Play John Conway’s Game of Life

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Life Lexicon

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This Life lexicon is compiled by Stephen A. Silver from various sources and may be copied, modified and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence. See the original credit page for all credits and the original download location. The styling has been adjusted to fit this website.

Infinite growth

:infinite growth Growth of a finite pattern such that the population tends to infinity, or at least is unbounded. Sometimes the term is used for growth of something other than population (for example, length), but here we will only consider infinite population growth. The first known pattern with infinite growth in this sense was the Gosper glider gun, created in a response to a $50 prize challenge by John Conway. Martin Gardner's October 1970 article described the challenge as "Conway conjectures that no pattern can grow without limit", but Conway later explained that he had always expected that this would be disproved. The original purpose in investigating CA rules including B3/S23 was to show that a very simple two-state rule could support a universal computer and/or universal constructor. If all finite patterns could be proven to be bounded, neither of these would be possible.

An interesting question is: What is the minimum population of a pattern that exhibits infinite growth? In 1971 Charles Corderman found that a switch engine could be stabilized by a pre-block in a number of different ways, giving 11-cell patterns with infinite growth. This record stood for more than quarter of a century until Paul Callahan found, in November 1997, two 10-cell patterns with infinite growth. The following month he found the one shown below, which is much neater, being a single cluster. This produces a stabilized switch engine of the block-laying type.

Game of Life pattern ’infinite_growth_(1)’

Nick Gotts and Paul Callahan showed in October 1997 that there is no infinite growth pattern with fewer than 10 cells, so that question has now been answered.

In October 2014, Michael Simkin discovered a three-glider collision that produces a glider-producing stabilized switch engine and thus produces infinite growth from the smallest possible number of gliders (since all 71 2-glider collisions have a finite limit population).

Also of interest is the following pattern (again found by Callahan), which is the only 5×5 pattern with infinite growth. This too emits a block-laying switch engine.

Following a conjecture of Nick Gotts, Stephen Silver produced, in May 1998, a pattern of width 1 which exhibits infinite growth. This pattern was very large (12470×1 in the first version, reduced to 5447×1 the following day). In October 1998 Paul Callahan did an exhaustive search, finding the smallest example, the 39×1 pattern shown below. This produces two block-laying switch engines, stability being achieved at generation 1483. Larger patterns have since been constructed that display quadratic growth.

Although the simplest infinite growth patterns grow at a rate that is (asymptotically) linear, many other types of growth rate are possible, quadratic growth (see also breeder) being the fastest. Dean Hickerson has found many patterns with unusual growth rates, such as sawtooths and a caber tosser. Another pattern with superlinear but non-quadratic growth is Gotts dots.

See also Fermat prime calculator.

John Conway’s Game of Life

The Game of Life is not your typical computer game. It is a cellular automaton, and was invented by Cambridge mathematician John Conway.

This game became widely known when it was mentioned in an article published by Scientific American in 1970. It consists of a collection of cells which, based on a few mathematical rules, can live, die or multiply. Depending on the initial conditions, the cells form various patterns throughout the course of the game.


For a space that is populated:

Each cell with one or no neighbors dies, as if by solitude.

Each cell with four or more neighbors dies, as if by overpopulation.

Each cell with two or three neighbors survives.

For a space that is empty or unpopulated

Each cell with three neighbors becomes populated.

The Controls

Choose a pattern from the lexicon or make one yourself by clicking on the cells. The 'Start' button advances the game by several generations (each new generation corresponding to one iteration of the rules).

More information

In the first video, from Stephen Hawkings’ documentary The Meaning of Life, the rules are explained, in the second, John Conway himself talks about the Game of Life.

Stephen Hawkings The Meaning of Life (John Conway's Game of Life segment) Inventing Game of Life (John Conway) - Numberphile

The Guardian published a nice article about John Conway.

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