That’s Life. “Uncertainty is the only certainty.”

This is life:

In a world where truth seems to be at a premium and the future unsure, it’s comforting to know precisely when the sun is going to come up and that when it does, it will do so [two minutes] earlier than the day before. —David Epstein, 1/8/2021

And this is life—but a different sort of life:

Last week, Siobhan Roberts wrote an excellent article in the New York Times about “the lasting lessons of John Conway’s Game of Life.” In the quote at the top of this post (second sentence, if you’re going to be picky), meteorologist David Epstein was writing about astronomy, not math, but he could just as well have been writing about Conway’s Game of Life, a mathematical structure in which truth is truth and the future is predictable—invented by the late John Conway, of course. You expect predictability in all mathematical structures, unless you’ve studied fractals and chaos. But the Game of Life is also full of surprises, and therein lies the beauty and pleasure. The tension between predictability and surprises is one of the joys of mathematics.

Anyway, go read Roberts’s entire article, including (especially) her interviews with Bill Gosper, Brian Eno, Melanie Mitchell, Daniel Dennett, Susan Stepney, Stephen Wolfram, Bert Chan, Rudy Rucker, and William Poundstone. No, I too haven’t heard of some of these; I’ll leave it up to you to guess which ones. And do read the comments as well; this is one of only 12% of New York Times articles for which it’s worth reading the comments. (Percentages gladly invented on the spot.)



Categories: Math, Technology