It is a long 1,000 pages book, so it deserves a long
1,000 word review. Not a "new kind of review" with I wrote
when I discovered more than I thought. This use of an annoying
self-praising 1st person style is certainly a negative side of
the book : phrases like "I have discovered vastly more than I
ever thought possible" and "what I have done now touches almost
every existing area of science, and quite a bit besides".
Most reviewers so far agree that it is a remarkable book,
but perhaps a bit egoistical, repetitive, longwinded, and with
a wrong title. It is not a new kind of science as the title says.
Some even argue the content of the "New Kind of Science"
book it is neither new nor science. Other scientists like Zuse,
Fredkin and Toffoli are mentioned not at all or only in the
margin. According to the lack of references to other research
work, it is hard to call it a book about a *new* science. It is
usual to write a book with a few references only in books about
a well-established subject or science. And most of the content
of the book is in fact not new.
Cellular automata are an important tool, but they are not new
and they have shortcomings, too. A weakness of the book is that
the author does not mention and emphasize clearly the weak
points of the "new science". Darwin devoted in his "Origin of
Species" whole chapters to diffculties in his new theory. One
weak point is: a turing machine or a CA capable of universal
computation can calculate anything, but the price is that you
may need a very large amount of time and memory to do it.
For a pure CA book it comes a bit too late to be a revelation,
for a "New Kind of Science" book it is maybe finished too early.
The book contains very interesting sections, and here we come
to the positive aspects and the good side of the book. If
Stephen Wolfram would have went a bit further, the book would
have been a true masterpiece. But unfortunately he stays on
save and secure ground, the field of one-dimensional CA. The
most interesting parts where the author goes beyond the borders
of known science are not in the main text, but in the remarks in
the notes section that follows the main text. The book contains
about 800 pages without the notes, and then another 350 pages of
The main text focusses itself on simple one-dimensional CA. Like
Steven Pinker's great book "Words and Rules" the book tries
to illuminate the nature of something by choosing a single
phenomenon and examining it from every angle imaginable. That
phenomenon is for Steven Pinker the topic of regular and
irregular verbs, whereas Stephen Wolfram concentrates himself on
Cellular Automata and their patterns. This is the weakness of
the book - it is not really new science - and at the same times
it's strength - the known science and facts are described and
explained clearly and good.
As a book about CA book it is great. Change the title into
"Cellular Automata - the search for a new kind of science", add
some references to the work of others, and you have one of the
best books on CA ever written. And it points in the right
direction. It is not the CA which are fundamentally new, it is
the direction in which Stephen Wolfram points: the branches
of science dealing with chaos, complexity and complex
adaptive systems are relatively new and promising. Complicated
formulas and mathematical equations are not very useful here.
Science as a whole was fundamentally altered by the application
and invention of new mathematics, especially of the differential
calculus by Newton and Leibniz. Now science as a whole is
altered again by the use of computers to simulate complex
systems. Computational models are beginning to replace and
extend mathematical models. Multi-agend based simulations
replace game theoretical calculations in social sciences.
CA replace differential equations in biology, physics and
other sciences to explain and describe self-organizing systems.
Yet there is no official science of "Complex Adaptive
Systems" or "Complexity" similar to mathematics.
Steven Strogatz said in his SYNC Book, "I think we may be
missing the conceptual equivalent of calculus, a way of
seeing the consequences of the myriad interactions that
define a complex system." We need to try and check
several tools to examine if such a new calculus exists.
Stephen Wolfram has done this for CA.
He has written a monumental book of high quality, and the
content is clear and correct. Although most of the things have
been explained, mentioned and discussed before, no one has given
such a coherent, comprehensive, detailed and clear view of
Cellular Automata in this quality. The style is clear and clean.
It is written with clarity and well illustrated. The interesting
figures, illustrations and pictures are of excellent quality.
A grand and monumental book.
Since Galileo scientists and especially Physicists are convinced
that nature is written in the language of mathematics. Now even
Physicists notice, due to books like this that nature can not
completely explained with mathematics. Some parts and patterns
can be described better in the language of remarkably simple
algorithms and rules.
Mathematics can describe and predict certain phenomena and
principles in amazing precision. But it is not suitable
to explain the evolution and behavior of complex systems.
It is often futile and frustrating to attempt to model complex
systems using traditional mathematical abstractions.
Stephen Wolfram shows clearly there are other ways. Systems
with simple local rules can show complex global behavior. This
is the red thread that runs through the book, and it is
certainly one important part or fiber of the next-generation
"C"-science that will extend or combine Cybernetics, Catastrophe
theory, Chaos Theory, Complexity Theory and the theory of
Complex Adaptive Systems.