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Wolfram's Cosmos Theory May, or May Not, Compute

July 14, 2002

Re "The Code of the Cosmos," July 9: Stephen Wolfram's theory seems to be an attempt to develop a GUT, or grand unified theory, long sought by many as a "holy grail." Such a theory would necessarily integrate all of the current, disparate theories (gravity, electromagnetism, et al.), each of which may explain some smaller part of the cosmos.

The code that Wolfram is seeking may be the cosmos' equivalent of DNA. Such "universal DNA" as an ingredient of the big bang might help explain how a singularity could contain sufficient inconsistency to produce such a varied universe, and not the homogeneous sphere that one might expect. Just as DNA contains the "computer program" for life, might not a single, admittedly elegant line of code contain the instructions for the entire universe?

At one time, DNA was inconceivable. The question now is, of course, "Who wrote that code?"

Charles Lee



I found your article to be of tremendous interest. Wolfram's holistic/non-reductionist approach is commonly referred to as "complexity theory" and has a larger following than was apparent in your article. Many meteorologists, economists, geologists, biologists and artists have used this theory to achieve better results than were previously possible.

This study of nonlinear dynamic systems (including cosmology, evolution, art, the economy, fluid dynamics, the weather) has important implications for the future of mankind. One important tenet is that these systems are inherently unpredictable. This suggests that genetic modification of food and the environment should be absolutely avoided, and that the outcomes of "regime change" and other foreign policy concepts cannot be predicted, thus encouraging us to pursue other, more conservative, approaches. Complexity theory bridges science and beauty, art, mankind and the environment. Who says science is boring?

Gayle Ellett



Your account of this eccentric, possibly revolutionary physicist is wonderful and revelatory. However, it neglects to make one crucial observation that discredits Wolfram's entire theory that the universe and everything in it is reducible to a few short lines of elementary computer code: the principle of self-determination.

Computer code does only what its programmed parameters allow it to do. Human beings have no programmed parameters, with suicide being the most obvious manifestation of that. And since, for better or worse, human beings have taken control of the heretofore naturally programmed Earth, this planet also falls outside of the predictability of Wolfram's oversimplistic theory.

This much is predictable: Wolfram's appeal to the masses is a desperate attempt to encourage the public to validate something only the scientific community is capable of sanctioning.

Small wonder, then, that Wolfram conveniently circumvented the one community capable of squelching his Game Boy universe.

Chad M. Miller


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