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Complexity: A Guided Tour

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  2,451 ratings  ·  192 reviews
What enables individually simple insects like ants to act with such precision and purpose as a group? How do trillions of neurons produce something as extraordinarily complex as consciousness? In this remarkably clear and companionable book, leading complex systems scientist Melanie Mitchell provides an intimate tour of the sciences of complexity, a broad set of efforts th ...more
Hardcover, 349 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published March 2nd 2009)
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Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
"فارسی در ادامه"

A very informative and easy-to-read book on complexity and complex systems. Although I learned a lot about the computer science and biological perspectives to complexity and I enjoyed it, but I think the focus on these perspectives is too much and very detailed which leaves very little space for equally interesting perspectives, such as socio-economic approach, or the so called complex adaptive systems approach. Therefore, the book on complex adaptive systems by Miller and Page m
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it

Nice introductory book about a number of topics in the emerging field of "complexity".
Complexity is a very broad subject, still under significant theoretical development, that touches upon many scientific fields such as biology, computer sciences, information theory, genetics, network theory etc, so this book occasionally feels a bit disjointed (which is unavoidable considering the nature of the subject) - it must be said however that the author manages to convey, in a clear manner, the main fe
Robert Dormer
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I actually brought this book by accident, thinking it was strictly about computation complexity theory. Instead, it turned out be about the newish science of Complexity Theory. What a happy accident - this is currently tied for most informative and interesting book I've read all year. The scope of this book is broad, and covers a plethora of topics - evolution, computational complexity, turing machines and definite procedures, molecular genetics, immunology, neurology, graph and network theory, ...more
Matthew Quann
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
Through no fault of its own, I did not enjoy "Complexity: A Guided Tour." The field of complexity has long interested me in the abstract, but I found this introductory text to be way over my head with respect to content. I was able to follow for the first 100 pages or so but, pun intended, it simply became too complex for me to handle. I think if I had a background in computer science or theoretical mathematics I could have found more to appreciate, but this is not to say that Melanie Mitchell's ...more
Chris Aldrich
This is handily one of the best, most interesting, and (to me at least) the most useful popularly written science books I've yet to come across. Most popular science books usually bore me to tears and end up being only pedantic for their historical backgrounds, but this one is very succinct with some interesting viewpoints (some of which I agree with and some of which my intuition says are terribly wrong) on the overall structure presented.

For those interested in a general and easily readable h
Maybe I should not blame the messenger for delivering the news that measuring or even defining complexity is complex, and there are multiple conflicting ways to try and do that. So the issues I hoped would be addressed, such as a discussion of emergent properties that goes beyond vague hand waving, were not addressed, perhaps because they can’t be. There are some worthwhile chapters giving examples on the emergence of complex adaptive behaviour from a large number of simple but connected compone ...more
Bastian Greshake Tzovaras
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you have a background in biology or computer science you might find that you already much of the stuff that is discussed in this book, but as it's 'a guided tour' and not 'the expert's compendium to complexity' that's more than okay. If you want to learn about the investigation of complexity without having too much knowledge about it you will get a great overview that is pretty easy to understand imho.

For me it was a quick, fun read that put the different topics together quite nicely. And se
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: self-learning
Very nice introduction to complex systems research & "complexity" in general.

This book made me flash-back to my Computer Science studies, but in a very good way. It touches on theoretical foundations (Turing Machines, decidability, halting problem, genetic algorithms, fractals, laws of thermodynamics, ...) but the writing is very fluent and approachable.

The author introduced me to the field of Network Theory, a science that builds on graph theory. It leads to interesting questions (and answers!)
Thomas Preusser
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: readspre2017
Complexity is an emerging multidisciplinary branch of science. The origins of this new branch of science is in the realm of biologic ecosystems such as ant colonies in which a network of relatively simply programmed "building block" agents (i.e. ants) seems in net to exhibit a certain level of environmental ecosystem cognition (i.e. complexity). This cognition supports adaptation, and hence the term Complex Adaptive Systems is often used inclusive at the apex of human brain and global internet s ...more
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: popular-science, 2012
How does an ant colony organize itself? How does the immune system work? What is the similarity between the world wide web and your brain?

If you have pondered any of these questions, "Complexity: A Guided Tour" is just the book for you.1

Any computer scientist who graduated in the last ten or so years would have covered some of the topics in Melanie Mitchell's "Complexity: A Guided Tour", and would have probably wished that they had Ms. Mitchell as a lecturer!

Ms. Mitchell is clearly passionate
Oct 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As a non-fiction book, this is very well written - it's on the level of an undergrad, with few actual formulas and very little "jargon" (most of it is hidden in the footnotes for interested readers). Since the author often intersperses her own personal views and experiences working in the field the book feels more like listening to an excited relative explain his or her field at a party than a technical explanation at a conference.

I'm also impressed about the overall niceness of this book - for
Keith Swenson
Jun 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Science of Complexity is arguably one of the most important fields of study today because it is struggling to explain many emergent phenomena around us using a new tool of computation. As you can imagine, these are not simple topics to understand, but Melanie Mitchell does a marvelous job of of making these difficult topics understandable.

Why is this subject important? Want to know how the brain works? It is a complex network of neurons, and thought is an emergent phenomenon. Want to know ho
Lee Kuiper
May 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Expansive but not comprehensive. The book gives a good smattering from a scattering of niche scientific fields but doesn’t really tie it all together satisfyingly.

It felt like I was carefully examining a specific puzzle piece and then I’d set it down and examine another piece intently but it never fit with the previous or consecutive pieces. In the end I was still left with a jumbled pile of puzzle pieces. Granted I can see the contours of the individual pieces a little more clearly but I’m sti
Navaneethan Santhanam
I'm not sure whether to rate this a 3 or a 4. It was an interesting introduction to several new topics pertaining to complexity, such as the logistic map and cellular automata. The author does a good job explaining both why these topics are important as well as how the processes work. There were all lot of new topics that I really enjoyed hearing about.

However, there were several points where I felt incredibly bored, specifically from when she began to describe her PhD thesis. I think the bits o
I found this book quite easy to read. It does not require any prior knowledge and is very well written.
The most challenging part was the chapter on the halting problem and Turing machines. If you got through that, the rest of the book won't be too much of a challenge.
I was surprised to find out how many topics I was already familiar with (to varying degrees), but have seen from a slightly different perspective while reading this book.

Definitely recommended !
Gabriel Nicholas
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
If sexism is dead, then why does Jared Diamond have three Royal Society prizes and Melanie Mitchell has only made THE LONG LIST ARE YOU KIDDING ME, SOMEONE HOLD ME BACK.
Barack Liu
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing

273-Complexity-Melanie Mitchell-Science-2009
2020 / 09 / 17

" Complexity ", first published in the United States in 2009. Natural science books. It provides a detailed introduction to complexity science, trying to explain how complex, organized, and adaptive behaviors emerge through simple interactions.

Melanie Mitchell was born in the United States. He was educated at Brown University, in 1990 Nian to the University of Michigan Ph.D. Representative works: " Artificial Intelligence: A Guide
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
First of all, let's say that "Complexity: A Guided Tour" is a clear and understandable picture of what "mainstream introductory Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems Science" (SF-CSS) is concerned with. It's a fine book about what has now come to strike me as a strange tradition.

There is a lot to like: all of the greatest hits are here with suitable background knowledge (bifurcation in logistics maps, numerical chaos, cellular automata, genetic algorithms and adaptation, information theory, theory
Bety Cajica
Oct 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such an awesome introduction to complexity.
Dr. Mitchell takes your hand and show you all the highlights about complexity -so far- and what awaits for the field in the future.

Also, I loved how she uses situations about her kids to illustrate some concepts haha.
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Melanie Mitchell is an excellent writer and teacher. She explains things very clearly, providing enough detail to be informative without overwhelming readers who have limited prior knowledge of the subject. This is an extremely useful book for anyone who wants to become familiar with basic concepts in the study of complexity. Mitchell exemplifies the concepts by discussing the immune system, ant colonies, biological metabolism and genetic networks. I found the book informative and enjoyable.

Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I didn't wanna write any review, but this book was really perfect and persuade me to bring some paragraphs :
“One striking instance of Evo-Devo in action is the famous example of the evolution of finches’ beaks. As I described in chapter 5, Darwin observed large variations in beak size and shape among finches native to the Galápagos Islands. Until recently, most evolutionary biologists would have assumed that such variations resulted from a gradual process in which chance mutations of several dif
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
It's funny the ideas you get about books before you read them. I for some reason got the sense that this would be long and dense and impactful, and put off reading it for that reason. The truth is that it's almost entirely vacuous. The writing is plain and occasionally condescending, but the real sin is that it spends so much time retreading tangential intellectual histories. I know not everyone comes into this book off of two in-depth histories of biology, but it's a bit cheeky to just present ...more
Jun 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
I finished Melanie Mitchell's Complexity, a Guided Tour a few days ago, and it was pretty neat. Mitchell is studying complex systems, and common properties that a variety of complex systems demonstrate (for instance, scale-free behavior). She reviewed Hofstadter's approach to Gödelian incompleteness, and gave an excellent overview of many of the current approaches to genetics. The most surprising thing I learned from the book was that the model of genetic encoding of DNA which I had been taught ...more
Michael Quinn
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Complexity is a very broad subject that touches upon many scientific fields that hold a prominent place in the popular imagination: chaos, information theory, molecular biology, artificial intelligence. For that very reason, it makes a great popular science book, since there are a lot of topics to jump around in. At the same time, a reader might walk away without ever truly understanding what complexity is. That's OK, since the term still lacks a rigorous definition among most scientists.

Xing Chen
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
One of the things I enjoyed most about Complexity was the author's description of how she entered the field and embarked upon research under the tutelage of Hofstadter. As a young research scientist at the start of my career, I found the description very encouraging and insightful.

I particularly liked the chapter that described her work in some detail- the iterative process of running 'codelets' on statements to extract meaningful relationships between elements and generate analogies.

The materi
Alex Goodall
Apr 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had a vague notion of what the topic of complexity was about, but lacked a unifying concept of what was and was not in scope.

I now have a more in DEPTH vague notion of the topic, but still lack a unifying concept. However, I'm relaxed about that now because it seems there IS no such unifying concept (yet).

Highly recommended book that touches on so many interesting topics. Looking at them through the lens of complexity makes them even more interesting. (Computation, genetics, the immune system,
J Scott
Nov 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read Dr. Mitchell's excellent Complexity, A Guided Tour last December (2010). Mitchell does a splendid job of explaining the sciences of complexity. She does a thorough job defining/describing the background and history of complexity in life and computer programs. Her treatment of the "New Science of Networks" was the most revealing and instructive for me.

Dr. Mitchell concludes this excellent volume with admission that complexity is in "early stages," and requires "an adventurous intellectual
Richard Williams
first half or so is good, up to her phd thesis explanation. best put that chapter into an appendix and rewrite the rest.

apparently popular science is best written either as a cumulation story or as independent chapters that tie together in the end. the cumulation story would be introduction, then more info, then big point you want to make after most everyone is up to speed. the issue is how to provide background information without loosing people and boring the knowledgeable at the same. what ti
Graeme Roberts
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Melanie Mitchell is an excellent teacher—warm, relaxed, and engaging. Knowing my interests, a brilliant (and kind) PhD student gave me the book to introduce the general ideas of complexity and to provide an infrastructure for further learning. She was bang on! I am off and running with videos and more books. I suspect that Complexity: A Guided Tour, published in 2011 but written over several years before that, is getting a little out of date, but it is still very useful.

The pace is good, but a
Feb 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
"Analogously, you could, without too much difficulty, design a Turing machine M that counted the 1s in its input, and then run M on the code for a second Turing machine M'. M would simply count the 1s in M"s code. Of course, the Universal Turing Machine U could have the code for M in the "program" part of its tape, have the code for M' in the "input" part of its tape, and run M on M'. Just to be perverse... ."

That sums it up.
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Melanie Mitchell is a professor of computer science at Portland State University. She has worked at the Santa Fe Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Her major work has been in the areas of analogical reasoning, complex systems, genetic algorithms and cellular automata, and her publications in those fields are frequently cited.

She received her PhD in 1990 from the University of Michigan u

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“This statement is not provable.” Think about it for a minute. It’s a strange statement, since it talks about itself—in fact, it asserts that it is not provable. Let’s call this statement “Statement A.” Now, suppose Statement A could indeed be proved. But then it would be false (since it states that it cannot be proved). That would mean a false statement could be proved—arithmetic would be inconsistent. Okay, let’s assume the opposite, that Statement A cannot be proved. That would mean that Statement A is true (because it asserts that it cannot be proved), but then there is a true statement that cannot be proved—arithmetic would be incomplete. Ergo, arithmetic is either inconsistent or incomplete.” 5 likes
“Whew, this might be getting a bit confusing. I hope you are following me so far. This is the point in every Theory of Computation course at which students either throw up their hands and say "I can't get my mind around this stuff!" or clap their hands and say "I love this stuff!"

Needless to say, I was the second kind of student, even though I shared the confusion of the first.”
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