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A New Kind of Science [Hardcover]

Stephen Wolfram
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (310 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 2002 1579550088 978-1579550080
This 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 by more than a thousand 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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From Amazon

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. 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

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not just about cellular automata... June 2 2004
By A Customer
Unlike many reviewers, I read this book completely, including most of the notes. As a computer engineer, I am familiar with many of its ideas, and I have published and peer-reviewed technical papers.
With some of the negative reviewers, I will agree that:
- The book is long.
- It contains self-praise.
- Others have explored some of its ideas.
If you are in the mindset of peer-reviewing a conference/journal publication, those three things might very much bother you. However, this is not a conference/journal submission! This is a book for a very wide range of audiences, and it is always very difficult to satisfy such a range. IF your own ego can get over the author's self-praise, then you can really enjoy the book for the following:
- A thorough exploration of a very important idea, which may sometimes seem obvious but when actually incorporated into our thinking can indeed profoundly affect the way we approach some scientific problems.
- A fascinating demonstration of how science selects the problems it considers important simply based on its ability to solve them. This works both ways, with the book pointing out how classic methods completely avoid certain problems, but also happens again in a new way in the course of the book as Wolfram himself selects problems to solve based on the applicability of the concepts he introduces.
- A delightful conglomeration of fascinating concepts and problems from all kinds of fields, including computer science, physics, biology, philosophy, etc. If you read the notes, this book takes you on a grand tour of the state of science in many areas, and I can't even imagine the effort that must have gone into compiling, understanding, and organizing all this information. I understand why it took 10 years, and this alone makes the book worth its value.
Put your ego and the egos of others aside, and simply enjoy!
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wolfram's "New" Science Simply Doesn't Work Aug. 4 2002
As everyone who can read English and has been awake for the past six months knows, Stephen Wolfram has written how certain cellular automata have the "universal" property of being able to perform any calculation that can be performed on a computer or anything else. Wolfram generates thousands of lovely pictures that, he claims, are similar to those observed in many physical and biological systems. All these pictures are generated by simple rules and sometimes simple initial conditions. Yet, some show surprisingly complex and seemingly random behaviour.
So far so good. Wolfram's next contention is that the complexity found in what he calls Class 4 cellular automata cannot be exceeded by any physical, biological or computational process. Put more boldly, every physical, biological, psychological, financial, meteorolical and, no doubt, astrological feature of the universe that exhibits complexity is generated by some sort of cellular automaton with appropriate initial conditions.
Such a statement cannot, of course, be proved in any acceptable way. To compensate, Wolfram gives us many examples of phenomena whose random behaviour resembles those of cellular automata. He is most convincing with his pictures of real seashells and arguments about turbulence in fluids (I especially liked his wafting smoke in the air anology.) He is less persuasive when he argues that evolution has nothing to do with maximizing anything and everything to do with generated patterns, some of which survive. When he talks about the analogy between Class 4 cellular automata and human cognition, he is downright silly.
Yet this is all irrelevant. Wolfram is scathing in the inability of mathematics to solve anything but the simplest physical problems.
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78 of 82 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A new kind of review Oct. 14 2002
Why you are reading this review
I can only imagine how fortunate you must feel to be reading my review. This review is the product of my lifetime of experience in meeting important people and thinking deep thoughts. This is a new kind of review, and will no doubt influence the way you
think about the world around you and the way you think of yourself.
Bigger than infinity
Although my review deserves thousands of pages to articulate, I am limiting many of my deeper thoughts to only single characters. I encourage readers of my review to dedicate the many years required to fully absorb the significance of what I am writing here. Fortunately, we live in exactly the time when my review can be widely disseminated by "internet" technology and stored on "digital media", allowing current and future scholars to delve more deeply into my original and insightful use of commas, numbers, and letters.
My place in history
My review allows, for the first time, a complete and total understanding not only of this but *every single*
book ever written. I call this "the principle of book equivalence." Future generations will decide the relative merits of this review compared with, for example, the works of Shakespeare. This effort will open new realms of scholarship.
I am the author of all things
It is staggering to contemplate that all the great works of literature can be derived from the letters I use in writing this review. I am pleased to have shared them with you, and hereby grant you the liberty to use up to twenty (20) of them consecutively without attribution. Any use of additional characters in print must acknowledge this review as source material since it contains, implicitly or explicitly, all future written documents.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge...
I didn't know it was that huge, kind of war and peace for maths or science.

Im reading it actually, very interesting!
Published 11 months ago by My Self
1.0 out of 5 stars Wolfram is not as revolutionary as ME
Stephen Wolfram is making a lot of noise about his "new kind of science," and the revolutionary impact it will have. Read more
Published on July 16 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking book
Given that you bothered to read these reviews, you probably should buy the book.
Wolfram's either on to something or he's not. I don't know and don't care. Read more
Published on July 15 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Single mindedness is bad even if it's a brilliant mind
The lack of proper reference to those minds that have studied and articulated complexity and cellular automata gives the impression that Wolfram solely thought up and now presents... Read more
Published on June 22 2004 by LeGrande Blount
1.0 out of 5 stars An author who thinks he is the BEST
This book is barely better than a master thesis. It is not revolutionary (despite the fact that the author insists it is original) nor brilliant. Read more
Published on June 8 2004 by Andre Caldas
1.0 out of 5 stars "A New Kind of Revisionism"
Hi, my last review of this book had the title "A New Kind of Plagiarism", since then, very knowledgeable people have pinpointed with exactitude were the plagiarism was (almost the... Read more
Published on May 26 2004 by Jhon Shonest
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't throw out the baby with the bath water
It seems Wolfram bashing has become a sport for weak minds. Sure he leaves himself open to criticism for not having stayed quite so engaged with his peers during the decade it took... Read more
Published on May 23 2004 by Tony Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars A 20th century Salieri ?
Having browsed through the book -no proper thorough reading, I admit- and the various reviews, I find here a similarity with that well known 2nd class author. Read more
Published on March 3 2004 by "anthony_xy"
1.0 out of 5 stars A deception of book
I can not add anything new to the reviews in these pages, everything has been said. I do agree with everybody rating 1/5 this pretentious book.
Published on Feb. 15 2004 by C. Olaya
1.0 out of 5 stars There goes fifty bucks I wish I could get back!
There is little if anything I can add to the many negative reviews that have already been written about this book, other than to add my voice to the chorus. Read more
Published on Dec 22 2003 by F. W. Hoge
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