Simply Complexity: A Clear Guide to Complexity Theory

Quick Thoughts
  1. I didn't really care for this book.  The good moments were outweighed by several, "So what?" moments.
  2. That said, the author did a good job of getting me to understand that there is a mathematical framework for understand complexity.  When you think complexity, he wants you to think stock markets, traffic jams, biological processes, and other areas of life where many 'particles' act in a self interested manner and are greatly influenced by the structure of their surroundings and their interaction with other 'particles'.  A complex system can have outcomes that appear random but can be modeled.
  3. I felt like the mathematical tools and models he was describing were probably outstanding for video game simulations.  Like controlling the way that traffic appears in games like SimCity.  But, I wasn't sure that they ever could be more than just one of many tools in predicting real life outcomes.  My impression was that the author believed studying complexity was the most important way to predict real life outcomes.
  4. I was reminded of the idea that you shouldn't trust your models too much (See The Black Swan).  Just because you can develop a framework that can imitate certain incidences, doesn't mean that the framework is entirely accurate.  If you are driving and the map says to take a left to get on the highway, but the road is closed, you don't take a left.  Real life intrudes on models all the time and makes their predictive value less than expected.  I think that the author was in love with his mathematical models.  I got the impression that if real life started acting in way that was inconsistent with the model, then this author might instinctual say that real life was wrong and we should keep using the model because life will get back to normal.  I think that he'd get over these instincts, as he is a man of science.  But, once again, you shouldn't trust your models too much.
  5. I was particularly annoyed by a chapter on the stock market where he claimed that by using complexity theory, a person could develop a system that would make a lot of money on the market.  I call this kind of thinking using a system.  Often using a system works for long time, until it doesn't anymore.  And then the people who used the system end up way, way, way behind (See LTCM).
  6. I was also fairly annoyed at his decision to spend the final pages of the book going through quantum mechanics.  I could very well be missing the point of this section of the book, but I had no idea how this fit into his ideas on complexity.  It seemed like an attempt to link his ideas on complexity to still another area of research.  I didn't buy it.
  7. I will say that I found his discussion on treating cancer interesting.  I'm not sure if the medical profession is using his ideas, which basically consist of diverting resources away from cancerous cells, but if they are and it works then it's good to see that these models can and do have real world applications.


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