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Wolfram's New Kind of Science Now Online 480

Posted by michael
from the light-reading dept.
gotscheme writes "When Stephen Wolfram of Mathematica fame self-published A New Kind of Science in 2002, he raised the suspicions of many in scientific communities that he was taking advantage of a lot of other people's work for his sole financial gain and that he was going against the open nature of academia by using restrictive copyright. Yesterday, Wolfram and company released the entire contents of NKS for free on the Web (short registration required). Perhaps Wolfram is giving back to the scientific community; perhaps it is simply clever marketing for a framework that is beginning to gain momentum. For any matter, the entire encyclopedic volume is online, and this appears to be a positive step for scientific writing."
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Wolfram's New Kind of Science Now Online

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  • by corebreech (469871) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:23AM (#8201382) Journal
    The idea that the universe is the product of the combinatorial effects of different combinations of events seems neither unique nor unexpected.

    I know this will probably be modded as a troll, but could it be that NKS is nothing more than a computer-science primer for physicists?
    • Re:New Kind of Hype? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:25AM (#8201418) Homepage Journal
      idea that the universe is the product of the combinatorial effects
      Penrose's spinor group has been working on similar foundations for 30 years, and they've actually produced some interesting results, with applications in Superstrings and quantum gravity. By comparison, Wolfram is just a bored dilletante scribbling on the back of an envelope.
      • by LnxAddct (679316) <sgk25@drexel.edu> on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:11PM (#8201947)
        By comparison, Wolfram is just a bored dilletante scribbling on the back of an envelope.

        And you the mighty gowen have contributed so much to society. Wolfram is indeed a genius.He is up there with the likes of Stephen Hawking, just in a different field. He did build some of his work off of other people's, but that is what science is. Modern Physics was built off of Newton's work which was then in turn added to by others until it has reached its amazing point in this day and age where we can send a small robot to a crater on a planet millions of miles away. Quantum Mechanics is also commonly contributed to Albert Einstein who's work was then contributed to by others. But before Einstein there was Max Planck. The reason the human race has progressed as such is because we learn from our predecessors and build on that knowledge. Yes Wolfram used a lot of work based on others (and he cites it all), but he has also studied Cellular Automata for somewhere between 12 to 20 years.The guy is smart and I've read this entire book cover to cover and have referenced it several times. He makes insights into the field that no one has ever mentioned before. And after hearing him speak at one of his conferences in New York I have the upmost respect for him and his brilliance. If you still don't believe me, read the book, or just go to his website and browse it. Even better, try to duplicate Mathematica and see how far you get.I'm not trying to start a flame or anythign like that, but unless you are really familar with this guy then you can't really comment. I've followed his works for at least 5 years now.
        Regards,
        Steve
        P.S. Another guy worth checking out who is affiliated with Wolfram is Eric Weisstein who has a great website and sells an encyclopedia [amazon.com] for mathematics, which I also own and couldn't live without :)
        • Re:New Kind of Hype? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:21PM (#8202094)
          Yes Wolfram used a lot of work based on others (and he cites it all)

          and:

          In the 1990's Matthew Cook served as a research assistant to Stephen Wolfram , where among other things he was directed to develop a proof showing that the Rule 110 cellular automaton is Turing-complete . Under non-disclosure until the publication of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science, Cook nevertheless presented his proof at a Santa Fe Institute conference. Subsequently, it was stricken from the published proceedings by court order. Rule 110 is an extremely simple system, and the fact that it is Turing-complete is remarkable. While some view the proof as the book's central contribution, it is notable that in the years between Cook's presentation and the book's final publication, no subsequent follow-on work was done by those who had seen or heard of the proof-likely because its significance was not clear outside of the intellectual structure for which it was developed.

          (from wikipedia:Matthew_Cook) [wikipedia.org]
          • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Friday February 06, 2004 @02:41PM (#8203905) Homepage
            In the 1990's Matthew Cook served as a research assistant to Stephen Wolfram , where among other things he was directed to develop a proof showing that the Rule 110 cellular automaton is Turing-complete . Under non-disclosure until the publication of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science, Cook nevertheless presented his proof at a Santa Fe Institute conference.

            I have worked in several of the labs where Steve has worked. Does not play well with others is a common conclusion.

            The big problem with Steve's book is that he is simply unable to see that a large part of what he is proposing is simply stating existing ideas in a different notation.

            Einstein surrounded himself by people who he considered his intellectual peers, people like Kurt Goedel. Steve shut himself up in a room for ten years and basically talked only to the people he felt like. He surrounded himself with a bunch of sycophants in the manner of a pop star - we have all seen what that has done to Michael Jackson. I decided not to read the book after I heard the gushing haigographies given by his employees.

            It is not surprising that the book got the reception it did. When I heard Steve talking about it I kept thinking 'hammer, nail'. Steve has been working on finite state automata for years. But the standard model of physics today has at its core an idea that is pretty close to being a collection of finite state machines. It is already known that you can simulate one with the other.

            I think that the problem that Steve has created here is that the manner of his presentation closely resembles that of a crank. I get letters from cranks calling themselves the new Einstein and Adam Smith combined, actually everyone who has been published in the letters section of the London Times does.

            Steve is incredibly bright, but unfortunately no intelligence in history could match his ego, and his does not either.

            • The first time I heard of the Planck distance and Planck time, cellular automata became much more interesting. That's why I'm interested in ANKOS. Besides, maybe I can get some good cites for the source material.

              The idea that even space and time are discrete (composed of tiny parts) instead of continuous, could have some very interesting implications. Lots of systems that are discrete appear continuous, but atomic theory made a lot of difference in physics and chemistry.

              I don't disagree that Wolfram is a
        • by elmegil (12001) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:55PM (#8202498) Homepage Journal
          Nobody (sane) questions Wolfram's intelligence, however that doesn't mean that NKS is really as groundbreaking as he claims it is. I bought a copy, found it thick, heavy, dense, in turns fascinating and confusing, but damn if I can see anything in it that justifies Wolfram's claims of "new science". One can be utterly brilliant and still overly arrogant and in some cases even wrong. In fact, I question any "genius" who is unable to notice when s/he's wrong. Whether Wolfram falls in that category is yet to be seen.
        • Would you like to give an example of one of Wolfram's insights please? Just talking in generalities won't do.
          • How about: "You can make a truckload of money by selling effective software to a niche market."
          • Well I would definitely recommend reading the book, but as far as insights go there are thousands. From the possibility of the universe being emulated through cellular automata, to all of physics being right but wrong and that cellular automata is the proper way to do it. He applies cellular automata to cellular growth, space time, and pretty much every area of life. He has a lot to say about generating intrinsically true randomness with cellular automata. He essentially claims that anything that ever was
            • I've already read as far as the physics chapter. I found very few insights. It's the same old wild speculation I can remember talking about while a student getting stoned in the eighties. People have speculated that the universe is a CA for ages. Some people have even given interesting arguments (like Susskind and 't Hooft's work on the 'Holographic Hypothesis') but Wolfram just waffles.

              He essentially claims that anything that ever was and will be can be explained through cellular automata

              Aahhh. You've

        • by drooling-dog (189103) on Friday February 06, 2004 @02:02PM (#8203348)
          Wolfram is indeed a genius.He is up there with the likes of Stephen Hawking, just in a different field.

          That's probably true by his own estimation. I'm surprised that you say you read the book. I did too, and while there are a few interesting things in there, for the most part it's a lot of chest thumping and self-promotion. He continually trumpets how "simple programs" - i.e., cellular automata - will surely explain all of the mysteries of the universe and that therefore he is the second coming of Isaac Newton. Fair enough; on an intuitive level I can see how this might be so, and I eagerly plowed through the book waiting for some solutions to physical problems that would illustrate his thesis. Nothing of the sort was to be found. All we get is, "Looky here! More pretty patterns from my simple rules!" It was as if Newton, instead of developing the Calculus and actually applying it to physical problems, had just waved his arms and said, "Surely there are mathematical equations that govern the Universe!" and left it at that. Now that's an important insight, but if that's all he did we probably wouldn't even know his name.

          While I don't doubt Wolfram's contribution to CA and discrete mathematics, he's trying to join a club for which he hasn't (yet) paid his dues.

          Quantum Mechanics is also commonly contributed to Albert Einstein

          You're not a physicist, are you? That's just not true. Einstein resisted the ideas behind quantum mechanics for a long time; he couldn't accept that "God plays dice with the Universe". I'm not sure that he ever really accepted it.

        • Wolfram is indeed a genius.He is up there with the likes of Stephen Hawking, just in a different field

          In a different field now, but much of his pre-Mathematica work was in cosmology [stephenwolfram.com]. A bunch more was in particle physics [stephenwolfram.com]. From 1975 to 1983, Wolfram published a LOT of papers on those subjects.

          His diversion into mathematical software came about because the existing systems could not handle the scale of problems he was working on, and so he and Chris Cole developed SMP ("Symbolic Mathematics Program").

          Wo

        • Re:New Kind of Hype? (Score:3, Informative)

          by egoots (557276)

          Yes Wolfram used a lot of work based on others (and he cites it all), but he has also studied Cellular Automata for somewhere between 12 to 20 years.

          There are others who disagree with this to a certain degree. The following quote is from a review [sciencemag.org] of the book published in Science Magazine, by Dr. Melanie Mitchell, a well known researcher and author in the field.

          She writes: "In fact, most of what Wolfram describes is the work of many people (including himself), and most of it was done at least ten to twe

        • Re:New Kind of Hype? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by LionMage (318500) on Friday February 06, 2004 @03:49PM (#8204951) Homepage
          Yes Wolfram used a lot of work based on others (and he cites it all)

          Evidently he does not, for many have accused Dr. Wolfram of plagiarism. Personally, I find his citations inadequate. He doesn't give nearly enough credit to Edward Fredkin or Tommaso Toffoli or any of the other key researchers in Cellular Automata who advanced the idea that the universe is a giant computational process long before this book was ever published.

          Wolfram claims to have originated this idea, and he seems hell-bent on taking the credit away from others, to the point that he's put some rather onerous copyright restrictions on his NKS book and website. This is academically dishonest, to say the least.

          That he fucked over his own research assistant, Matthew Cook, is a crime against the advancement of math and science. (Check the Wikipedia article on Matthew Cook. It's enlightening.)

          I myself did some work with using Cellular Automata to model physical systems -- my bachelor's thesis (submitted in 1992 to the MIT Physics Department) concentrated on modeling gas diffusion using a one-dimensional CA, and comparing the results against statistical physics theory. Wolfram came late to the party, claims ownership of ideas that rightfully don't belong to any one person (and which he definitely did not originate), and killed a lot of trees to disseminate relatively little new information (the proof that a specific CA is Turing complete, furnished by his research assistant, being the primary noteworthy item). Save yourself the money and the 1200+ pages and read the source material. It's more enlightening.
      • That's one gigantic goddamn envelope.
      • Re:New Kind of Hype? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Thomas Miconi (85282) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:26PM (#8202149)
        Penrose's spinor group has been working on similar foundations for 30 years, and they've actually produced some interesting results

        The important part in Wolfram's work (and more importantly in the ohter people's works that were inspired by Wolfram) is quite different. It's not really "applicable" in the way you mention - the annoying side of Wolfram's book is precisely that he tries to apply it to just about anything, including fundamental physics.

        Another annoying side is mentioning lot of works by other people without acknowledging them, except in the small-print notes that make up more than 50% of the book's contents. Yet another annoying side is the embarassing passage on evolution - even a reckless creationist (which Wolfram isn't) would be ashamed of coming up with such a laughable piece of bad reasoning. Go check if you don't believe me.

        See my comment below for why Wolfram's ideas are actually cool, even though Wolfram himself isn't.

        Thomas Miconi
        • Re:New Kind of Hype? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Hentai (165906) on Friday February 06, 2004 @02:02PM (#8203341) Homepage Journal
          The important part in Wolfram's work (and more importantly in the ohter people's works that were inspired by Wolfram) is quite different. It's not really "applicable" in the way you mention - the annoying side of Wolfram's book is precisely that he tries to apply it to just about anything, including fundamental physics.

          As an armchair chaos mathematician, I find it annoying the one thing he DIDN'T try to apply it to: Chaos mathematics itself.

          Think about it. He's got this neat way of mapping the generative rules of cellular automata into numbers, right? He can verify the Turing-completeness of each and every one of these automata. Are there patterns? Are there mathematical rules that can be derived, that say something like "Any automata mapped in such-and-such a way from the sum of two Mersenne primes will be Turing Complete", or even some bizzare formula that returns the Turing Completeness of any cellular automata generated by a number N.

          Then look at THAT set of patterns, and see what 'rules' (which obviously themselves must be Turing complete) might generate THAT.

          And down the rabbit-hole we go. Maybe Wolfram and Hopfstaedter should sit down for tea sometime.
    • but could it be that NKS is nothing more than a computer-science primer for physicists?

      Perhaps a computer-science primer for biologists. Most of the mathematical patterns discussed in the book are organic.
    • by tgibbs (83782) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:09PM (#8201921)
      The idea that the universe is the product of the combinatorial effects of different combinations of events seems neither unique nor unexpected.

      Pretty much any idea, if expressed sufficiently broadly and vaguely, will seem "neither unique nor unexpected."
    • Actually, that's not what he's saying at all. In fact, I'm not sure you're saying anything at all. "Combinatorial effects of different combinations?" Somebody's been using the Pseudoscientific Bullshit generator.

      You're still more succinct than Wolfram, who over the course of these 600 pages reiterates his position several thousand times without ever really stating what it is he's claiming. It's damned annoying, considering I spent $45 to get thusly annoyed.

      Here's what I got from Wolfram's book. Anyth
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The work is almost completely without merit -- a Godel, Escher, Bach for idiots.

    Wolfram doesn't care, he's made a nice pile from it, generated some nice PR for himself; refused all peer review; got a bunch of sycophantic reviews -- largely from non-scientists -- took his short term profit, then bailed.

    If he was poor, he'd've been dismissed as a kook, but the rich can lay on some nice junkets, so they get treated as genius, even when their ideas are rotten.

    Move along.
    • Yes (Score:5, Funny)

      by That's Unpossible! (722232) * on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:41AM (#8201607)
      I often look to Anonymous Cowards for respected peer review.
      • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dasmegabyte (267018) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:31PM (#8202229) Homepage Journal
        I have an account AND an review.

        The AC is half right. It is not a great work like the Principia Mathematica. He spends way too much time dwelling on his cellular automata. His book could have used an editor willing to tell the brooding genius that his ideas weren't really explained well. His layman's language and reiteration of his WAY understated hypothesis make him seem like more of an amateur than he is.

        But he's not doing it for the money. The book is huge, printed using an expensive process and self-published. Even still, it was cheap...$45, less than half the cost of a physics textbook and about what I'd expect to pay for a good poetry collection. To self produce and distribute such a massive and expensive to produce book, even with the massive press behind it, he can't have recouped enough to make the effort worthwhile.

        It's my opinion that Stephen really thought he was on to something. It's also my opinion that he was on to something, but that he dwelled too much in the mechanics to really explain what he was doing to people who don't care about cellular automata. I also wonder if his programs are influenced by hidden variables (like his choice of borders, and their effects). Really, this book needs a companion volume written by somebody who can explain what the Stephen's talking about when he says "New Kind of Science" without going on and on about series numbers and alternating gray squares.
      • Re:Yes (Score:3, Informative)

        by kisak (524062)
        A well written review of Wolfram's book [physicstoday.org] is found in Physics Today [physicstoday.org] by Leo P. Kadanoff [uchicago.edu].

        Kadanoff both discuss the strong points of the book:

        First, it is an excellent pedagogical tool for introducing a reader, even one who has no knowledge of advanced mathematics, to some of the concepts of modern computer science, mathematics, and physics. [...] This is a

        tour de force of clarity and simplicity.

        But Kadanoff also points out several weaknesses:

        However, the reporting of history is spotty and sometimes qui

    • by ajs (35943)
      Here's my concern. I HAVE read the book. Not cover-to-cover, but a good deal of it, and I have to say that it's pie-in-the-sky stuff. Still, what I see people doing is jumping on this guy and saying that he's a kook, asshole, and various other derogitory words without a single shred of substantive argument against his points!

      Yes: he is arguing that, at a very high level, current scientific approaches to large systems are flawed. I understand that that's off-putting to many, but you can't expect such a broa
      • by Anonymous Coward
        He's doing cellular automata, for heaven's sake! Those of us over 15 have been doing these things since before you kiddies were born! How much more Church of Established Science could Wolfram be!?

        The point is that all Wolfram has done is say "look, cellular automata are cool and they can model complex stuff". We knew that. We knew it 30 years ago. The reason people hate him is that he's utterly convinced that he's a genius, so he arrogates this title of "A New Kind Of Science" to his incredibly old kind of
      • by elusus (562774)
        The entire first chapter is spent distancing Wolfram's theory from all the fields that gave rise to that theory. His thesis requires that his ideas be new, hence A New Kind of Science. Something is certainly un-aesthetic about having to justify exactly why a particular revolutionary idea is new. Normally, as with dramatic scientific discoveries of the past, the revolutionary aspect to the idea is self-evident. With NKS, it is certainly not. That is cause for concern.

        Nobody should claim that Wolfram is no
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:23AM (#8201388)
    If I recall correctly, he published his first scientific paper at the age of 15, and had received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Caltech by the age of 20.

    Not too bad.
    • by mariox19 (632969) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:32AM (#8201503)

      And if I recall correctly, he received his Ph.D. without ever attending any classes, because the quality of his frequent papers was so high that Caltech risked embarrassment that another university might snap him up and grant him a Ph.D. first.

      Whatever this "new kind of science" turns out to be, the guy is an indisputable example of rare genius.

  • Or perhaps... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ObviousGuy (578567) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:23AM (#8201390) Homepage Journal
    Or perhaps the book itself was too expensive for any sane person to plop down the money to purchase it.

    ANKOS is not a groundbreaking book, and it's conclusions (that all creation is fundamentally programmed into it) is specious. He is adamant that there is no God which created everything, yet he points to artificial order which could only be created by an intelligent designer.

    He totally discounts the view that these patterns are the result of accepted scientific theories like evolution and geology and says that evolution and geology are directed by the patterns. It's a completely inside-out view of the universe and despite its obvious attraction for pseudo-intellectual navel gazers, the book and its contents are neither anything new nor anything that could be construed as vaguely scientfic.
    • Re:Or perhaps... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by websaber (578887)
      It's a very smart move publishing it on the web. Nobody is going to be able to read 1200 pages online a lot of people will start reading it and get hooked and go out and buy it. People that need refrences can just get it on the web.
    • Re:Or perhaps... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Not true.

      Science is, in a nutshell, a clearly defined mapping from reality towards a formal structure.

      In this sense he is doing science.

      Science is the better the simpler the formal structure, compared to the amounts of reality mapped into it.
      Theoretical Physics is arguably furthest along this road.

      Is it good science? From what I've read of it, no. He maps an emergent phenomenon in reality into an emergent phenomenon in a cellular automata.

      However, his CAs provide a wide array of well defined mathematic
    • Re:Or perhaps... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by russellh (547685) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:49AM (#8201685) Homepage

      I completely agree. My impression was that here we had this prodigy guy, PhD at 15 and all. Success in business, as well, creating his company with its well-regarded math tool. Now then: what to do next? Where does a person like that go? Move to the country and take up a hobby? Unlikely. Seems to me that he just wants his place in history badly.

      Christopher Alexander's The Nature of Order [amazon.com] is better in every way. Inspiring, humble before his subject, full of actual insights and examples from the real world, and absolutely beautiful.

      • Re:Or perhaps... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hoggoth (414195) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:15PM (#8202003) Journal
        > prodigy guy, PhD at 15 and all. Success in business, [...] what to do next?
        > wants his place in history badly

        It's a common thing for geniuses and almost-geniouses to flounder after their 'great moment' and inevitably turn to a "theory of everything".

        Einstein, the highest genius of all, spent the rest of his life looking for a 'theory of everything'.
        Even Edgar Allen Poe, a gifted albeit twisted writer, spend the bulk of his life trying to invent a 'theory of everything' to prove he wasn't just a horror writer.

        Any more examples out there?
      • ...and examples from the real world...

        Heh, reminds me of Good Will Hunting...
    • Re:Or perhaps... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evenprime (324363)

      ANKOS is not a groundbreaking book, and it's conclusions (that all creation is fundamentally programmed into it) is specious. He is adamant that there is no God which created everything, yet he points to artificial order which could only be created by an intelligent designer.

      It seems odd that you would expect a book with "science" in the title to promote Intelligent design/creationism. Intelligent design definitely is not a scientific theory. Something cannot become a "theory" unless it has scientific

    • An intelligent designer surely exists. The iPod proves it, not the universe.
  • Perhaps (Score:4, Funny)

    by BeemanH2O (718832) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:24AM (#8201396) Homepage
    "Perhaps Wolfram is giving back to the scientific community; perhaps it is simply clever marketing for a framework that is beginning to gain momentum.

    Perhaps he's trying to make himself look like less of an asshole.
  • Neat marketing ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fygment (444210) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:24AM (#8201402)
    ... because printing out the book would cost much more than the book itself.

    A forum at the site for peer review would be nice. Then the issues of credit for work and contentious elements of the theory could be debated dynamically and publicly. Of course maybe it exists already. Can't get to the site at the moment.

  • I've seen him talk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Snosty (210966) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:24AM (#8201404) Homepage
    I've been to a lecture by Wolfram and it was disappointingly low-level. He touched on many interesting subjects but unfortunately didn't delve deep enough to make the lecture really very worthwhile. All in all it seemed like a marketing gimmic to sell his book and software.

    The only good part about the whole thing was the completely misguided people asking him truly bizarre questions at the end of the lecture. It was really amusing to see him struggle to answer some truly retarded questions.
    • by Otter (3800) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:45AM (#8201647) Journal
      I heard him talk, also, but didn't bother to slog through that book. My impression was that, yes, cellular automata can produce things that resemble naturally occurring structures, but he never addressed the issue of whether CA-like mechanisms are actually responsible. It's been recognized for decades (since Turing, at the least) that simple rules can generate complexity, and yet we still get self-promoter after self-promoter showing off some bifurcated graphic and annoucing that he's solved the mystery of life and the universe.

      Incidentally, what's with that "taking advantage of a lot of other people's work for his sole financial gain and that he was going against the open nature of academia by using restrictive copyright"? If he failed to give proper credit (I have no idea if he did or didn't) that's equally wrong regardless of what terms the text is published under. Free distribution isn't a remedy for plagiarism and where on earth did the submitter get the idea that academics don't normally publish under copyright?

      As for his motivation, that's easy. He genuinely thinks he's solved everything and he wants to broadcast it as widely as possible.

      • by nehril (115874) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:19PM (#8202055)
        In academia there tends to be a strong bias against anyone who becomes "popular." Any academic who can write such that people who haven't studied the field for 15 years will understand will probably get labelled as a "hack" or "completely without merit" and some other unsavory adjectives, regardless of the quality of their other work. The closeted insiders that nobody's ever heard of can't stand anyone who makes it into the daylight.

        I've seen this reaction across any number of technical or non-technical academic fields. Sometimes the thrashing is justified, usually it's not. But it always happens.

        As someone once said: "The politics in academia are so nasty only because the stakes are so small."
    • by de Selby (167520)
      I saw a lecture of his streamed over the internet. He started out saying that it would be more of a quick introduction or summary and wouldn't be as in-depth as the book. Well, I've seen the lecture and read the book. While there's a whole lot more text in the book, it didn't seem any more in-depth. The very things I wanted more detail on were brushed off (sometimes with an almost identical phrase from the lecture) in the book.

      Surprisingly, despite his continuous repetition that this is a great revolution,
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:25AM (#8201408)
    Prof. Eugene Wigner said it best in his evaluation of a Professor giving a talk at Princeton: "Well Sir that talk was certainly New and Interesting, however what was New is not Interesting and what was Interesting was not New." I think that certainly applies to this book.
    • Re:New Kind of What? (Score:3, Informative)

      by kisak (524062)
      Wigner probably made a good point (and so are you), but Wigner's quote is not so new [quotationspage.com] and original in itself since it is usually attributed to Samuel Johnson:

      Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.
      ---Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
  • Not Interested (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rick and Roll (672077) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:25AM (#8201421)
    Sure, Wolfram may be a very successful entrepeneur, but that does not qualify him as an expert in the field of science or as a writer. The ratings at Amazon.com are very low. I don't think that this book is a big release, I think it is just an experiment.

    He may be a smart guy, but I think he might just be recycling old material and calling it the Next Big Thing (TM). Again, I won't find out unless this book catches on, because most of my book purchases are by word of mouth or by trusted source (sorry, Slashdot, you do not fit into this category), and if it's going to get to me and my small circle of friends and acquiantences, it had better start selling.

    But good luck to the guy. At least he's writing a book, rather than writing all of his prose in Slashdot comments!

    • You should ! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thomas Miconi (85282) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:14PM (#8201998)
      He may be a smart guy, but I think he might just be recycling old material and calling it the Next Big Thing (TM)

      This is quite true, notwithstanding the fact that he is precisely the source for much of this old material in the first place ! Wolfram is really a strange guy, and he does have weird ideas (especially on evolution), but at the end of the day he really started something deep.

      Wolfram did not invent cellular automata, but he was the first one to study them in a scientific way. And he did find interesting things (papers here [stephenwolfram.com] - caution, big hairy theoretical physics maths inside, but the central idea is quite clear) .

      First: very simple rules (a 1-D cellular automaton in which each cell depends only on its current state and that of each of its neighbour) can lead to arbitrarily complex behaviours regardless of initial conditions. But this is not the really interesting thing.

      Second: Possible behaviours for a simple cellular automaton can fall in 4 categories: frozen (nothing changes), periodic, chaotic (measurably chaotic behaviour in which no recognizable pattern appears), and most importantly "complex": patterns emerge, propagate through the system, interact together in complex and non-trivial ways. Conway's game of Life is the most famous exemple of a class-IV cellular automaton, but Wolfram found a few much simpler ones.

      There is something deep there. You probably heard about "chaos theory". Well what Wolfram says is that this is not the really cool stuff. If you think of it, chaos is just as boring as frozen, non-changing states. If you modify something in a frozen state, well your modification either stays there forever, or is immediately swallowed into oblivion. In the chaotic state, any modification you make will instantaneously disappear in the general whirlwind.

      But there is a small zone between these two extremes, in which a modification may give rise to patterns, structures, complex bursts of information that appear, grow, propagate and interact. This is what Doyne Farmer and Chris Langton later called the "Edge of Chaos" [viawest.net], where interesting stuff can happen : an actual phase transition, often governed by a small set of parameters (possibly just one), between boring order and completely chaotic states. Around this pahase transition, interesting things can appear.

      The world exist because the laws of physics are at the edge of chaos. Would the physical world be chaotic, no structure would ever appear, it would instantaneously be dissolved. In a frozen state, the universe is a black rock. Similaraly, life exists because chemistry is also on the edge of chaos. Molecules can assemble, interact in complex ways and produce order, patterns, structure.

      There is something deep there. This guy, together with people like Chris Langton, Doyne Farmer, Stuart Kauffman, is one of the Founding Fathers of complexity sciences. "How do complex systems arise ? If I have a system, what are the condtions under which it can produce freeze, go straight away to chaos, or produce interesting things ? How do structures emerge in a given system ?" Take any paper by any of these four, and you immediately get into mind-boggling stuff. "Life, the universe, everything" - and it's a bit more complicated than 42.

      Wolfram goes on. He (and his students) proved that even elementary cellular automaton can actually be universal Turing machines (unsurprisingly, these are class-IV automata). Thus the undecidability principle must be applied to them: you cannot guess, for a given cellular automaton, what the result will be after N iterations - or at least, you cannot do it with less calculations than it would take to actually perform these N calculations.

      If such a simple thing as an elementary CA can give rise to universal computation, then universal computation and (most importantly) un
      • Re:You should ! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tgibbs (83782)
        Wolfram has clearly made significant discoveries in the field of CA, although he didn't invent them, or the concept. His "experimental mathematics" strategy of using computer simulations to suggest mathematical hypotheses which he then proves by more conventional approaches is probably one that will become increasingly common.

        In terms of his "you can explain everything with CA" thesis, Wolfram basically provides little more than preliminary results. The work is intriguing and many aspects appear promising,
  • Oh yeah... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TerryAtWork (598364) <research@aceretail.com> on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:27AM (#8201450)

    I remember THAT book. That's the book where Wolfram compares himself to Newton in the first paragraph of the introduction.

    Wolfram is a great math pro, but the only way he could help Newton is to shine his shoes.

    It's like the von Neumann bottleneck, where 10 % of the code is run 90 % of the time. Truth be told, the REAL von Neumann bottleneck is that only 10 % of computer scientists are even 90 % as smart as von Neumann.

  • by syphax (189065) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:27AM (#8201458) Journal
    Props to Wolfram for this, but it looks like clever marketing- as far as I can tell, you can't, say, download a pdf of a chapter; you pretty much have to go page by page. So on a practical level, it's a big ad.

    Also, you need Mathematica to run the programs.

    So, if you get hooked by the online text, Wolfram can count on 1 book sale, and maybe 1 Mathematica license (if, like me, you don't study/work somewhere with a site license).
    • ...as far as I can tell, you can't, say, download a pdf of a chapter; you pretty much have to go page by page...

      Just means that your spider is forced to go slowly. NBD. :)
    • by kurosawdust (654754) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:01PM (#8201821)
      Also, you need Mathematica to run the programs.

      Yeah, that's much worse than the paper version, where the programs run themselves if you press the "Go" button on the page with your finger.

  • A cellular automaton is simply a description of a discrete differential equation. Since physical laws are described in terms of differential equations to start with, it's not surprising that a cellular automaton can model a physical process.

    So what's the deal? Outside of Wolfram's ego, of course.
  • worth the money (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Urd (198177) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:31AM (#8201495)
    As someone who owns and has read that book, I say it was definitly worth the money even if it was just a collection of other people's work. The point is ANKOS complete and insightfull. It actually says something specific, which is more then we can say about plenty of books hailed by the noobs. I think the man deserves some compensation for the work put forth even if it was only collecting and copywriting he saved me from a long journey to learn from his insights.
  • by killermal (545771) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:32AM (#8201501)
    Anyone who is a visitor of Wolfram MathWorld [wolfram.com] or ScienceWorld [wolfram.com] will recognize the invaluable contribution that Wolfram has made to the scientific community. From a personal perspective without MathWorld sometimes I would be completely lost...
  • by YukioMishima (205721) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:32AM (#8201504)

    Wolfram's broad sharing of his work, while still limited (you still need an internet connection, at least momentarily, to save or print it) is a terrific step forward in sharing information with a broader audience that may be interested in his work. I was one of the purchasers of his book when it was first published, but it was expensive enough (even while heavily subsidized by Wolfram himself) that not everyone who was interested could find a copy.


    By publishing on-line, Wolfram does something courageous as well - rather than simply submitting his work to academia and using their vetting procedure, he's opening up his work for criticism from a much, much wider body of critics. Forums like /. give us the opportunity to discuss the merits of his work - by the end of today, there will be many critiques of his work on this page, and everyone who takes the time to read those will come away from the discussion with many different perspectives that they might never have stumbled upon.


    It's true that Wolfram has his own agenda to push here, and it might be compared to self-publishing a newspaper that only focuses on what you want, but one could argue that about nearly anything that's published, and I'd rather have the material disseminated so that I can read it and come to my own conclusions.

    • rather than simply submitting his work to academia and using their vetting procedure, he's opening up his work for criticism from a much, much wider body of critics

      Yeah, because releasing scientific knowledge to the public/press without allowing for proper peer review first always works best. Just ask Pons and Fleischmann.

  • Bloated HYpe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by linuxislandsucks (461335) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:34AM (#8201524) Homepage Journal
    Considering that Stephen refused for public discourse and review of an alledged scientific work and now is whining that his critics are worng..

    Maybe this work shoulde be burned in the fireplace where it belongs
  • by YouHaveSnail (202852) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:34AM (#8201528)
    he raised the suspicions of many in scientific communities that he was taking advantage of a lot of other people's work for his sole financial gain and that he was going against the open nature of academia by using restrictive copyright.

    I think the thing that offended most people is that Wolfram seemed to be taking credit for other people's ideas. And also, he comes off as being tremendously pompous. He hid away for ten or more years, then comes out with a book claiming, as per the title, to have invented an entirely new way to solve problems. What's he got? Algorithms and cellular automata.
  • by DeepDarkSky (111382) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:35AM (#8201543)
    I say, RTFB (Book). What!? You haven't? It's too damn big? Well go read it and THEN come back and complain.

    On the other hand, I think that people's attitude toward his work is not a problem of the merit of the his work. Rather, it is the way he seemed so self-important when pointing out something that seems deceptively simple that many people have covered before (Cellular Automata).

    The universe is not governed by vastly complicated equations wrought by the human mind. And Wolfram pointing that out simply offended people who believed otherwise.
  • review (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I wish I could find the original source, but the best review I saw of the book was along the lines of "It is a scary example of what happens when serious megalomania is combined with bad sh*t insanity."

    I saw Wolfram speak shortly after the book came out, and it was almost laughable. He made a sequence of sweeping generalizations and, so far as I could tell, backed none of them up.

    That said, there is some useful stuff in the book (albeit, not all contributed by Wolfram) but it is a beautiful example of wh
  • by levell (538346) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:40AM (#8201594) Homepage
    That's the book that was described [umich.edu] by one researcher as: "A rare blend of monster raving egomania and utter batshit insanity" which when I first read it made me laugh out loud. I haven't read the book so I don't know how accurate it is.
  • by guacamolefoo (577448) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:44AM (#8201639) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps Wolfram is giving back to the scientific community; perhaps it is simply clever marketing for a framework that is beginning to gain momentum. For any matter, the entire encyclopedic volume is online, and this appears to be a positive step for scientific writing.

    Nope. This [plosbiology.org] is a positive step for scientific writing.

    GF.

  • by hackus (159037) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:44AM (#8201641) Homepage
    Well,

    I understand everyone has to make a living. When I read his work, I was interested in his unique view that complexity arises from simplicity and that he had combined a large field into a view of complexity all his own.

    The insights are fascinating, especially the ability to build computational systems with simple repeating rules....(i.e. multiplication tables...etc.) from graphical representations.

    The biggest disappointment is that he didn't provide enough practical research in testable form in the book to double check his experiments, some of them very heavily numerical in composition, which would require a lot of programming to confirm.

    My biggest problem is that he uses a $1500-$3000 dollar Mathematics tool, he says he invented himself, that he profits from, to confirm his research.

    That I do find a bit hard to swallow, including the license required to run Mathematica.

    Science shouldn't operate on the principle of PAY to play. Anyone should have access to any and all information for free.

    The labor to create it however, should not be free, and we have plenty of avenues in the free market place to do that just like Open Source Software companies have shown such as RedHat.

    The book does give a very large impression that Mr. Wolfram discovered these things all by himself...you have to follow the booknotes to find out who's shoulders he is standing on.

    In the end, he is sort of like a Newton who is focusing the worlds attention on the fundamentals of complex systems theory and what it is, and how we can use it to improve the scientific method. He is using a large amount of research though that many have contrinuted too.

    My .02.

    -Hack
    • but Newton is famous for saying "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

      Wolfram is famous for saying "I've created A New Kind Of Science. You owe me $200,000."
    • by drudd (43032)
      Of course science shouldn't operate on the principal of pay to play, but how does it in this case?

      You're free to re-implement his algorithms in any language you want. He just made your job much easier if you happen to use Mathematica. If he didn't code his samples in Mathematica, people would point to it as proof that he doesn't use his own product.

      Doug
  • by Glog (303500) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:51AM (#8201700)
    ... is a *humble* genius. Read it and weep (page 1, 1st chapter):

    For what I have found is that with the new kind of science I have developed it suddenly becomes possible to make progress on a remarkable range of fundamental issues that have never successfully been addressed by any of the exisiting sciences before.
  • by Channard (693317) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:51AM (#8201709) Journal
    And when can we expect the announcement of his new book, co-written with Viktor Hart, full time mad scientist and re-animator?
  • by Aardpig (622459) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:54AM (#8201736)

    From one of the links [wikipedia.org] discussing Wolfram's use of others' work:

    In the 1990's Matthew Cook served as a research assistant to Stephen Wolfram , where among other things he was directed to develop a proof showing that the Rule 110 cellular automaton is Turing-complete . Under non-disclosure until the publication of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science, Cook nevertheless presented his proof at a Santa Fe Institute conference. Subsequently, it was stricken from the published proceedings by court order.

    This really highlights what a megalomaniac Wolfram is. While he may be remembered after his death, I imagine it will be for his insufferable ego, not for his scientific achievements.

    Oh, and regarding Mathematica: its use by students should be banned until they are able to outperform it in terms of mathematical sophistication. Its overuse in universities is leading to an intellectually-stunted generation.

    • This really highlights what a megalomaniac Wolfram is. While he may be remembered after his death, I imagine it will be for his insufferable ego, not for his scientific achievements.

      I suspect that many people said this about Sir Newton, who was also supposed to be an amazingly arrogant asshole. (This is not to suggest that Dr. Wolfram is Sir Newton's equal, just that someone being arrogant has hardly kept them from fame before.)

      Oh, and regarding Mathematica: its use by students should be banned until t
      • Thanks for the long, thoughtful reply -- a rather rare occurence on Slashdot, unfortunately. For the record, my training is in astrophysics, so I use math on a daily basis but math is not my 'thing'.

        It's Friday night, so I'm only going to write a brief response before knocking off for the weekend. Continuing with your aposite square root analogy, my main point is this: sure, we should be using a calculator to do square roots; but only once we are familiar with what a square root is.

        A few years back, I w

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Friday February 06, 2004 @11:56AM (#8201767) Homepage Journal
    Hmmmmmm

    "...he raised the suspicions of many in scientific communities that he was taking advantage of a lot of other people's work for his sole financial gain and that he was going against the open nature of academia by using restrictive copyright."
    "Perhaps Wolfram is giving back to the scientific community; perhaps it is simply clever marketing for a framework that is beginning to gain momentum."

    So what organization will Random House et al cobble together, dress up in flight jackets and use to break into every nerdy teenagers bedroom? What happens when the RIAA thugs and the Book thugs show up at the same place at the same time? Do tehy fight for dibs on the kids piggy bank? Now that I'd like to see.

  • by ikoleverhate (607286) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:16PM (#8202020)
    I've seen a few comments from people saying they flicked through, but not one person saying they read it all.

    I have to say (not having read it) that when someone says they have written something that breaks conventional wisdom, and the only response is from people saying it's rubbish EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE NOT READ THE ENTIRE BOOK, I begin to mistrust the views of anyone saying it's rubbish.

    If you haven't read the thing, having any definitive view on it is bogus. Trying to convince others that your view is correct is even more bogus. The closest we've got to a review is "I read a review by someone else and...." WTF? What makes you think that reviewer read it either?

    And these same people say this wolfram guy is a charlaton? His critics seem worse, somehow.
  • by abbamouse (469716) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:22PM (#8202098) Homepage
    A collection of reviews from actual scientists is available right here [usf.edu], for those who are tired reading the opinions of the uninformed.....
  • by stardazed0 (558289) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:35PM (#8202269)
    MIT hosts videos of many different speakers who have come to their university. Stephen Wolfram is one of them: http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/149/ [mit.edu]
  • by Sebastopol (189276) on Friday February 06, 2004 @12:57PM (#8202527) Homepage
    Skeptic Magazine wrote a great article on Wolfram and his claims. After reading it, I got the impression Wolforam is a fraud, but the article didn't explicitly say that:

    Skeptic Magazine Article Link [skeptic.com]

  • Joe Weiss's Review (Score:4, Informative)

    by Viking Coder (102287) on Friday February 06, 2004 @01:13PM (#8202726)
    Did anyone bother to read Joe Weiss's review on amazon? Best. Review. Ever. Posted here in its entirety:

    The Emperor's New Kind of Clothes, February 28, 2003 by Joe Weiss

    This review took almost one year. Unlike many previous referees (rank them by Amazon.com's "most helpful" feature) I read all 1197 pages including notes. Just to make sure I won't miss the odd novel insight hidden among a million trivial platitudes.

    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. Page 715 explains Wolfram's "key unifying idea" of the "principle of computational equivalence:" all processes can be viewed as computations. Well, that's exactly what Zuse wrote 3 decades ago.

    Chapter 9 (2nd law of thermodynamics) elaborates (without reference)on Zuse's old insight that entropy cannot really increase in deterministically computed systems, although it often SEEMS to increase. Wolfram extends Zuse's work by a tiny margin, using today's more powerful computers to perform experiments as suggested in Zuse's 1969 book. I find it embarassing how Wolfram tries to suggest it was him who shifted a paradigm, not the legendary Zuse.

    Some reviews cite Wolfram's previous reputation as a physicist and software entrepreneur, giving him the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately dismissing him as just another plagiator. Zuse's reputation is in a different league though: He built world's very first general purpose computers (1935-1941), while Wolfram is just one of many creators of useful software (Mathematica). Remarkably, in his history of computing (page 1107) Wolfram appears to try to diminuish Zuse's contributions by only mentioning Aiken's later 1944 machine.

    On page 465 ff (and 505 ff on multiway systems) Wolfram asks whether there is a simple program that computes the universe. Here he sounds like Schmidhuber in his 1997 paper "A Computer Scientist's View of Life, the Universe, and Everything." Schmidhuber applied the above-mentioned simple dovetailer to all computable universes. His widely known writings come out on top when you google for "computable universes" etc, so Wolfram must have known them too, for he read an "immense number of articles books and web sites" (page xii) and executed "more than a hundred thousand mouse miles" (page xiv). He endorses Schmidhuber's "no-CA-but-TM approach" (page 486, no reference) but not his suggestion of using Levin's asymptotically optimal program searcher (1973) to find our universe's code.

    On page 469 we are told that the simp

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