# New Review of A New Kind of Science

Polymath Cosma Shalizi has an entertaining
review of
Stephen Wolfram’s *A New Kind of Science*. I have a paper in various
stages of revision on the rhetoric of Wolfram’s book, and Shalizi’s
discussion of Wolfram and the taxonomy of crankishness is very apt
there. In fact, I invoked his guano comparison in the version I read at
a conference.

I have to register disagreement in a few places, however. I suspect that
there have to be correlations between any useful version of “complexity”
and what is visually interesting to the cortex of an East African plains
ape. Wolfram is indeed vague on that point, and I appreciate
quantitative measures of complexity as an abstract principle, but I’m
not convinced that it is as arbitrary as Shalizi thinks it is. I’ve read
*Investigations* and am intrigued to learn of the apparent existence of
a cult devoted to it (shape spacers?), though I very much appreciate
that Shalizi has also been annoyed by Lakoff’s definition of cognitive
science (the worst display of which I’ve encountered is in *Philosophy
in the Flesh*).

*Of Grammatology*’s inclusion in the list of crank works at the end is
unfortunate, however. Putting aside the question of whether you think it
is a major philosophical work or one filled with elementary misreadings
(as Chomsky has said), it presents a trial for its readers. The other
works listed there (and Wolfram’s) all seek to explain complex matters
very simply.