Wolfram's NKS New Kind of Science

Seems to be some interest in this topic. I don’t have access to Weinberg’s 2002 review of Wolfram’s book, but I found this.

Steven Weinberg (informationphilosopher.com)

Lots to consider

I just skimmed these so far. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are pro or con on the book. Maybe some good, some bad?

jan_feb03.pdf (ieee.org)

Try this.


Here’s one critique by physicist Steven Weinberg I found interesting: He says, “Wolfram himself is a lapsed elementary particle physicist, and I suppose he can’t resist trying to apply his experience with digital computer programs to the laws of nature. This has led him to the view (also considered in a 1981 paper by Richard Feynman) that nature is discrete rather than continuous. He suggests that space consists of a set of isolated points, like cells in a cellular automaton, and that even time flows in discrete steps. Following an idea of Edward Fredkin, he concludes that the universe itself would then be an automaton, like a giant computer. It’s possible, but I can’t see any motivation for these speculations, except that this is the sort of system that Wolfram and others have become used to in their work on computers. So might a carpenter, looking at the moon, suppose that it is made of wood.”

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Here is Wolfram’s response.

"Looking through reviews, there are some other common themes. One is that A New Kind of Science is a book about cellular automata—or worse, about the idea (not in fact suggested in the book at all) that our whole universe is a giant cellular automaton. For sure, cellular automata are great, visually strong, examples for lots of phenomena I discuss. But after about page 50 (out of 1280), cellular automata no longer take center stage—and notably are not the type of system I discuss in the book as possible models for fundamental physics.

Another theme in some reviews is that the ideas in the book “do not lead to testable predictions”. Of course, just as with an area like pure mathematics, the abstract study of the computational universe that forms the core of the book is not something which in and of itself would be expected to have testable predictions. Rather, it is when the methods derived from this are applied to systems in nature and elsewhere that predictions can be made. And indeed there are quite a few of these in the book (for example about repeatability of apparent randomness)—and many more have emerged and successfully been tested in work that’s been done since the book appeared."

Wolfram is not the ego maniac he is painted as being. I’m sure he did however pick the title to be shocking. What he was writing about was a paradigm shift not his own work in and of itself. That does mean that a lot of it is speculative. All paradigm shifts in the making are unpredictable.

I can see why you like this guy. He sounds a lot like you.

“You’ve done something that’s academic-like, but you haven’t played by academic rules.” It was true: I wasn’t an academic and I wasn’t operating according to the constraints of academia

When someone says hes psuedo-scientific, he respond with, yes, I guess so.

Are there any articles where he actually defends himself? Where he does something other than a survey of comments?

The reason to read the book isn’t to know what the new cultural paradigm is going to be but the reasons why the paradigm is shifting. It is the same reason you should listen to Noble.

It is pretty clear that Weinberg didn’t even “read” the book. Weinberg’s philosophical stick is to defend the existing cultural paradigm. What is the meaning of a “lapsed elementary particle physicist”? It sounds an lot like people saying Darwin was lapsed Christian.

The whole point of cellular automata is to demonstrate the principles of evolution mathematically. It can only be done by simulation an that is the point. It is why people are saying we live in a simulation. I think it is a horrible analogy but that is what you get during paradigm shifts. Lots and lots of speculation and half formed ideas. Tell me what did Einstein mean by “god doesn’t play dice”.

What you are looking for is a nice tidy box that you can stuff ideas in. That isn’t the way the game works and I have tried to explain that. The best example I can think of right now is the scientific communities resistance to epigenetics. It went from a crazy return to Lamarckian non-sense to accepted science in about three decades. The claim was never that it replaced conventional evolutionary theory. That was psychological projection. The same thing that Weinberg was doing in his critique. And no I’m not saying that I agree with everything Wolfram has to say and certainly not Noble. What I’m saying is that when dealing with a paradigm shift you need to be careful not to read to much into the details of the theories. They are most likely wrong. That is why the main focus of my conversation has been on solutions without comprehension. How that relates to cultural evolution.


That’s my entire comment, but we require a minimum character count

Since you don’t seem to get it let me share a bit of wisdom I got from an old Native American. With imagination you will see a lot of things that are not there but without imagination you will not see what is there.

Is there any light in there, a crack? Are you so certain that not only are you right, but that you are communicating so well, that the problem must be with me? Lapsing from Christianity means you are thinking for yourself. Lapsing from being a physicist means you haven’t kept up with the latest research, or that you have abandoned the principles of physics. You could argue that Wolfram is not lapsed, I’d be interested in that. But the analogy to Christianity and Darwin is terrible. You’ve said other things about god that make me wonder if you aren’t one of the best stealth theologians I have ever encountered. That’s nothing to be proud BTW

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That you can’t follow the analogies is one of the problem we are having. It seems to be the way you think, one sentence at a time. You probably don’t remember but earlier I said that the world in Darwins time was extremely deterministic. Even earlier Newton created a deterministic universe. What you have to know about Newton was that he was highly religious and what you have to know about Darwin is he lived in a time when most people were religious. One of the keys to understanding Darwin’s insight was that he rejected the determinism. What was called “God’s will”. What I’m trying to say is you have an almost religious devotion to determinism. While I agree with you that determinism is essential to science what you don’t seem to understand is it is an abstraction. As far as we know it isn’t “real”. Either way it doesn’t matter it is a useful thinking tool. A thinking tool that got in the way of the acceptance of Darwin’s theory. He came up with a new thinking tool random mutations. In the world he lived in nothing was random, it was all god’s will. The real insight wasn’t selection because that was already well understood. The important insight was randomness. That is what people rejected.

When Weinberg says Wolfram is just some guy trying to make his computer experience relevant he is missing the point as are you. If you take that line then Quantum computers will never work. The idea behind them is you need to get as close to true randomness as you can to evolve solutions and you need to do it rapidly. I honestly can’t figure out why someone as bright as you can’t see the connections. Newton no randomness, quantum computers lots of randomness. If you want to say God doesn’t play dice well fine. What the hell does that mean?

The paradigm shift in Darwin’s time and the current paradigm shift both center around the incomprehensible idea of randomness. Right a thesis proving that anything is random and you will win a Nobel Prize. But it would make any difference because we have already put randomness to use in practical ways without understanding it. What I call solutions without comprehension.

I keep repeating myself but you seem to miss the key points. For now I think we can just try to address write4u’s argument about selective breeding and see if we make any progress.

This is why I made the statement about how I’m not required to talk to you or read your posts. You have gone from long-winded to circular to obtuse, and now abusive.

I know that. Of course I know that. And about Darwin too. What makes you think I don’t know these things?

No I don’t. Usually, when people say “determinism”, they are talking about our thoughts, about consciousness, about the opposite of free will. You started out that way, but we’ve slid more into cause and effect. Which is Newton. Which again, of course I know that. I tried to read Einstein, but I at least have a layman’s understanding of him, Hawking as well.

All words are abstractions. Wittgenstein, basically. If you keep falling back on that, then we’ll get nowhere. It’s true, but it should be in the background, not brought up every time we have trouble with a definition, and just take the exit ramp, saying, well, it’s an abstraction.

Like that. The idea of determinism is real. The discussion about it is real. Free will vs determinism is being debated, but that doesn’t make either one not real.

They rejected that they came from monkeys, that god didn’t create them.

You know, if you would actually try to explain what you think Wolfram is up to, instead to insisting that I’m religious about determinism (I’m not) or don’t understand Darwin’s time (I do) or don’t know randomness comes before selection (everyone here knows that one), then maybe I might think you and/or Wolfram have something offer. But if you don’t actually talk about him, then I assume there is actually nothing there.

As a friend. Don’t use words like that with anyone. It makes you sound like a pompous, uh, person.

Oh, too late! (just kidding)

You sort of have a point there, but I don’t think you need to keep hammering it. Personally, removing the need for a creator seems like the bigger paradigm shift for Darwin, but whatever. You and I can move forward with the understanding of randomness that we have. But, sure, our brains don’t like it.
And yes I know chance and randomness are slightly different.

I keep repeating that you keep repeating yourself. Maybe you should stop doing that.

You seriously don’t follow along. You say you don’t like long winded but then you forget the context from earlier posts. It’s not that the words are abstract but that all thought is abstract. Plato was right that the idea of a thing is more real than the thing itself. That is only true because the thing itself is unknowable. It’s what Noble was saying when he said that all the gene sequencing hasn’t produced the expected results. Complex chaotic systems are irreducible. I think that is why you don’t see the cultural shift. You look at the parts as isolated points, what Weinberg Wolfram is doing “he suggests that space consists of a set of isolated points, like cells in a cellular automaton, and that even time flows in discrete steps. Following an idea of Edward Fredkin, he concludes that the universe itself would then be an automaton, like a giant computer”. That is not What Wolfram is saying he is saying that we need computers to do bottom up design of solutions to complex chaotic systems. What I call solutions without comprehension that mimic the process of evolution. I’m not even going to try to explain why the current models are top down design.

I’m pretty sure you know that there is a coming paradigm shift. What I don’t think you see is the utility in speculating on what it will be. Noble has a theory, Wolfram has a theory, I have a theory but nobody knows exact form it will take but there is a hazy outline.

You’re trying to walk a line where you claim to have evidence of something, admitting it’s not formed yet, so you can’t say what it is exactly, but, you do know it’s coming, you know things that others don’t, that most people don’t accept. Fine, be speculative, but don’t be arrogant about knowing something that hasn’t formed yet. Don’t berate others for not agreeing on something that doesn’t exist yet.

You missed the key point. That the outline of something nebulous tells you something about what it’s actual form will be when it “emerges” from the shadows.

You missed the point about to interact with people