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Stephen Wolfram
January 4, 2001 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Stephen Wolfram [article from] could become the world's greatest thinker, or the world's biggest fool. Could he be the next Einstein?
posted by PWA_BadBoy (9 comments total)

I think we decided that no, he couldn't be the next Einstein. Kauffman might though, IMO.
posted by sylloge at 5:27 PM on January 4, 2001

Alas, Kauffman has decided to truck for the bucks like everyone else in the post-90s.
posted by rodii at 8:08 PM on January 4, 2001

Sigh. Sorry sylloge. I really ought to search for the URL before posting it. :(

Interesting article though
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 10:49 PM on January 4, 2001

The article was interesting enough to get me to put Wolfram's book on my wish list. I can't say whether the guy will revolutionize scence, but he's obviously way smarter than me and I'll bet his book will be well worth reading just for that reason.
posted by kindall at 6:57 AM on January 5, 2001

PWA - no problem. It happens :)

And thanks for the link rodii. Disappointing.
posted by sylloge at 10:33 AM on January 5, 2001

Sure. It *is* disappointing, because, well, I can't imagine Feynman or Gell-Mann trying to capitalize on their research, and because people liked Doyne Farmer (and Stephen Wolfram, for that matter) stopped being interesting when they did. Is there a fundamental conflict between truly original science and commerce? I don't *think* I'm being a Slashdot-style open-everything zealot. There's something about open, disinterested blue-sky inquiry that just seems to die when it gets measured on money terms. Am I wrong?
posted by rodii at 7:16 PM on January 5, 2001

Feynman wrote several books. Is that selling out?

Rodii, I don't think it's quite that black-and-white. (You should pardon the phrase.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:38 PM on January 5, 2001

Oh yes, god forbid a great physicist write a few amusing collections of anecdotes, and textbooks to teach the aspirants. The Kauffman case is absolutely different. One problem with the biznis-driven 'science' is that you've got to project whatever unrealistically assured image the buyers would find most appealing. And it's not like Kauffman would have trouble finding funding for whatever 'disinterested blue-sky inquiry' he might want to undertake.
posted by EngineBeak at 12:08 PM on January 6, 2001

I know it's not black-and-white. That's why I tried to project a little nuance above.[*] But there is a difference between writing books (a traditional way of disseminating information within and without the academy) and starting a corporation (a traditional way of sequestering information from people who can't or won't pay for it).

It's the MIT model of technology transfer, I guess (Pattie Maes, Rod Brooks and many others have done it in recent years). But technology transfer isn't the same thing as basic research. Think Feynman and Wheeler would have been thinking about retarded and advanced waves or quantum foam if a bunch of investors worrying about due diligence were checking in every couple days?

All that aside, I don't know what's in Stuart Kauffman's heart. He based his reputation on research that was considered laughable at the time, as unpromising as it can get. When it paid off--if it ever pays off in anything but cool-idea credit--it's hard to blame him for wanting payback. But, as Stewart said, it's disappointing.

*I picked my examples carefully--Feynman and Gell-Mann were both pure scientists who did important work and still managed to reap some real-world rewards, as opposed to Julian Schwinger, who matched Feynman step for step but didn't. If you think I'm saying Schwinger is "better" than Feynman because he was "purer," your'e misunderstanding me.
posted by rodii at 1:07 PM on January 6, 2001

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