Even extremely simple systems, such as cellular automata, can exhibit arbitrarily complex structural features. Hence, observing structure in a natural system – be it physical, biological or social – does not necessarily tell us much about what that system is doing, nor how it is doing it.
Purpose is a concise way of describing how a system relates to its environment. It is sufficient neither to observe the dynamical patterns, nor to know what pressure the external world applies at the boundaries of the system: it is the combination of the two that can meaningfully define purpose.
In other words, purpose or function can only be understood as a joint property of a structure and its context
(see thoughts here). Making sense of these concepts is difficult in biology, but they are not specific to it, nor even to engineering; they can be used to describe inanimate natural systems, even simple ones for which we also have far more complete dynamical models. Exploring that boundary is the goal of this project.
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