Brian's Brain


Brian's Brain is a cellular automaton invented by Brian Silverman. It resembles the Game of Life, except that cells have not just two states, but three. To make the analogy to a brain, think of the cells as neurons that may be 1) off but ready to fire, 2) firing, or 3) refractory after firing. The addition of a refractory state dramatically changes the results.

How to use this applet: If the applet is running, start a new game by clicking stop. Then draw a pattern on the game board using the mouse, and click start. You may change the game rules by clicking the rules button. The rule changes will take effect as soon as you click apply even if the game is running. However, if you select a classic pattern from the choice box, the pattern will not be applied unless the game is stopped. If a pattern is selected, the previous game board will be erased when you click apply. The "reset to defaults" button in the rules dialog will reset the game rules to the standard Brian's Brain rules. These rules are: with each step a cell counts the number of its neighbors. In step 1: If a cell is off and has exactly 2 firing neighbors, that cell will begin firing. In step 2: If the cell is firing, it becomes refractory. In step 3: Refractory cells turn off.

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What kind of patterns do you see in Brian's Brain?

Primarily moving or gliding patterns. The addition of a refractory state makes patterns move across the board.

Here are some interesting patterns and rules:
Standard rules by Brian Silverman
Brain 6 rules by Michael Sweeney
Star Wars rules by Mirek Wojtowicz

How much like a brain is Brian's Brain?

Perhaps a little more like a brain than the Game of Life, but it still doesn't seem to be able to do anything useful. The ways the Game of Life resembles a brain are:
  1. Its activity is highly patterned.
  2. When it's operating normally, the precise patterns are not predictable.
  3. Random firing occurs in the brain. In the Game of Life random firing prevents excessive stability.
  4. Under certain conditions, paroxysmal patterns occur in both the brain and in the Game of Life.
  5. In the Game of Life, as in the brain, the "program" and the "data" are the same thing.
To these attributes, Brian's Brain adds:
  1. Its activity is directional
  2. Waves of activity occur that move quickly across the entire board
  3. These waves superficially resemble electroencephalographic waves found in real brains.
  4. More than in the Game of Life, the patterns are paroxysmal. The board may have few cells then explode into activity, which resembles seizures.

What next?

A big difference between cellular automata and brains is that the neurons in brains are much more complex devices than the cells in cellular automata. The next step then might be to make the cells of the automaton more like neurons.
 |Cellular automata page|