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Wolfram's cellular automata

My dad, a certified rocket scientist, played a card game with my sister and I when we were growing up called “God and the Scientists”. I think he made up the name, but the idea was that one person playing  “God” would generate a rule for a sequence of playing cards, and the other players, the “scientists” would have to try and figure it out, test their hypothesis as it were,  by playing cards from their deck. “God” would either tell the scientist yes or no. The rule could be as simple as if a black card is played, play a red one. Or if a face card is played, play a non-face card. Anyway, it was a nice game to get my sister and I thinking about finding patterns, the scientific method and what exactly percolated in the brain of my rocket scientist dad.

This pattern finding is similar to the challenges brought out in my art based on Wolfram’s cellular automata. In it, the computer generates first row of shapes randomly with each subsequent row generated from a set of rules also generated randomly for the piece. The game is to figure out what the rules are that generates each row. The rules don’t change in each piece, but depend upon each of the shape’s neighbors. For example, in a relatively simple art work like the one posted for this blog involving two possible shapes and colors, one of the rules may be that if a red square is bordered by a red circle on the right and a yellow circle on the left, it’s descendant on the row below will be a red square.

 With three possible colors and shapes, quite a few rules are possible, and the pieces become more complex. With five possible colors and shapes, the resulting works are quite complex and seemingly border on chaos. At first glance, the shapes and colors just seem randomly placed, but they are actually following a set of rules. Which makes me wonder about the nature of complex systems and patterns in that there’s a threshold at which us mere humans, rocket scientists or not, cannot easily recognize patterns and order in the world, but yet an underlying set of rules, though complex, are still operating beyond our understanding generating what we observe.

 

Joe

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