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A New Kind Of Science Hardcover – 1 Jun 2002
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Physics and computer science genius Stephen Wolfram, sets his sights on a daunting goal: understanding the universe. A New Kind of Science is 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 modelling 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 non-mathematical 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 non-techies; 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
The long-awaited work from one of the world's most respected scientists presents a series of dramatic discoveries never before made public. Starting from a collection of simple computer experiments - illustrated in the book by striking computer graphics - Wolfram shows how their unexpected results force a whole new way of looking at the operation of our universe. Wolfram uses his approach to tackle a remarkable array of fundamental problems in science - from the origin of the Second Law of thermodynamics, to the development of complexity in biology, the computational limitations of mathematics, the possibility of a truly fundamental theory of physics, and the interplay between free will and determinism. Written with exceptional clarity, and illustrated with nearly 1,000 original pictures, this seminal book allows scientists and non-scientists alike to participate in what promises to be a major intellectual revolution.
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No doubt the book completely annoys the pants off industry practitioners who, reading this book, one would think barely exist compared to the self-professed awesome brain of Mr Wolfram. At times, it almost falls into parody as if an intelligent version of Arnold Rimmer for Red Dwarf was writing it. As an 11-year old, I remember programming Conway's Game of Life and, like many other kids who did this, being fascinated by where the hell the information to describe all this comes from. But according to Mr. Wolfram, he was the first one to think like this. Forget about all the teenage Game of Life hobbyists out there, Zuse, Tegmark etc. Perhaps its true that Wolfram did independently come up with lots of discoveries and helped reinvigorate the subject, but even if he did, he should acknowledge others more in his writing and not boast about what a clever chappy he is the whole time. It's my first book in digital physics, so can't compare it to others out there, unfortunately.
But there's one really big problem with Wolfram's (big and fairly expensive) book. It doesn't say anything.
As a child I was transfixed by The Game Of Life, played out on graph paper with a pencil. Cellular systems "evolved" from generation to generation, following pretty simple rules. The joy of the game was seeing rich, often unpredictable results from surprisingly basic input conditions.
Either deluded, insecure or greedy, Wolfram decides to stretch this nice little idea across hundreds of repetitive, self aggrandising pages. We all get the idea that simple iterative systems can produce chaotic or unexpectedly pretty patterns, of which he gives us endless examples. But honestly - how is this a new kind of science?
The number of times an author makes references to their own brilliance could well be in inverse proportion to the actual worth of the ideas they're presenting. Just count how often in this laughable book Stephen Wolfram claims the world won't listen to his genius. Then get back to me on the plausibility or practical application of the content...
Perhaps the biggest frustration when reading the book is the total lack of references to other peoples work. Wolfram explains his reasoning for this but it gives what could be a classic work a hollow feeling because you do not see the work in context and it is hard to judge it against what was done before. His case would have been much more credible with the references and this would have made it seem a more informed and less partial work.
The later parts of the book and his arguments regarding computational equivalence are very hard to penetrate and again this could have been improved if he had looked for other sources. His idea ia an important one as it underpins why we do science and how we should do science when we deal with complexity where simulation plays a vital role in improving our understanding. This will be a debate that will go on for some time.