Showing Text From Page | View Full page with images

what pattern is produced. But in a system that is based on constraints, there is no such direct procedure, and instead one must in effect always go outside of the system to work out what patterns can occur.

The most straightforward approach might just be to enumerate every single possible pattern and then see which, if any, of them satisfy a particular constraint. But in systems containing more than just a few cells, the total number of possible patterns is absolutely astronomical, and so enumerating them becomes completely impractical.

A more practical alternative is to build up patterns iteratively, starting with a small region, and then adding new cells in essentially all possible ways, at each stage backtracking if the constraint for the system does not end up being satisfied.

The pictures on the next page show a few sequences of patterns produced by this method. In some cases, there emerge quite quickly simple repetitive patterns that satisfy the constraint. But in other cases, a huge number of possibilities have to be examined in order to find any suitable pattern.

And what if there is no pattern at all that can satisfy a particular constraint? One might think that to demonstrate this would effectively require examining every conceivable pattern on the infinite grid of cells. But in fact, if one can show that there is no pattern that satisfies the constraint in a limited region, then this proves that no pattern can satisfy the constraint on the whole grid. And indeed for many constraints, there are already quite small regions for which it is possible to establish that no pattern can be found.

But occasionally, as in the third picture on the next page, one runs into constraints that can be satisfied for regions containing thousands of cells, but not for the whole grid. And to analyze such cases inevitably requires examining huge numbers of possible patterns.

But with an appropriate collection of tricks, it is in the end feasible to take almost any system of the type discussed here, and determine what pattern, if any, satisfies its constraint.

So what kinds of patterns can be needed? In the vast majority of cases, simple repetitive patterns, or mixtures of such patterns, are the only ones that are needed.

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]