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A New Kind of Science 1st Edition
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Physics and computer science genius Stephen Wolfram, whose Mathematica computer language launched a multimillion-dollar company, now sets his sights on a more daunting goal: understanding the universe. Wolfram lets the world see his work in A New Kind of Science, a gorgeous, 1,280-page tome more than a decade in the making. With patience, insight, and self-confidence to spare, Wolfram outlines a fundamental new way of modeling complex systems.
On the frontier of complexity science since he was a boy, Wolfram is a champion of cellular automata--256 "programs" governed by simple nonmathematical rules. He points out that even the most complex equations fail to accurately model biological systems, but the simplest cellular automata can produce results straight out of nature--tree branches, stream eddies, and leopard spots, for instance. The graphics in A New Kind of Science show striking resemblance to the patterns we see in nature every day.
Wolfram wrote the book in a distinct style meant to make it easy to read, even for nontechies; a basic familiarity with logic is helpful but not essential. Readers will find themselves swept away by the elegant simplicity of Wolfram's ideas and the accidental artistry of the cellular automaton models. Whether or not Wolfram's revolution ultimately gives us the keys to the universe, his new science is absolutely awe-inspiring. --Therese Littleton
From Library Journal
Galileo proclaimed that nature is written in the language of mathematics, but Wolfram would argue that it is written in the language of programs and, remarkably, simple ones at that. A scientific prodigy who earned a doctorate from Caltech at age 20, Wolfram became a Nobel-caliber researcher in the emerging field of complexity shortly thereafter only to abscond from academe and establish his own software company (which published this book). In secrecy, for over ten years, he experimented with computer graphics called cellular automata, which produce shaded images on grid patterns according to programmatic rules (973 images are reproduced here). Wolfram went on to discover that the same vastly complex images could be produced by even very simple sets of rules and argues here that dynamic and complex systems throughout nature are triggered by simple programs. Mathematical science can describe and in some cases predict phenomena but cannot truly explain why what happens happens. Underscoring his point that simplicity begets complexity, Wolfram wrote this book in mostly nontechnical language. Any informed, motivated reader can, with some effort, follow from chapter to chapter, but the work as a whole and its implications are probably understood fully by the author alone. Had this been written by a lesser scientist, many academics might have dismissed it as the work of a crank. Given its source, though, it will merit discussion for years to come. Essential for all academic libraries. [This tome is a surprise best seller on Amazon. Ed.] Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Alban.
- Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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Many of the comments of the critiques are true
The ego is there, he admits it, it is little disconcerting but being the history of a certain amount of Hubris myself in my time (and definitely less deserving than Wolfram) I can forgive that.
I am not expert enough to refute some of the more dogmatic claim of plagiarism etc
But the main thesis do find intriguing and thought provoking. If I have read these concepts elsewhere, they were not as clear illustrated and explained as they are in this book
The main idea that Simple computational rules can generate complex, random-looking behavior deterministically is intriguing to me. It cuts to the core of my intuition and teaching as a Statistician. It making me think and consider different interpretations of what I might be seeing. As a work of philosophy this is an awesome achievement. As a work of science I don’t think it’s there yet but I think this does raise some genuine and surprising possibilities.
The Book is an awesome value with high production values. It cannot be attacked all at once. It needs to be revisited many times. He covers a lot of ground – you don’t have to cover it all with him. Find your interest and I think wolfram will provide you with a new perspective on it
So where does Wolfram stand on this continuum? He's clearly brilliant, as evidenced by his citation index numbers (over 30,000!) and his Mathematica has revolutionized mathematical computation. He's also contributed major papers to the field of cellular automata and complexity theory. He spent a decade working on A New Science, and his argument that the underlying nature of reality is expressed not in physical laws, but in programs.
So is Wolfram right? Is there, contained within the multitude of patterns and algorithms in this book, a new insight into the nature of reality? Frankly, I'm nowhere near a good enough mathematician to evaluate his work, or to compare it to the work of others in the CA field. This book may in fact contain hidden within it the secrets to the underlying reality of the universe, or it may be, as another reviewer wittily put it, "an undergraduate project gone haywire." We may have to wait another decade to know. Until we do, the prospective reader is probably better served by the variety of inexpensive programs that are now available to explore CA than to slog through 1,280 pages of finely-printed diagrams.
This book does not get its due in recognition. When it came out, it got a lot of coverage and positive publicity, but people over time didn't seem to pick up on that idea.
The real question one should ask is how well does the ideas in that book stand against the test of time? That is the true test of whether a new idea is worthy or not. Newton's ideas stood for 300 years before his formulation of the universe needed to be rethought as new empirical evidence suggested that his formulas were not good at predicting certain things very accurately.
Ever since the creation of Demis Hassabis was sold to Google and then renamed to AlphaGo under the Deepmind division, was used to beat the Go player Lee Sedol (using the neural networks way of developing AI ,but not General Artificial Intelligence, yet), I've wondered just what Wolfram thought about that field. After reading further into the book, it turned out that wolfram's idea that the universe may be more algorithmic in nature than mathematical (at least defined in the traditional way) seems to be correct.
I would go as so far to say that the case with Rule 30, when you extrapolate out its implications, could basically explain the existence of the universe, and bypass that anthropic principle in some ways.