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Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems (Economies of Asia; 14) 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0415152877
ISBN-10: 0415152879
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is a cogently argued, important and original book."
-Mary Hesse, author of "Forces and Fields
"This book constitutes an excellent introduction to complexity theory and provides an intelligent appraisal of its implications for the philosophies of mind and science as well as for social theory."
-Keith Ansell Pearson, University of Warwick

About the Author

Paul Cilliers lectures in philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
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Product Details

  • Series: Economies of Asia; 14
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (March 11, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415152879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415152877
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #837,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Will McWhinney on July 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
Cilliers has undertaken an important job - exploring the linkage between complexity thinking and postmodernism. He has made excellent use of some main writers on postmodernism and shown some important relation to studies of representation and self-organizing systems. He works hard to help us escape the locked-in positions of positivistic and foundationalist science, but his major conceptual base in connectionism displays an unabashed modernist view. While connectionism is an important tool in exploring the ideas about how the mind/brain works, it ignores other important ideas arising from the work of Maturana/Varela and Niklas Luhmann on auto-poiesis and John Holland on complex adaptive systems. More significantly, Cilliers is locked into the ideas of networks. It is a valuable tool for the technological advances, but for a full philosophical exploration he undertakes, we needs also to look at field thinking, particularly that arising in quantum fields discussion such as in Sunny Auyang' work.
What I find most difficult in Cillier's retention of the modernist view of competition. Our cultures may be agonistic but is competition fundamental to the development of human life?
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Format: Paperback
I read this book primarily through an interest in the philosophy of language. Of particular relevance in this respect is the emphasis on a characterisation of complexity as being opposed to traditional notions of representation. Cilliers draws parallels between the philosophy of Saussure and Derrida and scientific developments in distributed representation, particularly with respect to connectionist approaches as implemented in neural networks. Cilliers argues that a classical representational theory of language that posits syntax as an instantiation of semantics does not sufficiently allow for the complexity evident in language, but rather that meaning is constituted by the dynamic relationships between both the components of language and the environment in which it is embedded. Cilliers explicitly rejects rule-based symbol systems as being adequete for modelling language, referring to recent scientific research using neural networks to simulate language learning indicating that "though rules may be useful to describe linguistic phenomena, explicit rules need not be employed when language is acquired or when it is used" (p. 32). In Chapter 4 (pp. 48-57), Cilliers considers the Chinese Room Gedankenexperiment from the perspective of his thesis. He suggests that the debate has unquestionably assumed that the formal model of language represented by the argument is correct, that is, that a rule-book such as the one supposed is even possible. Cilliers suggests that this assumes certain features of language: that a formal grammar for a natural language can be constructed and represented in a lookup table; that there is a clean split between syntax and semantics; and that language represents rather than constitutes meaning (p. 53).Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a professional engineer with a strong interest in postmodern philosophy I identify closely with the author and I am very amazed at how he could relate the extremely abstract concepts of post-structuralism with the more concrete example of neural networks. His unmasking of the metaphysics of representation that underlies current research in artificial intelligence was a great insight for me. At only 142 pages, this book seemed very inviting and thus I bought it. But don't be misled, what this book lacks in length is more than made up by its density. For me, who prior to this had only read introductory books on postmodernism and had only vague notions about connectionism and neural networks, it turned out to be extremely challenging and demanding to read, and completing it gave me a sense of achievement similar to being done with a hard project. I think some parts were unnecessarily abstract, which, knowing the author's talent for making analogies and examples, felt like a disappointment. Other parts, such as his comments on postmodern ethics, simply begged for further elaboration or at least to references on the works of others in this field. I think I will return to this book once I read more on Derrida and Lyotard for a better understanding. I really hope that by then the author will have come out with a sequel to this very interesting and groundbreaking line of work.
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Format: Paperback
This work is essential for a cutting-edge understanding of how two independently cultivated lines of investigation - complexity and postmodernism - have fortuitously dovetailed, providing us with a new level of perspective upon the character and evolution of contemporary technology. I highly recommend reading this work in tandem with Don Ihde's groundbreaking study EXPANDING HERMENEUTICS: VISUALISM IN SCIENCE, itself a phenomenologically well-grounded yet visionary exposition of where the computer-inspired "visual turn" in hermeneutics is leading us in the 21st century.
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Format: Hardcover
Prof. Cilliers's elucidation of the key elements of complexity theory is not only informative but fascinating reading. He has taken two subjects (complexity and post-modernism), each of which can be frustrating and confusing to the average reader, clearly explained them, and then convincingly related them to each other. By describing each of these subjects in the context of the other (in true post-structural style), Prof. Cilliers makes each of them more understandable. Highly recommended!
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