Appropriation of (Ir)reversibility of Noise Fluctuations to (Un)Facilitate Complexity



The logical depth is a suitable measure of subjective complexity for physical as well as mathematical objects. this, upon considering the effect of irreversibility, noise, and spatial symmetries of the equations of motion and initial conditions on the asymptotic depth-generating abilities of model systems.

“Self-organization” suggests a spontaneous increase of complexity occurring in a system with simple, generic (e.g. spatially homogeneous) initial conditions. The increase of complexity attending a computation, by contrast, is less remarkable because it occurs in response to special initial conditions. An important question, which would have interested Turing, is whether self-organization is an asymptotically qualitative phenomenon like phase transitions. In other words, are there physically reasonable models in which complexity, appropriately defined, not only increases, but increases without bound in the limit of infinite space and time? A positive answer to this question would not explain the natural history of our particular finite world, but would suggest that its quantitative complexity can legitimately be viewed as an approximation to a well-defined qualitative property of infinite systems. On the other hand, a negative answer would suggest that our world should be compared to chemical reaction-diffusion systems (e.g. Belousov-Zhabotinsky), which self-organize on a macroscopic, but still finite scale, or to hydrodynamic systems which self-organize on a scale determined by their boundary conditions.

The suitability of logical depth as a measure of physical complexity depends on the assumed ability (“physical Church’s thesis”) of Turing machines to simulate physical processes, and to do so with reasonable efficiency. Digital machines cannot of course integrate a continuous system’s equations of motion exactly, and even the notion of computability is not very robust in continuous systems, but for realistic physical systems, subject throughout their time development to finite perturbations (e.g. electromagnetic and gravitational) from an uncontrolled environment, it is plausible that a finite-precision digital calculation can approximate the motion to within the errors induced by these perturbations. Empirically, many systems have been found amenable to “master equation” treatments in which the dynamics is approximated as a sequence of stochastic transitions among coarse-grained microstates.

We concentrate arbitrarily on cellular automata, in the broad sense of discrete lattice models with finitely many states per site, which evolve according to a spatially homogeneous local transition rule that may be deterministic or stochastic, reversible or irreversible, and synchronous (discrete time) or asynchronous (continuous time, master equation). Such models cover the range from evidently computer-like (e.g. deterministic cellular automata) to evidently material-like (e.g. Ising models) with many gradations in between.

More of the favorable properties need to be invoked to obtain “self-organization,” i.e. nontrivial computation from a spatially homogeneous initial condition. A rather artificial system (a cellular automaton which is stochastic but noiseless, in the sense that it has the power to make purely deterministic as well as random decisions) undergoes this sort of self-organization. It does so by allowing the nucleation and growth of domains, within each of which a depth-producing computation begins. When two domains collide, one conquers the other, and uses the conquered territory to continue its own depth-producing computation (a computation constrained to finite space, of course, cannot continue for more than exponential time without repeating itself). To achieve the same sort of self-organization in a truly noisy system appears more difficult, partly because of the conflict between the need to encourage fluctuations that break the system’s translational symmetry, while suppressing fluctuations that introduce errors in the computation.

Irreversibility seems to facilitate complex behavior by giving noisy systems the generic ability to correct errors. Only a limited sort of error-correction is possible in microscopically reversible systems such as the canonical kinetic Ising model. Minority fluctuations in a low-temperature ferromagnetic Ising phase in zero field may be viewed as errors, and they are corrected spontaneously because of their potential energy cost. This error correcting ability would be lost in nonzero field, which breaks the symmetry between the two ferromagnetic phases, and even in zero field it gives the Ising system the ability to remember only one bit of information. This limitation of reversible systems is recognized in the Gibbs phase rule, which implies that under generic conditions of the external fields, a thermodynamic system will have a unique stable phase, all others being metastable. Even in reversible systems, it is not clear why the Gibbs phase rule enforces as much simplicity as it does, since one can design discrete Ising-type systems whose stable phase (ground state) at zero temperature simulates an aperiodic tiling of the plane, and can even get the aperiodic ground state to incorporate (at low density) the space-time history of a Turing machine computation. Even more remarkably, one can get the structure of the ground state to diagonalize away from all recursive sequences.

String’s Depth of Burial


A string’s depth might be defined as the execution time of its minimal program.

The difficulty with this definition arises in cases where the minimal program is only a few bits smaller than some much faster program, such as a print program, to compute the same output x. In this case, slight changes in x may induce arbitrarily large changes in the run time of the minimal program, by changing which of the two competing programs is minimal. Analogous instability manifests itself in translating programs from one universal machine to another. This instability emphasizes the essential role of the quantity of buried redundancy, not as a measure of depth, but as a certifier of depth. In terms of the philosophy-of-science metaphor, an object whose minimal program is only a few bits smaller than its print program is like an observation that points to a nontrivial hypothesis, but with only a low level of statistical confidence.

To adequately characterize a finite string’s depth one must therefore consider the amount of buried redundancy as well as the depth of its burial. A string’s depth at significance level s might thus be defined as that amount of time complexity which is attested by s bits worth of buried redundancy. This characterization of depth may be formalized in several ways.

A string’s depth at significance level s be defined as the time required to compute the string by a program no more than s bits larger than the minimal program.

This definition solves the stability problem, but is unsatisfactory in the way it treats multiple programs of the same length. Intuitively, 2k distinct (n + k)-bit programs that compute same output ought to be accorded the same weight as one n-bit program; but, by the present definition, they would be given no more weight than one (n + k)-bit program.

A string’s depth at signicifcance level s depth might be defined as the time t required for the string’s time-bounded algorithmic probability Pt(x) to rise to within a factor 2−s of its asymptotic time-unbounded value P(x).

This formalizes the notion that for the string to have originated by an effective process of t steps or fewer is less plausible than for the first s tosses of a fair coin all to come up heads.

It is not known whether there exist strings that are deep, in other words, strings having no small fast programs, even though they have enough large fast programs to contribute a significant fraction of their algorithmic probability. Such strings might be called deterministically deep but probabilistically shallow, because their chance of being produced quickly in a probabilistic computation (e.g. one where the input bits of U are supplied by coin tossing) is significant compared to their chance of being produced slowly. The question of whether such strings exist is probably hard to answer because it does not relativize uniformly. Deterministic and probabilistic depths are not very different relative to a random coin-toss oracle A of the equality of random-oracle-relativized deterministic and probabilistic polynomial time complexity classes; but they can be very different relative to an oracle B deliberately designed to hide information from deterministic computations (this parallels Hunt’s proof that deterministic and probabilistic polynomial time are unequal relative to such an oracle).

(Depth of Finite Strings): Let x and w be strings and s a significance parameter. A string’s depth at significance level s, denoted Ds(x), will be defined as min{T(p) : (|p|−|p| < s)∧(U(p) = x)}, the least time required to compute it by a s-incompressible program. At any given significance level, a string will be called t-deep if its depth exceeds t, and t-shallow otherwise.

The difference between this definition and the previous one is rather subtle philosophically and not very great quantitatively. Philosophically, when each individual hypothesis for the rapid origin of x is implausible at the 2−s confidence level, then it requires only that a weighted average of all such hypotheses be implausible.

There exist constants c1 and c2 such that for any string x, if programs running in time ≤ t contribute a fraction between 2−s and 2−s+1 of the string’s total algorithmic probability, then x has depth at most t at significance level s + c1 and depth at least t at significance level s − min{H(s), H(t)} − c2.

Proof : The first part follows easily from the fact that any k-compressible self-delimiting program p is associated with a unique, k − O(1) bits shorter, program of the form “execute the result of executing p∗”. Therefore there exists a constant c1 such that if all t-fast programs for x were s + c1– compressible, the associated shorter programs would contribute more than the total algorithmic probability of x. The second part follows because, roughly, if fast programs contribute only a small fraction of the algorithmic probability of x, then the property of being a fast program for x is so unusual that no program having that property can be random. More precisely, the t-fast programs for x constitute a finite prefix set, a superset S of which can be computed by a program of size H(x) + min{H(t), H(s)} + O(1) bits. (Given x∗ and either t∗ or s∗, begin enumerating all self-delimiting programs that compute x, in order of increasing running time, and quit when either the running time exceeds t or the accumulated measure of programs so far enumerated exceeds 2−(H(x)−s)). Therefore there exists a constant c2 such that, every member of S, and thus every t-fast program for x, is compressible by at least s − min{H(s), H(t)} − O(1) bits.

The ability of universal machines to simulate one another efficiently implies a corresponding degree of machine-independence for depth: for any two efficiently universal machines of the sort considered here, there exists a constant c and a linear polynomial L such that for any t, strings whose (s+c)-significant depth is at least L(t) on one machine will have s-significant depth at least t on the other.

Depth of one string relative to another may be defined analogously, and represents the plausible time required to produce one string, x, from another, w.

(Relative Depth of Finite Strings): For any two strings w and x, the depth of x relative to w at significance level s, denoted Ds(x/w), will be defined as min{T(p, w) : (|p|−|(p/w)∗| < s)∧(U(p, w) = x)}, the least time required to compute x from w by a program that is s-incompressible relative to w.

Depth of a string relative to its length is a particularly useful notion, allowing us, as it were, to consider the triviality or nontriviality of the “content” of a string (i.e. its bit sequence), independent of its “form” (length). For example, although the infinite sequence 000… is intuitively trivial, its initial segment 0n is deep whenever n is deep. However, 0n is always shallow relative to n, as is, with high probability, a random string of length n.

In order to adequately represent the intuitive notion of stored mathematical work, it is necessary that depth obey a “slow growth” law, i.e. that fast deterministic processes be unable to transform a shallow object into a deep one, and that fast probabilistic processes be able to do so only with low probability.

(Slow Growth Law): Given any data string x and two significance parameters s2 > s1, a random program generated by coin tossing has probability less than 2−(s2−s1)+O(1) of transforming x into an excessively deep output, i.e. one whose s2-significant depth exceeds the s1-significant depth of x plus the run time of the transforming program plus O(1). More precisely, there exist positive constants c1, c2 such that for all strings x, and all pairs of significance parameters s2 > s1, the prefix set {q : Ds2(U(q, x)) > Ds1(x) + T(q, x) + c1} has measure less than 2−(s2−s1)+c2.

Proof: Let p be a s1-incompressible program which computes x in time Ds1(x), and let r be the restart prefix mentioned in the definition of the U machine. Let Q be the prefix set {q : Ds2(U(q, x)) > T(q, x) + Ds1(x) + c1}, where the constant c1 is sufficient to cover the time overhead of concatenation. For all q ∈ Q, the program rpq by definition computes some deep result U(q, x) in less time than that result’s own s2-significant depth, and so rpq must be compressible by s2 bits. The sum of the algorithmic probabilities of strings of the form rpq, where q ∈ Q, is therefore

Σq∈Q P(rpq)< Σq∈Q 2−|rpq| + s2 = 2−|r|−|p|+s2 μ(Q)

On the other hand, since the self-delimiting program p can be recovered from any string of the form rpq (by deleting r and executing the remainder pq until halting occurs, by which time exactly p will have been read), the algorithmic probability of p is at least as great (within a constant factor) as the sum of the algorithmic probabilities of the strings {rpq : q ∈ Q} considered above:

P(p) > μ(Q) · 2−|r|−|p|+s2−O(1)

Recalling the fact that minimal program size is equal within a constant factor to the −log of algorithmic probability, and the s1-incompressibility of p, we have P(p) < 2−(|p|−s1+O(1)), and therefore finally

μ(Q) < 2−(s2−s1)+O(1), which was to be demonstrated.