Thursday, December 18, 2014

Game of Life

It was in 1970 that a mathematician called John Conway created the Game of Life. The game plays itself, as follows:

  • There is a grid of square cells;
  • Each cell may be dead or alive;
  • The game runs in turns; for each turn each cell may be born or die;
  • Any live cell dies if it has too many neighbors ( >3; overpopulation ) or too few ( <2; loneliness );
  • Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, by reproduction.

It might be clearer with an example.

Game of Life Glider Gun

"What does this has to due with anything?" you might be wondering. Here is the cool thing about the game: it can produce life. While the game plays itself, stable structures appear, that work like primitive forms of life. Some just stay there, others blink between different forms, and others can even move! Look at the image again. How cool is that?

That's what we can do with simple rules and the insignificant processing power of a PC. Imagine now scaling that up to a much bigger size, to the size of a whole Universe. See where I'm going now?

Let me bring a side note into this reflection: physicists found evidences that at really small scales numbers don't work out quite as they should. A particle may have stored 1 unit of energy or 2 units of energy, but NOTHING in between.

This is important because if you had to store a number in a PC, to know how much energy each particle has, and the number had an infinite amount of decimal places, you would need an infinite amount of memory (not quite true, but really "obvious").

This proves nothing all by itself. But for me, it's enough to believe that we live inside a simulation, running on a super computer in an Universe much bigger and complex that this one.

It's a dangerous thought, believing that we are nothing more than bits, living inside a game. But I like it. It matches quite well how insignificant we are and helps me taking bold decisions that are required sometimes.

In the end, you shouldn't let your faith matter too much. Just keep going, making this world a better place.

As always, thanks for reading!

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