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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Rules Governing Complexity are Simple, Scientist Says

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Renownedscientist and mathematician Stephen Wolfram, Ph.D., lectured to a full house atthe SAC Auditorium on Friday as part of the Provost’s Lecture Series.Wolfram spoke about his new book, his discoveries and his work with cellularautomata.

    Wolfram is the creator of the computer software Mathematica and CEO of WolframResearch, Inc. He was introduced as ‘?one of the most distinguished,distinctive and controversial figures in his field.’

    Educated at Eton and Oxford, Wolfram receivedhis doctorate in theoretical physics from Caltech at the age of 20. In 1981,he became the youngest-ever recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship. Since1982, he has directed his career towards understanding the origins ofcomplexity in nature.

    Wolfram spoke about his 1200-page book A NewKind of Science,released last year. The book was the fruit of over 10 years of intense work,and focuses on his studies of the behavior of simple computer programs calledcellular automata. Using cellular automata and other theories, Wolfram hasproposed a ‘?fundamentally new conceptual framework’ for science andmathematics.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Cellularautomata allow scientists to observe populations of interacting’?cells,’ which follow a set of rules, growing into large, complexstructures. Cellular automata can be used to model many processes in nature,including snowflake formation and leaf growth, Wolfram said.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Wolfram’stheories propose that even with very simple rules, nature can generateextremely complicated behaviors. He rejects the assumption that ‘?to makesomething complicated, we have to start with complicated plans or usecomplicated rules.’ Instead, he said, the fabric of nature itself addsthis complexity.

    ‘?Simple rules and simple programs canproduce complicated behavior,’ he said. ‘?It’s as if naturehas some special secret,’ which allows complex systems to evolve fromsimple rules.

    Wolfram’s software Mathematica is used in a widevariety of fields, and is regarded as revolutionary. In the way that IsaacNewton created calculus to solve problems that were cumbersome using the mathof the day, Stephen Wolfram has created Mathematica as a platform forsolving problems that are very difficult using today’s math.

    allows computationswhich would otherwise take days to be done in

    minutes,Wolfram said. While some scientists express skepticism towards Wolfram’stheories and towards Mathematica, he stands firmly behind his work.

    Wolfram signed copies of A New Kind ofSciencebefore his speech. After the speech, he fielded questions from professors andstudents, mostly about applications of cellular automata to specific fields.

    Wolfram has been giving a series of lecturesaround the country, describing his ideas and discoveries. He has visited Stamfordand Caltech, among other universities, and is scheduled to visit Northwesternand MIT in April.

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ StonyBrook University has a campus-wide site license for Mathematica. Students or facultywho are interested in using the software should contact a computing center.

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