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By Milton McC Gatch, Carl T. Berkhout

ISBN-10: 081618321X

ISBN-13: 9780816183210

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Additional info for Anglo-Saxon Scholarship, the First Three Centuries (Reference Publication in Literature)

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When Conway’s “Game of Life” is implemented on a computer, the cells that switch on and off form patterns that we see as objects that move across the screen, sometimes in a seemingly very orderly fashion (see the figure on p. 29). Obviously, since this is a computer program, there is no “mystical” element in it: the “gliders” that we see on the screen are wholly determined by the rules that govern the behaviour of the individual cells, but we cannot speak of them if we are not allowed a “higher-level language” in which concepts such as “glider” are defined.

Arbitrariness. This is in contrast to biological adaptation in general, which is non-arbitrary, insofar as it is asymmetrical, that is, an organism adapts to an environment that is already given. In mutual coordination, there is no pre-existing target of the adaptation process; rather, the important thing is that the choices made fit each other. In linguistics, we are used to associating arbitrariness with conventions, which are acquired through learning, but as we see here, there is actually no reason why genetically-based coordination could not also involve arbitrary elements.

Suppose for instance that you have a car-track with a number of toy cars programmed randomly to keep to the left or the right, respectively. Each time two cars meet, they will either happily pass each other or crash, depending on whether they are programmed in the same way or not. For any given car, the chance of survival will be a function of the proportion of cars that are programmed to keep to the same side of the road. In the end, only cars of one kind will remain — which kind depends partly on chance, partly on the distribution of left-hand and righthand driving cars in the initial population.

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Anglo-Saxon Scholarship, the First Three Centuries (Reference Publication in Literature) by Milton McC Gatch, Carl T. Berkhout


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