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Stephen Wolfram — On Language, Quantum Theory and Time

Source: The Tim Ferriss Show on Spotify

Why Listen To This?

  • Stephen Wolfram (@stephen_wolfram) is the creator of Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha, and the Wolfram Language; the author of A New Kind of Science; the originator of the Wolfram Physics Project; and the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research. Over the course of more than four decades, he has been a pioneer in the development and application of computational thinking and has been responsible for many discoveries, inventions, and innovations in science, technology, and business.


  • ‘18 – On Computational Language:
    • People come up with abstract ways to describe things.
      • Language is an example of that.
    • Mathematics/computation is a way to describe things structurally.
    • Computational language can be understood by both humans and computers.
    • Basically, it refers to a structural way of talking about the world and metamodeling of that i.e. breaking it down that into simpler elements and seeing what one can do with those.
  • ‘26 — On Language
    • Language is a representation of organized human thoughts/culture.
    • It cannot be translated word-by-word for every language as languages are bound by shared cultural understanding.
  • ‘29 — On Translation
    • The destination mind isn’t necessarily built the same way as the source mind.
    • Eg → take 2 Neural Net systems that are used to distinguish between cats and dogs.
      • The internal methods by which they do it might be different.
    • Eg → Similar to the above case, brain-to-brain transfer of thoughts can be difficult as the internal translation methods may be different from person to person.
    • Language helps to formally repackage thoughts so that they can be transferred and understood by people familiar with the language.
  • ‘54 — On Quantum Mechanics:
    • In the quantum view of the world, it isn’t the case that definite things happen.
    • The ball goes on many different possible trajectories. We, as observers of what happened, get to sample across those possibilities and just get to say, “Oh, there was a certain probability that this would happen. There’s a certain probability that would happen.”
    • When you model it, it’s like a giant network that represents the universe and it is continuously being rewritten according to some rule.
      • There may be different possible rewrites, which if done, can become different threads of time.
      • These threads may branch to form different things or may merge to end up producing the same universe.
      • So you end up with this whole complicated structure of branching and merging of possible histories for the universe.
    • How do we perceive this quantum world?
      • We ourselves are embedded in this branching universe. So our minds are branching just like everything else in the universe is branching.
      • The core question in quantum mechanics is how does a branching mind perceive a branching universe?
        • We believe that we are persistent in time. i.e. even though the universe is branching like crazy, we believe that our minds are going through a single thread of experience.
        • But we so know, actually, those are all in some sense the same thing, because that’s what we have to believe in order to have this conceit that we have a definite thread of experience.
  • ‘57 — On The Concept of The Ruliad:
    • Ruliad refers to a computational process that runs all possible rules.
    • Imagine you have multiple computers starting a computation at multiple starting points. Sometimes those computers will end up producing something that has the same structure.
    • It is the entangled limit of all possible combinations.
    • There is only one limit. Ruliad is like a necessary object.
  • ‘64 — On Time:
    • What is time?
      • The universe is in one state. Then it transforms to form another state. That progressive process of transformation is the process of time.
        • Time is the inexorable progress of computation.
      • Now, in most of the universe, time is just progressing. It’s just as the universe is sort of updated, so that corresponds to the passage of time. Now, we are part of the universe, so we are being updated too. If the universe just stopped, we wouldn’t know it had stopped because we’d be stopped too.
        • One place that happens is at the center of a black hole where there is the space-time singularity(the place where time stops).
        • And so in our model of physics, what’s happening is this universe is being updated, this network is being updated, being updated, but if you’re at the center of the black hole, it just stops. There’s no more update that can be applied.
        • We humans normally only perceive one thread of time. I’ve sort of wondered whether there’s some trance that people can go into that’s kind of a multi-way trance, where they actually have multiple threads of experience that are going on at the same time.
        • But in quantum mechanics, there are multiple possible threads.
        • And so for example, when people talk about making quantum computers, the big thing that one hopes for is that one can use these multiple threads of history to each run a different computation, and so then, you can do all these things in parallel.
        • In terms of people’s perception of time, it is this process of, we are undergoing these computations, our minds are undergoing these computations, and so is the rest of the universe.
Shreesha S
Shreesha S

Shreesha is a Qualified Certified Management Accountant(CMA) and Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis(CSCA).

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