Relative to the class discussion last Wednesday concerning the virtue of computer simulation, I would like to offer the following clarification of my thoughts.

The computer and its ability to simulate natural phenomena are significant additions to the tools with which thoughtful persons can search for the truth. Their ability to run multiple iterations of a process in a short time, together with their ability to change the input to each successive iteration based on results of prior iterations (i.e. feedback), and to do so according to fixed rules, facilitates the modeling of non-linear processes in a way that stimulates the mind and excites the imagination.

Such simulations demonstrate at least two propositions of Chaos and Complexity theory that I know of: 1) that complex behavior may be generated from the non-linear iteration of a few simple rules, and that 2) that a precise mathematical point may be found where an apparently linear process becomes non-linear (the â€œedge of chaosâ€?). A 3rd proposition may be suggested by the 1st one: that all chaotic processes are only apparent, actually consisting of an orderly combination of simple elements.

These propositions are important and far-reaching in their implications, but they are rather abstract and general. In this respect, computer simulation differs from scientific experiment, which observes the behavior of real things. Binary strings and character strings are mathematical and/or logical constructs rather than natural phenomena, and so are the rules which drive the computer simulations. Thus, the â€œboidsâ€? simulation operates by rules of â€œaverageâ€? flock density and â€œaverageâ€? direction. Its results look tantalizingly close to how real flocks of birds behave, but they fail to prove that the rules which drive the simulation are what actually drive real flocks of birds. Conceivably, a different set of rules may achieve the same visual effect.

So, at this point in my 4-week acquaintance with Chaos and Complexity, I am inclined to think that the theory compliments traditional, reductionist science rather than encroaches upon its territory. No doubt, reductionist science has erred in offering itself as a comprehensive explanation of existence, and the holistic view of C&C is an important qualification of science; but until I see evidence that C&C theory is capable of results which supplant the results of traditional scientific experiment, I will tend to regard its propositions as more philosophical/mathematical than scientific. To the extent that its mathematical/logical constructs are truly representative of scientific fact, such as the rules governing DNA and chromosomes, computer simulation which observes those rules in action are a valid extension of scientific experiment; but without such a match, it is questionable whether computer simulation can proceed beyond the demonstration of C&Câ€™s general propositions.

Mike Woolsey