Santa Fe, Snow Crystals

I had an enlightening conversation with an astronomer at the Santa Fe Institute. Everything he wore was black. Black cowboy boots, black levis, black button-down shirt, black wide-brimmed hat. 

Wuensche et al. The Global Dynamics of Cellular Automata: An Atlas of Basin of Attraction Fields of One-Dimensional Cellular Automata. The Santa Fe Institute. 

On the dark balcony at a party in the mountains, he lectured informally and at great length to anybody who would listen. He explained the ways distant heavenly bodies are "inferred" rather than actually "seen." He explained the reasons binary stars change colors as they shift direction. He struck an enigmatic figure, in the dim light of tiki-torches, although anywhere else he surely seemed ridiculous.

He held up his dark hat in the dark night, to show us how we could infer it's existence by the stars that it blotted out. As the demonstration clicked in our heads, he was already receding verbaly into the farthest reaches of tangent-land.

Wuensche et al. The Global Dynamics of Cellular Automata: An Atlas of Basin of Attraction Fields of One-Dimensional Cellular Automata. The Santa Fe Institute. 

The way he presented the sciences was so warm and appealing. Why? Maybe because it was so anecdotal - a casually moralized (and in this sense anthropomorphized) universe.

He came to my mind recently while trolling the library for material related to an essay I was working on. I came across this collection of Santa Fe Institute papers on cellular automata. As in the pages above and below, the math is somehow less bewildering when it resembles snowflakes or water striders.

Somehow, the idea of mathematics underlying nature becomes more appealing when the math resembles the natural objects, or is mixed into a cocktail party anecdote.

Wuensche et al. The Global Dynamics of Cellular Automata: An Atlas of Basin of Attraction Fields of One-Dimensional Cellular Automata. The Santa Fe Institute.