Stephen Wolfram Q&A

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Some collected questions and answers by Stephen Wolfram

Questions may be edited for brevity; see links for full questions.

November 12, 2008

From: Interview by Carlos Gershenson, Complexity: 5 Questions

In your opinion, what is the most problematic aspect/concept of complexity?

In the early 1980s I was very excited about what I’d discovered about the origins of complexity, and I realized there was a whole “science of complexity” that could be built. I made quite an effort to promote “complex systems research” (I would have immediately called it “complexity theory”, but wanted to avoid the field of theoretical computer science that was then using that name).

But it’s always a challenge to inject new ideas and methods. People liked the concept of complexity that I’d outlined, and increasingly used it as a label. But I was a bit disappointed that the basic science didn’t seem to be advancing. It seemed like people were just taking whatever methods they already knew, and applying them to different systems (usually with rather little success), and saying they were studying “complexity”.

It seemed to me that to really study the core phenomena—the true basic science of complexity—one needed a new kind of science. So I ended up spending a decade filling in that vision in my book A New Kind of Science. I’m happy to say that since my book appeared, there’s been an increasingly good understanding of the new kind of basic science that can be done. There’s been more and more “pure NKS” done—that gives us great raw material to study both the basic phenomenon of complexity, and its applications in lots of fields.

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