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Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems (Economies of Asia; 14) [Paperback]

Paul Cilliers
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Feb 1998 0415152879 978-0415152877
In Complexity and Postmodernism, Paul Cilliers explores the idea of complexity in the light of contemporary perspectives from philosophy and science. Cilliers offers us a unique approach to understanding complexity and computational theory by integrating postmodern theory (like that of Derrida and Lyotard) into his discussion. Complexity and Postmodernism is an exciting and an original book that should be read by anyone interested in gaining a fresh understanding of complexity, postmodernism and connectionism.

Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (12 Feb 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415152879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415152877
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 15.5 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 440,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The worlds of science and philosophy have existed in isolation, but one could perhaps argue that the relationship between them is entering a new phase. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting view into complexity 31 Mar 1999
By A Customer
Though it helps to have a better understanding of the modern philosophy of science, it is not necessary in order understand the idea the book presents to the reader. It is very well thought out, cogent and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in cross-disciplined approaches to understanding concepts. I appreciate the process oriented nature of his thesis and how the classic Newtonian physics are inadequate to defining our rapidly changing universe. Be prepared to think, but prepare yourself for a good adventure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Disclaimer: I'm not a philosopher, nor am I a physicist, so I can't really appreciate merits of harsh reviews from these perspectives on American Amazon. But I consider myself being a specialist in enterprise software and a systems engineer, so what follows would be probably relevant only to people of my trade.

In his book Paul Cilliers explores various aspects of complex systems, in particular self-organization and capacity to reflect the external world. What makes it interesting from my perspective is that the author postulates that a neural network is superior model for a complex system when compared with predicate-based models. This may sound odd, but the use of this rather surprising approach is well-justified and enables the author to make interesting conclusions from the wealth of theoretical and practical results available in the field of neural networks.

The property of self-organization is said to be enabled by the system being on the verge between active (self-inducing) and passive (balancing) stances, and the true self-organization is only possible when there's a proper balance between cooperation and competition among elements, which is exactly the case for large scale neural networks, such as, arguably, our neural system.

However, the most interesting part of the book is the discussion about representation of the external world within a complex system. It is deemed to be a critical property of any complex system. An open system without representation capacity is unable to anticipate and react to upcoming changes that would eventually tear it off.

Paul Cilliers argues that a predicate-based approach is inferior for representing complex reality.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cross-genre philosophy is the way forward... 18 Sep 2000
By A Customer
Being familiar with post-structuralist philosophy, but not with complexity theory, it took me a while to understand the technical parts, where complex systems are explained. Once you get the grip of it though, the application of complexity into areas such as language and representation (Derrida) and postmodern society (Lyotard) is really impressive. Cilliers could go a step further and connect self-organisation to Deleuze+Guattari's rhizomes. The book is excellent though.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Without Referring to Wittgenstein? 22 Jan 2002
By Brad - Published on
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).
The overall picture of language that Cilliers develops has important parallels with the views of Wittgenstein, though, somewhat surprisingly, Wittgenstein is never explicitly mentioned (except with regard to his family concepts). Firstly, meaning is construed as occuring through dynamic processes (use) rather than static representations (the conception that Wittgenstein's private language argument criticises). Secondly, the idea that there is some fact of the matter (whether inside or outside human agents) that determines meaning is explicitly rejected. Finally, a straightforward split between syntax and semantics is denied (a distinction that the sceptical interpretation of Wittgenstein, offered by Kripke, takes advantage of).
In summary, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in making connections between dynamic systems theory and philosophy of mind or language -- Cilliers proves an effective communicator in both of the fields he wishes to connect.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A modernist approach to Complexity 7 July 2000
By Will McWhinney - Published on
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?
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A seminal work in the philosophy of technology 9 Jan 2000
By Salamantis - Published on
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.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but very challenging reading 7 Dec 2000
By Dennis Muzza - Published on
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and lucid explanation of basic complexity concepts 29 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on
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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