Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Complex World..Questions Remain

Complexity was refreshing to read, as it was more of a narrative piece than the theoretical pieces we have read through most of this semester. I found myself relating the most to the Arthur character in the book considering how much Waldrop spent in the beginning discussing his trials and tribulations in finishing his degree and the dissertation. The one aspect that I did not enjoy in this text was Waldrop’s continual statement of “Them that has gets.” Did anyone understand this?

Throughout this book, I felt that Waldrop was demonstrating the complexity theory through the narrative of the difficulties each scholar had in their research endeavors. I felt that Waldrop demonstrated well how all the scholars were able to combine their research efforts into an explanation toward a science of complexity that could help connect phenomena across the fields of physics, economics, biology and computer science.
I thought this book reflected a current day example of Fleck’s thought collective in showing how the scholars did not come together immediately in agreement but in a timely process through several workshops, “Looking back on it, in fact, the two sides began to find some common ground in a remarkably short amount of time.” (143)

On a separate note, one aspect in this book that changed my concept of what science is based on Farmer’s perspective on page 318, “But at heart, he says, science is about the telling of stories – stories that explain what the world is like, and how the world came to be as it is….the stories that science tells helps us understand something about who we are as human beings, and how we relate to the universe.” As a former journalist, I found this to be an aspect I could relate to and understand as journalists by nature see themselves as storytellers. This statement made me think about how we as social scientists may be storytellers and have the chance to tell our own stories based on the areas of research we want to pursue. But, the one aspect I felt Farmer was missing was how much the storyteller relies on others to help grow and expand the story. Without the workshops and the Institute, the scholars could not have arrived at the collaborative thought of complexity without each of them contributing their research to the bigger picture. In this sense, I think the storyteller resides in each of us but the research (or story) is only as good as the participation and collaboration we have with others in our thought collective to make the phenomena come to life and to be explored from different lenses. Did anyone else find this connection?

The one question I did have in this book was on page 291 when Farmer was describing learning by Holland’s classifier system in which he explained exploitation and exploration learning. Exploitation learning is improving what you already have and exploration is taking the risk of screwing up big in return for the chance of winning big. (291) Is the aspect of exploration learning connected to the edge of chaos concept? Does either approach fit into the science of complexity? How so? I am a little stuck on this point…..


Blogger mdl said...

Hi Amy,
Some interesting observations about how the group relied on each other for the thought collective to form. I enjoyed how the book gradually teased out the parallels between the disciplines, and (of-course, this may just be a narrative device), it so happened to be people of similar temperment--empassioned nonconformist outsiders (I am thinking of Kauffman, Arthur, and Holland, esp.) who needed to connect for the ball to really start rolling.

To your first question: I may be wrong, but "that which has gets" seems to just be about increasing returns? I used in a video store when I was in college, and it was a mom and pop that was always trying to compete with blockbuster. Because blockbuster is a huge chain, they get breaks from movie distributors because they buy in bulk, which means they can buy more copies cheaper, which means they get more customers, which means they have higher profits, which means they can build more stores, which means they can buy more copies of the new releases that attract customers....that which has gets.

I think the question you're asking about exploration and explotation is very related, but in a much more complex cellular evolution way. I believe it's even described using a capitalism as a metaphor, but it relates how groups rely on each other/benefit from each other. I'm not sure that I understand this enough to work it out here. Perhaps we can do so in class.

2:53 PM  
Blogger IB said...

Annie, the way I understood "Them that has gets." it is a lot like the ants building arches in Clark's Being There. Two of them happen to drop their leaves or whatever at the same place, two others happen to drop their leaves at another place until a fifth ant comes along and bumps into the first pair. After a while all the ants dump their leaves or whatever on that first pile. In essence this means, if we have two things and a little more of one that one is more likely to become even more. Pretty much like a lot of human behavior. Go to an amusement park, take two queues - one with ten people in front of the new super roller coaster and the other one with three people in front of another new super roller coaster. Waldrop might say that more people would join the first queue. Am I interpreting Waldrop in too much of a simple way?

3:27 PM  

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