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Cellular Automata: Code Beyond Words

Murilo Polese, Yadira Sanchez
March 14, 2023 to April 12, 2023 (5 classes)
Section 1: Tuesdays, 12-3pm ET Section 2: Wednesdays, 12-3pm ET
Online (Zoom)
$750 Scholarships available learn more...
Applications closed on February 12, 2023

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Cellular Automata is a way of thinking about computing, natural structures, and the wider world as a group of many entities each following simple rules. In this class we used paper, board games, computers, and more to code and play with our own cellular automata systems. This class gave us an opportunity to challenge the traditional cultures and definitions of what programming is and who it is for, and offer some critical and playful ways to imagine what else it can be.

Images courtesy of teachers.


Course of Study

  • Week 1: Rules and initial conditions — In this week we are going to have an overview of the course and pedagogic approach. Starting by exploring the idea of reading and executing rules. We'll investigate the importance of initial conditions and discuss the relevance and problems of "pioneering" work on the field.
  • Week 2: The grid and emergent behavior — This week we are going to bump the dimensions of our systems and talk about how simple rules can produce unexpectedly complex, structured and hard to predict behavior. We'll have a quick overview on the academic history as well as some useful nomenclatures to compare and challenge classic approaches to Cellular Automata.
  • Week 3: Space as language and indeterminism — Reaching the middle of the course we'll start breaking out of the English centric world and engage with non verbal forms of designing, representing and executing rules. We'll also break from conceptions of determinism and stop assuming the computer is flawless. We'll embrace indeterminism and think of computation through the knowledge and senses of our bodies.
  • Week 4: Interconnected knowledges — The last week of lecture will focus on using Cellular Automata as a lens to read the world. We'll challenge the orthogonal grid and question what processes can and should be described as a Cellular Automaton. We end the course looking for inspiration and knowledge in the microcosmic reality of single cell organisms and discuss the perception of intention in a biochemical reality.
  • Week 5: Harvesting the digital garden — The last week of this course is going to be dedicated to reflect and organize thoughts and documentation. We'll format the work we have done and try to create interesting narratives around the topics we enjoyed the most. There will be space for comparing the past to the present and project our dreams for the future.


Time & Workload
  • Participants are expected to spend time outside of the class reading and making assignments that will require crafting physical or virtual artifacts.
  • During 5 weeks participants will document their research and assignments on a wiki that is going to be archived by SFPC. The content is going to be signed collectively in a creative commons license (attribution and non-commercial) and it may or may not be used to sprout other forms of publication.
Learning Outcomes

By taking this class, you can expect to:

  • Gain knowledge in designing and implement complex behavior based on simple rules.
  • Read and understand the world around you through the lens of Cellular Automata.
  • Develop a critical understanding of deep biases in computers and tech.


  • Paper, ruler, scissors, pen
  • Chess, checker, backgammon or any other grid based board game
  • Phone or camera to document exercises and assignments (a webcam will work)
  • Computer with browser and access to internet


  • Microprocessor (Arduino-like board or pre 90's computer), sensors and actuators
  • Knitting, crochet or weaving material
  • Microscope

Is this class for me?

This class may be for you if:

  • I want to know more about computer technology from an alternative perspective.
  • I'm interested to explore the philosophical implications of computing. I want to play with the cross section of biology, natural systems, emergence and technology.
  • I am willing to speculate and simulate different ways of thinking.
  • I'm interested in decolonizing, degrowth and solarpunk.
  • I am open to having meaningful conversations across language barriers.

This class may NOT be for you if:

  • I want to learn by receiving step by step instructions.
  • I want to take a course fully asynchronously.
  • I want to engage only theoretically.

Meet the Teachers


Murilo Polese

My name is Murilo, I am a Brazilian technologist (or a full stack developer if you prefer) profoundly interested in learning experiences and technology but also music, microscope and drawing machines.

Any pronouns · website


Yadira Sanchez

Yadira Sanchez is a creative technologist working on justice and community-based technological co-creation. Organising and researching to stand against the use of violent tech.

she/her · website · twitter · instagram


Our programs are conducted in spoken English with audiovisual materials such as slides, code examples and video. Online programs are held over Zoom.

Please take care and be well. We hope you are comfortable in your housing, living, and working situation in general. Never hesitate to ask us for advice and reach out if you have accessibility requests or need any assistance during your time at SFPC. We will work closely with you towards co-creating the most accommodating learning environment for your needs.

reach out with questions about access...

How do I apply?

Apply Now

Where do you think computation happens? Where do you think it should happen?

Applications open until Applications closed on February 12, 2023.

You can expect to hear back from us about the status of your application on February 24, 2023. Please email us at with any questions you have.

more about what we look for in participants...

How much does it cost to attend?

For 5 classes, it costs $750 + processing fees, for a one-time payment. We also offer payment plans. Participants can schedule weekly or monthly payments of the same amount. First and last payments must be made before the start and end of class. *Processing fees apply for each payment.

SFPC processes all payments via Withfriends and Stripe. Please email if these payment options don't work for you.

Upon payment, your space in the class will be reserved. We offer scholarships for those who cannot pay full tuition. Read more about scholarships below.

I can’t pay for SFPC. Can I come at a reduced rate, or for free?

If you can’t pay full tuition, we really still want you to apply. Our application will ask you how much you can pay. We will offer subsidized positions in all of our classes, once each one has enough participants enrolled that we’re able to do so.

We have also started a scholarship fund, and we will be offering additional scholarships as community members redistribute their wealth through SFPC. We direct scholarship funds towards participants who are low-income, Black, Indigenous, racialized, gendered, disabled, Queer, trans, oppressed, historicially excluded and underrepresented.

Right now, tuition is SFPC’s main source of income, and that is a problem. It means that we can only pay teachers, pay for space, and organize programs when participants pay full tuition to attend. Tuition is a huge barrier to entry into the SFPC community, and it disproportionately limits Black participants, indigenous participants, queer and trans participants, and other people who are marginalized, from participating. Scholarships are not a long term solution for us, but in the short and medium term we hope to offer them more while we work towards transforming SFPC’s financial model.

How can I help others to attend SFPC?

For SFPC to be the kind of place the community has always meant it to be, it needs to become a platform for wealth redistribution. If you are a former participant, prospective participant, or friend of the school, and you have the financial privilege to do so, please donate generously. There is enough wealth in this community to make sure no one is ever rejected because of their inability to pay, and becoming that school will make SFPC the impactful, imaginative, transformative center of poetry and justice that we know it can be.

What if I can’t go, can I get a refund?

  • Yes, we can give you 100% refund up to 10 days before class starts
  • 50% refund after 10 days, until the first day of the class
  • No refunds can be given after the first day of the class

Interested in more learning opportunities at the School for Poetic Computation? Join our newsletter to stay up to date on future sessions and events, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter. Support our programming through scholarships. Get in touch over email.