Roads to Reality

Penrose and Wolfram Compared


Roger Penrose:
The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe
London: Jonathan Cape (2004), xxviii + 1094 pages, ISBN 0-224-04447-8

Sir Roger Penrose, retired professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford and collaborator with Stephen Hawking on black hole theory, has written "a complete guide to the laws of the universe" called The Road to Reality. His publisher calls it the most important and ambitious work of science for a generation. Penrose caused a furore in the world of consciousness studies with his 1989 book The Emperor's New Mind, which conjectured a new mechanism for consciousness and kept a faithful band of researchers busy for a decade with models based on microtubules and the like. Sadly, the idea fizzled out. The title of the 2002 Tucson "Toward a Science of Consciousness" conference poetry slam winner was: Microtubules my ass!

Stephen Wolfram:
A New Kind of Science
Champaign, IL: Wolfram Media (2002), xvi, 1264 pages, ISBN 1-57955-008-8

Stephen Wolfram, by contrast, is a maverick loner. Educated at Eton, Oxford, and Caltech, recipient of a MacArthur "genius" award, multimillionaire creator of Mathematica — "now the world's leading software system for technical computing and symbolic programming" (to cite his own dust jacket blurb), he is both author and publisher of the massive volume A New Kind of Science. He regards it as the most important and ambitious work of science for three centuries. Yes, Wolfram wishes to be known as the next Newton. He sees human mental processes as embodied computations and hence as equivalent to many irreducible processes in nature, such as weather or the particle dance in rocks.

Whose book should you read?

Read the rest in
Journal of Consciousness Studies 12(2), 78-83 (2005)
(PDF, 6 pages, 65 KB)