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Showing 1-10 of 40 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 126 reviews
on May 14, 2014
An interesting look at the new discipline of Complexity science, and a subtle jab at the idea of reductionism as the only way to understand the universe. Johnson, a columnist for Discover, looks at the phenomenon of Emergence as it takes new forms. Starting from the idea of slime molds and ant colonies, both of which are collectives made up of not particularly "intelligent" individual parts that do pretty amazing things as a collective, to brain cells (again not particularly amazing on their own), to computer software that gains complexity as time goes on. Emergence is a complicated subject that covers a verity of phenomena, but is about how things go from simple to complex, and pic up new qualities as they do so. This runs counter to the normal way that science tends to do things, namely to reduce things to the smallest units to understand a thing. Emergence is noted for having a "downwardly causative" affect upon the individual parts that is not particularly predictable by looking at the parts. That is in part why it can be a confusing book: it seems to jump from topic to topic, all the while it is talking about a phenomenon that cuts across all sorts of disciplines and can be seen in many different places. It also, as I noted, works in a way that runs counter to the general dogmatic proposition of reductionist thought that dominates analytic philosophy and science. This leads many to reject the concept out of hand as being "unscientific" or "unfocused." However, it is a real thing, that can be seen in slime mold movements and the development of urban areas. The book points to how it can be harnessed and tapped in order to build a, potentially, better future.
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on November 8, 2015
Steve is a pop writer and never spends the time to dig deep into his subject matter. The latter half of the book completely falls apart into blather. At some points, one gets the impression that ALL events that are not conducted by a "centralized, Stalinist leader" (he uses Stalin way too much) somehow qualify them as 'emergent.' So, there is no conceptual clarity about what IS and what IS NOT emergence. Just vagueness and no rigor. Melanie Mitchell on 'Complexity' is way better (though harder to read than this, but hey, it is a complex subject matter, so it SHOULD be harder than Steve's book!!!).
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on February 7, 2003
The publishing industry continues to fuel the growth of popular science with titles like Emergence. I'm all for the growth of science titles, but the price comes at the increase in the number of watered-down, easy-to-digest material you'll find in bookstores. With the explosion in books written on the topic of complex adaptive systems, I found it difficult to choose a single book in the category. With little restraint, I dove in.
Emergence is a light, easy read devoted to describing systems that demonstrate adaptive behavior. The author sends significant time on contemporary systems such as the news media, the worldwide web, and large urban areas. On more than one occasion, the author appears to be reaching to make a conclusion. It's difficult to say whether he hadn't done the research or wanted the reader to draw his/her own conclusion.
Nonetheless, Steven Johnson paints an abstract picture of systems that demonstrate a larger, collective set of smarts. Like most abstract art, some people will be inspired and others won't. I found the writing and subject matter interesting enough to keep my curiosity fueled to pick up another book on complex systems. If you approach Emergence with a mind-set of getting more art than science, you're less likely to be let down.
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on July 18, 2016
An excellent read - I first read it 10+ years ago, but lent my copy out (terminally, it appears) and have been missing it ever since. Picked up the digital copy for my Kindle and have found it just as interesting now as it was the first time around.
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on May 25, 2003
As per the previous reviews the book is an exuberant romp through a fascinating field of theory. The first half of the book is wonderful and will get you thinking about things differently (unless you are already well read in the area -- which I am not). The annecdotes regarding ants and cities are great introductory material but I found myself wanting the writer to go a little deeper. Chapters 5 and 6 are a little weak and find the author waxing excitedly about a variety of disconnected threads. The closing section of the book is an interesting attempt to extrapolate current trends into the future -- mostly dwelling on music, film, broadband etc. The futurism would have been more satisfying if it had touched more on other areas of life, medical, manufacturing, but that would have required a far greater leap. Overall, a fun book and a very quick read!
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on March 31, 2013
Very interesting and well written book. The author is pretty constantly pushing the idea that understanding emergence and writing emergent software are the be-all end-all solutions to everything. As a software engineer, I can assure you this is not the truth. In fact, "the 5 rules of emergence" need to be carefully and critically digested. I understand that an author in this type of publication needs to choose a strong thesis and defend it well, but please, take the ideas in this book in with a critical eye.
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on April 11, 2014
I found this book through a Public Radio broadcast of "Radio Lab" that was focusing on the emergence of life in a variety of forms. Steve Johnson tells a compelling story, and for someone like myself who is not of a scientific mind, you are able to grasp what a surprising and powerful force life really is.
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on October 18, 2016
I read Tipping Point and Emergence within a month. This book had several dated chapters. Especially the video game portion. The chapters on ants and primates worked better for me.
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on October 13, 2002
Johnson has his finger on an interesting concept (emergence) that has been sweeping through science for the past decade or so. His analogies are hit-or-miss. Occasionally the book is thought-provoking, but nowhere does he come near to the depth and impact of books like Pinker's "The Language Instinct" or Gleick's "Chaos".
Some of the analogies backfired. The games mentioned don't strike me (or many other reviewers, apparently) as particularly compelling. The section on slashdot was also an underwhelming example, especially for those of us who have visited the site (the rating system is a weak form of emergence, and not as useful as Johnson seems to think).
A pleasant book, but over-hyped and over-rated.
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on December 17, 2013
"Emergence"--closely related to "self-organization"--is a process which has always characterized so many different areas studied by science, but of which we have become really aware only in the last few years. This book is an excellent introduction to how "emergence" solves so many puzzles about ants, cities, computers, and so many more areas of scientific interest.
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