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Trojanmice Complexity Club. Newsletter 21

Introduction

Season’s greetings to you all! Even though I am now 58 years old I am still getting excited (I left corporate life when I was 53 and I was still getting appraisals saying “He will do well when he grows up!”.

Quote (again thanks to Dave Gurteen)

We should distrust any elaborately planned, centrally deployed, and carefully developed business system or process. Successful systems and processes will be agile and dynamically adaptive; they'll grow and evolve as needed over time.

*** Ray Ozzie CEO of Groove Networks Inc. & creator of Lotus Notes ***

Sites

I am a member of a number of complexity forums and one of them, Complex-M, has set up a page containing the web sites of some of its members. You might find some of these sites interesting and see some useful resources: http://isce.edu/Complex-M_Member_Websites/

Conferences

Attached are details of a one day conference: The Application of Complexity Science to Human Affairs, which is to take place on February 28th, 2006 at the Open University in Milton Keynes.

“The overarching theme of the day is how we may apply our understanding of complexity science concepts and principles to human affairs. There will be presentations and discussion sessions on a range of interconnected topics such as: changing communities in areas of high deprivation, improving education services, policy making in urban policy and planning, transforming thinking about the use of IT for business benefit and the political implications of complexity thinking. Presenters are drawn from both academic and practitioner communities. There are also two discussion sessions designed to build upon key presentations and to further explore the themes that emerge during the day. Complexity science and its application outside the hard sciences is gaining more and more acceptance and is a perspective not to be missed!”

Books 
Below is a description of a new book on complexity thinking:

Emergence: Complexity & Organization

”Organisations of all kinds struggle to understand, adapt, respond and manipulate changing conditions in their internal and external environments. Approaches based on the causal, linear logic of mechanistic sciences and engineering continue to play an important role, given people’s ability to create order. But such approaches are valid only within carefully circumscribed boundaries. They become counterproductive when the same organizations display the highly reflexive, context-dependent, dynamic nature of systems in which agents learn and adapt and new patterns emerge. The rapidly expanding discussion about complex systems offers important contributions to the integration of diverse perspectives and ultimately new insights into organizational effectiveness. There is increasing interest in complexity in mainstream business education, as well as in specialist business disciplines such as knowledge management. Real world systems can't be completely designed, controlled, understood or predicted, even by the so-called sciences of complexity, but they can be more effective when understood as complex systems. While many scientific disciplines explore complexity through mathematical models and simulations, Emergence: Complexity & Organization explores the emerging understanding of human systems that is informed by this research. Engineered and emergent views of human systems can coexist, creating a useful tension that drives organizational evolution. However, neither academics nor practitioners can leverage complexity alone. Academic discussions about complexity are often biased towards quantitative research and mathematical models that are inappropriately prescriptive for systems comprised of actors endowed with free will, who are simultaneously part of and aware of the system. The metaphors of complexity have a usefulness of their own as well, but too often they are applied without adequate reference to the mechanisms, models and mathematics behind them.
This volume (which is edited by Kurt Richardson, Jeffrey Goldstein, Peter Allen and David Snowden) includes articles from Isabelle Stengers, Julie Klein, Sandra D. Mitchell, Glenda Eoyang, Bill McKelvey, William Sulis and many more, which explore a range of complexity-related topics from philosophical concerns through to the practical application of complexity ideas, concepts and frameworks in human organizations. Also included are a series of four reproductions of classical papers in the fields of complexity and systems: "Principles of Self-Organizing Systems" by Ross Ashby (originally published in 1962) "General Systems Theory: The Skeleton of Science" by Kenneth Boulding (originally published in 1956) "Science and Complexity" by Warren Weaver (originally published in 1948) "Emergence" by Stephen C. Pepper (originally published in 1926).”
The book can be purchased directly from Amazon.com by clicking on the following link:
http://isce.edu/Annual_2004/

Articles

Here are links to a couple of articles on convergence:

1) http://www.greenspirit.org.uk/resources/Emergence.htm
2) Emergence in Organisations by Richard Seel who explores whether collaboration is an emergent property

Also here is a link to a blog that has links to a number of interesting articles:
http://complexityparadigm.blogspot.com/

Can you help?

I was recently contacted by Barbara Zandition with the following request:

“I'm wondering if you can help me out. I'm involved with an art-science project, interviewing scientists about how their experience of science influences their view of life. The working title for the project is Randomness and Certainty. We are looking for scientists and for places to advertise the project and it occurs to me that a lot of people involved with complexity are scientists. Would you be able to suggest places I could advertise? Here's the link to the project; it also explains what it is and how to get involved (basically working scientists who'd like to take part need to contact me at my email address barbara@zanditon.com).”  

LINK: http://www.artafterscience.com/randomness/index.htm

Thanks very much,

A Point to Ponder

Here is an extract from Plexus News:

Of Bridges and Fireflies and Human Hearts and Feet
And Resonating Rhythms in Concert

Christian Huygens, a Dutch physicist who invented the pendulum clock, observed in 1665 that the pendulums of two differently set clocks located close to each other would begin oscillating together within half an hour. He had discovered inanimate synchrony, which mathematician Steven H. Strogatz calls “the granddaddy of all complex systems”

Strogatz, who has spent two decades studying self-organization in nature, tells the story of Huygens in his book, Sync: The Emergence of Spontaneous Order.  In an essay available online, Strogatz says “Sync is one of the most pervasive drives in the universe. It extends from subatomic to cosmic. It uses every communication channel that nature has invented.”  Strogatz describes research that explains why women living together will have menstrual periods at the same time, offering an understanding of observations scientists once dismissed as frivolous.  In fact, it’s the synchronization of cells that keeps our hearts working and our bodies living. Planets synchronize their motions with each other, he explains, as can microscopic living cells. Scientists have observed synchrony near rivers in Malaysia and Thailand where thousands of fireflies flash on and off simultaneously synchronizing with light. (Oddly, New England fireflies seem to be more independent and random in their flashing, but crickets universally synchronize with sound.)

Sometimes living and inanimate systems can fall into harmony, with alarming effect. In June 2000 the Millennium Bridge, an elegant new walkway connecting some of the poorest districts of London with the city’s financial district, opened with great ceremony.  The Queen presided as pedestrians began to cross the 1,050-foot span over the Thames River.  Suddenly the bridge began to wobble from side to side.  The bridge was closed two days later for fear of some serious design or material flaw.

But that was not the case. As Strogatz explains it, the pedestrians had been resonating with the bridge, and inadvertently amplified its movements. People unconsciously synchronized their steps as they walked, and the more they did, the more the bridge wobbled. As the bridge wobbled, pedestrians spontaneously adjusted their gait even more to conform to the movements of the bridge. Strogatz calls it “unintended human synchrony caused by positive feedback”. Strogatz and colleagues in the US, Britain and Germany have developed mathematical models and equations to explain the dynamics of the bridge and the people on it. According to their analysis, the bridge was steady with 150 people on it, but began to sway when the number increased to 160. They say the structural wobbling and the crowd synchronization “emerge together as dual aspects of a single instability mechanism once the crowd reaches a critical size.” Their models and calculations are reported in the November 3 issue of Nature. Their work is expected to help engineers understand the unanticipated stresses on bridges, and better estimate stabilization needed. But even more than that, this work delves into a new area of mathematical exploration that deals with nonlinear phenomena and the profound philosophical questions of how self-organization happens and how order can emerge from chaos.

And Finally

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you!

Best wishes