Summary of A Crude Look at the Whole

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As you might expect from a book on complex systems, John H. Miller’s explanations can often be complicated. Yet, he is also lucid, instructive and entertaining. Complex systems surround you. You take part in them all the time. In his examples of such systems, Miller moves smoothly from honeybees to financial crashes, and from cellular automata to game theory. This is an approachable introduction to complexity, with useful examples, drawings, metaphors and humor. getAbstract recommends this examination of the bigger picture to anyone interested in a better of understanding complex systems and how the world works.

About the Author

John H. Miller, professor of economics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University, has written numerous works on complexity and complex systems.



“Complex Systems”

The study of complex systems dates back to Adam Smith’s 1776 treatise The Wealth of Nations. Modern thinkers like John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam used early computers to explore ideas that crossed academic disciplines, like whether machines could self-replicate. This produced models in which “simple, well-defined pieces” interact to develop more complex patterns.

Scholars working to articulate a “universal explanation” of how complex patterns come about analyzed, for example, animals’ camouflage patterns. These studies led to a new understanding of how complexity emerges, and how relatively simple individual actions generate unexpected results and “interacting systems.” Complexity is everywhere.

A few central principles explain the workings of complex systems. “Feedback loops” govern complex systems and shape their behavior. Complex systems tend to be “noisy” – they contain a high level of randomness. Which agents interact, and how, is central to complex systems. Scientists have observed that complex systems generate decisions without any central control.

“Scaling laws” shape how complex systems operate. Some...

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