A New Kind of Science
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A New Kind of Science

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  978 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Physics and computer science genius Stephen Wolfram, whose Mathematica computer language launched a multimillion-dollar company, now sets his sights on a more daunting goal: understanding the universe. Wolfram lets the world see his work in A New Kind of Science, a gorgeous, 1,280-page tome more than a decade in the making. With patience, insight, and self-confidence to sp...more
Hardcover, 1197 pages
Published January 1st 2002 by Wolfram Media (first published June 1st 1997)
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Dear FSM, what a rambling mess of a book. This review is going to be longer than usual for me, as I have a lot of bile to get out of my system.

As I read through the first several pages, I was bemused by the author's arrogant and lofty tone. I was willing to give him a bit of credit, if he had any logical backup behind it.

Finished the introduction. The book makes clear its intentions: to analyze and reduce complex phenomenon to simple mathematical representations. Not bad, but hardly revolutiona...more
More like "A New Kind of Ego".

Wolfram's inflated ego dominated this book so much that I found it unreadable and started skimming. What's worse is his self-aggrandizement is undeserved. Wolfram did not discover Cellular Automata, nor was he the first to see potential in them, so basically he's a pretender. In addition, others who have worked in this field have written without the egotism.

The book is short on content. There was some info there, but nothing to justify the title or the bloated lengt...more
Chris Adami
What is new in this book is not science. What is science in this book is not new.
This book, at about 5,643 pages, was a fascinating read. Wolfram unveils a new way of thinking about how the world works. To this less intelligent mind it looked more like an outgrowth of the chaos movement than something entirely new but whatever it is, and however correct it is, there's no question that Wolfram did move some horizons back. Unfortunately the other message he seems to want to communicate is how amazing Stephen Wolfram is, and the ego can get in the way of the science through-out...more
Alex Covic
Jul 13, 2009 Alex Covic rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: science students, physicians, mathematicians, computer-nerds, hackers,
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mark Longo
Flawed but magnificent.

It was difficult to get past Wolfram's outsized ego, but I was finally able to do so by alternately considering it sympathetically (thinking of him as desperately seeking validation) and comically (his statements of priority and the importance of his work are so over the top it's really kind of entertaining). I also had some strong issues with Wolfram's discussion on natural selection, as well as his discussion of intelligence and life (he would have benefited from a read...more
Warren Mcpherson
This is a fun easy to read (but huge) book that gets you to think about how very simple algorithms can create fantastically complex results. The author has a giant ego, which is arguably justified but it turns many people off. The key is not to take it too seriously. Don't compare it to a revolutionary scientific tome, compare it to a Pixar movie. Let the book stimulate your brain and enjoy the sensation.
This is a really intriguing book. There is much to like about it, especially the chapter notes in the back, where he goes into a lot of historical background on the development of symbolic logic and the attempt to formalize mathematical operations in the late 1800s by Russell and Whitehead, among others. Wolfram's computational approach to analysis has some definite advantages over more conventional axiomatic methods, and has led to some powerful intuitions. However, I think the author tries to...more
Rees evans
I don't normally write reviews about books on good reads. But new kind of science is a special case. It is a special case, because so many negative things instead about Wolfram and his work. Whatever you say about Wolfram, one has to admit that the creation and development Mathematica was an accomplishment of great importance. Moreover, Wolfram has done a great deal of work even prior to Mathematica in the area of one-dimensional cellular automata.

New Kind of Science extends that work and makes...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pascal is famously quoted (paraphrased):

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

If Stephen Wolfram worked on this tome for about a decade, I hate to see what he cut it down from.

Even for a book written so as to be approachable by non-technical lay readers, this book is excessively repetitive, and verbose, and repetitive. 200 pages in and I've yet to read anything that I could identify as shockingly new or usefully foundational; nothing that I hadn't been exposed to by...more
I have to admit that I did not read the 1000 plus pages. The idea of cellular automata is interesting, so I programmed some of his examples for fun. He is not a crank and has done serious scientific work, which I am not competent to judge. There is a measure of jealousy in some of the comments by his peers, since he has made a comfortable income from Mathematica. He bought his own Cray computer to play with. The most damaging review was, referring to the title: "What is new is not science; what...more
Chris Reid
I desperately wanted to love this book, and I'm glad I slogged through it; however, there didn't appear to be much here that hadn't been articulated better elsewhere, earlier, and with arguably more grounding. If Wolfram wanted to associate himself with these ideas he would've been better off writing a biography than this sprawling treatise. He's clearly brilliant, and part of me hopes (for the sake of the story) that we're all missing something, but as it stands A New Kind of Science is merely...more
A bold attempt at revolutionizing scientific thought in the context of a computational world. Wolfram partially succeeds in this mission, though his arrogance seems to get in the way of his message, rather than support it. But in some ways it reminded me of Fuller's Synergetics. Not a long read, and well worth it.
Interesting book for the mathematically inclined. The writing style can be tedious (often repetitive), not so much because it may be technical in nature.

A follow up would be interesting, to see how much has been accomplished pursuing the new kind of science the author propses...

Overall, I am glad I read it.
Andrej Karpathy
this book is a mixed bag. You really have to selectively skim chapters that look interesting because you will never make it fully through. I thought some of the chapters had some very interesting results, however, and the notion of a computational universe is very intriguing and interesting.
Some nice interesting stuff, but REALLY verbose and self-important.
Koen Crolla
This is what happens when you tell an incurious child that they're really smart and never force them to interact with people brighter or more knowledgeable than them. I suppose if you cut out all of the self-indulgent filler trying to set up Wolfram as the revolutionary super-genius king of the universe solving all of science forever (a king with surprising gaps in his knowledge when it comes to, e.g., information theory), you're left with a pretty uncontroversial if very muddled and painfully u...more
I sometimes read the behavior of a class 4 two-dimensional cellular automaton often known in recreational computing as the Game of Life

I always take the title, A New Kind of Science—a book on cellular automata by “outsider” scientist Stephen Wolfram that I sometimes read—in much the same way as I take the titles of Ken Wilbur’s books, A Theory of Everything and A Brief History of Everything; that is, as An Old Kind of Marketing, one that’s aimed at the reader’s undiscerning desires to have compl...more
I'm capable of holding conflicting thoughts. Yes, it's a rare book on science that peer review doesn't improve--yet at the same time, some diversity at the margins of peer review is entirely salutary.

I harbour a healthy disrespect for peer review as the worst form of quality control, except for all the others. Peer review has an unfortunate tendency to crush what it can't improve or subsume. Excellence of a population can be increased by subtracting undistinguished individuals, without increasi...more
Wow, this is a huge book. It's fascinating and infuriating and did I mention huge. There are two main issues I have with the book. The first is the way that Wolfram dismisses natural selection as a significant force in evolution. He argues that biological systems couldn't possibly become optimized for a purpose based on this kind of random search. It's an argument that's close to Intelligent Design... organisms aren't perfect, and they're not in any sense trying to be. The second issue is the su...more
Apr 03, 2008 Anna added it
Shelves: science
The creator of Mathematica presents the results of his last 10 or 15 years’ worth of work. Much of the book centers around cellular automata, which demonstrate that simple processes (not necessarily complex ones) can produce complex, even apparently random, results. Cellular automata and this idea are then applied to biology, physics, space and time, and probably other things I’m forgetting. Some parts are fairly interesting, and there are some impressive-looking pictures. However, I don’t think...more
Wolfram claims that discrete systems following simple rules can model complicated systems in biology, chemistry and physics.

Well, this has been known for a long long time. Anyone doing computational science (physics, chemistry or biology) knows that most systems (generally differential equations) can be discretized and fed into computers to simulate. These simulations of course have a limit to their accuracy since they are discrete versions of more realistic continuous systems.

Wolfram seems to i...more
Jim Razinha
An excruciatingly long book, this one. I have immense respect for Wolfram's accomplishments, but jeez, this exploration of cellular automata and simple programs as an answer to everything knocked him down several notches. I was excited to find the book at a Half Price Books priced far less than half. That was the best part of the interaction. Five and a quarter pounds of book is tough to lug around and many hours of lost time for little gain make for an "it was okay" rating. I guess I am still i...more
This book, by Steven Wolfram (the well-known physicists-turned-entrepreneur who founded Mathematica), presents the author's vision of how deceptively simple structures can generate virtually unlimited "randomness". He leads his readers through hundreds of examples, both in computer science and in nature. The footnote section, which is really the second half of the book, is even more interesting (and, frankly, a bit better written) than the main text of the book. I have some some quibbles with Wo...more
Andrew Sheng
If you can get past the author's galaxy-sized ego, this makes for a fun read.
This is a massive, heavy book, the first several chapters of which the guy talks a lot about how awesome he is and how he's come up with a completely new way of doing science.

I actually think he has some interesting things to say about numbers and interesting, unexpected patterns in them. But I gave up on finishing this book, and so cannot evaluate any of his assertions, neither about how awesome he his, nor whether his science is new and useful.

Don't buy it. Check it out from the library, skim...more
Allen Price
Jan 23, 2008 Allen Price is currently reading it
Very intriguing concepts of enormous scope. It's like having someone tell you, "You know, you could build that house from the top down a lot easier!" The concept comes from the insight of the output of a very simple computer program (one I could write myself, no less!). Being a uber-geek, Wolfram goes into volumes of detail to support his thesis. Beautiful visuals of computer printout (imagine that!) that make his case.

Frankly, I was convinced in the first few chapters, but then, I love jumping...more
I find his initial propositions that complexity is more common than we think compelling enough, and the pictures are somewhat enthralling. The entire lack of defining terms (what is complexity, anyway, or how is it measured, even heuristically), though, and also the penchant for overstating the importance or novelty of his findings, eventually became too much for me about halfway through the book, or page 480.
There may be much merit in the book that I couldn't get to, but it is certainly a mixe...more
Val Delane
Stephen Wolfram has an ego the size of Jupiter, and he does not credit contemporary researchers in the body of this epic work--but based on the clarity and completeness of the presentation I am willing to believe he personally derived and/or verified everything in it from first principles. No matter what else can be said about Wolfram, he is extraordinarily gifted. I bought this book as the "bible of cellular automata" and found much more to ponder than complexity in algorithmic art.
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Stephen Wolfram's parents were Jewish refugees who emigrated from Germany to England in the 1930s. Wolfram's father Hugo was a textile manufacturer and novelist (Into a Neutral Country) and his mother Sybil was a professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford. He has a younger brother, Conrad. Wolfram is married to a mathematician and has four children.

He was educated at Eton College, but cla...more
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The Mathematica Book Mathematica: A System for Doing Mathematics by Computer Cellular Automata And Complexity: Collected Papers Mathematica: The Student Book A New Kind of Science: A New Kind of Science Explorer bundle

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