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A New Kind of Science


Thank you very much for interest in "A New Kind of Science."

I soon started the first research center in the field (the Center for Complex Systems Research at the University of Illinois), and the first journal (Complex Systems). I encouraged the then-embryonic Santa Fe Institute to get into the field (which they did), and did my best to expand support for the field. But things went far too slowly for me—and in 1986 I decided that a better personal strategy would be to build the best possible tools I could (Mathematica), get the best possible personal environment (Wolfram Research), and then have the fun of doing the research myself. And indeed this is how I came to embark on A New Kind of Science, and ultimately to take things in a rather different direction.

On a crisp morning in February this year, I am off to Champaign to sit down with Wolfram for the first time since that night in Berkeley a decade ago. Only a few days before, he absolutely, positively completed A New Kind of Science. Still trying to acclimate himself to the weird circumstance of being awake at 9 in the morning, the CEO is making a rare appearance at Wolfram Research, located in an six-story office building not far from the university campus, to review some projects. (The book itself – 50,000 copies – is about to roll off presses at a Canadian printer, the only operation in the western hemisphere that Wolfram judged capable of rendering the high-definition graphics and illustrations. It will cost $12 a copy to print – five or six times that of a conventional book – making its $45 cover price somewhat of a bargain.) What was a mop of unruly hair when we last met is now a balding pate. He wears a tweed jacket, slacks, and sneakers, the picture of a software executive.

Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science

1 The Foundations for a New Kind of Science
2 The Crucial Experiment
3 The World of Simple Programs
4 Systems Based on Numbers
5 Two Dimensions and Beyond
6 Starting from Randomness
7 Mechanisms in Programs and Nature
8 Implications for Everyday Systems
9 Fundamental Physics
10 Processes of Perception and Analysis
11 The Notion of Computation
12 The Principle of Computational Equivalence

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So how should people find out about NKS? Well, I put all the effort I did into writing A New Kind of Science to make that as easy as possible for as broad a range of people as possible. And I think that for the most part that worked out very well. Indeed, it’s been remarkable over the past decade how many people I’ve run into—often in unexpected places—who seem to have read and absorbed the contents of the NKS book.

Mathematica turned out to be invaluable to Wolfram, allowing him to pursue his real dream of making a mammoth contribution to scientific understanding. On a mundane level, the company brought him the wealth and resources to proceed with his book without having to worry about income or research grants – since Wolfram Research was a private company, with the majority of shares owned by its founder, there was no problem spending millions of dollars on a personal science project. More significantly, the creator of the software turned out to be its most avid consumer. Mathematica was a powerful tool to run the experiments that formed the basis of his "new kind of science." A couple of years after the program was finished, Wolfram gushed to me that "I've been going back and redoing problems, and it's spectacular – things that once took me a week to do now take a half hour." Wolfram had given himself the ammunition to remake science, and in 1991, he withdrew his physical presence from the company to concentrate on the book. So began his days as a recluse.