Wed 15 Mar 2006
If ever there was a book that needs CliffsNotes, Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science is the one. This book has been dismissed as “no big deal” by some who have read only the first few hundred pages. Unfortunately, you have to wade through many more of the 1200 pages of this book to get to the main points that Wolfram is making.
The insights in this book are be as profound as Newton’s in Mathmatical Principles of Natural Philosophy but they take work to understand. Part of the problem is that his insights are as foreign to our worldview as quantum theory was to Newtonian physicists in the 1920s.
A major premise of A New Kind of Science is that science as we know it is blind to many relationships in nature because of the way that traditional science sets up experiments. Wolfram shows that all of nature is found in the execution of simple rules.,
This 1200 page epic is the result of a ten year effort by the developer of the computer math engine Mathmatica to expose his insights into the behavior of simple rules into a comprehensive thesis. Unfortunately for his exposition Wolfram needs to prove each concept because it is so revolutionary.
He does so carefully and at considerable length. The starting point in many cases are the rules of cellular automata. He then carefully shows over and over again how these principles relate to other systems in nature. This careful development of each principle and relationship makes the book tedious to read.
Before wading into this book, buy a new set of glasses – Wolfram had to use special printing methods to present many of his illustrations with adequate resolution. It is a daunting task to change your way of thinking.
What we need now is a scientist-publicist similar to George Gamow or Carl Sagan to take up his cause to publicize and popularize the new science Wolfram has uncovered. This new science has wide ranging implications, from the final nail in William Paley’s creationism, dramatic insights into financial systems, identifying how our present scientific viewpoint limits our ability to understand chaotic and biological systems, to a fundimental addition to the field of mathematics. These insights will not be able to influence the course of science until they are understood by enough of the community to put them into practice.
I recommend this book for everyone who is a serious scientist or philosopher. I desperately await a popularized version, now that the footnotes have all been written.
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