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A New Kind of Science

I know from past topics some of you like this kind of stuff, so I just wanted to let you know that Stephen Wolframs Stanford University talk in the Seminar on Computer Systems series is up on murl.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, February 28, 2003

I think I have already asked if anyone here is interested in digital physics and no one answered.
No one could see the connections between computer science and linguistics, either. People are not usually able to see connections between closely related fields, sadly enough.
Donald Knuth mentioned DP in his lectures about God and computers. I have believed for a long time that our world is made out of information, rather than "matter" (whatever that is).
As far as I know the ideas of DP started with Ed Fredkin and cellular automata, and the "life" game.

The Real PC
Friday, February 28, 2003

History of cellular automata

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, February 28, 2003

Interesting things, these theories.
I think cs is giving a new way of looking on physics. Not necessarily that the universum really _is_ a computer, but that it can be viewed as a computer, and using computer thinking on its workings can yield valid and interesting results. Really, what this really means is that instead of using mathematics as an instrument, you use a computer model as an instrument.
But, historically speaking, any fundamentally new way of seeing things in science takes a lot of time to be accepted.

Friday, February 28, 2003

The reviews on for his book are amusing to read.

Go Linux Go!
Friday, February 28, 2003

I believe it was Skeptic magazine or something like that, and it did a feature on a presentation Wolfram gave to a panel/group of scientists.

One of the points made against Wolfram was that, according to everything he has said, cellular automata would represent a "new" kind of _computation_, not a "new" kind of science. It is merely one more tool for science to use, and it doesn't really seem all that useful either.

Ultimately it was the consensus that, while cellular automata could come to be a greatly useful computational tool in various fields of science, and possibly open up a field of study of its own, only time will tell just how useful it would be. No one, save Wolfram, seemed to think it would be an actual revolution in science - only a bit of an evolution, at best, if it amounted to anything at all.

It was also noted that Wolfram just so happens to follow the exact formula of all sorts of scientists-gone-kooks in the past - working alone, self-publishing in a book rather than in peer-reviewed journals, one big huge book yet no articles (so far) have been published in peer reviewed journals, not acknowleding the work of other scientists, most of the footnotes refer to his own works and further comments, not to support for the things he says, and many grandious claims of how many practical and useful applications there are of various things, yet he presents nothing that is actually Direct and Specific. All bad signs.

He surely has advanced the field of cellular automata in various ways. But that, it seems, is about it.

Brian Hall
Friday, February 28, 2003

I wouldn't assume that no one could make the connection between linguistics and computing just because no one was interested in a thread that contained it.

If you want to see an example of the Universe as an addressable store, see NULL-A by A.E Van Vogt.

Simon Lucy
Friday, February 28, 2003

"Is the Universe a Computer"

From the latest JOHO:

Friday, February 28, 2003

[I believe it was Skeptic magazine or something like that]

The skeptic web sites I've seen are basically against any ideas different from the status quo. I am 100% for skepticism, but simply dismissing any idea different from what you already know is not skepticism, it's fundamentalism.
I've seen articles in the skeptic's dictionary, for example, that reject research even without any evidence against it, because it doesn't fit their pre-conceived world view.
I'm not defending Wolfram's book and didn't read it (who has time for that?). I have a vague concept of the implications of DP and CA, and it makes sense to me anyway.
My point is this: be very skeptical of the so-called skeptics. DP says the universe is discrete, and that is a radically different perspective, and I think will turn out to be very important.

The Real PC
Friday, February 28, 2003

I am 100% for skepticism, but simply dismissing any idea different from what you already know is not skepticism, it's fundamentalism.

Oh I quite agree - to not be skeptical of skeptics would make one not much of a skeptic ;)

The point was, however, that it was the panel/group at his presentation that was doing most of the questioning/debating and such. It was the skeptical magazine, or article - I just can't recall - that was relaying the information and commenting on it. 

Further, due to the way it was written it was not at all merely dismissing anything - it was, however, noting just how lacking in support many of the claims for a "new kind of science" are. In short, the evidence does not support his conclusions and assertions. To put a fine point on it, "They laughed at Einstein...but they also laughed at Boso the Clown."

The conclusion as a whole was that it is likely much less than the hype, and not a "new kind of science", but surely some interesting things will come out of it - just nothing like Wolfram seems to think.

Brian Hall
Saturday, March 01, 2003

Oh, and:

I've seen articles in the skeptic's dictionary, for example, that reject research even without any evidence against it, because it doesn't fit their pre-conceived world view.

This is new to me - do you have a more specific example?

I have seen him - the author of the dictionary - be a bit free with logic and dismissal in his various email exchanges and such on the site, but beyond that I'm aware of nothing quite like what you are talking about.

Brian Hall
Saturday, March 01, 2003

They accuse the researchers of cheating, etc., without a shred of evidence.

I have seen this kind of illogical hysterical accusation lot. If the results contradict materialist assumptions, the research must be flawed. Many so-called skeptics cannot deal with the thought of materialism being obsolete. They are not skeptics they are narrow-minded defenders of a faith.

And I do think DP is a new kind of science. Thinking of the universe as made of information (or relationships) is very different from the traditional approach. There is no ultimate particle; ultimately all matter is mental and the universe is just a big mind.

DP does not necessarily lead to a religious outlook, but DP and religion (or mysticism, or whatever you want to call it) are compatible.
I think that's why Knuth likes it.
I read part of Fredkin's website and he seems to be an atheist, though. DP does not require faith in higher intelligence. 

The Real PC
Saturday, March 01, 2003

That's a pretty harsh way to spin that article, PC.

Given the choice between several mundane causes of an unexplained phenomenon, and one exotic cause of the same phenomenon, it's natural to suspect a mundane cause over the exotic one. 

In this case the mundane causes suggested are ones that have plauged scientific investigation since the dawn of time, let alone scientific investigation of THIS particular phenomenon: selection effects, drawing conclusions from marginal experimental results, human error, self deception, and yes ... even outright cheating.

A result of one part in a thousand ... the miscatagorization of one test, or the rejection of one experiment in a thousand would be enough to produce an effect like this.  Sounds pretty close to the natural human error rate, actually.

* * *

"I have believed for a long time that our world is made out of information, rather than "matter" (whatever that is)."

As for myself, I've long believed that the world is made out of matter, rather than "information" (whatever that is).

Granted, it's not as sexy a worldview as idealistic monism ("all is mind"), but at least it squares with my general observations ...

Namely, that information is what we call matter in organized form, that consciousness is an emergent property of matter organized in complex form.  To say it is the other way around, that matter is information in the concrete form, is totally unconvincing to me and alien to my experience.

Put simply, I've noticed something unusually strange about my universe: it takes a material brain to think.  Never saw a rock or a puff of wind that was capable of such a thing.  There's a fantastic correlation between the complexity of a brain (or computer) and its apparent ability to process information ... and I don't think that's a coincidence.

Moreover, there's also the interesting phenomenon that if the material structure of a brain or computer is disturbed, its ability to process information is likewise significantly affected.

So I can understand matter divorced from intelligence, but I cannot concieve of intelligence liberated from its material bonds.

Maybe that says more about my lack of imagination, or my "fundamentalist" materialism, but I doubt it ...

* * *

Now to touch briefly on the original topic of this thread ...

So it appears that the universe and cellular atomata both display the property of complex structures arising from simple rules.

Fascinating.  So what new insight does this give us about the universe in which we live?

(time passes)

I'm .... still ... waiting ...

Hrmmm, maybe the whole universe we know is a computer simulation.  Maybe there's a horde of Cartesian Demons trying to decieve me about everything, maybe everything's a figment of my imagination.  But, you know, I got my surrealism fix from watching the Matrix; it was good entertainment, but to seriously contemplate such a fundamentally unprovable and fantastic hypothesis is really a waste of brain cycles.

I think some people have a fetish for being more fascinated with the analogy they've cleverly discovered between two seemingly unrelated items, than in investigating the unique and individual aspects of the things themselves.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

In implying the PEAR researchers are making stupid mistakes or cheating, after 20 years of observing this kind of effect, skepdic is really grasping at straws.
As for being a materialist, there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you are open-minded and willing to consider the evidence against it. Keep in mind you are observing only from a human, 4-D perspective. And don't assume everyone who has ever communicated with "supernatural" beings is a lunatic, and don't assume every psychic researcher is a fraud or stupid. If you can form an objective and unbiased, and informed, opinion that reality starts with matter, not information, there's nothing wrong with that. (Except that it's bizarre to insist that there is any ultimate particle, but anyway).
Regarding the Matrix:
The philosophy behind the movie, like most science fiction, is materialist. Even though our world is a virtual reality, there is a material reality that generates it. But the idea that our reality is "computer-generated" is, if you think DP may be valid, quite reasonable.

The Real PC
Sunday, March 02, 2003

Let me get this straight ...

When myself, the skeptic's dictionary, and others suggest that the list of usual suspects may be responsible for the modest results of the micro-PK experiments, that's "grasping at straws", but to attribute it to some ill-defined and completely mysterious "power of the mind" which has no grounding in the laws of physics that we know of up until now, well, that's somehow not grasping at straws?

I really wonder what your basis of comparison is.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

When scientists review each others research, they do not say "your results may be due to deliberate cheating or errors." Not unless they have some evidence to back up the accusation.
Skepdic feels free to make accusations without evidence.
You said PK is not explained by the so-called known laws of physics. What you really mean is it doesn't fit your pre-conceptions.
If Princeton University thought the PEAR researchers were idiots, frauds or lunatics they would not continue supporting it. Obviously.

The Real PC
Monday, March 03, 2003


The whole point of the review system is to weed out errors and cheating (broadly speaking). This is why many are appalled by the stances taken by some of the leading scientific journals in light of the recent frauds.
Yes, we may not like how in certain instances the mechanisms of the scientific community have become corrupted, but that does not mean we throw out the child with the bathwater.
If you are going to ask the world to accept some radical new theories that requires throwing out some of the very basic hypotheses that have been supported by an enormous amount of rigorous empirical evidence, you better have some pretty convincing irrefutable stuff to back it up. A single unrepeatable experiment in some very vague circumstances should not get you a long way.
Science has no truths, only things that have so far not been proven wrong. This does not mean that it’s a case of "anything goes". Any new theory still is weight against the current "top dog" and has to tilt the balance in its favor when all the supporting evidence is put on the scales.

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

You missed the whole point of my conversation with Alyosha. I understand the scientific review process perfectly well. Skepdic is not, first of all, a scientific reviewer. Referees are peers within the field who understand the research. Secondly, Skepdic did not review or criticize the PEAR research, and they did not find any faults with it. Skepdic stated that the results may have been due to fraud or errors. Well that is always true about any research.
The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research does not consist of a single unrepeatable experiment. It consists of over 20 years of finding the same kind of effect in many different experiments.
The status quo belief in contemporary physics is that mind has no existence of its own, apart from a brain or machine in our so-called physical world. So yes, you are right the results of the PEAR research goes against  currently accepted ideas. And that is exactly why Skepdic made its criticial statement even though it found nothing to criticize. The bias against ideas that don't fit with the prevailing views can be tremendous. Skepdic represents a very reactionary and "fundamentalist" faction -- it's much more interested in being "right" than in finding out what is true.
The idea that mind can exist without matter has been around forever and is still what most people everywhere believe. This has been confirmed many times by parapsychologists, and by the personal experiences of human beings everywhere. Materialists ought to at least consider the evidence, rather than automatically dismiss it as resulting from fraud or error.
Parapsychology has been around for 100 years and has developed methodologies that are more carefully controlled than other branches of science, because it is more likely to be accused of fraud or error.

The Real PC
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

I would seek to discuss this further but, well, I'm afraid you've caught me on an issue I have argued, or witnessed argued, to the point that my eyes glaze over everytime I see the word "PEAR"; I think I'm going to develop an alergy to the fruit, at this rate.

And frankly, every time I see the word "materialism" I get the same effect; too many debates with too many people, and not a single one has proven to impress.

So I'll just cut to the conclusion:

Side 1) PEAR is useless crap, utterly unreliable to come to absolutely any conclusion at all - except that PEAR is a fine example that if you look hard enough and are willing to except a small enough anomaly, you can prove anything.

Side 2) Dunno, could go either way.

Side 3) Materliasts blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah *falls into coma*

There, I just saved us hours of an absolute complete waste of time.

Brian Hall
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Ghostbusters was a cool film, though.

Neil E
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

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