I have enjoyed my visits to two interesting centers for the study of complex systems, the largest and oldest one located in Santa Fe, NM, the Santa Fe Institute, the other one located in Cambridge, MA, the New England Complex Systems Institute. Both have a strongly interdisciplinary bend, and encourage wide ranging discussions on a variety of topics, many of them related to computer modeling and questions in cognitive science.
The Where, When, and How
It was during a visit to the Santa Fe Institute in the summer of 1997 that I ran into Brian Goodwin and Stuart Kauffman. We quickly got involved in a series of discussion the following type of questions. How do complex phenomena such as life and especially consciousness fit into our scientific world view, based on physics as the most fundamental of the natural sciences? Is biology more than a complex form of applied physics? In general, what is the character of `emergent properties'? Our views were sufficiently similar to enable detailed communication, and sufficiently different to bring in new points of views from all three sides. After several days of discussions we decided that it would be fun to summarize our views in a short paper.
Since I had been asked to organize a panel discussion on Modeling Modeling at the launching conference for the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), I suggested that they would attend the session as well, and that we publish our paper in the proceedings. This led to:
- Complexity and Functionality: A Search for the Where, the When, and the How, by Hut, P., Goodwin, B., & Kauffman, S. 2000, in Unifying Themes in Complex Systems, Proceedings of the International Conference on Complex Systems, ed.: Y. Bar-Yam (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books), pp. 259-268 (available also in postscript version).
A few years later, I summarized some of our main points in my contribution
- A Third Aspect of Reality, by Hut, P. 2002, invited contribution to The World Question Center, on the edge web site.
- From War to Deterrence to Respect, by Hut, P. 2001, invited contribution to What Now?, on the edge web site.
I argued that the switch from war to deterrence, half a century ago, would now be followed by a swith to respect, as the latest `weapon'. After all, the fact that the cold war remained cold was not through an increase in wisdom and insight, but rather through a very effective form of deterrence, a side effect of nuclear weapons. Now that the cold war is behind us, perhaps terrorism will have an even more remarkable side effect, opening the eyes of military and political leaders for the fact that respect might really be more effective than either war or deterrence. Is this too optimistic a view? I don't know, but I also don't know anything more worth trying.