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The structure at Santa Fe


Research and study at Santa Fe. The founding workshops
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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We came to the idea that initially the research should be theoretical and—largely at least theoretical—and computer based, rather than observational, but we have never ruled out, not even to the present time, some observational work, and in fact the first observational project was approved recently, something to do with ant colonies in Central America. But it was always understood, especially in the initial phase, there would be mostly theoretical and computer-based work. But what would people study exactly in doing interdisciplinary work on these many different subjects? Well, in the fall of 1984 we held the founding workshops. Doug Schwartz very kindly lent us the board room of the School of American Research [sic],  lovely place, and the weather was magnificent, November and December. We… we held two workshops, each one for one or two days, I think, one in November and one in December, and the proceedings are published in our first volume, the first volume of our Santa Fe Institute series of books on the sciences of complexity. It's called 'Emerging Syntheses in Science', and I think that phrase was mine, if I remember correctly. I… I pointed out that there were a lot of great syntheses in science: biological evolution, the expanding universe, the theory of elementary… the standard model of elementary particles, plate tectonics in geology, nuclear synthesis in the stars and in the early universe, and so on and so forth and that our institute should perhaps have the high ambition of trying to find such a great synthesis. Of course it wouldn't be a… a sure thing, but we should work in some direction that looked as if it promised something in the way of a synthesis, but we didn't know what that would be. We invited a lot of speakers though, to the November and December workshops. I did a number of the phone calls, and… and we got some really splendid people. What was surprising was that it turned out the talks had many things in common, and in particular most of them were about simplicity and complexity and about… and a great many of them were about evolution, learning and adaptation. And around then the Los Alamos Center for Nonlinear Studies held a meeting on evolution, learning and games, and there was a lot of overlap actually. So it became clear then that... that our fate lay in that direction, that we ought to try to encourage people who would think about topics related to that set of questions: simplicity and complexity, and what we came to call complex adaptive systems.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: Central America, School of American Research, Santa Fe Institute, Emerging Synthesis In Science, Los Alamos Center for Non-Linear Studies, Doug Schwartz

Duration: 3 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010