Suppose we are going to start a celullar automata and we are expecting some patterns to emerge.

My question :
Do the patterns exist before the computation and they gain form or get instantiated in the workings of the computation, or do these patterns do not exist before the computation but instead are CREATED and start existing out of the computation ?

Thanks in advance

  • Is there any chance you could share a little more about the context and motivations here? Why has this question become an interesting or important one to you in terms of your study of philosophy?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 22:58
  • @JosephWeissman: To me it sounds very much like a model of a universe (which could be ours). But with that interpretation the "before" reference does not make sense. So I chose to answer it with a more literal interpretation, not assuming anything about the likely intended context. Commented May 13, 2015 at 0:04
  • Nature vs Nurture comes to mind. The result depends on both the algorithm and the input(s). Commented May 14, 2015 at 2:09

2 Answers 2


The "creative" ability of a cellular automaton is not different in nature from that of any other computational device, in that what it produces is entirely enveloped (causally determined) by its initial state, and its transition rules.

What may be interesting here, is that the behavior of the automaton cannot be determined in advance by an external observer, using a general method. The problem, therefore, is not metaphysical, but epistemological. In other words, it is not a problem of determining where did those patterns came from, but how to deal with the fact that it is impossible to know what is going to happen (with the exception of a minority of trivial examples) without analyzing each individual automaton, on its own, as a singular problem.

Someone could say for that matter (and in a very materialistic way) that each one of them has a mind of its own.

Have your heard of Stephen Wolfram's famous book, "A New Kind of Science"? If you didn't, I think you'll find it mind blowing.


The only problem is in the use of the word “exist”. It has many meanings. Existence of a mathematical constraint on an abstract system, is not the same as physical existence in our universe. In the former sense the patterns exist but not at any time, it is a timeless existence. In the second sense the patterns demonstrably do not exist (physically), of course assuming that they indeed do not exist (you forgot to say anything about that).

I think it gets more interesting when we know the patterns that will emerge, and where these patterns are the thoughts of a machine intelligence, recreated by starting with a particular recorded state, and applying recorded inputs and forward evolution. This can be viewed as just a simple way to force the electronics to certain predetermined, known states, but it is the same going on as in an original context where we recorded the state and input signals. And in that original context, we were certain that there was a mind.

And instead of asking about the existence of the patterns, in abstract mathematical or physical sense, we can ask about the existence of the mind here: it existed earlier, in some sense of "existing", and with now exactly the same going on in the machinery, except that we know that state evolution and are effectively imposing it, is the mind's "existence" re-created?

I would tend to say yes wrt. to the inputs being applied, but this is a hard one.

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