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    65Weaver

    Classical Papers - Science and complexityE:CO Vol. 6 No. 3 2004 pp. 65-74

    Science and complexityWarren Weaver

    Originally published as Weaver, W. (1948). Science and complexity, in American Scientist, 36: 536-544. Re-produced with permission. The Editors would also like to express their sincere thanks to Mia Smith of AmericanScientist for providing a high quality digital scan of the original publication.

    It is easy to get caught up in the excitement sur-rounding the study of complexity and how ournew learning might be applied to the problems we

    face today. We often feel like pioneers in a new land,

    making new discoveries. For those involved in chart-ing such a course, it is easy to lose historical perspec-tive and the path already taken by others. It is to theseearlier pioneers that the Classical Papers Section isdedicated. Such a side trip to the archives can quickly

    bring the reader a dose of reality, that some new ideasare really only rediscovered. Similarly, our view ofthe future can gain some perspective when readingabout earlier predictions of the future, what we nowcall the present.

    Reaching back almost 60 years, E:COreadersare invited to read a classic article by Warren Weaver

    (1894-1978). For historical setting, this article was pub- for the war effort. During the war, Weaver headed theApplied Mathematics Panel (AA AS, 2004), a positionthat led to familiarity with many of the top scientists ofthe era. It was a time of great advances in science andoptimism for more growth in the future. This articlewas also written at the time Weaver was formulatingideas that would later be published with Claude Shan-non in The mathematical theory of communication,which laid the foundation for information theory.

    Weavers thoughts during this time on how computers

    might be employed in machine translation were latercollected in his famous memorandum on the topic thatformulated goals and methods before most peoplehad any idea of what computers might be capable of

    The optimistic attitude of the power of science

    Classical

    tion that separates simple, few-variable problems fromthe disorganized complexity of numerous-variableproblems suitable for probability analysis. The prob-lems in the middle are organized complexity with a

    moderate number of variables and interrelationshipsthat cannot be fully captured in probability statistics

    The second part of the article addresseshow the study of organized complexity might beapproached. The answer is through harnessing thepower of computers and cross-discipline collaboration.

    Weaver predicts:

    Some scientists will seek and develop for themselvesnew kinds of collaborative arrangements; that thesegroups will have members drawn from essentially all

    contribute greatly to the advance which the next half sciences. (Weaver, 1948)

    When reading this, there is a bit of dj vuinwhat we sometimes hear today of our study of com-plexity. So too in the statement that science has, todate, succeeded in solving a bewildering number ofrelatively easy problems, whereas the hard problems,and the ones which perhaps promise most for mans

    future, lie ahead (Weaver, 1948). In the end the reader not further along in our understanding of complexitygiven Weavers ideas nearly 60 years ago, while alsostill being optimistic in our success for the same reasons

    Weaver was optimistic.

    Ross Wirth

    Classical papers section

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    References

    AA AS (2004). A AS resolution: In memoriam: Warren Weaver, 1894-1978. [WWW document]. URL: http://archives.aaas .org/docs/resolutions.php?doc_id=339

    (3rd

    Infoplease (2004). Weaver, Warren. [WWW document]. URL: http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0851711.htmlUnivIL (2004). Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver / The mathematical theory of communication. [WWW document].

    URL: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/s99/shannon.html

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