Wolfram’s Waterfall

A thermal printer belches forth an endless stream of virtual petri dishes. Each expulsion reveals a new strain of digital bacteria. Trapped within their one dimensional universes, these binary organisms never cease to fester and multiply...

“Wolfram’s Waterfall” is an exploration of the mathematical concept of the one-dimensional-cellular-automaton, first developed by Stephen Wolfram in the 1980s. This system describes an algorithm which processes a row of cells and returns a new row of equal length. The new row is calculated by applying a set of rules which dictate the value of a cell’s successor as implied by its current state and those of its neighbors. Iterated repeatedly this process draws out an intricate pattern in the form of a strip. A strip represents a chronological evolution of the starting row. Each line within the strip can be understood as a deterministic consequence of its predecessor as determined by the ruleset.

An incomprehensibly large number of these rulesets exist. Each one generates a unique pattern with its own behaviors and tendencies. The program which this art-piece is built upon has been designed to pick a random ruleset and draw its resulting strip. It does this infinitely, plotting each one as a section of the endlessly falling printout. In doing so, this algorithm tries to stochastically explore the entire space of patterns; a futile, yet beautiful effort.

View the code for this project