Making a Splash, Breaking a Neck: The development of complexity in physical systems

  • Date: 05/23/2007

Leo Kadanoff (University of Chicago)


University of Washington


The fundamental laws of physics are very simple. They can be written on
the top half of an ordinary piece of paper. The world about us is very
complex. Whole libraries hardly serve to describe it. Indeed, any
living organism exhibits a degree of complexity quite beyond the
capacity of our libraries. This complexity has led some thinkers to
suggest that living things are not the outcome of physical law but
instead the creation of a (super)-intelligent designer.

In this talk, we examine the development of complexity in fluid flow.
Examples include splashing water, necking of fluids, swirls in heated
gases, and jets thrown up from beds of sand. We watch complexity
develop in front of our eyes. Mostly, we are able to understand and
explain what we are seeing. We do our work by following a succession of
very specific situations. In following these specific problems, we soon
get to broader issues: predictability and chaos, mechanisms for the
generation of complexity and of simple laws, and finally the question
of whether there is a natural tendency toward the formation of complex

Other Information: 

10th Anniversary Speaker Series 2007