A New Kind of Science Hardcover – May 1 2002
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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. 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.
Top Customer Reviews
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!
On page 27 Wolfram explains "probably the single most surprising discovery I have ever made:" a simple program can produce output that seems irregular and complex.
This has been known for six decades. Every computer science (CS) student knows the dovetailer, a very simple 2 line program that systematically lists and executes all possible programs for a universal computersuch as a Turing machine (TM). It computes all computable patterns, including all those in Wolfram's book, embodies the well-known limits of computability, and is basis of uncountable CS exercises.
Wolfram does know (page 1119) Minsky's very simple universal TMs from the 1960s. Using extensive simulations, he finds a slightly simpler one. New science? Small addition to old science. On page 675 we find a particularly simple cellular automaton (CA) and Matthew Cook's universality proof(?). This might be the most interesting chapter. It reflects that today's PCs are more powerful systematic searchers for simple rules than those of 40 years ago. No new paradigm though.
Was Wolfram at least first to view programs as potential explanations of everything? Nope. That was Zuse. Wolfram mentions him in exactly one line (page 1026): "Konrad Zuse suggested that [the universe] could be a continuous CA." This is totally misleading. Zuse's 1967 paper suggested the universe is DISCRETELY computable, possibly on a DISCRETE CA just like Wolfram's. Wolfram's causal networks (CA's with variable toplogy, chapter 9) will run on any universal CA a la Ulam & von Neumann & Conway & Zuse.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
I have a lot of respect for Wolfram. He has accomplished amazing things...but this book...Seriously Stephen, could be a lot simpler and straight to the point. Read morePublished 8 months ago by shahster
I didn't know it was that huge, kind of war and peace for maths or science.
Im reading it actually, very interesting!
Stephen Wolfram is making a lot of noise about his "new kind of science," and the revolutionary impact it will have. Read morePublished on July 16 2004
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
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 morePublished on June 22 2004 by LeGrande Blount
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 morePublished on June 8 2004 by Andre Caldas
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 morePublished on May 26 2004 by Jhon Shonest
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 morePublished on May 23 2004 by Tony Smith
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 morePublished on March 3 2004
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