Emergent Phenomena
May 27, 2010 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a good book on "Emergence."

Anybody know a good book on "Emergence"? I'm looking for something as cutting edge as possible. What math has been developed to support the theory? Is there math/logic that supports or describes the formation of flocks of birds, tornadic schools of fish, mental thoughts and personality from a collection of very simple neurons?

What is a good book on "Emergence"?
posted by Lord Fancy Pants to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Darwin Among The Machines?
posted by artlung at 7:14 AM on May 27, 2010

This is a tricky issue to find good books about. There are a lot of very good, fascinating ideas that get attached to the concept of "emergence," but they are almost drowned out by people who don't make terribly good models (especially in social science) and self-promote them like mad. I'd suggest two books: Critical Mass by Philip Ball and Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell. I haven't read it, but

Now then, as someone whose research touches on the field, a word of advice. Whenever you read about these things, though, always be skeptical! Most mathematical and computational modeling involves throwing out lots of information, because complete descriptions are too complicated to understand. A good model keeps the guts of what is going on, and informs how the process would work in a more complicated situation. However, many different models can often lead to very similar outcomes, especially if you restrict your outcomes to very particular aspects of a system. Always ask if you think the micro-mechanics of a model seem to agree, at least generally, with the actual set of interactions in the system.
posted by Schismatic at 7:25 AM on May 27, 2010

Do you mean... Emergence?
posted by jetsam at 7:31 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here are a couple that address more philosophical issues associated with emergence: The Re-Emergence of Emergence and Mind and Emergence.
posted by reverend cuttle at 7:44 AM on May 27, 2010

Seconding Critical Mass. Mitchell's Complexity is decent; it tends to over-focus on genetic algorithms (her own field), but the notes have much of the actual math if you want it. Sync by Steven Strogatz is also excellent.
posted by thermogenesis at 8:43 AM on May 27, 2010

Christohper Alexander's The Phenomenon of Life
posted by mearls at 9:08 AM on May 27, 2010

Seconding Sync.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:55 AM on May 27, 2010

How about Emergence: From Chaos To Order by John Holland. His book Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity may also be of interest.
posted by leslies at 10:24 AM on May 27, 2010

This is a central topic in systems biology.. a lot of it focuses specifically on the mechanisms of emergence, that is, ways to model the relationships between very simple components in a way that the overall behavior comes out. The problem is, there aren't really good books on systems biology yet.. this book is ok from a bio angle. This book is written sort of about Santa Fe Institute, which is basically an entire institute that deals with complex systems (which in turn is basically dealing with emergence). Its.. quirky, but fun.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:20 AM on May 27, 2010

Another one in that line: Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades Biology by Ricard Solé and Brian Goodwin.
posted by Ruodlieb at 2:18 PM on May 27, 2010

Out of Control by Kevin Kelly (used copies start around $2...more than well worth it...)
posted by sexyrobot at 6:41 PM on May 27, 2010

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