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Complexity by way of simplicity

In his controversial 2002 book A New Kind of Science (Wolfram Media), theoretical physicist Stephen Wolfram proposed that traditional science is incapable of fathoming many important phenomena in nature. The complexity of how galaxies formed or what the weather will be tomorrow is too much for mathematical formulas, he asserts (SN: 8/16/03, p. 106: In Search of a Scientific Revolution).

Now, a team of physicists has unveiled a new way to process pattern-generating algorithms called cellular automata, which Wolfram argues are a superior way to model complex phenomena. The new study suggests that some cellular automata can be simplified substantially yet retain the essential outlines of their patterns, says Navot Israeli of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. He and Nigel D. Goldenfeld of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describe their technique in the Feb. 20 Physical Review Letters.

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