On Monday, November 18, 2002, at 10:15  PM, [EMAIL PROTECTED] wrote:

as just noted by TCM, kevin kelly on a computational/algorithmic TOE,
wolfram, wheeler, etcetera, from current issue of wired.


I would say we are all in the midst of some kind
of "algorithmic revolution" that is sweeping across
culture, industry, & scientific fields etc. .. more
on that theme here

I just don't see any such sign of a revolution. No more so than 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Yes, computers are now more powerful. Problems tend to grow faster in size than computers do, however, and often having 100x the power only yields a slight improvement in accuracy, not qualitative leaps or breakthroughs. (Paralleling, no pun intended, the spacing of the Mersenne primes, where it's taking longer and longer to brute force find the next one, even with dramatically more computer power. Or the accelerator energy gap, where 10 times the accelerator energy doesn't produce much more new physics.)

There are aspects of computers that are always touching on cultural issues. In the 60s and 70s there was much hype about "general systems theory" and modeling (a la Bertanlanffy, Arrow, others). Some social scientists expected a revolution. In the 1980s it was chaos theory, and fractals, with books on how financial markets are chaotic, how art is fractal, how civilization lives at the boundary between order and chaos, and so on. Trendy, and probably implicated somewhere in the Sokal hoax ("Transgressing the Boundaries," the quantum mechanics/litcrit/hermeneutics put-on). Not much of lasting value came out of it, insofar as the revolutions outside of the narrow fields directly involved are concerned.

In recent years it's been stuff about string theory, to some extent. The Brian Greene book, "The Elegant Universe," became a best-seller, even if probably fewer than one out of a hundred buyers got past the first 20 pages. I don't think many of the coffee table book buyers are expecting many revolutions outside of physics qua physics.

And of course Wolfram's book is a big seller. I won't comment, except that I see no particularly strong evidence that he has changed the way science is done, or will be done. Others have written harsher reviews. I admire him for his dedication, but I think he missed the boat by not working with others and working on specific problems.

(Tegmark works on lots of cosmology and observational astronomy problems, with his Everything paper as just one small facet, almost a hobby. Working on that theory full-time might make him a frequent contributor to this list, but would probably not be good either for his career or for getting any kind of progress or confirmation (!).)

My belief is that basic mathematics is much more important than computer use, in terms of understanding the cosmos and the nature of reality.

--Tim May

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