What kind of work is being done inspired by Wolframs New Kind of Science?
July 16, 2008 11:12 AM   Subscribe

What kind of work is being done inspired by Wolframs New Kind of Science?

I recently met an entrepreneur who said he was working on something based on Stephen Wolframs New Kind of Science. That made me wonder how much follow up Wolframs book has gotten after 6 years, either in science or in practice.

I know that right after the publication of the book there were quite a few reviews from 'regular scientists' who criticised Wolframs book.

Some online searching already turned up info:
- A previous ask.mefi question mentions 'a sort of grid-based physics' that is related.
- And Wolframs site has a bibliograpy of books and papers that reference NKS.
- crshalizi gives rather limited scientific worth to Wolframs work to put it mildly

Still I'd like to get a sense whether NKS ended up being recognised as a valuable contribution to science or as a insular fringe theory.
posted by jouke to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
My understanding is that the book is really more a (imo well-written) review of previously known phenomena. NKS-type ideas have been around and are distributed in all areas of science, with varying degrees of prominence.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 11:58 AM on July 16, 2008


Cellular automata are certainly studied -- Wolfram's particular take on cellular automata remains well out of the mainstream. Wolfram organizes an annual conference on work related to NKS. If you want to hear what music "composed" by cellular automata sounds like, here ya go.
posted by escabeche at 12:15 PM on July 16, 2008


Wolfram, in typical egomaniac fashion, considers A New Kind of Science to be original based on his theory that simple things lead to complex results. a) That's not new, and b) That's not a theory. His book is fascinating, but it's not as significant as he thinks. If any research is being done on cellular automata, it's, at maximum, due to the attention he brought to the subject.
posted by spamguy at 1:10 PM on July 16, 2008


Still I'd like to get a sense whether NKS ended up being recognised as a valuable contribution to science or as a insular fringe theory.

There's quite a few more reviews around the web than you mention finding; a list is here. I found Lawrence Gray and David Bailey's reviews useful in particular, but I haven't read every review there. It seems that the summary answer to the quoted question, once you factor out big-picture handwaving, is "neither, really". From the reviews I have read, it seems that much of what NKS presents as contentfully new, isn't. Some of it was done by Wolfram and colleagues in the 80s and 90s (including one crucial proof by a former employee who Wolfram sued to prevent the proof being published prior to NKS), and much of it was done by others. Also, it seems that the the central basic idea, that a simple system (as opposed to a complex one) can lead to complexity, has been accepted by many scientists and mathematicians for quite a while. So it's not an insular fringe theory (except if you want to view it as a theory of everything), because some versions of the really useful ideas are already accepted. People working on related topics haven't taken it to be a valuable contribution for the same reason.
posted by advil at 1:39 PM on July 16, 2008


That entrepreneur you met...you did check your wallet afterwards? :)
posted by hexatron at 1:42 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I couldn't get more than a third of the way through it (wow - what an ego - and I was even expecting it) - about the only thing/place I see it impacting regularly are the shelves at used bookstores...
posted by jkaczor at 5:27 PM on July 16, 2008


The book plays a large role in this course. You might find some interesting applications mentioned in the handouts.
posted by harmfulray at 9:12 PM on July 16, 2008


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