This blog is about Simon, a young gifted mathematician and programmer, who had to move from Amsterdam to Antwerp to be able to study at the level that fits his talent, i.e. homeschool. Visit https://simontiger.com
Simon’s latest independent coding project involved some biology lessons! He loves the channel Primer by Justin Helps and watched his evolution series many times, studying the rules for species’ survival and multiplication. This resulted in two interactive evolution simulations, in both of which Simon recreated the rules he learned. The first simulation doesn’t involve natural selection and is based on these two videos: Simulating Competition and Logistic Growth and Mutations and the First Replicators.
Simon’s September visit to CERN has been featured in a World Science Scholars newsletter:
Here’s our update on the World Science Scholars program. Simon has finished the first bootcamp course on the theory and quantum mechanics by one of program’s founders, string theorist Professor Brian Greene and has taken part in three live sessions: with Professor Brian Greene, Professor Justin Khoury (dark matter research, alternatives to the inflationary paradigm, such as the Ekpyrotic Universe), and Professor Barry Barish (one of the leading experts in gravitational waves and particle detectors; won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”).
At the moment, there isn’t much going on. Simon is following the second course offered by the program, at his own pace. It’s a course about neurology and neurological statistics by Professor Suzana Herculano-Houzel and is called “Big Brains, Small Brains: The Conundrum of Comparing Brains and Intelligence”. The course is compiled from Professor Herculano-Houzel’s presentations made at the World Science Festival so it doesn’t seem to have been recorded specifically for the scholars, like Professor Brian Greene’s course was.
Professor Herculano-Houzel has made “brain soup” (also called “isotropic fractionator”) out of dozens of animal species and has counted exactly how many neurons different brains are made of. Contrary to what Simon saw in Professor Greene’s course (mainly already familiar stuff as both relativity theory and quantum mechanics have been within his area of interest for quite some time), most of the material in this second course is very new to him. And possibly also less exciting. Although what helps is the mathematical way in which the data is presented. After all, the World Science Scholars program is about interdisciplinary themes that are intertwined with mathematical thinking.
Another mathematical example: in Professor Herculano-Houzel’s course on brains we have witnessed nested patterns, as if they escaped from Stephen Wolfram’s book we’re reading now.
Simon has also contributed to the discussion pages, trying out an experiment where paper surface represented cerebral cortex:
Simon: “Humans are not outliers because they’re outliers, they are outliers because there’s a hidden variable”.
Simon is looking forward to Stephen Wolfram’s course (that he is recording for world science scholars) and, of course, to the live sessions with him. The information that Stephen Wolfram will be the next lecturer has stimulated Simon to dive deep into his writings (we are already nearly 400 pages through his “bible” A New Kind of Science) and sparked a renewed and more profound understanding of cellular automata and Turing machines and of ways to connect those to our observations in nature. I’m pretty sure this is just the beginning.
It’s amazing to observe how quickly Simon grasps the concepts described in A New Kind of Science; on several occasions he has tried to recreate the examples he read about the night before.
This project is a simulation of how many people can stem from the same ancestor, something Simon has learned from James Grime’s “Every Baby is a Royal Baby” video on Numberphile. In this simplified version, there’re only 6 people per generation. Simon was throwing two dice to determine who the two parents were for every person (in the case when both dice came out to be the same number, this was considered “virgin birth” or simply that the father had come from outside the limited sample Simon was working with).
Simon opened up a genetic algorithm game he built about two years ago and made a fascinating discovery: one of the organisms seems to have become immortal! Simon has called his discovery “The Everlasting Vehicle” and saved the vehicle’s DNA.
The last time I ran the program is a couple of hours ago. Everything died out, except for one vehicle.
I have programmed this with a genetic algorithm. They have a DNA with 4 genes.
Attraction/Repulsion to food
Attraction/Repulsion to poison
How far it can see food
How far it can see poison
They also have a health, which goes down over time. If they eat food, then their health goes up, if they eat poison, then their health suddenly goes down. A good health is 1, and a bad one is 0.
So what was The Everlasting Vehicle’s DNA and health?
Attraction/Repulsion to food 1.9958444373034823
Attraction/Repulsion to poison 1.3554737395594456
How far it can see food 53.31017416626768
How far it can see poison 23.33902221893798
Average health ~397
So it attracts to poison, yet its health is approximately 397 times bigger than a very good health! And better yet, it even lasted for a couple of hours so far!!!
Bayes’s Theorem calculates the probability of an event based upon the conditions that might be relevant to the event and is widely used to test the precision of medical tests and drugs efficacy.
Simon explains Bayes’ Theorem to Dad. To illustrate the theorem, he loves using the math riddle he first saw on the Veritasium channel, about someone getting positive results on a rare disease test: The test has a precision rate of 99% and it is also known that the disease occurrence rate is 1/1000. What is the probability that the person tested positively really has the disease? (Answer: 11/1000 or 9%).
Simon has been fascinated about the Opponent-process theory (suggesting that color perception is controlled by the activity of three opponent systems, three independent receptor types which all have opposing pairs: white and black, blue and yellow, and red and green). He has been complaining that all the papers on Opponent-process Theory he has managed to find online were too superficial.
What looks like strange planets in dark space are actually glimpses of the microstructures forming the Giant Blue Morpho’s wings, as seen through a microscope. Simon told me about how a Blue Morpho’s wings aren’t actually blue (have no blue pigment) but appear blue as a result of a physical phenomenon called structural coloration — microstructures interfering with light. This is almost the same phenomenon as iridescence (making a surface appear to change colours as the observer’s angle of view or the illumination angle changes, think of the soap film in a bubble).
We had found Blue Morpho’s wings in the street about half a year ago. Someone threw a small butterfly collection away — several butterflies pinned to a stick. It looked very cruel and we would have never killed a Blue Morpho for the sake of an experiment, but since we stumbled upon such a rare treasure, we picked up one wing and stored it in a book.
Although Simon doesn’t have the Magformers Dinosaur Set, he does have all the pieces (he collects the set using the pieces from other sets). It’s great fun to be able to look up the dinos and the instructions in the Magformers online pdf books and bring them back to life:
We also read up on how these dinos lived in the encyclopaedias.