If you actually think that his book is just a textbook on CA, why did you even respond to me to begin with?...If you'd actually read the book you'd know that it wasn't about CA in particular.
You are grossly mischaracterizing my position, presumably to enhance your own. I didn't say it was actually a textbook, but rather, that it read to me like a corrupted textbook. If Wolfram had limited the scope to CAs, and not tried to make the text about "a new kind of science", it might have been a good text. As it is, he didn't, and so we have to judge it that way. In any event, good textbooks aren't always limited in scope to their immediate topic, but discuss applications and extensions as well.
I won't respond again if you haven't got anything to say about the actual content of the book.
In your posts, you seem to have a habit of dismissing people's comments as so beneath yourself that they're not worthy of commentary. If they truly weren't, you simply wouldn't. The fact that you do, but say that you shouldn't, exemplifies the same sort of arrogance that characterizes Wolfram's text (e.g., "If you don't appreciate the genius of this text, you just don't understand it and are not worthy of reviewing it or having any commentary whatsoever." It's silly, and the prevailing attitude I've seen from those who are favorable to the book.).
I'm just curious which results you're thinking of in particular? Could you point them out?
How many pages and topics are there in the book? In my opinion, in many cases in which Wolfram goes outside the topic of CA, he exaggerates the novelty of what he says. Often, it's not so much that he always says he did something when he didn't, but that he implies as much or obscures the fact that he didn't. My reaction to some of the content regarding random numbers was very much that way, for example (I think he mischaracterizes pseudorandom number generation somewhat, or at least obscures certain characteristics, although his discussion was still interesting); I also had similar reactions to his discussion of the development and evolution of biological systems (c.f. the book by Kaufmann I cited earlier). And in, any case, when I said I'm not in the field, I meant the field of CA. I do work in the field of statistics and bioinformatics, though. The way that Wolfram characterizes his work, it's difficult for anyone to "not be in the field".
Anyway, you yourself provide an example of Wolfram's intellectual egocentrism with Mr. Cook:
Wolfram was actually engaged in a legal dispute with Mr. Cook when he tried to publish his results before Wolfram was ready to release the book.
It's not as if Wolfram denies Mr. Cook's contribution, just that he goes to some lengths to obscure it (and no, a brief footnote in the back of the text is not sufficient for exactly this reason).
It wasn't a comparison to Newton
It wasn't? I must have misread your original post.
are you willing to say that such behavior was allowed for Newton and not anybody else?
I'm not even saying it should have been allowed for Newton. But Wolfram isn't Newton anyway.
It hasn't yet been established that Wolfram's insights are on the scale of the introduction of Newton's fluxions and comprehensive physics. Obviously he shouldn't just vault into the annals of history without fair skepticism and investigation. What you propose is not anything even approaching that.
I guess this gets to the heart of what irritates me so much about this book. First, in what you wrote above, it is implicitly assumed that these are indeed "Wolfram's insights". Why is this? Because he says or implies so? That very assumption is highly questionable, if for no other reason that Wolfram expands the relevance of the content to almost every intellectual domain imaginable. Much of the criticism, in my opinion, hasn't been fair enough: in most cases, it is the responsibility of the author to justify a position; Wolfram takes the position, at least implicitly, that such tasks are the responsibility of the readership. Second, even if they were all his, you're right: it hasn't been shown that these observations are on the scale of anything Newton, Einstein, Godel, or anyone else ever wrote. I suspect they may never be. The reason why is because there isn't anything new or "risky" in the text.
For example, if I were to say to someone, go and show that that there is something in the text that is (a) Wolfram's original idea, and (b) predicts something that is radically different from what has already been known, what would they do? First, they'd have a difficult time showing that Wolfram does indeed present anything new. Even if they did, however, I suspect they'd have a difficult time finding anything that poses a novel and useful prediction to be falsified. It's successfully making risky predictions that represents progress in science (at least in the Popperian view), and I don't see any of that in A New Kind of Science. Maybe Wolfram means to imply that in his "new kind of science" it's enough to make comments about vague similarities?
Read the book, you don't know what you're talking about. He clearly shows in the example of, for instance, conch shells that every configuration can be generated by an iterative 3D substitution system. He describes how certain other such simple systems can describe how various features of natural systems emerge. He also goes over his preliminary work in applying such systems to other areas. Just read the book.
I have read the book. And the similarities are interesting. But I recall very similar comparisons being made between fractals and natural features years ago. When I say that the models are vague, what I mean is that they generally lack a certain degree of quantitative predictive precision, a certain precise correspondence between elements of reality and the elements of his models. They are models, true, but in the text, things are generally limited to Wolfram presenting a snapshot of a CA aside some natural feature, and saying "Look how similar they are!". I don't mean to imply CAs aren't useful--they are tremendously useful--just that they don't represent "a new kind of science".
And in any event, none of this is really relevant to my major complaint about the book, which is that the important ideas in the text are not Wolfram's.
His thesis is NOT "complex patterns can be generated by simple processes!"
Then what is his thesis? What would you characterize as the thesis of the book? That's the popular account because that's what the thesis of the text is. Perhaps it's not phrased as Wolfram would have it be phrased, but that's it in essence. Maybe something about computational irreducibility? That's hardly revolutionary either.
That's been known by mathematicians long before any "philosopher" gave any input.
My point about the book exactly. And in any event, the line between math and philosophy is thin and often arbitrary.
Anyway, I do like the book on some level, and think there are wonderful observations that are made within. Some of those observations do actually derive from Wolfram's earlier work. But the text, to me, reads more like the chronicle and documentation of a field--much like a textbook--than the presentation of a bold new thesis. If Wolfram had recognized that fact, and treated it as such, I might have respected the text, and him, much more. But he tries to expand the relevance of the book and novelty of his ideas to just about everything; in the process, as a reader, I am forced to shift my evaluation of the text from being about CA to larger concepts about complexity and predictability. And at that point, he fails to convince. If he had only written about CA, or if he had been more honest and realistic about the novelty of his observations in general, I would have a different opinion of the text. But as it is, he didn't, and so I don't.
[ Parent ]