by David Brunton <email@example.com>
*Warning:* I'm on page 201 of a 1200 page book, so this is still preliminary.
*Overview:* This book is about three things:
* Stephen Wolfram's tremendously large ego
* Cellular automata
* (mis)applying a (mostly) new method of science to a variety of fields
Stephen Wolfram's ego is like the state of Alaska- if you split it in
two, then Texas would be the third largest. It's quite remarkable,
actually... he has absolutely no deference to anything or anyone. By
his count, he invented all of the tools that can be used to analyze
cellular automata, then he then used the tools to discover everything
that is interesting about them, then he published the only book that has
ever correctly applied them to any field of study (ranging from
Sociology to Nanotechnology).
Cellular automata are, in brief, simple rules that may yield complex
results. So far, he has mostly discussed discrete cellular automata
(meaning that the simple rule is aplied iteratively rather than
continuously- e.g. it's like a trumpet, not a slide trombone). There
has been one short section about continuous automata, which I am mostly
incapable of distinguishing from integral calculus. This is probably
because I am not quite smart enough, not because they are the same thing.
That being said... it is quite clear to me that the application
cellular automata is not math. It is /genuinely/ something new, and I
appreciate the fact that Wolfram has brought this to my attention.
Cellular automata can be used to analyze a lot of the same problems
that we use math for: fractals, numbers, equations, etc. They can also
be useful for modelling problems for which math is ill-suited: some
aspects of physics, social sciences, and perhaps most interesting-
biology. Simple cellular automata yield complex results, much in the
way that simple chemistry yields complex ecologies.
*Stuck at a Boring Cocktail Party?*
The question that we're all asking right now is: "When I'm stuck at
boring party, what witty comment can I make about cellular automata to
liven things up?" I know that's what I'm thinking. So I have taken the
liberty of providing some witty one-or-two-liners below that you can
feel free to reuse as long as you don't attribute them to me.
/In reference to nice poetry:/
"You know, simple syntactic rules can generate a
variety of complex
and beautiful semantic forms when applied in a judicious manner...
if that poem were a one-dimensional discrete cellular automaton, it
would definitely be Wolfram's rule 82."
Note: rule 82 is a very simple eight-part rule that explains how black
and white squares should be placed, based upon how the squares in the
preceding line are placed. It yields a repetetive pattern that is
pleasing to the eye. For a non-rhyming poem, substitute rule 149- it is
semi-regular, but has some irregular complexities as well (once again,
only black and white squares, but a very complex pattern, and not
altogether un-pleasing to the eye for the true connoiseur). If the poem
sucked bigtime, use rule 128. It yields only a single black dot on a
plane of white.
/In reference to a tasty beverage:/
"You'd be amazed how easily this _____ goes straight
course, it's not too surprising, since rules 4, 12, 36, 68, 76, 100,
108, 132, 140, 164, 172, 196, 204, 228, and 236 of Wolfram's binary
cellular automata all yield a straight-down pattern. One could only
expect that chains of Carbon atoms would occasionally do the same."
Note: each of these rules yield a vertical black line on a white
background. Replace the underlined space with the name of the drink you
/In reference to the electricity going out:/
"Hey- it's as dark as rule 183 in here!"
Note: rule 183 yields a completely black plane.
I guess I'll read the rest of the book, and form some conclusions.
now, it's an easy enough read, he's an engaging enough writer, and there
are lots of pictures. So I'll keep going for the moment.