Complexity and small things

I am in Santa Fe, New Mexico and have had a very interesting week. Santa Fe is the home of the aptly named Santa Fe Institute that is an inter disciplinary research center that focuses on complexity and complex systems.

For many years I have been reading about this place without ever knowing where it is. I can say that Santa Fe is a beautiful town and unlike any other place that I have been to in the past.

This week I had the chance to briefly meet Murray Gell-Man who wrote the book “Quark and the Jaguar” and is won a Nobel prize for his work In describing the behavior of elementary particles inside the atom. For me this is a journey that started in high school when I wondered about the difference between the simple, idealised linear models that were used to describe science to a 15 year old and the real world that is fundamentally non-linear and, well, messy.

My father bought a book called Chaos, by James Gliek, that seemed to be the antidote to this simplified thinking. It differentiated between simple, predictable order, complete randomness and something beautiful and unpredictable called Chaos. I am not sure if he bought it for me or if I stole it from him but it is with me still decades later.

That book was the beginning of a thirst for more information about complex systems that better explain the beauty of the world around us. Many of the best books that I remember have had their origin here in Santa Fe.

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