Non-Fiction, Science

A Lunchtime Read: Simply Complexity is Complex Enough

Sitting down to my sad worktime lunch of yesterday’s uneaten dinner, I decide to read this Neil Johnson book which I received for free from an agent based modeling event. Simply Complexity is meant to break down Complexity Theory for the layman or so it’s author states. With such a setup I ask “How long until the author of this book says ‘butterfly effect’?” Since it is a sad worktime lunch, I end up answering myself “Well, if it’s anywhere in the first 5 pages I’m closing the book.”

To my pleasant surprise, I do not encounter the words “butterfly effect” anywhere. Instead, I am taken on a tour of all that is considered complexity studies…introductory language on how phenomena emerge from individual interactions, to the importance of feedback. Johnson presents these complex concepts in a straightforward fashion with simple examples that he carries through the book. The (dare I say it) complexity of what he presents increases to a point that it could serve as an introductory textbook on the topic in a college level course.

Some of the later material in the book – concepts such as Power Laws can’t really be written in a way that those averse to equations will want to read. But for those who are willing to stick them out the explanation Johnson provides is one of the easiest to understand that I’ve found.

Considering the original publication date of this book was 2007 and the material regularly considers financial examples. It’s a shame it wasn’t read more widely in its original format. According to the author’s own description, the types of market phenomena would have been accessibly predicted. That said, predicting a crash isn’t necessarily the same as effectively avoiding one. Ten years on, the book continues to serve as an effective entry point into complexity studies.

This review may be found online at Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. A paperback copy of the book has also been placed in a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.