Monday, 14 April 2014

John Conway's Game of Life: PC / Mac

Can a universe of meaningful complexity emerge from a set of simple rules? In 1970 a cellular automaton caused quite a stir and appeared to lend support to this argument.

Beginning with a simple configuration of your choosing and by letting the rules run their course in an iterative sequence. A bewildering array of forms emerge: explosions, contusions, movements, self-replication, predators, prey, oscillations, stasis; to quote Darwin, 'endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful'.

What's more, the implications of any given configuration over a certain number can not be plotted with complete mathematical certainty. The Game of Life is insoluble. And it is only one of hundreds of similar cellular automaton programs that can create their own universes with boundaries infinite. What can be learned from these phenomena? In one sense the proliferation of rule-sets for these games is itself a Game of Life. Some spawn fascinating universes such as John Conway's while others amount to little or nothing.

It was proved at great length that the Life Universe could function as a universal computer or Turing Machine. This along with its production of emergent, unpredictable phenomena gave it a certain mystique. I am unsure of the significance of this, but it certainly raises interesting questions. Q. What is a game? A. Doesn't matter. Q. Is life, just a sequence of logical operations? A. No. Q. Isn't the Game of Life just a logical system, and doesn't it only tell us about the nature of other logical systems. A. I would say, yes. Q. Is the universe a logical system? A. No. Q. Is the Game of Life truly infinite? A. No. Q. What constitutes emergence? Q. To what extent can entropy be reversed? Q. What is the limit of complexity? Q. Where can I download Game of Thrones Season 4? Q. What answer remains satisfactory while alien to the word 'cause'?

Overview at The Wonders of Math
Excellent Game of Life program for PC and Mac
The Recursive Universe. A seminal book dealing with The Game of Life, entropy and modern physics.
The Life Lexicon. A taxonomic database of life objects.
Numberphile: John Conway explains why life is overhyped.
Breaking News in 'The Life Universe'

Whether you think life, the universe and everything is merely a sequence of logical operations or whether Game of Life and its philosophy is just naive computer science tosh: mucking about with the program is certainly diverting. And when someone next enters your foul smelling boudoir and asks irascibly "WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO STOP PLAYING THOSE COMPUTER GAMES AND GET A LIFE?!" you can respond "WHEN I CREATE A LIFE BY PLAYING THIS COMPUTER GAME - NOW LEAVE MY BOUDOIR!!!"


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