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Spontaneous Generation

This pattern is a blinker -- a really big blinker. Every 30 iterations, it returns to its initial state, but with one very important change. During each cycle, it creates a new glider. People call it a "glider gun."

The glider gun didn't just happen by chance. If you start with a random collection of live squares, the Life rules will spontaneously create many different structures: blinkers, still life, and gliders. But not the glider gun. You would be shocked to see something as large and organized as a glider gun emerge spontaneously. In fact, it never did: it was carefully designed by a group of Life hackers at MIT.

About 200 years ago, William Paley had this same intuition. In his "argument from design," he argued that complex, organized objects can't emerge spontaneously. If you see a watch on the beach, he argued, you assume it was made by a watchmaker. Analogously, animals must have been made by some higher being. But Darwin showed that Paley was wrong. Complex, organized objects can emerge: they emerge by evolving. Although evolution didn't create the watch, it did create the watchmaker, a much more complex and beautiful result.

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Mitchel Resnick and Brian Silverman
Epistemology and Learning Group
MIT Media Laboratory

Last modified: 2/4/96