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Life is fascinating for many reasons. For me it is intriguing how such simple rules can govern situations that are sometimes very unpredictable and yet others that are completely predictable and potentially useful. It is also interesting to note that, with these rules at least, the smallest change in the initial configuration of a pattern can so drastically alter its final outcome. If the glider streams in a Life computer are off kilter by even one cell, the computer will be horribly damaged.

Life has also been informative with regard to the evolution of life in the real world. It provides an example of how something can appear 'designed' when it is in fact the result of a completely random process. Needless, to say, it is just as unlikely that a random generation of cell patterns would create a computer as it would be for a hurricane blowing over a scrapyard to assemble an aeroplane. Nonetheless there have appeared surprisingly ordered structures in randomly generated patterns, and it is likely that there are many possible patterns that are 'self-organising'.

Most important, perhaps, is that Life is a fun toy for mathematicians to play with.

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Copyright © 2004 Peter Berry