Christopher Langton

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Chris Langton at SFI, 1989

Christopher Gale Langton (born 1948) is an American computer scientist and one of the founders of the field of artificial life.


  • Biological systems are dynamical, not easily predicted, and are creative in many ways... In the old equilibrium worldview, ideas about change were dominated by the action-reaction formula. It was a clockwork world, ultimately predictable in boring ways.
    • Christopher Langton in: Roger Lewin (1990) Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos New York, Macmillan. p. 190 as cited in: Sohail Inayatullah (1994) "Evolution and Complexity"
  • A system in which a few things interacting produce tremendously divergent behavior; deterministic chaos; it looks random but its not.
    • Christopher Langton in: Roger Lewin (1990) Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos New York, Macmillan. p. 12
  • You can see these two species coexisting in a long period of stability; then on of the them drops out and all hell breaks loose. Tremendous instability. That's the Soviet Union.
    • Christopher Langton in: Roger Lewin (1990) Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos New York, Macmillan. p. 196
  • Artificial Life (``AL or ``Alife) is the name given to a new discipline that studies "natural" life by attempting to recreate biological phenomena from scratch within computers and other "artificial" media. Alife complements the traditional analytic approach of traditional biology with a synthetic approach in which, rather than studying biological phenomena by taking apart living organisms to see how they work, one attempts to put together systems that behave like living organisms.
    • Christopher Langton in: Karl Gerbel, Peter Weibel, Katharina Gsöllpointner (1993) Genetische Kunst--künstliches Leben. p.25
  • There's a reason for poetry... Poetry is a very nonlinear use of language, where the meaning is more than just the sum of the parts. And science requires that it be nothing more than the sum of the parts. And just the fact that there's stuff to explain out there that's more than the sum of the parts means that the traditional approach, just characterizing the parts and the relations, is not going to be adequate for capturing the essence of many systems that you would like to be able to do. That's not to say that there isn't a way to do it in a more scientific way than poetry, but I just like the feeling that culturally there's going to be more of something like poetry in the future of science.
    • Christopher Langton, as quoted by John Horgan, The End of Science (1996) p. 201.

Artificial Life (1989)


Christopher Langton (1989), "Artificial Life" In: Langton ed. Artificial Life. Addison-Wesley. p. 1-47 (online)

  • Artificial Life [AL] is the study of man-made systems that exhibit behaviors characteristic of natural living systems. It complements the traditional biological sciences concerned with the analysis of living organisms by attempting to synthesize life-like behaviors within computers and other artificial media. By extending the empirical foundation upon which biology is based beyond the carbon-chain life that has evolved on Earth, Artificial Life can contribute to theoretical biology by locating life-as-we-know-it within the larger picture of life-as-it-could-be.
    • p.1
  • Biology is the scientific study of life - in principle, anyway. In practice, biology is the scientific study of life on Earth based on carbon-chain chemistry. There is nothing in its charter that restricts biology to carbon-based life; it is simply that this is the only kind of life that has been available to study. Thus, theoretical biology has long faced the fundamental obstacle that it is impossible to derive general principles from single examples... Without other examples, it is difficult to distinguish essential properties of life - properties that would be shared by any living system - from properties that may be incidental to life in principle, but which happen to be universal to life on Earth due solely to a combination of local historical accident and common genetic descent.
    • p.2
  • [AL] views life as a property of the organization of matter, rather than a property of the matter which is so organized. Whereas biology has largely concerned itself with the material basis of life, Artificial Life is concerned with the formal basis of life.
    • p.2
  • It starts at the bottom, viewing an organism as a large population of simple machines, and works upwards synthetically from there — constructing large aggregates of simple, rule-governed objects which interact with one another nonlinearly in the support of life-like, global dynamics. The ‘key' concept in AL is emergent behavior.
    • p.2
  • Artificial Life is concerned with tuning the behaviors of such low-level machines that the behavior that emerges at the global level is essentially the same as some behavior exhibited by a natural living system... Artificial Life is concerned with generating lifelike behavior.
  • The principle assumption made in Artificial Life is that the 'logical form' of an organism can be separated from its material basis of construction, and that 'aliveness' will be found to be a property of the former, not of the latter.
    • p.11

Quotes about Christopher Langton

  • Holland's and Kauffman's work, together with Dawkins' simulations of evolution and Varela's models of autopoietic systems, provide essential inspiration for the new discipline of artificial life, This approach, initiated by Chris Langton (1989, 1992), tries to develop technological systems (computer programs and autonomous robots) that exhibit lifelike properties, such as reproduction, sexuality, swarming, and co-evolution.
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