Complexity Essay - Critical Essays

Roger Lewin


The realm of complexity theory is that between the totally ordered and the totally random. According to complexity theory, a set of rules underlies all complex systems. What makes complexity theory so exciting and significant is that many aspects of the natural world, from the microcosm of molecular behavior, to the deeds of nation-states, to the macrocosm of the very balance of nature on this planet, are complex systems. If the supporters of the theory are correct, the natural and social order we see about us is the result of an inherent property of the way dynamic systems self-organize as they evolve through time. Discovering the rules governing complexity would provide a grand unified theory of the life sciences and human sciences.

Written in the form of a series of dialogues between the author, an experienced science writer, and many of the key figures in the field, the book takes us from the archaeological remains of the pre-Columbian Anasazi society in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, to the rain forests of Costa Rico. Time and again, we return to the center of activity, the Santa Fe Institute, a multidisciplinary research center preoccupied with computer modeling of the natural world. Essentially, we are following Lewin in his personal odyssey to understand complexity. Along the way, readers meet both supporters and skeptics of complexity theory, although the former predominate. Lewin presents technical detail with clarity, aided by excellent illustrations. By the end of the book, Lewin has “become something of an enthusiast,” but admits to a degree of uncertainty. Because readers have viewed complexity only through Lewin’s eyes, they too will likely come to the same conclusion: a very interesting theory, with great potential, but not yet proven.

Sources for Further Study

Boston Globe. December 27, 1992, p. 13.

Kirkus Reviews. LX, November 1, 1992, p. 1358.

Library Journal. CXVII, November 1, 1992, p. 114.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, February 14, 1993, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, November 9, 1992, p. 69.

San Francisco Chronicle. November 15, 1992, p. REV3.

Science. CCLIX, January 15, 1993, p. 387.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, December 20, 1992, p. 1.