Parallel Minds, 77–85


Bricks and Atoms


In the course of its development, the thinking of complexity has focused mainly on the study of complex structures that already exist in nature. The idea of artificially building complex synthetic structures capable of reproducing the virtues of natural complex structures—i.e. self-organisation, robustness to change, and response to environmental stimuli—remained little more than mere speculation until the end of the last century, at the earliest. It was the development of complexity and various forms of cyber-theory that finally called into question the theoretical boundary separating living organisations from machines, showing on the one hand that a general formalisation of the behaviour of complex systems was possible and, on the other hand, that such behaviour could at least in principle be artificially reproduced. Thanks to the development and popularity of these new fields of study, fertile ground had also been created for the production of a new interdisciplinary vision of science: the complexity and systems theory approach was the key to an interpretation that could be applied across the natural sciences, engineering, and computer science, paving the way for a new technological renaissance in which rigid barriers between different disciplines would be easily overcome. Between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, armed with a unified model of machines and organisms, scientists were prepared to enter the new millennium as alchemists, capable of transmuting information into matter and inorganic structures into living forms.…