American Samizdat

Sunday, November 18, 2007. *

The entire monstrosity online above.
Official website
Here's a review:
AMONG a small group of very smart people, the publication of ''A New Kind of Science,'' by Stephen Wolfram, has been anticipated with the anxiety aroused in literary circles by, say, Jonathan Franzen's recent novel, ''The Corrections.'' For more than a decade, Wolfram, a theoretical physicist turned millionaire software entrepreneur, has been laboring in solitude on a work that, he has promised, will change the way we see the world. Adding to the suspense, the book has been announced and withdrawn as the artist returned to his garret to tinker, ignoring the bad vibes and hexes cast by jealous colleagues hoping to see him fall flat on his face.

Now, weighing in at 1,263 pages (counting a long, unpaginated index)
and 583,313 words, the book could hardly be more intimidating. But
that is the price one pays for a first-class intellectual thrill.
While experimenting with a simple computer program 20 years ago,
Wolfram stumbled on something rather eerie: ''the beginning of a crack
in the very foundations of existing science.'' Ever since, he has been
following it deeper as it widens into a crevasse.

The normal thing would have been to dispatch regular reports from the
field -- unreadable papers published in fashionable zines like
Physical Review Letters or Physica D. Instead, Wolfram decided to do
what Darwin did (and he would not shun the comparison). He is
springing loose his vision all at once, in a book intended for
nonscientists and scientists alike.

From the very beginning of this meticulously constructed manifesto,
the reader is presented with a stunning proposal: all the science we
know will be demolished and reassembled. An ancient error will be
corrected, one so profoundly misguided that it has led science down
the wrong avenue, until it is approaching a cul-de-sac. The mistake
(as everyone who hated calculus will be happy to hear) is trying to
capture the richness of the universe with mathematical equations --
Newton's, Maxwell's, Einstein's. All are based on an abstract, perhaps
dubious idea -- that time and space form a seamless continuum. Whether
dealing with an inch or a second, you can chop it in half and the half
in half, ad infinitum. Thus things can be described with unlimited,
infinitesimal precision.

This conceit works fine for simple phenomena like a planet's
trajectory around the sun or a weight falling from the Leaning Tower
of Pisa. But as scientists try to explain systems of greater
complexity -- a hurricane, the economy of Portugal, a human or even a
reptilian brain -- the calculations become ever more elaborate until
one is left with an unwieldy array of symbols that do not explain much
at all.

Wolfram believes that even his own field, theoretical physics (he got
a Ph.D. from Caltech when he was 20), suffers from the problem.
Equations can capture characteristics of individual particles with
breathtaking precision. But put three or four particles together and
the complications begin to overwhelm. The problem, he proposes, is
that equations are the wrong tool for the job. They should be replaced
with computer programs -- more specifically, the little snippets of
software called algorithms.

That sounds absolutely ridiculous. Programs are just human inventions,
marching orders for a machine. They serve well as a quick and dirty
means of tricking a computer into approximating the smoothness of
nature, roughing out reasonably good facsimiles of a scientist's
perfect equations. But computers understand nothing but 1 or 0, with
no gradations in between. Algorithms can mimic reality's grain as
finely as the engineers can manage, but the simulation can never be as
sharp as the real thing.

Wolfram contends that this, the common wisdom, gets things upside
down: the algorithm is the pure, elemental expression of nature; the
equation is an artifice. That is because the continuum is a fiction.
Time doesn't flow, it ticks. Space is not a surface but a grid. A
world like this is best described not by equations but by simple step-
by-step procedures. By computer programs.

Welcome the the machine matrix weird?...

John Horgan and George Johnson bring up this exact subject HERE:Chaos Theory They even link to the article above.

"You Know That Space-Time Thing? Never Mind"
posted by Uncle $cam at 11:13 PM
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