The Game of Life – Farid Shirinfar

This week’s lecture covered a few interesting works.
The most interesting of all to me was Conway’s Game of Life. The game is played based on four laws:

  1. An organism with one or no occupied neighboring cell dies.
  2. An organism with two or three occupied neighboring cell remains alive.
  3. An organism with more than three occupied neighboring cells dies.
  4. A cell with three occupied neighbors gives birth to a new organism.

Depending on the initial condition of the game, interesting patterns can be formed; some patterns keep generating new organisms, some die entirely, and some reach a stable form where death and birth rates are equal. Interestingly, with a limited number of simple rules, very complex patterns occur. Some of these patterns resemble the struggle for survival seen in nature.

Games like this can be thought of as simulations of Darwinian Evolution Theory where different creatures and topologies struggle, and only the most efficient of all survives. Having the right set of rules and the correct initial topology, one can potentially model a game that simulates life. Such model can depict where the nature is headed toward and also clarify ambiguities about the past.

Aside from its scientific values, the game of life is a valuable example for demonstrating the importance of collaboration between scientists, engineers, and artists. A possible strategy for designing such comprehensive model is reverse-engineering how nature works. To do so, we need to understand the current status of nature. As discussed in the first week, numbers like Phi, e, and Pi are repeatedly seen in nature. Artists, having developed strong observational skills, can collaborate with scientists to find these patterns and categorize them based on the purpose they fulfill. For example, it was mentioned that the seeds in sunflowers receive the maximum amount of solar energy due to utilization of golden ratio in their structure.

At the same time, there is comprehensive data and information about the state of nature from recent past. Comparing these two states, scientists and artists can develop a set of rules that transforms the observed past to the present. If such system of rules is developed, the next step in the development of a true game of life is finding the state of nature in distant past and finally the initial state of the universe. To acquire more information from the past, we have to rely to on what nature and our ancestors have left for us, namely books, scriptures, paintings, sculptures, buildings, fossils, etc. As a result, artists knowledgeable of such works and scientists capable of analysis of such objects can collaborate toward realizing such valuable model.

The controversial issue of GFP Bunny was quite interesting as it made me think how differently people react to the same work done in different contexts. As mentioned in lecture, gene manipulation by scientists aimed toward birth of a living being with specific characteristics is done daily without much confrontation. However, Kac received such harsh criticism due to the fact that the nature of his work was not considered applicable. A scientist’s modification of genes to create an obsessed rat is welcomed as it contributes to people struggling with diabetes but an artist’s modification of gene is condemned as it, believed by average Joe, serves no purpose.

An interface for the Game of Life:

John Conway talking about the Game of Life:


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