Top critical review
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Very basic introduction, lacks depths and a good editor.
on May 9, 2011
The book is composed of two parts: the first titled "what exactly is complexity theory?", and the second "what can complexity science do for me?". While I pretty much liked the first part, I got some mixed feeling with respect to the second which I'll try to explain below.
Part one describes the ideas behind the complexity field of research, its properties and provides some toy examples (such as mob behavior). The text is very clear, easy to follow and explained in a way that *anyone* can follow. On a personal note, while most was already known to me, I really enjoyed the Jazz music analogy in chapter 3. Generally, this part was very interesting; I was missing some discussions about the differences between the complexity theory and other related (or equivalent) ideas that can be found under different umbrellas such as "agent based models", "multi agent systems".
The problem starts with Part two of the book. In this part the goal of each chapter (six of them) is to show the application of the complexity ideas to various domains: from financial markets, through warfare and terrorism, to quantum physics. My criticism is that while the author spends lots of space to describe each model, he makes very little effort to discuss the results/theorems/conclusions that can be derived from the model and their impact on reality. That is, we learn to appreciate the nice model for couple of pages but than, as the model is an extremely simplified description of reality, I kept baffling at what valuable information can be actually derived from it. The author, with only few vague sentences about the actual impact of the model, does not make a good point with that regard.
For example, chapter 10 ends with a model on sheep-wolf-dog game where one needs to decide whether to send the dogs to attack the wolf or keep them to defend the sheep. One of the conclusions is that for small numbers, attack is the best defense. That is a nice slogan but obviously not something that we can really conclude from the model. Moreover, the author claims that this result is analogous to a navy boats problem from WW2, who were hunted by German U-boat submarines. The navy ships put on a device to change course randomly to avoid contact. I think that a more accurate description for the success of the random strategy might actually come from a game theory analysis which includes mixed strategies (as oppose to the suggested game). The whole part of critical evaluation with discussion on the limitation of the models and the presentation of alternative ideas is severely lacking in this book.
That problem was pretty much consistent with all the chapters, and left me questioning whether the complexity ideas are as strong as was advocated in part one of the book. Another issue that I had while reading is the poor writing style: there are numerous repetitions of the phrases "in other words" and "in particular", often several times in the same paragraph. Going back to my mixed feeling here, I grade the book with three stars.