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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 5 January 2015

"Complexity: A very short introduction" by John H Holland

It was always going to be difficult to express a difficult new science in 90 pages. Mostly, Holland succeeds. There are moments when he repeats himself, especially using the same examples more than once, which is obvious in such a short book. There are moments when he seems to spend too much space explaining a relatively concept and then compresses something more difficult. I was left high and dry when he claimed that there were 40,320 distinct arrangements of 5 balls having 2 colours in 3 locations (and he then said the maths was simple but tedious and he wouldn't give it so I don't know how he got it because I didn't get it!). More seriously, there were bits that didn't quite work. For example, on page 8 he discusses von Neumann's cellular automaton and claims that it is capable of reproduction; he refers to figure 1. Figure 1 is on page 9 and is entitled Laws ('Game of Life'). This shows a snapshot of the Game of Life created by the uncredited John Conway; worse, it shows the pattern known as a glider which 'moves' across the screen. There are patterns the 'breed' gliders but these aren't shown. On page 67 he offers 9 pictures of patterns of urns you can get if you move one ball from the starting position, but one finishing position is the same as the start.

Despite these little niggles, Holland managed to explain complex systems in terms that I could mostly understand using Maths that I was happy with. But I teach Physics. I don't think this is for the general reader. And I would have liked a little more explanation of some of the more difficult ideas.

An easier to read introduction to some of these ideas is John Gribbin's Deep Simplicity.

Holland also wrote Emergence: from chaos to order.


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