CA philosophy:
An introduction to the interactive CA experiments

CA flatland

In 1884 Edwin Abbot wrote a fascinating book, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, in which he describes the life of two dimensional objects (creatures) and their perception of the third dimension. Reading the book, one could grasp how we  experience the fourth dimension.

The experiments in this page describe  CA flatlanders  who exist in a two dimensional space. Despite their simple behavior, they raise important philosophical issues  which in CA-flatland seem to be  uncomplicated and straight forward. We are concerned here with concepts, e.g. mind, self, and consciousness, and wonder whether the behavior of CA-flatlanders suggests that they might have a self, or are conscious.

Let’s remember that attributes e.g., mind or self do not exist as such. There is not a mind organ or an organ controlling emotion. We deduce these concepts from the behavior which we observe in an individual.  Observing CA behavior  may help us to grasp the essence of these issues, and  this insight may then ease the analysis of these concepts when applied to us.

Hans Jonas

These experiments illustrate  also  concisely some profound  philosophical issues raised by Hans Jonas in his important book “The phenomenon of Life”(1). According to Jonas: Plants,  animals and the human animal display an ascending development of organic functions and capabilities. The emergence of the human mind does not mark a great divide within nature but elaborates what is prefigured throughout the life-world. The organic even in its lowest forms prefigures mind, and  the mind even on its highest reaches remains part of the organic.

In other words, the rudiments of the human mind are inherent in simple organisms like an ameba or a paramecium.   Or, concepts, like   mind, self, and  consciousness   are applicable to all forms of life. An ameba has a self, a mind and is conscious.  Obviously its mind only prefigures ours, and so are its other attributes.  However understanding ameba’s mind may assist us in  the understanding of our mind.

Imagine that some brainless creatures like an ameba are conscious and may have a mind. How does it relate to our understanding of our  mind that requires a brain to exist.  


The CA has two genes. {initial condition , rule}, represented by two numbers {1 , 600}. You plant a zygote or a number one, represented by a square and it emerges into a CA. Emergence depends on the space in which  CA exist. The two genes inherited from CA to CA are the blueprint of CA life, yet lack any information how the CA phenotype will emerge. The first experiment displays CA with different genes (rules). The system presented here consists of two interacting CA called proliferon

Emergence is an unpredictable process. The zygote with its two genes does not reveal to us (observers)  how it will evolve.  Despite its simple structure CA behavior is unpredictable. Its trajectory is computationally irreducible and may be outlined only by observation. Nevertheless as a whole the proliferon  is predictable. It always  approaches and settles at an  end-point. It always attempts to maximize its resources, yet the manner how it maximizes is unpredictable. Observing its behavior we conclude, that the proliferon “knows” something which we are unable to express mathematically. In order to find out how the proliferon reaches  its end-point  we have to observe its behavior all the way. This proliferon wisdom is called here  Wisdom of the Body (WOB) .

The image displays one state of an adult CA which oscillates between 46 states. The two exterior bits of a CA are its one dimensional membranes (M) which seal off  the CA-self from the environment. Changes within the membrane are manifestation of CA metabolism or turnover.  Each membrane bit has two sensors, one for touch and one senses remote objects.


How do we know that a CA has a self? We don’t know. After all we don’t know whether our neighbor has a self. All we know that he is covered by a membrane, his skin, which seals off its inside, or self. The same reasoning applies to any living organism an even to a CA, which is also  covered by a membrane.

Three  characteristics of animal life

According to Jonas  three characteristics distinguish animal from plant life: motility, perception , and  emotion (p. 99). All three manifest a common principle.  First we ought to realize that environment and the organism are contiguous.  In plants, chemicals are directly exchanged between environment and organism. Since immediacy of satisfaction is concurrent with the permanent organic need, in this condition of continuous feeding there is no room for desire. Plants lack emotions.

The animal feeds on existing life, continuously destroys its mortal supply and has to seek elsewhere for more.
There is a “linkage between motility and emotion” (p.100). The appearance of directed long-range motility thus signifies the emergence of emotional life. Greed is at the bottom of chase, fear at the bottom of flight. If appetition is the basic condition of motility, pursuit is the primary motion. Fulfillment not yet at hand is the essential condition of desire. Emotion implies distance between need and satisfaction.

Emotion  has no external organ by which to be identified and to force its way into a physical account” (p.100). It is embodied and  cannot be localized or measured.

(The image depicts two CA states)

The CA senses remote objects toward which it moves. This “directed long-range motility” indicates that the CA has emotions.  It’s “greed is at the bottom of chase.” The less resources it carries  the faster its chase.

v. Embodied emotions

CA conditioning and memory

Every live form is equipped with an  instinct of association.  External stimuli trigger processes in the organism, some are concurrent or associated. Association may be advantageous or  threatening. In either case it will be manifested by movement, either toward, or from the stimuli.   Conditioning is based on the association instinct and requires an embodied memory.  We cannot observe the conditioning process itself. We deduce it from the behavior of the organism (v. CA conditioning).


The proliferon is the minimal construct  which displays some essential characteristics of life, motility, perception and emotion. You may regard it as a byte of a complex model simulating life. It pre-figures attributes which will emerge in multi-proliferon systems, e.g., robots.

Modern robotics is dominated by anthropomorphism. It is led astray by false notions that  consciousness and mind are manifestations of our brain and require a brain organ. However if you follow Jonas’ reasoning you soon realize that even an ameba has a mind, a prefigured one which is easier to model than our brain.

Robot domestication

Robots cannot be designed as such, they have to be grown, like animals. You plant two zygotes and  create a proliferon.   Let it interact with another one. Add  more and more proliferons, and select the   set which meets your expectations. Exactly as it is done during domestication of animals.

Additional reading:
Robot psychology
Slime mold intelligence
Will and imagination


1. Hans Jonas  The Phenomenon of Life- Toward a Philosophical Biology
Northwestern University Press Evanston  Ill  2001

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