by Péter Érdi. Springer Verlag 2008
Published in the International Journal of General Systems,
Vol. 37, No. 5, October 2008, 637-639.
COMPLEXITY EXPLAINED, by Péter Érdi. Springer Verlag , Berlin, Heidelberg. 2008, 397 pages, EU €53.45, ISBN 13 978-3-540-35777-3,
‘This introductory and reference book explains why systems research is fundamental in understanding the structure, function and dynamics of complex natural and social phenomena. … complex collective behavior emerges from parts of a system, owing to the interaction between the system and its environment. The basic philosophies, concepts and methodologies of this research are outlined: very different complexities can be analyzed by nonlinear dynamics since many systems of very diverse knowledge domains have similar architectures. The book demonstrates the very broad scope and complexity of the complexity theories – yet, it is not highly technical and uses basic mathematics sparingly’ (quoted/paraphrased).
The following overview of the Contents demonstrates the author’s very inclusive and broad coverage of systems science:
1. Complex Systems: the Intellectual Landscape. Century of Complexity, characteristics of simple and complex systems, overview of the book’s approach: connecting the parts.
2. History of Complex System Research. Reductionist success vs. organization principles, earlier research: cybernetics, nonlinear science, dissipative structures, synergetics, catastrophe theory.
3. From the Clockwork World View to Irreversibility (and Back?). Cyclicity vs. linearity – the metaphysical perspective, Newton’s laws-based universe, mechanics vs. thermodynamics, birth of modern theory of dynamical systems, oscillations, the chaos paradigms’ history, direction of evolution, cyclic universe-criticism.
4. The Dynamic World View in Action. Causality, teleology, scope and limits, chemical kinetics: prototype of nonlinear science, spatio-temporal patterns, biological systems, population/social dynamics and epidemic/biological models, dynamic models of love and war, social opinion dynamics, nonlinear and chaotic economic/business and pharmaceutical (drug) dynamics.
5. The Search for Laws: Deductive vs. Inductive Arguments. Principia Mathematica’s history, Karl Popper’s induction, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, inductive bounded rationality’s history.
6. Statistical Laws: from Symmetry to Asymmetry. Normal distribution, bimodal/multimodel distributions, lognormal and Power Law phenomenology.
7. Simple and Complex Structures: Between Order and Randomness. Structures/complexity and graphs, fractals, noise-induced ordering, elementary mathematical/statistical model, networks everywhere in science and technology: cell biology and epidemics.
8. Complexity of the Brain. Introduction to the brain-mind problem: experiments, organizational principles, single cells, structure/dynamics and functions of the brain, neural rhythms, complexity and cybernetics: a unified theory of brain-mind and computer, cognitive science aspects.
9. From Models to Decision Making. Equation- vs. agent-based model, motivations, artificial life and societies, computational economics, game theory, limits and scope of predictions (earthquakes, volcanism, stock markets, medical situation), phenomenology, statistics and dynamical models of extreme events.
10. How Many Cultures We Have? Complexity as a unifying concept, complex simulations, complexity explained.
Érdi covers such a great deal of important data on complexity that a shorter review cannot do justice to this excellent book – the above outline must therefore suffice.
The 581 References are one indication of his inclusive broad coverage. Yet, many more publications are available, including numerous more-recent books, as the field of complexity is expanding rapidly.
In particular graduate students, researchers, and teachers in any of the numerous sciences, technologies, and humanities, as well as the general educated public are addressed. There is no limit: just about every profession has been ‘drawn in’ to consider the theories of complexity – usually in combination with a host of other concepts (see below). Some disciplines, e.g. physics, astronomy and cosmology, chemistry, biology, geology, medicine, mathematics/statistics, computer science, economics, history, philosophy, religion, and psychology, are mentioned by Érdi (some all-too-briefly).
To broaden the appeal, here are some knowledge-domains or fields of investigations were complexity has been applied (covered by many publications): ecology and environments (all geographical/geological types) in general, resources (water, minerals, energy, agriculture, soils), predictions (of climates, floods, pollution, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanism, etc.), various technologies (e.g. engineering), industrial and natural catastrophes, outer-space research, pandemic diseases, pedagogy (teaching, training, learning), business/administration (including risk problems), legal situations, city planning, and politics (national health systems and poverty control).
To be highlighted is the fact that although the brief two-word title of the book is Complexity Explained, pointing to the main topic, the wealth of compactly-presented information it demonstrated by the references by Érdi to many other increasingly important inter-related theoretical and practical fields of research (some older, but several rather new) where complexity finds many types of associative contexts.
The following are some of the complexity theory-related parameters/variables and phenomena discussed by Érdi (only a few listed in the Contents): systems analysis and systems properties, cybernetics, holism, synergetics, information theory, inter-disciplinarity, experimentalism, data mining, meta-science, catastrophe theory, dissipative structures, fractals, pattern recognition, hidden variables, fuzzy logic, decomposition, causality chains and chance, chaos, dynamics, evolution in time and space, types of modeling/simulation, stability/instability, phenomenology, amplification, initial-condition control, butterfly effect, strange attractors, strange loops, synchronicity, regularity, periodicity, fluctuations, reversibility, recursion, circular causes-effects, determinism, probability, randomness, order/disorder, entropy, certainty/uncertainty, networks (e.g. citation types), emergence, non-linearity, hierarchy, feedback, open vs. closed situations, meta-languages, connectivity, artificial intelligence, brain-mind-computer trichotomy, neural cognition, organization theory, self-organization, self-assembly, self-similarity, self-reference, self-modification, inductive/deductive/abductive reasoning, teleology, symmetry/asymmetry, possibility/impossibility, graph theory, unification/theory of everything, decision-making theory, game theory, predicting/forecasting, linguistics, and third-culture general (epistemology) philosophy concept.
Any researcher planning to write a book ought to copy Érdi’s styles: the English is superbly conversational, clear, uncomplicated, and logically compressed; all text sections are short and logically subtitled; numerous anecdotes (some humorous) are rather illuminating; use of many illustrations (diagrams, figures, flow charts, models) and ‘boxes’ containing quotations, paraphrases, and important information are eye-pleasing; where possible information is presented as bulleted lists; …. Although the Index is rather meager, the Contents is providing all sub-headlines and is thus allowing a quick overview of the book. And finally: all references to publications are in one References – rather than each chapter having its own separate list! In several book reviews I pointed out the absence of editing – in contrast, Érdi’s book has unequivocally undergone extensive editing, although there are still some awkward/quaint English expressions as well as numerous grammatical and spelling errors.
One surprise: Érdi’s multiple references to the Wikipedia internet encyclopedia, although many criticisms have been leveled against this source! Consider the following, however: if many experts like Érdi ‘keep a continues vigilant cognitive/intellectual eye’ on the accuracy/reliability of Wikipedia, why not use it while being careful via double-checking with other sources?!
reviewed by Karl H. Wolf
Emeritus Professor of Geology
Springwood, NSW 2777 Australia