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Unread 04-13-2020, 07:41 PM
Woody Long's Avatar
Woody Long Woody Long is offline
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: Virginia
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Default RIP John Conway

I think xkcd's tribute today here is poetic.

xkcd's page here. Mouse over for gif "title".

John Conway, Wikipedia here.

Animations of Conway's "Game of Life" here.

— Woody
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Unread 04-16-2020, 11:04 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
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I had never heard of him before, Woody, but I enjoyed reading about the role of playfulness in his creative process, according to his obituaries:

From his Princeton obit:

One of Conway’s most well-known accomplishments was the Game of Life, which he conceived in the 1970s to describe how life can evolve from an initial state. The concept builds on ideas that trace back to John von Neumann, a pioneer of early computing, in the 1940s. Conway’s game involves a two-dimensional grid in which each square cell interacts with its neighbors according to a set of rules. Over time, these simple interactions give rise to complexity.

The game was introduced in an October 1970 issue of Scientific American’s mathematical games column, whose creator, the late Martin Gardner, was friends with Conway. Conway continued his interest in “recreational mathematics” by inventing numerous games and puzzles. At Princeton, he often carried in his pockets props such as ropes, pennies, cards, dice, models and sometimes a Slinky to intrigue and entertain students and others.

Manjul Bhargava, who was advised by Conway during his first year as a graduate student at Princeton and who is now Princeton’s Brandon Fradd, Class of 1983, Professor of Mathematics, said that Conway’s love for games and magic tricks as a way to teach mathematical concepts inspired Bhargava’s own approach.

“I learned very quickly that playing games and working on mathematics were closely intertwined activities for him, if not actually the same activity,” Bhargava said. “His attitude resonated with and affirmed my own thoughts about math as play, though he took this attitude far beyond what I ever expected from a Princeton math professor, and I loved it.”
From his NY Times obit:

“In mathematics and physics there are two kinds of geniuses,” Dr. [Simon] Kochen said by phone from his home in Princeton, echoing something once said about the physicist Richard Feynman. “There are the ordinary geniuses — they are just like you and me but they are better at it; if we’d worked hard enough, maybe we could get some of the same results.

“But then there are the magical geniuses,” he added. “Richard Feynman was a magical genius. And the same always struck me about John — he was a magical mathematician. He was a magical genius rather than an ordinary genius.”
At 18, in 1956, John left home for the University of Cambridge, where he earned his Ph.D. His adviser, Harold Davenport, a number theorist, once said that when he would give Dr. Conway a problem to solve, “he would return with a very good solution to another problem.”
Math, Dr. Conway believed, should be fun. “He often thought that the math we were teaching was too serious,” said Mira Bernstein, a mathematician and a former executive director of Canada/USA Mathcamp, an international summer program for high-school students. “And he didn’t mean that we should be teaching them silly math — to him, fun was deep. But he wanted to make sure that the playfulness was always, always there.”

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-16-2020 at 11:06 AM.
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Unread 04-17-2020, 07:00 AM
Tim McGrath Tim McGrath is offline
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Chicago
Posts: 167

Also from the NYT:

"His father, an autodidact, had left school at age 14 and, with his photographic memory, made a living playing cards. Later he was a technician in the chemistry lab at the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, setting up experiments for students, among them George Harrison and Paul McCartney."
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