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Science; A Big Mistake?

  1. Jul 20, 2003 #1
    Could it be possible that everything we "know" is wrong? Every law of physics and every discovery that was discovered could be incorrect because the foundation of our science was flawed. Perhaps now, everything seems to be making sense, but maybe one day, we will "get stuck" as we get deeper in and nothing we have devised and confirmed can explain anything anymore.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2003 #2
    I doubt you'd be able to post that message on this forum if everything we know regarding science is wrong.
  4. Jul 20, 2003 #3

    A New Kind of Science
  5. Jul 21, 2003 #4
    Stephen Wolfram's Book

    Wow, I don't know what to say. Wolfram obviously has impressive, legitimate credentials, and I have used Mathematica to analyze my data and help we with school work for three years. It is very useful and the Greek letter functionality makes things easier.

    I took a look at what "A New Kind of Science" is about from the website, and it seems suspiciously like pseudo-science to me. Can someone explain to me what his motive is? I have two (immediate) questions:

    1/ Is Wolfram is trying to undermine the scientific method?

    (Perhaps the same question, restated)
    2/ Is he saying that the way current research is done in the physical sciences and mathematics is WRONG?

    If he is, I am going to strictly use Matlab and Maple...
  6. Jul 21, 2003 #5
    I hope he doesn't mean WRONG. There are more than 1 ways to model same physical phenomena. Interpretation and form of solution depends on what meaning you assign to fundamental postulates. By small changes there you could come up with seemingly completely different theory and explanations, although functionality of models could be exactly the same. Often, acceptance of differing fundamentals requires paradigm shift.
  7. Jul 21, 2003 #6

    Are YOU personally suspicious (see website)?

    I haven't heard of any recent revolutions in the physical sciences due to Wolfram yet, and as far as I know he hasn't won a Nobel Prize (yet), so I wonder if he is qualified to propose a new foundation for science?

    I personally became a little suspicious just because he seems to be selling us a powerful theory yet I haven't heard of any of its predictive successes yet.
  8. Jul 21, 2003 #7


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    Edward Fredkin, a (former?) professor at MIT has been working on digital mechanics for years.

    Note that even if this replaced ordinary physics, the predictions of ordinary physics would still be true to a high degree of accuracy. I don't think that was the question. Rathere it was, are we being suckered into a false trail that yields (for the moment) good predictions, but leads away from the right trail.

    I think we can get some hints.
    1. Mathematical physicists have never been able to create a rigorous 4-dimensional quantum field theory, although one of these theories, QED, makes superaccurate predictions.

    2. Physicists believe there is physics beyond the standard model, but every initiative to find it (supersymmetry, strings, superstrings, branes, M-theory) seems to run into the sand, and the papers on the preprint archive for the last couple of years seem to be churning without getting anywhere. Maybe there isn't any real physics in that direction?

    3. The promoters of the loop quantum gravity enterprise, to replace classical GR with a quantized theory, have also been unable to define a fully valid 4-dimensional version of their baby.

    What is the common factor of all these efforts? I would say it is the use of operator algebras acting on Hilbert (resp. Fock) spaces. The deeper that method goes, the shakier it becomes. We need something new. Page the mathematicians.

    (Example, not plug. See Christopher Isham's category quantization scheme).
  9. Jul 21, 2003 #8
    Didn't this happen at least once before? Back in 1905 Newtonian physics was overthrown by Einstein’s relativity. This example isn't as dramatic as the situation Astronomer107 explained because, as we all know, Newtonian physics is still accurate at normal speeds and high school students still learn it.
  10. Jul 21, 2003 #9
    I have one simple question regarding not Astronomer107's question but regarding the link to Wolfram's site which talks about a "New Kind of Science":

    "What new predictions does Wolfram's theory make"
  11. Jul 21, 2003 #10
    It's nothing to be alarmed about. These ideas are not that radical nor are they orignal. He has simply compiled what many have been saying for decades.

  12. Jul 21, 2003 #11
    I see. I haven't read the book and was a little alarmed by the introduction.

    I suppose Wolfram is simply trying to make a profit, and there isn't anything wrong with that.
  13. Jul 21, 2003 #12


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  14. Jul 21, 2003 #13
    Re: Re: Science; A Big Mistake?

    I'm not saying it IS wrong, I'm saying that it could be possible. I really hope it is correct and we can continue to advance our civilization, but I hope that one day it does not just crumble because of a flawed foundation that didn't seem apparent until we made some profound discovery.
  15. Jul 21, 2003 #14


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    Re: Re: Re: Science; A Big Mistake?

    So what? This is how progress is made. Such a revolution, a 'paradigm shift,' is an example of advancing our civilization.

    - Warren
  16. Jul 21, 2003 #15

    Thanks chroot. I checked out some other reviews as well, one which I would like to suggest to others. It seemed honest and shared the skepticism that is natural in reponse to a book titled "A New Kind of Science". It did, however, praise Wolfram for the many contributions he has made and for his innovative insight.

    I share the opinion of the reviewer of this particular article. That is that Wolfram (or his cellular automata based theory, rather) has to prove itself before the book can earn its bold title.

    Ref: http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0464.html?printable=1 [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  17. Jul 21, 2003 #16
    Yes, I am. Though I think the path he talks about might be the way to go in the end.

    Its very very sad..
    I only hope that this won't serve as negative publicity for CA and Chaos. CA and Chaos actually seem quite natural and logical, but CA schemes in playground today are quite pathetic. To really dig into it we'd need incredible computing powers, and when we have them, it'll indeed open new world that would be quite different from todays math approach.
  18. Jul 23, 2003 #17
    Ture we learn from our mistakes but a "mistake" of that magnitude could kill the human race. If everything just started goign wrong because I flaw in our understanding of the sciences (particularly physics) went wrong so I can see where this argument of Astronomer107's is coming from but I think it is highly unlikely. In defense of Astronomer107 and one reason that I think it MIGHT be possible is that, if you think about it, a time machine CAN be possible but some of the laws of physics would have to be changed or, be wrong. And who is to say they are right? We aren't COMPLETELY sure that they are. What if they aren't universal? What if a planet, satellite, star, black hole mis studied and defies the laws of physics? What would we have then? Everything we knew (or thought we knew) would be undone. I think that is what Astronomer107 was trying to say.
  19. Jul 29, 2003 #18


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    I have carefully read "A New Kind Of Science" and I must admit that I immensely impressed by Wolfram's work. The book IS NOT just a compilation of what others have been doing for decades and it does contain radical and brilliant ideas.

    The biggest achievement of the book is Wolfram's "Principle Of Computational Equivalence". Through this principle, he posits that all axiomatic systems that are "Universal" are in the end equivalent. Wheter you are talking about the Algebra axiomatic system or the Cellular Automata axiomatic system or the Turing Machine system, they are in the end equivalent and you can "emulate" one with the other.

    With this, he rationalized Godel's theorem (I suggest you read on this) and shows that "Complete" axiomatic systems are "non-decidable" precisely because of computational irreducibility which states that some process cannot be approximated by "shortcut" mathematical equations. If you want to find out the outcome of this kind of processes, you need to do the computation explicitely. Then he goes on to formalize the concept of "proof" in math and shoes the the very reason that some theorems are so hard to prove lies in hist principle of computational equivalence. The axioms in which the theorem are build on feature computational irreducibility and the proofs become exceedingly long. In this setting, he shows that theorems are analogous to intital conditions in a CA.

    Basically, he shoes that we have been looking at the world through a peep-hole by restricting outselves to model the world via traditional mathematical axiomatic systems which may or may not be optimal for the task at hand. He says that (and I totally agree) that this "new kind of science" will not only empower uo to find new ways to achieve the purposes of techonology but will also and more importantly find new purposes for technology to achieve.

    Finally, I think he will get his Nobel Prize once the dust has settled, but I don't think he cares that much...

  20. Jul 29, 2003 #19
    I, too have read it in its entirety.

    However, Wolfram is arrogantly cocky at times, and so I must disagree with this statement.

    I was equally impressed as you, JAL.
  21. Jul 29, 2003 #20
    Re: revolution

    Not only do I think a revolution like that is possible, it's happened before and will happen again. A good example is the fact that no one knows what energy is. I proved in a different thread (Re: energy is ?) that the Newtonian definition of energy is an empty tautology.
    energy = capability of work
    work = dissipation of energy
    energy = the capabiltiy to dissipate energy
    (if e=cw,w=de then e=cde)
    What kind of half-ass definition is that? That's like the dictionary saying excited = past tense of excite. If you don't speak english, that definition doesn't tell you anything.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2003
  22. Jul 29, 2003 #21
    This looks like a very interesting book. Must go buy it..
  23. Sep 15, 2003 #22
    I must have missed this topic.

    I have just grabbed a copy of Wolfram's new book. I've read most of his scientific papers on the topic, so a lot of it is not to much of a suprise. I like the book from the popular science side of things, it so exciting. :wink:

    But I must say I find the constant use of the phrase, "...new kind of scince" annoying. After twenty years of research, you'd think Wolfram could at least have come up with a catchy new name for his new science.

    *Edit:- I somehow wrote kissed instead of missed in the first line, silly me.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2003
  24. Sep 15, 2003 #23
    I think that physics isnt about understanding reality, but modelling reality. At the moment our laws model much of our observed reality. But they are incomplete. I dont think you can say they are wrong, just like Newton wasnt wrong. Its all in the application. If you use the right model for the job, you are OK. New physics comes when you dont have a model for your observations so you make a new one.
  25. Sep 15, 2003 #24


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    The "foundation" of science is: check repeatedly to see if it works. The second point is: for any given data, there exist an infinite number of theories that will account for it. We do experiments to rule out some of them- but every scientist knows that you can NEVER prove a theory, you can only disprove it.
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