Wednesday, November 30, 2005

complexity cop out

[Crankily] This isn’t a v. productive post, especially since I have a few chapters to go, but: did anyone else get hung up on the way the story was told? I guess the point is that the structure mirrors the emergence of the complex systems that are both (a) the individual scientists and (b) the Sante Fe institute itself, but the rambling, “human interest” profiles of these scientific whiz-kids got on my nerves. Maybe I was just bothered by the reality of the extent to which the institute was such a boys’ club, at least at its origins (e.g., “While his wife, Rook, set out cheese and tea for the exhausted travelers,” McCullough and Kauffman talked shop).

To those in the know (i.e., Annie): I was wondering, where is complexity theory now, 15 years since the book was researched? [Clearly a question that can be answered in a few lines.]


Blogger asw said...

Your question at the end of your post got me thinking and led me to do a little surfing...:)I went to the Santa Fe Institute website and found the following definition for complex systems on their FAQ page. If they update their website regularly, this may be one approach by which we can understand where complexity stands today? Amy
What is complex systems research?

Complex systems research attempts to uncover and understand the deep commonalities that link artificial, human, and natural systems. By their very nature, these problems transcend any particular field, for example, if we understand the fundamental principles of organization, we will gain insight into the functioning of cells in biology, firms in economics, and magnets in physics. This research relies on theories and tools from across the sciences. Part of the rise of the complex systems research agenda can be tied to the use of theoretical computation as a new way to explore such systems.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

Over the past 10-15 years, complexity theory has become popular in my field of organizational development, especially in the healthcare industry. The Plexus Institute is an organization entirely focused on researching complex adaptive systems and managing complexity in healthcare. Their web site has lots of articles and links.

Another organization with a much less expensive conference ($300 vs $1,500), is In2InThinking, This org. is hosted by Bill Bellows of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (formerly Boeing). They host free monthly teleconferences which are always very interesting--people from all over the world and numerous industries call in to discuss systems, complexity, and other related topics. The goal is to generate discussion, challenge assumptions and open up dialogue across industries, rather than reach any concrete conclusions. Each month, the call is hosted by a "thought leader". Check out their web site's "Ongoing Discussion" page for articles.

I'm pretty sure that Margaret Wheatley, author of "Leadership and the New Science" is credited with bringing complex adaptive systems into the organizational development/management discussions.

Here at UT, Reuben McDaniel at the business school is well known as a researcher of complexity in healthcare. He teaches two classes that apply complexity to organizations and management: Information and Knowledge Management; and Managing Complexity. I heard that he cancelled his classes this semester, so don't know if they will be offered in the spring--he's close to retirement, I think.

For a fun--and kind of wild--look at complexity, check out the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?" The movie's focus is on quantum theory, but they do discuss interconnections, fractals, adaptation, complexity, etc., etc., etc.

I hope this helps! :)

8:22 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

In my previous reply, I didn't mention Fritof Capra, whose work has been extremely influencial. I have two of his books, but so far haven't worked my way through them--some of you might really enjoy his writing, so I wanted to add him as a resource.

Capra's book, "The Web of Life" begins with a poem that elegantly describes complexity:

"This we know,
All things are connected
like the blook
which unites one family...

Whatever befalls the earth,
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
Man did not weave the web of life;
he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web,
he does to himself."

--Ted Perry, inspired by Chief Seattle

8:38 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

If you change "blook" to "blood", then the poem sounds elegant! (Wish we could edit comments...)

8:40 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

That poem is great. After I read it, "being situated" came to my mind - in that what we do to ourselves, we do to the group...and what we do to the group, we do to ourselves. Does that make any sense?

8:49 AM  
Blogger mdl said...

Hello Eileen,
I too reacted to these things. The one lady who was involved (interesting that we hear very little about her background), is allowed in only because she works with Reed--some bigwig who cannot come. And she's there "to supply information" about current trends in computing, etc. not to participate. interesting how the lack of female representation in science and technology (esp. at this elite level) can be tracked as a phenomenon of increasing returns..lack of presence contributes to the "whiz-bang" male architype, which adds to a cultural stereotype that women just don't think this way, which....blah blah blah.

2:37 PM  

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