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In Memoriam: John Henry Holland—a pioneer of complex adaptive systems research (February 2, 1929–August 9, 2015)

“The study of cas is a difficult, exciting task. The returns are likely to be proportionate to the difficulty.” Holland (2006)

On August 9, 2015, cancer took Prof. John Henry Holland away from us. Prof. Holland was a pioneer of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) research and a true inspiration. He is known not only for his work on CAS, Holland (1962, 1992)—which he would fondly write as “cas”—but also for his seminal work on adaptation in natural and artificial systems leading to the creation of genetic algorithms and eventually the fields of evolutionary computation, Holland (1995) and Learning Classifier Systems, Holland and Holyoak (1989).

Holland was a truly interdisciplinary academic. He had an undergraduate degree in Physics from MIT (1950), an M.A. in Mathematics (1954) and possibly the first ever PhD in Computer Science (1959), both from the University of Michigan—a place where he also subsequently served as a Professor of Psychology, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Holland leaves behind his legacy in the form of a large number of thought-provoking articles, video lectures, books, and inspired people—ranging from colleagues, fellows and students to budding complexity enthusiasts. Two of his recent books summarize his views on CAS in both a longer, Holland (2012) as well as a shorter form, Holland (2014). It is easy to foresee that these works will serve not only as a guide to CAS but also guidance for future generations. Holland will indeed be greatly missed.

Links to some of his online obituaries are as follows:

Melanie Mitchell

National Center for Science Education

New York Times

Santa Fe Institute

The Scientist

University of Michigan

Washington Post


  • Holland JH (2006) Studying complex adaptive systems. J Syst Sci Complex 19(1):1–8

    Article  MATH  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  • Holland JH (1962) Outline for a logical theory of adaptive systems. J ACM 9(3):297–314

    Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  • Holland JH (1992) Complex adaptive systems. Daedalus 121(1):17–30.

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  • Holland JH (1995) Hidden order: How adaptation builds complexity. Basic Books

  • Holland JH, Holyoak KJ (1989) Induction: Processes of inference, learning, and discovery. Mit Press

  • Holland JH (2012) Signals and boundaries: building blocks for complex adaptive systems. Mit Press

  • Holland JH (2014) Complexity: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press

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Correspondence to Muaz A. Niazi.

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Niazi, M.A. In Memoriam: John Henry Holland—a pioneer of complex adaptive systems research (February 2, 1929–August 9, 2015). Complex Adapt Syst Model 3, 4 (2015).

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