Condivergence: Simplicity versus complexity | The Edge Markets


Andrew Sheng/The Edge Malaysia
May 21, 2020 11:30 am +08

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 18, 2020 – May 24, 2020.

The pandemic has taken away one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the 20th century, John Conway (1937-2020), best known as the creator of Game of Life. This is a simple game of simulation on a grid of cells, each of which can be dead or alive depending on the number of neighbours that are alive or dead.

It helped computer programming in the 1970s, opening up new vistas in computer simulation, which, today, is almost a must in modelling unknowns into somewhat knowable trends. Conway’s child-like curiosity and story-telling ability made mathematics and computing fun, creating games that follow very simple rules to generate huge complex outcomes. He was a founder of combinatorial game theory, and his Free Will theorem to explain quantum mechanics in 2004 was staggering in terms of imagination.

The French mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) also took very simple ideas such as fractals and showed how they evolved into very complex and beautiful patterns. Both mathematicians reduced complexity into simplicity, but both also knew how chance can change life’s direction in unpredictable ways.

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