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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.

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