[Reading] ➶ Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos Author Roger Lewin – Saudionline.co.uk



10 thoughts on “Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos

  1. says:

    Think of the the first bicycles or carsLots of experimentation to begin withAs time goes on and the world gets full of cycles or carsthe extremes get weeded out, a few forms survive, and subsequent innovation focusses on improvement on the remaining themes You go from generation of many themes to variation upon a few, just like the Cambrian explosion of life pp.70 71 The basic argument is no than the belief that there are fundamental rules that determine the qualities of systems so we have the Emergence of self organizing dynamics p.191 , from cells to the planetary system ie Gaia theory The Author towards the end says from my gut I respond positively p.184 but what this stomach science produces is an excitable, overwrought, voluble book, chatty, the author may not describe the scientists he meets as shaggy haired demi gods playing guitars on top of mountains which they crush beneath their feet, but my impression was that this was how he regarded them, and perhaps that he hoped something of the charisma he invested in them, would rub off on to himself through association all of these scientists, he lets us know gently, he is on first name terms with In the book, as in history, surnames gradually evolve as the text progresses Good chunks of the book consist of people appearing to be amazed at things which are self evident ie that eco systems are systems, that because the component parts are in relation to each other, that changing one part will impact on the system as a whole, and that they have the properties of stable systems, unless they don t, in which case they are not But then again I am not a scientist, just a civilian I trust the judgement of my gut too, however that does not mean that I trust Lewin s gut, which is foreign to me, if we were ants we could exchange the contents of our stomachs and thus perhaps on a chemical level change each other s thinking Earlier, like a mighty burp, another scientist points out that the data is lousy just after Lewin gets excited about all mass extinctions being caused by asteroid strikes One part of the argument is about the collapse of complex societies which illustrates the same point We live in complex societies and so are interested in their decline and fall, however the data, while suggestive, is inconclusive, for instance part of the argument in Collapse How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is about Easter Island, shortly after publishing, dating data from Easter Island was reassessed and shifted by several hundred years, in a stroke rendering it unlikely that human activity had been the main cause of the collapse of the island s ecology Elsewhere I have reviewed books discussing the end of the Roman empire which has been up for discussion since Saint Augustine, the data is like a dose of salts to any theory.Interestingly in the book Levin is told that English gentlemen don t like the idea of Emergence of self organizing dynamics but urban Jews do, or in other words this is about English empiricism versus German Idealistic philosophy or as Lewin has it Aristotle v Plato the bout of the aeon to be fought out in uncountable rounds.I suppose from this we can learn that in science it is not the case that one view always supersedes another, but that sometimes scientists orbit around the same ideas for centuries, not because of evidence but because of basic differences in outlook and world understanding between people eg here gradualism vs catastrophe.As a book about systems thinking, this has very little to offer save a vision of scientists growing successively shaggier view spoiler but apparently lacking large talking dogs with insatiable appetites hide spoiler


  2. says:

    Lewin, Roger Complexity Life at the Edge of Chaos, 2nd Ed 1999 A fine introduction and an interesting readThe science of complexity, a discipline unique to the computer age, was born of chaos and a growing sense that there is something amenable to scientific inquiry about complex systems that we are missing Before we had the number crunching power of computers, complexity could not be explored because the many variables resulted in astronomical calculations.In this revision of his book originally published in 1992, Roger Lewin explains what the science of complexity is all about through interviews with some of its most important practitioners and critics organized around some of the central ideas As such this is both a fine introduction to the subject and an interesting read Lewin includes 16 pages of photos of the scientists he interviewed captioned with a significant quote from each He has added an afterword on the application of complexity science to business, and an appendix about John Holland, whom he dubs, Mr Emergence Everything works toward an ecology is an old dictum of mine I have the sense that I came up with that myself, but I probably read it somewhere years ago At any rate, what is being said here is that complex systems work toward a state of equilibrium near a transition phase, near the edge of chaos This equilibrium can be an ecology Darwin s tangled web indeed it can be the entire planet, as in the concept of Gaia in which the Earth s biological and physical systems are tightly coupled in a giant homeostatic system quoting Stuart Kauffman on page 109.A central idea is that large, interactive systems dynamical systems naturally evolve toward a critical state physicist Per Bak, quoted on page 61 These systems include weather, financial markets, piles of sand, and most significantly, ecologies, so that evolution itself is seen as shaped by the dynamics of complexity Complexity is the interesting middle ground between order and the purely random, between the crystalized structure of ice and the Brownian motion of molecules I had a curious sense of understanding when I compared these three states with positions at chess First there is the even, static position, perhaps with bishops of opposite color in which no progress can be made, a draw the inevitable result Second there is the wildly chaotic position so complex that no one can completely calculate it, say the board after black takes white s queen knight pawn in the poisoned pawn variation of the Najdorf Sicilian In between are the interesting positions in which one side might have a small advantage or there might be a dynamic balance of advantages, space versus material, for example, in which a startling combination might be hidden.These states at the edge of chaos are seen here as analogous to the phrase transition states of matter, from liquid to gas, for example The idea is that there is a naturally occurring property of the physical world that forces complex systems into stable, readiness states near the edge of transition What is exciting is that these states, because they are so ripe for change can be influenced or manipulated into change with small resources Out of complexity comes something that could not be predicted by an analysis of its individual components, an emergent property of the system I would note that such a natural phenomenon would be attractive to those who believe in punctuated evolution e.g., Steven Jay Gould and to those who believe that social and political change typically comes suddenly and with great force.Central to what complexity science is saying is that reductionism which is the technique that has driven science to its present position of power and influence is limited Y ou have to look at the interactions as well as the parts, John Holland is quoted as saying on page 220 In other words, you have to take a holistic approach However, the use of the word holistic, a New Age shibboleth, is the just sort of thing that makes traditional scientists wince.Consequently, complexity science is not without its critics who argue that the fundamental mechanism of complexity exists only in a mystical sense and is therefore anathema to mainstream science Even its practitioners, such as University of Michigan complexologist John Holland, admit they are still searching for the fundamental mechanism of this new science He is quoted on page 214 as saying, Our present understanding is not much better than the child saying that Jack Frost explains the wondrous colors of autumn However most complexity scientists would say that the mechanism isn t mystical at all It s just not understood yet I would add that much of what we think we know about the world is based on relationships and phenomenon that we assume we understand, but really we don t For example physicists say that gravity curves spacetime, but they don t say how it curves spacetime Presumably gravitons do the trick, but they haven t been discovered yet So it could be said that gravity is mystical I like to compare this lack of understanding to the task of watching grass grow This also works for evolution Every day I look but at no time do I ever see the grass growing, yet after a while I know it has grown It seems that it always grows when I m not looking By the same token we see the results of complexity, but we do not yet see the inner workings of the process We may never see the process, but through complexity science we may yet understand it.


  3. says:

    I read this book as a followup to the excellent Complexity A Guided Tour, and I have to say it was a bit of a letdown While it does dive deeply into some of the ideas behind the field, a lot of the book s substance consists of scientists speaking off the cuff about their most grandiose visions for their work Frankly, it ends up coming off a bit kooky in than a few places where researchers are not being as circumspect as a good scientist ought to be The pace also drags than a bit in places All in all, it s an okay read for someone with an interest in the field, but if you re looking for an engaging introduction, there s better out there.


  4. says:

    I dare not pretend that I understood Lewin s far ranging discussion of the multitudinous aspects of Complexity But I was fascinated, intrigued, and thoroughly captured by the premise.


  5. says:

    In my high school psychology course there was a brief overview of the history of psychology, beginning with the German Gestalt theorists in the 19th century I couldn t tell you any of their names, nor could I cite a single book or article by any of them, but their underlying concept has stuck with me since then The whole is greater than the sum of its parts That has, in many ways, been my approach to a wide variety of aspects of life I think it applies to literary theory, philosophy, sociology, much of the hard sciences possibly everything And it seems as though the scientific community is beginning to see that this might be the case, and not simply for mystical reasons There s evidence that eating whole foods is better for you than consuming each of the separate nutrients contained in a food on their own A whole carrot will nourish you in ways that an equivalent stack of vitamins will not.This is not, however, because of some sort of magical property that comes from outside of the carrot rather, the carrot, as an organism, is a complex system And, according to the theories described in Roger Lewin s book, complex systems have emergent properties properties that make the wholes greater than the sums of their parts.In many ways, then, Complexity admittedly a 20 year old and fairly famous book was something of a revelation I d first heart of complex systems theory from a short biography of Cormac McCarthy, who spends a great deal of his time at the Santa Fe Institute which is the central institution of Lewin s book I didn t know what complex systems were, but as I read a little about it, it seemed to be right up my alley I sought out Lewin s book and bingo This is pretty cool.The book isn t perfect, of course It clearly feels itself to be in the shadow of James Gleick s Chaos, which came out 4 years prior, and which I read just before this one , and is trying in some ways to comment on Gleick without giving him too much credit since Chaos theory is, according to this book, a part of Complexity It s also told in a sort of Platonic dialogue model, with Lewin s narrator self posing questions to scientists that he would obviously already know the answer to as a way of explicating to the non technical reader some sort of highly technical point It was actually quite helpful, but the artifice wasn t always transparent, and could get a little old Lewin isn t entirely convinced by the Complexity folks he talks to, and despite my leanings neither am I some of the Santa Fe folks are convinced they ve not only found order within chaos, but THE order of the world, and that seems farfetched The Gaia Hypothesis, as the chapter on James Lovelock shows, can easily be taken too far, as can some of the analogies from Boolean networks and simulated ecosystems to actual evolution and species development.However, the main point that complex systems have emergent properties, that the interaction of the parts of a system give rise to separate phenomena that therefore also interact with the parts of the system and cause further changes and greater wholes, is an essential point that I m glad I could finally begin to understand scientifically Very exciting stuff, now I just need to catch up on the past 20 years of the science.


  6. says:

    I bought this at Alias Books at the same time I also bought books by Richard Rorty, John Cage, Stephen Hawking and Tyler Volk It was a good introduction to complexity, written by PhD science writer It was through Lewin that I was introduced to Stuart Kauffman, The Santa Fe Institute, John von Neumann, Chris Langton, Steven Wolfram, Norman Packard, James Valentine, Brian Goodwin, Doyne Farmer, Tom Ray, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis Gaia hypothesis , Murray Gell Mann, Stuart Pimm, Dan McShea, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Danny Hillis, Pat Churchland, Roger Penrose and E.O Wilson There were others, but I didn t list them.


  7. says:

    I had higher expectations of this book Lewin seemed interested in talking about the scientists than their ideas, or at least he used individuals as the organizing principle of this book, which made it difficult for me to end up with a solid, holistic grasp of the science of complexity That does not mean the book was without some very fascinating ideas I d never come across the Gaia Theory before, and I loved reading about artificial life Unfortunately, I ve forgotten most everything else Maybe that s my fault rather than the book s Hard to say.


  8. says:

    This book tells the story of the new science of complexity Roger is a decent storyteller who interviews all the subject s big wigs around the world with concentration at the Santa Fe Institute Complexity is argued as something that is as influential as Darwinian evolution Biologically, it challenges evolution s linear processes with a larger system view It is interesting and I m sure there is something to it.


  9. says:

    Excellent introduction to the science of complexity.


  10. says:

    I have been exploring the nature of Chaos theory for some time Perhaps the whole idea about randomness may be an illusion.


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