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The future of science

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A follow up book; regularity versus randomness
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I very much want to write a follow-up that would go into less detail on elementary particle physics and quantum mechanics, and would discuss much more issues of emergence, issues of evolution, cultural evolution as well as biological, but primarily would go into regularity versus randomness, and complex adaptive systems and the… the identification by complex adaptive systems of what to them is regularity and what is randomness. Because it does depend on what complex adaptive system is observing the entity under consideration, what is regularity and what is randomness. I like to use the example of neckties; of course we don't wear them here, but four-in-hand neckties. A necktie may have a very simple pattern, just a few stripeswhich are very easily… with the regularities of that necktie very easy to describe; or you may have a very complex necktie, such as the ones that were fashionable a few years ago where it would take a very long time to describe the regularities in the pattern. But how do you know we're concerned with a pattern? How… why is the pattern where the regularities reside? I mean we would say that the soup stains don't matter, it's just the pattern. The little irregularities in the weave don't matter, it's just the pattern. But if you're a dry cleaner, it's only the stains that matter, are they soup stains, ink stains, blood stains, and so on; dry cleaners are notoriously insensitive to the pattern, they care only about the stains. So it depends on the complex adaptive system that's observing, what is treated as irregularity and what is treated as randomness and so on. I think that's a very deep set of issues and I'd love to write about them, but getting the leisure to do so is not so easy.

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: elementary particle physics, quantum mechanics, evolution, cultural evolution, regularity, randomness, complex adaptive systems, neckties, dry cleaners

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010