John L. Casti:
Biography

 

John L. Casti was born in Portland, Oregon in 1943. Following completion of a doctorate in Mathematics from the University of Southern California in 1970, as well as tours of duty at The RAND Corporation and the University of Arizona, he left the USA in 1974 to take up a post as one of the first research staff members of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria. With the exception of a small break in the late-1970s and early-1980s to serve on the faculties of New York University and Princeton, Casti worked at IIASA on problems of system modeling and applied systems analysis until the autumn of 1986. At that time he left to join the faculty of the Technical University of Vienna as a Professor in the Institute for Econometrics, Operations Research, and System Theory. In 1992, Casti joined the Santa Fe Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a resident researcher and was named to the Institute's faculty in 1993.

As an applied system modeler Casti has professionally engaged in a collection of activities running the gamut from atmospheric radiative transfer to the shift of racial mixes in urban housing distribution and a variety of interests in between, with his more recent interests focusing upon the role of biological metaphors for economic and other social phenomena.

Over the past few years, Casti have devoted a substantial part of my time to the preparation of several books on science for the students and general readers. The first was the award-winning Alternate Realities: Mathematical Models of Nature and Man (Wiley, 1989), a text-reference constituting the written version of a set of lectures I periodically give on system modeling at the Technical University of Vienna. A greatly expanded and updated version of this work was published in two volumes in 1993 under the title Reality Rules.

In 1989 the book Paradigms Lost: Images of Man in the Mirror of Science (Morrow, New York), which gives a layman's account of several of the most puzzling controversies in modern science. Casti's 1991 book Searching for Certainty (Morrow, New York) deals with the degree to which the science of today is in a position to predict and/or explain everyday phenomena like the weather, the outbreak of warfare, or the fluctuation of stock market prices. In 1994, his book Complexification (HarperCollins, New York) was published. It is a layman's account of the strange and wondrous behavior of the myriad types of complex systems we encounter in nature and in daily life. In 1995 the semi-trade volume is Five Golden Rules (Wiley, New York) was published. This book was a layman's account of five great theorems of 20th-century mathematics and the great theories that have emerged from them.

Casti's most recent popular-science offering is Would-Be Worlds (Wiley, New York, 1997). This is a volume outlining the transformation that large-scale computer simulation is bringing to the world of science. His first foray into what may be termed "scientific fiction" was The Cambridge Quintet (Little, Brown, London, 1997), which is a fictional account of a dinner party in Cambridge, UK in 1949, at which the question of the possibility of creation of a thinking machine is the focus of the dinner-party conversation.

His latest book, Godël: A Life of Logic (2000) details the life and legacy of the greatest logician since Aristotle. Kurt Gödel was an intellectual giant. His Incompleteness Theorem turned not only mathematics but also the whole world of science and philosophy on its head. Equally legendary were Gödel's eccentricities, his close friendship with Albert Einstein, and his paranoid fear of germs that eventually led to his death from self-starvation. Now, in the first popular biography of this strange and brilliant thinker, John Casti and Werner DePauli bring the legend to life. After describing his childhood in the Moravian capital of Brno, the authors trace the arc of Gödel's remarkable career, from the famed Vienna Circle, where philosophers and scientists debated notions of truth, to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived and worked until his death in 1978. In the process, they shed light on Gödel's contributions to mathematics, philosophy, computer science, artificial intelligence--even cosmology--in an entertaining and accessible way.

Casti's current research interests center on the use of large-scale microsimulation to study the properties of complex, adaptive systems, such as stock markets, the business world, and road-traffic networks. In particular, he currently builds such 'silicon surrogates' to investigate the behavior of the world's insurance industry. In another project, I am using the same tools to study the behavior of a large supermarket chain. I am also engaged in exploring the question of whether or not there are limits to our ability to answer questions in the natural sciences by scientific means. This work involves making a bridge between the "impossibility" results of Turing, Godel, and Chaitin in mathematics and questions in physics, biology and economics that are of current concern.