This post is a reaction to recent NS article 'I'm an information pack rat', which deals with personality of Stephen Wolfram. But who first had the idea that the universe is a cellular automaton? Konrad Zuse? Edward Fredkin? Certainly not Stephen Wolfram. Apparently it's not the first case of foreign ideas "packed" by Wolfram [Jim Giles, Nature 417, 216 - 218 (2002)].
In 1969 Konrad Zuse published a book called Rechnender Raum (translated later as "Digital space") theorizing, that the universe was a cellular automaton. Juergen Schmidhuber discusses this on his website: Zuse's Thesis: The Universe is a Computer, that Konrad Zuse had the idea that the universe is running on a grid of computers as early as 1967. On the other hand, Plamen Petrov, being unaware of Zuse's work at the time, earlier dubbed this idea Fredkin's Thesis. Recently Schmidhuber observed, "Even earlier, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (who not only co-invented calculus but also built the first mechanical multiplier in 1670) caused a stir by claiming that everything is computable". Although it's clear, that Leibniz did not formulate the notion of a cellular automaton as such.
On the other hand, apparently Wolfram does not intend to imply that the universe is a classical cellular automaton--at least if you read the fine print. In the Notes for Chapter 9 on pages 1026 and 1027 of his book Wolfram does acknowledge the work of Zuse and Fredkin in a single sentence. Then he goes on to say that "no literal mechanistic model can ever in the end realistically be expected to work." I take this to refer to classical cellular automata. In his usual modest way he says, "...what must happen relies on phenomena discovered in this book--and involves the emergence of complex properties..."
It is not the first time that Wolfram has annoyed complexity researchers, who feel that he routinely fails to recognize the contributions made by others. "He tends to acknowledge people in two-point type," says one researcher. Indeed, A New Kind of Science lacks conventional references to prior work - although scientists and mathematicians including Cook are acknowledged in the book's notes section.
No doubt, Stephen Wolfram is reinnnesance personality of modern era. But I don't share ideas concerning cellular automata model of reality - in my opinion the appearance of Universe follows from principles of energy & information spreading in completely random particle system, i.e. it's randomness at its very very best. The problem of Stephen Wolfram is, he is overspecialized and biased to complexity perspective - so I'm perceiving his ideas as abstract and ad-hoced. After all, completely random Universe requires less strong postulates from Occam's razor perspective.
But we still could understand such stance from perspective of Simillia simillibus observatur theorem of AWT: every expert tends to see Universe in the light of its own specialization. Relativist would see it relativistic, aetherists like me would see it through particle field and computer scientist and mathematician would see it as a huge simulation or cellular automata model. It's logical, because every density fluctuation of Aether would interact with another fluctuations, which are similar in shape, size, energy density and so on.
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