Welcome to the researcher page for Tom Ray, Professor of Zoology and Computer Science at the University of Oklahoma. He created and developed the Tierra Project, a computer simulation of artificial life. His background in Ecology has led to a focus in the study of evolution and genomes, and what happens when you replicate those systems in digital computation. His most recent work focuses on the chemical architecture of the human brain and how that gives rise to personality, intelligence, and the evolution of the mind.
1975-1990: Rainforest Biology
In grad school around 1978, became interested in the concept of reproducing biological evolution in the computer by a “Mysterious teacher over a game of Go” but knew nothing of computers.
Familiarized himself with computers after purchasing his first laptop and debugger in 1988. Reached out to Chris Langton in 1989 and was invited to visit the Artificial Life group at the Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Santa Fe Institute where he met Chris Langton, Steen Rasmussen, and Stephanie Forrest among others. All but Rasmussen were skeptical of Ray's plan.
The objective: create an instantiation of evolution by natural selection in the computational medium. The problem: computer languages are too fragile or “brittle”. Mutate the code, and the whole thing dies.
Determined to succeed, Ray left behind 15 years of biology research to model biological evolution in a digital world.
But how do we handle the “brittleness” of machine code?
Tierra is a “virtual computer”; a simulation of a computer designed to run the “Tierran” machine language. Ray conducted the first test of this virtual computer with a simple test program. “All hell broke loose”.
Parasite/Host creatures emerged. Parasites replicated from the critical data produced by the host creatures which gave rise to a Lotka-Volterra cycle in which the populations oscillate back and forth. (Sharks and fish)
This led to an evolutionary arms race.
Eventually the host organisms learned to trick the parasites into making copies of the host instead of themselves. This led to the total extinction of the parasite creatures.
The hosts became the only creature in the “world” and slowly started evolving cooperative mechanisms. A social structure emerged. Until finally trusted programs began to “cheat” using the same deceptive tricks the host originally used to overcome the parasites.
At this point, Ray turned off mutation, however the digital organisms continued to evolve. Ray eventually discovered that the organisms had discovered “sexual reproduction” and were reproducing with each other, creating offspring that were mutated combinations of the parents. Ray was no longer in control of the process.
“I stood back and watched like a god satisfied with his creation”
Over 30 papers, articles, and journals were published in the span of 5 years. The next 20 years of research is spent pushing the field of artificial life and digital evolution. Highlights include:
1991: Transition to Computational Evolution and Documenting Tierra
2009 (Last* Artificial Life publication): Artificial Life Programs and Evolution. In: Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis editors, Companion to Evolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Pp. 429-433. Published Feb 12, 2009, Darwin's 200th birthday
“My current research: The diverse set of psychoactive drugs collectively represents a rich set of tools for probing the chemical architecture of the human mind.”
First Mind research publication: Ray, T. S. 2010. Psychedelics and the Human Receptorome. PLoS ONE., February 2, 2010. “It should be possible to use this diverse set of drugs as probes into the roles played by the various receptor systems in the human mind.”
These mental organs:
and thus provide the mechanisms by which evolution sculpts the mind.