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Life, the Universe and 

Cellular Automation

Although the number 42 will frequently appear in the calculations of any Cellular Automata (CA) simulation, it is unlikely that this branch of algorithmic mathematics will spontaneously re-create our universe inside your computer.  The reason is simple - our universe is just too mind bogglingly complex, there is just too much 'stuff' to keep track of at any one instant in time.  I do believe however, that programs such as Groovy Lava do reveal an interesting insight into the way our world appears to work.  We now know that the physical world is made up of an unimaginable number of particles, all interacting with each other and more or less following the same set of rules.  From this springs all the diversity of life and objects that exists around us.  But this all seems too hard to believe.  How can such things just appear from the apparently random movements of fundamental particles?  This is where cellular automata begins to reveal how this just might be possible.  By creating simple rules and by providing enough 'particles' to use these rules, you can evolve real structure and form, all based purely on the interaction of each particle with it's neighbour.  Each individual particle is doing it's own mindless thing, but if you can step back and take a look at all the particles in unison - something remarkable appears.

Click to download this life form

Above is the very first 'life form' that appeared on my computer screen.  I was toying with a haphazard computer algorithm to make one set of pixels rise to the top of the screen, and another set sink to the bottom.  I was having all kinds of difficulty getting them to pass by each other.  Then I had an idea.  What if I move each individual pixel randomly instead of in a fixed sequence?  Add an element of chaos.  The result was totally unexpected and created the above 'lava flow'.  Of course, to 'create' such an animation in a totally unexpected manner was something of a revelation.  So much so it inspired me to continue exploring other possibilities, and Groovy Lava is the result of many exciting hours of discovery.

Feel free to download Groovy Lava and explore your own chaotic universe.  I hope you experience the same wonder of discovery and become the master and creator of your own artificial life forms.

Aaron Balint

Author of Groovy Lava

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