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.

February 23, 2016

From: Reddit AMA

You are a physicist who seems very keen on understanding the fabric of the universe at the most primitive levels. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard your thoughts on consciousness/qualia. Have you given it much thought?

I think the most interesting issue here is whether there’s a formal theory of the concepts that we seem to form with consciousness, independent of a theory of the physical world. No doubt our actual consciousness emerges from a theory of the physical world, but we can ask whether we can have a formal theory of concepts that doesn’t rely on connection to the physical world.

I think the answer is definitely yes, and in a sense that’s what the idea of computation—and universal computation—gives us. We can have a symbolic representation of how any world operates, independent of the details of the physics of our particular world. The notion of working with symbolic representation is at the core of the Wolfram Language, and I’m really interested in using the language to represent the kinds of concepts that people seem to form in their minds. The notion of developing “philosophical languages” that can handle things like this was quite popular in the 1600s (Leibniz, Wilkins, etc.) but has gone out of fashion since. I think with the Wolfram Language—between its symbolic character, and the fact that it knows and can represent a lot about the real world—we finally have platform to do this for real, and that’s something I’m hoping to pursue.

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