"The potencies are entirely mathematical beings" - Isaac the Blind

Nowadays, with a daring that might have dazzled St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, two titans of the computer world argue that everything in the universe is a kind of computer.

Their sensational idea originally enjoyed a brief flurry of celebrity in the late 1980s, when one of the two, Ed Fredkin, proposed a particularly grandiose version of the idea. Now the idea is enjoying renewed publicity thanks to the publicity campaign run by the other man, Stephen Wolfram, to promote his book on the topic.

Wolfram's A New Kind of Science is a five-pound, 1,200-page tome that has become a freak summer best-seller, rivaling John Grisham and Danielle Steel in sales. Thanks to an intensive publicity campaign, Wolfram is now the Britney Spears of science, whose self-published work has drawn a mostly gushing response from media, while some scientists are agog—or aghast.

"Spectacular, iconoclastic," says one scientist. "More or less completely crazy . . . just nuts," says another.