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Jeremy Sabloff

Santa Fe Institute

Santa Fe, United States

Any major goals for the future will be difficult to achieve unless we increasingly view the world through the lens of emerging complex systems and long time frames.

As I have learned from my dual roles as President of the Santa Fe Institute, the home of complexity science, and as an archaeologist, any major goals for the future will be difficult to achieve unless we increasingly view the world through the lens of emerging complex systems and long time frames.

In our world today the short-term dominates, especially in the realm of planning.  Time frames appear to be on the order of weeks, months or single digit years rather than in decades, let alone centuries. Moreover, there frequently seems to be a reluctance to place such planning in deep historical time frames. However, the use of long-term planning in contexts of historical time frames would significantly improve the utility of planning in a wide variety of policy areas, be they business or government.

For example, if we wish to better understand the rapidly increasing urbanization of the modern world and try to plan for a future in which the vast majority of the people live in cities, then we must examine the past five thousand years of urban development and try to appreciate why cities have been such an adaptive success. The urban historian Lewis Mumford argued years ago that security, economic opportunity, and sacredness of place were among the key factors in long-term urban success. As modern cities lose these attributes in varying degrees, how can we best plan to retain or revive them in the future? Or, can we plan for their replacement?

Another important change in planning that I hope the future holds is a movement away from simple linear thinking to complex adaptive system analyses in public policy and corporate planning considerations. The traditional assumption is that if one puts effort (money) into x, you will get y result. This method too often leads to the planners being surprised that the investment leads to result z with all sorts of unintended consequences (think of all sorts of recent foreign policy efforts, for instance). Instead, we can examine systems as complex wholes whose emerging functions and developments are understood as a multitude of interacting parts. This has been shown to be a more effective strategy than traditional linear modeling and should become a regular part of planning activities. Recent military planning in Afghanistan, for example, has recognized the importance of complex systems modeling.

Looking at the host of problems confronting people, governments, and companies around the globe today, I will not argue that taking longer term perspectives and using complex systems approaches will necessarily solve these problems, but I would maintain that such shifts will strengthen the odds for success.

Jeremy Sabloff Bio:

JEREMY ARAC SABLOFF (B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1964; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1969) is the President of the Santa Fe Institute (2009 - ).

Before coming to the Santa Fe Institute, he taught at Harvard University, the University of Utah, the University of New Mexico (where he was Chair of the Department), the University of Pittsburgh (where he also was Chair), and the University of Pennsylvania (where he was the Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum from 1994-2004 [and Interim Director, 2006-2007] and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Anthropology). He also was an Overseas Visiting Fellow at St. John's College, Cambridge, England. He is a past President of the Society for American Archaeology, a past Chair of Section H (Anthropology) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and past Editor of American Antiquity. He served as Chair of the Smithsonian Science Commission and currently is a member of the Visiting Committee for the Peabody Museum (Harvard University), the National Advisory Board of the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian), the Committee on Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society, and the Board of Trustees of the SRI Foundation.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (elected in 1994) and the American Philosophical Society (elected in 1996), and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (elected in 1999). Furthermore, he is a Fellow of both the Society of Antiquaries, London, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He is the author of Excavations at Seibal: Ceramics (1975), The Cities of Ancient Mexico (1989; 2nd ed., 1997), The New Archaeology and the Ancient Maya (1990), and Archaeology Matters (2008) and the co-author of A History of American Archaeology (1974; 2nd ed., 1980; 3rd ed., 1993), A Reconnaissance of Cancuen, Peten, Guatemala (1978), Ancient Civilizations: The Near East and Mesoamerica (1979; 2nd ed. 1995), Cozumel: Late Maya Settlement Patterns (1984), and The Ancient Maya City of Sayil (1991). His books have appeared in Spanish, Russian, German, Japanese, and Dutch translations. He also has edited or co-edited 12 books, the most recent of which is (with Joyce Marcus) The Ancient City (2008); he has published more than 130 articles, book chapters, and reviews.

His principal scholarly interests include: ancient Maya civilization, pre-industrial urbanism, settlement pattern studies, archaeological theory and method, the history of archaeology, and the relevance of archaeology in the modern world. Over the past forty years, he has undertaken archaeological field research in both Mexico and Guatemala.