Amy's Reviews > A New Kind of Science

A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram
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Dec 07, 2011

it was amazing

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 complexity synthesized. If one were to embody complexity with their book title they might be more like Emily Dickinson, forgoing titles for their texts as if to say, I will not Synthesize or summarize—the content as if the Title—is a container—and the Content contained. If Wolfram were Dickinson, his book would be identified by its first line: Three centuries ago science was transformed by the dramatic new idea that rules based on mathematical equations could be used to describe the natural world. If there were no titles, authors would presumably make their first sentence the most emblematic, since this is how others would refer to their books. In Wolfram’s case, he might choose something “random” like I will on page 249, a fragment referring to a photo: the behavior of a class 4 two-dimensional cellular automaton often known in recreational computing as the Game of Life. Readers might say, “There is no way I am going to get through all 1197 pages of the behavior of a class 4 two-dimensional cellular automaton often known in recreational computing as the Game of Life.” Wolfram might say, “In the 1197 pages of the behavior of a class 4 two-dimensional cellular automaton often known in recreational computing as the Game of Life, I propose a new kind of science.” These sentences are more complex than, “In A New Kind of Science, I work with the idea that rules based on mathematical equations can be used to describe the natural world,” because, in the untitled title sentence, there is no verb clause, and the untethered articles and prepositions of the sentence using the untitled title sentence grammatically allow for more. The untitled title sentence embodies some of the complexity that was previously contained by its thoughtless container, which, in this re-imagining, spills out onto itself. I sometimes read the behavior of a class 4 two-dimensional cellular automaton often known in recreational computing as the Game of Life.
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