Rudy Rucker's Phil 115 Computers and Philosophy




Paintings & Links



Philosophy 115: Computers and Philosophy, Fall 2005

Prof. Rudy Rucker,

Class meets once a week, 4:30 - 7:715 PM on Thursdays in Sweeney Hall 241. We’ll normally break for fifteen minutes from 5:45 to 6:00.

Office: Faculty Office Building 233, Office hour: 3:30 - 4:30 PM on Thursdays.

Email: Professor’s home page:

Course website: (Check this page periodically for new developments.)

I'd like to have as many people as possible enjoy this class, so even if you're not a fulltime SJSU student, consider taking the course through the SJSU Open University. Maybe you can get off work a little early on Thursdays this fall!

(Topic) The focus will be the philosophical meaning of computers. The presentations will be non-technical, including in-class lectures and occasional computer demos. The second half of each class meeting will emphasize group discussion.

We're presently in the midst of a third intellectual revolution. The first came with Newton: the planets obey physical laws. The second came with Darwin: biology obeys genetic laws. In today’s third revolution, we're coming to realize that even minds and societies emerge from interacting laws that can be regarded as computations. I'm going to argue for the position that everything is a computation.

Does this, then, mean that the world is dull? Far from it. The naturally occurring computations that surround us are richly complex. A tree's growth, the changes in the weather, the flow of daily news, a person's ever-changing moods --- all of these computations share the crucial property of being gnarly. Although law-like and deterministic, gnarly computations are --- and this is a key point --- inherently unpredictable. The world's mystery is preserved.

Mixing together anecdotes, graphics, computer demos and fables, I’ll tease out the implications of this new worldview, which is called "universal automatism." The analysis will reveal startling aspects of the everyday world, touching upon such topics as chaos, the internet, fame, free will, and the pursuit of happiness.

(Grades) Course grades will be based on a midterm (25%), a final (35%), and a semester project (40%). The tests will be short-answer questions relating to the content of the lectures and readings, with an essay question on the final.

The project can be (a) a journal-like blog of thoughts on the readings, (b) a research paper, (c) a thought-experiment-style philosophical fiction story, or (d) a Java application accompanied by an explanation of which philosophical points it illustrates.

I will have you do the projects in several stages, including two proposal stages, two draft stages, and the final version, which, time permitting, will be presented in class.

(Text) Recommended reading: Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science, (Urbana, Ill: Wolfram Research, 2002). Available online at .

Required text: Rudy Rucker, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul: What Gnarly Computation Taught me About Ultimate Reality, the Meaning Of Life, and How To Be Happy, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, Fall, 2005).

[Click here for a printable PDF version of this announcement.]

Podcasts of the Lectures

Review Questions for Midterm (as blackboard images)

Review Questions for Final (as text)

Student Blogs

Greg G.

Emil R.