overwhelming change. We may wish that the Universe would just stay as it is once we clean it up to our liking. But if it did, the merry-go-round stops and that is the antonym of Life.
Faith and Patience,
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
P.S. Another thing Ringo said is in regard to the image at the top of this blog. He said, “I kawnt tell whethah the messy pots is eatin’ the nice pots oh the nice pots is eatin’ the messy pots.”