Discovery, Invention, Research through the morphological approach

Zwicky, Fritz

No one can deny Zwicky's contributions to science. His work as an astronomer blazed many new trails, including ideas like dark matter and neutron stars. He also contributed by helping to rebuild Europe's scientific libraries after the devastation of WWII: he shipped tons of journals no longer needed by US professionals and institutions, making them available to an entire generation of researchers and students. He also developed what he called the "morphological" approach to problem analysis. In essence, it decomposes a problem into multiple discrete-value dimensions. Then, using "systematic field coverage," the approach examines each distinct combination of values. He uses transformation of energy from one kind to another as an example. After identifying ten kinds of energy, he uses input as one axis and output as the other, creating a two-dimensional grid of one hundred input/output combinations. It still works well for relatively small, simple problems not subject to combinatorial explosions (the "curse of dimensionality") or to continuous values along any axis. It also lies at the core of modern genetic algorithms that optimize over search spaces too large for exhaustive analysis. This book covers far more than just that, however. Like his contemporary Buckminster Fuller, Zwicky's creative mind wanders widely throughout these pages. He writes about the many aspects of telescope design and operation, from optics to aerodynamics and maintenance. He speculates on justice in the space age. Most of all, he proposes rational thought as a cure to mankind's ills - a wonderful and hopeful dream, but one that underestimates human short-sightedness and venality.

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