Simplicity, Publicity, And Plenty Of Controversy

from the welcome-back-Stephen-Wolfram dept

Stephen Wolfram has been pretty much out of the public eye for about a decade. However, when he comes back, he comes back with a bang. He’s just released his new book, A New Kind of Science, and they’re doing quite a publicity push for him. Business Week has a great overview of Wolfram, his history, and his theories. He’s basically saying that there are just a few simple rules that govern nature. That has some asking if he’s bigger than Newton and Darwin (and Einstein). Not surprisingly, such claims generate quite a bit of controversy. Some have said it will take at least 10 years to explore and test each idea in the book. Ray Kurzweil didn’t take that long, and says that Wolfram’s ideas are only partly correct (but, these days, what idea isn’t?). Other scientists are also publicly saying they’re skeptical of Wolfram’s claims. I’m sure there will be plenty more articles discussing this.

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Comments on “Simplicity, Publicity, And Plenty Of Controversy”

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Timaaay! says:

"Expert" Opionion

There’s been alot of commenting recently from people about the wolfram book. Without exception, they either:

1) Haven’t read it
2) “Skimmed” it
3) Have read half of it

but feel obliged to offer there judgement of it. I will not as I’m still waiting for mine. PR aside, the work should stand on it’s own — science is, at it’s best, keeping an open idea about things and testing them by experimentation.

All this “Wolfram thinks he’s Newton” crap is all from journalists writing about it. Wolfram is egotistical but that doesn’t make him wrong (or right). Newton was a real jerk as are most of the people who have contributed a great deal to Science — this fact alone doesn’t make Wolframs work more or less correct.

In the end, the Galileo analogy may end up to be the most apt — I just hope the physics community doesn’t burn him at the stake.

Rick Thomas says:

what breakthroughs?

Like many reviewers Kurzweil is working hard to find something nice to say. He says the best result of the book is a universal turing machine with 2 (instead of 7) rules and 5 (instead of 2) colors. Wow! Wired quotes a more blunt Freeman Dyson: “Worthless!”.

Seems like Wolfram has duplicated the results of Stuart Kauffman. Take a simple binary model that can be adjusted from chaos to stasis. Tune the model until you see an “interesting” pattern. Conclude that you have found the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

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