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The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 27 Apr 1995

4.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Paperback, 27 Apr 1995
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Product details

  • 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)

Product Description

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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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a witty and at times brilliant book. The authors argue that the reductionist approach to science, which has flourished over the last 300 years, for a more holistic or contrextual approach. In the reductionist approach, scientists have choped problems into manageable bits - lab experiments or discreet mathematical problems - that eventually they assume will be fit together into a coherent whole. Nature in this view functions as a vast machine they can reduce and separate into its component parts.

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.
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Format: Paperback
The title of this book is slightly misleading, as it implies it is about chaos, complexity and simplicity.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Having just read the other reviews about this great book, I am a bit surprised how little they refer to the central themes!

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.
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Format: Paperback
This book is from what I call the 'anti-reductionist' school of scientific thinking. Its aim is apparently to break the link between what happens at the atomic level and the higher level, i.e. the more visible world of plants, animals, planets etc. If this break could be achieved, the world could then be claimed as free from determinism. This is a key area for philosophers and physicists, and it is linked to the existence of free will. The authors, who are experts in the fields of evolution and modern mathematics, have a mass of material at their disposal, and this seems at times to overwhelm them; my impression is that they could quite easily turn out thousands and thousands of pages on the theme! And that is, in my opinion, the main problem, for if one truly understands a subject, one should be able to express ideas and conclusions quite concisely. After reading the book from cover to cover, I was not at all convinced that there was a cohesive message in any of it. That isn't to say that it doesn't contain a mass of most interesting information; there is surely a lot of fascinating material in the book. But, it seems to lack analysis.
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