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Multicomputation: A Fourth Paradigm for Theoretical Science (2021) (stephenwolfram.com)
54 points by RafelMri 4 days ago | flag | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

There's no denying that Stephen Wolfram is a genius and has probably attained a deeper understanding of nature by age 14 than I will achieve in my lifetime. But still, I can't help but cringe when reading sentences like this:

"Basically starting in the early 1980s, there was a burst of progress based on a new idea (of which, yes, I seem to have ultimately been the primary initiator): the idea of using [cellular automata] as the basis for models of things in nature and elsewhere." (narrator voice: cellular automata were invented and applied to model things in nature and elsewhere before Wolfram was born).

This alsp pissed me off. He is totally ignoring Benoit Mandel brot’s work in the 1950’s and John Conways work in the 1970’s. He sounds like a petulent child who takes himself too seriously and expects others do the same. It distracts from an otherwise interesting classification paradigm.

I do not see much difference between his 4th paradigm and a breadth-first search through an np (nondeterministic polynomial) problem. I’d love to know what other mathemeticians that work on dynamical systems (Dr Krieger, anyone?) think of his work…

I may have actually given him a bit too much credit initially (I'll admit, I didn't read the full article). Even if I acknowledge that Wolfram probably knows a lot more graduate-level math than me, sentences like these raise some eyebrows:

"There are regions of 'metamathematical space' (the slices of proof space) that might have higher 'densities of proofs' corresponding to more interconnected fields of mathematics - or more 'metamathematical energy'. And as part of the generic behavior of multicomputational systems we can expect an analog of Einstein’s equations, and we can expect that 'proof geodesics' will be 'gravitationally attracted' to regions of higher 'metamathematical energy'. (...) In the presence of large amounts of 'metamathematical energy' there’ll effectively be a metamathematical black hole formed. And where there’s a 'singularity in metamathematical space' there’ll be a whole collection of proof paths that just end—effectively corresponding to a decidable area of mathematics."

Is this for real? Is this a legit mathematical theory that leads to new mathematical discoveries? Are these conjectures that he expects to be rigorously provable? Or are these just ramblings of someone who left the game a long time ago and who thinks that he still 'has it'?

It seems to make sense, if you view that as current math theories treated as "windows" into a space of possible mathematics, like e.g. quantum string theory possibility space(10^500) vs "accepted string theories" https://www.dummies.com/article/academics-the-arts/science/p...

Not to give any credence to Wolfram's theories, I'm wholly unqualified, but why not? Mathematics extends all the way into algorithms and complexity. We have already established that for example machine learning could lead to new mathematical discoveries, and machine learning is easily described by math.

Of course whether such a space is in any way practically computable or of a scale that could even reasonably comprehendable to a human being or even to some machine is an unanswered question.

Sure, in principle it's interesting, and I can fathom that statements like these could in principle be provable. This 'graphical' perspective could lead to interesting insights eg in proof theory (I actually wouldn't be surprised if things like that had already been done).

My point was rather: making any statement in modern mathematics is hard. I was wondering how serious he is about formally establishing any insights about his ideas, eg a connection between proof spaces and Einstein's equations (presumably general relativity).

Theorising about a structure behind proofs made of an alphabet isnt new - its part of theorems like Godels Incompleteness, etc.

Actually exploring or evaluating objects in this space has always (and continues to be) intractable due to the high complexity and computational power required.

The big ego stuff and always needing to feed it with claiming credit for everything reminds me a lot of narcissistic personality disorder, which is caused by childhood emotional abuse, so I think we should just humor his ego and recognize it for what it is, that is be kind and understand what causes that sort of thing, while not letting it distract us from the value of the research he’s doing. Intellectually Wolfram is clearly a very intelligent person; emotionally he is underdeveloped.

I doubt that any personality disorder has as its sole cause "childhood emotional abuse", so I would not want to indirectly someone's parents because of their perceived personality flaws.

Good point. I encourage you to read up on the personality disorders, they are fascinating.

I think a fairer reading of the paragraph isn't that he's claiming to have initiated work in cellular automata as a whole but that he's claiming to have been the initiator of the "burst of productivity" in the 80s.

But he does call it a new idea, directly followed by three strong words (ultimately, primary, initiator). I'm not saying the only reasonable interpretation of the sentence is that he's overstating his role. But what does make me cringe is that it can easily mislead readers who aren't familiar with the history of this specific idea, and that this confusion would have been easy to avoid.

After that time when he tried to deny credit for a discovery to an employee, using a NDA, now I always wonder when he claims something if it is truly his work or just misappropriation of other people's ideas. He aims to be a new Newton or Einstein, but may end just as another L'Hôpital.

He just kinda sounds like how Edison is represented nowadays. Claims to be popular inventor but is just a bright guy with thousands of equally bright employees doing the other 99% of the innovations.

I thought Newton was the ass of math history (e.g. Hooke and Leibnitz feuds). What did L‘Hôpital do?

He was a rich nobleman that tried to pass some discoveries of one of the Bernoulli brothers as his own, in exchange for cold, hard cash. He was partially successful. Despite this fact becoming broadly known in the math world, a important rule in calculus is still known by his name. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27H%C3%B4pital%27s_rule and https://people.math.harvard.edu/~knill/teaching/math1a_2011/...

I guess the name stuck because naming even more things after the Bernoullis would just be too confusing.

“List of things named after members of the Bernoulli family”: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_things_named_after_m...

Thanks for the history lesson. Yes, I know the rule from high school. Newton however did a much better job in making his name live forever. And they all succeeded in erasing their questionable behavior from lectures. Money can buy a lot.

It's interesting to try to find inventions by him that aren't presaged

I was at a Santa Fe Institute public lecture last month by Sara I. Walker. It was about a lot of things (nominally, how might we recognize life if it is chemically quite different from anything we have on earth). However, somewhere near the middle of the talk, she put up this slide:


later she put up this slide;


The connection to Wolfram is made more explicit in the second one, where she lists several ideas as possible "What's Nexts" for theoretical science:

   Assembly Theory / Causal Set Theory / Constructor Theory / Wolfram Physics Project / Complexity Science
I find this exciting in a way that transcends Wolfram's endless self-promotion. It's clear that there is a wave of thinking going on right now that is trying to come up with new fundamental concepts about how the universe has managed to build complex systems. It's possible that none of the ideas are right, and it's even possible that they all are. Either way, physics working harder to try to explain complexity and temporality (including evolution of chemistry and higher level systems) just seems incredibly exciting, and I hope that maybe there will be some breakthroughs before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

D'oh. The first link was supposed to be:


though Olafur is pretty cool too, and the second link was supposed to be:


The talk on assembly theory was really interesting. Thanks for sharing. I'd be surprised if the idea of causal constraints or quantifying complexity in chemistry was novel. Is it the context of life search that makes novel? Does you know what else it might be called?

(Aside: I think the first link was miscopied?)

I'm far too stupid to understand everything but I keep getting reminded of the Chronon Field Theory when reading. They seem to agree on how gravity forms, that are no masses or particles, only observable "events" and "event density" (for gravity). Observation as interpreting reality, our ability to only measure collapsed wave functions, interpretation of time frames, etc. A "universe" or "system" that is observing itself. Both systems lend themselves well towards understanding the universe and life as just a complex but computable automata. I guess I shouldn't be surprised when different metaphysical systems overlap but there feels like a lot of overlap here.


So Wolfram defines 4 major breakthroughs in the history og humanity’s ability to model nature. The first two are geometry (antiquity) and differential equations (newton). And the other two have been discovered by the man himself!

I feel like we’re adding graph meta-modeling on top of Tony Hoare CSP. If these graphs were not dags we would be heading into cybernetics. I want to feel like this is novel but can’t escape the idea that the boundaries of a multi-way model are arbitrary.

It also seems like a natural next step for automata modeling.

Maybe I am missing the breakthrough.

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