January 15, 1994
Why does time seem to fly on some occasions and drag on others? Why do some societies seem more prone to totalitarianism than others? Why does atonal music sound “”worse” to most of us than traditional music? How can a butterfly in Brazil affect the weather in Alaska?
The set of ingenious interdisciplinary approaches that are, together, called the science of complexity offers answers to these and dozens of other questions that beg the larger question of why our universe seems so paradoxical. John L. Casti, renowned mathematician and science writer, argues that a complexity that defies human logic is only natural, and he shows directly, engagingly, and with a wealth of illustrations how complexity arises and how it works. Casti explores several types of phenomena that have, until now, consistently eluded science’s attempts to understand them:
- the catastrophic, where a tiny change in a system produces a huge effect (as happens in earthquakes or political revolutions);
- the chaotic, which includes odd correlations like the ones that make predicting the weather or the stock market so difficult;
- paradox, in which you follow a commonsense rule and still something weird happens (the more lanes you add to the freeway, for example, the bigger the traffic jams);
- the irreducible, where, as in novels, symphonies, and baseball games, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts;
- the emergent, in which a pattern, like life itself, seems to arise from out of nowhere.
These phenomena encompass many of the most fascinating and important events and processes in science, the arts, nature, the economy, and everyday life. With authority and wit, this myth-shattering book explains how science is at last shedding light on some of the most perennially mystifying phenomena. It also offers a groundbreaking primer in what Casti calls “the science of surprise,” a revolutionary approach to solving a welter of mysteries great and small.
John L. Casti received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Southern California. He has worked at the RAND Corporation, the University of Arizona, IIASA, New York University, and Princeton. His previous books include Searching for Certainty and Paradigms Lost. He is currently a Fellow of the Santa Fe Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a professor at the Technical University of Vienna.