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Thoughts on Complexity and Design

Notes on Complexity

What makes something physically complex? How can physical complexity be measured?

Let’s start with a typical dictionary reference. I have on hand Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (copyright 1980 by G. & C. Merriam Co.). There are three definitions, adjective, noun, and transitive verb. We are of course interested here in the adjective and noun. The etymology provided in the adjectival definition references the Latin “complecti, to embrace, comprise (a multitude of objects).” The root “plectere” means “to braid.”

The first definition includes objects that are very simple: “composed of two or more parts: composite.” The next two (as variations of the first) refer to specific English grammar uses, i.e. complex words and sentences. However, the second distinct definition is “hard to separate, analyze, or solve.” This sounds more like what I have in mind, as there is nothing hard to analyze or solve about something that has as few as two pieces. Even things that have a lot of pieces may be easy to solve or analyze. Thus, having multiple parts must be the barest minimum consideration. On the other hand, “hard to…” is very subjective and there’s no direct reference to physical properties.
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