A Crude Look at the Whole: The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life, and Society

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9780465055692: A Crude Look at the Whole: The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life, and Society

A top expert explains why a social and economic understanding of complex systems will help society to anticipate and confront our biggest challenges
Imagine trying to understand a stained glass window by breaking it into pieces and examining it one shard at a time. While you could probably learn a lot about each piece, you would have no idea about what the entire picture looks like. This is reductionism--the idea that to understand the world we only need to study its pieces--and it is how most social scientists approach their work.

In A Crude Look at the Whole, social scientist and economist John H. Miller shows why we need to start looking at whole pictures. For one thing, whether we are talking about stock markets, computer networks, or biological organisms, individual parts only make sense when we remember that they are part of larger wholes. And perhaps more importantly, those wholes can take on behaviors that are strikingly different from that of their pieces.
Miller, a leading expert in the computational study of complex adaptive systems, reveals astounding global patterns linking the organization of otherwise radically different structures: It might seem crude, but a beehive's temperature control system can help predict market fluctuations and a mammal's heartbeat can help us understand the "heartbeat" of a city and adapt urban planning accordingly. From enduring racial segregation to sudden stock market disasters, once we start drawing links between complex systems, we can start solving what otherwise might be totally intractable problems.

Thanks to this revolutionary perspective, we can finally transcend the limits of reductionism and discover crucial new ideas. Scientifically founded and beautifully written, A Crude Look at the Whole is a powerful exploration of the challenges that we face as a society. As it reveals, taking the crude look might be the only way to truly see.

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About the Author:

John H. Miller is a professor of economics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University and the head of the university's Department of Social and Decision Sciences. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan, and serves on the faculty of the Santa Fe Institute.

Review:

"[A Crude Look at the Whole is a] succinct, elegant study of systems thinking, the newish science examining basic principles, such as emergence, that govern physics, biology and economics."―Nature

"A Crude Look at the Whole presents most of the starter-level examples of complexity. Social insects are an illustration crucial to Miller's economic focus. He gives an engaging account of how the simple behaviour of individual ants produces something that looks a bit like intelligence in the nest as a whole."―New Scientist

"Miller's whirlwind tour is...well-grounded; he stresses complexity theory as an approach and a complementary way of thinking, not as a cure-all."―Slate

"Miller...provide[s] a thought-provoking introduction to the study of complexity."―Publishers Weekly

"Miller offers a vigorous survey of the tools, techniques, and ideas underlying complex systems and their study."―Kirkus Reviews

"A Crude Look at the Whole is a delightful tour of the core principles of complex systems. You will see the world differently, and more clearly, after reading this erudite and wondrous romp."―Michael J. Mauboussin, Head of Global Financial Strategies, Credit Suisse

"Miller's book is a fine introduction to complex systems thinking in the context of social systems."―Jim Rutt, past Chairman of the Santa Fe Institute and Director of the Proteus Foundation

"Well-written, interesting, and stimulating. This book shows us how individual elements--bees, traders, neurons--interact to produce 'endless forms most beautiful.' John Miller makes complexity seem simple."―W. Brian Arthur, author of Complexity and the Economy and recipient of the Lagrange Prize in Complexity Science

"The 'sciences of complexity' crystallized about thirty years ago, partially at the Santa Fe Institute. John Miller was the first postdoctoral fellow at SFI. His A Crude Look at the Whole is a superb "look." Miller's range is synoptic. More, the topics are essential for the world of today. Read this book."―Stuart Kauffman, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, emeritus professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania and author of At Home In the Universe

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