Quantum Bayesian Networks

April 13, 2013

Stephen Wolfram Reviews “Quantum Computing Since Democritus”

Filed under: Uncategorized — rrtucci @ 4:51 pm

Oh boy! Stephen Wolfram just posted at Amazon.com the following critique of Scott Aaronson’s new book, “Quantum Computing Since Democritus”. Apparently these two don’t talk to each other ever since Scott wrote a particularly acerbic review of Wolfram’s book, “A New Kind of Science”. I’m reprinting below the entire Wolfram review of Scott’s book:

Reviewer: Stephen Wolfram (April 1, 2013)

Scott Aaronson thinks that he can derive all of physics from just one silly idea from computer science, what is called cellular automata Rule 110 complexity theory. Good luck Mr. Aaronson!

I think Scott Aaronson has delusions of grandeur. Even the title of his book: “A New Kind of Science, Quantum Computing Since Democritus” sounds a bit pretentious to me. Mr. Aaronson thinks he can write a really fat book about everything under the sun and that everyone is going to rush to read every word of it. Good luck Mr. Aaronson!

Mr. Aaronson could have chosen to write a nice slim volume like Hawking’s “A Brief history of Time”, and just like Hawking, he could have had in his hands a runaway bestseller, very popular among housewives and in their book reading clubs. But no! Instead he chose to write a book which is neither fish nor fowl. Too big and technical to be suitable for housewives, and too sketchy to be satisfying to their scientist husbands. I predict that very few people will buy his book, which has the exorbitant price of $35.99 in paperback.

Even though he has only been trained as a theoretical computer scientist (a hopelessly unemployable and unproductive clan not to be confused with that of computer programmers, to which I belong here at Mathematica), Aaronson honestly believes that he invented quantum mechanics for the first time and that he understands it better than the vast majority of physicists, dead or alive, better even than me, an ex-high energy physicist trained at Eton, Oxford, Caltech and Princeton, and better than other towering figures of 20th century physics like Michio Kaku, Max Tegmark, Sean Carroll or Seth Lloyd.

The cover of Aaronson’s book also sucks. Who wants to buy a book with a portrait of Aaronson (coming out of the shower?) on the front cover. I’m sorry if he is a blind Greek philosopher noted for his bad jokes and for long lists of blog comments, but that’s besides the point. The guy is no movie star. Couldn’t he have substituted his portrait by that of a nice, friendly dog, wagging its tail, or one of a buxom blonde lady in a strapless, for example. I mean, honestly, would you have bought “A New Kind of Science” if I had ignored the objections of my publisher and put a portrait of myself, on its front cover as I wanted?[editor’s note: Think George Constanza]

Before buying, I recommend to the reader that he/she wait until the free MOOC version of the book comes out, or until it can be found at yard sales for 50 cents.



  1. Nice one 😛

    What is more interesting is the reaction this review generated on amazon.com!

    Comment by HA — April 13, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

  2. Ouch 🙂

    Prepare to be blacklisted by wolframalpha …

    Comment by Henning — April 13, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

  3. Ouch!
    This will certainly lead to blog wars

    Comment by Sankalp Ghatpande — April 19, 2013 @ 4:37 am

  4. If only they could understand that it’s about Nature and not about them…

    Comment by Pistolero — April 19, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

  5. “the exorbitant price of $35.99 in paperback.”

    It’s available for download on the web for free tho…

    Comment by Anonymous person — April 27, 2013 @ 2:19 am

  6. I just read Aaronson’s “refutation” of Penrose’s arguments. It was the first thing I’ve ever read from Aaronson. It’s full of self-congratulatory pats-on-the-back, strawmen, quote-mining, arrogance, and question-begging. Based on that first impression, I think I’ll be siding with Wolfram here.

    How is Aaronson’s review of A NEW KIND OF SCIENCE?

    Comment by phichipsiomega17 — June 24, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

  7. Hi phichipsiomega17 ,
    I don’t know how is Aaronson’s review because I haven’t read it. Please understand that this blog post was written by Wolfram so all the opinions expressed in it are his, not mine. 😉 Personally, I think Aaronson and Wolfram are both pretty smart, much smarter than me for sure, but smart people often have very funny habits

    Comment by rrtucci — June 24, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

  8. What proof do we have that this was actually writetn by SW? It reads like satire to me.

    Comment by Pieter Kok — July 25, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  9. Pieter, It’s 100% authentic. It has been validated by a famous Australian journalist, after 2 days of sobriety. Furthermore, the journalist’s brother is a very honest, hype-shunning Australian scientist. Now what are the chances of that?

    Comment by rrtucci — July 25, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  10. Hi phichipsiomega17,

    Scott’s review of NKS can be found here: http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/0206089v2.pdf (although I just realized that the exact same link is given in the post above, never mind).

    It’s pretty long (14 pages), comprehensively engages with NKS insofar as computational complexity (Scott’s specialty) is concerned, and is generally even in tone – I was surprised that this post characterized Scott’s review as “particularly acerbic” (lots of other reviews are far most scathing in tone, even though most of them don’t engage NKS as much as Scott does, for a far-too-long list of reviews see http://shell.cas.usf.edu/~wclark/ANKOS_reviews.html); that didn’t really occur to me when I was reading Scott’s review.

    Stephen’s review of Scott’s Quantum Computing SInce Democritus above, though, I found disappointing for a man of his intellectual stature and field-specific expertise. I’d like to have seen him engage more with the meat of the book (the way Scott did in his review), instead of resorting to snipes like “The cover of Aaronson’s book also sucks”, because clearly their fields of expertise overlap a lot. I kind of wish he didn’t have to stoop this low and let reviews like this be written by other users, but still, all the respect in the world to Stephen.

    Comment by Mo Beans — November 20, 2014 @ 8:41 am

  11. Mo Beans, I would like to see Aaronson and Wolfram compete against each other in an Iron man contest consisting of 3 races: a chess game, a mud wrestling match, and a sumo wrestling match.

    Comment by rrtucci — November 20, 2014 @ 10:42 am

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