The Physics of Complex Systems


Dr. Frank L. Hassler
Retired Director, Office of Transport & Information Resources
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center


Synopsis of background:

Dr. Frank L. Hassler retired from the position of Director of the Office of Transport and Information Resources of the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, an element of the Research and Special Programs Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This Office provides planning for and central management of Volpe Center large scale information technology, and advanced concepts development projects, especially those in support of the Departments of Defense and Energy. He also served as the executive agent for the Technology Committee of the National Defense Transportation Association.

Dr. Hassler trained at Yale University and Brown University. Prior to his current assignment, Dr. Hassler was the Director of the Office of Systems Research and Analysis at Volpe Center, in charge of the Center's activities that provided policy analysis and program support to the Office of the Secretary and to the modal administrations. In this capacity, he received the Secretary's Award in 1975 for developing the socio-economic analysis capability at Volpe Center and for his personal efforts in support of the DOT's energy program. In 1981, he received the Secretary's silver medal for Meritorious Service for leadership and direction of systems analysis and research programs.

Dr. Hassler has had key roles in the Department of Defense, as a senior analyst in the Defense Communications Agency where he was involved as a designer of the National Military Command and Control System, and later as a civilian employee of the Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he served as Advisor to the Special Assistant for Strategic Mobility and was a principal architect of the logistics analysis and deployment planning systems of the OJCS. Before joining the Transportation Systems Center, he was head of the Transportation Planning Department of the MITRE Corporation, working primarily on problems of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration.

On Homeokinetics:

"My training as a physicist (experimental, nuclear) left me with a deep conviction that physics was the proper foundation for a science of human behavior. I was fortunate enough, senior year at Yale to take a prehistoric anthropology course from a professor who thought the scientific approach should be the basis for his work which he shared with me at the time when the fossil record of man began to explode with new material. Since then, the evolution of my career and interests have embraced some of all of the scientific disciplines. My work in DOD concentrated upon physical logistics and transportation as the key to the feasibility of military operations planning. The substance strengthened my conviction that much of the constraint upon what people did was a straightforward physical set of computations derived from the potentials of necessary materials to sustain their activity. My work in DOT integrated the study of economics, sociology and the role(s) of transportation in a spatial economy. I first met Arthur Iberall in the mid 1970s when I was charged with developing a socioeconomic research capability for the DOT. I was looking for help and insight into how to develop and apply a theory based upon the principles of physics to the domain of US transport behavior. Through the years, our relationship has endured and rewarded me with a constant stream of insight and incentives to work harder to demonstrate the utility of his vision and approach to my concerns as a senior government executive. I deeply believe that our mutual understanding of the central issues in developing and applying a physics based theory to the affairs of humankind has neared the point where it can help catalyze the unification of science. I also believe such a development is not only timely, but essential to increase the survival probabilities of our species.

"In my own area, transportation is the experimental domain in which the social measurements can most readily be made to test the utility of a unified science of humankind. The demand for transportation springs from the demography and physical logistic requirements to sustain human life. Transportation shapes our cities and accounts for most, if not all of the real economic growth of our society over the last two hundred years. It lessens to some degree the tight bounds upon life that tie people to the land potentials that sustain their technologies and their very existence."

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