What is this “complexity” of which you speak?

Melanie Mitchell

Melanie Mitchell (Photo credit: hukuzatuna)

Complexity: A Guided Tour

This excellent work of popular science is very cheap and I have to confess that was part of the attraction – I could see from a quick scan that it covered a lot of subjects I was interested in and I could still feel I was using my leisure/pleasure time in pursuit of science if I read it (one day I will be back to reading novels, I promise).

In fact it turned out to be a very good companion volume to Godel, Escher, Bach: not a surprise when you discover its author, Melanie Mitchell, had her PhD supervised by Doug Hofstadter.

The book built on the knowledge I gained from GEB – especially in (computational) biology and genetics (the explanation of a genetic algorithm here is streets ahead of that in The New Turing Omnibus – and that’s a very good book) and a number of other fields – including the ideas of A New Kind of Science – which I am now determined to have another look at.

The book’s principal weakness, one that Mitchell discusses at some length, though never quite satisfactorily, is the very idea of “complexity” – are these areas really the core of a science (of emergent properties?) or are they interesting areas which are analogically related but where the links might not be that much greater? At the end of the book I can certainly see the links between the subjects discussed but, as with GEB, one is left puzzling over whether this is really as profound as the author thinks. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

Anyway, it’s a very good (and cheap!) book.