July 08, 2002

The Answer to Life,

The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

They say that his magnum opus is dumbed down to popular level. They say that Science may never be the same, after this tome. Still, I dunno. Reading over a thousand pages of this newly released book may leave my few remaining neurons so fried that I will forget how to tie my shoes. Plus, it costs more than $40. I might just have to settle for the old Science at that price. Still, I'm curious. Could it be that this genius has found what others before him have overlooked, right under their noses?

When you hear his work described as a "new paradigm of thought" and its author called "the next Newton", it sort of makes you wonder what is going on. This guy goes toe to toe with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which Stephen Wolfram states is "not universally valid". Huh? Yep. Mr. Wolfram "believes that his methods can generate essentially any degree of complexity exhibited by life, and they have nothing to do with natural selection".

This George-Costanza-looking guy is stepping on some large toes here. "A New Kind of Science" will certainly create waves, and will probably also help explain complex systems in a unique way, with spin-off technologies and areas of study. In the end, though, it will likely do nothing toward helping us solve the 'soft' problems that plague mankind, those that stem from our lack of wisdom and charity. Wolfram's new science may drill down a few more layers in the reduction of everything to 'nothing but'; in his case, the weather, consciousness, and free will are nothing but the product of 'cellular automata'.

The explanatory power of Wolfram's new paradigm may be vast. The theory of Darwinian selection likewise 'explains everything', if you squint your eyes just a little bit, and Dawkins Selfish Genes pretty well explain away any meaning in the world of living things beyond making more gene copies. All stories that are plausible are not necessarily true, and the application of large explanatory theories applied toward human biology, societies, emotions and behavior have not necessarily improved the state of our coexistence on the planet. Coming to a better understanding of how things work will be exciting and perhaps utilitarian, but we are perhaps less in need of more details and facts, in these chaotic times, than wisdom.

Wolfram's opus will be something, but it will not be everything.

Posted by fred1st at July 8, 2002 04:51 PM
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