Has anyone read this book who (unlike me) is actually competent to judge it?
Is Wolfram anywhere near as great as he thinks he is? Or is he some kind of
Asperger Syndrome megalomaniac who has actually made a significant
contribution to the theory of simple programs but not nearly as vast a
contribution as he himself supposes? It seems to me that he has mapped
long-known truths from the realms of arithmetic and mathematics onto his
beloved cellular automata, but what do I know?
>I have been perusing Steven Wolfram's new 1,200+ page book "A New Kind of
>Science," which seems to be a strange combination of megalomania and genius.
>He constantly refers to the importance and even greatness of his own work,
Well, that fact should give you a clue. [I could be wrong, but it
seems clear to me that] Einstein did not spend a lot of space talking
about how great and important his work is, instead he talked about the
physics and let others draw their own conclusions.
Not that Wolfram's self-aggrandizment proves he's wrong. But as you
>but in some ways these claims seem utterly fantastic. For example, he is
>convinced that he has discovered the enormously important idea that very
>simple programs can produce fantastically complicated results, but this has
>been known since the early days of pi. He emphasizes his seminal role in
>the development of complexity studies over the past 20 years, but in his own
>work he treats complexity in a completely irregular way (he insists that he
>uses the word "complexity" in the book to reflect an average person's
>understanding of the word rather than any quantifiable concept such as
>Has anyone read this book who (unlike me) is actually competent to judge it?
>Is Wolfram anywhere near as great as he thinks he is? Or is he some kind of
>Asperger Syndrome megalomaniac who has actually made a significant
>contribution to the theory of simple programs but not nearly as vast a
>contribution as he himself supposes? It seems to me that he has mapped
>long-known truths from the realms of arithmetic and mathematics onto his
>beloved cellular automata, but what do I know?
David C. Ullrich
"Doug Wedel" <doug...@yahoo.com> wrote in message
Isn't it weird that a guy like Wolfram, who is certainly a very smart
and productive computer scientist, nevertheless has so much of the crank
in his personality? It seems that self-delusion about the importance of
one's work is independent of the quality of the work. JSH and Wolfram
seem to share the same feelings of grandiosity, even though Wolfram has
produced work of undeniable value and JSH hasn't.
Neither megalomaniac nor genious. He is rich.
Well, let me give you a quote from Hardy's "A Mathematician's Apology" which
comes to mind:
"... Some egotism of this sort is inevitable, and I do not feel that
really needs justification. Good work is not done by `humble' men.
It is one of the first duties of a professor, for example, in any
subject, to exaggerate a little both the importance of his subject and
his own importance in it. A man who is always asking `Is what I do
worth while?' and `Am I the right person to do it?' will always be
ineffective himself and a discouragement to
Rock on, Brother Steve!
Here's the quote that came to my mind:
It was an occasion for a Democritus, nay, for an Epicurus or a
Metrodorus, perhaps, a man whose intelligence was steeled against
such assaults by skepticism and insight, one who, if he could not
detect the precise imposture, would at any rate have been perfectly
certain that, though this escaped him, the whole thing was a lie and
Lucian, in Alexander_the_Oracle_Monger
Lew Mammel, Jr.
Now here's the quote that comes to my mind--taken from a review of a book
called "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science" by Martin Gardner.
The book is reviewed in the March 2002 issue of Scientific American by
Michael Shermer. Schermer suggests:
"How can we tell if someone is a scientific crank? Gardner writes: (1)
"First and most important of these traits is that cranks work in almost
total isolation from their colleagues." Cranks typically do not understand
how the scientific process operates...that they need to try out their ideas
on colleagues, attend conferences and publish their hypotheses in
peer-reviewed journals before announcing to the world their startling
discovery. Of course, when you explain this to them they say that their
ideas are too radical for the conservative scientific establishment to
accept. (2) "A second characteristic of the pseudo-scientist, which greatly
strengthens his isolation, is a tendency toward paranoia," which manifests
itself in several ways: (1) He considers himself a genius. (2) He regards
his colleagues, without exception, as ignorant blockheads.... (3) He
believes himself unjustly persecuted and discriminated against. The
recognized societies refuse to let him lecture. The journals reject his
papers and either ignore his books or assign them to "enemies" for review.
It is all part of a dastardly plot. It never occurs to the crank that this
opposition may be due to error in his work.... (4) He has strong compulsions
to focus his attacks on the greatest scientists and the best-established
theories. When Newton was the outstanding name in physics, eccentric works
in that science were violently anti-Newton. Today, with Einstein the
father-symbol of authority, a crank theory of physics is likely to attack
Einstein.... (5) He often has a tendency to write in a complex jargon, in
many cases making use of terms and phrases he himself has coined."
Ah, but you overlook one important aspect of genius in a way.
Modesty is a good character trait, but in mathematics the obsessive
types always win. They are like bulldogs when they find an interesting
problem and never release their death-grips until it's solved if it appears
solvable. It helps to be obsessive if the problem can take a long time to
complete and usually the solver learns a considerable amount of information
with each blind alley approach they take until they hit the right path.
People that give up easily never make it in the science fields because they
are not obsessive enough or patient enough to reach the goal.
Of course, this does alienate people and cause other people sometimes to
reject the results of the effort just because they reject the personality
quirks of the problem solver. There are plenty of anecdotes to confirm this
along the Prima Donna mindset. Simply put, if Mathematica weren't so very
useful Wolfram might be rejected solely on his personality aspects alone.
Although good work is not done by humble men, it is also true that it
is rarely done by braggarts. A minor point: Many people have
observed that it is self-published and unedited. When my son wanted
to publish a book from a publish-on-demand publisher that did no
editing, he paid a couple of professional editors to edit it and the
book is better for that.
Now let me make one substantive point. Let us assume, for the moment,
that the universe is a large cellular automaton. This possibility was
first established by von Neumann a long time ago and more recently by
Conway. Some time ago, Milnor showed that the output of most cellular
automatons is chaotic and unpredictable. Now the essence of science
is predictability. This is equivalent to Popperian falsifiability as
a moment's thought will show. Now some natural phenomenons appear to
be genuinely unpredictable. Weather, for one, and the path of
evolution for another. (That doesn't mean evolutionary theory doesn't
make predictions; but the details of the path would seem
unpredictable.) So if Wolfram were right, this would not be a new
kind of science but the end of science. And science as we know it
would be impossible. Since it isn't impossible, where does that leave
Hauke Reddmann <:-EX8
For our chemistry workgroup,remove "math" from the address
For spamming, remove anything else
And where is a better place for the non-crank to aim his attacks if not
at the best-established theories? Shermer should read Pooper.
I don't even have one clue as to what happened to my post.
Sheesh! I'm running a virus checker given this weirdness.
1) you probably mean Popper (nice reading, by the way; maybe you should try
2) Non-cranks usually attack the not-so well etablished theories. To attack
what is well-established tends to be a waste of time. The epistemological
revolutions don't start one fine day when young Einstein says " I bet this
fellow Newton (and all the establisment) is wrong; I will show them" What
usually happens is that some nagging problem doesn't want to disappear
(Michelson-Morley experiments, of non-galilean invariance of Maxwell
equations) and the genius has a bright (and possibly iconoclast) idea. And
this is only the start. *Because* the old theory is well-established, the
new one must take all previous results in account (they will not disappear
like that). Which means he must first know them inside out.
> Eh? What?
Hauke is referring to 7 of 9, the female Borg character that is
supposed to appear on the show "Star Trek: Voyager". Trust Finnish TV
to cut "Star Trek: Voyager" short more than a whole season before that
character debuts. Everyone is always talking about her, and I haven't
got the faintest clue what she is like.
/-- Joona Palaste (pal...@cc.helsinki.fi) ---------------------------\
| Kingpriest of "The Flying Lemon Tree" G++ FR FW+ M- #108 D+ ADA N+++|
| http://www.helsinki.fi/~palaste W++ B OP+ |
\----------------------------------------- Finland rules! ------------/
"Make money fast! Don't feed it!"
|> Everyone is always talking about her, [7 of 9] and I haven't
|> got the faintest clue what she is like.
ZOUNDS! Then you haven't lived!
She is every computer nerd's wet dream. Fairly gorgeous-looking,
in a severe kind of way - would not look out of place as a guard
in a Nazi female concentration camp. However, it is her personality
that is the big plus for the wet dreaming nerd - she talks and acts like
a computer - no emotions, strictly logical (or allegedly so), and doesn't
indulge in small talk. This is due to her upbringing as a Borg inductee,
recently re-admitted to humanity. So she is a tantalizing but non-threatening
type, (i.e. no human empathy required from the nerd), who they can secretly
dream will succumbe to their own (allegedly) strictly logical charms, and make
mad passionate love with during the brief period between pizzas and sleep.
I love her.
.-^` |.'^-. ___ We are the Borg.
.-^` : : |...'^-. / Lower your shields and prepare
.-^`- : #.-^`|. . . . .'^-. to be assimilated.
.-^` : : .-^`.-^`| . . # . . . '^-. Your resistence is futile.
|: # - .-^` ^ |. . . . . .#. - |
| : : : : : ^: | . - . . . . .|
|: : : : - ^ |. . . . '^-. |
| - :# : - :: | - . . . '^-.|
| : .-^`: # |.. #. -.#... |
|-.-^` : : : .-. . .. . ...|
|: # -: .-^` , '^-.. '^-. |
| : : .-^` , , , , , '^-. '^-.|
| .-^` .-^-.- .-^` ,, '^-. |
.-^`, .-^` , , '^-. ,, # , , '^-.
^'-. #, , , , #'^-. , , .-'^
^'-. , -^ , , ,  .-'^
^'-. ,. ,-, .-'^
Bill Taylor W.Ta...@math.canterbury.ac.nz
"Oh bother!" said the Borg, "We've assimilated Pooh!"
>Now let me make one substantive point. Let us assume, for the moment,
>that the universe is a large cellular automaton. This possibility was
>first established by von Neumann a long time ago and more recently by
>Conway. Some time ago, Milnor showed that the output of most cellular
>automatons is chaotic and unpredictable. Now the essence of science
>is predictability. This is equivalent to Popperian falsifiability as
>a moment's thought will show. Now some natural phenomenons appear to
>be genuinely unpredictable. Weather, for one, and the path of
>evolution for another. (That doesn't mean evolutionary theory doesn't
>make predictions; but the details of the path would seem
>unpredictable.) So if Wolfram were right, this would not be a new
>kind of science but the end of science. And science as we know it
>would be impossible. Since it isn't impossible, where does that leave
Two points. First, it doesn't matter if most cellular automata are
unpredictable if the one that runs our univserse isn't. Second, is
is possible that an automaton might be unpredictable at one level
yet look more predictable at a different level (perhaps in the same
way that subatomic phenomenon are random, funky, and wierd but larger
scale phenomenon are more sedate and predictable or even in the way
that QM is random, but still follows statistical laws)?
Got your point (or at least i think i do).
But isn't it true that many of the most crucial things to predict can not be
predicted, indeed? How about economical developments, consequences of
political or business decisions, of religio-ethical position, love and
marriage (partner choice), or (my personal favorite) the question of what
will come out of 'democratic' meetings with 60% idiots and 10% evil people.
Looking at the world around you, do you have the impression that science is
very good at predicting the things that really matter?
It may be that science, in your sense, is indeed limited to certain special
cases, and that we only find these cases so interesting, because we are
scientists, and have found some grasp on these subjects.
I mean, the sound of a piano plays a much bigger role in the brain of a
pianist than of, say, a bookmaker. Kind of 'deformation of world-view caused
And if that is the case, it would be no less than rational to admit it. It
would even be a scientific blindness not to admit it, or to ignore it as if
it were an 'unimportant, irrelevant' insight.
Did i misunderstand your point?
It's clear that a lot of the universe is in fact produced by programs
following simple rules that produce complex results. Zebra stripes
and fingerprints and cryptography, for example. You're right, knowing
a complex pattern was produced by some simple rules and a somewhat
unknown seed doesn't always let you make useful predictions about the
What if the goal is engineering instead of science? I think Wolfram
stands a chance of being right for engineering. Designing simple
programs to build complex patterns may be better than designing
D'Arcy Thompson said similar things to Wolfram in his book "On Growth
and Form" in 1917.
Homer: Woo hoo! We won! We won!
[Homer, Apu, and Moe dance while the kid gets the trophy from the case]
[Homer holds it, but Burns takes it]
Burns: You mean, _I_ won.
Apu: But we were a team, Sir.
Burns: Oh, I'm afraid I've had one of my trademark changes of heart.
You see, teamwork will only take you so far. Then, the truly
evolved person makes that extra grab for personal glory. Now, I
must discard my teammates, much like the boxer must shed roll
after roll of sweaty, useless, disgusting flab before he can win
the title. Ta!
[walks off with Smithers]
Homer: I guess some people never change. Or, they quickly change and
then quickly change back.
Moe: You know what? We don't need him, or his trophy! We got each
[general murmurs of agreement]
So discuss what task you wish to set me, have it by 8 July and I will
post the results by 15 July!
A New Kind Of Science
This is a quote by Terry Harcott 1956 - 1999, it has been the main
inspiration for my work.
"Ips victum eps cronus solari postimus - To reach your destination you
must know where that is"
Stephan Wolfram wrote:
> So discuss what task you wish to set me, have it by 8 July and I will
> post the results by 15 July!
Solve the Navier-Stokes equation using tesselated automata.
Account for the anomalous advance of the perihellion of Mercury using
Account for the mass defect following a thermonuclear explosion using
Account for the increased occurrance of bird shit on cars just washed,
using tesselated automata.
"Stephan Wolfram" <richar...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
.> Hi Guys, I've been following this thread with great interest. Lets
.> clear up some issues.
.> When I wrote the book I made a conscious decision not to fill the
.> with complete evidence for a handful of subject matters, I decided to
.> widen the focus and provide a base line for future academics to build
.> One thing I didn't predict was that the main discussion topic would
.> "Wolfram Megalomaniac or a Genius?" Therefore I am starting a program
.> where I pick one user group each week and solve any problem they set
.> me using Cellular Automata.
.> So discuss what task you wish to set me, have it by 8 July and I will
.> post the results by 15 July!
.> S Wolfram
.> A New Kind Of Science
Prove Brouwer's Fixed Point Theorem using CA.
Oh, and better check the spelling of your first
name. Somewhat of a giveaway, no?
Posted via Mailgate.ORG Server - http://www.Mailgate.ORG
1) prove the 4-colour theorem using cellular automata
2) prove FLT using cellular automata
3) find a way to get rid of James Harris using cellular automata
"Stephan Wolfram" <richar...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
> Are we sure this post was written by Wolfram (the reply adress is
> richar...@hotmail.com , but that means nothing ... ). Anyways, the tasks
> I suggest are:
> 1) prove the 4-colour theorem using cellular automata
> 2) prove FLT using cellular automata
> 3) find a way to get rid of James Harris using cellular automata
Also find out why birds drop their turds on freshly washed cars twice as
often as on dirty cars.
For the same reason more meteorites fall on the state of Kansas than
fall on the state of Colorado (per square mile in both cases). I'm not
sure about the 2:1 ratio, though.
P.S. OK, I failed, by not using the pop-press technique. No problem!
One quote from Polya (which I think is applicable here;-):
"This principle is so perfectly general
that no particular application of it is possible." -- NB
Generalizations and singularities seem to have alot in common:
Once you get there, you need more dimensions;
to re-complicate things and go further.
Wireless computing exploits point-line duality ?:
"When reduced to nanometer scales,
current switches may not be the best way to code information."