Saw Rivers and Tides last night, a documentary on the environmental artist (as in, site specific art) Andy Goldsworthy. It’s an exceptional documentary about an exceptional artist. It’s incredibly rare for a major artist to come across in a documentary in an approachable manner. I guess the movie will not be released outside of San Francisco for several months, but when it does, I’m sure it will do very well in the arthouse circuit.
A review of A New Kind of Science in New Scientist makes the excellent point that one of the huge problems with it is that it doesn’t make disprovable claims. One thing that’s been interesting is that the reviews of ANKoS have been quite mild, while its flaws are obvious. This is certainly due in part to the respect that one should accord Wolfram for his role in developing the theories of cellular automata. But as ANKoS is a book that I feel qualified in making absolute statements about, it makes me wonder about The Skeptical Environmentalist, which has been absolutely excoriated in the scientific press. Is that book just monumentally bad or are the attacks on it just so much more vehement than on ANKoS because The Skeptical Environmentalist is politically incorrect?
Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science is execrable. It’s 1100 pages based on a point that everyone interested in the subject already knew: simple cellular automata can have arbitrarily complex behavior. Given that CAs and Turing Machines are the particle accelerators of computer science, and given the heavy buzz related to algorithmic thermodynamics, and given Wolfram’s claims, a reasonable expectation of this book is that the “new kind of science” might, oh I don’t know, consist of something more than 1100 pages of “Look at the pictures and you’ll develop an intuition that I’m a genius.” Instead, Wolfram seems to think that the generation of complex sequences from simple rules is some kind of shattering revelation. At first, you think “Okay, maybe I’m missing something,” but there’s no there there. It’s as if Wolfram had never heard of complex numbers, had never heard of pi (which can also be generated from a simple formula).
For a much better popular book on the deep relationship between computer science and physics, try Fire In The Mind. For something meatier, I like Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information: The Proceedings of the 1988 Workshop on Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information.