The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos


M Mitchell Waldrop

NOTE: The typography in this book makes it painful to read!!

Visions of the Whole

This book is about the science of complexity. It is an account, a biography of the individuals involved, of complexity, and the Santa Fe Institute. Complexity is the science of understanding how independent agents are interacting with each other to influence each other and the whole. Organisms constantly adapt to each other through evolution, thereby organizing themselves into an exquisitely tuned ecosystem. Self-organizing systems are adaptive. They actively try to turn whatever happens to their advantage. Evolution. They possess a kind of dynamism that makes them qualitatively different from static objects. Complex systems are more spontaneous, more disorderly, more alive than that. Chaos theory has shaken science to its foundations with the realization that very simple dynamical rules can give rise to extraordinary intricate behavior: river & fractals. Complex systems have somehow found a way to acquire the ability to bring order and chaos into balance. The edge of chaos is where new ideas and innovations are forever nibbling on the status quo. The edge of chaos is the constantly shifting battle zone between stagnation and anarchy, the one place where a complex system can be spontaneous, adaptive, and alive. Complexity, adaptation, upheavals on the edge of chaos gave birth to the Santa Fe Institute and the science of the 21st Century

The Irish Idea of a hero

is the tale of Brian Arthur, an Irish lad who emerged from Belfast to become a Stanford Univ Professor and leading mind on the science of chaos. This chapter outlines his ups and downs through academia to the Santa Fe Institute. By accident he became an economist with an idea of "increasing returns" and was laughed at. This made him mad, so he got even. He enjoyed the turbulence. He didn't play it safe. He was seeing the old was dissolving and he was trying to focus on the new. He started looking at complexity, patterns. He embraced instability. After his being laughed at he realized " a revolution wouldn't be one if everyone believed in it right away." Heroism is to lead an absolutely hopeless revolution. Complexity took him over, he lived it, he breathed it. Soon he learned that the classroom math didn't work. Skill required insight, ability to see connections. Things grow up in an absolutely organic historical way. He developed the Time- Delayed Control Theory which means that which you effect today will have an effect that much greater later on. It is sorta like going back in time and doing something which alters the future. PoP control in third world countries are necessary form of survival for family. Create your own army as it were.
Everything is interlocked and no piece of the puzzle could be considered in isolation from the others. Patterns began to take over. On airplanes he sat in window seat and looked at the patterns of the fields. Why did they stay the same for so long and then suddenly change?

Epiphany on the Beach discusses the research style of Arthur. He does not storm the gates and try to use sheer power and brawn. No he is patient. He camps outside and waits for the answers to come. It happened while he was reading on the beach about DNA. Essentially everything is the same except for one very small difference in the DNA. DNA was patterns. So the question becomes: Why is there order and structure in the world? Where doe it come from? "Left to themselves.." Economy is a self-organizing system. Prigogine's Eighth Day of Creation inspired him.

What's the Point? discusses how science is not about predicting but instead about explaining. he was concerned to go beyond accidents. Outcomes don't just happen, there is dynamics at work. Nature, economics choose from among the multiple choices.

Violating Sacred Ground found Arthur constantly pushing his theory in the face of the opposition. Increasing returns cut into the status quo. He had a hard time publishing since publishing was guarded by the status quo. Martin Luther could merely nail his theses on the church door at Wittenberg and that was enough. Arthur had no door nor a web. A colleague of his at Stanford all of a sudden got recognition and Arthur felt he was being slighted. But that didn't last long. He got invited to a new think tank in New Mexico called the Santa Fe Institute.

The Revolt of the Turks

outlines the historical beginnings of the Santa Fe Institute. Some liken Santa Fe to ancient Athens. The think tank was gathering some of the best minds in the country. George Cowan headed the group. Murray Gell-Mann was a founder. Cowan came from the nuclear age. He was part of the development of the atomic bomb. He came to understand complexity. He got tired of tunnel vision. He was intrigued by chaos. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Texas a hurricane in atlantic is affected.

The Fellows included great minds but they were divided into two camps. Gell-Mann broke the logjam. Phil Anderson of Princeton countered Gell-Mann's presence. Complexity took on a new look. The property of emergence was introduced. Although water is made up of many H2O molecules it isn't until many billions are put together that we get water. Freeze it and ice, heat it and steam. Something emerges.

What am I doing here? speaks of getting so many great minds together with the hopes they talk and share. Could they stimulate each other? Could they develop a community? Cowan says, "We need communication, we need excitement, we need mutual intellectual stimulation. The challenge for theorists is to formulate universal laws that describe when and how such complexities emerge. Computers are essential in complexity research. This group is going to be different because it was going to be more interdisciplinary, focusing on the spaces between the fields. It turns out they had fantastic amounts of similarities. Complexity was the science of emergence and they needed to find the fundamental laws of emergence. They needed money.

John Reed, new CEO of Citibank was interested in a new approach to world economy. He had inherited and huge debt and the bank was into $300 billion in debts to too many third world countries. The current computer models were useless. Reed met with the Santa Fe crew and decided to go for it.

Ken Arrow @ Stanford had been recommended by Tobin of Yale, who said no, and he recommended Brian Arthur. The team was complete to take on the Citibank troubles.

Secrets of the Old One

Finds us in August of 1987 in Chaos. The chaotic convent somehow managed to convey a sense of intellectual ferment in the midst of peace, shelter, and serenity. The whole atmosphere was unbelievable with the sorts of books on display, articles lying around, the freedom of atmosphere, the informality. Kauffman was the type who displayed a equal ratio of talking to listening. The way he thought things through was to talk out loud, talk about them and talk about them. His big thing was "order." Order told us how we could be an accident of nature and be very much more than an accident. He took Darwin further: darwin didn't know about self-organization. He didn't understand complexity. So the story of life is a story of accident and happenstance as well as order.

Order> speaks of Kauffman and his evolution. Einstein was his ideal and looking for the Secrets of the Old One (God) became his obsession, too. He first thought to be a playwright but his characters babbled too much about the meaning of life and what it means to be a good person. He then moved to philosophy and ethics. He came to wonder what it was about science that allowed it to discover the nature of the world? And what is it about the mind that allows it to know the world? At Oxford his tutor gave him a series of brain teasers which introduced him to modelling, simulations. He gave up philosophy for med school to know the secrets of the Old One. Biology stunned him as he examined the cell to egg to birth and so on. Why did eggs hatch babies whole and perfect. In chaos there is order a plan. He had to find it. The genome was a computer. In this study he was interested in was the natural laws of the complex system: Whence cometh the order? When you flip one gene on or off a whole string of events unfold through the network. He wrote a computer program or paid to have it done. It showed the network quickly setting into orderly states. At MIT he met with its leaders to collaborate on systems analysis.

Death and Life shows irony of how two different people from two different backgrounds arrive at same place from opposite sides. Kauffman calls it "order" and Arthur called it "messiness." They used the opposite word and came from the opposite direction. By starting from different places they arrived at the same place. Arthur had an economic problem: technological change. It is like an evolving ecosystem. Technologies are highly interconnected webs, a network which are dynamic and unstable. Consider: A new technology comes along: the car. It replaces the horse and all subsystems that supported the horse die too, stables, water troughs, currying boys, blacksmiths, etc But the new technology, the car, fosters new subsystems, gas stations, mechanics, etc. This is what Arthur calls "increasing returns." This helped Kauffman see that technological was just like the origin of life. Life may be an accident but it has an incessant compulsion to self-organize. When exploring economies: innovations result in new combos of old technologies, then possible innovations go up as more technologies go up. So if a country becomes more diversified and increases its complexity it will undergo growth and experience "economic takeoff."

You Guys Really Believe That?

recounts the opening salvos of the Santa Fe Institute's Economic summit for citibank. Physicists and economists gathered together to discuss the problem. Arthur gave the opening speech. Anderson made the analogy of economics to a spin glass. What was happening was the group was creating a common language, using analogies to understand each other. That the physicists understood Arthur was important to him. But what happened was the physicists asked if the economists had consulted with other fields like: sociologists, anthropologists, or social scientists in general. The answer was no and that these scientists had nothing to add when actually they did but the data was not mathematical or too hard to treat. Economics is a cold mathematical endeavor which does not consider abstract ideas. Economics considers strategy and expectations. The physicists were aghast at the math employed by the economists. This beginning salvo suggested the conference may fall apart. Time would tell.

Master of the Game

Finds John Holland speaking about "The Global Economy as an Adaptive Process."

Perpetual Novelty explores Holland's speech. First he explained that economy was a "complex adaptive system." in the natural world that meant brains, ecologies, cells, etc. In human world it meant cultural and social communities, political parties, or scientific communities. All seemed to share certain crucial properties.

The Immense Space of Possibilities speaks of games which evolve into simulations. It is simulations that allow real problems to be solved. This is called "emergence." Computers became Holland's life. At MIT and then at IBM. Computers opened up new ways to think about thinking. The checker player simulator began the thinking on learning and adaptation. The brain is a study in chaos and yet it is not. It learns, how? He spent much time doing simulations at IBM. Conceptors was his big project.

Building Blocks explains that each gene works in a team. Evolution and learning is like a game. The agent plays against the environment and if it wins goes on. Either way feedback shows they need to improve their performance: Adaptation. That's what this business of "emergence" is all about: building blocks at one level combining into new building blocks at a higher level.

Emergence of Mind Prediction and feedback became cornerstones of his thought. Prediction is thinking ahead. Mental models were used here. Feedback was the adaptative quality necessary to survive. If-then rules began to emerge. Holland wanted control to be learned. He wanted it to emerge from the bottom up. It always came back to learning and the key became economics: the profit motive.

A Place to Come Home To was the Santa Fe Institute.

Life at the Edge of Chaos

takes us to Los Alamos for the Artificial life Workshop. Chris Langton, one of Holland's prodigy's was running it. Artificial Life used computers to model life forces. fractals were the key. The word "emergence" cropped up a lot.

Epiphany at Massachusetts General playing a simple computer game called "The Game of Life" inspired Langton to consider a life simulation.

The Self-Assembly of the Brain recounts his hang-gliding accident which laid him up for a long time. He read and read and read. He came of age.

Artificial Life finds him out of astrology and physics and into anthropology, which smells right. It was biological evolution, intellectual evolution, and cultural evolution combining and recombining and leaping from mind to mind - all wrapped together. Interrelatedness, interdisciplinary. This became artificial life. Self reproduction was his first course of study. He created a program that was an organism.

The Edge of Chaos armed with his new self-reproducing cellular automaton we find Langton trying to drum up support for his interdisciplinary PhD. Anthropologists didn't know about computers, computer scientists didn't know about cells. He moved on to work with Burks. Order to "Complexity" to Chaos.

Go, Go, Go, Yes, Yes! was the conference about the "technology of life."

Peasants Under Glass

Started after Holland and Arthur saw "boids": a simulation which captured the essence of flocking birds, herding sheep, a school of fish. Three rules emerged: 1) It tried to maintain a minimum distance from other objects; 2) it tried to match velocities with boids in neighborhood; 3)It tried to move toward the perceived center of mass of boids in neighborhood. the interesting point was the rules were local not universal. Thus it was a bottom up formation of flocks etc. an emergence phenomenon. Applying this to economics, arthur comes up with a peasant community, sort of like Virtual Enterprise.

The Fledgling Director finds Arthur asking what Reed wants of Santa Fe, what Arrow and Anderson want, what Cowan wanted. Essentially it was his game, just don't be boring. So he created "Economy under glass." Including the old thoughts got him in trouble and called insufficiently innovative. He thought it would be good politics. The call was for adaptation, evolution, learning, multiple equilibria, emergence, and complexity. Find your Church Door!!! The economic summit was to use emergence. 20 people participated and they were to reinvent the field.

The Santa Fe Institute was fueled on intellectual power. Where do you set the dial of rationality? Let the agents set it themselves. They will try to do something no matter the environment. Here was the elusive Santa Fe approach:

They wanted the "internal models" to emerge, to form inside agents as they learned so that economics could be done in a different way. The Santa Fe approach was a new approach, a whole new world view.

The Darwinian Principle of Relativity considers the court cases between creationists and evolutionists. It is a matter of blind chance and perhaps Holland can provide some ammo against the creationists. Gell-Mann wants Holland to do his genetic algorithm, an evolution simulator. This might be good since evolution was more than random mutation and natural selection, it was also emergence and self-organization. Everything operates according to a kind of Darwinian principle of relativity: everything is constantly adapting to everything else. Evolution biologists have called this coevolving. Organisms don't climb up hills, they chase each other around in circles. Coevoltion sounds like a recipe for chaos. Holland created Echo short for ecosystems, in which digital organisms roam the digital environment in search of resources to stay alive. A Virus. This could be an evolutionary arms race as one element must defend against another element.

Wet Labs for the Mind begins with the fact that economics and simulations had a dismal history. But the Stock Market game gave them hope. It reacted as humans would. They realized they saw a glimmer of life, they had a system which exhibited emergent property.

Waiting for Carnot

began as a 40th birthday party for Langton.

The A-Life Papers speaks of finishing the doctorate. Artificial life is not an analysis but a synthesis, putting pieces together to generate lifelike behavior. It is the organization of matter. A-Life gives scientists a look into other forms of life just as probes to other worlds tell us more of earth. It is more eye-opening to consider rlife as it could be. Viewing life as an abstract organization of things associated with computers was a primary insight. The "thing" responsible for its behavior is not a thing at all, it is an abstract control structure. And secondly, living system evolve from the bottom up, and are not top down. Life literally is a computation. Consider computer viruses. Be sure to read Frankenstein because creating systems is creating life.

The New Second Law is elusive to Farmer but he thinks it would include ideas on emergence, adaptation, and edge of chaos.

Emergence shows how by constantly seeking mutual accommodation and self-consistency, groups of agents manage to transcend themselves and become something more. That is the beauty of computer simulations: you can run them over and over again. These models are called connectionist and the reason to have the same framework is that all models focus on emergence and the lesson is: the power lies in connections. Thus two things emerge here about learning and evolution: 1) leave all alone but modify their "strength" called exploitation learning: improving what you already have and 2) rewire the entire network, break it down, rip it apart. Thus learning and evolution happens even if brainless and dead.

The Edge of Chaos explains that emergence isn't enough to explain it. Look at how they behave and not at how they are made. Why not how will show you order and chaos the two extremes. And in between these extremes is "the edge of chaos" and complexity. Systems in either extreme do not survive.

The Growth of Complexity like earlier growth of thermodynamics is slow. We are creeping towards self- organization. Organization is harder to understand than disorganization.

The Arc of a Howitzer Shell speaks of the 2nd law coming quickly. It is envisioned that the 2nd law will explain how emergent entities will do the most interesting things when they're at the edge of chaos, and how adaptation will inexorably build these entities up into higher and higher levels of complexity. Evolution is on the edge of chaos. Another consideration is self-organization and selection. They are in constant struggle. But it is the edge of chaos which allows them both to survive: connectivism. The edge of chaos was a special region with lifelike, complex behaviors. Enter Per Bak and his self-organized critically theory: uses a pile of sand as explanation. Sand rains down from above until it will go no higher and just collapses around itself. The sand keeps self- organizing all by itself. It is in a state of criticality a sense that the sand grains on the surface are just barely stable.

Work in Progress

has Arthur leaving Santa Fe.

The Tao of Complexity is reflections of the Santa Fe Institute 3 years later. It is a thumbnail history of the evolution of science from one remarkable milestone to the next.