Lit & The Arts Stephen Wolfram - A New Kind of Science

Discussion in 'Literature & The Arts' started by GoneFission, Apr 2, 2005.

  1. GoneFission

    GoneFission Premium Member

    Stephen Wolfram, an undeniable genius and creator of the fantastic Mathematica software program, published A New Kind of Science in 2002. It had been highly publicized and was eagerly awaited by many scientists and laymen alike. I recently got a copy, and while I am far from finished (it is nearly 1300 pages with notes) I have read enough that I would like to discuss it.

    Since I haven't finished it yet, I will refrain from giving a positive or negative recommendation. However, so far I am pretty dissapointed. Wolfram claims that this book will revolutionize science (heck, just read the title), but I have yet to see anything much beyond idle curiosities.

    His "new kind of science" (that's the only way he refers to it - guess he couldn't come up with a decent name) is based upon cellular automata, which are a simple computational objects that change state based upon the state of their neighbors and a simple set of rules. The underlying thesis is that these very simple objects can produce very complex patterns and behaviors. Hence, Wolfram believes that almost any natural system can be reproduced using an appropriate set of automata and rules.

    I am truly fascinated by this idea, as this might be a solution to some of the more complicated modeling challenges, such as turbulent flow. However, I am skeptical as to how far this can truly be applied.

    I will continue to read it, and I figure I'll be done sometime in the next decade. Until then, I was curious if anyone else here had read it, and what your opinion is.
  2. Bleys

    Bleys Phoenix Takes Flight Staff Member

  3. GoneFission

    GoneFission Premium Member

    Sure Bleys, I'll try.

    Let's say you take a whole bunch of people and put them in a line, side-by-side (our automata).
    You tell one guy near the middle to put his arms up in the air, and all the others to put their arms at their sides (our initial conditions).
    Then you tell them, when given the command, they are to put their arms up if only one of their neghbors has his or her arms up. Otherwise, they are to put their arms down, or leave them down. (our rule).

    This is analogous to rule #90, as shown in the following picture (black=arms up, white=arms down). The top row shows the person in the middle with a neighbor on either side, and the bottom row shows what the person will do when the command is given.
    1.gif **

    The following picture shows the progression as we give the command four times (each row represents a time step):
    2.gif **

    Going out even more time steps, we'll see a pattern like this emerge:
    3.gif **

    This is reminiscent of the famous Sierpinski Triangle fractal. Hence, we obtained something complex from something simple (chaos theorists have known how to do that for decades).

    I hope that helped clear things up.

    I hadn't even looked at Wolfram's website before (other than MathWorld and Mathematica, that is). He's actually got the entire book online! Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science|Online—Table of Contents And, frankly, it's not much more awkward to read it at a computer than it is to read the actual book. I mean, five pounds of paper isn't too comfortable on your lap, and you can forget about reading it in bed.

    ** Images copyright Stephen Wolfram, LLC. See website at Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science.
  4. oddtodd

    oddtodd Premium Member

    that link has the complete book available for online viewing !

    Thanks !