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    Stephen Wolfram is considered a crank by professional scientists; see for example Scott Aaronson’s review of Wolfram’s A new kind of science.

    The “buyer beware” signal from this breathless celebration of Wolfram’s genius (by Wolfram) is strong.

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      Also this one about him suing people for writing math proofs: http://bactra.org/reviews/wolfram/

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        Thanks so much for sharing that. It’s sent me down a rabbit hole for the past two hours, in the course of which I have discovered many fascinating things. Like Natalie Portman having an Erdös-Bacon-Sabbath number of 11.

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        I approach these kinds of things from a philosophical perspective so for me reading Stephen Hawking and reading the Bhagavad Gita are both valid forms of investigation of the universe. The idea that ‘professional scientists don’t approve your choice of reading material’ has always been something that I find very annoying and unhelpful. It is essentially none of their business what I read.

        Even if I were about to spend money or time building an experimental setup based on the information in that article, that would still be valid science if I did it rigorously and correctly. Any result achieved by the setup would be valid science and either falsify or fail to falsify the tested hypothesis.

        If thinkers always listened to what ‘professional scientists’ said we would have no plate tectonics, no theory of evolution, and no germ theory, to name just a few.

        I think I phrased this more harshly than I meant to, your comment is relevant and may be of use to some readers. But I can’t let it go unchallenged as I find there are a lot of impressionable science enthusiasts that read something like that and take it as an invitation to start sending hate mail and flaming people on forums for discussing this kind of idea. I feel like blindly clinging to accepted dogma is extremely detrimental to the practice of good science, whereas wild imaginative ideas with little supporting evidence have proven to be quite beneficial to it in the past.

        I will also admit that the breathless celebration of one’s own genius, as shown by Wolfram and others, is also annoying and unhelpful. Nevertheless I found this article fascinating and I am glad it was shared here.

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          I feel like blindly clinging to accepted dogma is extremely detrimental to the practice of good science, whereas wild imaginative ideas with little supporting evidence have proven to be quite beneficial to it in the past.

          I agree and I’m going to explain how at length.

          The scientific method is a way of establishing consensus. It is a tool made by humans for other humans. Over time a culture and a way of doing things has developed around it.

          The two main products of science are theories that explain observed phenomena and observations and experiments that can confirm or refute theories. Because of the values of the culture of science (squishy humans like the things they know), any new theory has to explain existing observations as well or better than the incumbents. A more complex, technically difficult, or simply innovative can only replace existing theories if it explains more known phenomena, or predicts new phenomena that can be verified.

          This is how, for example, the Copernican view of the solar system won out, or how general relativity replaced Newtonian gravity, a vastly simpler theory. As far as I know, wild imaginative ideas (quantum mechanics, relativity, Newtonian physics, the Copernican view, …) have won out because they have been supported by evidence (the double-slit experiment, the Michelson-Morley experiment, elliptical orbits, phases on Venus, …).

          When Einstein proposed general relativity, he was literally an Einstein in the current cultural meaning of the term. Nonetheless, he had to provide an extensive list of predictions (gravity lenses, the orbit of Mercury, gravitational redshift) that were not explained by Newton’s theory for his extremely technically complicated new theory to be accepted.

          This brings us to Wolfram. He has done none of those things. He has not shown how his framework explains existing phenomena. He has not made new predictions that can be verified experimentally. What he has done is make some models and proclaimed himself a genius. He doesn’t want to do the work needed to be accepted within the scientific system, and just new ideas are not enough to move the consensus.

          The thing is, his ideas are out there. If he explains them well enough, they can be picked up by people who are willing to work within the squishy system of science. If they have genuinely new things to offer, they will be accepted, because they’ll offer a competitive advantage to the people who accept them, who will be able to figure out new things faster.

          Wolfram has been proclaiming himself a genius since the 80’s, and no one has yet taken him up on his offerings.

          I approach these kinds of things from a philosophical perspective so for me reading Stephen Hawking and reading the Bhagavad Gita are both valid forms of investigation of the universe.

          Hey, whatever works for you. Historically, we’ve tried similar approaches to building knowledge consensus (shamanism, ancient Greek philosophy, religion, etc) and when they work they end up much more dogmatic and hostile to outside challenges than the scientific method. If you’re just doing things for yourself you don’t need any consensus.

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            This brings us to Wolfram. He has done none of those things. He has not shown how his framework explains existing phenomena.

            Isn’t that what the Physics project is about? Also in this article, he explains several existing phenomena, at least in broad outlines with links to details. I am not in position to verify his claims, but the article offers some explanations and link to details.

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          I read Wolfram always with some kind of hope. I am kind of biased in that what he aims for most likely won’t work / fail, but on the other hand, I think sometimes there are interesting ideas in between. I’m looking there sometimes for smaller ideas that I can comprehend.

          But thanks for the critique! I needed that

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            He definitely has a habit of claiming original insights and not citing prior work. But I think “crank” means something different – it’s someone who doesn’t actually understand the field, has no background in it, but claims original insights (that usually fall down really quickly).

            I think Scott Aaronson has a good page about how to tell if someone’s a crank without doing a full reading.

            https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=304

            Wolfram goes beyond factual claims and “sells” his stuff pretty hard, and this post seems like a good example of that.

            I would put him in a different category than “crank” though. He’s more like talented guy who became an “outsider scientist”, and I would say there’s nonzero probability that he’s right about something interesting, even if he is going about it in a very ham-fisted way…

            It’s definitely impressive he managed to build a profitable company and work on improving the same software for decades… Cranks don’t do that. You can’t be totally “out of it” and accomplish that.

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              If you read through the article, it covers many of Scott Aarsonson’s concerns.