Monday, June 28, 2010

Art and Craft

I've written a couple of posts about whether or not videogames should be considered art. Today I'm going to talk about the kind of craftsmanship that goes into making a videogame.

Actually, I'm going to let this guy talk about the craftsmanship that goes into making a videogame:

For those of you who can't (or don't want to) watch the video, I'll summarize. He's talking about a Game called Fuel. He doesn't talk about the gameplay, or the story, or the art direction. He spends his time talking about the game world. Specifically, he talks about how they used technology to create a truly massive game world.

Even though he doesn't really enjoy the game, he loves the way they made the videogame. Since he's a programmer himself, he's able to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making it.

His comments actually remind me of Roger Ebert's commentary on Citizen Cane. As you may know, Citizen Cane consistently tops the AFI's list of the top 100 films of all time. I've seen the movie, and I certainly wouldn't consider it the greatest movie ever made. Until I listened to Ebert's commentary, I never understood why the film was so highly regarded.

In his commentary, Ebert talks about all of the techniques that were used to make the film. Early on he said that Citizen Cane has nearly as many special effects shots as Star Wars. That remark surprised me, because I didn't think that a movie like Citizen Cane would need much in the way of special effects. Throughout the movie, he explained several of the more noteworthy special effects that were used to make the film look the way it does.

I wonder if Roger Ebert knew as much about video game development as he does about movie making, if that might affect his opinion that videogames can't be art. Strictly speaking, it shouldn't matter one way or the other. Just because something is challenging to make doesn't make it a work of art.

Still, we admire it when a high level of craftsmanship is used to create something beautiful. Once we know the work that goes into making anything, whether it's a videogame or a movie or anything else, we begin to appreciate it that much more.

Friday, June 25, 2010

TGD: Chapter Three - Experience Revisited

Last week I talked about Dawkins' arguments against the validity of religious experiences. After further consideration (and some helpful conversations with friends) I realize that I wasn't exactly being fair to Dawkins' argument. Since I give Dawkins such a hard time whenever he isn't being fair, I owe you (and him) an apology. I'm sorry for presenting a straw man of Dawkins' argument.

Now I'm going to try and restate Dawkins' original argument, and this time I hope to do it justice.

To begin with, it is obvious that most people's personal experiences are valid most of the time. However, there are cases where individuals can be mistaken. We sometimes see or hear things that aren't there. Some people routinely see or hear things that aren't there. Still, by and large, most of us can trust our senses most of of the time.

One way we test to see if our experiences are valid is to wait and see if the experience persists. We also check with the people around us to see if they experience the same things we do. Using these methods, and others like them, we can deal with the occasional bizarre experience. So long as we know that our experience is mostly valid, we can easily weed out the few experiences that are invalid.

Science makes careful use of these types of corrective procedures. Scientists take careful notes, and use instruments to make quantifiable measurements. They confer with their peers to make sure that their observations or experiments produce similar results. If they don't, then the scientists try to figure out what is causing the discrepancy and try again.

Religious experiences generally lack this kind of verification. They often aren't well documented and they often lack confirmation from another observer. Certainly, none of them are persistent or experienced by everyone. For this reason, it is reasonable to dismiss such experience.

That is my understanding of Dawkins' argument. Having said that, I still think there is a problem with it.

The main problem is this: religious experiences are too widespread. If you add together all the people of every religious stripe who claim to have witnessed some kind of supernatural phenomena, you'd come up with a number easily in the millions, if not tens of millions. If we assume that all of these people are seeing and hearing things that aren't there, that creates a problem.

I'm not sure if he realizes it, but Dawkins is making the claim that millions of otherwise normal people are functional schizophrenics*. They are considered "sane" only because their hallucinations do not prevent them from functioning in polite society.

The claim that millions of people see and hear things that aren't actually there does speak to the issue of whether or not experience really is a valid way to gain knowledge. After all, if it's reasonable to claim that millions of Christians all share similar hallucinations when they claim to hear from God, how can we be sure that millions of cell biologists aren't experiencing something similar when they look through an electron microscope?

The argument Dawkins is making has to be carefully considered. I think you could still make the claim that scientific knowledge is reliable, even if millions of scientists experience occasional hallucinations, but it would be a difficult claim to defend.

More to the point, I don't think that Dawkins has even considered the possibility that he and millions of his fellow scientists might be experiencing occasional hallucinations. He takes it for granted that what he sees with his eyes and hears with his ears is almost always completely trustworthy. I imagine he holds similar beliefs about most of his peers.

Which brings me to the second objection I have with this argument. He doesn't give a any reason why religious experiences should be singled out for skepticism. Plenty of us have private experiences; things that are only seen by ourselves and perhaps one other person. How can we be sure that those experiences are real?

If we hold them to the same standard we would a vision of the Virgin Mary, then we have to conclude that they aren't real. There just isn't enough evidence to prove that that dinner alone or that romantic walk on the beach really happened.

I think it's more reasonable to assume that those religious experiences are just as valid as any other private experience. They might not provide enough evidence to prove God's existence, but they certainly provide enough evidence to make the God hypothesis seem reasonable.

* This is an awkward phrase, and I might be misusing the term Schizophrenia, but it's the best I can come up with. How do you describe someone who is sane, except for the fact that they sometimes see or hear things that aren't there? I don't think there's a word for that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Grace and Social Justice

I read this post on Internet Monk awhile back. He writes that the beatitudes are pronouncements of grace. He says that Jesus is announcing God's undeserved love to the mourners, the poor, the meek, the hungry, and so on. This interpretation differs from my own understanding, but since I read it, I've been thinking about it. I think Chaplain Mike may be on to something.

Let me start by giving you my own understanding. I believe that this passage speaks primarily to issues of injustice. It speaks to people who seek justice in the world or who suffer from injustice. Jesus is saying that they are blessed because they will see God's justice.

When I first read that the beatitudes are pronouncements of grace, it seemed strange to me. It seemed out of place, like he was reading Paul's ideas into the words of Jesus. As I thought about it some more, I started to think about the role of grace in God's justice. I began to realize that grace is really important to understanding God's justice.

Grace, as I have written before, is God's undeserved mercy. It is the love and kindness that he shows to everyone, whether they deserve it or not. It is this love that gives justice it's true shape.

Think about what justice looks like among people. How often do we see a person begging for money? How do we respond? How do we justify our response?

First of all, most people, and I'm included in this group, don't give money to beggars. And how do we justify that decision? We think to ourselves, "She's just a scam artist," or, "He'll just spend it all on drugs." We tell ourselves that they don't deserve our help.

A similar thing happens when we consider programs aimed at helping the poor. We wonder if our tax dollars might be better spent elsewhere. We worry that the poor will become dependent on government handouts; that they won't learn to work or provide for themselves. Once again, we don't believe that they deserve it.

The beauty of God's grace is that it cuts through all of these arguments. God's justice is about loving people and providing for them, whether or not they deserve it or even need it. This is what God's justice looks like.

I'm grateful that Chaplain Mike helped me to see the purpose of God's grace in the midst of it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

TGD: Chapter Three - Experience and Knowledge

Last week I talked about the section titled, "The Argument from Personal 'Experience'". In that section Dawkins tries to address people who claim to have personally witnessed something supernatural.

In the chapter Dawkins doesn't just talk about personal experiences. He also talks about large scale miracles with tens of thousands of eye witnesses. It is a stretch to call these events "personal experiences". I spent most of the last post talking about these kinds of miracles, because they provide the best evidence that God exists and because Dawkins did a poor job providing a credible reason why we should ignore these events.

So this week I want to go back and actually talk about personal experiences. I want to talk about events that are only experienced by an individual or a small group of people.

In these situations Dawkins is able to make a much stronger case. The human mind isn't nearly as reliable as we usually assume it is. He makes a good case that humans are able to see and hear things that aren't actually there, or to be severely mistaken about what we are seeing or hearing. From this, Dawkins argues that it is reasonable to ignore people who claim to have experienced a private miracle.

The problem with Dawkins' argument is that he applies it selectively. He says that people who see the Virgin Mary are seeing something that almost certainly isn't there. But if it's possible that we can see people aren't there, then how can we ever be sure that the people we do see actually are there? How can I be sure that my next door neighbor is real and the Virgin Mary isn't?

In order to make that determination we need to know something. We need to know that my next door neighbor is a real, living person, whereas the Virgin Mary is not. But how do we know that?

This raises some serious epistemological problems. If we can't even trust our own personal experiences, we can't really know much of anything.

You might think that we could somehow use science to determine what's real and what isn't, but scientific knowledge is gained primarily by experiment and observation. In order to do this, the scientists have to be able to trust their faculties. While they are observing or performing experiments, they need to be sure that their experiences are valid. Otherwise the observations or experimental results aren't reliable. And if none of the individual experiments or observations are reliable, then the conclusions we make based on those experiments or observations aren't reliable either.

Dawkins doesn't address any of these issues. He makes the claim that any so called religious experience is really just a malfunction of the human brain, but how can we be sure?

Dawkins is relying on his readers to have an intuitive sense that religious experiences are probably false and other kinds of experiences are almost certainly true. He fosters this by constantly mocking religious beliefs, thus reinforcing the idea that religious beliefs are silly (and therefore false) while other kinds of beliefs are normal (and therefore true).

Unless Dawkins is able to provide a good reason why religious experiences should be singled out for unusual skepticism, then he's just making the claim that it is impossible for us to ever have certain knowledge. That's an argument I've heard before.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Twisted Story

I'm sure that all of you have heard the gospel at some point. The story is very well known in the Western world. It is so commonly heard and so often repeated that it just becomes part of the background noise after awhile.

Moreover, the gospel, the Christian message, has been at the center of European culture for 1600 years now. The story is so widespread and has become so common that almost everyone has heard it, but we rarely stop to think about what a strange story it is. The story seems normal to us, because we've heard it so often in so many different forms. Though we've often heard it described as, "The Greatest Story Ever Told," it might be more accurate to say that it is the most twisted story ever told.

It is a story of the God who made everything. The God who made everything created people in his image to govern the earth for him. But people turned away from God. They lost their privileged status and fell under a curse. The world, which was once perfectly good, began to turn against them.

This is just the setup. This is the part people frequently object to, but this isn't the part that's twisted. The twisted part comes next.

God decided to set things right again. He sent a person who will be good, who won't turn away from him, to be his representative and to make peace between himself and humanity. This person led a good life. He gathered some followers and taught them how to lead a good life. Unfortunately, a lot of people with political and religious clout didn't like this person, so they conspired to have him killed.

Now, here comes the twisted part. God allowed it. He let the people in charge kill his representative. God's representative went along with this plan and even forgave the people who killed him.

Finally, it is revealed that this was God's plan all along, to allow his chosen representative to die, despite the fact that he did nothing wrong. His death acts as a sacrifice, the good person is punished instead of the people who actually deserve it. Then the good person is brought back to life, and he promises that the people who follow him will be brought back to life as well.

What do you think. Is the gospel story really as twisted as I've made it out to be? If it is, why do you think Christians made such a bizarre story central to their faith? Finally, how did such a bizarre story become the dominant story in the Western world?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

TGD: Chapter Three - Miracles

The title of the next section of Dawkins' book is, "The Argument from Personal 'Experience'". In this section Dawkins responds to people who claim to have firsthand evidence of God's existence, people who have witnessed a miracle or had a vision or something similar.

The most accurate thing Dawkins writes in this section is this, "This argument from personal experience is the one that is most convincing to those who claim to have had one. But it is the least convincing to anyone else, and anyone knowledgeable about psychology." If you witness a miracle yourself, or if someone you know and trust tells you about a miracle that they experienced, it can be very convincing. From a distance, however, it is easy to remain skeptical.

This is the main reason why I haven't written about any of the supernatural phenomena I have experienced on this blog. You have no way of knowing if I'm telling the truth or not. You can't really gauge how skeptical I am. Without any way to tell if I'm a reliable witness or not, my testimony would be fairly hollow.

On the other hand, the problem does work both ways. Just as I cannot say anything to Dawkins to convince him that I have experienced a miracle, there is nothing that he can say to me that will convince me that I haven't.

Not that he doesn't try. He spends most of the chapter talking about how easy it is for people to deceive themselves; to see or hear things that aren't actually there. He talks about the tendency of the human mind to see patterns where none exist.

In the case where a miraculous event is only witnessed by one person, these are all valid considerations. However, when there are two or more witnesses, things become more complicated. A lone individual might just be seeing things, but when two or more individuals see the same thing at the same time, that's a little bit harder to write off.

Dawkins addresses this issue briefly, towards the end of the chapter. He talks about the Miracle of the Sun, where 70,000 people in Fatima, Portugal witnessed the sun dance about in the sky and careen toward the earth. He writes, 'It is not easy to explain how seventy thousand people could share the same hallucination. But it is even harder to accept that it really happened without the rest of the world, outside Fatima, seeing it too - and not just seeing it, but feeling it as the catastrophic destruction of the solar system, including acceleration forces sufficient to hurl everybody into space."

What Dawkins is doing here, besides being deliberately obtuse, is setting up a false dilemna. Either the residents all shared the same hallucination, or the earth was yanked from its orbit. The possibility that the people of Fatima saw a vision or experienced some other kind of miracle isn't even considered.

He quotes Hume, who wrote, "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endevours to establish." I think the Fatima miracle more than qualifies.

We have newspaper evidence that more than thirty-thousand people saw the sun dance in the sky. A simultaneous mass hallucination, or conspiracy on that scale is so ridiculously implausible that the possibility that the people of Fatima saw a divine vision begins to seem reasonable to even the most skeptical minds. The only way we can escape that conclusion is if we begin with the assumption that miracles are virtually impossible.

Of course, this is precisely where Dawkins begins. He begins with the assumption that miracles are impossible. He describes an example of an instance where there is a truly massive amount of evidence that a miracle occurs. He then states that the probability that all of that evidence is either false or misleading is still greater than the probability that a miracle actually occurred, because miracles are impossible.

When we boil away the sophistry, what we're left with is a classic example of circular reasoning. Really, this argument is nothing more than atheistic fideism; the assertion that we should believe that God doesn't exist even when all the evidence says that he does.

Even if we somehow manage to swallow the notion that the miracle of Fatima is some kind of hoax or optical illusion (maybe swamp gas refracting the light from Venus), it is hardly the only recorded supernatural occurrence in recent history. One should also study the Azusa Street Revival and the Toronto Blessing. And I'm sure a quick study of religious revival movements would turn up a few more examples of large-scale miracles. Some will be more credible than others, but if we want to establish that God doesn't exist, we need to provide a reasonable explanation for all of them. If Dawkins has such an explanation, he isn't exactly shouting it from the rooftops.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Little More Conversation

I have a confession to make: I'm not very happy with my latest post. I didn't have a clear purpose for writing it, other than the need to write a post on Monday. Without a clear purpose in mind, the post just sort of meanders and doesn't really go anywhere.

Why am I telling you this? I'm telling you because I want to take this blog in a different direction. That means adapting my writing style and it could mean that I write a few more sub-par posts like that last one. I'm hoping you'll be patient with me while this change is happening.

Now let me tell you about this new direction. Up until now, most of the posts on this blog have had a strong thesis, a main point that I argue in favor of. This style of writing comes naturally to me, and I'm fairly good at this kind of writing.

The problem is that this kind of writing doesn't leave much room for response. The reader either agrees with me or they don't. Unless they feel like cheering me on or posting a rebuttal, there's no need to respond to what I've written.

I want to write posts that are more open ended; that leave more room for response. The previous post was a failed experiment. It was open ended, but it lacked a clear focus, which is also hard to respond to.

Basically, I'm trying to learn how to strike a balance. I'm trying to learn how to write posts that have a clear purpose and bring up interesting ideas, but are still open ended enough that people have room to respond with their own thoughts if they want to.

This is going to be a challenge for me. I like to present my ideas in a finished form. I prefer to share a fully fleshed out argument, and I like to make my arguments as convincing as I can.

My other hobby is computer programming. I mention that because I think I sometimes approach writing with a similar mentality. A program is a series of instructions that direct the computer towards a desired conclusion. My essays often are collections of statements designed to direct the reader toward a desired belief.

Obviously, people are not like computers. Human beings have a variety of different beliefs and opinions. Their minds all work in different ways. This is frustrating if you're trying to convince them of something, but it's fascinating if you're willing to have a conversation with them.

I'm trying to learn how to be more conversational and less argumentative. Please have patience with me as I figure this out.

P.S. My review of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins isn't going to change much. Those posts are, by nature, more argumentative, but they give me a chance to respond to someone else's ideas. Besides, I'm enjoying the review so far, and I think it's worthwhile to offer a Christian perspective on Dawkins' writing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Things People Believe

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about religious belief. Today I want to talk about other beliefs that people have. Things that cannot be proven, but that people still believe to be true.

For example, a lot of people believe that scientists will one day discover a unified theory of everything. This belief relies on the assumption that all of nature has an underlying order to it and that human beings can, through careful study, determine what that order is.

It seems reasonable to think that this is the case, but what evidence do we have that this is true? The only evidence we have is that past scientific theories have made some very successful predictions. We assume that science will continue to produce better, more complete theories until they have found an ultimate theory that explains everything.

It seems likely that scientific progress will continue to advance, but it is difficult to prove that science will necessarily advance.

To give another example, many people believe that human history is a story of continuous progress; that human beings today are morally and intellectually superior to human beings a thousand years ago, and that human beings a thousand years from know will be even further along, both morally and intellectually.

This belief is even more problematic. We can certainly make the case that technology has advanced in the past thousand years, but it is hard to make the case that moral knowledge has advanced in that time. If anything, advances in technology and industry have allowed us to commit even worse atrocities in modern times.

Another common belief people have is that we will one day create human-level artificial intelligence; that we will one day program computers to perform all of the mental tasks that a human being is capable of.

This last belief seems likely to me. It seems probable that we will one day have computers able to perform all the same tasks as the human brain. Either computer scientists or neurologists could one day understand the human brain well enough to simulate it in a computer.

This last belief raises a lot of interesting ethical questions. If this belief is true, and we do develop such intelligences, we will need to consider what rights they have and how they deserve to be treated.

There are, of course, many more beliefs people hold that I could talk about. the world is full of interesting ideas that remain unproven.

Friday, June 4, 2010

TGD: Chapter Three - Ontology, Foolishness and Beauty

In the next section of "The God Delusion" Dawkins addresses the ontological argument for God's existence. The ontological argument goes like this: We can conceive of a being that is the greatest conceivable being. This being may or may not exist in reality. However, a being that exists in reality is greater than one that exists only in the imagination. Therefore any being that exists only in the imagination cannot be the greatest conceivable being. Therefore, the greatest conceivable being must exist in reality as well as in the imagination. Therefore, God exists.

The ontological argument is an interesting argument. Dawkins quotes Bertrand Russell, who said, "The argument does not, to a modern mind, seem very convincing, but it is easier to feel convinced that it must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies." This is precisely what makes the argument so fascinating.

The problem was eventually identified by Immanuel Kant. Kant pointed out that the argument relies on the assumption that existence is a property. Based on that faulty assumption, Anselm is able to make the claim that objects that have this property, the property of existing in the real world, are more perfect than objects that don't. Still, Kant's refutation of Anselm's argument wasn't published until almost seven hundred years after Anselm originally made the argument. When Russell said that it is hard to figure out exactly where the fallacy is, he wasn't kidding.

Of course Dawkins is never convinced that the argument has any validity to it. He finds it absurd to think that such grand conclusions could follow from a simple logic puzzle. He even chastises Russell, who was, for a brief time, convinced that the ontological argument must be sound. He compares the ontological argument to Zeno's proof that Achilles will never catch up to the tortoise*. He says that Russell should have realized that the ontological argument was bogus, just like the ancient greeks realized that Zeno's proofs were bogus.

There are a couple of problems with Dawkins' comparison. First of all, the fact that Achilles will actually catch the tortoise is self evident, whereas God's nonexistence is not. Secondly, Dawkins claims that Zeno's contemporaries simply labeled Zeno's argument a paradox and waited for later generations to solve it. Dawkin's ignores the fact that Zeno's contemporaries found his arguments troubling. Zeno's arguments showed that there was a flaw in how they understood the universe.

Dawkins' line of thought here seems a little bit troubling. He seems to be suggesting that God's nonexistence is obviously true. He's also saying, if you encounter some evidence or line of reasoning that might lead you to believe that God exists, it's probably just a trick. You should ignore it and go on believing that God doesn't exist. Dawkins routinely takes religious people to task for advocating that people should believe in God whether or not logic or the evidence supports it, but that seems awfully close to what he's implying here. That people should believe that God doesn't exist whether or not logic or the evidence supports it.

One thing Dawkins brings up as he's talking about the ontological argument is that Saint Anselm makes the claim that atheists are fools. Anslem makes this claim based on the first verse of Psalm 14, which says, "The fool says in his heart there is no God."

For once I'm going to stick up for Dawkins, and point out that Anselm is misusing scripture here. Psalm 14:1 isn't saying that all atheists are idiots. For one thing, the word for "fool" in Hebrew doesn't refer to an idiot, but rather someone who lacks moral character. Secondly, the verse doesn't say that atheists are fools. The verse isn't about atheists; it is about fools. Finally it says that fools have said, "In their heart," that there is no God. These fools might be very religious on the outside, but deep down they do not really believe in God. The claim this Psalm is making is when people behave immorally, they deny the existence of God. If you read the entire Psalm, it's clear that this is what the Psalmist is getting at.

Now that I've straightened that out, let's move on to the next section. This next section deals with the argument from beauty. In this section Dawkins doesn't even bother to explain what the argument from beauty is, he just says that he isn't convinced by it. I'm a little disappointed that he doesn't even bother to restate the argument. He should at least try to understand the argument being made before he dismisses it.

Still, in his own way Dawkins has been addressing the argument from beauty since the beginning of the book. In the opening chapter he talks about the transcendent beauty of nature. He talks about how that same feeling of transcendent wonder that inspires some people to pursue God, inspires Dawkins to pursue science.

The argument from beauty, in a nutshell, is that feelings of transcendent wonder indicate the existence of something transcendent. Dawkins seem to be saying that such feelings merely indicate the wonder of nature, or the beauty of a particular work of art. None of it points to a higher cause, which is the source of all things wondrous or beautiful.

* The paradox is this: In order for Achilles to catch the tortoise, he must first reach the tortoise's starting location. Once he does that, the tortoise will have moved, so Achilles will have to reach the tortoise's new location. Of course, by the time he does that, the tortoise will have moved again, and so on ad infinitum. Therefore Achilles can never catch up to the tortoise.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Art, Life and Videogames

Awhile back I asked the question Are Videogames Art? In that post I talked about a few of the more common objections to the claim that videogames are art. Today I'll try to make the case that games can in fact be art.

Before we begin I need to clear something up. These days most videogames include stories, characters, dialog, 3-d models, animations, scenery, cut-scenes, etc. Any one of these things could potentially be considered art in its own right. That does not make the game itself a work of art. In order for a game to count as art, the gameplay itself must have some artistic merit.

So to begin, we need to consider the gameplay alone. What does a game look like when you take away the dialog, textures, cut-scenes and other art resources? What is it that makes a game a game?

I would aruge that what makes a game a game is the rules. Rules define the roles of any objects that are part of the game (whether those objects are physical objects, like dice or cards, or pieces of computer software). They also define the roles of the players; they control how the players interact with the game objects and how game objects interact with each other. These rules can be applied by the people playing the game, or by the computer. In either case, the rules define the game experience.

It may seem like I've painted myself into a corner here. How can anything as dry and uninteresting as a set of rules ever be considered a work of art? However, one does not play a game by reading the rules. One plays the game by putting those rules into action. It is in playing a game that we discover its artistic merit.

I would like to use Conway's Game of Life as an example. The game takes place on an infinite square grid. Each square can be either alive or dead. Each square interacts with its 8 neighbors (squares that are adjacent to it, either vertically, horizontally or diagonally). A live square stays alive if it has two or three live neighbors, otherwise it dies. Life appears in a dead square if it has three live neighbors, otherwise it stays dead.

The Game of Life is an interesting game. It is a zero player game. You just set the initial state (decide which squares are alive in the beginning) and the game plays itself.

The Game of Life is also a good test case. The rules are very simple, but the game is incredibly complex. It can be difficult to predict what will happen. Sometimes large, complex patterns die off within a few generations. At other times small, simple patterns, like the F Pentomino, expand and grow and change for more than a thousand generations.

Some patterns are stable. They either remain unchanged or they return to their original form after a few generations. Other patterns move as they change, allowing them to travel across the grid.

I might be reaching a little bit, but I would argue that the game of life qualifies as a work of art. The fact that such a simple set of rules allows for all of these possibilities is impressive. Watching the F Pentomino sprawl out over a thousand generations is quite beautiful.

Not only can the Game of Life be beautiful to watch, it also challenges us. It forces us to come to terms with the fact that we can't always know the end from the beginning, even under such simple conditions. Think about it: even with a small, simple, deterministic set of rules, predicting how a Game of Life will play out can be very hard. The fact that this simple game can be so surprising is a noteworthy achievement.

I don't think we'll see Conway's Game of Life running on computers in the Louvre anytime soon, but I think we can make the case that games deserve consideration as works of art. In the future I'll talk about how this argument applies to more traditional computer games.

In the meantime, please feel free to let me know what you think.

Edit: I realize this post is dense, and it might be hard to follow if you're not familiar with the game of life. If you want to actually see what I'm talking about, check out this video. It provides a good example of the kind of complexity the game is capable of.