From Complexity to Perplexity; June 1995; Scientific American Magazine; by Horgan; 6 Page(s)
Champagne and big ideas are bubbling at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, N.M. The museum is hosting a dinner for the Santa Fe Institute, where complex people ponder complex things. Some of the institute's brightest luminaries are there, including Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of quarks, with his permanently skeptical squint; artificial-life proselytizer Christopher G. Langton, clad in his uniform of jeans, clodhoppers, leather vest and silver bracelet; the ruddy-faced nonlinear economist W. Brian Arthur, who has recently been taking calls from the White House; and world-class intellectual riffer Stuart A. Kauffman, whose demeanor is at once cherubic and darkly brooding. Mingling with these scientific pioneers are various "friends of the institute," ranging from mega-philanthropist George Soros to the best-selling novelist Cormac McCarthy.
Before everyone tucks into the filet mignon, David Liddle, a computer entrepreneur who chairs the board of trustees, reviews the institute's accomplishments. "There is a lot to be proud of," he says. There certainly is, at least from a publicrelations standpoint. The institute is not large: it supports only six full-time researchers in Santa Fe; 50 "external faculty " members work elsewhere. Nevertheless, in the decade since its founding, the institute has enjoyed much favorable attention from the press, including Scientific American, and has been celebrated in several popular books. It has become renowned as a leading center of complexity studies, a place where scientists impatient with the stodgy, reductionist science of the past are creating a "new, unified way of thinking about nature, human social behavior, life and the universe itself " (as one book jacket put it).