[VIEWPOINT]Life as a few rudimentary rules

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[VIEWPOINT]Life as a few rudimentary rules

There is a saying that history repeats itself. This does not mean that historical figures come back to life, but events and behavior patterns are similar. Historians are well aware of these patterns. For example, when they see the sons of presidents indicted again and again, they attempt to look for a cause for the repetition of such patterns. Of course, the fact that they are sons of presidents is considered a common reason, but such background is not accepted as a sufficient condition for their criminal behavior.

Baduk is a game with a few rules in which whoever wins more space can secure a victory. It is played on a board with 19 columns and 19 rows, with white and black pieces. Though the board is small and the rules are simple, the game is indefinitely complicated, so it is rare that the moves of any two games are identical. However, when reviewing the records of different games, it is easy to see similar patterns. This is because after much experience playing baduk, the players chose moves that are proven to win games. As a result, so-called standard moves have come into existence. The standard moves can give an advantage, but they also result in a counter strategy and, in turn, possible defeat. Thus, the standard moves are not sufficient to win the game.

The process of the standard moves being formed or a phenomenon of simple rules leading to complicated patterns is called "emerge." Slight changes in initial settings and rules can bring about enormous changes in subsequent patterns. For instance, because a starter in baduk has advantages, the starter has to deduct 5.5 points of his own when the game is ended, but if the players decided to deduct 6.5 points in the beginning, their moves would also start changing. In the end, features of the standard moves are greatly altered.

While baduk is a game played on 361 dots made by 19 columns and 19 rows, there is another game played on 324 squares, white or black, made by 19 columns and 19 rows. For instance, a rule that the squares with the same color cannot go side by side creates checkers. With diversified rules in filling a checker, or a cell, all the checkers can be filled with black markers. If a single cell is filled with white and the white marker moves horizontally, the player can create a line. Similarly, the player can move a plaid and change its shapes. Just like this, we can create many kinds of computer programs with slight changes in the game rules, and generally it is called "cellular automata." This reminds many people of collectively holding different colored cards to create big images.

When looking at diverse patterns created by many cellular automata programs on a computer screen, we are surprised that these patterns are similar to natural phenomena. The brilliant mathematician Stephen Wolfram, who became a professor at Caltech at 20, published a book, "A New Kind of Science," on May 14. In his new book, Mr. Wolfram compares patterns generated by a computer using cellular automata rules to natural phenomena. Mr. Wolfram asserts that research on nature and humans is conducted through mainly simple programs and their mutual interactions, and that the current methods of describing nature and humans using mathematical formulas will disappear. The surrounding nature can be explained as an indefinite number of simple programs being operated. Those we do not understand need to be explained by creating models in a computer. It is as if a world we can see with the eyes of our minds opens for every one of us.

I hope that enthusiasm for Mr. Wolfram's findings, which clearly surpasses that of Santa Fe Institute, heats up just like the World Cup games.


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The writer is a professor in endocrinology at Seoul National University.

by Lee Hong-kyu

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