Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software” as Want to Read:
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,827 Ratings  ·  226 Reviews
In the tradition of Being Digital and The Tipping Point, Steven Johnson, acclaimed as a "cultural critic with a poet's heart" (The Village Voice), takes readers on an eye-opening journey through emergence theory and its applications. Explaining why the whole is sometimes smarter than the sum of its parts, Johnson presents surprising examples of feedback, self-organization, ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 10th 2002 by Scribner (first published August 28th 2001)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Emergence, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Emergence

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
|
Filter
Carol.
Dec 23, 2012 marked it as to-read
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
...more
Chrissy
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
...more
Orton Family Foundation
Aug 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Aaron
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
...more
Henry
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Anbu
May 16, 2016 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
...more
Michael
Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.

Emerg
...more
Dan Pfeiffer
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Thomas
Jan 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's been quite a while since I read this, and I should probably queue it up for a re-read. But at the time I read it, it opened my mind to a lot of ideas that I was ready for, but hadn't quite known how to put together. It might even seem quaint and dated now, but this book, along with a few others like GEB, really put me on the track of investigations and readings I've been pursuing ever since. It was one of those books that I read and then closely scanned the bibliography to find out what els ...more
Abailart
Apr 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Jim
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.
Jennifer
Jul 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: emergence
I liked the book alot... but somehow I guess I was hoping for more than quick overviews of related topics and was looking for more in-depth details. Lots of good quotes though, and he mentioned many other books which have also now been added to my "to-read" shelf.
Nathanimal
He presses his finger to his temple, and raises a Spockish eyebrow: 'Hmmmm. Fascinating.'
Josh O'Berski
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Andrea
May 14, 2015 rated it liked it
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
...more
Purposeful Tech
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From a book I am working on titled Elevating the Human Connection where I dedicate a section to this book (not a final draft).................

Emergent Connections
In Steven Johnson’s book titled Emergence, Mr. Johnson uses the decentralized command structure of ant colonies to demonstrate his point on the value of emergent systems, detailing how ant colonies never receive instructions from the queen ant but rely entirely on each other through the sharing of chemical pheromones left by each ant.
...more
Vanessa
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Read with a 15+ year retrospective, Johnson's 2001 predictions are sometimes amusing and more often strangely prescient. He's more or less right on everything from the future of TV ("The entertainment world will self-organize into clusters of shared interest, created by software that tracks usage patterns...") and news ("The Daily Me ... compiled by tracking the interests and reading habits of millions of other humans."), to the polarization of public opinion and the sensationalization of media ...more
Stefan
Mar 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of these books that will get you introduced to an idea and hooked on a particular subject and which you can forget thereafter. As of early (2017) the perception of the emergence phenomenon re-emerged, probably due to a buzz around AI and big data (after all aren’t we all now playing role of agents in a self-amplifying system?). Hence, going over a bit chatty, repetitive and at places patchy and rather shallow coverage of ants colonies, genetic programming, evolution, urban planning, language ...more
Elizabeth
Apr 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: john-buck
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (Paperback)
by Steven Johnson
from the library

from the library computer:
Table of Contents
Introduction: Here Comes Everybody!
PART ONE
The Myth of the Ant Queen
PART TWO
Street Level
The Pattern Match
Listening to Feedback
Control Artist
PART THREE
The Mind Readers
See What Happens
Notes
Bibliography
Acknowledgments
Index


Booklist Reviews

Johnson makes sense of the cutting-edge theory of emergence, exploring the ways intell
...more
Chet
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Considering that ants acting on their own appear to have intelligence when observed as a colony, emergence is when actions on a small level emerge as another concept when observed on a higher scale. The author applies this to human cities where merchants acting on their own appear to create cities that were organized in a certain way, and do games like SimCity emulate this? Considering that intelligence emerges from billions of tiny human neurons, will computer intelligence also emergence from b ...more
Dolly
Aug 21, 2008 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
Jodie
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very interesting read about how certain types of complicated systems behave in unexpectedly intelligent ways.

I enjoyed but didn’t enjoy having the same point explained several times before moving on. Each point had to be explained two or three times in different analogy’s in case the we hadn’t understood the first time round. I understand the author wanting to make sure as much as his readers understood his points as possible but I think he overdid it a little.

Overall, very interesting but b
...more
Pamela
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book tells a fascinating story of how systems emerge. Johnson presents a wide range of situations where complicated actions develop with no developer or planner leading the process. There are rules which form the basis of the productions. For example birds flying together with intricate moves do not have a leader. Johnson brings clarity to the emergence, although mysteries abound, with examples in our own brains and in our computers. He has a light and friendly touch as he evolves this tale.
Angie
Jun 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-related
Hopelessly out of date, of course, but still a well-written and interesting snapshot of emergence theory in 2001. It actually still applies in many ways and was forward-looking. And it reminded me of a few things I had forgotten about the 1990s and a few things I hadn't known. For instance, he focuses in one story on Alexa Internet, an early system for recording activity online and predicting preferences -- acquired by Amazon in 1999, the same year they started allowing customers to rate the rev ...more
Ted Smith
Jun 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
I disliked this book because I considered it a weak argument for a concept that was never satisfyingly defined. In addition, the author lacks domain expertise in a number of areas that lead to some rather hilarious misunderstandings. In particular, the author does not understand the concept of determinism with respect to a random seed. Given that this is rather critical in all of the software concepts mentioned, it undermines his thesis dramatically.

Honorably, the author makes several quantifie
...more
Brandon
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science, 2018
Lots of interesting info. Found the last chapters a bit out of date. Making predictions about the future of the internet in 2000, Google was only 2 years old, and before Facebook, Netflix, and Twitter even existed, among others. But the author acknowledges the fast pace of things and this isn't really a fault, nor does it detract from the more general thesis about emergent behavior, which was illuminating in many ways.
Paul Barnes
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business, evolution
One of my all-time favourite books. The first, but similar to Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" and Tim Harford's "Adapt", all of which have made clear to me the role of order emerging in a bottom-up, unplanned way. Great humility when I made my living at the time in corporate planning.

Johnson, like Malcolm Gladwell,, Michael Lewis and Tim Harford is an expert at weaving knowledge into a great story, which really helps to make it stick.
Adrian
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed the first 100-150 pages of the book. Gives a solid introduction to complexity theory, however the last chapters are extremely disappointing. Classic case imo of a publisher demanding that the book needs to have 200+ pages to be publishable. Cut the last chapters and it's an amazing book!!
Kelly
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was an okay book - parts 1 and 2 are worth reading. Part 3 is a speculation of how the Internet will impact our media, politics, etc. with a futurist's glimpse of AI and machine learning. That's because this was written in 2001, so part 3 is pure speculation...interesting only if you want a history lesson in what people expected from the future of software back in 2001.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World
  • Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order
  • Emergence: From Chaos To Order
  • Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution
  • Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life
  • Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age
  • Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life
  • Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos
  • At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity
  • Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks
  • The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life
  • Stalking the Divine
  • Complexity: A Guided Tour
  • Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web
  • Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet
  • The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World
  • Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
  • Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals
836 followers
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
More about Steven Johnson

Nonfiction Deals

  • Hope and Other Luxuries: A Mother's Life with a Daughter's Anorexia
    $19.99 $2.99
  • Manic: A Memoir
    $12.99 $1.99
  • Who Gets What — and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design
    $9.99 $2.99
  • The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures
    $19.99 $1.99
  • The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Without a Doubt
    $5.99 $2.49
  • The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Harperbusiness Essentials)
    $11.99 $2.99
  • The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking
    $9.99 $3.99
  • Paris Letters
    $14.99 $2.99
  • The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm
    $13.74 $1.99
  • My Cross to Bear
    $11.24 $1.99
  • The Warrior Ethos
    $6.99 $1.99
  • A Chance in this world
    $5.99 $0.99
  • It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness
    $13.99 $1.99
  • A Deadly Game: The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Everyday Zen
    $11.24 $1.99
  • Make Good Art
    $9.99 $1.99
  • In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Somebody Else's Kids
    $7.99 $1.99
  • Maude
    $2.99 $1.49
  • Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History
    $10.99 $1.99
  • Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food (Revised Edition)
    $13.99 $1.99
  • The Rational Optimist (P.S.)
    $14.49 $2.99
  • Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive & Creative Self
    $13.99 $2.99
  • Of Wolves and Men (Scribner Classics)
    $9.99 $1.99
  • God: A Story of Revelation
    $8.74 $1.99
  • In My Skin: A Memoir of Addiction
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book
    $10.95 $1.99
  • The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BC - 1492 AD
    $13.99 $2.99
  • I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen
    $11.74 $1.99
  • Belles on Their Toes
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed
    $9.99 $2.99
  • The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Dharma Punx: A Memoir
    $11.49 $1.99
  • Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings
    $10.99 $1.99
“That mix of order and anarchy is what we now call emergent behavior.” 3 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.” 3 likes
More quotes…