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Emergence: The Connected Lives Of Ants, Brains, Cities And Software

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  2,504 Ratings  ·  209 Reviews
As Steven Johnson explains with a rare lucidity in Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software, an individual ant, like an individual neuron, is just about as dumb as can be. Connect enough of them together properly, though, and you get spontaneous intelligence. Starting with the weird behaviour of the semi-colonial organisms we call slime molds, Jo ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 4th 2001 by Allen Lane (first published August 28th 2001)
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Every now and then I start reading and realize "this book is going to change how I think."

Its a little bit scary and a lot of bit exciting.

While I know--I know--I picked this up because I thought it was about disease, Emergence has proved far more interesting and satisfying than I could hope. Emergence's premise is about networks and 'organized' behavior that develops from a lower-level to a more sophisticated one. In one sense, this is a very real snapshot of the history of thinking/science cap
In my mind I've split this book into two halves: the half that is severely fascinating, opening doors for me to think about emergence on new scales and inspiring me to contemplate how I could build a model of memory with the principle at its core-- memory as a decentralized, locally interconnected, self-organizing network of instances. I could do that. And I owe the complete absorption of my thoughts with the idea to Johnson and his fascinating first few chapters.
The other half of the book is a
Orton Family Foundation
Some would call me indecisive, fickle, foolish, or a good candidate for Ritalin, given my tendency to engage in many disciplines at once. Even now, with a masters degree in environmental science, I am plotting an eventual return to school for an MFA, or MBA, or MEd, or perhaps just some PhDs. I prefer to think of myself as a generalist, however, in the great tradition of cockroaches, crabgrass, Leonardo DaVinci and Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Indeed, I love finding connections between elements as ...more
I enjoyed this book and then I didn’t. Emergence starts out as a field guide to the idea of emergence and how it crosses all kinds of disciplines. This is the best part. But the bulk of the book, written in Wired Magazine-style gee-whiz-techster prose, is devoted to computer programming and the author going on and on about what he thinks is and isn’t emergence. Tedious.

Also, if any book could benefit from a thorough soaking in Austrian economics, this is it. Hayekian notions of dispersed inform
Jan 09, 2008 Henry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
More stuff emerges from the cloud of gas
Sometimes the cloud turns into an insect
Sometimes the insects turn into brains
Sometimes the brains go to French raves
May 16, 2016 Anbu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once in a while i come across books that challenge you to think differently and connect the dots between seemingly unrelated subjects. This book is one among them. I like the way how ants, slime mold, cities and distributed software are related. I like the idea of how simple systems by following simple rules can become complex organized systems. It gives a good idea about how feedback loops will change or already changing the software industry and AI.
One minor setback on the book is some storie
Sep 06, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mainstream media meets complex adaptive systems in this book. The publishing industry continues to fuel the growth of popular science with titles like Emergence. I'm all for the growth of science titles, but the price comes at the increase in the number of watered-down, easy-to-digest material you'll find in bookstores. With the explosion in books written on the topic of complex adaptive systems, I found it difficult to choose a single book in the category. With little restraint, I dove in.

Dan Pfeiffer
Mar 17, 2015 Dan Pfeiffer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published in 2001 but still holds up well today in its discussion of the subject of emergence and self organization. It briefly touches on the possibilities of emergent patterns brought to bear on an expended layer of networked items such as appliances and their learned ability to "read minds" which results in some event or action to be taken. An idea more recently discussed the book, "Enchanted Objects." Sensor-driven networked objects will require self organizing system constructive abilities ...more
Steve Diamond
The first couple of chapters were well written and gave an interesting historical account of the antecedents of complexity theory. But when Johnson begins to cover more current research (and remember, this was published in 2001), the writing bogs down, becoming very repetitive and often pedestrian. By the time he gets to speculating about the future, near the end, it's not really worth reading. Except for some ungrounded flights of fancy, it doesn't get much beyond envisioning sites like Goodrea ...more
Apr 25, 2008 Abailart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
See my brief review of "Complexity: the emerging science at the edge of order and chaos". This book began to flesh out for me the fascinating area of emergence as a phenomenon. This shows how individual items (e.g. ants) combine to make a super-organism that 'has a mind of its own', and how in our human lives such a thing as a city emerges as the product less of planning than of dynamic interaction. Recommended as a fertile introduction to complexity theory and emergence.
I gave this book to my lab members shortly after it came out. A fascinating synthesis of ideas and examples that lead to a very powerful conclusion: highly complex phenomena can emerge from simple rules executed by multiple elements. A great read, and rich with implications for our lives and our world.
Josh O'Berski
Jan 29, 2014 Josh O'Berski rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The universe is a little like your brain which somewhat like a city which is kind of like ants which are a bit like slime mold which is not as insulting as it sounds.
He presses his finger to his temple, and raises a Spockish eyebrow: 'Hmmmm. Fascinating.'
Jun 04, 2015 Andrea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: natural-world
Nabeel Hamdi in his book on development constantly refers to the idea of emergence, which he draws from this book by Steven Johnson. Another bit of pop science applied to the world and I wasn't too sure I wanted to read it. Somehow I was convinced by its shortness, and the blurb from J.G. Ballard - 'Exhilarating'.

This is a bit Ballardian. Though it has no car crashes, sharp angles or sex symbol references.

In August 2000, Toshiyuki Nakagaki announced he had trained slime mould to travel the faste
Mar 03, 2011 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: john-buck
from the library
from the library computer:

Table of Contents
Introduction: Here Comes Everybody!
The Myth of the Ant Queen
Street Level
The Pattern Match
Listening to Feedback
Control Artist
The Mind Readers
See What Happens

Booklist Reviews

Johnson makes sense of the cutting-edge theory of emergence, exploring the ways intelligent systems are built from small, unintelligent elements without control from above. Johnson is
Dane Andersen
Jan 05, 2017 Dane Andersen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most fascinating aspects in reading this book was to realize how much the principles of emergence have transformed the world just since the book's writing in 2000/2001. Johnson's research gives useful insights into the complexities of the Internet and relates it, I think quite accurately, to the biology of the human brain and the organized chaos of the vibrant urban neighborhood. Thanks to "Emergence" I will next read that which in architecture school I should have dissected and rever ...more
Feb 10, 2015 Dolly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of nonfiction
I put this book on my to-read list almost five years ago and I'm just now getting to it. It really goes to show how fast technology and information changes, as I noticed several dated bits of information throughout. Some of the technology references, such as Simcity and Zelda are almost nostalgic at this point, but his points are still valid, and perhaps even more so today. The narrative is very readable and although the author gets quite technical in parts, I thought it was fairly easy to under ...more
Colsie Coomber
Book was written in 2001 so discussions of software and political movements seem dated. If he'd talked more about the slime mold and the ants this would have been less of an issue. Still, it's interesting to see how the algorithms that influence us online have biological counterparts - maybe even origins - and how the works was connected online before Facebook. Wish he had talked more about the ants though.
Laura Hall
Interesting topic, and, considering it was written in 2002, eerily predictive, but it felt really disjointed. I think trying to focus on ants, cities, brains AND software, was too much. Maybe had he divided the book into 4 sections, instead of trying to weave 4 topics in to each section, it would have been better.
Jan 02, 2017 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Written in 2001 so some of the topics covered, especially the IT stuff, has moved on. Also very wafelley.
Garret Brent
Johnson offers an interesting way of thinking about how the world works. Emergence was thought-provoking and great fodder for an inquisitive, alternative way of societal construction. Definitely a must read for the avid humanities student.

It is a well-written book with a clear voice and consistent standpoint.

My issue with the book, which echoes in several other reviews you might read about it, is that it is outdated. It is in sore need of a second edition or a complete rewrite using the same st
Jan 02, 2017 Bethany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting way to look at networks from a bottom-up point of view and how we are all connected. It helped me think about different approaches to mobilizing groups of people -- or how even walking down a street in NYC is a part of a much bigger and more connected web.
Vilém Zouhar
If I had a shelf for seemingly clever but actually useless books, this would definietly be there. The book isn't bad per se, but many times the author simply prolongs certain examples and explanations just to make the chapter a bit longer (note: this does not increase the information value). Interesting book, but sometimes it was painful to go on reading.
Aug 31, 2014 N rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
1) ''Like any emergent system, the city is a pattern in time. Dozens of generations come and go, conquerors rise and fall, the printing press appears, then the steam engine, then radio, television, the Web---and beneath all that turbulence, a pattern retains its shape: silk weavers clustered along Florence's Por Sanata Maria, the Venetian glassblowers on Murano, the Parisian traders gathered in Les Halles.''

2) ''There are manifest purposes to a city---reasons for being that its citizens are usua
Adrian Fridge
Using sociology, biology, engineering, and more, Emergence masterfully expels the notion of centralized governing. A 5-star book held back by its own datedness (2001).

Why this book is awesome: "In the simplest of terms, [emergent systems] solve problems by drawing on masses of relatively stupid elements, rather than a single, intelligent 'executive branch.'" It's an entire argument for why it's okay to be stupid because together we can do smart things.

For example, contrary to popular belief, ant
Nov 06, 2013 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a popular science book about the concept of emergent behaviour, which is an aspect of many different fields of science and social science, including artificial intelligence, neuroscience, biology and even town planning.

The idea is loosely based on the concept of an ant colony. An emergent system has many thousands of small, simple units which by themselves perhaps only are capable of a few different actions. However these units (which may be neurons, bits of software, insects, birds in f
meh... a lil too much concrete info for my liking

climax stage == carrying capacity

+/- feedback
structured randomness
neighbor interactions
decentralized ctrl

revolution of applied emergence
evolution of social media

pattern matching
- feedback
ordered randomness
distributed intelligence

204-205 climax of the book - explains why he picked & chose the systems he selected for subtitle

one kind of decentralized intelligence (the human brain) grasps a new way to apply the lessons of another decentral
P. Es
Aug 17, 2016 P. Es rated it liked it
Nesting, like the point preexisting, but "coming about" where the stairs meet their users at Hogwort's. The opening of Akira/noosphere/A fudgey, vague notion of a sea of White Knowledge (appropriated usage of the term by Gaiman in "Neverwhere", as I've never read a Pratchett novel), comprise of increasingly complex (generally speaking, or such in the attribute of 'general'), and more recent residue of human thoughts, maxims, formulations, equations, data, information, knowledge, etc., that has f ...more
Liked, didn't love. Yes, this book could use a significant revision to catch up to the vastly different software landscape we are experiencing today, with a new section on machine learning and a little less about the Sims (and this is coming from someone who has logged a LOT of hours playing the Sims.) But, given how long ago this was written and how broad a scope Johnson wants to cover, it does an acceptable job of introducing the casual reader to emergence theory. I'm not going to run around r ...more
An interesting look at the new discipline of Complexity science, and a subtle jab at the idea of reductionism as the only way to understand the universe. Johnson, a columnist for Discover, looks at the phenomenon of Emergence as it takes new forms. Starting from the idea of slime molds and ant colonies, both of which are collectives made up of not particularly "intelligent" individual parts that do pretty amazing things as a collective, to brain cells (again not particularly amazing on their own ...more
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Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of ten books, including Wonderland, How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You.
The founder of a variety of influential websites, he is the host and co-creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now. Johnson lives in Marin County, California, and Brooklyn, New York, with his w
More about Steven Johnson...

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“That mix of order and anarchy is what we now call emergent behavior.” 2 likes
“A city is a kind of pattern-amplifying machine: its neighborhoods are a way of measuring and expressing the repeated behavior of larger collectivities—capturing information about group behavior, and sharing that information with the group.” 2 likes
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