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Analytic work at Santa Fe. Integrative workshop


Complex adaptive systems
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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We need to have some work that's more realistic and puts in more properties of the real world. Also, complex adaptive systems--in my language, what John Holland calls adaptive agents--usually exist at the bottom of a hierarchy of organization. For example, people, individual people or individual households usually belong to villages and the villages belong to states or nations and so on and so forth. Even people at a lower level of technical development have tribes and so on and so forth. And yet, most of the models that people use that have something to do with human beings have just isolated atomistic—not isolated, but atomistic individuals or households—interacting   by…with simple economic motives, and most of the richness of actual social life is excluded. Community, laws, traditions, institutions, myths, religion and so on, are excluded, and that's not the way it is. The archaeology projects, for example, that deal mostly with the history of the south—with the prehistory of the south-west—started with almost nothing except individual households interacting for… with economic motives—narrow economic motives. Now they've put in a couple of social things like matrilineal clans, but I think a good deal more postulated social organization would be a big help. The main thing is to have schemata, as I call them, what John Holland would call internal models, at more than one level of organization, for the individual or the household, but also for the village, also for a nation, and so on. That's the way real things are. Otherwise you get absurd models. For example, one team of researchers, I remember, came up with a extremely silly model of pollution control, in which there were two cars one of which more polluting … one of which was more polluting than the other but cheaper, and one pollutant, which was very nasty, and as time goes on and there were more cars in the fleet the level of the nasty pollutant increased and people began coughing and sneezing and getting ill and getting headaches and, according to the model, they then started buying the more expensive car. But of course, what real people do under those conditions is say, let the other people buy the more expensive car. It's the free rider problem, and what you need is a government which would say: give a tax break to the more expensive car and make it about the same price as the cheaper one, then people really would buy it. But the essential thing is to have a second layer of organization, not just atomistic individuals. And so for, purely for mathematical convenience, not out of any ideological bias, people are imposing on their work some sort of crazy right wing libertarian ideas which they don't really have, but which they put in only for mathematical convenience. I find it very strange. Now Chris Langton has, partly I think in response to arguments from me, has introduced into the 'Swarm' platform devices which, it is claimed, will permit the introduction of schemata at more than one level of organization. I hope we take advantage of that.

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: Santa Fe Institute, John Holland, Chris Langton

Duration: 3 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010