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Published on April 14th, 2018

Essay

The Game of Life

An essay about The Game of Life and it's unpredictable behaviour of creating different yet unique patterns.

3 minutes read

Life is full of surprises, isn't it?

We can't state what could possibly happen in the future based on the present events. It's like a pattern but except you don't know what it would turn to be in the end.

This is what the Cambridge Mathematician John H. Conway must have thought about when he invented the Game of Life, who was really interested in Cellular Automaton, a field of mathematical research, that is often used in the earlier days to simulate systems in real world scenario.

His work was influenced by Hungarian-American Mathematician John von Neumann, who aimed to build a machine that had the ability to self-replicate itself and thus, Conway became successful when he was able to simplify Neumann's ideas using a mathematical model that he had discovered.

I'd like to share a quote that I found really inspiring:

"You know, people think mathematics is complicated. Mathematics is the simple bit. Its the stuff we can understand. Its cats that are complicated. I mean, what is it in those little molecules and stuff that make one cat behave differently than another, or that make a cat? And how do you define a cat? I have no idea." - John H. Conway

What is Game of Life?

It's a zero-player game on a two-dimensional grid of squares that has no winners or losers except a certain set of simple mathematical rules that achieves an unpredictable behavior of whether a pattern (or population) will die, become stable or grow out of control.

According to the Wikipedia article, these are the following rules:

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

This is one of the simplest examples of a self-organizing system. I find it really interesting as how unique yet different patterns emerge from a simple set of rules and might be considered as a form of mathematical beauty. However, did this help mathematicians or scientists to understand the diversity of life that has evolved on earth? Perhaps, but I do believe that Mother Nature is far more complicated than that. However, it did help me realize that I have to study and understand different patterns and behaviours in order to build complex systems.

Studying the behavior of cells or animals using a simple set of rules can help understand how things really work and this influences scientists and engineers to come up with brilliant solutions to solve existing problems in this world.

For example, studying the intelligent behavior of ants being able to build complex ant colonies, trying to understand the cause of traffic congestions and how to prevent them (which I will be talking about in another post), finding the cure for cancer and many other human diseases and so on.

Well, the point that I'm trying to make is, perhaps, the solution to all of today's current problems could be hidden inside the patterns of this simple game.

Hope you enjoyed reading this article!

Adios Amigo!

References