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Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life (Princeton Studies in Complexity) Paperback – 25 Mar 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (25 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691127026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691127026
  • Product Dimensions: 15.8 x 1.8 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 332,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From the Back Cover

"The use of computational, especially agent-based, models has already shown its value in illuminating the study of economic and other social processes. Miller and Page have written an orientation to this field that is a model of motivation and insight, making clear the underlying thinking and illustrating it by varied and thoughtful examples. It conveys with remarkable clarity the essentials of the complex systems approach to the embarking researcher."--Kenneth J. Arrow, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics

"In "Complex Adaptive Systems," two masters of this burgeoning field provide a highly readable and novel restatement of the logic of social interactions, linking individually based micro processes to macrosocial outcomes, ranging from Adam Smith's invisible hand to Thomas Schelling's models of standing ovations. The book combines the vision of a new Santa Fe school of computational, social, and behavioral science with essential 'how to' advice for apprentice modelers."--Samuel Bowles, author of "Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, Evolution"

"This is a wonderful book that will be read by graduate students, faculty, and policymakers. The authors write in an extraordinarily clear manner about topics that are very technical and difficult for many people. I sat down to begin thumbing through and found myself deeply engaged."--Elinor Ostrom, author of "Understanding Institutional Diversity"

About the Author

John H. Miller is professor of economics and social sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. Scott E. Page is professor of complex systems, political science, and economics at the University of Michigan. He is the author of "The Difference" (Princeton).


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Format: Paperback
This book offers a very good introduction to the field of complexity theory and emergence.

From the introduction it is clearly a valuable book to own - it has some very strong explanations, which are expressed in such a way as to render the field understandable, and offer the reader insights into the value of research and theory emerging in this field.

I bought this book before doing further research in the area, and I really feel that it gave me the perfect grounding to go on and read others with an understanding of the value of these theories as well as their limitations. If I had started elsewhere, I don't think I would have grasped the subject matter with such detail, enthusiasm or sound judgement.
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A good introduction to the topic of complex adaptive systems, including model development and formal analysis of such systems. The book is relatively domain independent, covering 'social' systems from economic and political sciences to biology. Accessible to a wide audience, although the field has developed significantly over the last decade, although this book still acts as a good primer and introduction to the field.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 27 reviews
117 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Emergence of Convergence 4 Aug. 2007
By Vincent Matossian - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
At the time of writing this review, this book isn't searchable through Amazon, that's too bad because if you're reading the reviews wondering if it's worth buying, just browsing through any page from the intro or appendix B would clearly resolve any remnant hesitation. This book is a must have for anyone even remotely interested in complex adaptive systems. Scott Page and John Miller dress the landscape and state of the art of computational social science, the issues are motivated from the ground up and the existing approaches to resolve them explicitly detailed, yet using clear and jargon free language. For example, descriptions of the many concepts repeatedly used in the scientific method (of CAS et al) such as ergodicity or optimization theory are refreshing and insightful, simply stuff you don't get from textbooks, but rather that one would learn over years of experience doing.

In summary, the authors are handing us an expert summary of literature and developments of a complex field in a concise, fun and delightful read, it would be a shame to miss it.
118 of 124 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Conceptually rich but unnecessarily complicated 11 July 2009
By Diego Azeta - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Complexity is a hot subject. Unfortunately, the language of dynamical systems theory is advanced mathematics, which means that most of the available literature is not readily accessible to lay readers. Educated nonspecialists are left with few options aside from the occasional overview which, typically, does not delve too deeply into the subject matter. Given this state of affairs, Miller and Page's book would seem to be a godsend.

A stated aim of the book is that of providing a "clear, comprehensive, and accessible account of complex adaptive social systems" for "both academics and the sophisticated lay reader." Insofar as comprehensiveness, the authors deliver. Readers are first offered preliminary discussions on complexity in social worlds, modeling, and emergence, followed by a more detailed treatment of computational modeling as a tool for theory development and of agent-based objects as the recommended means to explore complex adaptive social systems. Then a basic framework of agent-based systems is presented, followed by discussions of unidimensional complexity models and the edge of chaos, social dynamics, evolving automata, and organizational decision making. These topics are largely illustrated with the authors' previously published models. Finally, conclusions are derived regarding the book's central theme: the "interest in between" as it pertains to complex social systems (which tend to fall in between the usual scientific boundaries). Two appendices bring up the rear: an agenda for future research in complex systems and an outline of best practices for computational modeling. The thematic coverage is ample and varied, excellent for a general introductory work on social complexity.

Insofar as clarity and accessibility are concerned, however, I find myself in disagreement with the book's blurbs. Much of the mathematical formalism has been expunged from the discussions, yes, but that by itself does not guarantee enhanced communicability. The logic of the arguments, which in this field is considerable, must now be conveyed by other means, either verbal or visual. The authors do make an effort to explain in words the basic concepts when they begin a new topic. But when they proceed to discuss an actual model, they shift gears. Instead of explaining or illustrating in detail the model's functional intricacies, they switch to summarizing their findings and present a table or figure that encapsulates the model's results. Repeated readings of the text are almost always required, but understanding does not necessarily ensue. This approach does not appear to contribute to the goal of making the models "as simple and accessible as possible."

This situation is not due to writer's oversight but to a deliberate choice. Prior to discussing their first example model (a computational version of Tiebout's model), the authors state: "Rather than fully pursuing the detailed version of the model we just outlined ... here we provide just an overview." Fateful words which amount to an announcement of their modus operandi, as the subsequent instances demonstrate. Caveat lector. The reader is also assumed to possess a working knowledge of such things as game theory, elementary combinatorics, and statistics, among others. So brush up on the basics and stay close to a search engine.

Reading this book takes time and some effort; it is not a breezy read. One never gets to see an actual piece of code or even pseudocode, which one would normally expect in an introductory book on computational modeling. The reader is left in a vacuum as to the mechanics of implementation. Still, it is a good book in terms of its conceptual content. But the inconsistency between the stated aim of providing clarity of exposition at an introductory level and the actual product the reader interacts with detracts from the book's overall quality. It seems that we are still waiting for the canonical introductory text on complex adaptive social systems.

Note: If you are looking for a general overview of complexity theory intended for a lay audience, I would suggest Melanie Mitchell's Complexity: A Guided Tour. It is excellent. At the other end of the spectrum, if you're heavily into power math, consider Complex and Adaptive Dynamical Systems: A Primer (Springer Complexity) by Claudius Gros. It is rigorous.
69 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gentle and Insightful Introduction to Complexity 2 Dec. 2007
By Herbert Gintis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Living systems are generally complex, dynamic adaptive systems with emergent properties that analytical models attending only to the local interactions of the system fail to capture. We must complement the standard analytical methods of physics, biology, and economics by additional mathematical tools, such as agent-based simulation and network theory.

A complex system consists of a large population of similar entities (e.g., human individuals) who interact through regularized channels (e.g., networks, markets, social institutions) with significant stochastic elements, without a system of centralized organization and control (i.e., if there is a state, it controls only a fraction of all social interactions, and itself is a complex system). A complex system is adaptive if it evolves through some evolutionary (genetic, cultural, agent-based silicon, or other) process of hereditary reproduction, mutation, and selection.. Characterizing a system as complex adaptive does not explain its operation, and does not solve any problems. However, it suggests that certain modeling tools are likely to be effective that have little use in a non-complex system.

Such novel research tools are needed because a complex adaptive system generally has emergent properties that cannot be analytically derived from its component parts. The stunning success of modern physics and chemistry lies in their ability to avoid or strictly limit emergence. Indeed, the experimental method in natural science is to create highly simplified laboratory conditions, under which modeling becomes analytically tractable. Physics is no more effective than economics or biology in analyzing complex real-world phenomena in situ.. The various branches of engineering (electrical, chemical, mechanical) are effective because they recreate in everyday life artificially controlled, non-complex, non-adaptive, environments that can directly apply the discoveries of physics and chemistry. This option is generally not open to most behavioral scientists, who rarely have the opportunity of ``engineering'' social institutions and cultures.

Miller and Page stress that complex systems cannot be properly modeled using the statistical and mathematical tools associated with differentiable manifolds and normal statistical distributions. Rather, complex phenomena exhibit power law behavior in which statistical distributions have "fat tails" that lead to considerable activity far from the distributions central tendency. A rather stunning example, discussed in Chapter 9, is the size distribution of wars in the world occurring between 1820 and 1943. When the number of deaths in a war (a good measure of the size of the war) is 10 to the power n, the number of wars with this size is about 2 x 3 to the power 7-n.

Miller and Page do a find job of making complexity analysis accessible to the non-expert, without overwhelming the reader with specialized aspects of agent-based modeling or dynamical systems. They provide an exciting stepping-off point for detailed studies in particular disciplines.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Introduction to Complexity in Social Systems 29 Sept. 2013
By William A. Reed - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a unique and valuable book on complex adaptive systems which is focused specifically on the organizational context. Although Miller & Page describe their book as "an in introduction to computational models of social life" the general interest reader should appreciate its thorough and accessible discussion of complex systems without regard to the modeling aspect.

Part I begins with simple examples of complexity and depicts how emergence can stem from the interaction of multiple agents acting semi-autonomously using simple rules. The theme is developed that individual agents (actors) form complex systems when they are interdependent in some way and these systems can generate complex and unpredictable behaviors without the benefit of a central controller. This leads to a brief but important discussion of some counter-intuitive characteristics of complex systems. For example, "adding noise to the system may actually enhance the ability of a system to find superior outcomes" (p. 30). Several examples make these ideas easy to understand and provide the groundwork for introducing agent-based modeling in Part II.

In Part II, chapter 4 renders the important construct of "emergence" which is the defining characteristic of complex adaptive systems. The authors offer an excellent definition of emergence as "individual, localized behavior [that] aggregates into global behavior that is, in some sense, disconnected from its origins" (p. 44).

Chapter 5 (Part III) begins the detailed discussion of agent-based modeling and computation as a theoretical approach to understanding complex systems. Agent-based models are said to have the capacity to produce "surprising results" (p. 67) because of the interaction of numerous random and non-linear combinations of variables.

Part IV develops ideas about modeling social systems. It primarily covers cellular automata without relying on heavy mathematics. While this is a necessary starting point to introduce some important concepts such as self-organized criticality and power-law phenomena (p. 165), cellular automata is a fairly limited approach to modeling human behavior and the book doesn't go much beyond this type of modeling to explain more sophisticated methods. In addition, most human and organizational behaviors don't follow power laws very closely, so these descriptions are informative but can be misleading. However, the authors correctly emphasize that human behavior is characteristically "fat-tailed" which is contrary to common misconceptions that (average) behavior is primarily Gaussian (normally distributed) in nature.

Chapter 7 introduces an interesting but seemingly arbitrary framework of the Buddhist "Eightfold Way". This appears to be a forced rather than a natural fit to how agents act in organizations and is puzzling for its inclusion. Yet, I may be missing something obvious here. So it would seem to be helpful for the authors to better connect this with the rest of the book (or leave it out entirely). The next section moves immediately to a discussion of modeling forest fires, so at least a summary or transition would be helpful.

Chapter 9 includes some interesting, albeit too brief, discussion of criticality in social systems (p. 177). Only one page is devoted to this topic. In contrast, nine pages were devoted to the "Eight-fold Way". Yet criticality in social systems seems to be the primary reason that one would study complexity in the first place. Hopefully, the authors will consider a revision of this book with some improved organization and a much expanded treatment of criticality.

Overall, the authors introduce and effectively define numerous complexity constructs that apply directly to individuals and organizations. This makes the book relatively unique and valuable, separate from its focus on agent-based modeling. Perhaps the modeling component is less useful in practice because the authors posit that only very simple models can be readily validated and used for most real-life problems. Yet, these core concepts are a necessary starting point for any type of agent based modelling initiative. Consequently, I recommend this book to anyone working in this area.

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very good introduction to the subject 23 July 2008
By F. Barbieri - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A nice introduction material. You will learn how complex phenomena are currently studied . I will use this book as an intro material to complex systems in my economics course.
My only complain is that the book scarcelly discuss aplications in social sciences!!! I have to use specific articles with applications for that. the author should supress the subtitle. but it is still an excellent book.
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