Bruce Hannon's Complexity Digest #2 - Complexifications

Posted by Connie French on Mar 1, 2010 10:38:36 AM

Bruce Hannon is known to many for his weekly email digest highlighting interesting articles, published in various well regarded complexity sources, that span the gamut from all areas of research and inquiry, from the life sciences to the social sciences.   What all the articles have in common is that they celebrate interesting findings, provocative theories, and the complexity of the world.  Bruce has graciously agreed to allow InnoCentive to repost his “Complexity” Digest from time to time.  Thank you Bruce!

Below, you will find Bruce’s “Complexity” Digest #2, we hope you enjoy.   Please let us know your feedback and feel free to respond to the blog posts and share your thoughts and reactions with others.

The Hidden Fragility of Complex Systems: Consequences of Change, Changing Consequences, SFI Working Papers

Abstract: Short-term survival and an exuberant plunge into building our future are generating a new kind of unintended consequence - "hidden fragility. This is a direct effect of the sophistication and structural complexity of the socio-technical systems humans create. It is inevitable. And so the challenge is, How much can we understand and predict about these systems and about the social dynamics that lead to their construction?

Source: The Hidden Fragility of Complex Systems: Consequences of Change, Changing Consequences, James Crutchfield, DOI: SFI-WP 09-12-045, SFI Working Papers

Systemic Risks in Society and Economics, SFI Working Papers

Abstract: This contribution presents a summary of sources and drivers of systemic risks in socio-economic systems and related governance issues. The analysis is based on the theory of complex systems and illustrated by numerous examples, including financial market instability. Typical misunderstandings regarding the behavior and functioning of socio-economic systems will be addressed, and some current threats for the stability of social and economic systems are pointed out.

Source: Systemic Risks in Society and Economics, Dirk Helbing, DOI: SFI-WP 09-12-044, SFI Working Papers


Why We Conform, PLoS Biol


In his book Why We Cooperate, Michael Tomasello explores the socio-cognitive mindset that forms the basis of human sociality, including the creation of cultural artifacts and social institutions. The key message is that humans are fundamentally helpful and cooperative, as evidenced by infants' willingness to provide information, help, and share worldly goods. Later in life, experience may corrupt this benevolent attitude, but the core point for Tomasello is that children exhibit other-regarding preferences, and it is precisely this feature that sets them apart from our closest living relatives, the great apes.

Source: Why We Conform, Julia Fischer, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000277, PLoS Biol 8(2): e1000277, 2010/02/02

Absolute Humidity and the Seasonal Onset of Influenza in the Continental United States, PLoS Biol

Summary: Here, the authors demonstrate that variations of absolute humidity explain both the onset of wintertime influenza transmission and the overarching seasonality of this pathogen in temperate regions.

Source: Absolute Humidity and the Seasonal Onset of Influenza in the Continental United States, Jeffrey Shaman, Virginia E. Pitzer, Cécile Viboud, Bryan T. Grenfell, Marc Lipsitch, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000316, PLoS Biol 8(2): e1000316, 2010/02/23

El Farol Revisited, SFI Working Papers

Abstract: Some years ago Brian (Arthur 1994) published a seminal article on the problem of resolving the crowding conditions at his favorite local bar El Farol, in Santa Fe. The informal setting and its seating problems provided a striking metaphor for a basic coordination problem that occurs in many contexts. Arthur provided an imaginative and deep solution to an every day minor problem. A simple version is as follows: Say 100 people like to go to listen to the music, but all dislike overcrowding. They all have the same taste that indicates that they enjoy attending if there are 60 or fewer individuals, but would prefer to stay away if there is a higher number than 60 in attendance. Each individual has a large set of rules of thumb that he or she utilizes. The rules are of the variety such as do not go the bar if last time there were over 60 present; or go if the you think the trend 81, 71, 62 will continue. As long as an individual’s rule of thumb works he stays with it, when it fails another rule is tried. Arthur’s simulations showed that the mean attendance was around 60 although the numbers were in constant fluctuation.

Source: El Farol Revisited, Martin Shubek, DOI: SFI-WP 09-12-043, SFI Working Papers

Identifying Prototypical Components in Behaviour Using Clustering Algorithms, PLoS ONE

Excerpt: Quantitative analysis of animal behaviour is a requirement to understand the task solving strategies of animals and the underlying control mechanisms. The identification of repeatedly occurring behavioural components is thereby a key element of a structured quantitative description. However, the complexity of most behaviours makes the identification of such behavioural components a challenging problem. We propose an automatic and objective approach for determining and evaluating prototypical behavioural components.

Source: Identifying Prototypical Components in Behaviour Using Clustering Algorithms, Braun E, Geurten B, Egelhaaf M, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009361, PLoS ONE 5(2): e9361, February 2010

Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probability on Everything You Do, McGraw-Hill


This fascinating book from renowned statistician and blogger Kaiser Fung takes you inside the hidden world of facts and figures that affect you every day, in every way. These are the statistics that rule your life, your job, your commute, your vacation, your food, your health, your money, and your success. This is how engineers calculate your quality of living, how corporations determine your needs, and how politicians estimate your opinions. These are the numbers you never think about-even though they play a crucial role in every single aspect of your life.

Source: Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probability on Everything You Do, Kaiser Fung, McGraw-Hill, 2010/02/01

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