Scale; the universal laws of growth, innovation, sustainability, and the pace of life in organisms, cities, economies, and companies

Geoffrey West
Penguin Press, 2017

Publisher's Summary:

Visionary physicist Geoffrey West is a pioneer in the field of complexity science, the science of emergent systems and networks. The term “complexity” can be misleading, however, because what makes West’s discoveries so beautiful is that he has found an underlying simplicity that unites the seemingly complex and diverse phenomena of living systems, including our bodies, our cities and our businesses.

Fascinated by aging and mortality, West applied the rigor of a physicist to the biological question of why we live as long as we do and no longer. The result was astonishing, and changed science: West found that despite the riotous diversity in mammals, they are all, to a large degree, scaled versions of each other. If you know the size of a mammal, you can use scaling laws to learn everything from how much food it eats per day, what its heart-rate is, how long it will take to mature, its lifespan, and so on. Furthermore, the efficiency of the mammal’s circulatory systems scales up precisely based on weight: if you compare a mouse, a human and an elephant on a logarithmic graph, you find with every doubling of average weight, a species gets 25% more efficient—and lives 25% longer. Fundamentally, he has proven, the issue has to do with the fractal geometry of the networks that supply energy and remove waste from the organism’s body.

West’s work has been game-changing for biologists, but then he made the even bolder move of exploring his work’s applicability. Cities, too, are constellations of networks and laws of scalability relate with eerie precision to them. Recently, West has applied his revolutionary work to the business world. This investigation has led to powerful insights into why some companies thrive while others fail. The implications of these discoveries are far-reaching, and are just beginning to be explored. Scale is a thrilling scientific adventure story about the elemental natural laws that bind us together in simple but profound ways. Through the brilliant mind of Geoffrey West, we can envision how cities, companies and biological life alike are dancing to the same simple, powerful tune.

Information geometry

Nihat Ay, Jürgen Jost, Hông Vân Lê, Lorenz Schwachhöfer
Springer, 2017

Publisher summary:

The book provides a comprehensive introduction and a novel mathematical foundation of the field of information geometry with complete proofs and detailed background material on measure theory, Riemannian geometry and Banach space theory.  Parametrised measure models are defined as fundamental geometric objects, which can be both finite or infinite dimensional. Based on these models, canonical tensor fields are introduced and further studied, including the Fisher metric and the Amari-Chentsov tensor, and embeddings of statistical manifolds are investigated.

This novel foundation then leads to application highlights, such as generalizations and extensions of the classical uniqueness result of Chentsov or the Cramér-Rao inequality.  Additionally, several new application fields of information geometry are highlighted, for instance hierarchical and graphical models, complexity theory, population genetics, or Markov Chain Monte Carlo. 

The book will be of interest to mathematicians who are interested in geometry, information theory, or the foundations of statistics, to statisticians as well as to scientists interested in the mathematical foundations of complex systems.

From bacteria to Bach and back; the evolution of minds

Daniel C. Dennett
W.W. Norton & Company, 2017

Publisher's Summary:

One of America’s foremost philosophers offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind.

How did we come to have minds?

For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.

That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.

In his inimitable style―laced with wit and arresting thought experiments―Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred when humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. Competition among memes―a form of natural selection―produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes. The result, a mind that not only perceives and controls but can create and comprehend, was thus largely shaped by the process of cultural evolution.

The evolution of human co-operation: ritual and social complexity in stateless societies

Charles Stanish
Cambridge University Press, 2017

Publisher summary:

How do people living in small groups without money, markets, police and rigid social classes develop norms of economic and social cooperation that are sustainable over time? This book addresses this fundamental question and explains the origin, structure and spread of stateless societies. Using insights from game theory, ethnography and archaeology, Stanish shows how ritual - broadly defined - is the key. Ritual practices encode elaborate rules of behavior and are ingenious mechanisms of organizing society in the absence of coercive states. As well as asking why and how people choose to co-operate, Stanish also provides the theoretical framework to understand this collective action problem. He goes on to highlight the evolution of cooperation with ethnographic and archaeological data from around of the world. Merging evolutionary game theory concepts with cultural evolutionary theory, this book will appeal to those seeking a transdisciplinary approach to one of the greatest problems in human evolution.

The diversity bonus: how great teams pay off in the knowledge economy

Scott E. Page, ed.
Princeton University Press, 2017

Publisher summary:

What if workforce diversity is more than simply the right thing to do in order to make society more integrated and just? What if diversity can also improve the bottom line of businesses and other organizations facing complex challenges in the knowledge economy? It can. And The Diversity Bonus shows how and why.

Scott Page, a leading thinker, writer, and speaker whose ideas and advice are sought after by corporations, nonprofits, universities, and governments around the world, makes a clear and compellingly pragmatic case for diversity and inclusion. He presents overwhelming evidence that teams that include different kinds of thinkers outperform homogenous groups on complex tasks, producing what he calls “diversity bonuses.” These bonuses include improved problem solving, increased innovation, and more accurate predictions—all of which lead to better performance and results.

Page shows that various types of cognitive diversity—differences in how people perceive, encode, analyze, and organize the same information and experiences—are linked to better outcomes. He then describes how these cognitive differences are influenced by other kinds of diversity, including racial and gender differences—in other words, identity diversity. Identity diversity, therefore, can also produce bonuses.

Drawing on research in economics, psychology, computer science, and many other fields, The Diversity Bonus also tells the stories of people and organizations that have tapped the power of diversity to solve complex problems. And the book includes a challenging response from Katherine Phillips of the Columbia Business School.

The result changes the way we think about diversity in the workplace—and far beyond it.

History, Big History, & Metahistory

David C. Krakauer (Author, Editor), Kenneth Pomeranz (Editor), John Gaddis (Editor)
SFI Press, 2017

Publisher summary:

What is history anyway? Most people would say it’s what happened in the past, but how far back does the past extend? To the first written sources? To what other forms of evidence reveal about pre-literate civilizations? What does that term mean—an empire, a nation, a city, a village, a family, a lonely hermit somewhere? Why stop with people: shouldn’t history also comprise the environment in which they exist, and if so on what scale and how far back? And as long as we’re headed in that direction, why stop with the earth and the solar system? Why not go all the way back to the Big Bang itself?

There’s obviously no consensus on how to answer these questions, but even asking them raises another set of questions about history: who should be doing it? Traditionally trained historians, for whom archives are the only significant source? Historians willing to go beyond archives, who must therefore rely on, and to some extent themselves become, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, archeologists? But if they’re also going to take environments into account, don’t they also have to know something about climatology, biology, paleontology, geology, and even astronomy? And how can they do that without knowing some basic physics, chemistry, and mathematics?

This inaugural volume of the SFI Press (the new publishing arm of the Santa Fe Institute) attempts to address these questions via thoughtful essays on history written by distinguished scholars—including Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann—from across a wide range of fields.

Foundations of info-metrics; modeling, inference, and imperfect information

Amos Golan
Oxford University Press, 2017

Publisher's Summary:

Info-metrics is the science of modeling, reasoning, and drawing inferences under conditions of noisy and insufficient information. The Foundations of Info-Metrics examines the theoretical underpinning of info-metrics and provides extensive interdisciplinary applications.

What are the arts and sciences?: a guide for the curious

Dan Rockmore, ed.
UPNE, 2017

Publishers summary:

What constitutes the study of philosophy or physics? What exactly does an anthropologist do, or a geologist or historian? In short, what are the arts and sciences? While many of us have been to college and many aspire to go, we may still wonder just what the various disciplines represent and how they interact. What are their origins, methods, applications, and unique challenges? What kind of people elect to go into each of these fields, and what are the big issues that motivate them? Curious to explore these questions himself, Dartmouth College professor and mathematician Dan Rockmore asked his colleagues to explain their fields and what it is that they do. The result is an accessible, entertaining, and enlightening survey of the ideas and subjects that contribute to a liberal education. The book offers a doorway to the arts and sciences for anyone intrigued by the vast world of ideas.

A crude look at the whole : the science of complex systems in business, life, and society

John H. Miller
Basic Books, 2016

Publisher's Summary:

A top expert explains why a social and economic understanding of complex systems will help society to anticipate and confront our biggest challenges

Imagine trying to understand a stained glass window by breaking it into pieces and examining it one shard at a time. While you could probably learn a lot about each piece, you would have no idea about what the entire picture looks like. This is reductionism--the idea that to understand the world we only need to study its pieces--and it is how most social scientists approach their work.

In A Crude Look at the Whole, social scientist and economist John H. Miller shows why we need to start looking at whole pictures. For one thing, whether we are talking about stock markets, computer networks, or biological organisms, individual parts only make sense when we remember that they are part of larger wholes. And perhaps more importantly, those wholes can take on behaviors that are strikingly different from that of their pieces.

Miller, a leading expert in the computational study of complex adaptive systems, reveals astounding global patterns linking the organization of otherwise radically different structures: It might seem crude, but a beehive's temperature control system can help predict market fluctuations and a mammal's heartbeat can help us understand the "heartbeat" of a city and adapt urban planning accordingly. From enduring racial segregation to sudden stock market disasters, once we start drawing links between complex systems, we can start solving what otherwise might be totally intractable problems.

Thanks to this revolutionary perspective, we can finally transcend the limits of reductionism and discover crucial new ideas. Scientifically founded and beautifully written, A Crude Look at the Whole is a powerful exploration of the challenges that we face as a society. As it reveals, taking the crude look might be the only way to truly see.

Why greatness cannot be planned : the myth of the objective

Stanley, Kenneth O; Lehman, Joel
Springer, 2015

Publisher's Summary:

Why does modern life revolve around objectives? From how science is funded, to improving how children are educated -- and nearly everything in-between -- our society has become obsessed with a seductive illusion: that greatness results from doggedly measuring improvement in the relentless pursuit of an ambitious goal. In Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned, Stanley and Lehman begin with a surprising scientific discovery in artificial intelligence that leads ultimately to the conclusion that the objective obsession has gone too far. They make the case that great achievement can't be bottled up into mechanical metrics; that innovation is not driven by narrowly focused heroic effort; and that we would be wiser (and the outcomes better) if instead we whole-heartedly embraced serendipitous discovery and playful creativity.

Controversial at its heart, yet refreshingly provocative, this book challenges readers to consider life without a destination and discovery without a compass.


Complexity: a very short introduction (very short introductions)

John H. Holland
Oxford University Press, 2014

Publisher's Summary:

The importance of complexity is well-captured by Hawking's comment: "Complexity is the science of the 21st century". From the movement of flocks of birds to the Internet, environmental sustainability, and market regulation, the study and understanding of complex non-linear systems has become highly influential over the last 30 years. In this Very Short Introduction, one of the leading figures in the field, John Holland, introduces the key elements and conceptual framework of complexity. From complex physical systems such as fluid flow and the difficulties of predicting weather, to complex adaptive systems such as the highly diverse and interdependent ecosystems of rainforests, he combines simple, well-known examples -- Adam Smith's pin factory, Darwin's comet orchid, and Simon's 'watchmaker' -- with an account of the approaches, involving agents and urn models, taken by complexity theory.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

Celebrating John H. Holland's 85th Birthday; a special present to John from his friends

Jan W. Vasbinder; Helena Hong Gao; Jing Han eds.
Mainland Press, 2014

This publication includes thirty-three essays and short stories to honor John Holland by relatives, friends, fellow scientists, and scholars.

Arrival of the fittest : solving evolution's greatest puzzle

Wagner, Andreas
Current, 2014

Publisher's Summary:

“Natural selection can preserve innovations, but it cannot create them. Nature’s many innovations—some uncannily perfect—call for natural principles that accelerate life’s ability to innovate.”

Darwin’s theory of natural selection explains how useful adaptations are preserved over time. But the biggest mystery about evolution eluded him. As genetics pioneer Hugo de Vries put it, “natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.”

Can random mutations over a mere 3.8 billion years really be responsible for wings, eyeballs, knees, camouflage, lactose digestion, photosynthesis, and the rest of nature’s creative marvels? And if the answer is no, what is the mechanism that explains evolution’s speed and efficiency?

In Arrival of the Fittest, renowned evolutionary biologist Andreas Wagner draws on over fifteen years of research to present the missing piece in Darwin's theory. Using experimental and computational technologies that were heretofore unimagined, he has found that adaptations are not just driven by chance, but by a set of laws that allow nature to discover new molecules and mechanisms in a fraction of the time that random variation would take.

Consider the Arctic cod, a fish that lives and thrives within six degrees of the North Pole, in waters that regularly fall below 0 degrees. At that temperature, the internal fluids of most organisms turn into ice crystals. And yet, the arctic cod survives by producing proteins that lower the freezing temperature of its body fluids, much like antifreeze does for a car’s engine coolant. The invention of those proteins is an archetypal example of nature’s enormous powers of creativity.

Meticulously researched, carefully argued, evocatively written, and full of fascinating examples from the animal kingdom, Arrival of the Fittest offers up the final puzzle piece in the mystery of life’s rich diversity.

Reality mining : using big data to engineer a better world

Nathan. Eagle; Kate Greene
The MIT Press, 2014

Publisher's Summary:

A look at how Big Data can be put to positive use, from helping users break bad habits to tracking the global spread of disease.

Big Data is made up of lots of little data: numbers entered into cell phones, addresses entered into GPS devices, visits to websites, online purchases, ATM transactions, and any other activity that leaves a digital trail. Although the abuse of Big Data -- surveillance, spying, hacking -- has made headlines, it shouldn't overshadow the abundant positive applications of Big Data. In Reality Mining, Nathan Eagle and Kate Greene cut through the hype and the headlines to explore the positive potential of Big Data, showing the ways in which the analysis of Big Data ("Reality Mining") can be used to improve human systems as varied as political polling and disease tracking, while considering user privacy.

Eagle, a recognized expert in the field, and Greene, an experienced technology journalist, describe Reality Mining at five different levels: the individual, the neighborhood and organization, the city, the nation, and the world. For each level, they first offer a nontechnical explanation of data collection methods and then describe applications and systems that have been or could be built. These include a mobile app that helps smokers quit smoking; a workplace "knowledge system"; the use of GPS, Wi-Fi, and mobile phone data to manage and predict traffic flows; and the analysis of social media to track the spread of disease. Eagle and Greene argue that Big Data, used respectfully and responsibly, can help people live better, healthier, and happier lives.


Decision making and imperfection

Tatiana V. Guy; Miroslav Kárný; David Wolpert
Springer, 2013

Publisher's Summary:

Decision making (DM) is ubiquitous in both natural and artificial systems. The decisions made often differ from those recommended by the axiomatically well-grounded normative Bayesian decision theory, in a large part due to limited cognitive and computational resources of decision makers (either artificial units or humans). This state of a airs is often described by saying that decision makers are imperfect and exhibit bounded rationality. The neglected influence of emotional state and personality traits is an additional reason why normative theory fails to model human DM process. The book is a joint effort of the top researchers from different disciplines to identify sources of imperfection and ways how to decrease discrepancies between the prescriptive theory and real-life DM. The contributions consider: · how a crowd of imperfect decision makers outperforms experts' decisions; · how to decrease decision makers' imperfection by reducing knowledge available; · how to decrease imperfection via automated elicitation of DM preferences; · a human's limited willingness to master the available decision-support tools as an additional source of imperfection; · how the decision maker's emotional state influences the rationality; a DM support of edutainment robot based on its system of values and respecting emotions. The book will appeal to anyone interested in the challenging topic of DM theory and its applications.

Chaos and fractals; an elementary introduction

David P. Feldman
Oxford University Press, 2012

Publisher's Summary:

This book provides the reader with an elementary introduction to chaos and fractals, suitable for students with a background in elementary algebra, without assuming prior coursework in calculus or physics. It introduces the key phenomena of chaos - aperiodicity, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, bifurcations - via simple iterated functions. Fractals are introduced as self-similar geometric objects and analyzed with the self-similarity and box-counting dimensions. After a brief discussion of power laws, subsequent chapters explore Julia Sets and the Mandelbrot Set. The last part of the book examines two-dimensional dynamical systems, strange attractors, cellular automata, and chaotic differential equations.

Metabolic ecology: a scaling approach

Richard M. Sibly, James H. Brown, and Astrid Kodric-Brown
Wiley-Blackwell, 2012

Publisher's Summary:

Most of ecology is about metabolism: the ways that organisms use energy and materials. The energy requirements of individuals - their metabolic rates - vary predictably with their body size and temperature. Ecological interactions are exchanges of energy and materials between organisms and their environments. So metabolic rate affects ecological processes at all levels: individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems. Each chapter focuses on a different process, level of organization, or kind of organism. It lays a conceptual foundation and presents empirical examples. Together, the chapters provide an integrated framework that holds the promise for a unified theory of ecology. The book is intended to be accessible to upper-level undergraduate, and graduate students, but also of interest to senior scientists. Its easy-to-read chapters and clear illustrations can be used in lecture and seminar courses. Together they make for an authoritative treatment that will inspire future generations to study metabolic ecology.

The new economics of inequality and redistribution

Samuel Bowles
Cambridge University Press, 2012

Publisher's Summary:

Economists warn that policies to level the economic playing field come with a hefty price tag. But this so-called 'equality-efficiency trade-off' has proven difficult to document. The data suggest, instead, that the extraordinary levels of economic inequality now experienced in many economies are detrimental to the economy. Moreover, recent economic experiments and other evidence confirm that most citizens are committed to fairness and are willing to sacrifice to help those less fortunate than themselves. Incorporating the latest results from behavioral economics and the new microeconomics of credit and labor markets, Bowles shows that escalating economic disparity is not the unavoidable price of progress. Rather it is policy choice - often a very costly one. Here drawing on his experience both as a policy advisor and an academic economist, he offers an alternative direction, a novel and optimistic account of a more just and better working economy.

Signals and boundaries; building blocks for complex adaptive systems

John H. Holland
MIT Press, 2012

Publisher's Summary:

Complex adaptive systems (cas), including ecosystems, governments, biological cells, and markets, are characterized by intricate hierarchical arrangements of boundaries and signals. In ecosystems, for example, niches act as semi-permeable boundaries, and smells and visual patterns serve as signals; governments have departmental hierarchies with memoranda acting as signals; and so it is with other cas. Despite a wealth of data and descriptions concerning different cas, there remain many unanswered questions about "steering" these systems. In Signals and Boundaries, John Holland argues that understanding the origin of the intricate signal/border hierarchies of these systems is the key to answering such questions. He develops an overarching framework for comparing and steering cas through the mechanisms that generate their signal/boundary hierarchies. Holland lays out a path for developing the framework that emphasizes agents, niches, theory, and mathematical models. He discusses, among other topics, theory construction; signal-processing agents; networks as representations of signal/boundary interaction; adaptation; recombination and reproduction; the use of tagged urn models (adapted from elementary probability theory) to represent boundary hierarchies; finitely generated systems as a way to tie the models examined into a single framework; the framework itself, illustrated by a simple finitely generated version of the development of a multi-celled organism; and Markov processes.

The emergence of organizations and markets

John F. Padgett and Walter W. Powell
Princeton University Press, 2012

Publisher's Summary:

The social sciences have sophisticated models of choice and equilibrium but little understanding of the emergence of novelty. Where do new alternatives, new organizational forms, and new types of people come from? Combining biochemical insights about the origin of life with innovative and historically oriented social network analyses, John Padgett and Walter Powell develop a theory about the emergence of organizational, market, and biographical novelty from the coevolution of multiple social networks. They demonstrate that novelty arises from spillovers across intertwined networks in different domains. In the short run actors make relations, but in the long run relations make actors.

This theory of novelty emerging from intersecting production and biographical flows is developed through formal deductive modeling and through a wide range of original historical case studies. Padgett and Powell build on the biochemical concept of autocatalysis--the chemical definition of life--and then extend this autocatalytic reasoning to social processes of production and communication. Padgett and Powell, along with other colleagues, analyze a very wide range of cases of emergence. They look at the emergence of organizational novelty in early capitalism and state formation; they examine the transformation of communism; and they analyze with detailed network data contemporary science-based capitalism: the biotechnology industry, regional high-tech clusters, and the open source community.