Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stone Soup

A person I would have love to have had a conversation with is Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who not only invented computing (John Von Neuman was the other player in that endeavor) and AI but also was, until now, an unrecognized leading researcher of chaos via his seminal paper titled."The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis," whereby the interaction of a wide range of chemicals can give rise to patterns of incredible complexity ranging from leopard spots and patterns on seashells and fish to the branching of avoeli in lungs. Even more amazing is the fact his theory may extend to the formation of galaxies as the distribution patterns scale from the cellular to the galactic without distortion and without the need of chemical interaction, something guaranteed to astound as Turing wrote his paper well before his tragic suicide in 1954. 

At the heart of any Turing pattern is a so-called reaction-diffusion system. It consists of an "activator," a chemical that can make more of itself; an "inhibitor," that slows production of the activator; and a mechanism for diffusing the chemicals.

Many combinations of chemicals can fit this system: What matters isn't their individual identity, but how they interact, with concentrations oscillating between high and low and spreading across an area. These simple units then suffice to produce very complex patterns.

Or, in essence

"Nature abhors gradients"- Into the Cool

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