Unexpectedly Intriguing!
22 May 2020

Highly influential mathematician John Conway passed away recently from complications related to COVID-19 at age 82. Conway had significant achievements across many fields of math, from the discovery of "monstrous moonshine" in number theory, to developing the notation used by mathematicians working to understand knots, extremely large numbers, and geometric polyhedrons, among others.

John Conway was also a lover and inventor of games, using them to explore mathematical relationships. One of the games he invented became especially popular, coming at the dawn of computer gaming: the Game of Life. Although he developed it on paper, the rules proved to be relatively easy to code, which made it very popular among programmers. In 2014, he described the thinking that underlies the game in the following 11 minute Numberphile video:

The game is interesting because there are certain initial patterns that you can set that will mutate into other patterns, eventually stagnating, or perhaps oscillating between two different states, or eventually disappearing and dying off. Some however will live up to the name of the game and replicate themselves!

If you want to play, we've adapted code developed by Rob Tomlin so you can explore the complexity that might emerge from a simple pattern you click into existence within the following grid of squares, before starting the reproduction cycle. If you're accessing this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to our site to play the game on your device.

Click on table cells to toggle the cells as alive or dead.

Click the Start Reproducing button to Start and Stop

Because Conway's achievements go far beyond just the Game of Life, we'll close with him discussing Life, Death and the Monster from the same interview about his career as a mathematician and what he hoped to see in his remaining years:

It would be very cool to see any of those things happen in our lifetimes!


About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

ironman at politicalcalculations

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