Posted by: apal1528 | 09/29/2011

Conway’s Game of Life

I happened upon this very simple game on StumbleUpon the other day and was amazed.

Upon further research, this simple mushroom game is based on John Hort0n Conway’s cellular automaton devised in 1971. It can best be described as an Artificial Life Simulation. The simulation is governed by four basic rules:

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbors dies, as if caused by under-population.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbors lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbors dies, as if by overcrowding.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbors becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

An online adaptation of the original can be played here. Depending on the initial pattern, the cells will form different formations throughout the course of the game. Fiddle around with it and see what you think. Try is this pattern:

As simple as the initial set-up looks, the amount of complexity that results is fascinating. Upon even further research, I found a quick download for an application that allows for easy creation and manipulation of patterns. The download includes hundreds of more complex patterns that users have developed that are all absolutely astonishing. You can cut, copy, and paste patterns, zoom in and out, and the application even allows for more sophisticated rules and scenarios. I’ve enjoyed just playing the basic simulation, especially messing around with what users call Guns. These configurations are self-sustaining and replicate smaller Spaceships that float off into infinity. The Cordership V-Gun is by far my favorite:

As you can see, this pattern is huge. Here are some close ups.

Once this pattern is allowed to manifest itself, it maintains it’s shape but shoots off large Corderships. Without a video diagram it’s hard to describe, but in this next picture you can see the Ships moving away from the initial pattern.

It’s really brilliant if you think about it. Simple cells turning on and off, placed in a certain pattern, can regulate themselves to cause action. Notice the cells off to the right and left of the elbow of the pattern, these are the elements that the main V-pattern manufactures, then as they come together they form the Corderships and start floating off. After being fully satisfied by the working of this pattern, I naturally wanted to see how I could mess it up. The next shot is the aftermath of changing just one cell in the pattern from on to off. Without that one cell, the pattern destroyed itself.

As a guy trying to figure out my place in the Universe, I feel like this game has some profound implications. Many will argue that life could never have come from nothing and therefore end up attributing life’s existence to either a creator or aliens. As unquenching as these explanations are, I find this simple illustration to be very compelling. Given the 2,500 x 2,500 cell area that this Cordership Gun takes up, there is a discrete possibility that with a random flipping on and off of all 6,250,000 cells this pattern, given a long enough amount of time, would randomly occur. Though extremely simplistic, how different would this be from having organic molecules randomly arrange themselves in useful ways, how about amino acids, or even DNA?

Just food for thought. What do you think?


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