I've been reading a great book recently - recommended to my by Sue Feldman with whom I work closely. It is an absolutely fascinating book ostensibly about the founding of the Santa Fe Institute. Really however, it explains how a number of experts in fields ranging from economics to medicine to psychology to physics all came together to learn more about their own discipline by understanding the leading thinking in other disciplines.
If the book was only a history of the founding of the institute it would probably be interesting but Mitchell Waldrop has a great gift for explaining this relatively complex subjects in regular English and in doing so introduces the concepts that started the field of complexity research.
Particular things I've found quite interesting:
- Large sets of things (the first example was biological elements) will self-organize
- Fewer than two connections per element will lead a set to die; more than 12 will result in never-ending cycling. Between 2 and 12 connection per element and the set will self organize into a logical complex system. (I suggest reading the book for the exact details here).
- At a certain level of activity a set of elements will have a phase change.
- Catalysts are critical.
- Increasing returns are a critical component of complex systems.
To me, social networks are a clear example of complexity in action and we see the above characteristics in social networks as well:
- Left alone people will self-organize
- People will optimize productivity when they are connected but don't connect just to have more connections (i.e. each connection is a rich connection versus a superficial one)
- People who introduce people are critical to the functioning of the network as a whole
- A congregation, or subnet, can produce more value than the sum of its parts
And I haven't even finished the book. I highly recommend the read and would love to discuss it with any of you.