Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The emergence of complexity

I have scattered thoughts:

This book was more like reading a novel…I found it charming.

To explain by example or more specifically to demonstrate complexity through the emergent lives of those who conceived/discovered/identified (?) it is brilliant!

The problem with teaching by example or in this case implicitly describing in contrast to making explicit declarations is that the naïve one may not pick up on the concepts or get those subtle connections. I confess that I loved the story but feel fuzzy on complexity!

In the part where Arthur is exploring patterns (pg. 36ish), he basically claims that patterns come from positive and negative feedback loops – doesn’t that sound extremely behaviorist? Is he really just talking about connectionist theory, though? How did this in the end relate to complexity? I lost that thread in the story, I think.

“..a weapons laboratory is a much better environment for this kind of broad, multidisciplinary research than the universities are.” – hmm, might have to sign-up with Uncle Sam (yes, I’m being sarcastic)

On pg. 143 Waldrop writes “we were trying to create a community that didn’t exist before” – what he really meant to say was a thought collective, right. This group of “characters” reminded me a bit of our class – the economics workshops for the physicists to develop a common framework to work from is like our reading list which has brought a multi-disciplinary group into a shared thought collective. Although our interpretations and applications might vary, we have a shared background with language (i.e. I can use the word thought collective and everyone mentally references Fleck’s ideas).

4 Comments:

Blogger asw said...

Alison:
I like your tie-in at the end of your post in which the characters reminded you of the class. I have often thought about our class being a thought collective too, how diverse our backgrounds are and how much we all bring to the table each Thursday and to the blog. I am glad that I am not alone in viewing this same perspective!:)
Amy

7:23 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

I agree, from the book, it's hard to know what exactly is "complexity theory" or a "complex adaptive system." I'm guessing that's because it was written in 1992, when the science was so new, no one was willing to pigeonhole it into definitional terms.

One of the main points of complexity science, at least as I understand it, is that every living thing is both a complex adaptive system and part of a (or many) other complex adaptive system(s)--everything is connected, mutually influencial, and never entirely predictable or controllable. The field itself is always evolving.

I found pp 145-151 in Waldrop's book to be helpful, but there are many additional resources now--see my replies to Eileen's post for a few that have helped me.

9:02 AM  
Blogger gfp said...

Thanks, Annie!

I agree, Alison, that the concepts underlying complexity theory were fuzzy. And I'm not sure how it can be applied to organizations or groups, other than to say that groups are unpredictable...and???

I still want to be invited to the Sante Fe Institute, though....

12:06 PM  
Blogger IB said...

Good question about feedback loops and connectionism. Connectionist models do include inhibitive (i.e. negative) and activating (i.e. positive) links between the nodes. When a connectionist system is activited the activity spreads throughout the system and activitating links lead to the inclusion of more nodes in the process and inhibiting links lead to the exclusion of nodes. So positive and negative feedback loops are not necessarily just a characteristic of behaviorist models but fulfil functions in connectionist models as well. Hmmm, I didn't answer your question about the link between connectionism and complexity. Maybe we need to talk about that in class.

3:38 PM  

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