NYZ – Unknowable Determinism

I wrote a blurb for the new album Unknowable Determinism by NYZ (Dave Burraston). The album comprises tracks made from 2013 to 2016, marking a significant new direction for NYZ, based on an original approach to mapping between cellular automata rules and tuning systems. The term ‘unknowable determinism’ was coined by Ed Fredkin, a physicist who developed Konrad Zuse’s idea that the universe is a digital computer. This is an idea that both Dave and I came across, separately, through our research into cellular automata. Zuse explored whether it was possible establish a theory of physics that is digital, i.e. discrete and finite, as opposed to continuous and infinite. If classical physics is ‘analog’ (e.g. Newton’s laws of motion), and quantum physics is both ‘analog’ and ‘digital’ (e.g. wave/particle duality), could there be a purely digital physics? In a paper (1967) and book (1969) called Rechnender Raum [Calculating Space], Zuse suggested that this could take the form of a cellular automaton [PDF available here: ftp://ftp.idsia.ch/pub/juergen/zuserechnenderraum.pdf]. Fredkin developed this hypothesis into a theory of digital physics that he calls Finite Nature:

Uncertainty is at the heart of quantum mechanics. Finite Nature requires that we rule out true, locally generated randomness because such numbers would not, in this context, be considered finite. The reason is that there is no way to create, within a computer, a truly random number that is orthogonal to everything in the computer. On the other hand, another kind of randomness appears in CA where the values of many of the bits are so influenced by distant events as to be essentially orthogonal to any local process. The deterministic nature of finite digital processes is different in that it is unknowable determinism. From within the system an observer will never be able to know very much about the true microscopic state of that system. Every part of space is computing its future as fast possible, while information pours in from every direction. The result is the same as caused by the apparent randomness of quantum mechanical processes. (Fredkin, 1992, Finite Nature. http://www.ai.mit.edu/projects/im/ftp/poc/fredkin/Finite-Nature)

So ‘unknowable determinism’ characterizes both a complex system and [the limits to] our knowledge of it. It means that we cannot hope to predict how such a system might evolve, even if we understand the computations involved. And it is perceptually indistinguishable from randomness, which is also causal yet unpredictable. It applies not only to the concept of digital philosophy but also to the cellular automata systems that Dave designed and used to make this album, through which he wrangles a selection of CA rules and translates their computations into musical information.

Unknowable Determinism will be released on 15 May 2021 via Stellage. Listen to excerpts, read the blurb, and pre-order the album here: https://stellage.store/collection/cd/product/unknowable-determinism

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