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Simon’s first steps in Stephen Wolfram’s Computational Universe

Simon has been enjoying Stephen Wolfram’s huge volume called A New Kind of Science and is generally growingly fascinated with Wolfram’s visionary ideas about the computational universe. We have been reading the 1500-page A New Kind of Science every night for several weeks now, Simon voraciously soaking up the behaviour of hundreds of simple programs like cellular automata.

Wolfram’s main message is that, contrary to our intuition, simple rules can result in complex and often seemingly random behaviour and since humanity now has the computer as a tool to study and simulate that behaviour, it could open a beautiful new alternative to the existing models used in science. According to Wolfram, we may soon realise that the mathematical models we are currently using, based on equations and constraints instead of simple rules, are merely a historical artefact. I’m amazed at how much this is in line with Simon’s own tentative thoughts he was sharing with me earlier this year, about how maths will be taken over by computer science and how algorithms are a more powerful tool than equations. When he came up with those ideas he hadn’t discovered Wolfram’s research and philosophy yet, he used to only know Wolfram as the creator of Wolfram Mathematica and the Wolfram language, both of which Simon greatly admires for being so advanced.

Last night, Simon was watching a TED talk Stephen Wolfram gave in 2010 about the possibilities of computing the much aspired theory of everything, but not in the traditional mathematical way. “It’s about the universe!” Simon whispered to me wide-eyed, when I came to the living room to fetch him. “Mom, and you know who was in the audience there? Benoit Mandelbrot!” (Simon knows Mandelbrot died the same year, he is intrigued by the fact that his and Mandelbrot’s lifetimes have actually overlapped by one year).

We have been informed by the World Science Scholars program that Stephen Wolfram will be one of the professors preparing a course for this year’s scholars cohort, so Simon will have the unique experience of taking that course and engaging in a live session with Stephen Wolfram. It is breathtaking, a chance to connect with someone who is much older, renowned and accomplished, and at the same time so like-minded, a soulmate.

Inspired by reading Stephen Wolfram, Simon has revisited the world of cellular automata and Turing machines, and created a few beautiful Langton’s Ants:

Link to Simon’s sketch on p5: https://editor.p5js.org/simontiger/sketches/sHa6d-AFf
Simon especially likes the last example in the video: “I think of it as triangular houses surrounding a flower garden!”

Simon has also watched a talk by Stephen Wolfram for MIT course 6.S099: Artificial General Intelligence. He said it had things in it about Wolfram Alpha that he didn’t know yet.

One thought on “Simon’s first steps in Stephen Wolfram’s Computational Universe

  1. Pingback: World Science Scholars Feature Simon’s visit to CERN in a newsletter. The current course is about neurons. Reading Stephen Wolfram. | antwerpenhomeschooling

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