The Lasting Lessons of John Conway's Game of Life

In March 1970, Dr. John Conway sent the “fatal” (as he later referred to it) letter to Martin Gardner. He was submitting ideas for Gardner’s Mathematical Games column in Scientific American.

The New York Times features a good article on the fifty-year parable of The Game of Life. What’s appreciable, they asked some of Life’s most steadfast friends to reflect upon its influence and lessons over half a century. Among them, Brian Eno, who, being Brian Eno, has some smart things to say:

[The Game of] Life shows you two things. The first is sensitivity to initial conditions. A tiny change in the rules can produce a huge difference in the output, ranging from complete destruction (no dots) through stasis (a frozen pattern) to patterns that keep changing as they unfold.

The second thing Life shows us is something that Darwin hit upon when he was looking at Life, the organic version. Complexity arises from simplicity! That is such a revelation; we are used to the idea that anything complex must arise out of something more complex. Human brains design airplanes, not the other way around. Life shows us complex virtual “organisms” arising out of the interaction of a few simple rules — so goodbye “Intelligent Design.”

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