This week, John Horton Conway, a world-renown mathematician, (Oxford University, Princeton) passed away of Covid19. His obituary prompted me to check his Wikipedia page, and from there I went down the rabbit hole, reading about his “Game of Life”. Rather than being what we normally think of as a game with players and winners and losers, it’s more a mathematical construct. I doubt the title was mean to infer anything spiritual; rather it demonstrates that a random group of “seed cells” will self-organize and create a sort of “living” program. However, to me, it seems to be a perfect metaphor for a theory of my own. Stick with me, here…
I don’t pretend to understand the entire concept, but this is what I understand, in a nutshell: The “game” begins with random filled/unfilled pixels on a computer grid. These cells, depending on whether they are filled in or blank, are considered either “alive” or “dead” [or “populated” or “unpopulated”]. There are certain rules to this zero player game (as it’s called) and these rules affect the way the cells interact with the adjacent cells, and that in turn governs the way they behave and self-organize from that point on.
The universe of the Game of Life is an infinite, two-dimensional orthogonal grid of square cells, each of which is in one of two possible states, alive or dead, (or populated and unpopulated, respectively). Every cell interacts with its eight neighbors, which are the cells that are horizontally, vertically, or diagonally adjacent. At each step in time, the following transitions occur:
- Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbors dies, as if by underpopulation.
- Any live cell with two or three live neighbors lives on to the next generation.
- Any live cell with more than three live neighbors dies, as if by overpopulation.
- Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbors becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.
These rules, which compare the behavior of the automaton to real life, can be condensed into the following:
- Any live cell with two or three live neighbors survives.
- Any dead cell with three live neighbors becomes a live cell.
- All other live cells die in the next generation. Similarly, all other dead cells stay dead.
The initial pattern constitutes the seed of the system. The first generation is created by applying the above rules simultaneously to every cell in the seed; births and deaths occur simultaneously, and the discrete moment at which this happens is sometimes called a tick. Each generation is a pure function of the preceding one. The rules continue to be applied repeatedly to create further generations.
I’ve been thinking/talking/writing about the following notion for many years. Initially, I saw it as fractals patterns — and there certainly is quite a bit of that in this idea. But as soon as I read about the Game of Life, I realized what a far better analogy it is. There are those who say it “God is in mathematics, and I’m beginning to understand why.
We are each born into a specific set of conditions which define us: physical and mental attributes, talents, tragic flaws, our family (its social status, educational level, religion, our pecking order among siblings), our community, our culture, the zeitgeist, and so on. To a large degree, these conditions constrain and define us as we encounter obstacles and take the advantages offered to us. These conditions, taken as a whole, cause us to think and behave in a certain way, which in turn shapes our path in life.
I do not believe this set of conditions is random. I believe that in the time between lives, our higher self assesses our previous lifetimes, and ascertains what we need to learn/overcome in the next lifetime in order to ascend to higher levels of consciousness. But sending our soul/consciousness into a new physical body is a bit like Moses’ mother sending him off in a basket down the Nile. Our higher self can only aim us in the right direction and hope for the best, because once we enter a new human body, it no longer has control. Very few people remember their past lives or the time between lives. (Often one CAN remember while undergoing past life regression hypnosis, but most people do not recall past lives spontaneously, without assistance.)
How can our higher self be assured that when it sends our consciousness into a new body, that this human will encounter/interact with the necessary challenges which need to be addressed to attain greater understanding? The best our higher self can do is to inject our soul into a situation that will best present us with the experiences we need to have, allow us to meet the people (or types of people) we need to meet, come face to face with the problems we need to overcome, confront the kind of suffering we need to go through. Our higher selves can only hope that once we are human again, we learn the spiritual lessons and ultimately figure out how to finally break the cycle of reincarnation.
Thus, it’s important to select just the right “vehicle” (body). The higher self will wait for the right set of parents, the right type of family, the right birth order, the right genetics (intellect, appearance, health, talents and abilities, even brain chemistry), before injecting itself back into a human life. (Personally, I’ve always felt there was a reason I was born the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter, all of whom were also the oldest child, who came of age during the women’s rights movement.)
And so, each of these qualities – both genetic and the environmental – are the starting cells for the real game of life.
These different elements create the patterns and dictate how we evolve as human beings: the things we embrace and the things we avoid; the things we excel at and the things that we simply cannot wrap our brains around; the way we interact with the world around us – where we feel comfortable and where we do not; what we feel we are entitled to and what we feel is beyond our grasp.
And as we get older and move through life, the same patterns tend to repeat themselves (hence, the fractal analogy). Maybe we always choose the same type of wrong partner. Maybe whenever things are going well for us, we self-sabotage. Maybe our insecurity or fear or anger destroys relationship after relationship. Maybe we just can’t separate from our ego and make all the mistakes inherent in that. Maybe we lack the confidence to succeed. Or maybe we can’t get past our anger or resentment.
Hopefully, eventually, we recognize and overcome those patterns that keep us from personal growth. And in learning about ourselves, we learn about others, and about the the human condition, and about our own spiritual journey.
Or not. Maybe we learn nothing and have to do it all over again. And again. And again. Until we figure it out.
I think if we look back at our lives, we will see that the seeds of who we become are planted before we were born.