Plant or Program?

The plant to the left is not a plant. Rather, it is what’s called an L system: simple iterated recipes for drawing line segments that produces surprisingly sophisticated results.

How complex would you imagine the description of this L system is? Believe it or not, here’s all of it:

symbols : X, F  (F means draw forward; X is a placeholder)
: +, −    (+ means “turn right 25°,” – means “turn left 25°”)
start : X
: (X → F-[[X]+X]+F[+FX]-X), (F → FF)
To me, this is stunning: all the complexity of that plant picture in just a couple lines of description; it’s the mathematical equivalent of the miracle of the mustard seed: an enormous plant emerging from a tiny kernal. DNA springs to mind as well.
The implications are immense. Consider the idea of producing digital paintings in this way: you could just design the algorithm, and produce works that surprise even you. Fortunately, algorithmic art is already here.  This work was produced by Samuel Monnier using only computer code. You can check out more of his work at his website.
To me, this is a period of art beyond conceptual and postmodern. We are living through its early years.

Comments 2

  1. Tim Kinney

    I also find things like this impressive, but I question the utility. Sure, you can stumble upon a function that draws like nature grows. But it’s not always easy to find the function you need to just-as-easily render a different plant. This is reminiscent of Wolfram’s Rule 30. It’s fascinating that such a complex structure can arise out of such simple rules, but there doesn’t seem to be a good way to find the simple rule that you need when you want to render a specific complex structure.

    Is there headway in this regard?

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