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Diversity and Complexity

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This book provides an introduction to the role of diversity in complex adaptive systems. A complex system--such as an economy or a tropical ecosystem--consists of interacting adaptive entities that produce dynamic patterns and structures. Diversity plays a different role in a complex system than it does in an equilibrium system, where it often merely produces variation around the mean for performance measures. In complex adaptive systems, diversity makes fundamental contributions to system performance.

Scott Page gives a concise primer on how diversity happens, how it is maintained, and how it affects complex systems. He explains how diversity underpins system level robustness, allowing for multiple responses to external shocks and internal adaptations; how it provides the seeds for large events by creating outliers that fuel tipping points; and how it drives novelty and innovation. Page looks at the different kinds of diversity--variations within and across types, and distinct community compositions and interaction structures--and covers the evolution of diversity within complex systems and the factors that determine the amount of maintained diversity within a system.

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2010

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Scott E. Page

8 books107 followers

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Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Amin.
356 reviews326 followers
June 18, 2018
"فارسی در ادامه"

The most important question this book does NOT answer is that when diversity "does not matter" in complex systems. Obviously, not all of diverse types are beneficial or harmful (in case of too much diversity) for complex systems, and based on functionalities, we can talk about lots of cases diversity is not relevant for analyzing complexity.

Apart from this, when I compare this book to "Complex Adaptive Systems" written by the same author and John Miller, it becomes obvious Scott Page is such a brilliant author and teacher. So, in the first chapters I enjoyed a lot reading this book, and even used some ideas in my research. The general idea of considering diversity in complex systems is multifaceted and needs reflections and in-depth analysis, and Page is successful in explaining that.

Later, it seems the primary focus turns toward the application of the concepts in the biological systems. Although the concepts look very relevant in more "creative" systems, and as the author says "community diversity" is very common in social and economic systems, but these interesting ideas are not really discussed. As a result, compared to the first chapters the middle ones are less inspiring.

Unfortunately, the ending chapters are boring and less convincing. When talking about diversity in complex "adaptive" systems, especially social systems, it seems our knowledge is still very limited, and the author wants to cover many applications and the relevance of his own ideas, but the result is a confusing text full of self-serving bias to interpret all the complex patterns and emergent properties based on some simple ideas or classifications. It leads to interpreting quite different cases with the same logic and it seems this way of looking and classifying emergent properties is not really refutable, and it is hardly convincing to consider it as a scientific approach, in a Popperian sense. Another caveat is related to ideas and concepts that are reduced to simple and mathematical examples not very convincing or generalizable, but used to explain the most important parts of the book, in my opinion.

مهمترین پرسشی که کتاب به فردی علاقه مند به علم پیچیدگی پاسخ "نمیدهد" این است که چه وقت تنوع یا دایورسیتی در سیستم های پیچیده "اهمیت ندارد". یعنی به طور کلی همیشه این طور نیست که تنوع برای کارکرد یک سیستم مفید یا مضر باشد و بسیاری شرایط وجود دارد که عموما تنوع، ارتباطی با پیچیدگی یا عملکرد سیستم ندارد

جدا از این نکته، بیان شیوای اسکات پیج آموزنده است و از فصول ابتدایی حتی در پایان نامه استفاده کرد. ایده کلی توجه به تنوع و اهمیت آن در مطالعه سیستم های پیچیده جالب است و البته نیاز به تحلیل دقیق دارد. توجه فصول میانی به کاربردهای این مفاهیم در سیستم های زیستی است و گرچه اهمیت آنها در علوم اجتماعی و اقتصادی هم بیان می شوند، اما متاسفانه نویسنده کمتر به آنها می پردازد. از فصول پایانی کمتر لذت بردم چرا که کمتر قانع کننده بودند و شاید از قابل بحث ترین روشها و توضیحات برای مهم ترین مطالب و مفاهیم استفاده کرده بود
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
437 reviews162 followers
October 13, 2020
Page is one of the best popularizers of complexity theory due to his pedagogical charisma, textual clarity, and the vivid use of educational examples and real world analogies. His audio lecture series Understanding Complexity is a great introduction to the subject for academics and the hoi polloi alike. But spoken word charisma is lost when translated into the written word. As a result, Diversity and Complexity is somewhat less enthralling than a voice recording. It is also somewhat less accessible thanks to the heavy use of off-putting formal notation. On the plus side, it exudes Page's stylistic clarity and makes good use of clarificatory real world examples and analogies. It explain diversity as a productive feature of complex systems and does so in a way that is fun and interesting.

In the introduction, Page writes that he intends the book to have three primary target audiences: the educated lay reader, the academic, and the student. He further hopes that the book contributes to fruitful and genuinely deep interdisciplinary research - which is why his analogies across the disciplines, from evolutionary biology to the social sciences, are potentially so revelatory. At its best, Page manages to speak to all of the various audiences at once, generating new connections between their knowledge bases and highlighting avenues for new ones. At its worst, the book suffers from a modest identity crisis. By spreading itself out to so many disciplines and target audiences, it engages in some self-contradictory gymnastics that limit the book's success. Perhaps the biggest flaw is the misplaced use of formal models and theoretical jargon in practically every chapter. This again goes to show that the book is unsure of its own intended audience. Although the models are interesting in themselves they get in the way of the explanatory narrative. Some clearer separation of the formal and non-formal sections would have made the structure better.

That said, the book manages to combine an incredibly vast array of research into a relatively compact and admirably lucid package. Although it does not always follow through its goal of reaching all three of its intended audiences at once (an impossible task to begin with), it manages to bring knowledge from multiple disciplines into conversation with each other. It distillates it all into a surprisingly cogent and far-reaching analysis of the role of diversity in our lives. Page has the capacity to explain difficult things in a simple manner without condescension. And he not only popularizes but has made significant contributions to the field himself. As a result, the book neither overpromises nor underdelivers. It is fully aware of the limitations of the models used and the vast expanse of unconquered scientific terrain that lies in wait of being discovered.

Page himself modestly inquires in the introduction: "This book asks more questions than it answers. I worry on its completion whether I’ve accomplished more than depositing puzzle pieces on the floor. If that turns out to be true, I hold out hope that young scholars with passion and vision will read this book and put some of those pieces together." I hope so too. Young scholars and puzzle wizards can use this book as a spur to diverse solutions. Let a thousand young flowers bloom.
Profile Image for Jake.
199 reviews37 followers
February 14, 2017
"Whence all this passion towards conformity anyway? Diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you will have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business, they'll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive towards colorlessness? But seriously and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen. America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain."

~ Ralph Ellison

Page shows that diversity, like any adaptive system, requires a fluid way of talking about it. When we mire ourselves in formalism we restrict our ability to model dynamic problems. Dynamic problems requires definitions that are equally dynamic. Page does sacrifice some rigor, for instance when covering the social sciences. Those systems showed less connections to most of the other systems covered and honestly it felt like he could have left them out. Or maybe the fact that he's attempting to talk about it at all is what the social sciences need. Whichever is the case, it was a good read nonetheless. Very approachable to anyone honestly. There is math but it's not bad.
Profile Image for Paul Hartzog.
169 reviews13 followers
February 11, 2020
Having studied with and worked with Scott Page for years, I can say that I really like his work and this book is amazing. Scott is really intelligent, and well-spoken, and humorous, and he pays attention to important things like using both male AND female pronouns in his examples (as part of the goal of stopping marginalizing women in science).

I realize that this review won't appeal to everyone, but I'm just putting it here because it's really great to read a book with such important content that also plays fair.
Profile Image for Paige McLoughlin.
590 reviews27 followers
July 8, 2022
Very much a Santa Fe institute piece. Basically, a mathematical study of network effects and complexity theory that went so well with the neoliberalism of the 1990s, see it's mathematical the invisible hand self organizes complex systems with talk of the edge of chaos and sandpiles and all that. No doubt there is some merit to the spontaneous organization that wells up from multiple independent often diverse parts but it was a little too pat and fit too well with neo libs' invisible hand of the market bringing about such wonderful outcomes. Self-organization does indeed happen but only under special conditions and often the hand to cultivate such systems is far from invisible and they can fall apart in ways that were described by socialists for a long time.
Profile Image for S..
566 reviews126 followers
May 3, 2020
Pausing it for a year was absolutely a bad idea, however I find solace that I was still able to get back on track ...

I suppose a few of you know about Complexity Science and Studies, if you don't, it's this science that deals with complex and dynamic problems and issues(VUCA vibes: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous): Pandemics are complex by the way ! :D

So it's at the same time punctual when it comes to tackling an issue and uses a multi/transdisciplinary approach as it goes by dealing with these issues.... In short:

"Here are two: complexity is a BOAR (a somewhat wild one), and complexity is DEEP. BOAR Complexity lies Between Order And Randomness.: DEEP Complexity cannot be easily Described, Evolved, Engineered, or Predicted."

In this book, Pr. Page introduces the different implications of diversity in complex systems. In general, diversity almost always pays off, but a few parameters are to be checked before. Along the way, there were ample, simple explanations of a few key concepts, such as: chaos/randomness, emergent phenomena, evolution, innovation, robustness, resilience, creativity ...

All in all, as much as I will sound cliché, but this book right here is your manual for the future!

Pros :
You can skip the maths parts, and it would still make sense !
Good jokes inside !
Profile Image for Marco.
33 reviews7 followers
March 2, 2020
The book was an enjoyable read, mostly because it was a great introduction to a variety of concepts on diversity and complex systems. While it does not shy away from mathematics, most often the concepts are presented in a very accessible form using simple language.
What's particularly good: the multiple, wide spanning references to diversity and complexity in different areas, which is also accompanied by clear definitions of some foundational concepts both of complexity theories and of diversity.
What left me wanting: most of the book is a presentation of different theoretical models, often followed by honest caveats about "of course it would not always work like that in the world" because the author was presenting a theoretical model. In that, I would have loved is the book went deeper into such nuances instead of staying primarily on the theoretical models.

Overall, very worth reading if you are interested in either diversity or complexity, or their intersection
Profile Image for Scott Wozniak.
Author 14 books74 followers
April 30, 2019
When people generally talk about complexity, they mean something that has lots of parts--something that isn't simple. But to a mathematician/scientist it has a very specific, technical meaning. This book is about the technical definition: interdependent parts that adjust based on how the other parts are moving. It's not just a many-part landscape (e.g. mountain range); it's a moving landscape (e.g. ocean surface).

It was a little slow to get moving, but were some great parts by the end. I totally disagree with his repeated attempts to tie this to consciousness, but that's because he strayed from math to theology and had no supporting rationale for those sections. But the math and strategy parts were great. It's especially useful in competitive business and in large population change management.
Profile Image for Yanick Punter.
267 reviews35 followers
March 13, 2021
Highly interesting, and I like that this is easy to understand. I created some notes (actually I copied and pasted a few parts in a document). Curious what this will lead to, and maybe concepts by Nassim Taleb (for me, mainly antifragility) and Stuart Kauffman (again, for me, mainly the adjacent possible) will be incorporated. I do understand Taleb and maybe Kauffman better now that I've read this.
Profile Image for Aaron Wenger.
31 reviews13 followers
March 10, 2022
Really decent introduction to the theories of complex systems. Clearly written, quite accessible, illustrated with plenty of examples. Had to skip past some of the involved mathematical models that Page presents, but the concepts were still enriching. Even without a mathematical background, still found 4/5ths of the book super readable. Recommend for anyone interested in ecology, social sciences, and complexity.
Profile Image for Darina.
123 reviews45 followers
June 7, 2019
For someone without specialized knowledge like me, the writing appears both simple yet too compact and a bit opaque.
What I mean is I need more examples and a pill to make me smarter.
Profile Image for David Kritz.
65 reviews1 follower
December 3, 2022
Dr. Scott E. Page is one of my academic heroes! Anything written by him is worth a read.
17 reviews3 followers
May 30, 2013
I am very fond if Scott Page's writing style. Great book that looks at diversity as a complex system and distills how diversity can help understand complexity.
Profile Image for Cary Neeper.
Author 8 books32 followers
September 10, 2012
A helpful review of the various types of diversity and how they impact complex systems of all kinds.
14 reviews16 followers
December 31, 2012
Scott Page addresses a topic that is fundamental in understanding the world of today - diversity.
Profile Image for Philip Williams.
39 reviews3 followers
December 3, 2016
Building an understanding of diversity from a complex systems perspective. Bewildering in it's depth and power.
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews

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