The Architecture of Complexity

In 1962, Nobel prize winner Herbert A. Simon wrote the foundational article 'The Architecture of Complexity' in which the central theme is that complexity frequently takes the form of hierarchy, and that hierarchic systems have some common properties that are independent of their specific content. Hierarchy, Simon argues, is one of the central structural schemes that the architect of complexity uses.

He discusses four aspects of complexity. The first offers some comments on the frequency with which complexity takes the form of hierarchy - the complex system being composed of subsystems that, in turn, have their own subsystems, and so on. The second section theorizes about the relation between the structure of a complex system and the time required for it to emerge through evolutionary processes: specifically, it argues that hierarchic systems will evolve far more quickly than non-hierarchic systems of comparable size. The third section explores the dynamic properties of hierarchically organized systems, and shows how they can be decomposed into subsystems in order to analyze their behavior. Finally, the fourth section examines the relation between complex systems and their descriptions.

Herbert A. Simon (1916-2001) was a Richard King Mellon University Professor of Computer Science and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. Fields of research included artificial intelligence, psychology, administration and economics.

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