During class I had the joy to share one of my deepest geekeries with my fellow students: my love for cellular automata.

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This activity is centered around Nicky Case's brilliant and funny little toy, the Emoji Simulator.


It is important to know that the format we use to reflect on experience shapes the format in which we remember experience. When we write down an experience as a journal entry, we are storing the memory in a linguistic, narrative format. When we paint, our memory is visual. When we discuss, our memory is social.

The format of a cellular automata simulation is different from other forms of reflection. In a simulation, you are not interacting directly with the words or the brush strokes of the piece. Rather, a simulation allows you to interact with the natural laws running behind the scenes.


In this tool, you are able to combine a small palette of simple algorithms to create complex behaviors between different cells, which are represented by emojis.

One algorithm changes a cell into a different kind of cell. This algorithm, like all the others, can be combined with all the other algorithms to create new and interesting behaviors. In this image, it is combined with a probablitiy algorithm. This rule causes trees to pop into existence every once in a while.


Another algorithm allows cells to move throughout the world, leaving different cells behind them in a trail. Like an ant leaving a pheremone trail, or a dog leaving some scribbles of yellow snow.


A third algorithm polls the situation of nearby cells. This can lead to interactions that resemble overcrowding, loneliness, or peer pressure.


Using these little building blocks, the ambitious reflector can design some very weird, cool, and imporantly unpredictable behaviors and patterns. I invite you, dear reader, to jump into Nicky's amazing little project and see what kinds of situations you can simulate.


I think you will find that the results will be surprising and informative whether or not you create exactly what you were expecting.

For emoji-less devices, take advantage of the handy Emoji List to find your perfect unicode.

After you have enjoyed this simulator for a while, you may notice that there are a few cycles of behavior that start to emerge. Some simulations will "die out" very quickly, leaving just a blank screen. Some might explode into chaos, and some others may present cyclical or balanced behavior.

Stephen Wolfram, a computer geek from the original generation of computer geeks, has written about his four classifications of chaotic behavior. According to Wolfram, these describe the four major categories of pattern and growth inside cyber-biological systems.


For more reading, and more ideas on applying these simulations to reflection activites, take a stroll through Rudy Rucker's hypnotizing video on the subject.


In closing, I encourage you, dearest reader, to consider the simulation as a valuable form of creative output. A medium that allows the artist, reflector, or student to understand a situation in a new and exciting way.