Bactra.org Notebooks: Complexity
Where I first learned about Herb Simon’s "Architecture of Complexity"
Time: March 31, 2018
Place: On the couch, late at night. One too many whiskeys
Pointer: Google search, impetus long forgotten
Note type: Resource
Is there any trend towards greater complexity over time among living things? On the Earth as a whole? The universe as a whole? Is there any deep explanation (élan vitalanyone?) or can it be accounted for by the usual suspects --- natural selection, "plenty of room at the top," chance? --- Even if we do come up with a measure of complexity, it will be very difficult to apply to the fossil record, since the soft parts are pretty well gone, and so we can't know (much) about the innards of the brain, or the immune system. (In fact, could you infer the existence of immune systems from the fossil record? This is important, since it's complex if anything is, and if we can't infer it, how do we know there weren't other things, also confined to the soft tissues, which weren't comprably complex?)
The "sciences of complexity" are very much a potpourri, and while the name has some justification --- chaotic motion seems more complicated than harmonic oscillation, for instance --- I think the fact that it is more dignified than "neat nonlinear nonsense" has not been the least reason for its success. --- That opinion wasn't exactly changed by working at the Santa Fe Institute for five years.
Recommended, less technical:
- Robert Axelrod and Michael D. Cohen, Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier
- John Holland not only helped found evolutionary computation, but has written a good book on Emergence [Review: Game Rules, or, Emergence according to Holland, or, Confessions of a Creative Reductionist]
- Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software [What I buy my relatives when they ask me what all the fuss is about.]
- Melanie Mitchell, Complexity: A Guided Tour [Disclaimer: I used to work for Melanie.]
- Heinz Pagels, The Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity [What I used to buy my relatives. Deserves to be brought back into print.]
- Herbert Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial [Especially the last chapter, "The Architecture of Complexity". A large fraction of complexity research --- and an even larger fraction of the good stuff --- is variations on themes by Simon.]
April 1st, 2018