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

Author: Steven Johnson
List Price: $14.00
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ISBN: 0684868768
Publisher: Scribner (10 September, 2002)
Edition: Paperback
Sales Rank: 3,762
Average Customer Rating: 3.34 out of 5

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Customer Reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5
Godel, Escher, Bach for dummies
Not really feeling this one. The author argues the case for "complexity theory"; the ability for simple units to coalesce into a larger, synergistic whole. Ants in colonies, citizens in cities, and neurons in brains are used as examples. But then topics dont really tie toghther that well, and the book is scattered and all over the place. No one subject is ever examined in detail. Frankly, I'd rather read a collection of essays on (separately) ants, brains, cities, and software than this disorganized jumble.

On a slight tangent, why is it that people always need to create metaphors when talking about cognition and the human brain? When we are talking about the circulatory system no one makes an analogy to ant colonies... they just talk about the circulatory system. The reason is that (for now) no one knows how the brain works and so fanciful analogies cannot yet be scientifically disproven. I've noticed this is a bad tendency for science writers everywhere.

Cut it out, you blockheads!


Rating: 4 out of 5
Good light reading
For those expecting some rigorous treatment of the subject and a comprehensive overview, this is not the book. But for those wishing to spend a few lazy hours reading up an interdisciplinary delight, this is a good pick. While the treatment of the subject is superficial and introductory, the language and style of writing is admittedly engrossing! The author SJ, manages to inflect his prose with biting sarcasm or simply plain humor at the just the right places, to keep one turning one page onto another.

Another very good element in this book is the numerous references and potential reading lists that one can create. In covering as vast and 'disconnected' a realm of subjects as touted in its cover, SJ traverses a wide expanse of literary sources and is liberal in quoting them... which allows readers with an interest in specific minutiae to explore their subject that bit deeper. To that extent, this book serves as a wonderfully easy to read primer on the subject of emergence; it can probably be likened to Universality by Mark Ward.... without going into the rigorous depths of Chaos (Gleick), and yet serving up something where one is left with numerous trails of thought, each with its own army of books to explore and pursue.


Rating: 3 out of 5
Decent Read
I was not particularly impressed by the book, but that is probably because I already knew the basics of emergent behavior. I felt that the book could have been written in about two-thirds the number of pages and still delivered its message. So, I would not recommed the book to those who have heard of emergence, but if you have never heard of it before, the book should be quite interesting and revealing. The concepts are put forward in a nice and simple way.

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