From bacteria to Bach and back; the evolution of minds

Daniel C. Dennett
W.W. Norton & Company, 2017

Publisher's Summary:

One of America’s foremost philosophers offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind.
How did we come to have minds?
For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.
That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.
In his inimitable style―laced with wit and arresting thought experiments―Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred when humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. Competition among memes―a form of natural selection―produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes. The result, a mind that not only perceives and controls but can create and comprehend, was thus largely shaped by the process of cultural evolution.

Scale; the universal laws of growth, innovation, sustainability, and the pace of life in organisms, cities, economies, and companies

Geoffrey West
Penguin Press, 2017

Publisher's Summary:

Visionary physicist Geoffrey West is a pioneer in the field of complexity science, the science of emergent systems and networks. The term “complexity” can be misleading, however, because what makes West’s discoveries so beautiful is that he has found an underlying simplicity that unites the seemingly complex and diverse phenomena of living systems, including our bodies, our cities and our businesses.

Fascinated by aging and mortality, West applied the rigor of a physicist to the biological question of why we live as long as we do and no longer. The result was astonishing, and changed science: West found that despite the riotous diversity in mammals, they are all, to a large degree, scaled versions of each other. If you know the size of a mammal, you can use scaling laws to learn everything from how much food it eats per day, what its heart-rate is, how long it will take to mature, its lifespan, and so on. Furthermore, the efficiency of the mammal’s circulatory systems scales up precisely based on weight: if you compare a mouse, a human and an elephant on a logarithmic graph, you find with every doubling of average weight, a species gets 25% more efficient—and lives 25% longer. Fundamentally, he has proven, the issue has to do with the fractal geometry of the networks that supply energy and remove waste from the organism’s body.

West’s work has been game-changing for biologists, but then he made the even bolder move of exploring his work’s applicability. Cities, too, are constellations of networks and laws of scalability relate with eerie precision to them. Recently, West has applied his revolutionary work to the business world. This investigation has led to powerful insights into why some companies thrive while others fail. The implications of these discoveries are far-reaching, and are just beginning to be explored. Scale is a thrilling scientific adventure story about the elemental natural laws that bind us together in simple but profound ways. Through the brilliant mind of Geoffrey West, we can envision how cities, companies and biological life alike are dancing to the same simple, powerful tune.

A crude look at the whole : the science of complex systems in business, life, and society

John H. Miller
Basic Books, 2016

Publisher's Summary:

A top expert explains why a social and economic understanding of complex systems will help society to anticipate and confront our biggest challenges

Imagine trying to understand a stained glass window by breaking it into pieces and examining it one shard at a time. While you could probably learn a lot about each piece, you would have no idea about what the entire picture looks like. This is reductionism--the idea that to understand the world we only need to study its pieces--and it is how most social scientists approach their work.

In A Crude Look at the Whole, social scientist and economist John H. Miller shows why we need to start looking at whole pictures. For one thing, whether we are talking about stock markets, computer networks, or biological organisms, individual parts only make sense when we remember that they are part of larger wholes. And perhaps more importantly, those wholes can take on behaviors that are strikingly different from that of their pieces.
Miller, a leading expert in the computational study of complex adaptive systems, reveals astounding global patterns linking the organization of otherwise radically different structures: It might seem crude, but a beehive's temperature control system can help predict market fluctuations and a mammal's heartbeat can help us understand the "heartbeat" of a city and adapt urban planning accordingly. From enduring racial segregation to sudden stock market disasters, once we start drawing links between complex systems, we can start solving what otherwise might be totally intractable problems.

Thanks to this revolutionary perspective, we can finally transcend the limits of reductionism and discover crucial new ideas. Scientifically founded and beautifully written, A Crude Look at the Whole is a powerful exploration of the challenges that we face as a society. As it reveals, taking the crude look might be the only way to truly see.

Why greatness cannot be planned : the myth of the objective

Stanley, Kenneth O; Lehman, Joel
Springer, 2015

Publisher's Summary:

Why does modern life revolve around objectives? From how science is funded, to improving how children are educated -- and nearly everything in-between -- our society has become obsessed with a seductive illusion: that greatness results from doggedly measuring improvement in the relentless pursuit of an ambitious goal. In Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned, Stanley and Lehman begin with a surprising scientific discovery in artificial intelligence that leads ultimately to the conclusion that the objective obsession has gone too far. They make the case that great achievement can't be bottled up into mechanical metrics; that innovation is not driven by narrowly focused heroic effort; and that we would be wiser (and the outcomes better) if instead we whole-heartedly embraced serendipitous discovery and playful creativity.

Controversial at its heart, yet refreshingly provocative, this book challenges readers to consider life without a destination and discovery without a compass.

Reality mining : using big data to engineer a better world

Nathan. Eagle; Kate Greene
The MIT Press, 2014

Publisher's Summary:

A look at how Big Data can be put to positive use, from helping users break bad habits to tracking the global spread of disease.

Big Data is made up of lots of little data: numbers entered into cell phones, addresses entered into GPS devices, visits to websites, online purchases, ATM transactions, and any other activity that leaves a digital trail. Although the abuse of Big Data -- surveillance, spying, hacking -- has made headlines, it shouldn't overshadow the abundant positive applications of Big Data. In Reality Mining, Nathan Eagle and Kate Greene cut through the hype and the headlines to explore the positive potential of Big Data, showing the ways in which the analysis of Big Data ("Reality Mining") can be used to improve human systems as varied as political polling and disease tracking, while considering user privacy.

Eagle, a recognized expert in the field, and Greene, an experienced technology journalist, describe Reality Mining at five different levels: the individual, the neighborhood and organization, the city, the nation, and the world. For each level, they first offer a nontechnical explanation of data collection methods and then describe applications and systems that have been or could be built. These include a mobile app that helps smokers quit smoking; a workplace "knowledge system"; the use of GPS, Wi-Fi, and mobile phone data to manage and predict traffic flows; and the analysis of social media to track the spread of disease. Eagle and Greene argue that Big Data, used respectfully and responsibly, can help people live better, healthier, and happier lives.

Arrival of the fittest : solving evolution's greatest puzzle

Wagner, Andreas
Current, 2014

Celebrating John H. Holland's 85th Birthday; a special present to John from his friends

Jan W. Vasbinder; Helena Hong Gao; Jing Han eds.
Mainland Press, 2014

Thirty-three essays and short stories to honor John Holland by relatives, friends, fellow scientists, and scholars.

Complexity: a very short introduction (very short introductions)

John H. Holland
Oxford University Press, 2014

Publisher's Summary:

The importance of complexity is well-captured by Hawking's comment: "Complexity is the science of the 21st century". From the movement of flocks of birds to the Internet, environmental sustainability, and market regulation, the study and understanding of complex non-linear systems has become highly influential over the last 30 years. In this Very Short Introduction, one of the leading figures in the field, John Holland, introduces the key elements and conceptual framework of complexity. From complex physical systems such as fluid flow and the difficulties of predicting weather, to complex adaptive systems such as the highly diverse and interdependent ecosystems of rainforests, he combines simple, well-known examples -- Adam Smith's pin factory, Darwin's comet orchid, and Simon's 'watchmaker' -- with an account of the approaches, involving agents and urn models, taken by complexity theory. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

Decision making and imperfection

Tatiana V. Guy; Miroslav Kárný; David Wolpert
Springer, 2013

Publisher's Summary: 

Decision making (DM) is ubiquitous in both natural and artificial systems. The decisions made often differ from those recommended by the axiomatically well-grounded normative Bayesian decision theory, in a large part due to limited cognitive and computational resources of decision makers (either artificial units or humans). This state of a airs is often described by saying that decision makers are imperfect and exhibit bounded rationality. The neglected influence of emotional state and personality traits is an additional reason why normative theory fails to model human DM process. The book is a joint effort of the top researchers from different disciplines to identify sources of imperfection and ways how to decrease discrepancies between the prescriptive theory and real-life DM. The contributions consider: · how a crowd of imperfect decision makers outperforms experts' decisions; · how to decrease decision makers' imperfection by reducing knowledge available; · how to decrease imperfection via automated elicitation of DM preferences; · a human's limited willingness to master the available decision-support tools as an additional source of imperfection; · how the decision maker's emotional state influences the rationality; a DM support of edutainment robot based on its system of values and respecting emotions. The book will appeal to anyone interested in the challenging topic of DM theory and its applications.

The emergence of organizations and markets

John F. Padgett and Walter W. Powell
Princeton University Press, 2012

The new economics of inequality and redistribution

Samuel Bowles
Cambridge University Press, 2012

Signals and boundaries; building blocks for complex adaptive systems

John H. Holland
MIT Press, 2012

Publisher's Summary:

Complex adaptive systems (cas), including ecosystems, governments, biological cells, and markets, are characterized by intricate hierarchical arrangements of boundaries and signals. In ecosystems, for example, niches act as semi-permeable boundaries, and smells and visual patterns serve as signals; governments have departmental hierarchies with memoranda acting as signals; and so it is with other cas. Despite a wealth of data and descriptions concerning different cas, there remain many unanswered questions about "steering" these systems. In Signals and Boundaries, John Holland argues that understanding the origin of the intricate signal/border hierarchies of these systems is the key to answering such questions. He develops an overarching framework for comparing and steering cas through the mechanisms that generate their signal/boundary hierarchies. Holland lays out a path for developing the framework that emphasizes agents, niches, theory, and mathematical models. He discusses, among other topics, theory construction; signal-processing agents; networks as representations of signal/boundary interaction; adaptation; recombination and reproduction; the use of tagged urn models (adapted from elementary probability theory) to represent boundary hierarchies; finitely generated systems as a way to tie the models examined into a single framework; the framework itself, illustrated by a simple finitely generated version of the development of a multi-celled organism; and Markov processes.

Metabolic ecology: a scaling approach

Richard M. Sibly, James H. Brown, and Astrid Kodric-Brown
Wiley-Blackwell, 2012

Publisher's Summary:

Most of ecology is about metabolism: the ways that organisms use energy and materials. The energy requirements of individuals - their metabolic rates - vary predictably with their body size and temperature. Ecological interactions are exchanges of energy and materials between organisms and their environments. So metabolic rate affects ecological processes at all levels: individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems. Each chapter focuses on a different process, level of organization, or kind of organism. It lays a conceptual foundation and presents empirical examples. Together, the chapters provide an integrated framework that holds the promise for a unified theory of ecology. The book is intended to be accessible to upper-level undergraduate, and graduate students, but also of interest to senior scientists. Its easy-to-read chapters and clear illustrations can be used in lecture and seminar courses. Together they make for an authoritative treatment that will inspire future generations to study metabolic ecology.

Chaos and fractals; an elementary introduction

David P. Feldman
Oxford University Press, 2012

Publisher's Summary: 

This book provides the reader with an elementary introduction to chaos and fractals, suitable for students with a background in elementary algebra, without assuming prior coursework in calculus or physics. It introduces the key phenomena of chaos - aperiodicity, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, bifurcations - via simple iterated functions. Fractals are introduced as self-similar geometric objects and analyzed with the self-similarity and box-counting dimensions. After a brief discussion of power laws, subsequent chapters explore Julia Sets and the Mandelbrot Set. The last part of the book examines two-dimensional dynamical systems, strange attractors, cellular automata, and chaotic differential equations.

The nature of computation

Cristopher. Moore; Stephan. Mertens
Oxford University Press, 2011

Publisher's Summary:

Computational complexity is one of the most beautiful fields of modern mathematics, and it is increasingly relevant to other sciences ranging from physics to biology. But this beauty is often buried underneath layers of unnecessary formalism, and exciting recent results like interactive proofs, cryptography, and quantum computing are usually considered too "advanced" to show to the typical student. The aim of this book is to bridge both gaps by explaining the deep ideas of theoretical computer science in a clear and enjoyable fashion, making them accessible to non computer scientists and to computer scientists who finally want to understand what their formalisms are actually telling. This book gives a lucid and playful explanation of the field, starting with P and NP-completeness. The authors explain why the P vs. NP problem is so fundamental, and why it is so hard to resolve. They then lead the reader through the complexity of mazes and games; optimization in theory and practice; randomized algorithms, interactive proofs, and pseudorandomness; Markov chains and phase transitions; and the outer reaches of quantum computing. At every turn, they use a minimum of formalism, providing explanations that are both deep and accessible. The book is intended for graduates and undergraduates, scientists from other areas who have long wanted to understand this subject, and experts who want to fall in love with this field all over again.

Mapping Mongolia: situating Mongolia in the world from geologic time to the present

Paula L.W. Sabloff
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2011

Publisher's Summary:

Would marginalized countries such as Mongolia benefit from a reconfiguration of area studies programs or even from another way of thinking about grouping nations? This book uses Mongolia as a case study to critique the area studies methodology and test the efficacy of another grouping methodology, the "-scapes" method proposed by Arjun Appadurai. Could the application of this approach for tracing individuals' social networks by theme (finance, ethnicity, ideology, media, and technology) be applied to nation-states or peoples? Could it then prevent Mongolia from slipping through the cracks of academia and international diplomacy? Experts from ecology, genetics, archaeology, history, anthropology, and international diplomacy contemplate these issues in their chapters on Mongolia through the ages. Their work includes over 30 maps to help situate Mongolia in its geologic, geographic, economic, and cultural matrix. By comparing maps of different time periods and intellectual orientations, readers can consider for themselves the place of Mongolia in the world community and the relative benefits of these and other grouping methodologies.

Principles of evolution : from the Planck epoch to complex multicellular life

Hildegard. Meyer-Ortmanns; Stefan Thurner
Springer, 2011

Manhattan Project to the Santa Fe Institute: the memoirs of George A. Cowan

George A. Cowan
University of New Mexico Press, 2010

Transistor rodeo: poems

Jon Wilkins
University of Utah Press, 2010

Publisher's Summary:

The annual Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry was inaugurated in 2003 to honor the late poet, a nationally recognized writer and former professor at the University of Utah, and is sponsored by the University of Utah Press and the University of Utah Department of English. Transistor Rodeo was selected as the 2009 prize-winning volume by judge Ander Monson, poet, essayist, author of The Available World and Vanishing Point, and editor of DIAGRAM.

Meaning and the lexicon: the parallel architecture, 1975-2010

Ray Jackendoff
Oxford University Press, 2010