Stephen Wolfram and his TOE

This is not an everything goes forum, but rather a place to ask questions and request help for developing your ideas.

Stephen Wolfram and his TOE

Postby hyksos on January 4th, 2021, 12:04 am 

So some of you might know about Stephen Wolfram and his claim to fame website and his book about cellular automata.

Well he also dabbles in physics, and unfortunately he dabbles in TOE-type physics related to attempts to unify Quantum mechanics with General Relativity. (Maybe it goes without saying), Mr. Wolfram is really outside of academia, and he is widely considered a crackpot.

Today I spent something like 2 to 3 hours reading his copious writings posted all over his personal website. (here : ) The only reason I was interacting with this stuff at all was because Sabine Hossenfelder mentioned him in a recent video. She mentioned the "Theory of hypergraphs" of Wolfram. So out of a morbid curiosity I had to find out what this was all about. I did spend nearly 3 hours sifting through it, and in many cases I was very drawn in to his articles. At some points drawn in hypnotically.

I have to say -- after about 2 hours of plowing through Wolfram's writings, I have decided that the man is completely nuts. I mean, I'm literally sitting here ready to say that I could use microsoft paint bucket to draw a simple diagram showing why this TOE is wrong. Further the word "wrong" isn't quite the right connotation. Because 'wrong' sounds like he has a wonderful framework, but made a slight logical booboo somewhere. The closer word to describe his long-winded interminable dribble is : wrong-headed.

I'm not even going to spend the time or paragraphs explaining the wrong-headedness. Long-story-short, the connection Mr. Wolfram has made between graphs and spacetime is utterly baseless. I don't want to spend a paragraph explaining this but it is at the level of ridiculousness of like -- he isn't even doing physics to describe the universe. It's more like he is presenting some idea to describe a video game engine. These analogies I'm making aren't meant to be taken literally, but meant to describe how foolish this comes across to me.

As a warning before you enter the dragon that is his personal physics website : I stick hard and concretely to my statement above that goes "utterly baseless", however when you begin reading him , what he says will initially come across to you as very persuasive. It just needs to be said, persuasiveness is not how academic writing at this level is physics is even done.

Some interesting and indicative cracks in his exposition. At some point Wolfram just baldly claims this number out of nowhere. He says that a single electron would be made up of approx 1035 graph nodes. Okay. He spits this number out in the middle of nowhere. Then he makes no attempt at explaining in any form how that approximation was calculated. I let that quirk slide, presuming that when I dig into the technical papers posted elsewhere, that this will all be lain to rest. But when I actually loaded them up, I found just a bunch of mostly repeats of what I already read. In addition they were paragraphs of personal praise heaped on Wolfram by the author... (like ..what?) I mean, go ahead and praise a man for his "genius discoveries" but don't call that document a technical document.

Let me return to this issue of writing physics papers at the level of TOE physics. If you are going to seriously write about TOE physics and run in around in public claiming you have one, then the paper you write will look a certain way , and you are going to be abiding by certain rules. One thing that will happen in a serious paper on TOE is that it wildly chocked-to-the-nines with citations. The reason why so many citations is very simple. You cannot even state the initial equations of a TOE without building them on top of all sorts of earlier work, such as the papers of Kaluza and Klein. You have to talk about the ADM formalism. You must mention Electro-weak unification. You have to say something about "unification scale" meaning temperatures where the four forces would be allegedly united. You have to mention the papers of Wheeler and DeWitt. At the very least, you have to tell us why your TOE predicts a differentiation between fermions and bosons.

Wolfram does posture and pose that his theory has no particles, but only space itself giving rise to the particles as secondary phenomenal effects. That idea is already on the books.

Of course, you will not see a citation to this work, because Wolfram never cites anyone else's work.
User avatar
Active Member
Posts: 1883
Joined: 28 Nov 2014

Re: Stephen Wolfram and his TOE

Postby TheVat on January 5th, 2021, 2:07 pm 

***Per forum rules, posts will address the topic specific to the OP, and reflect having read the cited materials in the OP. Thank you.***
User avatar
Forum Administrator
Posts: 7874
Joined: 21 Jan 2014
Location: Black Hills

Re: Stephen Wolfram and his TOE

Postby BadgerJelly on January 6th, 2021, 12:18 am 

Are citations always necessary? I’m assuming there is at least a bibliography, right?
User avatar
Resident Member
Posts: 5754
Joined: 14 Mar 2012

Re: Stephen Wolfram and his TOE

Postby charon on January 6th, 2021, 7:10 am 

It's okay Vat, I've already read a lot about it. But I say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. There's a great deal of talk about what's wrong with his methods but that's not the same as results.

Wolfram needs to show, prove and demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt (and hopefully without any) that his ideas are true.

If he can do that then all his previous sins, like ignoring everybody else, could be forgiven.
Resident Member
Posts: 2624
Joined: 02 Mar 2011

Re: Stephen Wolfram and his TOE

Postby hyksos on January 6th, 2021, 3:06 pm 

(I see bites in this thread. I will continue where I left off.) Lets start with my thing about a crayon drawing in Microsoft Paint.

These two graphs are equal. They are not just "equivalent in some sense", they are identical. G=H. They are merely drawn differently on the canvas. The position of the nodes has no meaning.

The graph edges between nodes have no other meaning than a correspondence between the nodes. They are not anything like physical "springs". If they were, they would have a restoring force, and the red version would be under stress, and want to return itself to the black version.

A few pages in Mr. Wolfram starts showing some graph re-write rules that cause the graph to progressively look more like a mesh of triangles. THe meshy-ness is an artifact related to how the software is drawing them on a computer screen. He then just suddenly declares that they ARE a physical mesh, and that they are now depicting spacetime. (?It is idiocy.) This is the level of insanity he has steeped to.

You may be familiar with formal grammars that are defined by re-write rules. An example is given by,

1. S -> aS
2. S -> bS
3. aSa -> A
4. aSa -> b

Applying the rewrite rules starting from a seed word gives rise to all the words in the "language" of this particular grammar. The expanding tree of words can be depicted by a graph where edges are directed and show a valid application of a rewrite rule.

This next image is linked directly from Wolfram's website. It is generated by the grammar,

1. A -> BBB
2. BB -> A


So it should be obvious that the locations of these nodes in the vertical position has a coherent meaning; and therefore a "motivated" meaning. The vertical position is measuring the number of applications of rules. One might even say that if a physical system were ticking through time, then the top of the diagram is time t=0, and time progresses forwards as you move downwards. All good.

Consider instead the horizontal location of these nodes on the chalkboard. That horizontal position is meaningless to this rewrite rule. It has no "motivation" as academics would say. You could swap their positions, move them way far apart, put them close together, and all those different versions of the graph would be equivalent. (more than equivalent, they would be equal!) .

Nevertheless, Mr. Wolfram's madness knows no bounds. Several pages later, he is now referring to the diagrams of these rewrite rules as if their position on the chalkboard has some kind of physical meaning.


As if wanting to prove to everyone the scope of his crazy, Wolfram then declares that these diagrams are depicting spacetime, doubles down with his crazy to say that these arbitrary diagrams can be used to derive Special Relativity ( !! )

The red lines placed above are supposed to be representing an "observer in motion tilting his reference frame". (THis is so wrong that it gives me a migraine headache in one eye.) You can't just start drawing lines on a graph diagram of rewrite rules and then start deriving stuff from it as if the positions mean something.

These unmotivated shenanigans did not stop Wolfram from continue to investigate this rabbithole , forming expository leading on for the length of a book. Perhaps more worrying is that poor Stephen W likes to remind his readers how he has been quote, "working on this problem for 30 years". Some kind caring soul should have intervened in the first few weeks of this and told him "You can't do that, and here's why". Either nobody tossed a lifejacket, or Mr. Wolfram denied/ignored all attempts at outside suggestions (which some have rumored).
User avatar
Active Member
Posts: 1883
Joined: 28 Nov 2014

Return to Personal Theories

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 23 guests