Multicomputation with Numbers: The Case of Simple Multiway Systems

Wolfram Physics Bulletin

Informal updates and commentary on progress in the Wolfram Physics Project

A Minimal Example of Multicomputation

Multicomputation is an important new paradigm, but one that can be quite difficult to understand. Here my goal is to discuss a minimal example: multiway systems based on numbers. Many general multicomputational phenomena will show up here in simple forms (though others will not). And the involvement of numbers will often allow us to make immediate use of traditional mathematical methods.

A multiway system can be described as taking each of its states and repeatedly replacing it according to some rule or rules with a collection of states, merging any states produced that are identical. In our Physics Project, the states are combinations of relations between elements, represented by hypergraphs. We’ve also often considered string substitution systems, in which the states are strings of characters. But here I’ll consider the case in which the states are numbers, and for now just single integers.

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Charting a Course for “Complexity”: Metamodeling, Ruliology and More

This is the first of a series of pieces I’m planning in connection with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the publication of A New Kind of Science.

“There’s a Whole New Field to Build…”

For me the story began nearly 50 years ago—with what I saw as a great and fundamental mystery of science. We see all sorts of complexity in nature and elsewhere. But where does it come from? How is it made? There are so many examples. Snowflakes. Galaxies. Lifeforms. Turbulence. Did they all work differently? Or was there some common underlying cause? Some essential “phenomenon of complexity”?

It was 1980 when I began to seriously work on these questions. And at first I did so in the main scientific paradigm I knew: models based on mathematics and mathematical equations. I studied the approaches people had tried to use. Nonequilibrium thermodynamics. Synergetics. Nonlinear dynamics. Cybernetics. General systems theory. I imagined that the key question was: “Starting from disorder and randomness, how could spontaneous self-organization occur, to produce the complexity we see?” For somehow I assumed that complexity must be created as a kind of filtering of ubiquitous thermodynamic-like randomness in the world.

At first I didn’t get very far. I could write down equations and do math. But there wasn’t any real complexity in sight. But in a quirk of history that I now realize had tremendous significance, I had just spent a couple of years creating a big computer system that was ultimately a direct forerunner of our modern Wolfram Language. So for me it was obvious: if I couldn’t figure out things myself with math, I should use a computer. Continue reading

Even beyond Physics: Introducing Multicomputation as a Fourth General Paradigm for Theoretical Science

Even beyond Physics: Introducing Multicomputation as a Fourth General Paradigm for Theoretical Science

The Path to a New Paradigm

One might have thought it was already exciting enough for our Physics Project to be showing a path to a fundamental theory of physics and a fundamental description of how our physical universe works. But what I’ve increasingly been realizing is that actually it’s showing us something even bigger and deeper: a whole fundamentally new paradigm for making models and in general for doing theoretical science. And I fully expect that this new paradigm will give us ways to address a remarkable range of longstanding central problems in all sorts of areas of science—as well as suggesting whole new areas and new directions to pursue. Continue reading

1920, 2020 and a $20,000 Prize: Announcing the S Combinator Challenge

1920, 2020 and a $20,000 Prize: Announcing the S Combinator Challenge

Hiding in Plain Sight for a Century?

On December 7, 1920, Moses Schönfinkel introduced the S and K combinators—and in doing so provided the first explicit example of a system capable of what we now call universal computation. A hundred years later—as I prepared to celebrate the centenary of combinators—I decided it was time to try using modern computational methods to see what we could now learn about combinators. And in doing this, I got a surprise.

It’s already remarkable that S and K yield universal computation. But from my explorations I began to think that something even more remarkable might be true, and that in fact S alone might be sufficient to achieve universal computation. Or in other words, that just applying the rule

S f g xf[x][g[x]]

over and over again might be all that’s needed to do any computation that can be done.

I don’t know for sure that this is true, though I’ve amassed empirical evidence that seems to point in this direction. And today I’m announcing a prize of $20,000 (yes, the “20” goes with the 1920 invention of combinators, and the 2020 making of my conjecture) for proving—or disproving—that the S combinator alone can support universal computation. Continue reading

How Inevitable Is the Concept of Numbers?

Based on a talk at Numerous Numerosity: An interdisciplinary meeting on the notions of cardinality, ordinality and arithmetic across the sciences.

Everyone Has to Have Numbers… Don’t They?

The aliens arrive in a starship. Surely, one might think, to have all that technology they must have the idea of numbers. Or maybe one finds an uncontacted tribe deep in the jungle. Surely they too must have the idea of numbers. To us numbers seem so natural—and “obvious”—that it’s hard to imagine everyone wouldn’t have them. But if one digs a little deeper, it’s not so clear.

It’s said that there are human languages that have words for “one”, “a pair” and “many”, but no words for specific larger numbers. In our modern technological world that seems unthinkable. But imagine you’re out in the jungle, with your dogs. Each dog has particular characteristics, and most likely a particular name. Why should you ever think about them collectively, as all “just dogs”, amenable to being counted? Continue reading

Launching Version 12.3 of Wolfram Language & Mathematica

Livecoding & Q&A With Stephen Wolfram

Look What We Made in Five Months!

It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this for 35 years, building a taller and taller tower of ideas and technology that allow us to reach ever further. In earlier times we used to release the results of efforts only every few years. But in recent times we’ve started doing incremental (“.1”) releases that deliver our latest R&D achievements—both fully fleshed out, and partly as “coming attractions”—much more frequently.

We released Version 12.2 on December 16, 2020. And today, just five months later, we’re releasing Version 12.3. There are some breakthroughs and major new directions in 12.3. But much of what’s in 12.3 is just about making Wolfram Language and Mathematica better, smoother and more convenient to use. Things are faster. More “But what about ___?” cases are handled. Big frameworks are more completely filled out. And there are lots of new conveniences.

There are also the first pieces of what will become large-scale structures in the future. Early functions—already highly useful in their own right—that will in future releases be pieces of major systemwide frameworks. Continue reading

The Problem of Distributed Consensus

Distributed Consensus with Cellular Automata & Related Systems Research Conference

In preparation for a conference entitled “Distributed Consensus with Cellular Automata & Related Systems” that we’re organizing with NKN (= “New Kind of Network”) I decided to explore the problem of distributed consensus using methods from A New Kind of Science (yes, NKN “rhymes” with NKS) as well as from the Wolfram Physics Project.

A Simple Example

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BlockRandom[SeedRandom[77]; 
 Module[{pts = 
    RandomPointConfiguration[HardcorePointProcess[0.09, 2, 2], 
      Rectangle[{0, 0}, {40, 40}]]["Points"], clrs}, 
  clrs = Table[
    RandomChoice[{.65, .35} -> {Hue[0.15, 0.72, 1], Hue[
       0.98, 1, 0.8200000000000001]}], Length[pts]]; 
  Graphics[{EdgeForm[Gray], 
    Table[Style[Disk[pts[[n]]], clrs[[n]]], {n, 
      Range[Length[pts]]}]}]]]

Consider a collection of “nodes”, each one of two possible colors. We want to determine the majority or “consensus” color of the nodes, i.e. which color is the more common among the nodes.

One obvious method to find this “majority” color is just sequentially to visit each node, and tally up all the colors. But it’s potentially much more efficient if we can use a distributed algorithm, where we’re running computations in parallel across the various nodes. Continue reading

Why Does the Universe Exist? Some Perspectives from Our Physics Project

Why Does the Universe Exist? Some Perspectives from Our Physics Project

What Is Formal, and What Is Actualized?

Why does the universe exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? These are old and fundamental questions that one might think would be firmly outside the realm of science. But to my surprise I’ve recently realized that our Physics Project may shed light on them, and perhaps even show us the way to answers.

We can view the ultimate goal of our Physics Project as being to find an abstract representation of what our universe does. But even if we find such a representation, the question still remains of why that representation is actualized: why what it represents is “actually happening”, with the actual stuff our universe is “made of”.

It’s one thing to say that we have a rule or program that can reproduce a representation of what our universe is doing. But it seems very different to say that the rule or program is “actually being run” and is “actually generating” the “physical reality” of our universe. Continue reading

The Wolfram Physics Project:
A One-Year Update

Upcoming livestream

The Wolfram Physics Project: A One-Year UpdateThe Wolfram Physics Project: A One-Year Update

How’s It Going?

When we launched the Wolfram Physics Project a year ago today, I was fairly certain that—to my great surprise—we’d finally found a path to a truly fundamental theory of physics, and it was beautiful. A year later it’s looking even better. We’ve been steadily understanding more and more about the structure and implications of our models—and they continue to fit beautifully with what we already know about physics, particularly connecting with some of the most elegant existing approaches, strengthening and extending them, and involving the communities that have developed them.

And if fundamental physics wasn’t enough, it’s also become clear that our models and formalism can be applied even beyond physics—suggesting major new approaches to several other fields, as well as allowing ideas and intuition from those fields to be brought to bear on understanding physics.

Needless to say, there is much hard work still to be done. But a year into the process I’m completely certain that we’re “climbing the right mountain”. And the view from where we are so far is already quite spectacular. Continue reading