- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (27 April 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140178740
- ISBN-13: 978-0140178746
- Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 2.5 x 19.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,213,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 27 Apr 1995
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About the Author
Jack Cohen is an internationally known reproductive biologist. Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
TO prove their point, the authors embark on a dazzling tour of biology, chemistry and physics. But something is missing say the authors. What we know, they claim, are tiny islands in a sea of ignorance; it is self limiting as the larger questions get neglected. It is the causes of simplicity, they say - the order that suddenly emerges - that researchers should explore.
So, they conclude, it is time for a new set of questions. Unfortunately, just when we expect something new, it is here that the book gets a bit vague, with the authors falling back on anecdotes and speculation. They try to coin a new vocabulary ("simplexity" for the old and "complicity" for theirs); offer some diagrams of what they want, including an odd picture of mixing smoke with a unicorn head; and they harp on strange and abrupt conclusions, such as the importance of squid fat to the evolution of the human brain. But they do not offer a coherent new paradigm.
An uneven effort, but fun and very funny at times.
In fact the first half of the book is a guided tour of biology, chemisty and physics. Covering how these great sciences got where they are today, from Newton to Darwin, DNA to the lattice structure of diamonds.
The second half then presents a new way to look at science. Rather then delving inside something to find underlying rules, we should view things in context.
For example, traditionally the law of gravity is seen as the underlying principle that explains planetary motion. Cohen and Stewart argue that it is just a rule (of thumb?) that fits the facts, and that there is no LAW of gravity, no grand design. Gravity is just the way it is, and our 'Law' of gravity suits our needs.
It seems a subtle distinction, but on reading this book it is quite an important one, and it has certainly given me a different view of the world.
Very intelligent and always interesting, this book is written for the layman and is always at pains to explains matters thoroughly and use every possible analogy to help get ideas across.
This book is worth twice the money for the first half alone - a perfect primer for those interested in science, but who dont want to get technical.
Cohen and Stewart are high level experts in their respective fields, and yet they write simply and lucidly, resulting in a desire to read further.
Essentially, this book is a discussion of reductive science (and it gives a wonderfully concise and fascinating description of its achievements) set against the idea of emergent complexity. This is the debate which questions whether all levels of complexity can be adequately explained by using more simple and law-like ideas. Having set this scene, the authors show some of the ways that patterns (simplicity) emerge from apparently chaotic systems... suggesting that understanding where such simplicities come from is actually more interesting and fruitful than understanding complexity.
Perhaps the most striking of the many illustrations and ideas are the ones about the relationship between geneotype and phenotype. This they do in ways which lead one to be excited about genetics but much more skeptical about its usefulness in answering many of the questions we find most important about ourselves.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was written (by me and Ian Stewart) in the early 1990's. It got great reviews then, and still reads well now (Ian's writing is beautiful...). Read morePublished on 4 April 2013 by Dr. Jack Cohen
This is a brilliantly written and ingeniously styled book. Laid out in two reciprocal halves, with exquisitely mirror-image chapter titles, the book explores the paradoxical... Read morePublished on 2 May 2011 by anozama
So without repeating a lot of what has already been written above, I'd like to concur Bobobob5 on the whole. Read morePublished on 2 Nov. 2004 by MR O S FREKE
In my view an excellent book. It is hard to make science interesting and few writers do it well. It is even harder to make it funny, which these two also manage to do. Read morePublished on 7 Jan. 2004 by Jon Freeman