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Complex adaptive systems

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Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I think we should continue to work on lots of things. There are a number of issues on which I have opinions. I think that we should restore some long-term senior positions. I think we should go after people, very interesting, accomplished senior people or middle-aged people as well as young people, for sabbatical appointments. I think that we should have some work that's data-rich, that involves putting in the results of a large number of historical accidents, rather than dealing with abstractions that might be associated with any planet in the universe, or no planet at all. I think—but of course, there's a trade off there: the more specific you make the model, the more data rich, the more historical accidents you include; while the verisimilitude of the model may increase, the transparency goes down. So what are the very simple ones good for? Do you just make simple models and then compare them with the—simple computer models, for example, then compare them with the facts? Well that's not such a great idea usually because even if they agreed it would be peculiar; since the models are so far from reality, why should they agree with the facts? However, you can sometimes find properties, like scaling properties, but there're probably many others as well, that can be traced continuously from real systems all the way down to very skeletal systems with just a few simple principles. When that's true one might be able to learn from the simple systems, the simple models rather, something about how these mathematical properties occur in the… in the much more complicated cases. And I think that's very helpful and has been done in a number of situations.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann is 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: Santa Fe Institute

Duration: 2 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010