First Person | Stephen Wolfram

Courtesy of David Reiss/Wolfram Research, Inc.

Stephen Wolfram--wunderkind, untamed scientist--possesses a mind that is uncluttered by daydreams and everyday intrusions. ("The Super Bowl? What's that?" he once asked a colleague.) His brain turns over questions about the complexities of science, nature, and life, and instead of dismissing these puzzles, his mind works to answer them. So what if his answers turn science upside down? After all, here's a kid who was unimpressed with Eton and Oxford, published his first peer-reviewed paper at age 15, earned his PhD in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology five years later, and received the MacArthur genius award at age 21--not even wondering what he would do with the $120,000 in prize money.

About 20 years ago, Wolfram started pulling at a thread: complexity in nature. Along the way, he created Mathematica, a mathematical tool that led to...

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