PREFACE

 

Just over twenty years ago I made what at first seemed like a small discovery: a computer experiment of mine showed something I did not expect. But the more I investigated, the more I realized that what I had seen was the beginning of a crack in the very foundations of existing science, and a first clue towards a whole new kind of science.

This book is the culmination of nearly twenty years of work that I have done to develop that new kind of science. I had never expected it would take anything like as long, but I have discovered vastly more than I ever thought possible, and in fact what I have done now touches almost every existing area of science, and quite a bit besides.

In the early years, I did as I had done before as a scientist, and published accounts of my ongoing work in the scientific literature. But although what I wrote seemed to be very well received, I gradually came to realize that technical papers scattered across the journals of all sorts of fields could never successfully communicate the kind of major new intellectual structure that I seemed to be beginning to build.

So I resolved just to keep working quietly until I had finished, and was ready to present everything in a single coherent way. Fifteen years later this book is the result. And with it my hope is to share what I have done with as wide a range of scientists and non-scientists as possible. In modern times it has been almost unheard of for genuinely new science to be presented for the first time in a book that can be read by non-scientists. For progress in science has mostly tended to take place in small steps that cannot reasonably be explained without relying on specialized technical knowledge of what has gone before.

But to develop the new kind of science that I describe in this book I have had no choice but to take several large steps at once, and in doing so I have mostly ended up having to start from scratch--with new ideas and new methods that ultimately depend very little on what has gone before. In some ways it might have been easier for me to present what I have done in some kind of new technical formalism. But instead I have chosen to spend the effort to take things to the point where they are clear enough to be explained quite fully just in ordinary language and pictures.

Unfortunately, however, this will no doubt mean that there are some--particularly from the existing sciences--who will at first assume that their existing technical knowledge must somehow already cover whatever is in this book. And a few, I fear, will stop at that point, and choose to learn no more. But many, I hope, will at least look at the book long enough to begin to be surprised by what it actually says.

At first probably they will think that parts of it cannot possibly be correct--for they seem so at odds with existing science. And indeed if I myself were just to pick up this book today without having spent the past twenty years thinking about its contents, I have little doubt that I too would not believe many of the things it says.

But the computer experiments on which the science in the book is ultimately based are easy to check on any modern computer. And almost all the arguments in the book--while often not conceptually simple--require no specialized scientific or other knowledge to follow.

Yet it has certainly taken me years to come to terms with the conclusions I have reached. And while I hope that all the effort I have put into presentation in this book will make it easier for others, I do not expect it to be a quick process. For to absorb in any real way what the book has to say requires a fairly major shift in intuition and thinking.

But the most important first step, I believe, is just to recognize what is involved. For though there are connections of all sorts, this book is first and foremost about a fundamentally new intellectual structure, that needs to be understood in its own terms, and cannot reasonably be fit into any existing framework.

It has been a great challenge for me to capture the things I have discovered over the past twenty years in a book of manageable size. And to do so I have often ended up compressing into a page or even a paragraph the essence of what a chapter or even a book could have been written about.

In the quarter million or so words of the main text my emphasis is on communicating the core of my ideas and discoveries--as well as indicating a little of how I came to them. The last three hundred or so pages of the book--themselves another quarter million or so words--supplement the main text with many historical and technical notes, and also summarize more discoveries. The notes that begin on page 849 address some specific issues about reading this book.

Throughout the book my primary concern is with basic science and fundamental issues. But building on the foundations in the book there are a vast array of applications--both conceptual and practical--that can now be developed. No doubt some will come quickly. But most will probably take decades to emerge. Yet in time I expect that the ideas of this book will come to pervade not only science and technology but also many areas of general thinking. And with this its methods will eventually become a standard part of education--much as mathematics is today. And in the end most of what now seems surprising and remarkable in the book will come to seem familiar and commonplace.

But for me what has always been most important is the actual process of discovery. For I know of nothing as profoundly exciting as to glimpse for the first time some new and basic truth. And now that I have finished building the intellectual structure that I describe in this book it is my hope that those who read these words can share in the excitement I have had in making the discoveries that were involved.

Stephen Wolfram
January 15, 2002
  Preface Notes