Thanks to Kevin Bacon, everybody nowadays knows about networks.
There are not only Bacon-like networks of actors, linked by appearing in the same film, but also social networks, neural networks and networks of viral transmission. There are power grid networks, ecological networks and the grandest network of all, the internet. Sometimes it seems like the entire universe must be just one big network.
And maybe it is.
Physicist–computer scientist–entrepreneur Stephen Wolfram believes the universe is a vast, growing network of relationships that constitutes space itself, and everything within it. In this picture, Wolfram sees the basis for the ultimate theory underlying all of physical law.
Wolfram expressed something like this view 18 years ago in a 1,197-page tome entitled A New Kind of Science. But back then his picture was still a little fuzzy. Now he thinks he has found a more sharply focused vision for how to explain reality.
“I’m thrilled to say,” he writes in a summary document released April 14, “that I think we’ve found a path to the fundamental theory of physics.”
At the core of Wolfram’s approach is the notion of a hypergraph. “Graph” in this context is like the diagrammatic representation of a network: lines connecting points. But reality can’t be captured by lines linking points on a flat sheet of paper. Wolfram generates computer visualizations to depict relationships in more complicated “hypergraphs.” (In a hypergraph, the “lines” can connect any number of points, not just one to another.