it is then discovered that many of the extensions that were added were in fact quite unnecessary, so that in the end, after perhaps a decade has passed, it becomes recognized that models equivalent to the simple ones I originally proposed do indeed work quite well.

One might have thought that in the literature of traditional science new models would be proposed all the time. But in fact the vast majority of what is done in practically every field of science involves not developing new models but rather accumulating experimental data or working out consequences of existing models.

And among the models that have been used, almost all those that have gone beyond the level of being purely descriptive have ended up being formulated in very much the same kind of way: typically as collections of mathematical equations. Yet as I emphasized at the very beginning of this book, this is, I believe, the main reason that in the past it has been so difficult to find workable models for systems whose behavior is complex. And indeed it is one of the central ideas of this book to go beyond mathematical equations, and to consider models that are based on programs which can effectively involve rules of any kind.

It is in many respects easier to work with programs than with equations. For once one has a program, one can always find out what its behavior will be just by running it. Yet with an equation one may need to do elaborate mathematical analysis in order to find out what behavior it can lead to. It does not help that models based on equations are often stated in a purely implicit form, so that rather than giving an actual procedure for determining how a system will behave—as a program does—they just give constraints on what the behavior must be, and provide no particular guidance about finding out what, if any, behavior will in fact satisfy these constraints.

And even when models based on equations can be written in an explicit form, they still typically involve continuous variables which cannot for example be handled directly by a practical computer. When their overall behavior is sufficiently simple, complete mathematical formulas to describe this behavior can sometimes be found. But as soon as the behavior is more complex there is usually no choice but to use some form of approximation. And despite many attempts over the past

Exportable Images for This Page:

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]