The ant and the highway

The blank page still invites me to spread my moods. No matter how much I talk about silence and winter, my mind, although tired, is constantly moving in spring.

But still…

I discovered Langton’s ant a few days ago through a very nice video (see also this post ). As the author of the video and post says, the Langton ant is a small computer program that describes an ant moving on the squares of a grid. The rules governing the ant’s movement are very simple, yet its behavior is complex and anything but insignificant. And no one really understands why…

An ant moves on a checkerboard with a simple rule. If it is on a black square, it turns left, if it is on a white square, it turns right. When leaving a square, it reverses its color.

As you might expect, the ant goes in all directions at first, but at the end of the 10,000th iteration (changing boxes), it begins to go straight into what the Langton has called a highway.

Discovering this, the researcher tried to change the ant’s rules (behavior), but nothing works. No matter how complex the starting environment is, the ant (or ants if you put several ants in), eventually goes in one direction and it will no longer change its course to infinity (or until you stop the program.

We call it an emerging phenomenon and, as we can imagine, we immediately think about life.

Could it be that, behind the beginnings of the first molecules, roads, shapes, and structures have emerged which, as they became even more complex, have led to other highways and other architectures? It would seem so. Scientists and geeks have a field day with these random games that end up giving amazing geometries. We also think of fractals. A professor Tournesol teaches the code of nature (strangely reversing the name of his course: The Nature of Code). Our video games are (literally) teeming with mathematical equations and processes that bring us closer and closer to another reality, that of artificial intelligence, which has only the artificial quality of being created by human beings since… our intelligence may come from an old phenomenon of dizzy ants. Even this sentence looks like a termite journey.

This highway thing leads me to talk about our lives. What if our existence was only this more or less random and creative noise? That after a while, more or less quickly depending on the circumstances and the individuals, one comes to lock oneself in the narrow corridor of a highway? Michel Tremblay has already stated that after a while, we always write the same story (he should have stopped then…), the poet Alfred Desrochers said something similar, that imagination belongs to young people.

I know it’s a stretch, but I keep pulling on my thin hair. I am like that, in the fog, I try to build a highway even if I never want it straight. Because living always straight is probably a bit like death, like that heartbeat on the screen that suddenly doesn’t make a wave anymore.

And yet, will not this crazy world in which we live, which seems so chaotic and uncertain to us, be another one of those eternal disasters like war, an extinction that will make our existence on Earth a line on which our ashes will evaporate?

I would like to be wary of the random, yet it is the source of life, it is the true Good God who does not look at what he invents. There, I am sure, God is a drunk ant who, from time to time, breaks a long nervous highway in which we move, our minds intoxicated with divine fog.

I’m getting rude.

Life is rude, it bubbles, excited, creating its way without knowing why it does it.

This is where my scientific dithering leads me. It is now clear why I did not pursue pure science.